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Guiding Star

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FANFICTION

Spy X Family

Guiding Star

CHAPTER L: Sacred Bonds

 

Damian stared at the wall, WISE agents walking back and forth, carrying in more boxes of files and documents they had gotten from the Crystal Hall’s hidden underground.

 

It had been ten days since Anya had been abducted.

 

They had found the van abandoned on the side of the road, the three other men shot dead in it. No clue on where Anya and her kidnapper had gone.

 

The three other men, either at the hospital or the SSS cells, had admitted that only their boss had known anything. Said-boss had been the one with the arm destroyed but all he had revealed was that someone, who had kept his identity hidden, had hired them to kidnap a young girl from Eden and bring her to a rendezvous point in the North-East of the country. From there, she’d be taken into another place that had been kept unknown to them. The location he had given fit with the finding of the van and his three dead associates. The SSS and WISE were trying to find who could have hired them from the description he had given of the man who had hired them.

 

Demetrius had been unable to get the Prime Minister and the army to help, because there weren’t enough proofs that it was a “case of state defence”. The borders weren’t closed for one missing teenager that, as far as it concerned the Ministry of Defence and the military, wasn’t important. Kids and people went missing all the time. Not a good enough reason to close the borders. Now, WISE said it was too late and if Anya had been sent across the borders, even if their agents found her, they’d need special authorisations to intervene.

 

The death pits had been dug out and were currently being studied by forensic scientists. No known DNA had been identified. Anya hadn’t been among those victims.

 

It was the only relief they had felt in the last few days.

 

Volk had been arrested and interrogated by the SSS, then by WISE. He admitted to financing COEUS, to knowing about the different projects, to helping them hide their results in his compound… but when shown the photographs with piles of bones, he had turned white. He had not known about it. The scientists of COEUS had evidently been given enough freedom to feel like they didn’t need to report everything to the people financing them. Volk, Hubert, Ingersleben, and Donovan Desmond, had only cared about the promised results when it’d be available. Volk had admitted that the reason why he had been interested in the project had been so himself and his first wife could have a child – she had been infertile for many years, and he eventually divorced her when COEUS couldn’t come up with a solution. He remarried and now had three heirs who were as traumatised as Demetrius and Damian had been, to find out what their father had done. They were still held in custody to make sure they truly knew nothing.

 

When asked about information on COEUS, everything Volk revealed had been out of date data they already knew from the first investigation made by Nightfall almost two years ago.

 

When Donovan Desmond had decided to pull out of the project and stopped the financing, they had all been worried of being thrown to the wolves by him and had been beyond relieved he had died before he could truly stop being part of the projects. After that, COEUS and the three remaining politicians had made a deal not to share information on any location, test subject, or projects, unless COEUS developed proper results that would interest the three men. Two, Hubert and Ingersleben, had died mysteriously and one, Volk, was still being interrogated.

 

Damian wasn’t sure what he was doing, in the middle of WISE headquarters. He wasn’t sure what he would do if he returned… somewhere outside of there. His brother wasn’t even sleeping trying to find a way to help WISE and the SSS, pulling at strings, trying to get powerful people to help. Damian had overheard him sob with Diana. His brother had sobbed, saying how, every time he closed his eyes, he could only see the piles of bones.

 

His brother had sobbed, and Damian wasn’t sure he could bear to be anywhere near him any more. He’d break down for good.

 

His mother wanted to send him in some far away house, safe and tucked away, but he couldn’t even consider it. Not when Anya was still missing.

 

Damian looked up at the clock on the wall. Another hour had passed.

 

In normal circumstances, it would be around the time when all hope to find a missing person still alive, would have dwindled considerably.

 

“Why don’t you go home?”

 

It took a moment for Damian to realise he had been spoken to. He looked up at Loid who looked as awful as Damian felt. His face was slack, his eyes were haunted, darkened by terrible circles. He looked older and his hair even looked white in the stark, horrible light of WISE’s headquarters.

 

I don’t have any left… he thought, but he knew he couldn’t voice such a thing.

 

He missed Anya. He missed Anya knowing everything about him all the time. He missed her smile most of all.

 

“I’m not sure I’d know what to do if I went back…” he answered in a low voice.

 

He had returned and had gathered the courage to give a call to Ewen and Emile first… Then Becky. Hearing her screams and cries over the phone, upon finding out her best friend, her Anya, her sister, was gone, and might be gone forever, gave him nightmares every time he closed his eyes for a few minutes.

 

“…I’m about to interrogate Sitz.”

 

“They found him?” Damian exclaimed, springing on his legs.

 

The sniper they had looked for for days.

 

Loid nodded darkly and, without much eagerness in his steps, he went into the interrogation room with Sylvia who looked as stern and exhausted as Twilight… she still looked impeccable and dangerous though.

 

Damian remained behind a reflective window, unseen, watching nervously, praying for some clue, anything that would lead them to Anya.

 

The sniper looked like he had put up a fight, hands still attached behind his back and a black eye that had swollen over half his face. He looked up with a defeated expression when the Handler and Twilight walked in.

 

“Let’s cut the niceties short,” Sylvia started, sitting down, “You tried shooting Damian Desmond just a few days ago and killed a waiter in the process. Can you confirm?”

 

There was a moment of long silence, but the man knew he had nothing left to lose.

 

“…Confirmed.”

 

“Are you behind the shooting against Demetrius Desmond at the horse race last April?”

 

“Confirmed… I had to shoot both Desmonds, but… that guy tackled him and then, all hell broke loose.”

 

“That guy was me. Do you remember me, Sitz?” Twilight finally intervened, in a hard voice.

 

Sitz narrowed his good eye at him, taking a long time to remember.

 

“Roland?” he asked, bewildered.

 

Loid nodded sharply.

 

“That was my fake identity back in the war. We shared quite a few drinks back then.”

 

“What are you doing here? Do you work for… this WISE organisation?”

 

“You don’t get to ask questions when you’ve assassinated at least two people and targeted two others, who happen to be very influential and powerful people in Ostania,” the Handler interrupted, “Who hired you as a sniper to assassinate the Desmonds?”

 

Sitz took a deep breath, that proved to be difficult from the way he winced in pain.

 

“I don’t know his real name… he made himself be called the Wolf. He was after a girl from Eden and needed the Desmonds shot but… he was receiving orders from someone else I never met.”

 

“Is this the girl he wanted to abduct?” the Handler asked once more, pushing a picture of Anya smiling.

 

It hurt Loid to see that photograph but after a quick look, Sitz nodded.

 

“Yeah, that’s her… He had needed lots of time to organise it… Never told me why when it’s just a girl from a rich school.”

 

Not just a girl, evidently, if COEUS wanted her so badly… Loid thought bitterly, wondering if, by training her better and harder, it could have spared her such a fate.

 

“Do you have any clue on who he was working for?” Sylvia continued.

 

“No, he never talked about them. He didn’t like talking about them at all. I don’t think he got along well with his boss, but he never said anything…” Sitz answered, shaking lightly his head.

 

“Have you ever been to the estate of Henry Volk, in the outskirts of Berlint?” she continued, showing some photographs of the mansion and the Crystal Hall.

 

“No, never seen this place,” he answered.

 

“So, you don’t know about the death pits.”

 

He looked up, his good eye wide in shock.

 

“The what?”

 

“Have you ever heard of COEUS, or Project Chimera?” Twilight continued, joining his hands and glaring at him dangerously.

 

“N-no, I never heard any of that! I swear!”

 

“Is there anything you can tell us about this man, or the reasons behind his target, anything at all that could help us locate this girl. In exchange, we’ll help you get a nicer jail…”

 

He looked up, shaking lightly his head.

 

“I don’t know anything… I swear… he was… uh, tall and with fluffy hair, rather handsome but sombre… From the way he talked about the girl, it sounded like he was spending lots of time around her… a professor maybe–”

 

“Dunkel,” Sylvia and Loid both said in the same time, glancing at each other.

 

Behind the window, Damian swallowed hard. His hands, clutching the side of his arms crossed over his chest, tightened.

 

“She’s always been suspicious of him because she couldn’t read his mind!”

 

“We never found anything about him, he was too discreet and now…”

 

“Read his… is this girl like the other one that they had sent to hide me from sight during the horse race?” Sitz asked, eye widening.

 

“What do you know about this other girl?”

 

“The Wolf brought her, gave her orders, took her back after everything. I tried speaking to her, but she didn’t say a thing. She liked the candies I gave her though, the same my daughter likes… she looked starved the poor thing and I don’t know how she could do the things she did, but it freaked me out… I almost refused the second job to shoot the young Desmond but…”

 

He looked away, as if guilty, but he seemed more completely desperate than anything else.

 

“We need to find Dunkel,” Sylvia whispered, standing up to get to that next clue.

 

Twilight was about to follow her, but he turned back towards Sitz at the last moment.

 

“…You were a good man. I remember that you hated the war and killing people. What changed you like that?” he asked, dark and forlorn.

 

Sitz’s lips trembled. He looked away, sniffing loudly.

 

“My daughter… she’s sick… very sick…” he admitted in a broken voice, “Cancer. They tried helping her, but nothing works and… and she’s getting worse… There’s a recent medical development, called chemotherapy to treat it, maybe, but… it’s only available through the Desmond’s private insurance scheme… I needed the money for that stupid insurance–”

 

A sob rattle through Sitz as heavy tears fell. His sob turned into a whiny, painful sound.

 

“…That girl you helped abduct…” Twilight started in a tight voice, “She’s someone’s daughter too…”

 

Sitz looked up through his tears, blinded and heartbroken.

 

Loid walked away without looking back. He wasn’t surprised to find Damian waiting for him with a pale face, like always lately.

 

“What’s her name?” he asked in a low voice.

 

“Uh?”

 

“His daughter’s name…” Damian continued, looking down.

 

Loid quickly glanced at the file in his hands.

 

“Maria Sitz, she’s… twelve…”

 

“She’s getting the chemotherapy,” Damian mumbled, still unable to meet Loid’s gaze.

 

“…That man tried to kill you. He shot you, you could have died…”

 

“…Rich people shouldn’t be the only ones to have access to health insurance, medicine, and help… Everyone deserves to be healthy, and everyone deserves to have a chance at staying alive… I’ll… call Marius so this girl can get the therapy as soon as possible. And… I’ll see if I can talk to the board to convince them to make the private insurance scheme public and free for everyone…”

 

Loid watched him, bewildered by Damian’s sheer goodness. It was one of these times when he didn’t even question why Anya had fallen in love with him. For all his flaws, Damian had a golden heart, and he was willing to do anything and everything to help others.

 

“She’d be so proud of you…” Loid murmured.

 

Damian whipped towards him, and violent tears filled his eyes.

 

“D-don’t talk like… like it’s over…” he stammered, breathing heavily.

 

Loid tightened his jaw and shook his head, but he didn’t find the words he had repeated for the last three days.

 

I’ll find her. I’ll find another clue. I won’t give up.

 

They were running out of time. They were running out of clues. They were running out of witnesses, out of leads, out of information, out of everything

 

COEUS had covered their traces far too well.

 

“We’ll find her… We have to!” Damian exclaimed.

 

Loid nodded, patting his shoulder. His hand tightened, gripping Damian ferociously.

 

“…We will,” he confirmed, looking down.

 

“What about Dunkel? You said Anya had always been suspicious of him…” Damian continued, finding out yet another secret.

 

“She… she couldn’t read his mind,” Loid answered as they slowly made their way to the main room where all the information on the investigation were gathered, “We investigated on Dunkel when he showed up, but we didn’t find anything suspicious… I should have… I should have been more thorough, but we know so little about Anya’s abilities…”

 

Loid’s voice broke a little. Damian reached out to pat his back, even if he didn’t feel much better.

 

“I thought he was just the first exception she encountered… he seemed like such a good guy…”

 

Damian let go of Loid and stepped away, glancing at him over his shoulder, cold and distant.

 

“…So did you, Forger,” he told him sharply before walking away.

 

Loid remained frozen, eyes widened.

 

Damian found Nightfall looking through the boxes of files, brows furrowed. He walked over to the big board on one of the main walls, with all the pictures, clues, leads, linked by red strings. Dunkel’s photograph had already been added near Anya with the word ‘kidnapper’ written under it. A red string linked Dunkel to COEUS with a huge question mark under it.

 

He noticed another addition to the board: an old, sepia photograph of a man with round glasses, added above COEUS. The name ‘Adam von Roth/Red Baron’ had been added, with the status DEAD written in capital letters. An arrow pointed from him to the big COEUS word with a small sentence scribbled next to it, ‘Von Roth’s research as main lead for COEUS’ experimentations?’

 

“I know that guy,” Damian stammered suddenly, the realisation hitting him with unexpected shock.

 

Nightfall and Loid, who had just walked in, raised their heads suddenly. Loid was by his side in an instant:

 

“Who? The Red Baron? That’s not possible! He died before your brother was even born!” Loid exclaimed, glancing between the old picture and Damian with wide eyes.

 

“No, no, I recognize that guy… He was at the Grand Theatre a few months ago – you know on our first date? He was talking with Ingersleben and Hubert that night, they talked of… of hurting my brother, so I… I didn’t listen to this one guy but…”

 

He paused, trying to get his memory to come back, to remember the details of that night that still haunted him – it had been the moment he had realised the danger that lingered on his brother’s head, on his entire family.

 

“Anya had been so shaken that night… I thought… that she had overheard them talk about planning my brother’s death – like I had, but…”

 

“But if von Roth has been alive this entire time and had faked his death… Anya could have recognized him. Not as von Roth but the man behind her experimentations,” Nightfall continued with a frown.

 

“Would he… have faked his death so he’d be able to conduct those experimentations free of any suspicion?” Loid wondered out loud.

 

“COEUS’ creation happened a year and a half after von Roth’s official death. During the war, with all these bombings and missing people… it was easy to fake one’s death.”

 

Loid knew that better than anyone. He had done it himself, after all.

 

The monster he had heard about at the hospital, the half-imagined mad scientist… was alive. The nightmare, the horror story was real. And this devil had his precious daughter between his wicked hands.

 

He swallowed hard, remembering all the old articles and thesis draft he had read from Adam von Roth… It fit so well with what he knew of Anya’s experimentations. It fit too well, how had he not realised it earlier?!

 

“We need to find Anya as soon as possible,” he hissed, whipping around to reveal the new information to Sylvia.

 

They asked more details to Damian, and he vaguely remembered seeing a man that could have been this Adam von Roth at the Desmond Estate but when they had called Demetrius for more information… He had no knowledge of any Adam von Roth. He had already shared with WISE the identities of the people he had met from COEUS: Anson Graf, Oswine Abel, and Samuel Freund. WISE had investigated in lengths about these three men, but they had remained mysteries.

 

The only information they had found had been about Oswine Abel and Samuel Freund. Abel had specialised in obstetrics, he had lost his right to perform after accidentally causing the death of several mothers and their children by terrible, repeated mistakes taken without the agreement of the women nor their husbands or close relatives. After that, he had disappeared until being referenced as one of COEUS doctors and professors. As for Samuel Freund, he had graduated a few years prior from medical university, but after struggling to find a job in the medical field, weighed by debts from his student loan, he had left the country – or so, everyone had believed until he had been mentioned by Demetrius Desmond months prior.

 

Nothing existed about Anson Graf – they had suspected a fake identity, but they hadn’t realised it had been Adam von Roth, the Red Baron himself.

 

They hadn’t been able to find any clue on where these men were hiding, or working.

 

Which meant another dead end in the investigation to find Anya.

 

And time kept ticking.

 

***

 

Lost in the investigation room, surrounded by piles of boxes and the wall of clues that remained frozen in its current state, Damian stared at Anya’s photograph, taken last summer by her parents during the holiday. She wore a lovely yellow summer dress. Her smile could light up the sky brighter than the sun itself.

 

“I don’t even have a picture of us…” he whispered to himself.

 

Nightfall raised her head, staring at him quietly.

 

“…If you want to help, you can help me get through these files. We might find out more about COEUS and their possible locations…”

 

“I… have to make a phone call first… if it’s alright?”

 

She shrugged and nodded towards the phone on a side table. He walked there and his hand hovered above the heavy tool. He picked it up and started making a phone number, aware of the burning gaze of Nightfall behind him.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Marius, it’s Damian.”

 

“Damian! I heard everything from Demetrius, it all sounds awful! How… how are you doing boy? Any clue yet?”

 

NO ! NO, WE KNOW NOTHING!!

 

Damian swallowed back the bitter and heartbroken answer he wanted to yell at the phone.

 

“I need your help on something… Don’t… ask question. I’ll explain later…”

 

“Anything, if I can help…”

 

“There’s a girl called Maria Sitz, she should be found in the private insurance requests’ list of patients… I need her to get the best treatment we can offer.”

 

“Maria Sitz, you said? I’ll see what I can do… Who is that girl?”

 

“…She’s important to someone, it’s all that matters.”

 

“Okay… Anything else you need, Damian?”

 

“…No. Thanks. I’ll call you back to update you.”

 

He finished the call quickly, not wanting to answer any more questions about how he was feeling, because all he felt was numb. If he even thought about his feelings, his chest would tear open, and he’d bleed out.

 

He glanced over his shoulder to see Nightfall pretending not to have listened, looking through the files.

 

“…Have you got Franky’s contact?” he asked her.

 

She raised an eyebrow, narrowed her eyes, but she nodded. She wrote it down quickly on a piece of paper and he called. It took five rings before he heard the rugged voice, sounding more distressed than the usual jolly tone Damian was used to.

 

“Yeah? Who is that?”

 

“…It’s Damian Desmond. There is something I need you to find for me. I’ll pay any fee you need.”

 

“…That’s a dangerous thing to tell me, kid… but I guess it’s about Anya, and you’re almost family anyway… no fee for family. What do you need?”

 

Damian’s lips trembled, his heart was heavy, but he somehow managed to let out the words for Franky. The funny uncle, fallen into a serious moment, didn’t answer for a little while.

 

“…I’ll do what I can,” he finally answered.

 

“Thank you…”

 

Damian ended the call and brought his hands to his eyes. He pressed his palms into them, forcing the tears away. He turned back towards Nightfall who was staring at him. She pushed one box towards him and, quietly, he started searching through everything.

 

Over the hours, they were told that the search at Dunkel’s apartment showed that he had emptied it completely and announced the owner that he was moving out of town. He was gone in the wind.

 

Once more, they were clueless.

 

Clueless, if not for the hundreds and hundreds of files Nightfall and Damian were looking through with the help of some other WISE agents. She brought him coffee he seriously needed. Someone left a plate of sandwiches and cookies, but he barely touched them. More coffee was brought. He almost fell asleep three times. He drunk more coffee, rubbed his eyes, massaged his temples…

 

And time kept ticking… Inexorable and helpless.

 

He found a document that talked about Project Chimera, and similar detailed descriptions to the files his brother held at the Desmond Estate – just more detailed and more horrifying.

 

Damian looked at two main papers. Test Subject 007 and Test Subject 008. Except the list he had found back at Volk’s estate, none of the documents ever gave the true names of the children. Only the numbers they had been given when the experimentations had started. The first four lines were the exact same ones for Anya and her brother…

 

Origin: Belgica-Ostania frontier, village of Rhun

Biological parents: [REDACTED]

Date of birth: 21 June 19**

Age upon arrival: 10 weeks

 

He checked at the other similar documents regarding the rest of the children from Project Chimera…

 

“They were twins.”

 

Nightfall and Loid, who had joined them earlier to help without daring to meet Damian’s gaze, both looked up.

 

“The children from Project Chimera were all twins…” he continued, throwing down the papers.

 

Loid picked up the records, looking firmly at the one with 008’s information on it. As if it could somehow bring him back to life. Then his gaze filled with tears when he turned to 007.

 

“…Anya will be heartbroken when she will know she had… a twin brother… She was so young when he passed away, she doesn’t even know he even existed.”

 

“I wonder if that’s entirely true… she’s always longed for a sibling, she’s always looked at Ewen and Eglantine with such… heartache… Yor told me she had wanted a baby brother… and she’s always wanted me and my brother to make our relationship work somehow…”

 

Loid looked up to stare at him, then a half-smile appeared on his face.

 

“Of course… she’d reveal that deep, unconscious hurt, by helping others like yourself and your brother…”

 

“Twilight, phone call for you, from your wife,” someone called from afar.

 

He put down the documents and went into another room to answer Yor’s phone call.

 

“I understand that you are in love with her… but why go to such lengths when you could just let us do the job for you?” Nightfall asked curiously.

 

Damian blinked, then gathered the documents, shrugging absentmindedly.

 

“I’d go mad if I simply waited…”

 

She tightened her lips, then she nodded in the direction of the phone.

 

“Helping that girl have access to expensive treatment, even though she’s the daughter of the man who tried to kill you and your brother… What you asked of Franky… you’re not doing any of that to keep yourself from going mad.”

 

Damian’s movements became slow and sluggish.

 

“It’s not even going to help Anya much right now. You’re still doing it. Why?”

 

She’d be proud of you…

 

“…I’m Donovan Desmond’s son too… I won’t let my brother carry all the burden of atoning for our father’s crimes. And if… we can help create a better future for the kids out there… the ones with cancer, the ones without, the ones with parents… and the ones without… then… I don’t know… it won’t ever bring back the ones that were lost, and it won’t fix what my father did but… the future generations could be… better… and know nothing but peace and sunshine and candies… I hope…”

 

She pinched her lips, but then he realised she had the smallest of smiles on fer face.

 

“The future generation already is better than we ever were,” she answered with a small nod, staring at him.

 

He wasn’t convinced about it, but he just nodded, sniffing a little. He passed his fingers over his eyes, exhaustion and hurt draining him beyond reason.

 

“I’ll go get another batch of coffee. I assume you still won’t bother with a nap?”

 

He winced and looked down at the papers as only answer. She sighed, annoyed by his recklessness, then walked away.

 

Left alone, Damian kept rummaging through the files until he found something interesting. Interesting for him, at least, but not for the investigation…

 

He straightened up a little in his seat.

 

Report on Test Subject 007 and Test Subject 008

 

Date of experimentation: 12/10/19** – Age of the subjects: 25 months old

 

Following the recent injections of products #256-260 at 09:32 in the morning, both subjects are suffering from high fever, heavy perspiration, heart palpitations. Brainwaves’ intensity for both subjects has increased.

>Update 16:52: TEST SUBJECT 007 has gone into cardiac arrest. Brought back by DOCTOR GRAF. Electric shocks have helped.

Brainwaves’ intensity has increased for TEST SUBJECT 007.

TEST SUBJECT 008: STABLE.

>Update 19:14: TEST SUBJECT 007’s heartrate weakening. Organs’ functions are depleting.

TEST SUBJECT 008: STABLE, distressed

As noted in previous experimentations on subjects from PROJECT CHIMERA, individuals show signs of distress when their respective twin is weakening. TEST SUBJECT 008 is particularly distraught at the sudden weakening of TEST SUBJECT 007.

>Update 20:16: TEST SUBJECT 008 ANNOUNCED DEAD / TEST SUBJECT 007 STABLE

TEST SUBJECT 007’s state kept on worsening. DOCTOR GRAF was expecting its imminent death. TEST SUBJECT 008 deeply distraught until it caught TEST SUBJECT 007’s hand. TEST SUBJECT 007’s state stabilised. TEST SUBJECT 008’s organs and heart failed suddenly. TEST SUBJECT 008’s death announced at 20:16. TEST SUBJECT 007’s distress is extreme, heart and organs all function perfectly. BRAINWAVES’ INTENSITY HAVE DOUBLED FOR TEST SUBJECT 007.

TEST SUBJECT 008 to be preserved for post-mortem autopsy.

 

A tear fell heavily on the paper. Damian wiped away his endless, silent tears. Somehow… somehow, Anya had been dying, but her twin brother, Albert, had sensed it and… gave his life for her. Possibly more than just his life.

 

Was it why she was of interest to COEUS?

 

The phone rang suddenly. He jumped and looked around, but Nightfall was still out of sight. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to get up and walk to take the phone call.

 

“Franky here.”

 

“Franky… have you got… information already?”

 

“…It’s been over ten hours, kid. I usually work faster than that, but I prioritised WISE and the SSS’ requests to, y’know… try to find our Anya. I have the information you asked for… you got something to write it down?”

 

Damian had never felt so sluggish as he grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote down everything Franky told him.

 

“Thank… you…” he answered, without quite knowing if he truly felt grateful for the few words scribbled there.

 

“Remember, she’s very old so… uh, watch out or something…”

 

Damian nodded, then remembered Franky couldn’t see him.

 

“I don’t… I’m not sure… I don’t know… I’ll… thank you…”

 

He put the phone down.

 

“Was it Franky?”

 

Damian jumped around, finding Loid there. He looked exhausted, his hair a mess.

 

“Y-yeah, I… I had asked him to look for something…”

 

Loid kept his lips thin, half tempted to ask him, but instead he looked down at the paper Damian had been reading a moment ago.

 

“Do you think COEUS wanted Anya back because… of that event?” Damian asked, pointing at the report that announced Anya’s twin brother’s death.

 

“…She’s a miracle, having survived all this…” was all he found to say.

 

Damian looked down at the piles of boxes, filled with files, filled with information about the children. From Project Chimera… and other projects.

 

Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of victims, of babies, little children, teenagers, and adults who endured all that…

 

“I want to go home…” Damian let out in a wheezy voice.

 

Loid barely had time to glance at him that the young man had fallen into his arms. Loid swallowed hard, bringing his arms around his shaking shoulders, reminded that, despite his maturity, despite everything he had been through, he was still just sixteen years old… He was still a kid who shouldn’t have to go through all that.

 

“Let’s get you home,” Loid murmured, putting an arm around his shoulders as he brought Damian out of WISE’s headquarters.

 

He didn’t bother asking him to cover his head. He fell asleep the moment he was in the car.

 

Loid wasn’t sure how he made it back to the apartment complex, glancing up at the frightening place, which felt far too empty without Anya. He wasn’t sure why of all places, he had brought Damian here when he had a brother to go back to, a mother worried sick, another apartment with a watchful godfather…

 

“Damian…” Loid murmured, shaking his shoulder.

 

He startled awake but didn’t even question Loid’s choice either. He just followed him up the elevator and into the apartment.

 

The moment Loid put the key through the keyhole, tiny footsteps and cries resonated. The door had barely opened that Rosie came out with a huge smile on her face:

 

“Anya!!” she called.

 

The moment she beheld Loid and Damian instead, her small shoulders dropped. Damian was already tearing up when she walked past his legs and looked behind him, in the hallway, as if he somehow hid Anya as a surprise. Rosie then looked up at him and her lower lip wobbled.

 

“When is Anya come home?” she asked in a small, sad voice.

 

Yor had appeared and looked as distraught as Loid when he just leaned into her, desperate for a moment’s peace, even when their small daughter looked so lost.

 

“She… your sister will come back…” Damian mumbled through a knotted, heavy voice.

 

Rosie nodded sadly, only half-believing him. She slid her fingers around his little finger, and he guided her into the apartment.

 

“Have some breakfast, you two,” Yor said, forcing a smile even though she was fighting back tears.

 

“It looks edible for once…” Loid commented, his lips tilting up.

 

Something flashed in his eyes and whatever pride he had felt stirring up for his wife was replaced with heartbreak.

 

Damian could almost hear his thoughts.

 

She’d be so proud of you.

 

He ate without any word. He didn’t even question it when Rosie climbed in his laps and ate peanuts from a bag and picked his bacon with her fingers.

 

Loid and Yor talked in a low voice in another part of the living-room, the man clearly losing all energy and hope.

 

Rosie jumped off Damian and went to play with Bond who eagerly licked her small fingers until she giggled.

 

Damian was dozing off when Loid came back to him and guided him to Anya’s bedroom. The air felt cold from the lack of life. Or perhaps it was her sheer absence that had drained the room of all warmth.

 

“She… uh, she was excited to give you your birthday gift, the day she… you were supposed to come have dinner with us, remember?” Loid started as he handed to Damian the package with a pretty ribbon on top.

 

“But my birthday is in August… why…”

 

“She wanted you to remember that summer… with her…”

 

Loid let out a heavy sigh.

 

“I’ll go take a shower and catch a couple hours of sleep. Feel free to stay here, use her bathroom… whenever you want to go back, wherever you want to go, I’ll drive you there… Stay as long as you need.”

 

He was about to leave when Damian caught his arm.

 

“I’m… I’m sorry…” he started, feeling heavy and numb again.

 

The older man watched him, surprised.

 

“Everything I told you… you’re… you’re not like my father… or like Dunkel… you’re… you’re one of the best men I’ve ever met and I… Could you… could you forgive me, please?”

 

He looked down, letting go of Loid’s sleeve.

 

“…Some of the things you said were right, Damian… and the rest… you’ve been through so much… how could I ever not forgive you?”

 

He put a strong hand on Damian’s shoulder, making him look up at the man he admired so greatly. Loid’s eyes shone with unshed tears as he gripped the young man with a shaking arm.

 

“Whatever happens… whatever we’ll find… if Anya doesn’t make it… her last few months as Anya Forger were spent by your side, and you made her happier than ever… You gave her that gift and I will always be grateful to you for that…” Loid said in a broken voice, tears streaming down his face as Damian chocked on his own tears, “I will always be here for you, Damian, no matter what the future has for us… And no matter what, know that I am so proud of the man you’ve become…”

 

The words he had never heard from his own father.

 

With a sob, Damian fell into Loid’s arms, sniffing and crying into his shoulder.

 

“I miss her! I miss her so much! I miss her so much!! he cried, sobs, fear and hurt finally escaping him in waves.

 

“I know, I miss her too…”

 

Damian’s crying turned into wrecked whines and terrible sobs that tore through his chest, broke his heart, and shattered his soul into a thousand shards that shone into an endless darkness. Lost and lonely stars that had lost the significance of their constellation.

 

By the time Damian had let out all his emotions, he could barely stay standing and he collapsed on Anya’s bed, falling asleep immediately, not even breathing what was left of her scent through his tears and stuffy nose.

 

***

 

Damian dreamt of Anya. She was walking ahead of him in a meadow. She spun around, her yellow dress, joyful as the sun itself, swung around her hips. She laughed. He was as a sunflower, always turning and turning and turning towards her, his sun.

 

He woke up in a violent jolt. He had had that horrible feeling of falling into a void until his body had shocked him awake. He fell off Anya’s bed and wandered into the bathroom. He cleaned his face, still red and puffy from tears. He found some of Loid’s clothes on a side of the bedroom and he quickly took a shower, realising he hadn’t cleaned up in several days.

 

He returned into Anya’s bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed. He grabbed the birthday gift Anya had wanted to offer him in advance, the day she had disappeared.

 

He started pulling at the ribbon but hesitated. He put the untouched gift, ribbon half fallen off, back on her desk.

 

“…You’ll offer it to me when you get back…” he murmured in a croaky voice.

 

His mouth was patched. He stood up and took his jacket, not quite knowing what he’d do with it, but he found the paper on which he had written Franky’s information… He stared at it for a long time.

 

When he went into the Forgers’ living-room, Loid was looking over maps and documents, trying to pinpoint where Anya could have been taken. He barely looked up at Damian who realised that it was night time already.

 

“They… um, they’re investigating the new locations of COEUS research centres,” Loid announced, “I’m trying to cross-check information in the hope… it’ll locate her faster.”

 

Damian nodded a little. He clenched the paper in his fist.

 

“I’m of no use to WISE, or the SSS,” he started, making Loid look up curiously, “I’m… going out of Berlint… I’ll look for something else instead…”

 

Loid stood up, frowning a little.

 

“Where are you going exactly, Damian?”

 

“…Beyond the border. Don’t try to stop me, you know I’m more stubborn than Anya.”

 

An almost amused smile appeared on Loid’s face.

 

“Oh, I wouldn’t dare trying to stop you but…”

 

He took a deep breath, then glanced down at the maps.

 

“Perhaps it’s best if you’re of the city for a couple of days… it might do you good and… by the time you’ll be back, she’ll be in your arms.”

 

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Damian thought but thankfully, to his great relief, Loid didn’t bother doing such a thing.

 

He nodded, without answering.

 

“If anything comes up by then… contact my brother, he’ll find a way to get in touch with me.”

 

Loid nodded, glancing around a little awkwardly. He held out his hand. Damian took it then was forced into a hug by the man. Loid tapped his back loudly.

 

“Don’t do anything stupid,” he mumbled.

 

“Something Anya would do?” Damian asked, his lips trembling into an almost-smile.

 

“Exactly.”

 

Loid smiled, then Damian left the Forgers’ apartment. The moment he was out, he walked to his brother’s penthouse, lying down his few requirements for the next couple of days. Demetrius wasn’t happy about it… but he didn’t fight either, which proved how desperate Damian must have looked.

 

With Jeremiah and Dwayne, and a whole basket of sandwiches and snacks a maid forced into his arms, Damian left in the middle of the night, still clenching the piece of paper in his hand.

 

It took over eight hours to arrive at his destination. He crossed the border between Ostania and Westalis, then at the very edge between Westalis and Belgica. They could still see the frontier between the two countries, a small stream, by the time they arrived in a remote village on the other side of the border. It was lost at the foot of a mountain and after sleeping on and off in the car, Damian took a deep breath.

 

He looked around, feeling like he had wandered into a fairytale.

 

Small mountains shadowed the valley where the village was nestled. With summer, a river glistened under a stone bridge and went on and on in the nearby forest. The sky was grey, but he could only imagine how beautiful it would be on a sunny day. It was already lovely. It was

 

Anya would love this place… he thought, looking around for some clue on where to go but there was nothing except the series of houses, an abandoned mill, a small church…

 

“Anything we are looking for, sir?” Dwayne asked, glancing around suspiciously, like he always did.

 

“…Let’s just walk in there and see for ourselves…”

 

The outskirts of the village seemed to be mainly for crops and agriculture. The few people they saw there glanced at them suspiciously, even after Damian greeted them with a wave. They stared and stared until Damian felt his neck burn uncomfortably. They talked among themselves, without greeting the visitors.

 

They crossed over the bridge, still admiring the landscape, and making most of the inhabitants glance at them curiously but once within the bounds of the village, the people seemed a little less hostile.

 

“I don’t think we’re very welcome in here, sir…” Jeremiah mumbled worriedly.

 

“We’re lost in the middle of nowhere, they probably never have visitors. And especially not young, rich heir with a driver and a bodyguard,” Dwayne continued.

 

“O-or Ostanian people…”

 

Damian didn’t react, continuing his way through the lovely village.

 

Some children ran ahead of him, laughing, eager to play some game. A dog followed them, barking joyfully.

 

It looked so idyllic, he almost thought he was dreaming. It was too beautiful to be true.

 

They arrived on the main square with an old well that probably wasn’t used anymore and some trees. The church and a few shops lined up: bakery, butcher, café, grocer’s shop, some more essentials…

 

“I need coffee. Do you think they accept Ostanian money?” Damian asked without waiting for an answer.

 

Jeremiah and Dwayne glanced at each other worriedly as Damian walked determinedly towards the café which seemed to serve also as restaurant and pub depending on the hour of the day. When they walked in, loud laughter between a few people resonated but they quieted down when they turned towards the strangers who had arrived in their village.

 

Damian swung from one foot to another, flushing at the attention of the few elderly people gathered in the café.

 

A waitress blinked at them, disturbed to see people she wasn’t used to. The three men she had been talking to cheerfully immediately started whispering to one another, shaking their heads, and sniffing suspiciously at Damian.

 

He was suddenly aware of the luxurious clothes he wore and the uniform from his driver and bodyguard standing just behind him. And the fact that he was rubbish at the Frank language.

 

“Hi, um… bonne jour…” he greeted, but only silence resonated, “Pouvons-nous… manger petit-déjeuner?” he asked, waving around the mostly empty café, towards a table, making awkward gestures of eating.

 

“We speak your language, handsome!” the waitress exclaimed with a smile, gathering menus.

 

“Who are ya?” one man asked, one tooth standing out of his wobbly lips, a lot less welcoming than the woman.

 

“Papy, ne commence pas–” she mumbled. 

 

“Ya’re Ostanian, ain’t ya? What is an Ostanian prince doin’ in Rhun?”

 

“Oh, I’m not a prince,” Damian stammered before realising that it did not help them be any more welcome.

 

“Stop actin’ like we’re still at war! It’s been over for over a decade!” the waitress exclaimed suddenly, tapping the men behind their heads playfully.

 

Damian raised an eyebrow at this treatment, but the three men flushed sheepishly instead of being offended.

 

“Ya’re very welcome here, little gentleman! Take any seat ya want! Just know that in about half an hour, most of the village will come here for morning coffee, and gossip, of course!”

 

She laughed, jerking her head backwards, rowdy, and unashamed. They all spoke with the thick accent of Belgican Frank, with the linguistic innate knowledge of a people that had been jungled between the Belgican and Ostanian borders through history.

 

Damian just sat at the nearest table, waving vividly at Dwayne and Jeremiah to sit with him, even if they both looked terribly awkward at sitting with their young master.

 

“So, what can I getcha, handsomes?” the waitress asked, coming to them with a wink and distributing the small menus.

 

Damian was acutely aware of the three men leaning forward to listen closely.

 

“Um, just coffee and… whatever you have for breakfast…” he answered, rummaging on the wooden, fragile-looking chair.

 

He was a long way from the Ritz-Charlton.

 

“We’ve got plenty for breakfast! How about a bit of everything, eh?”

 

“That sounds marvellous, ma’am,” Damian answered with a charming smile.

 

“It’ll be here soon! Name’s Marilyn if ya need anything else, just call me! And if these three old ruckuses bother ya, just say so and I’ll give them a spanking!” Marilyn continued with another wild wink.

 

“Oh, um, sure.”

 

There was an awkward pause where no one at the table said a thing, but the three older men whispered loudly enough in Frankish for a few words to reach Damian’s ears. “Ostania” and “stranger” and “trouble” kept coming up the most.

 

He supposed that such remote places were forgotten enough that the scars of war were still vivid.

 

It seemed impossible that something such as war had ever come in this lovely village.

 

Marilyn brought coffee and several pastries, bread, butter, sausages, bacon, and other lovely things. Damian thought the smell incredible, but he felt nauseous just thinking that Anya wasn’t here to share this moment with him.

 

He glanced over the window to the square where more people were gathering, chatting, and laughing. He could imagine Anya sitting at that very table, leaning towards him with a huge grin, laughing in excitement to discover this village.

 

“It’s the young miss!”

 

Damian startled, whipping towards Jeremiah who was pointing at something on the wall.

 

Damian got up so suddenly the chair almost fell backwards. He hurried to the wall where paintings and newspapers’ cuts had been displayed. Anya was there, or rather…

 

“No, it’s not Anya…” he said, disappointed, shoulders falling.

 

Jeremiah pouted, looking closely at the newspapers cut.

 

“I could have sworn… this woman looks just like the young miss…”

 

Damian examined the old picture showing a woman who looked very much like Anya, in black and white, in her early twenties. She was showing off a huge pie with some sort of ribbon price and the newspaper titled said “Winner of the Best Pie of Eastern Belgica!”

 

He didn’t even know such ridiculous contests existed… As for the name written under the newspaper cut…

 

“Evelyn Martel,” Damian read, pulling out the paper with his scribbling.

 

The names on this paper had all been engraved in his memory but seeing it written, seeing it confirmed, warmed his heart.

 

He knew who this woman was. He knew why she looked so much like Anya.

 

The whole exchange had had the three men and Marilyn glance at them curiously.

 

“Whatcha want from our angel?” the one-toothed man asked suspiciously, frowning at Damian.

 

He looked over, blinking.

 

“Your angel? Could it be… is there anywhere I could find this woman?”

 

They all pouted, turning away from him. It was Marilyn who, having lost her jovial charm, answered, hands on her hips and expression dark:

 

“Evelyn died years ago.”

 

Damian swallowed hard. He had been expecting it, Franky had told him, but it didn’t ease the wound.

 

“Why would ya look for her?” another man asked, looking less antagonistic than the two others.

 

Damian hesitated and glanced down at the series of names on his piece of paper. He handed it to Marilyn:

 

“I’m looking for these people… do you have any idea… what happened to the Beaufort family?” he asked.

 

She read the names, her eyes widening a little. She handed him the paper back, eyes wide.

 

“The Beaufort are all dead.”

 

“All of them?” Jeremiah repeated sadly.

 

Marilyn glanced over at the three men who looked a little less hostile.

 

“Can you tell me what happened, please?” Damian pleaded, looking at all of them hopefully.

 

Marilyn didn’t seem eager to do that, but she nodded. Damian and Jeremiah sat down again, noticing that Dwayne had spent most of the last few minutes eating the entirety of the breakfast.  Marilyn brought more food and Damian spread some butter and jam over some bread, waiting impatiently for the story of Anya’s family, of her origins.

 

“Evelyn was the only daughter of the Martel, they used to own the bakery over there,” Marilyn started, pointing at the shop across the square, “She was the sweetest person to exist. Always kind, always helping people.”

 

“Then the war happened,” another man grumbled, turning around to face Damian.

 

“The war was between Ostania and Westalis. But you’re too far away from the border between the two,” Damian replied.

 

“Ya think war stops at borders?” the one-toothed one replied, clicking his tongue, “That it cares about borders and people?”

 

“…No. No, I guess not. Horror doesn’t stop for an imaginary line. I wouldn’t have imagined a place so far away would have been affected by the war…”

 

All the history books only talked about Westalis and Ostania. Of course, both had allies but the idea that a small village lost in the mountains would have been affected by such a huge conflict, so far away from there… was sobering. There wasn’t a place that hadn’t been touched, that hadn’t suffered because of mankind’s cruelty.

 

“There was a battle, pfff, over two decades now, at the border, right in the forest. Westalian and Ostanians, and Belgican and other people. Bombs went on for days and days,” one of the older men continued, gaze dark by the memories.

 

“A huge chunk of the forest is still blown off. Huge holes in the ground that haven’t recovered yet. Nothing grows there except cornflowers and poppies. We still find skeletons and bombs that haven’t gone off yet…”

 

“And at the end of the battle, after the soldiers had gone away without cleaning their mess, Evelyn went to pick up berries or leaves in the forest and stumbled on a soldier, badly wounded and still bleeding, abandoned by his regiment. It was before the dawn, before anyone had woken up, except the Martel and their bakery…”

 

“Evelyn found him and because she was an angel who helped anyone and everyone, she brought him back to Rhun and rode on bicycle the entire way to the nearest city to bring back a doctor!” Marilyn continued with a tight smile, “They fell in love, obviously, but once healed, he had to leave to the frontlines again. When his letters stopped coming, she thought him dead, until peace was announced and he showed up three days later, one arm bandaged. And guess what? She looked after him again!”

 

“He was a clumsy guy, and she would always bandage him for something or other, they used to say their marriage would become boring if he stopped getting hurt!”

 

Some sad laughter erupted from the people.

 

Some more customers walked in, watching curiously the strangers, but once Marilyn had given them all some coffee and pastries, they kept telling the story. Over a dozen people were now circling Damian, Dwayne, and Jeremiah, adding in snippets and little stories they remembered about Evelyn and her wounded soldier.

 

“What was his name?” Damian asked in a low voice, even if he already knew the answer.

 

“Daniel Antoine Beaufort, he was the most handsome man there was!” one lady exclaimed, nodding vividly, “He insisted on waiting to be fully healed before marrying Evelyn, because he wanted to carry her over the threshold!”

 

Damian almost laughed. Of course, he’d have a name starting with D…

 

“Aaaaw!”

 

“Oooh! How romantic!”

 

“They married in summer and the entire village was there to celebrate with them!”

 

“Daniel was a carpenter, you see, so they settled out of the village, near the forest, and Evelyn would help her parents at the bakery during the day time.”

 

“W-what about… their children?” Damian asked hesitantly, knowing he flushed at the thought.

 

“Aaaah, it took them a while, didn’t it? But then, they were blessed with twin babies, the most adorable babes that had ever been born in Rhun!” another older woman exclaimed, “I helped for their birth, it was so long and so difficult, but Evelyn never gave up! And at dawn, the two loveliest babes, one boy and one girl blessed our village– what were their names again?”

 

“Anastasia and Albert,” Damian answered automatically, glancing down at the paper in his fingers, “Anastasia Alice Faustine… and Albert Jonathan Gilbert…”

 

They all stared at Damian who startled out of his reverie. He straightened up, flushing and trying to hide his embarrassment.

 

“They were happy, so what happened to them?”

 

Why did they abandon their babies? He added to himself.

 

Everyone darkened, glancing at one another. It suddenly dawned on Damian that in such a small village, everyone knew everyone, and they had all shared the grief of losing Evelyn and Daniel and… the Beaufort twins.

 

“We don’t know…”

 

“Some burglar or something attacked the house while Daniel was away… He found Evelyn dead, and his two babes were gone. We all helped trying to find them, the police officers from the nearest city helped too but… no sign of them.”

 

“Poor Daniel put a bullet in his mouth a few weeks later,” someone concluded with a sniff.

 

Damian looked down. Even if he had known Anya’s biological parents had died long ago, he hadn’t thought it so tragic. He had hoped that COEUS had gotten their hands on Anya and her twin brother because their parents had died and they had been orphaned, but… it sounded like COEUS had actively tried to gather as many twins as possible, going as far as murdering the parents.

 

Evelyn and Daniel didn’t deserve that. They had fought the war, they had found love and light despite the darkness of that time. They had been blessed with everything, before it had all been taken away from them… and from Anya and Albert who should have grown up in this small village, far away from the noisy, terrible, cold world out there… They should have grown up in peace with their parents in this beautiful, small village.

 

“Evelyn and the babes were Daniel’s stars, he couldn’t live without them…” Marilyn concluded sadly.

 

“Who could blame him? The greatest happiness had been snatched from him because of some stranger who had wandered into the village one day…”

 

No wonder they were so suspicious of Damian and his intimidating bodyguard and not-so-intimidating driver (Jeremiah was currently wiping away some tears) arriving out of the blue.

 

“Wait… you know who it was?” Damian asked suddenly, looking up.

 

“He was never found. Some tall fancy doctor from the east. He said he was travelling for research.”

 

“Was it… this man?” Damian continued, pulling out a photograph of Adam von Roth.

 

The few people who had been particularly suspicious of that traveller narrowed their eyes and stared, and stared at that picture.

 

“Yeah, yeah, it was him… He’s the one who murdered our sweet angel and her family!!”

 

“We don’t know if he was the one who attacked poor Evelyn, but who else? He was suspicious from the beginning, I warned ya, and ya didn’t listen!” the one-toothed guy continued, slamming his hand down.

 

“We couldn’t exactly kick him out of the village just because ya had a bad feeling about him, papy!” Marilyn scolded.

 

He sniffed doubtfully, then glanced warily at Damian who didn’t bother acknowledging the old man’s suspicions. He put the picture back in his pocket, swallowing hard. Adam von Roth had survived the war, taken a new identity to pretend to be dead, and he had wandered the countries looking for twins and babies to experiment on.

 

What a sick bastard.

 

“So… the entire Beaufort family is… gone?” Damian continued.

 

“Not everyone.”

 

They all turned to an elderly woman who was bent over, with a walking stick. She watched Damian warily, but she didn’t seem as antagonising as the trio of older men. She just looked vaguely curious. She wobbled forward, greyish white hair pulled backwards with keen green eyes.

 

“Why is a stranger asking about my daughter’s murder?”

 

Damian stood up suddenly, gasping.

 

“Your daughter? Your daughter was Evelyn? You’re Evelyn’s mother?!” he exclaimed.

 

She frowned, gathering her hands over the walking stick.

 

Damian opened and closed his mouth.

 

Your granddaughter is alive, she’s somewhere out there, she’s not safe and sound right now and we’re looking for her, but she will come back– also I’m dating her and hoping to marry her someday…

 

How was he supposed to say all that to that old and frail lady?

 

Voice tight in his throat, he dived his hand into his pocket and pulled out a photograph. The one Loid had lent him. The one with Anya wearing that beautiful yellow dress. Full of sunlight and laughter.

 

He handed the photograph to the old lady who took it. She narrowed her eyes, looking closely before gasping. Her walking stick fell as she raised her other hand to her mouth.

 

“Evelyn? Is it Evelyn–”

 

“I… know her as Anya…”

 

The woman looked at him, eyes wide. For a moment, Damian feared that the shock had been too much, and she’d fall over from a heart attack.

 

Several villagers hurried around the grandmother, looking over her shoulder and gasping, shocked and bewildered.

 

“That girl looks like Evelyn!”

 

“She looks so much like her!”

 

“Is it little Anastasia?!”

 

The woman’s lips trembled violently as she held back tears, pressing the photograph against her chest. She wheezed and someone helped her sit down.

 

Damian bent over to give her the walking stick again, but she waved it off.

 

“S-she grew up in Berlint, she was adopted by the best people in the world, I promise.”

 

I can’t tell this old lady the truth that her granddaughter was kidnapped for vicious experimentations…

 

“She’s… she’s away at the moment,” Damian continued, the lie heavy on his tongue but now that he was face-to-face with Alice Martel, he couldn’t bring himself to tell the whole truth, “But I… I wanted to find the truth about her origins, to offer her, when she’d be back…”

 

“When… when? When is she coming back?” Alice Martel asked, holding out her shaking hand to grab Damian’s wrist.

 

He looked into those vivid, bright green eyes that reminded him so much of Anya’s. Missing her had never been heavier on his chest that in this instant.

 

“Soon…” he breathed.

 

The moment he said that word, he knew it wouldn’t be anytime soon.

 

He knew that when he’d return to Berlint, Anya wouldn’t have been found. That they would have run out of clues and leads and they’d be stuck.

 

“A-as soon as we can, I’ll… bring Anya back here…”

 

And she’ll choose which side of the border she wants to live in, he added to himself.

 

Alice Martel, Anya’s biological grandmother, her last living family, watched him with wide eyes, probably thinking him an apparition.

 

The entire café, now cramped with most villagers, many curious ones outside asking what was happening in low voices…

 

“…Who are you?” she asked Damian, still gripping his wrist in a shaking hand.

 

“I’m…”

 

He put one knee on the floor, not knowing how to introduce himself, as he faced this grieving, heartbroken woman to whom he had given a desperate hope he wasn’t sure he could ever fulfil.

 

His whole life he had been proud of being a Desmond, using his name, his family, his influence, his wealth to his advantage… It had proven to be a double-edged sword that had cut far too deep when realising what his father had truly been like.

 

“I’m no one important here,” he answered with a true smile, shoulders relaxing, “But you can call me Damian.”

 

For the first time in almost seventeen years, he took pride in being Damian, and a good man, rather than being a Desmond, and a good son.

 

“Damian…” she repeated, nodding a little, “Thank you… for bringing her back, even if just as a picture… Come, come, I have so many photographs, so many stories to tell you–”

 

Damian pressed his hand over hers, stopping her with a smile.

 

“Keep them for Anya, keep them for later… I need to return to Berlint soon.”

 

He stood up, pressing his fingers into this old woman’s clinging hands. She let him go reluctantly, watching him with her mouth hanging open.

 

He put a huge stack of Ostanian money on the table which had Marilyn’s eyes bug out in a mix of shock and terror.

 

“I hope it’s enough to cover for the breakfast and coffee. I’ll bring the correct currency the next time I visit,” he told her with a small smile.

 

“T-tha-that’s more than a decade worth of money, it’s–”

 

“Barely enough for the people who told me the one thing I needed to hear. Thank you… all of you…” he said, with a careful nod.

 

He started walking towards the door, everyone letting him through as if he truly were some foreign prince appeared out of a fairy tale.

 

Alice Martel watched him, still clutching Anya’s photograph.

 

“Damian!” she called out, standing up on wobbly legs just as he was about to pass through the doorway, “Why… whatever you’ve come here for… why did you do it?”

 

Damian froze, blinking as he turned around. He opened and closed his lips, so many words he wanted to share, so many things he wanted to tell her about his Anya.

 

“Because… she’s my Evelyn, she’s my star…” he admitted in a cracking voice.

 

Alice watched him. Then she tightened her lips and nodded.

 

“Bring her back.”

 

He simply nodded then stepped out, ignoring the whispers echoing behind him as people followed him with their gazes. Suspicions were all erased but questions would be numerous when he’ll come back. With Anya.

 

She’d love it here… she would have loved it here… he thought to himself, putting his hands into his pockets.

 

“Why did we come here if we don’t bring the old lady back to Berlint to greet the young miss?” Dwayne asked, staring down at the young master.

 

“I am not driving a lady that old all the way to Berlint! She’ll never make it!” Jeremiah whined, eyes wide.

 

“She’s only seventy or so years old, she’s not dying yet,” Damian answered, staring ahead as they walked back the main road towards the outskirts of the village where the car waited, “I wanted to make sure that Anya’s biological family… that they hadn’t abandoned her. That they had loved her. That they had fought to find her. That’s all I want to be able to tell her when I’ll find her again.”

 

Jeremiah and Dwayne exchanged a look, more moved than expected by their young master’s golden heart.

 

Whatever role COEUS had played in destroying this family, some bonds still existed. This entire village still mourned Evelyn and Daniel. They still missed Anastasia and Albert. Only Anya would be able to come back… someday… but she needed to know that she had been born out of love, that she had a family waiting for her, that some bonds were far too sacred to be forgotten.

 

And an entire village remembered her.