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The first time it happens, it’s her.

Damian is, naturally, not expecting it, as he is not expecting most things when it comes to Anya Forger.

She's been begging him to teach her math for their upcoming test, and as much as Damian likes her, she is a terrible student. Any and all tutoring sessions with her end in loud yelling that gets them kicked out of the library, and Damian doesn’t want to add a Tonitrus Bolt onto his record for too many disturbances, thank you very much. It’s a miracle he hasn’t gotten one already.

“We don’t have to go to the library,” Anya says, as if reading his mind, which is another thing that seems to happen a lot. Either Anya is just really good at reading people, or she is actually an esper. Damian doesn’t believe in espers and ESP and any of that, but it is the more likely explanation, given it’s Anya.

“No,” he tells her. “You’re annoying. Ask Becky.”

“But Becky isn’t as good at it as you are!”

The comment is true, and it’s something he already knows. He’s got the best grades in class, after all. It still makes him swell a bit with pride, knowing she thinks so too, but he has his reputation to maintain, so he sighs dramatically and pretends he’s burdened by the statement.

“Don’t you have anyone else you can annoy?”

Anya sticks her tongue out at him. “I’m only asking you to help me with my math, it’s not such a big deal.”

“Are you kidding me? Teaching a porcupine to read English, after teaching it Arabic, is still easier than teaching you math.”

Anya frowns, but tightens the hold she has on his arm. It’s clear she’s not going to give up any time soon, and Damian does feel a bit bad about turning her down so bluntly (and insulting her math skills, though really, he thinks he paid those a compliment, they’re so bad) so he rolls his eyes and grumbles out a ‘fine’.

They’re in the library, in a quiet corner hidden away from the rest of the students when she does it. Shifting her seat so she’s pressed to him from shoulder to waist in one hot line, sneaking her fingers into his and then pressing a kiss to his cheek while he’s trying to tell her that she’s managed to solve every single equation wrong.

Damian’s brain stops all functionality. He blinks at her in shock as he tries to process the situation. A difficult thing to do, with a non-functioning brain.

Anya grins at him and stands, gathering her books.

“That’s enough for today, Sy-on Boy! Thanks for your help, and bye!”

And with that, she’s running out of the library. By the time his brain catches up to him, she’s already at the exit.

“You got them all wrong, idiot!” He yells out after her, because he has no idea what else to say, and the librarian hisses at him to be quiet.

Face burning, Damian turns back to his own math. Miraculously, he gets them all wrong too.

 


 

The second time, it’s a dare, so it doesn’t count.

Becky Blackbell has somehow managed to get the entire class involved in a juvenile game of Spin The Bottle because she thinks it’ll be ‘exciting’ and ‘fun’. Damian disagrees, but he doesn’t want to be a stick in the mud, so he relents. 

When it’s Ewen’s turn to spin the bottle, it lands on him. Of course, Ewen doesn’t even need to be glared at to give a hint, and drops out of the game on his own. For a second, Damian feels relieved. He’s managed to escape the situation and taken part. In his head, he’s already thinking of an excuse to leave, but Becky cuts in.

“It’s your turn to spin the bottle, Desmond!”

Damian looks up at her and scowls. “I’m not playing this dumb game.”

Becky’s lips curl up into the most infuriating smile Damian has ever seen on another person. She folds her arms across her chest. “Oh, I see. Coward.”

“What do you mean, ‘coward’?

“If you’re too chicken to do something as mild as a kiss, fine, go,” she says, and turns her attention away from him, addressing everyone else in the circle instead. “Who wants to go next?”

It’s bait, and Damian knows it’s bait, but the downside to having a perfect first-son for an elder brother is that everything in life is now a competition, and he has to win. Before he can talk any sense into himself, he’s already reached out and grabbed the bottle.

“I’m not a fucking coward,” he says, and spins it hard.

Everyone watches with bated breath as the bottle spins. It feels like centuries before it comes to a complete stop, and Damian looks up.

“Oh my god,” Becky says out loud, and he hears at least three different people snickering in the crowd.

“Are you going to kiss me, Sy-on Boy?” Anya says, her voice cutting through everyone else’s, and looks up at him with wide, innocent eyes as if she has no idea what the statement insinuates. 

Maybe two weeks ago he would have assumed she doesn’t, but today he has fresh memories of the library and quadratic equations that he knows how to solve, so he’s not sure.

Either way, he’s too busy focusing on the fact that his face is burning and his brain seems to have gone on emergency shutdown again, and that everyone in the classroom is looking between them in a hushed silence.

Damian swallows hard and shuffles over to where Anya is standing. She’s about a head shorter than him, so he has to look down. Her lips are pink and glossy. From this close he can see faint brown flecks in her eyes that he’d never noticed before.

He wants so badly to run.

“We don’t have all day, Desmond,” Becky snaps, reminding him he has an audience, so he takes a hasty step back, grabs Anya’s hand and presses his lips to it.

He’s out of the room within five seconds, face burning, head spinning. Behind him, he can hear loud hooting and catcalls, but he doesn’t stay to yell at them.

 


 

The third time, it’s him.

He’s freshly sixteen, his father has gifted him a brand new Rolex for his birthday and complimented him on his recent 100% score on nine out of ten subjects. The tenth was a 99% and Demetrius had gotten a 98% on that at his age, so Damian is clearly moving ahead. Things are good with the world. 

In fact, things are so good that Damian doesn’t even get irritated when Becky sits behind him playing her shitty game of Flame Love Calculator while very loudly putting Anya’s name with other boys in class. The game is stupid because Damian tried it at home, and it gave him the ‘enemy’ result, which would be fine to show the public, but bothers him to no end in the recesses of his mind.

But nobody’s allowed into his mind but him, so that’s fine.

In any case, it’s a good day. 

He’s having a great time all the way up until lunch, when Anya bumps into him holding her tray and accidentally spills her juice all over him. It’s just juice, so there’s no real harm done besides perhaps the laundry, but Anya is quick to pull out her handkerchief and wipe him down, apologizing the entire time.

Upon closer look, she doesn’t seem to be having a very good day herself. In fact, she looks downright miserable when he finally grabs her wrist and tells her he’s okay.

“It’s just juice, I’m fine,” he says, and pulls his jacket off. There is a faint stain on his shirt, but it’s nothing he can’t fix with a quick run to the dorms. “It was just an accident.”

Anya nods, and picks up her tray. Then sets it down again, and turns to leave the cafeteria.

“You good, bossman?” Emile asks him. Damian assures him it really is just juice, turning to look back in Anya’s direction, but she’s already gone.

He leaves to change into clean clothes. There are still thirty minutes before lunch break ends, and if he times himself right, he can manage to clean up and get back within ten. The day is not as great as it was this morning, but it’s still good enough.

He’s walking back to the cafeteria when he sees her sitting on one of the garden benches on her own. Damian pauses for a moment, wondering if it’s okay for him to approach her right now. She doesn’t look like she wants to be around anyone, but he remembers the face she’d made earlier and concern rushes through him. 

Before he can think too hard about it, he’s crossing the lawns and taking the empty seat next to her.

Anya looks up at him in surprise. “Why aren’t you in the cafeteria?”

“I went to change,” he explains, and Anya’s expression falls again. 

“I’m really sorry about that,” she tells him, and looks down at her hands in her lap, picking at her nails.

“It’s fine, I told you.” 

He’s not sure of what else to say, and Anya doesn’t seem to be in a conversational mood - which is new - so he simmers in the awkward silence for a bit before forcing out a: “You feeling okay?”

Anya doesn’t respond for a moment. Then, “Yeah, I'm okay.”

“You don’t look so okay.” It’s too openly concerned, so just to be safe, he tacks on a ‘your face is so easy to read’, and instantly regrets it.

“Sy-on Boy,” Anya says, grinning. It doesn’t quite reach her eyes, though. “Are you trying to make me feel better?”

No, is his reflex response and it’s at the tip of his tongue, but he swallows down his pride and the words, and instead says, “Maybe. I’m just concerned because - because you’re not being yourself.”

“Everyone has bad days,” she tells him. It’s not wrong. “Oh! By the way!” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small box. “Happy birthday!”

Damian blinks at it stupidly. For a second, he’d completely forgotten it was his birthday. He takes the box and opens it. 

Inside is the ugliest thing he’s ever seen. He can’t even tell what it is - it looks like a mess of clay and sand and materials he’d never known existed to mankind. 

“It’s supposed to be a griffin,” she tells him, proudly. “I took up clay art recently and made that for you.”

Damian imagines Anya sitting at a desk, focusing hard on a tiny griffin that she clearly seems to think looks something like a griffin (it doesn’t) and suddenly the Rolex on his right wrist feels like garbage. He wants to put this…this thing on a keychain and put it on his backpack so everyone can see it.

“Thanks,” he chokes out. 

Anya gives him another smile - this one still not reaching her eyes. Concern swells up inside him, but he holds it in. The bell is about to ring, so he stands up.

“You go ahead, I’ll come in a while,” Anya tells him.

Damian hesitates for a moment, the box he's holding suddenly so heavy in his hand and Anya’s sad expression heavier on his heart.

He reaches out to brush her fringe out of her face, and bends to press his lips to her forehead. Time stops, just for a second.

When he stands back up, the back of his neck feels hot and Anya’s face is flushed a pretty shade of red. She blinks up at him in surprise, and he forces himself not to look away.

“Um. I don’t know what’s wrong but don’t…don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Later, Anya walks into the classroom with a twinkle in her eyes that wasn’t there ten minutes earlier. She meets his gaze and smiles wide. Embarrassed, Damian looks away, but he feels at ease again and it goes back to being a good day.

 


 

The fourth time, it’s her, again. Sort of.

They are at the school dance, and Anya is busy stuffing her face with food while Damian stands a few feet away. At a distance, because she looks ridiculous and he doesn’t want to embarrass himself by letting everyone know he’s here with her.

Even though everyone already knows. Emile had called him up last night and told him there had been betting pools on whether he’d ask her or not. Damian is still mad about it, but at least a little bit flattered that someone out there thinks he’s got enough courage to do it. They probably lost a lot of money, though.

Anya had cornered him in the computer lab after school. There had been nobody else around, but she’d gestured at him to lean down and whispered in his ear, “Sy-on Boy, will you go with me to the dance?”

Damian had been too flustered by the proximity to say yes or no, and had settled for yelling out a: “Why are you so close?”  instead.

Anya shrugged. “I thought you wouldn’t want anyone to hear.”

“Why does it matter?”

“What? That I asked you, or the dance?”

“Both!”

“I want to go with you, though!” She said it with so much ease Damian had to replay the interaction in his head to make sure she had asked him to the school dance and not something silly like the stationary shop across the road from the school gates.

“So?” she pressed, and leaned forward, making Damian take a step back and realize he was pressed to the wall.

“Um, yeah, okay, sure, whatever,” he said.

Seemly satisfied, Anya gave him her signature ear-to-ear grin and left, leaving him in the empty lab with his heart thudding wildly in his chest.

Damian isn’t sure if this is a date or just a friends-going-to-the-dance-together type of situation. It could be either one, really, because he can never be sure with Anya Forger.

He still has vivid memories of being kissed in a secluded corner of the library - on the cheek, but still a kiss! - for reasons he still can’t comprehend, six months later.

He never brought it up after that, and neither did she.

“Sy-on Boy!” Anya calls out to him from the dessert table. “You have to try this pudding.”

“I don’t like sweets,” he mutters out, but obediently walks over to the dessert table so he can see which pudding she’s talking about. 

It’s a chocolate thing, looks way too rich and fatty for his taste, but she holds up a spoonful at him. In a panic, Damian opens his mouth and Anya slips it in.

He’s right, the pudding is rich and heavy and fatty, and he doesn’t like it at all. The sweetness is almost sickening, but Anya beams up at him with excitement.

“It’s good, right?” she says, and Damian can only nod.

She turns back to the bowl in her hand and takes another spoonful, looking positively elated. 

Then she looks at the spoon in her hand. 

“Did you know in Japan, this would be considered an indirect kiss?”

Damian chokes, mid-swallow. Anya looks at him in concern as she waits for him to calm down.

“What?”

Anya holds up the spoon. “I used it, then you used it. It’s indirect mouth-to-mouth, see? So, indirect kiss.”

“What kind of stupid logic?”

“I dunno.” She looks thoughtful about it. “I think it’s kind of romantic! Becky told me about it.”

Figures. Heat is rising up the back of his neck, now, and he’s way too aware of the sickly-sweet taste of chocolate pudding on his tongue, knowing it’s the same one on hers.

Abort. Dangerous train of thought.

Damian banishes the unwanted images in his head and crosses his arms, pretending he was definitely not imagining what it would be like to reach over and really kiss her right now – directly – tasting the chocolate he doesn’t like on her tongue and finding he suddenly likes it—

“K-kind of silly, though, huh,” Anya says, interrupting his straying, traitorous thoughts. She looks a bit pink herself, but he can’t be sure if it’s the lighting. “It’s just a spoon, anyway.”

“Right,” he echoes. “Just a spoon.”

Against his will, the wretched spoon makes its way into his fantasies, suddenly turning a daydream make-out session into a lovely little scenario of Anya feeding him the gross pudding and then taking it from his mouth.

“I’m going to the bathroom!” Anya announces, a bit too loudly and rushes off.

Damian is left there, brain working on overdrive as it conjures up image after image while at the same time trying its best to throw them all into the trash.

He loosens his tie and finds himself a glass of water.

Was it always this hot in here?

 


 

The fifth time, it’s him. Or maybe it’s her. He can’t really tell, and he’s not sure he cares.

Anya had asked him for his help with math again. Damian was this close to saying no, but what slipped out of his mouth was ‘fine,’ and he can’t really take it back.

“You’re still horrible at this,” he tells her. It’s still quadratics – those cursed, cursed quadratics – in the same secluded corner of the library. If she remembers what happened here last time, she doesn’t say, and Damian isn’t going to be the one to bring it up.

Today, Anya seems to be doing her absolute best at focusing. She’s biting the end of her pencil, frowning down at the page. She looks cute, but then Damian always thinks she looks cute so that is nothing new. The library has very focused lighting though, which makes Anya’s eyes seem to gleam a bit brighter, and her hair look softer.

She’s sitting next to him again, because he’s supposed to look over her working and tell her where she’s going wrong. Her hand is resting on the table – small, soft, nails painted a dainty pink – and Damian has to fight the urge to reach out and take it.

How small would it be in his? He wants to know so badly.

“Stop thinking,” Anya says.

“Huh?”

“You think so much and so loud, how am I supposed to focus? No wonder I couldn’t do this last time, either.”

Damian sputters. “You couldn’t do it back then because you weren’t listening to anything I was saying!”

“Yes, I was! You’re just bad at teaching.”

“I’m great at teaching, it was you who was too busy thinking about kissing me to focus!”

The words catch up to him the instant they leave his mouth. He knows he probably looks like the human equivalent of a tomato right now, but if it’s out, it’s out. It’s about time they talked about it, anyway.

Anya opens her mouth to retort, then colors a bit and closes it. She looks back down at her notebook. “You’re not wrong.”

Damian’s jaw drops.

Isn’t – isn’t that technically an admission? So, she was thinking of kissing him? Does that—doesn’t that mean she—

That she—

Clearing his throat, he says: “Anya,” and comes up blank when he racks his brains for a follow-up. What is he even supposed to say to that?

The logical answer is to do the normal thing and take the confession as a confession and – ask her out, goddammit.

But this is Anya Forger, and he is Damian Desmond, and when has anything between them ever been normal and logical?

“Why?” he says, instead. Genius move, on his part, really. In his head, he’s already lying on the floor and crying.

Anya seems to have gotten over her embarrassment, though her cheeks are still a lovely, fascinating pink to rival her hair. She shifts her chair the same way, so they’re pressed shoulder to shoulder again. Reaches out for his hand, and hers is just as small and soft as he’d imagined it would be.

“You know why,” she tells him.

Damian breathes in deep. Counts to seven. Breathes out.

“Forger, if you’re messing with me—”

“I’m not! Why would I do that?”

She looks a bit offended that he's accuse her of messing around, but squeezes his hand, softly, and closes her eyes. Waiting.

Damian hesitates, pauses, screams a little bit in his head, and then somehow with every ounce of courage he has in his body, leans in. Their lips meet.

Hers are soft, is the first thing he notices. They’re also warm, and a bit sticky from her lip gloss, which is an odd thing to think about in your first kiss with the girl you’ve been in love with for a good 70% of your life.

Anya turns a bit and tilts her head so he can kiss her properly, so he does. She seems enthusiastic about it, like she’s been waiting for a while, and the very thought sends sparks down from where his lips touch hers down to his toes.

Not only is he deliberately breaking at least five different school rules because of one girl, he's also making out with Anya Forger. He’s so sure he’s dreaming.

He’s not, though, because the librarian decides it's a good time to take her rounds, catches them when Damian is snaking his arm around her waist to pull her closer. She lets out a horrified gasp that makes them jump apart, faces flaming, and before they know it, the two of them have gotten a Tonitrus Bolt each. Damian’s first, and Anya’s sixth.

“You’re in trouble,” he tells her, as they collect their books and hurry out. He feels warm all over, and his mouth is still tingling. He feels giddy inside, like he's going to start laughing any second now.

“Papa’s gonna be so mad at me,” she says, and she does actually laugh, and grabs his hand. “Come on, I know a quiet place.”

Damian has never followed someone so readily in his life.

Then again, Damian has never encountered anyone like Anya before in his life, so this is no surprise.

He thinks about how his father would react to the Tonitrus Bolt as she drags him across the corridors, but finds he's too busy thinking about other things to care. She pushes him to the door of the empty club room as soon as it closes behind them. Damian doesn’t know who leaned in first, but he does know the taste of Anya Forger’s cherry lip gloss, and the feeling of Anya Forger’s hair as he threads his fingers through it, and that, he thinks, is infinitely more important.