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Small Hours

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If he wasn’t so goddamn tired and annoyed right now, he may have been nervous. Restless fingers tapped against the table as he waited, squinting in the low light at the people surrounding him. The puzzle piece he was still holding from the game with his mother, bounced against his palm, it’s sharp edge dulling with every movement.

It had been days since Damian had been uplifted from the manor and placed in the compound, under the illusion that it was for his family’s safety. The confusion around that event hadn’t left, and his desire for concrete answers continued to build each day. Though every time he asked, he was rebuffed with polite, clipped words, or small head shakes and promises of the full story later. He had tried to figure things out for himself, pacing the long corridors, trying to catch snippets of conversation from the constantly whispering guards. But when they saw him lurking nearby, they clammed up immediately, and he had to fight back the ever growing snarl.

Something had to have happened in the city, probably around Parliament. He wasn’t a fool; he knew about the summit and the pending announcement if they were to go to war. He knew that his father and brother were there, their party fighting for peace against their equally stubborn opponents. And while he hadn’t been able to find a newspaper or TV in his search of the buildings, he gathered that they had been successful based purely on the reaction of the guards around him. Sure, they were grim, but not ‘we’re about to go to war’ grim. And judging from the looks they sent him when they thought he wasn’t looking, the secrecy had to do something with his family. Their gazes were filled with such distrust and scrutiny, watching every move he made around the compound as if he was about to set off a bomb, ready to pounce if he stepped one foot out of line. Anya had said these people were agents, who had been helping his family for as long as she could remember. He had believed her at the time, too focused on the fact she was there in his arms, incredibly injured but smiling up at him in a way that made his heart swoon, but any warmth and security he had felt before, she had stolen away with her.

What he could conclude was the following; His father was injured and in a coma. Anya had reappeared dropping vague clues amongst her delightful kisses before vanishing again. Demetrius was who knows where, but hopefully safe. And his mother, when he had been finally able to see her again, was a quiet shell.

Damian would tentatively approach the library she liked to reside in, listening to the hushed conversations the agents would have with her each day. The tone was always polite and light hearted, but when he stepped into the room it reeked of interrogative authority and his mother’s sadness. He was protective of her, and demanded to know what they had said, but the agents had just bowed out of the room to leave them be, while his mother laid a gentle but restraining hand on his arm. Furious, he would look at her, pleading for answers, but bit his tongue at seeing the forlorn, betrayed look in her eyes. It pierced his heart with guilt only a child could understand, and he’d step into her arms to hug her, wishing he could do something to help her. Instead of fighting, he would resign himself to playing whatever game she suggested that day, wishing he had Anya’s mind reading powers just so he could be on solid ground again.

It had been the same today, peacefully putting together a small jigsaw with her when she had stilled.

“My Dzmerr,” She had said softly, catching his attention in surprise. She hadn’t called him that in years. “Do you love your father?”

Stunned by the question, he had opened his mouth the readily respond yes, but the words died in his throat. His pause seemed to be answer enough for her, as she nodded slowly and drew back with a sigh just as the guards came knocking on the door, asking for his to follow them. Now, sitting in the small office space, clearly waiting to be interrogated, he mulled over the question again, wondering what exactly his answer was.

The door opened behind him and the guards stood at attention, saluting the approaching personnel. Curious Damian craned his neck to look over his shoulder, haughty amber eyes catching burning red ones in the light. They narrowed at him momentarily, cool in their assessment, and he tried to place where he had seen that look before. As the person came around the table and more into the light, he realised with a grimace that it was Anya’s uncle, who constantly glared at him whenever he was around her. Great, just what he needed right now. A friendly face.

“Desmond.” He greeted as he slid into the seat opposite the young teen.

“Briar.” Damian replied stiffly, long over trying to exchange pleasantries with this man.

“Do you know why you’re here?”

“Aside from it being a ‘safe place’ for me and my family while my father recovers, no, I do not. But I have questions. First off, can you tell me how Anya’s doing? Or where I am? Or, better yet, what the fuck is going on.”

“Jesus Christ Desmond, I’m the one doing the questioning here.” Yuri snapped, throwing his folders on the table, running a hand over his face in annoyance. “You’ll get your answers as soon as I get mine, okay?”

Questioning? Damian sat up a little straighter in his chair, fingers curling over the puzzle piece a little tighter. What the hell did they need answers to?

Opening the folder, Yuri pulled out a leaflet of some sort, and flipped through the pages until he found whatever he was looking for. Snapping his fingers for a pen, he waited until one was placed between them before scribbling something down. Once done, he scowled at Damian again over the top of the paper.

“What do you know of the events on Friday?”

“The summit?” Damian frowned, “What do you mean?”

“Do you know how it all played out?”

“No. I haven’t exactly been privy to any current affairs since I’ve been holed up here, thanks to your special agency.” The sneer was on his lips before he knew it, confusion tipping toward anger now.

“Brat.” Yuri muttered, scribbling down his answer anyway, “You just needed to say yes or no.”

“Then no. I have no clue what’s going on.”

“Well, before the summit could happen, Parliament was attacked. There was a bomb explosion that hurt a lot of important people, including a few of your...loved ones. Rioting broke out not long after, and the city has been a mess ever since.” Yuri explained stiffly, watching Damian’s reaction the whole time.

He felt his breath catch in his throat, blood rushing from his face as he leaned forward desperately.

“Anya-” He managed to croak, “Was she close to the explosion?”

Yuri’s eyes glinted with something he couldn’t discern as he lowered his papers slowly.

“What makes you ask that.”

“She was injured when I saw her, smelt of smoke and blood, had plaster in her hair. But why was she at Parliament? Where has she been this whole time?”

“Look, I said your loved ones were injured, not Anya. What makes you ask about her and not your father or brother?”

“Because she is my loved one.” Damian fumed, hands clenching into fists. “Why was she at Parliament?”

There was a buzzing silence in the room, in which Yuri coolly appraised the boy with narrowed eyes.

“We’ll get back to that.” Yuri eventually said, ignoring Damian’s splutter of annoyance, “Remember, I’m in charge here. Now, about your father and brother. What do you know?”

“Know what? I need some context clues here.”

“Of their plans Desmond! What do you know of their plans?”

“Plans for what! To continue trying to maintain peace between us and everyone else?”

“Don’t feed me bullshit about the cover plan. What of their true plans?”

“True plans?” Damian’s head was spinning, “What true plans? Peace was always the plan!”

He watched as Yuri pinched at the gap between his eyebrows, sighing in exasperation. Pushing the paper to the side, he folded his hands beneath his chin, and leaned forward slightly on his propped elbows, watching Damian carefully.

“What if peace was never the plan? What would you say then?”

“What kind of dumb shit are you trying to stir up? Father and Demetrius have always talked about peace.” He was so confused right now.

“What of Project Apfel? What do you know about that?”

Damian glanced around at the guards in the room cautiously, not liking where this was going. “Only what Anya has told me. About her childhood, and how they were most likely the ones hunting her down.”

“Did she tell you of the financer behind the operation?”

“Only that she believed it was Government funded, which is seriously fucked up if that's true.”

“Have to agree on that.” Yuri nodded, but his eyes were still narrowed. “What of your father?”

“What of him?” This wasn't good. Something cold was lurking in his stomach, growing heavier and cooler with each withering stare Yuri aimed his way.

“What of his...” He paused, tilting his head slightly as he appraised Damian, a new look in his eye. “Tell me Desmond, do you love your father?”

His stomach was ice now, spreading up his throat.

“...yes?”

“You don’t sound so sure.”

“Well, yes, I suppose. As much as a child should love their parent.” He stammered.

“If he were to ask something of you, would you try to achieve that?” Damian didn’t respond, letting Yuri continue, “You want his approval, right? If he asked you to do something against your morals, but for the sake of the country’s future, would you do it?”

There was a long silence at this, as Damian struggled to form a response. He had wanted answers, but with each question he was finding he much rather stay in the dark. There was no way his father was involved in what Yuri was alluding to.

“My father’s approval is rare but I would never do something that would hurt the country to achieve it.” He finally said, each word stilted as they left his lips. Yuri hummed at the comment, before picking up his discarded notes again.

“A few months ago, you were spotted having lunch with your brother, Demetrius. Care to explain what happened?”

“We had lunch?” Damian questioned, scrunching up his nose in confusion.

“Sorry, let me clarify. Care to explain why you were having lunch, when it’s so uncommon for you both.”

“He wanted to catch up. And take me out for a Desmond family tradition.” He replied, a hesitant hand reaching up to itch at his piercings.

“What topics did you discuss?”

“That was ages ago! How am I supposed to-”

“We have reports that it was about the war, and your father and brother’s involvement in them.”

Damian paused, frowning at that.

“You were listening?”

“We’re the SSS. We’re always listening.”

The tone was icy, leaving no room for arguing.

“Yes, we did discuss the war and how it was affecting us.”

“And what about the weapons experiment?”

“I-I don’t know. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. Father’s party is about peace! I don’t know why he’d be involved with weapons experiments.”

“Your father seems to be involved in a lot of things Desmond. Just tell us how much you know of it all.” Yuri sighed, shuffling his papers.

“And I’m telling you, I don’t know anything! Father barely talked to me let alone acknowledge my existence! Why would I be privy to any of his plans? I hardly know what his plans for the NUP is!”

“You may know more than you think. Put your mind to it and tell me...what are your intentions with my crazy niece?

Damian wasn’t the only one blindsided by the question.

Huh?” He spluttered, eloquent as ever, his face drawn into the most confused frown he was sure he had ever sported.

“Second Lieutenant sir, what does that have to do with Donovan’s plans for war?” One of the guards hissed. Ignoring him, Yuri just glared at Damian over the table, a visible pout starting to inch its way onto his face.

“This brat is irritating me and I've never liked him. My sweet niece maybe mischievous and stubborn herself, but I can’t allow her to fall into the wrong hands again. Given how the Desmond family has treated her so far, I need to make sure Desmond Junior here won’t do anything to hurt her.”

“I would never!” Damian roared, anger taking over. “Why the hell would I hurt Anya? I’ve loved her for years. Since we were children, I vowed to protect her. Do you know how much it hurt when I realised she was taken, and I had failed to do just that? And then she just came running back into my arms, worried about me despite whatever horrors she’s obviously been through, and I had to let her go again because whatever fucked up conspiracy theory you’ve been interrogating my family about for days now? A theory she couldn’t tell me about, that no one will tell me about, and I’m just sitting here, lost and so damn confused while she’s hurting somewhere? For all I know she’s in the wrong hands already!”

The room was silent after his outburst, but he refused to back down, glaring at Yuri and that secretive gleam in his eye.

“What if you have already hurt her? What if the Desmond family is why she’s hurt.”

“Then I will do whatever it takes to appease her. I'll do anything for her.”

Before Yuri could say anything else, there was furious shout outside, and the sound of running feet. Surprised the guards all jumped to attention, blocking Damian and Yuri in against the table as one of them cracked the door open.

“What the hell is going on?” Yuri demanded, pushing his way to the front of the room to confront whoever was interrupting his interrogation. “Agent Kell, tell me what’s happening?”

“We’ve been leaked! Get the Desmonds to safety! They’re here!” The agent on the other side panted, before running off further down the hall, most likely to continue spreading the news. Yuri swore and withdrew his gun, waving commands to the guards.

“We need to get Desmond to safety. We’ll escort him to the garage, away from the fighting. Remember, they may look like colleagues or fellow agents, but they’re the enemy.”

Damian was pulled to his feet roughly, and pushed towards the door before he could ask what was going on. There was the distant sound of gunfire down the hall, and he could hear a lot of shouting. Yuri led the group in the opposite direction, dodging and weaving around corners smoothly, covering all angles incase of an ambush. They had made it a few hallways down before Damian found his voice again, asking about his family.

“Your family will be safe. Depending on how desperate they are for your father’s money depends on what will happen to them if caught. But this is a WISE bunker. Filled with some of the best spies Ostania and Westalis have ever seen. Coupled with the fact we have assassins from the Garden here, along with my best from the SSS, this fight will be over soon.”

WISE? Assassins? Damian’s head spun, but all he could say was, “But you said they may look like colleagues? Does that mean there’s rogue spies and SSS agents here? Won’t they know your plans for escape?”

“Most likely, but Second Lieutenant is anything but predictable.” One of the guards nearby him chuckled instead, ignoring the annoyed look Yuri sent his way. They made their way slowly down to the garage, not encountering anyone along the way, the gunfire forever ringing in the distance. Damian knew this should be a good sign, but it filled with him dread instead. Seems like everyone else felt the same, as one of the agents peeked in through the glass cautiously, swearing under his breath.

“It looks clear, but there's a lot of cars. They're probably ready to ambush.”

“We’ll go around and-”

Gunfire startled them from behind, and Yuri grabbed Damian’s head and shoved him down in time for a bullet to pierce the wall where he’d been.

“Get him to safety! Looks like they’re aiming to kill. Donovan is of no use to them now. He's probably dead already.”

Swearing seemed to be a second language for these agents, as they all breached the garage, crowding Damian between them. Gun fire was instantaneous, and they had no real cover aside from the splintering stair rail. Each shot was true, and if he hadn’t been in the protection of trained operatives, he would surely be dead by now. They hustled him down the stairs and quickly behind a nearby car, all wishing they had more equipment on them. One of the agents covered their backs, sending back rapid fire before his ammunition ran out, snatching another gun from between the back seats of the car.

“Move it towards the entrance! We can’t be crowded in.” Yuri snapped, already hauling Damian along to the next spot. Thankfully it seemed there were more agents on their side than whoever was trying to kill him, and WISE liked to litter their escape cars with all sorts of gadgets. They made it close to the entrance, when the agent on his left let out a pained groan and slumped heavily against the car. Alarmed, Damian looked over to see he was dead, a fresh bullet wound blossoming on his forehead.

“Fuck!” Yuri growled, moving to cover the open spot, returning fire in an unseen direction. “Get to the car Desmond!”

“Which one?” He snapped back, surveying all the cars around them.

“The grey one you idiot! What other one? I thought you were smart!”

“How am I supposed to know? You all seem to forget that I can’t read minds and you suck at giving context clues!”

Yuri turned to hiss something at him over his shoulder, but let out a pained wince instead when a stray bullet whizzed by, lodging in his arm. Dropping his gun, he clutched at the injury, only to yelp when another tore into his leg.

“Yuri!” Damian shouted, catching the man in horror, quickly dragging him further behind cover. The last guard from the room sprang forward to return fire, but was on the ground a few seconds later, withering in agony.

“Little...fucking...bah.” Yuri groaned, sweat already beading his brow. “That hurt!”

“It’s a bullet wound Yuri, they’re suppose to hurt.” A cool voice came from behind them, followed by a few shots and curiously a golden needle, that lodged themselves in the bodies of the approaching targets.

“Loidy!” Yuri growled, glaring at the tall blond behind them, before beaming at the woman beside him, “Sis!”

“Hey Yuri, let’s get you to safety, okay?” Yor said, already swinging out at stabbing at someone coming from behind. Loid helped Damian dragged the protesting officer towards safety, shielded by Yor’s furious attacks.

“Not that I’m not happy to see you Yor, but what are you doing here? I was just going to come and drop the Desmond brat off to your bunker?” Yuri asked, accepting Loid’s helping in stopping the bleeding wound on his leg.

“We got compromised, just like you. Ran here as soon as we could.” Loid explained, gesturing for Damian to apply pressure to the wound with his jacket, as he ripped up part of his shirt to act as a tourniquet.

“What about Anya? Surely she didn’t come with you?”

“No, she’s with the Handler-”

A head of pink hair appeared around the car door beside them, looking at them all in worry.

“-safe.” Loid finished, glaring at his daughter, who looked incredibly guilty. “Anya, what the hell! What are you doing here?”

“I know you said to stay behind, but I can help!” She pleaded, obviously continuing an argument they had had earlier. Her eyes drifted from her father and uncle to Damian, who was staring at her in stunned silence. She smiled brightly and raised a hand to wave at him.

“Hi!”

Damian raised a hand back, a dopey grin weaving onto his face despite himself.

“Hi.”

“Kids, this is not the time!” Yuri snarled, snapping them back to the gun fight happening around them, looking guiltier than ever. Damian realised he had stopped applying pressure, and hurriedly returned his blood soaked hands to the wound as Anya turned back to her father with big, eager eyes.

“Please Papa! You know how good I am in a fight! Give me a gun or one of Mama’s needles and I can help!”

“No, you’re haven’t had enough practice with them yet and your last target score was-I mean, NO! You’re a child, my child, and your injured at that! You won’t be fighting.”

“But my wounds are mostly healed-”

“Bullshit, you’ve still got broken ribs and a fractured jaw thanks to Donovan. They won’t be healed for a long time.”

“But the bruising-”

“It maybe yellow and green now Anya, but you’re still not healed. Now stop arguing with me and duck down besides Damian and your uncle. We’ll think of an escape plan soon.”

Grumbling Anya did as she was told, crouching down beside Yuri as he ruffled her hair in amusement as Loid ran back into the action.

“Chihuahua girl, you got to learn you can’t win against your dad.” He grinned as she pouted in annoyance.

“Yeah, I know. But I can help. I’m not four anymore.” She grumbled, before remembering Damian was still there, staring at her in surprise. Yuri glanced between the two of them, rolling his eyes in annoyance.

“Please don’t flirt in my presence, especially over my wounded body.” He sighed, yelping when Anya cuffed him around the ears.

“We’re not flirting.” She snapped, but there was a blush creeping across her cheeks that Damian wanted to familiarise himself with. Yor suddenly appeared in front of them, blood covering her face and once pale jacket.

“We need to move, seems they have some back up coming from the other raid.” She said, already hauling her brother over her shoulders and running towards the exit, the two teens quick on her heels.

“Mama, let me fight with you! Papa won’t let me.” Anya tried to beg, but she quickly shut up at one look from her mother.

“No, I need you to get to safety. Ignoring the fact, you shouldn’t even be here right now, but that can wait till later. Leave here. Take Damian with you. Find some place to hide, far away and we’ll regroup when it’s safe.” Yor commanded, leading them into a quieter part of the garage. Stopping to peer around the corner, she used the mirrors above them to check the coast was clear, before digging for something in her pocket. Handing it to Anya, she smiled at her daughter, kissing her forehead quickly.

“Get a move on before your father comes looking to wring your neck.”

“Oui.” Anya grinned, holding the item close to her chest, before grabbing Damian’s hand and dragging him after her into the car park. Confused, he hurried after her, glancing back to see Yor perch her brother up against a wall, as she assessed his injuries, before Anya pulled him into the bright light of the uncovered entrance. They ran for a bit, ducking around buildings and covered walkways, making sure no one was on their tails before finally bursting out the front entrance of the compound. Damian had time to look around and realise it looked just like a warehouse front, before Anya was tugging at his hand again, pulling him towards the line of cars parked on the street.

“Anya, what are we going to do? And what’s this about you fighting my dad?”

“We’re going to hijack a car.” She chirped in response, already picking at the lock of the car in front of her. Crouching down beside her, Damian watched as her fingers nimbly worked at the mechanism, before his gaze traveled up to the side door. Seeing that it was unlocked, he pulled open the door, letting its silent click alert her. She stopped and stared, an annoyed scowl creeping onto her face as he felt smug smirk twitch at his lips.

“Fuck you Sy-on boy.” She hissed, as he reached in and popped the lock on the door in front of her, chuckling as she wrenched it open and clambered awkwardly into the footwell.

“I’ve missed you too dolt.” He teased, watching as she patted around the console, looking for the keys. Anya paused in her search to look at him, a small smile spreading across her face.

“I missed you as well.”

They stared at each other happily for a moment, before a loud bang startled them.

“Right, gun fight. Escaping.” Damian stammered, as she nodded and finished her search.

“Quick, get in the other side. I’ll wire the car.” She urged, already wiggling her way down under the steering column. Damian ran around the car to do so, eager to get away before what she said caught up to him.

“Wait, you know how to jig a car?”

His response was the sound of the engine coming to life, and Anya’s smug look as she reappeared. He should not find that attractive. No, no, no. Not at all. She must have heard his thoughts or it was written all over his face, as she grinned triumphantly and settled in the driver’s seat. He knew better than to argue about who was driving, as she was the only one in their friend group who had been taking lessons. Buckling up, he clung to the door tightly, also knowing just had bad her driving was.

“I’m not that bad!”

“Just drive Anya!”

She scowled but did as instructed, putting the car into gear and at the last minute taking off the handbrake, before bunny hopping her way out of the park, and eventually screeching off down the street. Damian closed his eyes and wished for a safe journey, snapping at her to put her hands back on the wheel when she slapped his arm.

They drove for a while, skirting around the back streets as they tried to think of where to go. Fleeing was all good and dandy, but with no clear location to go to, they were stuck.

“Do we go out to the countryside? Escape the city?”

“No, every time we’ve tried that, it makes us easier target."

“I have so many questions. But if we go into the city, we’ll hit the riots.”

“Yeah, don’t want to be caught in that. But we can’t stay around here, they’re probably watching.”

Eventually they decided to head back towards the city centre, avoiding the worst of the riots for now, but using them as coverage from their would be pursuers. It was better to hide in plain sight after all. Abandoning the car in a destroyed lot, they made their way into the back alleys, looking for a place to hide.

“Your father made me spy on your brother in an old office building a little while ago, that had a lot of empty space. Surely if we can break into one of these store fronts, there’ll be an apartment complex above it.” Anya whispered as they came across a row of old shops for hire.

“Again, so many questions. But it’s a good idea.”

They tried one of the nearest buildings, testing all doors they found before Anya whipped out her pick locking skills again, grinning at him when the door clicked open. He gave her a fond but annoyed smile, and ushered her into the building. It was covered in cobwebs and there were definitely rodents skittering around the back, but it was safe for now.

“No place like home, huh Sy-on?” Anya teased, twirling about with open arms as she looked over the space, only to hook her foot against her other one unsteadily, and crash to the floor. Damian sprang to her side in an instant, easing her up as she winced painfully.

“You idiot, your father said you were still healing! Don’t go and make it worse.” He snapped, but his hands worried over her shoulders and arms, trying to see if she was okay. She waved him off with a guilty smile before changing her mind and leaning against him heavily.

“I’m okay, really Damian. I’ve had far worse falls lately.”

He didn’t like the sound of that.

“Relax, I’ll tell you soon. Can you help me up the stairs? My bad leg is throbbing.”

He scooped her up in his arms, cradling her against his chest as he made his way to the staircase, taking each dirty step one at a time. Anya didn’t protest, already snuggling into his chest, unable to hide the growing smile on her face. Upstairs was just as filthy, and he turned around for a while, trying to figure out where they should go. She pointed to a small door down the hallway to the right, suggesting that it could be a bathroom. Liking the idea, he opened the room, only to find a small closet space instead. They grimaced at the cluster of cobwebs and glowing eyes in the dark, and he slowly closed the door again. A few doors down though they found a small room, and once Anya pulled the cord for the light switch, they found it to be decently clean.

“Amazing how there’s still power on here.” Damian mused, setting her down on a crate nearby.

“Yeah, must have been missed when the store closed.” Anya agreed, watching as he shuffled around the space. Pulling up a crate opposite her, Damian reached for her hands tentatively, feeling a warm flood of relief flow through him when she grasped them tightly.

“You have a lot questions whirring around in your head there.” She smiled.

“So many.” He grinned in response, running a thumb over her knuckles. They were covered in faint scratches and yellowing bruises, and he wondered yet again what she had been through in the last month or so. Sensing his discomfort, she squeezed his hands gently.

“I have most of the answers to your questions, but I’m still learning some truths too.” Anya whispered, suddenly looking sad. “But I need you to understand Damian, that the story I’m going to tell you is painful, for you and me. You’re not going to like it.”

“Just tell me, please.”

She searched his face with sorrowful eyes, looking as if where to begin. Eventually her gaze settled around his right ear as she took a long, deep breath and released it.

“Before I start...Damian, how much do you love your father?”