SPY X FAMILY
CHAPTER XI : One Step Forward
Damian whipped around, shamedly walking away from his family.
“Damian, wait! Damian!” Demetrius called, sounding furious.
Damian kept walking, he went through the doors and hurried down the stairs, ignoring the rain pouring over his head, drenching his carefully chosen clothes. He had his fists clenched, his jaw tense, and he walked blindly, not caring where he was going as long as it was away from this family.
Hurrying down the main stone path, he ignored the occasional car passing by to pick up a rich family.
Thunder rumbled above his head. Lightning illuminated the landscape. And lost in the middle of the downpour and the dark trees, there was Anya Forger. As if waiting for him. Her pink umbrella was almost blinding in the mid-darkness.
She noticed him right away and ran to him, immediately raising the umbrella above his head.
“Sy-on boy! What are you doing here?! You’re drenched! The dorms are the other way!”
He stared at her, dumbfounded.
“What… are you doing here?” he mumbled, staring at her with wide eyes.
The rain tapped the umbrella with enthusiasm. He only noticed now that his hair was completely drenched. Raindrops were rolling down his cheeks.
Anya stared at him, her big eyes full of compassion.
“…We’re waiting for my papa to come back with the car.”
Damian noticed the figure of Yor Forger, under a red umbrella, standing a few meters away.
“Did something happen with your brother?” Anya asked, perceptive as ever.
He swallowed hard. He looked down.
She kept staring at him, he could feel it. She suddenly whipped around:
“Mama! I’ll walk Sy-on boy back to his dorms, this dumb-dumb forgot his umbrella!”
“I’m not a dum–” Damian choked, once again furious and once again himself.
“We’ll wait for you at the entrance of the academy. Be careful on the way back.” Yor Forger said with a knowing smile.
Anya grabbed Damian’s hand, which sent his heart into a frenzy, and without caring about her beautiful shoes and dress, went right into the muddy grass.
“We need to get you back before you catch a cold,” she said.
Surprisingly, Damian also didn’t care about his expensive shoes and trousers.
A car suddenly went to a stop on the sidewalk. The emergency lights went on and a tall figure went out.
He startled and glanced over his shoulder, seeing his brother furiously advancing towards him, without regard to the rain.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” Demetrius exclaimed, red in the face.
Damian stared at his brother, a little angry himself that he could not find any peace, but astonished all the same to see so much… emotion. His brother had never shown so much fury, so much anything. Even when their father had died, Demetrius’ eyes had barely shone, he had barely trembled. While Damian had been a bawling mess. He had once thought that his brother was just that much stronger and incredible for not showing his sadness and grief… but perhaps, Damian now realised seeing Demetrius tempesting in the rain, that his brother might be as broken as he was. Just differently.
Demetrius barely acknowledged Anya, glaring at his brother.
“You can’t leave like that in the middle of a gala, so many people saw your behaviour! Mother is beside herself!”
“There isn’t much that makes her react anyway!” Damian replied, rolling his eyes.
Demetrius gasped. Another new reaction Damian had never witnessed.
“Since when are you such an arrogant child?!”
“He’s always been,” Anya snorted, barely impressed by Demetrius’ glare who finally turned his attention towards her, “It’s the Desmond main trait.”
“Who are you?” Demetrius hissed.
“Anya Forger,” she replied without hesitation, “I would say, nice to meet you, but really, right now, you’re a thorn in my side.”
Demetrius opened and closed his lips.
“But I believe you’re here to make up with your brother, so… go ahead, but choose your next words carefully,” Anya continued, foolishly unaware of what Demetrius Desmond could do to her if she truly angered him.
Damian was about to intervene, but his brother gritted his teeth. He whipped his attention back to Damian who was tempted to just let those two joust each other to death. Knowing that his brother would never say anything in front of Anya, but would never leave either, Damian just walked out from under the umbrella and took a few steps away, out of hearing range of the nosy, wonderful young woman.
As expected, Demetrius followed him. And despite the pouring rain, he straightened up, bringing his hands behind him in a posture that was so similar to Donovan Desmond that Damian thought for a moment that his father had been brought back to life.
“Damian, we will talk about your future during the Christmas holidays. I know I have been… absent the last few years…”
He paused, pondering his words.
“And it doesn’t matter if I promise to make it up somehow, we can’t catch up on the time we’ve missed together as a family.”
A sudden laughter exploded from Damian’s chest. It surprised Demetrius enough to shut him up. All the pent-up anger, frustration and bitterness of his entire life suddenly came to the surface:
“What family?!” Damian exploded, throwing his arms to the air.
His gesture broke the rain. Thunder rumbled in the distance and another lightning illuminated the sky, giving an unnatural light to that night scene.
“We were never a family! I barely saw you growing up, our father never cared about either of us! Our mother was a nice doll then a forgotten shell!! We NEVER were a family!”
Demetrius stared at him, mouth hanging open. Damian breathed hard. The truth of his words, of his feelings hit him hard. He stumbled backwards. He passed a hand through his wet hair, which did nothing to help the disaster it had become.
“No, we weren’t,” Demetrius finally said.
Damian swallowed hard. He would have never expected his brother to… agree to such words.
“And that’s all you wanted, right? You wanted father’s approval because you thought it’d bring you into the family.”
The young man was out of words. The D golden buttons glistening in the dark felt cheap now. The Desmond family name he had always been so proud of was too heavy now.
Demetrius glanced at his watch, eyes narrowed. He glanced over his shoulder, at the silhouettes of bodyguards ready to intervene.
“I can’t make up for our father’s shortcomings, but I can make sure that… you won’t miss on having a life that would make you happy. You, at least, deserve it. Next Christmas holidays, we’ll discuss all this.”
He glanced at Anya who startled, under her pink and flashy umbrella.
“And I guess we’ll also talk about your ‘just classmate’,” he added in an unimpressed tone.
Although it was completely useless because of how drenched he was, Demetrius pulled on the sleeves of his ruined expensive outfit. He nodded to Damian, back to his usual emotionless self.
He turned around and made his way back to the car that was still waiting. Damian noticed the figure of their mother, standing next to the door, a bodyguard holding an umbrella above her head. She might have smiled, but it was hard to tell from so far away. Demetrius walked as elegantly as he could, although he slid in the mud.
Seeing his brother struggling to walk in the mud, having run after him under the rain, having yelled at him…
Perhaps if his father had yelled at him, even once, Damian would have felt like he had cared.
And Damian finally felt like he had met his older brother.
“Demetrius!” he yelled to cover the sound of the rain.
He turned around, now stable on the little pebbles of the road. A bodyguard hurried to cover him with an umbrella, although it was completely meaningless now.
“Thank you… for coming…” Damian said, hoping his voice carried well enough.
Demetrius stared, his face almost entirely darkened by the umbrella. He gave the slightest nod, then went back into the car that quickly left the academy grounds.
In the car, Demetrius stared in front of him, unflinching despite the discomfort of his wet clothes. He was too proud to accept the pathetic handkerchief that his mother offered him.
The only sounds in the car were the rain resonating above their heads and the occasional screeches of the car wheels on the road.
“Did you have a good talk?” his mother finally asked.
Demetrius glanced at her. She sat straight and pristine, not a single hair out of place. Her lips were tilted up in that irritating smile, the one she had put up on her face after their father’s death. She always smiled now. It meant nothing now.
“You heard us yell at each other, did it sound like a good talk?” he grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You two are so similar, always mumbling without realising it,” she commented, looking outside the window, keeping that silly smile of hers.
“I am not–”
Demetrius recalled himself correcting Damian about mumbling and he cursed under his breathe. Dafni Desmond continued, as if unaware of her older son’s annoyance:
“Short-tempered, short-sighted, blind to the obvious. So determined to prove your worth to your father.”
Demetrius rolled his eyes, but knew that for as long as his mother felt the need to talk, she wouldn’t stop until she had made a point. If the Desmond brothers had inherited stubbornness from either of their parents, it was their mother.
“Damian put too much pressure on himself, he always has.”
“Father never expected anything from him, it’s ridiculous.”
“Because the one who expected the most from him was you.”
Demetrius whipped his head towards his mother who kept her gaze lost in the city lights, echoed in bubbles of colours because of the rain.
“I never expected anything from Damian! He’s always been free to do as he wishes, he’s not the heir!”
“And yet, you always expected him to be happy when you chained yourself to please your father. You tried so hard to draw his entire attention, to spare your brother, that you didn’t realise what it did to Damian. He ended up comparing himself to you, as much as he looked up to you, and your father’s behaviour didn’t help.”
“…Are you saying it’s my fault?”
“I’m saying there’s no point on turning over misunderstandings from years ago. Your father always expected the best results from everyone, but never you two.”
“Because he didn’t care.”
“Because he cared too much. What parent would ever expect perfection from their children, when the simple joy of having a child is perfection?”
She turned back to him, still smiling. But her eyes sparkled a little and to anyone else, she’d look as much of a shell as ever, but Demetrius knew.
“…That’s not what father thought, that’s what you feel.”
Her lips trembled, the closest thing to a laugh he’d ever get from his mother.
“Maybe so. But your father isn’t here anymore to dictate his way of doing things. You can choose to be kinder to your brother.”
Demetrius didn’t answer. The silence stretched on, more uncomfortable than the clothes he was wearing.
“You will be with us at Christmas, then?”
“Good. It’ll make Damian happy.”
And me, were the unspoken words.
“Perhaps we should invite this young Miss Forger to join us?”
“The darling lady who tried to protect your brother’s image by pretending they were only friends,” Dafni continued, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.
“That irksome creature? You should have heard the way she talked to me, she was most irritating. Hold on, what do you mean ‘pretending’?”
Dafni stared at her older son, and sighed, her smile never leaving her face. It only did when she was alone.
“So clueless, both of you. So similar, both of you.”
“I don’t understand, mother, and no, we are not inviting a stranger to our family Christmas gala!”
His shoes were most definitely ruined. They kept squelching at every step in the mud. He could feel water and humidity soaking through to his feet. Damian felt too numb to curse his fate. It had been too many emotions for him to be able to express anything right now.
Anya had it worse though. Her heels kept digging even deeper in the mud that reached way above her ankles. Perhaps he should have carried her, but it would seem meaningless after so much struggle in the mud.
He was intimately aware of the way both their hands held the umbrella. His little finger brushing her hand was the only source of warmth he felt at the moment.
“Why are your dorms so far away?” Anya mumbled after another wobbly step.
“So we can be kept as far away as possible from the girls’ dorms,” he answered.
“As if that would stop any of you,” she replied, rolling her eyes.
His lips tilted up. He smiled. After everything that had happened, he could still smile. That was the effect that Anya Forger had on him.
She looked up at him. Her dress was also splattered with mud. Her hair was falling out of its bun. Her makeup was a little smudged after so many hours. She looked stunning.
She blushed and looked away. He felt himself flush.
“You were right.”
Anya stopped so suddenly that she almost fell over, and he almost tripped backwards because they kept holding the umbrella despite losing balance in two opposite directions. Both got partially soaked by the rain in their awkward position.
“Did you just… did you just admit… that I was right?” Anya repeated, a massive grin making its way on her face.
“Oh no, I’m already regretting it,” he mumbled, looking away from her adorableness.
“Did you, Damian Desmond, just admitted that I, Anya Forger, was right?!” she exclaimed, suddenly brighter than a star.
He remained stubbornly silent. He would not give her such joy. His pride would never recover. He also knew that if he glanced at her, he would crack.
And Anya knew it too because she started wobbling around him, trying to catch his eye. He kept turning his head around, his cheeks getting hotter and hotter by the second. Her laughter eventually bubbled out of her throat, and he couldn’t resist anymore. He looked.
“Say it again! That I was right!!” Anya exclaimed, hopping up and down as best she could in the mud.
He was profusely red by now.
“Y-you… you were… you were right…” he let out through gritted teeth.
She smiled brightly. His pride could rest in peace. Why should it matter when she was such a beautiful pearl?
“I am content, Damian Desmond admitted that I was right about something! It’s worth a hundred Stella stars!” she exclaimed, happily continuing her way towards the entrance of the boys’ dorms that could now be seen.
They only had a few more meters of struggle in the mud before they’d reach the paved ground, then the stairs. And Damian would be back in his dorms, in serious need of a shower. He had had no idea mud could slither in so many places.
He wanted this moment to last longer. Soaked, cold, muddy, he wanted to remain with Anya Forger in that pouring rain, under that ridiculous pink umbrella.
“You don’t want to know what was the something you were right about?” he enquired, mostly to make this conversation last longer.
“Mmm… nope! I’m always right about everything, I’m just glad you finally admitted it!” she answered smugly.
They reached the paved way and she hopped around, dripping mud behind her. Walking was so much easier, so much faster. He was tempted to just throw her in the mud.
“I never said you were right about everything, only one tiny, teeny thing! Something very small, so small it barely counts as being right to begin with!” he replied, pretending to be annoyed.
She sent him a look over her shoulder, still grinning.
“If you want so badly to tell me about it, just do it, Desmond,” she continued, the twinkle of a challenge in her eyes.
He stopped walking. It forced her to stop and turn around. They both still had their hands wrapped around the umbrella handle. His pinkie brushed her hand, shyly.
“You were right, I am a puppet of the Desmond family…” he said, swallowing hard.
These words burnt his tongue, it hurt him in a way he hadn’t expected. Realising it was one thing, admitting it to Anya Forger was another, admitting it to himself… was yet another thing entirely. It would take time for his mind to get over, to rethink of everything he had said with his brother… reconsider his future perhaps.
What was he, if not a Desmond?
He wasn’t sure what reaction he had expected from Anya, but certainly not that soft and understanding expression. It left him lost, staring at her. Her face covered in smudged make-up, splattered with mud that had somehow made its way all the way there… but her eyes, her eyes were a vision of spring, of hope, of renewal.
“It’s okay to feel a little lost, sometimes, you know…” she started, understanding with ease what he was feeling, like always. “I feel this way too, sometimes… we all do.”
“Wow… what sort of wisdom is sprouting out of your mouth, Forger? Is this why it’s raining so hard?” he continued, frowning at the sky and putting his free hand out in the pouring rain.
She elbowed him, very lightly, for teasing her, but he wrapped his hand over hers and pulled her closer. Just one small step. They were still too far apart. She shivered, and he liked to think it wasn’t because of the rain and the cold… but because of the way they had gotten closer. He expected her to leave him, to step away, to mention Bill Watkins, but she stayed there. Her hand nestled into his. Because they both had to hold the umbrella, or they’d get rained on.
Then, she said something unexpected:
“For what it’s worth… I’m really proud of the man you’re becoming…” she murmured.
His heart missed a beat. His entire life he had seeked his father’s praise, he had only ever wanted to make his family proud. He had almost given up ever hearing these words from anyone. And here was Anya Forger, giving him a solace he had never thought he’d find.
She smiled, as if she knew exactly what it felt like. She smiled as if she could read his heart.
“And I think… that your brother really cares about you… he’s just bad at… communicating it.”
Damian stared at her, a half-smile pulling on his lips.
“Another Desmond trait… is it?”
“The worst one,” she replied with a teasing smile, “A nightmare. An absolute curse. A horror.”
“Okay, that’s enough, I still have my pride, you know.”
She observed him, her eyes sparkling like stars.
“You are irritating, and prideful, and arrogant, and far too intelligent, and with terrible social skills.”
He rolled his eyes, but she wasn’t done yet:
“But you also look adorable when the rain makes your hair curl up like that, Damian Desmond.”
He stopped breathing, his eyes widened. The warmth that took over his face would have been enough to turn the rain into steam.
She had said his name.
It was music to his ears.
Say it again, say it again, sing it to me, don’t ever stop calling me that.
She did something far worse than that. She leaned on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.
The warmth on his face was nothing compared to the one that bloomed in his body. It spread in his every limb. If he hadn’t been so frozen on the spot, in shock, he would have thrown the umbrella away, carried Anya in his arms, and shouted from the rooftops to anyone still awake at Eden Academy that he was desperately in love with this incredible, confusing, irksome, magnificent woman.
She stepped away with a smile, her own cheeks blooming like roses in spring. He could almost hear her heartbeat, or maybe it was his, drumming in his ears. Her hand escaped from his, but holding the umbrella didn’t seem important anymore.
“Hurry up inside, dummy!” she exclaimed as she started running away from him to go back to her parents who most definitely were worrying.
“Watch where you’re going, klutz!” he shouted back.
Her laugh echoed against the trees, the rain, all the way to him.
Sure, he was getting rained on now. Sure, he should hurry up inside before catching death. But how could he move when Anya Forger had told him she was proud of him? Pronounced his full name, delicious honey to his ears? Kissed his cheek?
Damian threw his head backwards, fully receiving the rain on his face. He laughed, like a wet idiot, in the middle of a storm. He slowly made his way towards the stairs of Cecil Hall but just before he entered, he punched the air in victory, a gigantic, idiotic smile on his face.
His meeting with his brother had been a bit of a disaster, but who cared? Anya Forger had kissed his cheek. Nothing else mattered. He was the king of the world.