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Small Hours

Chapter Text

It was over.
After years of careful planning and execution, Operation Strix was done.

Heart hammering in her chest, her feet pounded against the laminate floors as she flew down the long corridors, occasionally glancing into the rooms quickly. Her breath was shallow with anxiety, her eyes wide and tired as they searched, as her mind screaming at her to stop. The blood from her nose was masked by the large bleeding gash on her cheek, mixing in with the soot that covered her skin to drip onto her clothes. Her other injuries were throbbing with dull pain but she ignored them, continuing her frantic run.

She didn't have enough time, they were surely looking for her by now. The staff she passed were startled, yelling in surprise as she weaved around them.

Sliding around the corner in her dainty scruffs, she tried not to trip and instead use the momentum to carry her forward, her singed curls slapping across her face. Brushing them aside in annoyance she continued on, straining to hear anything other than her own heartbeat. She ignored the voices calling her to come back, her desperation calling her forward. She was scared of what might happen if she ignored this tugging at her chest, demanding that she search. Screw the consequences of her actions later, this was important.

There

She somehow managed to sped up, clinging to the fleeting familiar thoughts like a life line. Her chest hurt unbearably and she knew her lungs had smoke in them. But none of it matter. She had to get there, she had to.

Approaching the last corner, she managed to sail around this one more smoothly and immediately spotted her target, sitting outside one of the rooms by himself. He looked a mess as well, though for an entirely different reason to her. She must have called out, as his head jerked up in surprise, his eyes widening when he spotted her. Hurriedly he jumped to his feet but before he could do anything she was slamming into him, clutching at him tightly.

Despite a small stumble, he managed to hold his ground, holding her just as firmly as if he was afraid to let go.

“You’re here, you’re here, oh thank god you’re here. You’re safe. You’re here.” She gasped raggedly against his shoulder, feeling his shocked confusion roll over her.

“Anya what are you doing here? How'd you escape? Are you okay? What’s going on?” He babbled, trying to hid the shakiness in his voice. He tried to step back to look at her, but she just clung to him tighter, afraid of what might happen if she let go.

“I’m okay, it’s you I’m worried about Sy-on boy. Are you okay?”

She felt him start to shake, hands clutching at the destroyed coat around her shoulders.

“What’s going on Anya? I thought I'd never see you again. Then I get this call that Father was in some sort of serious accident and they weren’t sure if he was going to survive, and then these guys just turned up at the house and took me here and no one is telling me what’s going on, or how Father is, or if the rest of my family is safe, and I've been here for ages waiting on someone to let me in and no one has stopped to answer me and-”

She pulled back enough to take his face in her hands, halting his flow of questions. Stroking his face soothingly she tried to give a comforting smile.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Your family is safe. I'm safe. Your Father is in the operating room and from what I heard he’s responding well. He should be out soon.”

He stared down at her in surprise, eyes shimmering with tears.

“How’d you know that? What’s going on?” He asked again, but she could only shake her head in response.

“It’s hard to explain. I have to wait until your Father is in recovery before I’m allowed to tell you anything Damian. I’m truly sorry about that. I know how hard it is being kept in the dark.”

“Can you at least tell me where we are? And who those people were? Where you've been? And why you look like you’ve just gone through a battlefield? Seriously, you should be getting some medical attention for the cut on your cheek, it could get infected.”

She just buried herself back into his embrace uncaring about her injuries.

“We’re in a safe place. Though its location is undisclosed. The people are a group of intelligence officers that have been working for as long as I can remember to help your family and the country. And like I said, I’m okay. You’re more important right now.”

She could tell that her response brought up more questions than answers but he also knew she wouldn’t give him any more information. Burying his face in her filthy hair, he inhaled shakily, body starting to tremble.

“I’m so scared Anya.” He whispered making her clutch at him tighter. “And so confused. I just want to know what’s going on.”

“I know, I know.” she whispered back, hands rubbing his back in comfort. “That’s why I’m here.”

She didn’t want to reflect on her involvement in the situation just yet. She didn’t want to think of the screaming and gun fire, or the sound of bodies falling heavily to the ground. Didn’t want to think of what was going to happen outside these long corridors once the aftermath came to light. All that mattered right now was the tall teen in her embrace and how she could help him. She had been scared and alone before, wishing for someone in her darkest hours. She could afford to be that pillar for him now.
Burying her nose into his chest, she had fleeting moment of guilt as she savoured his embrace.
Well, as long as she was allowed to at least.

Chapter Text

Four months earlier...

 

The cool water glided across her skin as she swam, soothing the ache of her overused muscles. Tiny bubbles escaped in a steady stream towards the surface, bursting with each strong stroke she made as she raced through the pool. Tilting her head to breathe, she glimpsed the colourful banners arching across the lanes, signalling the approaching end. With another deep breath, she continued on, powering through to finish her set.

Feeling the wall against her finger, she broke free to the surface, opening her lungs with a deep sigh. Pulling herself closer to the wall after a moment of rest, she looked up at the clock to note her time. Not bad, but not her best. She could definitely try harder.

Leaning out slightly to look back over the pool, Anya paddled lazily, trying to determine if she had enough time for another set. It would be pushing it if she tried, she ultimately decided, before clambering out of the pool awkwardly. Dripping the heavily chlorine water around her, she trudged over to her bench, ripping her googles and swim cap off as she went. Water had snuck in causing her damp hair and stinging eyes, which she rubbed fiercely at with her towel. Grumbling at the wet strands, she resigned herself to having to wash it on a non-wash day and dealing with the knotted curls it would turn into. She wouldn’t have time to run back across campus just to deal with her unruly appearance and she knew the locker room didn’t hold the right equipment. Becky could help untangle it later in class probably.

Drying herself off, she hooked the towel around her neck and sat down, rummaging in her bag for her water bottle. Looking across the pool, she took a swig, watching the other early risers exercising. The sounds of water splashing and hushed conversations echoed around the grand pool house, the humid air shimmering in the early morning sunshine. Anya found herself focusing on the way the water rippled with each passing swimmer, absently drinking as she got lost in thought.

Lacrosse season was about to begin, and with a few months of swim left she was already feeling drained. She had only taken up the sport to keep active during the spring months and while she had come to love it, she wasn’t looking forward to when the two sports clashed. Last year had been hell enough, why did she decide to do it again? Midterms were also coming up, and she was nowhere near ready for them despite her friends' best efforts. Maybe she needed to grovel to Damian for extra help. He would if she asked, but not without either teasing her relentlessly, or being so disappointed he would give her the silent treatment.

She wasn’t sure what was worse.

Capping her bottle, she chucked it back into her bag and marched towards the showers, frowning. Worries fighting inside her head for dominance left her feeling fatigued and hungry. She'd have to get breakfast after this. Going through her shower routine, she tried to scrub the chlorine from her skin, but she had soaked in so much over the years it was a constant perfume on her now. Her hair was a struggle as predicted and took way too much conditioner to even try and tame.

Slamming her locker open, she quickly got dressed, before rummaging around the mess for some kind of hair accessory to tie back her damp hair. She refrained from her usual bun covers knowing they’d never stay in place, and slipped her locks into a sloppy pony tail with one of Becky’s scrunchies she had borrowed. Grabbing her school stuff, she shuffled out of the locker room sullenly, tapping her shoes onto her feet properly as she walked.

Joining the slow-moving crowds towards the cafeteria, Anya barely glanced around at those with her, suddenly wishing she was back in bed. The day had barely begun and she felt utterly exhausted. Though her morning workout had left her hungry and she had no proper food in her dorm, so ditching was not an option. Once inside the grand dining hall, she winced at the noise level as she go into line, choosing some plain pancakes with honey drizzled on them when it was her turn. Headache beginning to pound between her eyes, she mad her way towards their table, noticing the boys were already there. Sliding her tray next to Emile, she greeted them half-heartedly.

“Morning Anya, you okay? You look tired.” He asked in concern, shuffling across a bit so she had more room.

“Morning. I’m okay, just had swim practice. Must have pushed myself too hard.” She smiled back in response, thanking him for the concern. Ewen watched her with a critical eye from across the table, chewing his eggs loudly.

“You didn’t stay up cramming like Bossman here, did you?” He said around a mouthful, ignoring her look of disgust as he jabbed his elbow into the boy beside him, “I don’t think he’s put down that book since dinner last night.”

“I slept.” Damian drawled from behind said book, flicking a page slowly.

“For what, two hours?”

“It was sleep.”

Anya could only sigh, stabbing at her food to appease her rumbling stomach. Though upon taking one bite she suddenly craved for her Papa’s cooking, the batter going sour in her mouth. Pushing the plate and her appetite aside, she slumped in her seat as she unfortunately remembered why she was here.

Tensions were rising in the country. Murmurs of the Cold War breaking had reached the city limits and people were starting to panic. But for her it felt like it had creeped into her house unannounced, stealing the only warmth she’d ever known.

Though they had never come out and told her directly, Anya knew her parents had discovered each other’s respective jobs. She had come home from school one blustery day in November, excited to tell them about her latest achievements, only for the words to die on her lips when she had seen the mess. Furniture had been broken and scattered across the rooms, blood splattered across the walls and trailing along the floor. One of the lounge windows was smashed, letting in snow amongst the carnage, seeping in to ruin her Ma's record collection she had so carefully aquired.

She had dropped her bag in the open doorway, calling out for them in fear, hurrying into the mess. She was terrified of what she may find, not wishing to return to her previous life. Images of their mutilated bodies swam through her minds eyes as she burst into each room, before eventually finding them huddled in the bathroom, the first aid kit sitting between them. The air was charged with distrust and blood lust though, causing her to shiver.

Loid had been the first to react, pausing in treating the large cut over his eye that would surely scar. He'd been quick to reassure her they were okay, that there had been a break in and that they had stopped it. Yor had remained strangely quiet, wrapping her leg with thick gauze, bruises colouring her arms. Anya had felt like she was six again and had cried in fear of abandonment, seeing her carefully crafted world shattering before her.

It had taken a lot to calm her down and but the tension never eased. After a week of lying and cleaning, Loid had created a convincing cover story for the neighbours and the State Security Service for the wreckage, further backed up when a threatening letter was delivered to their door. Anya still wasn’t sure if it had been real or not, but it was enough for the Forgers to seek protection from Eden, fearing for her safety. They had been sympathetic to the commoners’ situation and lack of security, hastily preparing her a room in the dorms until further notice. She had moved in over winter break and had barely any contact with her parents since. She had spent weeks worrying about them, wondering when they would eventually drop the pretenses and everything would fall apart. She hadn’t dared breathe a word about her powers, fearing it would be the final nail in the coffin. She was getting too old for the orphanages now and she had no means to support herself if she was kicked to the streets. Her friends had been supportive, unknowing her true worries. She had seen first-hand how secrets had torn people apart, and with that fresh in her mind she had sworn to never reveal her own, scared of losing the last of her fantasy world.

A gentle hand settled on her shoulder, awkwardly patting her in comfort. Turning her head towards him, she smiled as Emile offered her the last of his hashbrowns.

“You need to eat. Sorry but Damian stole your pancakes.” He whispered, glancing over at the studious teen, who was indeed digging into her breakfast, nose still stuck in his book.

“Thanks. And that’s okay, I'm just glad he’s eating at least.”

Though her friends only knew the cover story fed to the school, they were also aware that it caused her parents to fight and that their marriage was going through a rough patch. Emile had been a surprisingly sympathetic ear to her worries over the years, having also listened to Ewen and Damian’s respective parental issues since they were young. He was always quick to offer her food or words of advice. His sweet disposition had required him the nickname ‘Oma’ amongst the Cecil Hall students, further encouraged when his Imperial Scholar status was made on community service endeavours.

Taking the cooling hashbrowns, Anya leaned against him briefly in thanks, watching as he turned his attentions to his academic friend, trying to pry the book out of his hands. Damian only scowled, trying to turn away but Ewen was quicker.

“Bossman you can study later. Anya’s right, you’ve been barely eating. Finish her pancakes and we’ll go to class. I’ll give you this back later in study hall.” He scolded, using his height to hold the book out of reach. Unlike Emile’s gentle soul, Ewen was blunt and harsh. He had nearly as many bolts as Anya for his silver tongue, but his quick wit had been applauded by the debate team, earning him a spot amongst them. If they won the next competition, he was guaranteed to earn his last Stella star. When he had heard about the threat against Anya, he had been ready to offer her legal advice, taking what he had learnt from his chosen career in class.

Despite how they had bullied her during their elementary days, Anya had formed a firm friendship with the two boys, feeling like they were her honorary brothers in her makeshift family. The mischief Damian and Becky had to drag them out of at the start had left the older teens permanently exhausted, but they didn’t care. Becky had often joked she needed those child leashes for Anya and Ewen, glad when they had seemingly calmed down.

(Really they had just gotten better at hiding it)

Damian gave another half-hearted attempt at grabbing the book, only to be pushed back by Ewen. Grumbling, he turned back to the meal, pausing to consider when he had last actually finished one. Anya could physically see the thoughts swirling around him about the midterms and the responsibilities the professors had put on him, tempted to reach out and gather them all so she could stuff them somewhere hidden. He had unknowingly become the tutor for their year level from the beginning, a title he reluctantly wore. However, he did wear his scholar’s cape with pride, having earned it at twelve in a futile attempt to gain recognition from his ever-missing family. She would forever remember how he had beamed under the simple praise from her Papa, knowing that the teen idolised him. His happiness as Loid had ruffled his hair in congratulations was something she had strived to continue to give him. While Damian had continued to earn as many stars as possible, his uniform practically blinding when he wore them all at once, his wellbeing worried her the most.

She had always tried to steer him away from stressful situations and invited him over for family dinners whenever he was looking homesick, but she hadn’t realised how bad it had been in behind closed doors until she got into the halls. The boys had constantly struggled to pull the bookworm away from his desk or out his bed during depressive episodes, and they often complained about how little he ate or slept. If he weren’t such a stickler for personal hygiene and appearance, they had joked he’d never shower. More than once she had snuck into the boys' dorms during her stay, to coax him out for a walk amongst the fresh snowfall or to raid the dorm kitchens late at night. It was always a mission that he fought against, but his soft spot for her always won out.

Observing his adorably flustered appearance now, from his ruffled bed head to the reading glasses perched on his nose still, Anya decided she’d be knocking at his window later tonight. Maybe she’d hunt for the last of her Papa’s cookies from his last care package to share.

The thought of her parents sent another wave of nostalgia and pain through her, causing her to lean against the table tiredly. Stealing a piece of bacon off Emile’s plate, she chewed it slowly, pondering again as the boys squabbled. Somehow, Ewen had snagged Damian’s glasses, refusing to give them back as he teased him over his nerd status. Emile was trying to play peacekeeper as always, grabbing for the glasses over the table. She watched them in disinterest, wishing she was back home, listening to Spy Wars reruns on the TV as she watched her parents dance around each other in the kitchen. If Bond was still alive, he'd be curled around her feet, keeping her warm as she ate. Occasionally she'd spot her Papa press a kiss to her Ma's forehead or cheek, or hear the quiet giggle as teasing fingers dug into ribs.

A gentle kick at her shin made her look up, catching Damian’s brief, soft smile, radiating his unspoken understanding and comfort. She felt her lip twitch up slightly in return as he quickly lunged at Ewen again, successfully grabbing the spectacles. Triumphant he had a moment of immaturity, blowing a raspberry at the blond boy who gasped in offense. After making sure the glasses were tucked away safely, he began to eat, jeering at Ewen’s dramatic wailing to Emile.

Stealing another piece of bacon from the distracted boy’s plate, Anya couldn’t help but to smile properly. She wasn’t sure when she’d be going home, but she could enjoy her time with her friends while it lasted. She’d call home tonight though, just to check in.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

“Anya, this is why I told you to carry a diffuser in your swim bag!”

Becky picked up the dried mass of curls from the younger girl’s back, nose scrunched in disappointment as she observed the damage.

“It was 530am Becky, I wasn’t thinking at that time.” Anya whined, shuffling awkwardly in her seat.

“Well, pack one when you get back to the dorm. For now, let me figure out how to save this mess.”

Sighing, she relinquished her head to her best friend, wincing as she tugged at a few knots. It had been hours since her early morning swim, and by the time she finally had class with Becky, her pink hair was a nest of wild curls, barely held back by the scrunchie. Becky had been aghast at the sight of her, whimpering about beauty routines throughout class until the bell had rung, signalling the fifteen-minute break between classes. Since they didn’t need to move rooms, she had pounced.

“How was your morning?” Anya decided to ask, flinching at a particularly hard tug. Becky gave a non-comital hum.

“Boring. We just went over revisions courses for the exams, clarifying where people were stuck. I’m pretty well ahead, so my professors are wondering if I can help Damian with tutoring. I said yes as he’s looking so tired these days.” She said, threading some hair into a twist.

“Mmm the boys and I are a little worried about him at the moment. Ewen said he hadn’t been sleeping or eating again.”

“Did he at least eat breakfast?”

“Yeah mine.”

“Did you eat?”

“Emile shared his with me.”

Becky sighed, stopping her braiding to rummage in her bag. A packet of crisps was shoved into her hands.

“Eat these. You barely eat yourself these days.”

Opening the packet, Anya guiltily began chewing, listening as Becky continued on about the latest gossip she had heard around school. Michael was interested in Vanessa, and was planning on asking to court her, the west wing was about to get some major renovations, teachers were handing out pop quizzes this week like Tonitrus bolts. If there was news in this academy, Becky would find it. Though her father wanted her to continue on with the family business, she had her heart set on becoming a writer. Whenever it be for journalism or content creation she hadn’t decided yet, instead building up a repertoire stories to use at any given time. The oldest in their small friend group, she had been the most reluctant to befriend the others having disliked the way they treated Anya. Loyal to a fault, she had argued with them at every opportunity, often clashing with Ewen as she had blamed him for Anya’s trouble making, until she realised that they were as bad as each other.

Studious and with familiar parental expectations, she had bonded with Damian over the course work and their affection for Anya. They had taken to forming some sort of protection squad for the short girl during middle school, whom had unknowingly attracted the unwanted attention of upperclassmen. Anya still wasn’t entirely clear on what had happened during those times, having often been distracted by Ewen and Emile while the other two ‘talked’ to the students. Come to think of it, that hadn’t really changed.

When the news had hit, Beck had readily opened her home to Anya. But she hadn’t wanted to get the Blackbells involved in whatever power struggle her family was in, arguing it was safer for her on campus. Thinking it had been about the threat to her safety, Becky had retorted that her mansion was safer that the school grounds, and she would be risking other students’ lives if she stayed there instead of just her family. It had been a good point, but Anya was stubborn. They had argued for days over it, the first major disagreement in their eleven year friendship until Emile had stepped in saying there was safety in numbers, and that despite attempts at kidnapping on campus in the past, no one had ever been hurt.

Anya felt her hair getting a final fluff around her shoulders, before Becky stepped around her to begin messing with her bangs.

“You don’t have your bun covers in today. Are they in your bag?”

“Yeah I didn’t want to lose them. I’ll keep them there for today I think. Try something new.”

“Well, now that I've fixed your hair they would ruin the look. And you look absolutely adorable now!” Becky gushed, jumping from one foot to the other in glee. The door opened, letting a cold blast of late winter wind in, prompting cries of protest from those caught in it's draft. The teen entering quickly closed the door, brushing the water from the dripping snow off his shoulders miserably before looking up at Becky’s greeting.

“Damian! Doesn’t Anya look adorable!”

Anya felt her cheeks begin to warm at his curious gaze, watching as his eyes raked over her appearance.

“She does.” He finally agreed, and Anya could hear his thoughts swirl about how well the curls framed her face, making her stomach flip. Becky squealed happily, dragging him up to sit beside them, nattering about her events of the day and how she’d be helping him with the class work from now on. With a flourish of her cape, she settled down on one side of Anya, forcing him to sit on the other. She continued to plan over the younger girl’s head, pretending not to notice the flush gracing her cheeks as she played with her hair, mentally categorising it for teasing material later. Damian dutifully listened, nodding when needing to as he set up his desk. Under the table he knocked his knee against Anya’s lightly, filling her with the same silent support as this morning.

Yeah, she was definitely looking for those cookies for tonight.

It wasn't long before the professor entered the room, calling for attention. The class settled down, ready to continue learning their lesson plan, but were surprised when the professor stared off into space for a while, silently mulling over a decision in their head. Anya tried to pick up on what he was thinking about, but his thoughts were to jumbled for her to make sense of. Feeling an incoming headache, she pulled back, not wanting to risk a bleeding nose.

"What do you think is wrong?" Becky whispered to her.

"I dunno, it must be serious if he's taking this long." She responded, elbowing Damian to get his thoughts. Before he could respond the professor cleared his throat.

"Apologies class, we received some news just before in the staff lounge that has ruffled some feathers. While I'm sure it's nothing to be too concerned about, I have been advised to explain it to you."

Murmurs sped around the class room as he leaned against the front of his desk.

"While tensions have always been high between us and Westalis, there has been growing conflict in neighbouring countries as well. As of just a few hours ago, a missile was launched into Magyar from Österreich, detonating near a farming village. While there is no more information just yet of what this has caused, there are rumours that this will be declared a war. While it is on our borders, and our troops will be called to help aid if needed, we are safe in the mean time. Please do not worry over any needless concerns as this could all be a misunderstanding and hopefully nothing will come of it. If anything further happens we will update you throughout the day. ”

Immediately the room erupted into panicked questioning, causing the professor to rub at his temples.

“I’m afraid I can’t answer the questions you have as I don’t have any more information myself. Please settle down and let us continue to go over the lesson. We have nothing to be concerned about at this moment.” Agh this is why I didn’t want to tell them.

Anya could only sit in shock, trembling at the news. Blindly she reached out and grabbed her friends’ hands, desperately squeezing them for comfort. Becky turned and pulled her into a side hug, shaking like a leaf herself. Her dad was a major military manufacturer and would undoubtedly be caught up amongst the conflict one way or another. Bringing an arm up to pat her on the back uncomfortably, Anya murmured words of reassurance. On her other side, she felt Damian rub his thumb over the back of her hand soothingly, staring into space, his own mind in turmoil. His father was still the leader of the National Unity Party, a large player in the war talks. While he didn’t know the full extent to his father’s contribution to the war efforts, he was worried just the same.

Anya could only swallow the sinking feeling in her stomach that her messy home life was going to explode even further now and she wouldn’t be able to stop it. Slumping in her chair, she blinked back tears, not ready for what might come.

Chapter Text

The academy was a buzz of organised panic for the remainder of the day. Everyone was whispering of the potential war threat and the effects it would have on their families. Being such an affluential school meant powerful families and relations, each tied into the country’s rich history and social politics in one way or another. Anxious on how things would play out, students had taken to lingering outside the staff lounge for glimpses of the TV news reports, while others had tried to catch the attention of passing pedestrians, asking for the latest gossip. The junior year levels may have been spared the news, but they could sense something was happening, often running up their older siblings or upperclassmen, asking what was going on. Ewen’s younger cousin were amongst them, tugging at his jacket anxiously.

“Ewen, what’s going on? Everyone’s scared.”

He bent down to ruffle her hair, giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

“It’s nothing Sarah. Just grownups having heated discussions.”

Sarah frowned, brushing his hand aside.

“You’re lying.”

“No, I’m not telling you the full truth,” he corrected, “but it’s a grown-up matter. It should blow over soon.”

The frown deepened but she reluctantly muttered 'okay' and hugged him goodbye. Watching her run off to her friends, he got to his feet unsteadily, worry in his voice.

“It will blow over soon. Right?”

The others could only remain silent, just as troubled. Not feeling like studying or hanging out as usual, they muttered their goodbyes and went their separate ways. Waving Becky off at the school gates, Anya watched as her car disappeared into the traffic. Reports throughout the day had gotten worse. There had been a number of casualties from the missile, and fighting along the borders had increased in response. No official statement had been released yet and it felt like the county was holding its breath.

Trudging back to her room, she dropped onto her bed as the exhaustion from the start of the day hit her again. All she wanted was to hear her Papa’s voice. His soothing timbre would ease her aching headache and he would feed her the lies she needed to hear.

After getting changed she headed out to the shared living room to wait for the phone to be free. A small crowd of girls were glued to the TV, watching the fuzzy broadcast repeating again. Anya hated to think what would happen if Ostania ever declared war on the west. This was bad enough.

Finally getting her turn to call home, she dialled the familiar number, praying that someone would be there to pick up. The phone rang and rang. The girls waiting behind her shuffled impatiently and she was about to hang up when the line clicked over.

“Hello, Forger residence, you’re speaking to Dr. Forger.”

“Papa.” Anya sighed in relief, her whole body relaxing as she heard his voice.

“Oh, hello dear. How have you been?”

“Meh. Struggling through my studies and life as usual.”

He hummed, having come to the conclusion long ago that she was hands on learner not the academic he had strived for her to be. “Well as long as you continue to try your best, we will be proud.”

She murmured her agreement before pausing awkwardly, not sure how to phrase her discomforts. Loid caught on as usual.

“You’re calling because of the news correct?”

“...yes. Are you getting anymore clients due to this?” It was the closest she could poke at the truth without revealing both their hands.

“Hard to say at the moment, but work is starting to pick up. Your mother has been busy at City Hall. I’ve barely seen her these last few weeks.”

Anya frowned, hearing the sad bitterness in his tone. She had hoped they had had a chance to talk, but it sounded like they were still fighting. Having been removed from the situation she couldn’t meddle like she wanted to. Maybe she could arrange for a family dinner?

Opening her mouth to ask, she stopped when she heard a faint beep and Loid shuffled, muttering a curse under his breath.

“Sorry Anya, I’ve just been paged by the hospital. I have to head back out.”

“Oh.”

He paused, sensing her disappointment.

“How about, we organise a family visit soon? We miss your face around here.”

“That would be great.” She smiled.

“Alright honey, I’ll try to drop off a care package this week and we’ll organise a time. Love you.”

“Love you too Papa.” she whispered before hanging up sadly. Flashing a polite smile to the next girl in line, she started back to her room, only to pause as a loud breaking news jingle sounded from the TV. Everyone stopped as the news anchor solemnly reported that the Magyar President had officially declared war against Österreich and its allies after what was now deemed a deliberate attack on their soil. A blurry image of said President and his Head of State Security appeared on screen, speaking in their native tongue, a delayed translation echoing their sentiments.

The room was frozen, until the girl on the phone sobbed, stifling it quickly. The news had been expected, but it had come out too fast, almost as if they had been waiting for any excuse for chaos.

All hell broke loose and the Dorm Mothers rushed in to turn off the broadcast as the reports repeated, soothing the ones who had started crying. Numbly Anya staggered back into her room, shutting out the hysteric thoughts of her dormmates. Flopping face down on her bed, she took a deep breath, holding it for three counts before releasing for another three.

From what she knew from History and Social Politics, Ostania had been neighbourly with the warring countries until about twenty years ago though she couldn’t remember the reason why. They had been cordially until the Iron Curtain had dropped, as both countries had decided to vocally support Westalis.

If the West now choose to support either country they’d be at war. If they didn’t there would be public outcry, demanding for a reason and response. History had shown that choosing sides could damage any carefully laid alliances, and had to been done as carefully and perhaps sneakily as possible. Add in the fact that there were those in Ostania who wanted to go to war against Westalis, this was a crucial moment of weakness for the enemy.

Worry for her parents and honorary aunts and uncles from the WISE agency flooded her stomach. The next few weeks were going to be intense.

Her fretting killed her appetite, so she skipped dinner. She was too tired to study and instead just lay there unmotivated until it was completely dark outside. Her stomach eventually growled loudly, breaking her out of her disassociation. Groggily she remembered her promise to herself visit Damian with cookies. Rolling over she swung her legs out over the bed, wondering where she had stashed them. It took a little bit of hunting but she finally found the container shoved in a desk draw, looking a little worse for wear. Stuffing it into the largest pocket of her winter jacket, she tugged on her boots, before grabbing a scarf and hat. Struggling to fit the beanie over her messy hair, she made sure the door was locked before clambering out her window.

Forever thankful she was on the ground floor, she fell into the melting snow unceremoniously, rolling a little down the embankment before coming to a stop. After a quick scurry back to close her window and brushing the wet dirt from her body, she headed across campus in the dark, the path well memorised.

The first time she had snuck over to see the boys, it was because she was scared and lonely. She had arrived at their front door, unsure on what to do after her tentative knock. The Dorm Master had greeted her and was going to turn her away before taking in her distressed state.

Ushering her in, he had called for the boys, whom had raced to comfort her once they saw her tears. She had spent hours crying in front of the fire, wrapped up in an awkward group hug they would never admit to, before eventually falling asleep. She had woken up around dawn the next day in Damian’s bed, to see him sleeping at his desk. She had watched the light caress his brown hair, making it shimmer in hues of gold and rich amber for a while, utterly captivated, before realising he was awake and looking at her in sleepy amusement. It filtered into his voice as he croaked a ‘morning’ to her, chuckling as she hid further under his blankets, ears red in embarrassment.

The Dorm Master had appeared a few minutes later, checking in on them again as he had done all night. Seeing she was awake he had kindly, but firmly asked her to leave, stating that this was a one-time exception and that she wasn’t allowed in the boys' dorms. But deep down they knew she’d be back.

From then on, she had been careful to avoid anyone, knocking lightly at whatever boys’ window that had a light on. They'd sneak her in and she’d share whatever goodies she had smuggled over. But it would always end with her and Damian alone in his room, whispering to each other about everything and anything under the sun. A few times she had convinced him to sneak out with her instead, and they had trapsed around the grounds, kicking at snow banks and creating mini snowmen until their faces were numbingly red.

Creeping around the main building now, she huddled close to the wall, counting the windows until she was under his. He was at his desk, reading glasses back on again much to her delight, focusing on something she couldn’t see. But his frown told her it was course work. Rolling her eyes at his obvious habits, she leant up to knock gently against the window pane, ducking down before he could see her. She waited a moment, knowing from his surprised thoughts that he had heard, but after not seeing anything in the dark he returned to study. Giggling she knocked again, a little harder this time, before hiding under the sill, listening to his annoyance. The chair scrapped against the polished floorboards as he leaned closer to the window to stare past his reflection, trying to see into the night. She chose the moment his nose was pressed against the glass to spring up, contorting her face horrifically. He was startled enough to yelp, quickly falling back against his chair, knocking his books off his desk. Clutching her stomach in silent laughter, she watched as he staggered to the door, locking it before the Dorm Master came knocking.

“Everything okay in there Master Desmond?”

“Y-yes sorry! Just had a bug crawl across my desk.” He called back, glaring at the pink haired girl mocking him outside, “A big bug that I need to squish.”

“Alright then. Just remember that it’s late. Please go to bed soon.”

He waited until the footsteps faded away before hurrying over to the window again, yanking it open to scowl at her.

“That was not funny.”

“Au contraire! It was hilarious.” She continued to giggle, mirth sparkling in her eyes. He sighed and moved as to close the window on her, causing her to hastily reach out, begging for him to stop.

“Why should I?”

“I brought the last of Papa’s cookies.” she bargained, fishing out the squished box from her pocket. Loid’s food was like gold amongst her friends, and she had used that power freely. Damian’s eyes flickered with greed, before reluctantly sighing, gesturing for her to climb in. Shoving the container back into her pocket, she braced herself against the ledge, trying to pull herself up.

“Help me.”

“Fine, only cause you’re short Peanut.”

She did not need help, a fact they both knew. But she would readily find any excuse for him to hold her, however brief it may be. Scrambling over the window edge, she slipped into the room with ease, squeezing his arms in thanks as he helped her steady her feet. He broke away first to close the window, allowing her to shed the excess layers. Taking her jacket he hung it over the back of his chair, before sitting back down at his desk while she sat on his bed close by.

“What were you working on before?” she queried, opening the cookies for them to share. Taking one he bit into it happily, savouring the flavour as he picked up the book he had dropped.

“Biology. I had been working on Social but given the news today I needed a distraction.” He said, showing her the front cover.

“Have you talked to your family?” She asked quietly, nibbling at her own treat.

“Actually, yes. Demetrius called.” This surprised her. The older Desmond son rarely made contact with his brother, preferring to keep him at arm's reach his whole life. Damian had resented it as a child, but had slowly come to accept it in the more recent years. Seeing her shock he chuckled now, resting his elbow against the desk, head propped up in hand.

“Yeah, shocked me as well. He asked how I was and told me not to worry about them. The war doesn’t affect us yet, though him and Father will be attending meetings tomorrow and probably for the rest of the week on making sure the peace treaty remains invoked. We then chatted about exams and you guys before he had to leave for dinner. It was nice actually.”

“That’s wonderful Damian. I’m glad he reached out.” He blushed at her awed gaze, glancing away from her.

“Mmm, it was a nice surprise. Though I wish I wasn’t in school still and could help them with their meetings. He did sound incredibly tired.”

“You’re one to talk. You haven’t been sleeping again, have you?”

“I’ve been sleeping. Just in short bursts. I did a you and took a power nap in Lit today.” He joked, tossing her an easy grin over his shoulder. Irked she threw a cookie at him, watching as it bounces off his head onto the floor.

“You better eat that. Can’t waste Papa’s cooking.”

They fell into a cosy silence for a while, happily enjoying their treat before Damian prodded her leg with his foot.

“Have you talked to your folks? You were going to try after school, weren’t you?”

Wiping the crumbs off her hands into the trashcan, she nodded slowly.

“I called Papa. He sounded tired. Ma wasn’t home. I don’t think she’s been going home too much lately.” She confessed, shoulders slumping. Damian sighed as he got to his feet, stepping over the small gap to flop down beside her. Flinging an arm around her shoulders, he tucked her close to his chest, stroking her arm soothingly.

“They’ll work it out. I’ve never seen two adults more into each other than your parents. The amount of kissing I walked in on whenever I was over was enough to make me nauseous.”

Giggling, Anya tucked herself closer, enjoying his warmth.

“Better that then the Dance of Denial they acted out those first few years. I know their marriage was one of convivence at first, but I am truly glad they fell in love with each other.”

“You never did say why they got married.”

“Ma needed a date to a party, Papa needed a partner to fend off unwanted advances at work. They had been friends for years, and often complained to one another about rent prices. Ma was the one to ask him to marry her, saying it was the perfect cover story and solution to their problems. He accepted and the rest is history.” She shrugged, twisting the truth into a believable lie. He made a noise of surprised wonder, never having guessed at that.

Sleepily she closed her eyes, listening to his heart beat steadily against his chest, as his fingers found their way into her hair, twisting the ends about lightly. Comfortable, she sighed in contentment, before remembering the rest of her earlier conversation.

“Oh yeah, Papa said he was going to drop off another care package this week. We’re going to try and organise a family visit. You’re welcome to see him if you want. I know you had some questions about the novel he lent you before everything happened.”

Glancing down at her, Damian shook his head.

“Nah, you enjoy your time with him. You haven’t seen him in weeks. It’ll do you some good to catch up without me pestering him about the drivel theme that author chose.”

Anya could tell that he truly meant that, though her heart ached for him once again. Her parents were always open and honest with her friends, sharing their small apartment with them throughout the years. When any of them had wanted an escape from school or from their own families, the Forgers had tucked them into theirs, feeding them with love and attention that they so desperately craved. Damian and Becky were the most regular visitors, now able to come over unannounced or even if Anya wasn’t home herself. More than once Anya had returned home to find one of them sitting in the living room, talking animatedly with her Papa or helping her Ma with household chores. She had offered the invitation knowing he hadn’t seen or heard from his Father in months. While Demetrius’s short phone call today was a welcomed relief, the young Scion would undoubtedly fall into a depressive state over the next few days, as he over analysed everything that hadn’t been said.

“Stop feeling sorry for me, I’ll be fine.” He playful tugged on her hair, “I promise not to overthink things.”

Rubbing at the tender spot on her scalp, Anya scowled lightly at him. “You’re constantly over thinking.”

“How’d you know, you’re not a mind reader.” He argued, poking at her forehead teasingly.

Oh how little you know.She thought, batting his hand away. And he would never know if she had her way.

“It’s all over your face. I can read you like a book.”

“A book printed in Armenian. You haven’t come close to deciphering my Mother’s language.”

“I’m learning! It keeps turning to squiggles before my eyes. Maybe I need to borrow your glasses.” She exclaimed, reaching up to take them off his face. He pulled back quickly, scowling again.

“What’s with everyone and my glasses today! Keep your grubby fingers off them.”

“No, just give them here, I want to try them on.”

A wrestling match began, rough and ugly enough that no one would dare call it flirting. Despite Anya crawling into his lap at one point, straining to reach around his hold to grab at the item, the angry banter slipping from their mouths in hushed tones. Eventually she managed to knock him onto the floor, knocking the wind from him. Taking advantage of his dazed state from the sudden fall, she snatched the glasses from his hands, promptly putting them on. Blinking at how unfocused the room became, she looked down at him from her perch.

“God you’re blind.”

“And you look stupid.” Stupidly cute.

They were quiet for a while, catching their breath, glad that no one had come knocking at the noise. Done with her victory, Anya took the glasses off and set them on the desk before turning back to him, a thoughtful frown on her face.

“Hey Damian...”

“Mmm?”

“Do you think we’ll go to war?”

He frowned up at the ceiling, still not moving off the floor. Putting his hands behind his head he shrugged.

“I hope not. If we do that means my Father’s party failed. It would mean that Ewen, Emile and myself would probably have to go fight in the army. I really don’t want to be responsible for ending anyone’s life or livelihood if I can avoid it.”

“Yeah you can barely kill a bug.”

“Bugs maybe gross but they have feelings.” Shuffling he looked up at her, seeing her worried expression. “Tonight’s news really affected you didn’t it?”

She nodded tiredly. “There’s just so much at risk if we went to war. A lot of people I love would be involved. I don’t know what I would do without them if we got separated.”

Groaning, Damian sat up enough so he could stroke her face with a gentle hand.

“Hey, there’s no use mulling over what might happen okay? We won’t go to war. We’ll be safe.”

“I really want to believe you.” She whispered, leaning into his palm with a sigh. His thumb roved across her cheek softly and she turned to place a gentle kiss against it. “I better get going. It is really late.”

“Do you want me to walk you back?”

She shook her head, clambering off the bed to grab her stuff. Once everything was back on and the empty container placed back in her pocket, she turned to face him with a soft smile.

“Thanks for being my best friend Damian. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Probably would have crashed and burned by now.” He smirked, stepping forward to embrace her tightly. She returned the hug joyfully, soaking it all in while she could. “Be careful crossing campus. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

With one last squeeze she slipped back out the window, not falling this time, and started heading back. At the corner she paused to look back, catching sight of him leaning out the window watching after her. She waved to him in reassurance, nodding when he returned the gesture before stepping back inside, closing the window. His light flickered off and she felt herself sigh. Turning back to her dark path she continued on into the night.

Chapter Text

Swinging her legs idly against the brick wall, Anya watched the busy street with mild curiosity. The sky was just starting to twinge with pink as twilight descended, approaching a little later each day as they moved into Spring. The street lights flickered on with a hum, elongating the shadows of the passing pedestrians heading home from work.

It had been a few weeks since their neighbours had gone to war and nothing had really changed in their day to day lives. The West was remaining tactfully neutral on the matter, focusing on keeping the peace between all its bordering countries instead, which Anya thought was a wise decision. Though there had been rumours that refugees were seeking asylum in Westalis, but nothing had yet to be confirmed. A handful of protestors tried to fan these rumours, having been shouting at the inaction of the government outside City Hall since the news broke. Their cries varied between helping the countries fight, or at least strike against the Iron Curtain now while there was anguish. They wanted blood and they didn’t care who's spilt. The propaganda posters they had printed were still attached to noticeboards or power poles, though they had become largely unnoticed by the public.

Humming to herself Anya scanned the street again, trying to spot her parents’ familiar faces. True to his word, her father had dropped off some homemade baking and essential items a few days after their phone call. She had been ecstatic to see him, clinging off his shoulder like a child. He had been tired but happy to see her, hugging her with a force that rivalled her mother’s. Blabbering, she had told him all about school and her friends as they had lunch at the small café down the street, as he had listened to everything with care, an affectionate look on his face. It had slipped into something melancholy when she had asked about everyone, making her heart tug.

“Everyone is okay. Frankie sends his hellos.” Is all he had said, though his mind was filled with all the worried and regretful conversations he’d had. Perking up, he had smiled tentatively as he said, “Your Ma and I spoke though. She managed to catch me at the hospital between shifts the other night. She misses you a lot and wants to catch up for dinner soon. Do you want to go out in the next few weeks? We could all go to that restaurant on Fifth you like?”

From what Anya could read from his memories, the conversation had been a surprise and very awkwardly longing. Glad to see there was no violence involved and finally some progress, she had beamed happily.

“That would be great!”

“Okay then, I’ll inform your Ma.”

At the start of the new week, he had called her to confirm their dinner plans for the following Thursday, the warmth in his voice suggesting that his latest talk with Yor had gone incredibly well. She had been living off that buzz ever since, making her friends smile in relief at her happiness.

“Anya!”

That was all the warning she got before a shadow launched themselves at her, knocking them both over the brick wall. Squawking, Anya landed flat on her back in the garden bed, dazed and struggling to breathe as the figure hugged her tightly.

“Oh my dear I am so happy to see you!” Yor chirped in her ear, squeezing her tighter. Patting her back, Anya tried to signal for to release her, but her mother’s suffocating grip didn’t ease up as she nuzzled her. Loid’s face appeared over the wall above them, sighing in acquiescence upon seeing how purple Anya’s face was becoming.

“Yor, let her breathe.”

“Oh! I’m sorry dear!” Yor exclaimed, immediately backing off letting Anya gasp heavily. Getting to her feet, Yor reached out a hand to help up the little Esper before fretting about her and straightening her appearance. Loid just watched on, leaning against the wall with a small smile. His scar reflected in the street lights, making him look older than his late thirties. Once Anya was situated, he helped them out of the garden bed and back over the wall onto the pavement. He let his daughter hug him in greeting before gesturing to the car parked nearby.

“Should we head out?”

It wasn’t until they were traveling safely to the restaurant did Anya fully focus on her nervous mother. Yor had gushed apologies for the over excited reunion but had remained quiet since then. She hadn’t changed much since they had last meet, though there were shadows beneath her eyes, hidden behind concealer. She was buddled up in a warm pink coat, and her tights hid any discolouration that may appear on her legs. Anya couldn’t tell if she had any recent injuries just by looking at her, though she knew that she had started to favour her left leg after her fight with Loid.

“How have you been Mama?” She asked, breaking the silence. Yor startled to face her, a surprised flush crossing her face. Anya hadn’t called her Mama in years.

“I’ve been okay darling. Sorry for not contacting you sooner. Work has been...difficult recently.” Memories gleaned showed that she wasn’t exactly lying. She had been busy with City Hall duties, but also with dealing the copious amounts of assassinations she had been getting assigned. Seems like every drug lord in the city was battling it out, fighting over the limited supply of an opioids that usually came from Österreich. And with each new assassination came new turf and connections, changing the crime world’s orchestration each day. Garden usually didn’t get involved with simple gang squabbles, but with the ever-present war threat and the underworld heaving for blood and power, they had been tasked with helping to clean up the mess. That on top of hunting out treasonous politic leaders or business men, Yor had been run ragged.

Yor had just escaped from one such conflict before meeting up with Loid. The business man had fought back, landing a solid punch on her sternum. She had finished him off easily, but breathing was a little difficult. She hadn’t had time to shower so she was self-conscious that she smelt of blood. Anya decided if anyone commented she’ll shyly ask if her Ma had her monthly. Maybe embarrassing but a good cover if necessary.

“It’s okay Mama. I’ve missed you though. You haven’t been home when I called the house.” Even though she understood what has happening, she felt the urge to needlessly guilt trip. Maybe she could borrow some underhand meddling from her six-year-old self. Yor blushed and squirmed under her sympathetic gaze.

“I’m sorry Anya, I’ll try harder to call you. I want to hear everything about school! How’s your studies going? Are your friends alright? Is Becky still practicing her martial arts like I taught her?”

Anya smirked inwardly to herself, but obliged, telling her mother everything. School was dreadfully dull and she struggled to maintain focus in class. Becky and her still practiced their forms in the school gym at least twice a week, sometimes encouraging the boys to join them. Her friends were alright, planning a trip outside of school grounds soon to see the latest action movie advertised.

Loid had remained quiet throughout the drive, having heard all of this during lunch. He only spoke up once they reached the restaurant, parking in the closest available space.

“Frankie told me the movie was good. He said it gave him a bit of nostalgia for that Bondman series you liked as kid.”

“Bondman was and will always be the cartoon man of my heart.” Anya said gravely, hand holding said heart in fondness. “When he died in that sunset explosion in the series finale, a little piece of me died with him.”

Loid just hummed in amusement, remembering how distraught she had been at the time. Ushering the ladies into the warm restaurant, he took their coats to be checked in while they were led to their seats. The place was bustling for a Thursday night, and Anya was glad that she had somewhat learnt how to control her powers enough to block out the noise. Settling down across from her mother, she smiled as Yor clasped one of her hands.

“While your father isn’t here, tell me, is there any boyfriend in your life?”

Anya blushed fiercely, shaking her head quickly. “No Ma!”

“Oh, that’s a shame.” Yor sighed in disappointment. I had thought for sure he would have told her by now.

Curious as to who she was thinking about, but scared to go down that track Anya quickly changed the topic to her hectic sports season. Loid joined them as she recounted her first Lacrosse game of the season. It had been brutal with fouls issued to both sides. One particular incident was when her team mate Vanessa had suffered a particularly hard ball to the face, knocking her out for a few seconds. She had to be escorted off the field by the medics, blood gushing from her nose and mouth. Anya later found out she had swallowed a tooth.

Dinner requests were made when the waiter came round, and they enjoyed a light conversation as they waited. Anya pushed for Loid and Yor to talk the most, often asking for their respective opinion when the other spoke. Their food came after a brief interval, all commenting on how fast the service was tonight in surprise. Even though she missed her father’s cooking, and Eden had fine dining options, Anya tucked in enthusiastically, the spices making her tongue sing with joy.

“So Anya, you have a swim meet coming up, correct?” Loid said after a while, breaking their comfortable silence. Slurping down a particularly long noodle, Anya nodded hastily.

“Yeah against Willow Creek and Albrecht next weekend. We’ve been training every day and coach said I’m getting closer to beating both my personal best and the school record in free style. They hinted that if I do it on the day, I may even get a Stella.”

Both parents made noises of surprised wonderment, encouraging her to continue doing her best. It had been a while since she had earned any, and she was feeling a bit behind her friends with needing two stars to claim her cloak. Though it had been a pressured requirement in her early school days, her friendship with Damian had surpassed the need to be a Scholar, earning a passage into Donovan’s circle rather unexpectedly. Anya had managed to impress Demetrius of all people when he had turned up for a parent/teacher gala on his father’s behalf for Damian. Seeing how fiercely she had stood up for him, the older Desmond son had invited her and her folks around for dinner one evening, stating that it was only fair after the Forgers had done so much for his brother. Damian had been so stunned at her actions he had barely spoken to her that week, eventually asking her how she’d managed to do that. She hadn’t been sure herself, shrugging in confusion.

Loid had managed to dazzle Donovan enough at that dinner, that they were now in regular contact, but Loid was still struggling to figure out where the Desmond’s loyalties lied. He’d come home from their meetings tired and thoughtful, mistrust brewing with every conversation. Maybe that’s why he had taken Damian so firmly under his wing. Seeing just how badly neglected and used the boy had been, the protective parent in him wanted to right those wrongs.

Due to this, WISE had eased up on Anya becoming an Imperial Scholar, though they had always encouraged it as a potential back up plan for her future. Eden’s scholars usually went on to create and achieve great things. Setting her up for life outside of school was their next big mission- unofficially of course.

Wiping his mouth, Loid smiled at her happily. “We’ll make sure to be there in support. Is it at Eden?”

“No, Willow Creek is hosting. The competition starts at ten though I won’t be competing until after lunch. Probably around two. The others will be there as well. Becky said they were making a banner.”

“This is wonderful Anya! I’m sure you’ll do well. It’s been so long since I saw you compete.” Yor sighed, clapping her hands together joyfully. “Maybe I can convince Yuri to come a long too. He said the other day he misses you.”

Though he had never truly warmed up to Loid, Yuri had grudgingly accepted he was part of his sister’s life. What had surprised everyone though was how fiercely he had become attached to Anya, acting more of an older brother figure to her than an uncle. They argued all the time about the stupidest things, but that didn’t stop him from helping her study to spying on her parents. When she was getting bullied during middle school he had teamed up with her protection squad to put a stop to it. He was stupid and weird, but she loved him all the same.

“If he can make it that would be nice. But is he okay with how you two have been?” She asked nervously, eyes flickering between the two adults who shuffled uncomfortably.

“I haven’t exactly told him about our...disagreement.” Yor explained, wincing at the thought. “He’s just thinks we’ve been busy at work and with the investigation into the threat. When we see him it’s only for five minutes.”

Loid muttered something under his breath that suspiciously sounded like five minutes too long but both women ignored it.

“And how has everything been...between you two.” Anya tentatively prodded. There was an awkward silence as they all poked at their meals.

“...good.” Loid finally sighed much to Yor’s surprise. “We’ve...talked. Honest answers have been given.”

He glanced at his wife who was staring at him in wonder. Anya could read the longing in his eyes from across the table, holding her breath in hope.

“Yeah, good.” Yor murmured, her own body betraying her wistfulness. “That threat really threw us for a loop.”

“Do you think there’s a chance of me coming back home again?”

“Not yet. You’re safest at Eden.” That was a lie. “But your Ma and I are making sure the apartment is properly secured for your return. Maybe it’s best for you to stay in the dorms until the end of the school year?”

Read: We have some serious making up to do, and with how bad our missions are at the moment we don’t want you caught in the crossfire.

Understood.

“Yes I think that would be for the best. Also, I forgot to mention, work is looking to reach out to the hospital soon for a...collaboration.” Yor hedged, her hand inching slowly towards Loid. “With how stressed the staff are becoming with the workload and the news, they’re seeking professional help on how to deal with it. What do you think?”

Anya watched in baited breathe, hope daring to flood her heart. This was so much better than Becky’s dramas.

“I-I think that would be a good idea. I would have to see what my superiors say, but I would look forward to working with you if that’s the case.” Loid hesitantly agreed, allowing her hand to trail into his, squeezing it reassuringly. Anya screamed on the inside.

Not wanting to interrupt the warm fuzzy atmosphere her parents were radiating, she turned back to her forgotten meal, scrapping the last of it into her mouth. They should get dessert. Something with chocolate. This moment called for a celebration.

____________________________________________________________________________________

The evening had been a success, a victory that Anya rode with pride for the rest of the week. Her friends had been overjoyed to hear the news, celebrating with her excitedly. Now at the swim meet they were gushing with her parents in the stands, waiting for Anya’s part of the competition. The banner Becky had told her about hung limply in their hands, the ‘Go Peanut!’ decorated with symbols from their friendship and school. They had made another more formal one for the school team, which they had proudly displayed during the races, but Anya felt embarrassingly touched at the special one for her.

Shuffling at the edge of the pool, she fixed her swim cap more firmly over her ears again, tucking away any stray curls. Eden had done well in the meet, winning twelve out of the fourteen events so far. There was still another ten to go which included the medleys and Anya was competing next. The intercom crackled announcing for her event to take their positions. Taking off her jacket, she shook herself in preparation, looking back into the stands at her support system. They were cheering for her loudly, waving the banner excitedly. She beamed back at them before lining up at her lane, snapping her googles into place.

The other swimmers around her were cool and focused, thoughts only reflecting their need to win. She relished in the silent competition, steading her stance. The arena fell into a low hush as the starter began the countdown. Gripping the edge, Anya waited for the whistle and dove into the pool smoothly as soon as it sounded. She swam as she had practiced, her dive carrying her a fair way through the pool before she needed to surface for air. With precise strokes, she cut through the water, only breathing when needed. All too soon she hit the wall and flipped, barely aware of the others beside her.

She swam on, careful not to exceed her energy so quickly, using her momentum to carry her forwards. Soon she was down to her final lap, her 200m nearly done. Her lungs were beginning to dully ache but the adrenaline pushed her on. She could feel the presence of one of her competitors close by but she was slightly in the lead. A lead she maintained until her hand hit the wall, bursting up to gasp in the cool air, knowing she had won. The rest of the race finish soon after, whistle blowing to confirm her victory. The stands were roaring at another Eden win, her supports the loudest amongst them.

Lifting her googles, she looked up at Becky and Ewen’s whistles of pride, grinning to see them jumping together in triumph. Emile was shouting something as he waved a flag furiously above his head, while her parents and Yuri clapped and cheered beside him. Damian caught her eye with a grin, and nodded his head to the scoreboard, where her time was reflected for all to see. Turning towards it, she felt a swirl of joyful success to see the 2:15 shinning down at her. She had done it. She had beat her personal best and the school record by a mere .05 seconds. It wasn’t a lot, but it was still a win.

Her teammates came running over, helping her out the pool into a celebratory hug, which she accepted readily. She had been the first to break any records that day and the team would be celebrating for a while. This qualified them for the finals in a month’s time and Anya felt the most wanted she had ever been in her life.

Hustling away from the pool edge so the next race could get underway, she made it back over to her towel, wrapping it around her giddily. She had another race later on where she was to compete in the medley, but her main one was done. She desperately wanted to slip into the stands to meet up with everyone, but she wasn’t allowed to until the end of the meet. That didn’t stop her from looking up for them again, but she paused when she spotted an individual hiding near the back. They weren’t too inconspicuous, dressed like the rest of the patrons and cheering on the next race. They could have been a family member from one of the other schools. She wouldn’t have thought much about it if she hadn’t caught their stare at her, filled with something that made her heart pound nervously. She couldn’t distinguish their thoughts from so far away and in the crowd, but the look of contempt they gave rattled her to the bone. She was jostled by one of her team mates and broke away to speak to them, but when she glanced back at the patron they had disappeared back into the crowd.

Chapter Text

She couldn’t stop smiling.

“For perseverance and outstanding sportsmanship, we award this Stella Star to Year 12 student, Anya Forger of Cecil Hall. Well done Miss Forger.”

The gathered crowd erupted into polite applause as the Dean pinned the shinning medal to her left lapel, smiling fondly at her.

“Congratulations Miss Forger. One more and you’ll be gracing the walls of the Imperial Scholar Hallway along with your friends.” He whispered, patting her proudly on the shoulder. Her grin widened as she caught his trailing thoughts of if she doesn’t get expelled first, his eyes lingering on the six bolts lined up on the other side.

Shaking his hand once more, she posed for the official picture before bowing to the school leaders and hurrying down from the stage. There were still more Stellas to be awarded for other student achievements, but she barely listened to them as she made her way through the crowd.

Becky eagerly greeted her when she got back to her seat, throwing her arms around the smaller girl.

“Congrats Anya babe! I’m so proud of you!” She cooed, rocking them both side to side with the force of her hug. Anya could only chuckle, squeezing her back just as tightly.

“Thanks Becky. I can’t believe I did it.”

Pulling back enough to look her in the eye, Becky grinned at her happy astonishment.

“I knew you could do it. You’ve been practicing so hard for the last few months, and all that hard work finally paid off. Wear that star with pride Starlight Anya.”

Affection rolled through her at the use of her old nickname, and she quickly brought the other girl in for another hug. Giggling they remained that way until a small cough sounded from above, reminding them they were still in assembly. Separating the two girls settled back in their seats, holding hands tightly as they tuned back into the ceremony.

Forty minutes later the assembly was adjourned, with ten Stellas having been awarded and a brief update on the school affairs given. Anya had zoned out during the last part, expecting Becky to repeat anything of importance to her later. Elbows linked, the girls made their way out of the hall with the crowd, chattering excitedly, half searching for the remainder of their friend group.

They didn’t have to search for long as a pair of arms wrapped themselves across their shoulders as they entered the courtyard, squishing them against a broad chest.

“Congratulations Anya! You’re rising in the rankings like the rest of us.” Ewen exclaimed. Pulling free of the embrace, she scowled up him.

“You just got a star as well! You’re not that much high and mightier than me Egeburg!”

“Ah you’re right. So where’s my congratulations?” He grinned, pulling her under his armpit to give her a noogie. Protesting she tried to squirm out of his hold, failing to hold in her laughter. Becky just stepped aside with a fond sigh, crossing her arms over her chest, watching as the two dodged around the other students.

“Congrats Ewen on becoming an Imperial Scholar. Your family doing anything to celebrate?” She smiled, as Anya finally wriggled away. He straightened up, adjusting his cloak with a grin.

“Thanks! My folks are out of town at the moment, but promised to catch up soon. Might ask for that Porsche I’ve been wanting.”

“Is that all?”

“Meh, for now. I’ll think of something else later.” He shrugged casually. Anya could only grumble about rich kids and their priorities under her breath. Picking at the edge of the cape, she held it out to examine the finely woven threads.

“Well done Ewen on winning that debate, the Imperial colours look good on you.” She complemented sincerely, watching as he chuffed in pride.

“Thanks Peanut. And don’t worry, you’ll earn your final Stella soon. Maybe at the last swim competition? Break your own record?” He elbowed her in the side playfully. She shrugged at the suggestion, turning to start walking towards the dining hall.

“Maybe, though I don’t know if they’d award another one for that. I did want to try and earn one for the Lit exam though.” She said thoughtfully as they fell into step beside her. Literature had always been her best subject. She was entirely fascinated with the written worlds' authors had spun, the fantasies springing off the page before her eyes when she read. She often enjoyed mind reading during that class well, getting drawn into her classmates’ daydreams on whatever they were reading. Each person envisioned the text differently, and it utterly enthralled her.

Stepping into the shadows of the covered hallways, the trio chatted amicably about their upcoming midterms before switching the topic to the movie they were planning to see on the weekend. Grabbing their lunch when they entered the dining area, they spotted Emile sitting in the corner, and made their way over, still chatting.

“I hear there’s more than one explosion.” Ewen said, sliding in beside Emile who stopped chewing his sandwich to greet them.

“I heard there’s a compelling love story between the main lead and the rival. Both on and off screen.” Becky smirked, returning Emile’s hello. Anya crinkled her nose in disgust.

“Romance ruins action movies! The drama of them always outweighs the stunts.” She groaned, flopping unladylike onto the bench.

“Nonsense! Just cause you’re still sore over the fact that Bondman and Princess Honey didn’t end up together doesn’t mean all romance is evil.” Becky scolded, before a wicked smirk snuck across her face. “Besides, you’ve been living out your own little romantic drama with our favourite Scion are you not?”

Refusing to rise to the bait, Anya struggled to maintain her flush, instead turning to Emile with a smile.

“Where’d you run off to earlier? I didn’t see you after the assembly.”

“Ah sorry about that. Congratulations to you both by the way. One of my fellow volunteers needed some advice on a project they’re setting up. I had a quick look at it before coming here.” He explained, taking another bite of his sandwich.

“The same volunteer who gave you that fresh hickey you’re sporting?” Becky teased, propping her chin on her laced fingers, grinning as he choked harshly.

Oma!” Anya and Ewen exclaimed in equal parts disbelief and delight. The red-faced boy hacked once more before sculling down his drink, glaring at Becky over the rim. She just continued to smirk, pleased with his reaction.

Setting down the cup, he adjusted the collar of his shirt, trying to hide the edge of the purpling love bite. “So what if he is? But the project is real and entirely fascinating.”

“Oh I don’t doubt that for a second, your little loving heart latches on to any cause for the greater good. But how long has this tryst been going for?”

“I’m not giving you the scoop Blackbell.” He growled, picking up his lunch again. Ewen exchanged a glance with Becky, sneakily giving her a look that said he’d dig for more information later. Satisfied for now, she settled back with a smile, starting her own lunch.

“So, where’s your lord and saviour? He’s not skipping lunch again is he?” Becky drawled after a while, starting conversation.

“Bossman disappeared right after assembly, stating he had to see Mr. Henderson. Something about tutoring sessions this afternoon? He didn’t seem too happy about it.” Ewen explained, nosily eating his Carbonara. “We were going to slip some food in to class for him if he didn’t turn up.”

“Chew quietly and with your mouth closed. Anya has class with him next right? She can drop it off to him.”

“No need, I’m here.” Damian sighed, slipping into his seat beside Anya, looking utterly exhausted. Flashing her a tired grin he congratulated her on the Stella star, ignoring Ewen’s splutters of where’s my congratulations? as he dug into his own lunch. She smiled her thanks around her spoonful of omurice.

“Dude are you looking forward to the movies on Saturday? Ewen said there’s more than one explosion!” Emile gushed, knowing not to broach whatever was stressing the teen out. Damian propped his head in hand, chewing slowly.

“Yeah but I’m not sure about this romance plot I’ve been hearing about.”

Becky spluttered indignantly and the argument started up again, causing Anya to smile. As they traded barbs back and forth, she continued to watch fondly, eating the remainder of her lunch. This is all they should be worrying about. No war, no conflict, just midterms and movies. She was forced into the conversation when Damian and Becky both called for her opinion, glaring at each other over her head.

She couldn’t stop smiling.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Saturday rolled around as a bright but crisp day. The lawns sparkled with a thin layer of frost when Anya woke up, promptly sending her back to bed where it was warmer for a few more hours. Once the sun had melted it down to a dew, and she couldn’t resist the call to nature any longer, she got up tiredly.

Searching her limited wardrobe for something to wear, she thought about her folks and what they would be doing today. Hopefully they were resting as they had promised her, maybe enjoying some quality time together. Maybe while she was out she could swing by to check in on them? The others would probably like to come around as well.

Pulling out a sage green dress with a pretty collar she adored, she paired it with some warm tights and a light cardigan. Once changed and after controlling her rat’s nest of hair, she skipped out to scrounge a late breakfast from the Dorm Mothers.

Later with her belly full of scrambled eggs and bacon, she sat outside the school grounds, coat bundled around her as she waited for the others to arrive. The weak sunshine warmed her head, and she entertained herself with blowing puffs of air out, pretending to be a dragon.

Cute.

Looking up at the thought, she grinned when she caught sight of the boys approaching her. Jumping down from her perch, she ran up to greet them, chirping a good morning.

“Morning Peanut. You look pretty today.” Ewen said, ruffling her hair affectionately. “Trying to impress someone?” He stage whispered, enjoying the flush that raced across her face.

“No! I just really like this dress.” She denied, spinning to show how it twirled. “Ma got it for me for Christmas. I haven’t had a chance to wear it yet.”

“It suits you.” Emile complimented reaching out to help her twirl again. “And does it have pockets?”

Yes!” She exclaimed, shoving her hands into them.

Too cute.

The thought was shared this time. A honk sounded from the street, alerting them to Becky’s arrival.

“Come on, the previews start in half an hour.” She shouted from the rear, waving at them happily. Linking arms with Emile, she dragged him towards the car, letting Damian and Ewen trail behind them slowly.

It had been a while since they had all done something off school grounds. It was a right hassle to arrange permission from all their guardians or to find something they all wanted to do. It must have been late autumn when they last had an excursion and that had been an eventful day full of mini golf. Emile turned out to be a sore loser.

Clambering into the limo, the group said hello to Martha as they settled in, Becky immediately latching onto Anya’s side. Conversation flowed freely as they drove into the city center, everyone relaxed and excited. Traffic was starting to pick up as the morning wore on, everyone deciding to enjoy the first warmish spring day of the season. All too soon they arrived at the drop off point, piling out as Martha reminded them to be back here at four.

They waved her goodbye, and unhurriedly walked towards the cinema, wondering what previews would play. At some point, Ewen skipped ahead with Becky, whispering in her ear and stealing glances at Emile causing the shorter boy to blush. He ran after them, trying to stop whatever gossip Ewen was surely spreading, leaving Damian and Anya in comfortable silence.

“You do look really nice today.” Damian said after a while, smiling down at her. “The green compliments your eyes.”

“Thanks.” She blushed, meeting his gaze cheerfully. “I’ll have to tell Ma she picked a winner.”

Their hands brushed together casually, and she intertwined their fingers together. He squeezed her hand reflexively, a habit he had picked up every time they held hands. It had taken him a while to get use to her friendly affection. From a young age Anya showered her friends with endearment through touch, from hand holding to hugs, to the occasional kiss on the cheek. Damian, touched starved as he had been, was unsure on what to do. She had told him if it made him uncomfortable, she’d back off, but he had stuttered out that he didn’t mind, he just wasn’t use to it. Now there wasn’t a day where they went without some little touch. Unfortunately, it had earned them a nickname.

“Lovebirds, come on! We don’t have all day.” Becky called, the other three already at the ticket booth. Smiling, Anya tugged on his hand, dragging him after her with a giggle.

Tickets in hand, they loomed over the concession stand, debating on what treats to purchase. Anya was gifted two bags of peanuts out of habit, and she chose a simple vanilla ice cream as well. Sipping at her drink, she ambled towards the theatre, blocking out the mindless chatter echoing in her mind. It still made her nose tingle with the sensation of an incoming nose bleed, but it was close to a moonless night so she could handle it.

Sitting down in one of the backrows, she settled back in her seat, Damian and Becky sitting either side of her as usual. They chatted until the lights dimmed and the previews began to play, watching in enrapt attention at the upcoming blockbusters.

“Ohh, that one looks good.” Anya whispered to Damian after a particularly action packed one finished playing, feeling him nod beside her. “We should watch that when it comes out.”

The movie started not long after and she was entranced for the next hour and a half. She forgot about her ice cream during the first chase screen, jumping when it melted against her fingers. Hurriedly licking them clean, she was unaware of the hungry gaze settling upon her.

All too soon the movie was over, and despite what she had said earlier about romance, she was gripping Becky’s hands tearfully, touched at the ending.

“So beautiful.” Becky hiccupped, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“So poetic.” Anya agreed.

The boys grumbled begrudgingly, though everyone agreed the movie had been good. Gathering their rubbish and the girls’ purses, they shuffled back out into the lobby, chattering over the best parts.

“When he had to jump that boat while driving over the draw bridge, with the police on his tail, man I think I nearly wet myself!” Ewen gushed, acting out the scene with enthusiasm.

“Or when they were caught in the web of lasers and couldn’t trigger the alarm? I so thought that sweat drop was going to cause a commotion.” Emile egged him on, bouncing on his heels.

“What age are you guys, ten? The best part was when he snogged the living daylights out of his girlfriend. I thought for sure we were about to witness some mild porn.” Becky whistled, waving a hand in front of her face to cool herself down.

“The chase scenes were the best! I nearly dropped my ice cream.” Anya exclaimed before looking at her sticky fingers. “On that note, I need to wash my hands. I’ll be right back.”

Excusing herself to the bathroom, she hurried through the crowd. Reaching the ladies restroom, she pushed open the door with her shoulder, nearly bumping into someone coming out. Apologizing she scuttled in, not wanting to keep her friends waiting.

A few moments latter she left, rubbing her slightly damp hands against her cardigan, while scanning the crowds to either Ewen or Damian, the tallest in their group. As she did, she felt the sensation of someone watching her, prickling the back of her neck. Turning she caught sight of the same person from the swim meet, staring at her from across the lobby. Surprised, she lifted a hand to wave at them, unsure as to what they wanted. Their frown deepened and she lowered her hand slowly. Okay, not friendly.

As she assessed them, they picked up some kind of walkie talkie from their side, muttering into it as they turned to leave. Frowning herself now, she wondered what they wanted with her. It was definitely not some rival kid’s parent, sore over her winning the race. Maybe it was a WISE agent tasked with babysitting her. But why did they have to look so angry?

Deciding to confront them, she pushed her way through the crowd, entirely focused on getting close to them. If her Papa had placed her under surveillance, he would have chosen a better agent. Why would they so obliviously stare her down and communicate into their handheld in broad daylight?

Getting to the edge of the crowd, she looked around, spotting them leaving through the front doors. She hurried after them, single mindedly on demanding answers.

Where’d you go? She thought, looking up and down the street as she burst outside. A glimpse of a coat disappearing across the street had her running into oncoming traffic, dodging the vehicles easily. The alleyway was cool and shadowed, the last remnants of dirty snow melting against the brick walls. Her feet slapped against the wet concrete, as she focused on chasing the mysterious figure. They led her through a few hidden backways, dodging around dumpsters and a few startled cats in their wake. All too soon she reached a dead end, the person having seemingly vanished. Spinning around, she wondered if she had missed a hidden doorway or if they had jumped the wall, screeching when a hand landed on her shoulder. Bracing herself, she prepared to flip the person over said shoulder, but he stepped back, anticipating her move.

“Anya, wait!”

Immediately she relaxed, turning to face a panting Damian. Red in the face from chasing her, he frustratedly shook her gently.

“Don’t run off like that! You scared everyone.”

“Oh sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” She apologized, glancing back around the alleyway. The others were waiting at the other end, watching them cautiously. Realizing what she had just done, she blushed apologetically.

“Sorry guys, I just...I saw someone at the movies and curiosity got the better of me. I thought I recognized them.”

“What and you had to chase them through all the back streets at the risk of your own life? Do you realise you could have been attacked?” Damian snapped, running a hand across his face tiredly.

No, the thought hadn’t crossed her mind actually.

They all seemed to understand her guilty grin with a groan.

“Come on, let's just head back and find a place to have lunch.” He grumbled, grabbing her hand to drag her back to the main street. She allowed herself to be carted off, glancing back over her shoulder as she did. She had no idea who the person was, but if she saw them again she’d be sure to question them.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Late that night, under the wanning moon, a body hit the water with a quiet splash. Up on the bridge, a pair of men sighed in tired relief.

“Well, that’s finally cleared up.” One of them muttered, watching the bubbles slowly begin to dissipate along the surface. “I really don’t want to have another job like that in a while.”

“Funny you should say that Second Lieutenant.” An older man huffed, fishing out a cigarette and lighter from his pocket. “I actually got orders for you as we were leaving.”

The younger man straightened up in surprise. “Already?”

“Yeah, but be warned it’s mostly paper pushing.” Flipping open his jacket, he rummaged inside one of the interior pockets before pulling out a slim manila folder. Handing it over his younger charge, he lit his cigarette and took in a long draw. Flipping through the contents, the young man frowned.

“There’s shit all in here. What am I meant to do?”

“You’ve been tasked into looking at some old cold cases. This one especially. Apparently, it was some top-secret government job back in the day, but no one really knows what it was about. There’s rumours that it’s beneficial to us now to reinstate it. Look into it, and tell us what you find.”

With another drag of his cigarette, he glanced back down at the dark waters, satisfied their job wasn’t going to resurface.

“Come on, I’ll treat you to a warm meal. We’ll discuss this more over a pint.”

Chapter Text

The start of the school week was bright and cheerful, reflecting the wonderous weekend they all had and Anya couldn’t be happier as she skipped to class, humming under her breath.

Unfortunately, it was soon ruined when her professors reminded her that midterms were in two weeks. Scolding herself quietly for forgetting, Anya settled into her seat with a scowl. She really needed to focus on studying. As much as she detested exams, her results during these would be used in emergency if finals were cancelled, and with the war raging next door, anything could happen these days.

Moodily, she listened to the professor go over their revision topics, scribbling down notes as needed. Calculus should never have been invented, and she cursed the son of a bitch who discovered it. Honestly, on a day like this she’d much rather be outside, enjoying the sunshine. She had a lacrosse game this weekend, and the final swim meet was just after midterms. She could be training right now, or better yet...

She thoughts turned back the movies, specifically the unwelcomed stare down that still made her neck prickle. Just who was that creep? They had obviously been spying on her, but for how long now? Just the last few weeks, or longer? They weren’t a WISE agent, a fact she had confirmed when they had popped in to see her parents. Her friends had complained about her running off and when Loid had interrogated Anya about her actions, she had with bitter reluctance told the truth about both interactions. His alarmed expression and murderous thoughts were telling enough, but the verbal lashing she had received from him for willing running towards danger still stung a little, however will deserved it had been.

The revelation had brought up more questions than answers though, and Anya was itching to go back to the alleyways to see if she had missed anything. Naturally her friends hadn’t let her out of their sight the rest of the day, all scolding her for her stubbornness and the reminder of the threating letter. They had only relaxed slightly once she was back behind Eden’s walls, though Damian still frowned at any unknown person who came too close for comfort.

Suddenly the bell rang, startling her. First period had finished already. Anya swore under her breath, as she looked at her notebook, having not taken any more notes after the first fifteen minutes. Had she really zoned out for that long? Packing up, she vowed to pay more attention in the rest of her classes before hurrying to join the crowd. She may have her powers during the testing time, but she hated relying on them. Ducking into her next class she slapped her cheeks in focus, glaring at the board. Focus! She had to focus!

By the late afternoon, her mind was fried.

Slinking into the library in exhaustion, she tried to locate her friends. Once again she cursed, loudly enough to be shushed by the librarian, when she saw them sitting by one of the main windows. It was a warm spot, one that let in a lot of natural light to aid in reading the small text of their books. Off to the side so they weren’t surrounded by students. If the view outside said window wasn’t one of her favourites, she might have not been so annoyed. It looked out towards the forests that edged the academy grounds, the mountains standing over them proudly in the distance. Stella Lake sparkled in between, enticing her to go out and play every time. Anya often caught herself daydreaming of frolicking off to explore the ferns, sometimes hand in hand with a certain dark haired boy. Today if she wanted to focus on her studies, she’d have to sit with her back to the window, but that meant she’d be in a prime spot to people watch over the rest of the library. Her other favourite past time!

Hesitating on her decision, she chose the lesser of two evils, pushing any daydreaming to the back of her mind. Edging around the table until her back was to the glass, Anya moved her seat reluctantly into position. She sat down heavily and started creating a book tower to obscure some of her view.

“Hey Anya, how’s your day been?” Ewen greeted her, eyes not moving from his notes. Pouting as her tower fell, she sighed.

“I’m tired.” She complained, flopping onto the table amongst her fallen defences.

“Join the club.” Becky muttered, running a hand through her frazzled hair, a sure sign that she was struggling, “I’m so over study and revision.”

“And the week has just begun.” Anya added, effectively bringing down the mood even more. Observing where everyone was in their studies, she spotted the bag of gummies between them to share, eyes lighting up. Sticking out a hand to snag some, she yelped when another hand slapped her away.

“None for you until you’ve completed at least one assignment.” Damian scolded, ignoring her pitiful whine, busy writing out a passage from the book he was engrossed in. She tried to stare him down with her best puppy dog look, but he was made out of steel today, ignoring her burning gaze. After a moment she conceded with a sigh, straightening up in her seat.

The group settled in to a comfortable silence, only broken by the scratching of pens on paper and the flicking of pages. Everyone’s thoughts were a low hum to her ears, along with the idle chatter she picked up from the closer tables. Emile snuck her a few lollies when Damian wasn’t looking, earning him major brownie points. Eventually Anya brought out her Chemistry notes and quietly asked Becky for help. Glad for a distraction from her Social Politics readings, Becky had shuffled closer to her and after some discussion, gently pointed out where she was going wrong. Damian was pulled into their studies when they came across an equation neither of them understood, and he ended up slowly explaining it to the whole group.

The studious atmosphere was shattered though when Ewen returned after a bathroom break about an hour later, looking a bit shaky.

“You okay?” Anya asked, taking in his pale complexion and racing thoughts.

“Have you guys heard the latest news?” He hissed, looking around a little worriedly. The others exchanged a look before answering no.

Leaning in he whispered haltingly, “Titusz Saboe, you know the President of Magyar? He’s just been assassinated on live television.”

“What?!” Becky gasped, dropping her book. “When?”

“Just now! The professors are running around outside, trying to make sure no one saw it. I glimpsed it as I passed the media lounge. It’s chaotic in there now. Oh man, I sure hope Sarah didn’t see it.”

Too stunned to react properly, they slowly became aware of the furious whispers starting to circulate the library along with the distant cries of terror. News travelled quickly it seemed. Snapping out of it, Becky hurriedly began packing.

“I need to go. I need to watch it. This is breaking news and the school paper has to report it asap.” She breathed, struggling to snap her latches into place. Anya tried to reach out to stop her, but she was gone, cloak swishing around the corner in her wake. Emile soon followed her lead.

“I should go see if the professors need help with counselling. People in the dorms surely saw it.” He murmured, pushing his chair back with a screech.

“Yeah, I need to find Sarah. She mentioned something about a field trip for Media Studies today.” Ewen muttered, also standing up. Waving their goodbyes they left, joining the crowd also hurrying out to watch the report. Anya was left with Damian at the large table, both lost in thought.

“What happens now?” She eventually asked, feeling truly scared for the first time. Damian sighed, removing his glasses. Seeing her shaking hands, he reaching out to grab one.

“I’m not sure.” he murmured, running his free hand over his face, “Magyar will be scrambling but they’ll have some sort of backup plan. Probably involving their Head of State Security.”

“Will this affect us?”

“Again, not sure. I don’t think so, but anything is possible with war.” She squeezed his hand tightly, unable to stop her tremors. He shot her a shaky but gentle smile. “Come on, pack up. I’ll walk you back to the dorms.”

No one slept well that night.

___________________________________________________________________________________

The week passed mutely; the nation shaken by the live broadcast. A number of people had witnessed the traumatic event, including all of Sarah’s class much to Ewen’s dismay. The footage played on repeat, heavily censored or cut off before the actual act, but the terror was already instilled. They were further rocked when Ervin Haydu, the Head of State Security, was also shot down during a live update later that week.

That one had been unmissable.

But despite the tragedies, life had to continue on as normal for Ostania citizens, the war having not come knocking on their doors just yet. By Saturday, Anya had found herself back on the field, grass stains covering her uniform as she battled in a nasty game of lacrosse.

Spitting dirt out of her mouth, she scrambled to her feet, readjusting her mouthguard. Glaring at the girl who had hip checked her when the referee wasn’t looking, she hurried back into position, ready to catch the ball thrown her way.

The last fifty minutes had been gruelling, and she was collecting bruises as quickly as tonitrus bolts. She was sure someone had ripped her hair out during one of the first clashes. That’d teach her for wearing a ponytail today. Everyone was playing dirty, burning off the anxiety of the news. The referees knew this, and while they did make a few desperate calls, they allowed the underhand cheating to happen.

Catching the throw, she began running down the field, aware of the opposition marking her. Knowing she’d never make it to the goal, she made eye contact with Vanessa and tossed the ball her way. It soared over the heads of their rivals, maybe a little too high if she was honest, but Vanessa jumped, gracefully intercepting its arc, and took off running. A quick flick latter and it was hitting the back of the net, bringing the score to 3-2.

Cheering with the crowd, Anya trooped back to her starting point, ready for the game to end.

She was so tired.

The last five minutes was a desperate battle, but they managed to hold onto their lead until the final whistle. Relief flooding through her that they had no overtime to battle out, she dropped her stance, ready to hit the showers. Lifting the bottom of her shirt to wipe the sweat from her face, she ignored the faint cat calls from the crowd, already heading off field.

None of her friends and family had come today, the game having been hosted across the city. She would usually be upset about this, but for her plans to work, she couldn’t have them around. Celebrating casually with her teammates and after getting a brief scolding from her coach for accidentally flashing the crowd, she took to the showers happily.

Once redressed in a pair of casual slacks and modest top, Anya left her bag with the team, asking them to drop it off at her dorm. She excused herself, stating that she was meeting up with her parents for lunch and didn’t want to carry it around town. They gladly brought her lie and she waved them off. Once gone, Anya turned into the city ready to start her hunt.

After walking for a few blocks, she came across a cycle for hire shop. Taking a moment to consider it, she decided it was faster than walking and cheaper than a cab, so she rented one out, checking that she could drop it off at their other location closer to Eden.

Cycling through the city was freeing. She was a little wobbly at first, as she hadn’t ridden a bike in so long, but she quickly settled into a smooth rhythm. She enjoyed the sharp breeze across her cheeks and the fresh air hitting her lungs. The fact she could easily navigate around traffic was also a pleasure. All too soon she was back on the street of the cinema, cycling up to where she had last seen the stalker.

Jumping off the bike, Anya peered into the alleyway, assessing the situation. From the street view there were no hidden entrances or alcoves she could see, but the person hadn’t disappeared here. Stepping into the passage, she wheeled the bike beside her, taking it all in. The sounds of the city became muted the further she walked, and for the first time she pondered if it had been a good idea to come on a moonless day.

Welp, too late now.

Finally reaching the dead end, she rested the bike up against the nearest wall, scanning the area with a wrinkled nose. It was grimy and entirely unremarkable. The stale smell of piss and rotting garbage filled the air. Trailing a hand along the exposed brick, Anya felt for any hidden seams. Movies had taught her to look for unexpected doors or fake walls. Her Papa’s memories had cemented this as truth. Ignoring the scampering rats, she came up to the half full dumpster and paused. It wasn’t flush up against the wall, and when she peered behind it, she could see something small sitting there. Squinting, it looked like an item of clothing.

Putting all her strength into it, she pushed the dumpster out, until there was a gap large enough for her to squeeze through. Wincing at the cool but rough texture of the brick against her back, she shuffled into the space until she reached her target. Stooping to pick it up, she examined it briefly. It was a leather glove.

After looking around for its pair and finding nothing, Anya scooted backwards until she was back in open space. Now with more light, she turned it over in her hands, examining it. Finding a glove wasn’t unusual, as clothing scraps were often thrown away, but the quality of this one was enough to ring some alarms. It was a really nice glove, made of fine leather. She had seen enough rich kids sporting fancy gloves during the winter to distinguish this would have been a set to wear with pride. It might have been stolen, but why chuck it?

Looking at the dumpster, she tucked the glove into her back pocket and prodded at the topmost layer of garbage. She really didn’t feel like dumpster diving, but maybe there were more clues in there. Taking a deep, steading breath, she hoisted herself up, kicking against the side for purchase.

She was out again in five minutes, muttering ew, ew, ew under her breath, shaking off any excess rubbish.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

Huffing she took the glove back out, frowning down at it. If it did belong to a member of high society, maybe their initials were monogramed in the stitching. Anya had been entirely fascinated with the way Damain’s had been embossed into the thick leather of his gloves, ones she had stolen a few years back and never returned. Tilting it this way and that, she found no such markings now, just a little pattern of triangular shapes wrapping around the cuff. Feeling the tips, she realised there was something stuck in them.

Tipping the glove over her upturned hand, Anya shook it until a small metal ring fell out. Now this was interesting. Tossing the glove aside, bored of it, she took to examining the jewellery. It was made of Sterling Silver and looked to be one of those class rings the upperclassmen wore. The insignia etched into the metal was familiar but she couldn’t place it. It looked like an eagle, its wings outstretched, talons wide. Squinting, she held it closer to her face. It was holding a sceptre in one claw and in the other an, apple?

Humming in consideration, she felt intrigued. What a great clue. Even if her stalker hadn’t chucked this, what was a ring like this doing in such a dingy alleyway? Maybe she had stumbled across some sort of secret side mission.
It was rather exciting.

Realising how late in the day it was getting, she pocketed the item in her bra, patting it to make sure it was safe. The rest of the alleyway didn’t hold any other clues, though the conveniently stacked crates suggested her stalker had escaped over the wall. She was slightly disappointed there was no hidden door behind the dumpster, having double checked before moving the it back into position. Turning to head back out of the alleyway, she picked her bike up from where it was leaning, and slowly started making her way back.

So many questions remained. Who exactly was following her? Whoever they were they definitely weren’t master spies like her Papa. Maybe they were from the same agency as that incompetent Daybreak? But if so, what did they want with her? She was just a young, seventeen year old girl.

Was it because of her parents? They had surely scorned a lot of people over the years in their lines of work. Maybe some low life had discovered their identities and brazenly decided to stalk her to settle a grudge? Or what if it was just a random kidnapper, thinking that because she attended Eden she was worth a ransom? Human traffickers? Her pink hair did stand out and she was small. Maybe she was worth something on the black markets. Should she dye her hair?

But the worse idea was that they were connected to her past. She had gone fourteen years since escaping the labs, twelve under the care of her parents. Why would they approach her now and so obviously open? They were better than that. She knew they were good.

Anya hoped it was the goons. They’d be less problematic.

So deep in thought, she didn’t notice the shadow slowly coming towards her. It wasn’t until something clattered behind her did she jump, immediately falling into a defensive stance, bike falling to the ground loudly. The cat screeched at the sound and raced back the way it had came, scaring the daylights out of her.

“Fucken hell.” She groaned, hand clutching at her pounding heart. Exhaling she leant down to pick up her bike, wanting to get back into the safety of the public as quickly as possible. She had stuck around too long. She needed to get back.

If she had her powers, she would have realised how close to danger she had been in. She hadn’t been alone after all.

Chapter Text

The faint light of his lamp did little to illuminate the space. Papers were overcrowding his desk, leaving less room than usual for him to function. Empty coffee cups were stacked haphazardly, acting as ink staining paper weights amongst the manilla folders. He reached out blindly for one now, drinking the cold liquid solidifying in it with barely a grimace.

His hands were shaking.

Maybe it was the excessive caffeine. But it was more likely from the mounting horror as he read over the redacted text, trying to understand.

Shit.” He hissed, crinkling the papers as his hold tightened, “Shit, shit, shit!”

If what he was making sense of was correct, then they were screwed. Utterly, terrifyingly screwed.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Midterms kicked her arse.

There was just no other way to put it.

Sulking in one of Eden’s many side gardens, Anya kicked at the ground with a scuffed shoe, thinking over her shortcomings. There were definitely papers she’d have to redo and her other marks may get her a scrapping grade, but they wouldn’t be pleasant. The worst part was she’d really tried. But thoughts of the swim meet final tomorrow evening, how this season of lacrosse was going and of course, her stalker, kept floating through her mind. Especially that ring.

Pulling it out of her inner pocket, she examined it for the thousandth time, holding it up to the sunlight. None of the symbols she had researched matched the one etched before her, though some of the government insignias were close. It wasn’t any recent class ring designs either, well at least not from Berlint in the last twenty years. She had taken to pulling out books about their surrounding neighbours’ most commonly used symbols, but working through the translations was difficult.

She lowered hand, frowning. Maybe she had put more effort into this than her studies she thought.

“There you are!”

Startled, she fumbled with the ring before hastily pocketing it as Becky approached, looking incredibly tired. To an outsider, they wouldn’t see the signs. Her makeup was as perfect as ever, her uniform spick and span, tailored to define her body modestly. But to her closest friends those few stray hairs escaping her pinned fringe and the slight smudge of mascara in the corner of her eye screamed at how exhausted she was.

“Hey, you doing okay?” It was the question of the month in their squad of five.

“Hmm?” Becky hummed, coming to sit beside her, “Oh, yeah I’m fine. Just over studying. But enough about that, what were you hiding just now?”

“Oh, nothing, hahaha.” Anya squeaked, a protective hand settling on her pocket. “Just something Mama gave me last year. I was missing her this morning you know?”

Thankfully Becky didn’t push it, just grabbing her pale hands instead.

“You’re shaking. Geez your hands are cold. Where’s your gloves?” She scolded, rubbing the small girl’s hands between her own to create some friction.

“They’ve got a hole in them so the Dorm Mother is darning them for me.”

“You should have a spare pair. Especially with how bad your circulation is. I’m just glad you haven’t had a nose bleed in ages.” Becky continued to nag, breathing into their cupped hands for extra warmth.

Anya let her mother her for a bit longer, before the brunette decided her hands were warm enough, entwining their fingers together. With a sigh, she leaned her head against Anya’s small shoulder.

“I’m so tired Anya.”

“It has been a long week.” Anya murmured in agreement, resting her head against her friends reassuringly. They stayed like that for a while, simply soaking in each other's company. The fountain bubbled pleasantly behind them and Anya could hear a bumblebee buzzing near her ear. They were always attracted to her hair. Damian liked to tease it was because she smelt like honey. Becky must have heard it as well, as she pulled away with a playful smirk.

“Mr. Bumblebee likes you today. Must be cause you look more like a flower than usual.” She teased, poking at one of Anya’s space buns. Anya reached up to touch them self-consciously.

“I just wanted all the hair off my face and neck today.”

“It’s adorable.You’re adorable.”

“You’re one to talk Miss Pigtails.”

“Don’t try that on me, we’re talking about you and how cute you are today. Besides, if my sources are correct, I’m not the only one who thinks that.” She continued to tease, warmth sparkling in her eyes.

Anya flushed fiercely as she remembered this morning’s encounter.

“Mornin’ Damian! How you doing today?” She’d chirped, grinning at him through a mouthful of food. The tall scion looked half awake, swaying slightly on his feet before her. His sleepy hazel gaze roamed over her face, not really registering what he was seeing. Her smile began to fade the longer he stared, starting to feel concerned.

“Hey do you need-”

His hands suddenly came up to cradled her cheeks, squishing them lightly.

“Chipmunk.” He murmured fondly after a moment, before dropping a casual kiss on her forehead and wondering off in search of coffee and food.

“He was half asleep!” Anya defended, her blush not tapering down any time soon. Becky just giggled, poking at her ribs playfully, earning a small laugh from the Esper. They tousled briefly, giggling loudly in the quiet atmosphere, simply enjoying being teenagers for a moment in time. After a while, exhaustion crept back into Becky’s eyes, causing Anya to frown.

“What’s bothering you? I haven’t seen you this tired in years.”

She was quiet for a moment, as if considering something serious.

“We’re...we’re best friends. Right?”

“Practically married my love.”

“So, we can tell each other anything?”

Anya’s frown deepened.

“Becky what’s wrong? Did something happen? Are you hurt? Who hurt you? I’ll go fight them, just tell me-”

“Anya, Anya! Calm down!” Becky cried in alarm, pulling her back when she darted to her feet, ready to attack. “I’m not hurt, I’m okay. It’s something else.”

Slowly sinking back onto the bench, Anya turned her, unneeded anger still festering.

“What is it?”

“Well, you know how I’ve been reporting on the war for the school paper?”

“Yeeees.” Anya drawled, quirking an eyebrow.

“And it means that I’ve had to dive deep into the politics of both countries, and our own messy affairs?”

“Mmmmm.”

“Well...” Becky trailed off, flushing guiltily. “I may have dug a bit too deep.”

Anya could only stare at her in disbelief. After a moment, she narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

“How deep Becky.”

The older girl shrugged a shoulder casually, not meeting her eye. “Oh you know, nothing too serious just yet. A lot of cryptic finances and reports that don’t really make sense about our military history. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.” Clutching her hands, she sheepishly smiled at her.

“So while what I've found may be on the side of illegal, it’s really interesting stuff. But I don’t want other people reading my notes cause, you know, reasons. So I got to thinking, what if I made a cipher? You always loved cracking them as kids and I thought who better to help me create one and test it than you? Do you want to help me?”

Anya looked at her as if she had just proposed.

“Are you kidding me? I’d love to!” She was practically vibrating in her seat with excitement. Time to put all her knowledge she’d gleamed from her Papa and Spy Wars to the test. This was so much better than midterms!

Becky relaxed, the tension she’d been holding in her shoulders melting away in relief. “Oh thank god you’re excited. I’ve been mulling over this for weeks.”

“We should get started after school, we can go back to my room and study the book Papa gave me a few years back all about cracking code.”

“Okay, and in return I’ll help you with your study. I know you’ve got some papers to resit.”

Anya instantly deflated.

“Way to ruin the mood Becky.”

A few hours later, Anya was quickly hiding away any notes about her own side research, waiting for Becky to arrive at the dorms. She tucked the books she’d borrowed from the library about insignias and they’re meanings under her bed, pushing them back with her foot so no one could see them. She was suddenly glad for the bed frill Yor had gifted her when she moved in, as it created the perfect shield.

Once satisfied that everything was out of sight, she traipsed into the lounge to sit with her dormmates, and catch up on the latest news. Maybe she could be the one to share the gossip to Becky first.

She hadn’t been seated long when the phone rang, it’s loud shrill causing everyone to wince. She didn’t pay attention as someone answered it, until her name was being called across the room.

“Anya, it’s for you.”

Surprised, she got up quickly, wondering who was calling her. Maybe Becky had to go home instead?

“Hello?” She asked once she had the receiver in hand, fiddling with the curled cord.

“Anya darling, how are you? I’ve missed your sweet voice and face.” Yor blubbered over the other end, causing Anya to grin.

“Ma are you drunk right now?”

“No! I just had one glass champagne!”

“At four in the afternoon? What are you celebrating.” Anya chuckled, leaning against the table with a smirk.

“That’s why I’m calling. We finally got the permission to work with your father’s hospital. As of today, we’ll be working alongside each other.”

Anya gasped sharply, understanding immediately. WISE and Garden were collaborating. Officially. This meant her parents wouldn’t be fighting anymore. Tears sprung to her eyes as her grin widened.

“So you won’t be working crazy hours anymore? You and Papa will be working together?”

“That’s right darling! We can start game nights again and go out for dinners more regularly. Work will still be crazy, just more manageable. Well, I hope so at least.”

Cradling the phone to her ear, Anya sniffed wetly. “That’s awesome news Mama.”

Yor hummed distractedly on the other line, the sound of glasses tinkling together catching her ear. She was definitely pouring another glass. After moment of silence she spoke softly.

“Have you seen the news honey?”

“Ah, no. I was about to sit down to watch it when you rang.” She said, spinning to look at the TV playing nearby. “Why’s that?”

“They’re saying there’s fighting along our border with Österreich now. It’s close to my hometown. Though none of the troops are from Ostania, the villagers are getting involved trying to protect their crops. I’m just worried what will happen to them. It’s not their war.”

Anya stared at the broadcast, watching what her mother was describing play out on the screen. People were yelling and fighting in destroyed pastures, with one farmer throwing his ruined onions at the military personnel standing in the distance. There was smoke trailing upwards from burning grasslands, the unofficial border between the two countries. The screen changed to show the protests starting in town, people screaming outside of parliament for blood.

“Why’s this happening? We’re not at war.” Anya breathed, eyes wide in horror.

“Maybe not at the moment, but if they continue to encroach on our land who’s to say what will happen.” Yor sighed sadly, gulping down another glass. “I’m so happy that City Hall agreed to work with the hospital. Too many of my co-workers are succumbing to their fears. I was close as well, but thankfully I have your father for support. I don’t know what I would do with out him.”

Anya had to stifle a sob. Her strong, caring mother. One of the main pillars of strength Anya had in her life. To know about her job and the terrors she had seen over the years, the apprehension of going to war again was the most terrifying thing she could imagine. Especially after everything she had sacrificed to create a greater good for her homeland. And for it all come down from an unlikely source just added to the horror. But Anya couldn’t comfort her about any of this. She had to continue pretending it was just common war terrors and stress about the never ending paperwork. Turning away from the television, she desperately wished she was home right now, holding her mother tight.

“He would be lost without you too Mama. I would be as well.” She choked, tears starting to fall.

“Oh my darling, I know. I’m okay now, your father’s colleagues are helping me work through my stress. I’ve been applying their same tactics on your father- subtly of course. You know he’d never admit to his anxiety.”

The thought of her mother being subtle was amusing, but it just made Anya sadder.

“Are you sure I can’t come home and be with you guys?”

“No honey. You’re safer at Eden. You’ve only got a few months left. May will be here soon and we’ll all go out to the park and play.”

“Will you at least be at my swimming finals tomorrow?”

“We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

After murmuring some more heartfelt sentiments, Anya said goodbye to her mother, hanging up the phone sadly. Glancing back at the TV she watched as the footage continued to roll, show casing the anguish in the villagers’ faces. This is not what they planned for. Operation Strix was meant to prevent a war. Would that be adapted to fit this incoming one?

_____________________________________________________________________________________

The crowd was deafening on her ears. Rubbing at her face tiredly, Anya stared out over the pool, trying to watch the race. None of the excitement she had had for the earlier swim meet existed now, and she felt like she was letting the team down.

Yesterday's news had rocked her, and she couldn’t shake the ominous feeling that was settling in her bones. Becky had arrived not long after her phone call, armed with a stack of books about coding and different languages. She was somber too, having already heard the news, and together they could only stand and stare at the report until the Dorm Mother switched off the TV.

Retiring to her room, they had poured over the text until late in the evening, working out a rough cipher that would help for now. It was easy to crack, but at a rudimentary glance it held no significance. Becky was going to work on improving it over the weekend, borrowing Anya’s copy of Pandora’s Riddles to help learn more. She was currently in the crowd, nose buried in said book, only looking up to cheer when Anya competed.

The rest of her family had turned up as well, supportive as always. She was glad to see just how happy her parents were, starting to act like teenagers in love yet again. The boys were trying to hide how happy they were with this development as well, pretending to cringe as the over affectionate adults cuddled each other.

The whistle blew, signalling the end of the race. Anya sighed, wearily getting to her feet. She was up again. She was glad her 200m Freestyle race was already over, having finished in second place. Now she was to be part of the medley and she thinks she’s got just enough energy stored in her for the one lap. Heading to the edge, she started to get ready but was stopped by her coach.

“Forger, wait a moment.”

Surprised, she spun to look at her coach, wondering what his frown meant. She couldn’t distinguish his thoughts through the din of the crowd, and she was too tired to really try.

“I’m sitting you out. You’re far to pale.”

“I’m okay! Just didn’t get a lot sleep last night.” She lied, moving to step around him. He flung out an arm with a scowl.

“No, you’re out. I don’t want you fainting in the water. Plus, your nose is starting to bleed. Go get some medical attention and maybe something to eat. Daisy will swim your lap.”

Reaching a hand up to her nose, she was surprised when it came back sticky with blood. Huh. When did that start?

Knowing it was useless to argue, she turned back to her bench, secretly glad to be sitting out. She was far too tired for this. Putting on her jacket to keep warm, she pulled off her cap and googles and wondered off to the medics, doing as advised. She could tell her family and friends were confused, but they couldn’t interact with her until after the meet. Once seen and given something sugary to eat, she looked up with a weak smile, waving to reassure them.

I’m fine. Don’t worry.

She wished they could read her mind.

Scanning the crowd as she nibbled on her treat, Anya wondered if her stalker was amongst them. She couldn’t see them, but there was a lot of people there. No one was staring at her in furious contempt though, and she relaxed slightly with a sigh. Maybe she had scared them off the other day at the cinemas. Maybe they had gotten over whatever grudge they held against her.

Or maybe they had changed tactics.

A shiver ran through her, and she straightened up in worry, scanning the crowd again. Just happy, competitive faces, screaming in support of their favoured teams stared back at her. She should be joining them, as her team was in the water, furiously battling it out for first place. She was barely aware as Daisy was tagged in, instantly pulling them into the lead as she raced down the lane. Coach had chosen a good replacement, the athletic wonder of a woman was barely a glimpse in the water, making Anya wonder yet again if she was a mermaid. No wonder Bill Watkins was infatuated with her.

She cheered half-heartedly as Daisy won the race, winning the medley for the school. Clapping slowly, she closed her eyes, leaning back against her chair. Her ages had no more races. There were just a couple of junior ones to go. She could nap for a while, they’d understand.

She must have slept for about forty five minutes before someone was lightly trying to shake her awake. Groggily, she opened her eyes to see blue, her father’s concerned gaze filling hers.

“Hey Peanut, let’s get you home hmm?”

Rubbing at her eyes, she yawned in agreement, seeing that the others had already gathered her stuff.

“What about the medal ceremony?”

“Your coach has allowed for you to leave early. You’ll get your silver next week at school.” He explained, scooping her up in his arms. Leaning against his shoulder, she let him carry her out of the stadium, feeling like a rag doll. Becky appeared at Loid’s elbow, bouncing to keep up with his stride.

“Anya what happened? Why did you nose start bleeding again? Did you get cold? I told you yesterday you needed to be more careful.” She chided, dodging around other by standers, worry etched along her brow.

“I’m okay Becky. Just tired. I think the crowd got to me a little.” Anya reassured her, seeing how it didn’t smooth away the wrinkles.

“It’s been a long time since you reacted badly in a crowded space. You must have been under a lot stress at school.” Loid stated, his subconscious prickling with guilt.

“It’s alright Papa. The worst of it is over now. Just got to focus on lacrosse and finals at the end of the year.” She smiled. He only hummed in agreement, continuing to walk out to their car. Saying goodbye to her friends, she slipped into the back seat, closing her eyes again. She couldn’t wait for a warm shower and bed.

A short drive later, they were back on academy grounds, and she managed to drag her feet up the dorm steps slowly. Yor went ahead and put her stuff in her room, while Loid stayed with her to talk to the Dorm Mother. When she returned, they linked hands automatically and looked down at their daughter.

“Go rest up Anya. Your Dorm Mother will make you some soup to eat later. Just use the weekend to rest, okay?” Loid advised, worry strong in his tone.

“I will Papa. At least tomorrow is Saturday. I can sleep all day.”

“Maybe not all day, but yes, rest. And don’t eat too many peanuts.”

Promising them she won’t, she hugged them goodbye tightly. After a few kisses on cheeks and fond ruffle of hair, they left for their apartment, leaving her longing for the comfort of her old bed once more. Once out of sight, she turned to have a shower, only to be stopped by the Dorm Mother.

“Anya dear, this arrived in the mail for you today. I didn’t think you’d want your parents to see it, especially with how over protective your father is.” She giggled slyly, handing her a red envelope. Blushing Anya took it from her gratefully, wondering who would send her a love letter. She’d received a few over the years, some she kept tucked away in a safe place, others she burned after reading. Excusing herself to her room, she shut the door quietly, and plopped onto her bed.

Flicking open the envelope, she pulled out the parchment inside, frowning when she saw typed letters instead of the dramatic handwriting she was expecting. Maybe this person was shy.

But when she started scanning the letter, any thoughts of confessions flew from her mind as terror took over instead.

We are watching. Do not follow us. We will come to you. You will be ours in time.

Chapter Text

We are watching. Do not follow us. We will come to you. You will be ours in time.

 

The words kept flashing before her eyes, haunting her every waking moment. Even in her restless sleep, she’d dream of the unknown stalker advancing from the shadows, snatching her away to God knows where before she could even scream. Despite having stayed in bed all weekend, she had barely slept, hiding beneath her covers as if they would protect her from the outside world. Any knock on her door would terrify her, though she knew it was just her concerned dormmates checking in. They had eventually come to their own conclusions that she was simply recovering from stress after exams and her sports, leaving her to her peace. But in reality, she was more anxious than she’d ever been.

If her stalkers had wanted to petrify her, they had succeeded. Message received.

It took a lot of effort to leave her safe space come Monday morning. She had lingered for as long as she could in the dorms, slowly getting dressed and trying to make herself presentable until the Dorm Mother had shooed her out for breakfast, demanding that she eat. Anya had considered just skipping altogether and hiding in the back of her first class, but her stomach protested it’s need for food. Having left so late, she had missed joining the others, a fact she was secretly glad for as she was sure she’d break down and cry the moment she saw them. Sitting at the large table by herself was devastatingly lonely though, and she longed for their gentle comfort.

After force feeding herself a bowl of plain cereal and a dark, bitter coffee, Anya had slunk off to class with her head down. People had given her space in the corridors, murmuring to each other about how poorly she looked. A few mentioned her being sat out from the swim meet and wondered if she had come down with a late season cold. She used this excuse later in class, when the professor had questioned her astounding lack of focus. They had frowned, but a grimacing regard of her appearance was enough proof to her lie, and they had let her be.

At lunch Anya had hidden from her friends, just wanting to tuck herself into a small space like she was a child and let the world roll over her. She had found a rarely used corridor with a little alcove that suited her needs, and there she had let the silent tears stream down her face.

The day had continued on, and due to having no classes together that day, her friends had no reason to know of her puffy eyes and tear-stained cheeks. They would riot if they had seen her, demanding to know who had hurt her. But how could they protect her from an unseen threat, one that was bigger than just school bullies?

Tuesday rolled around much the same, but her inability to sleep was starting to annoy her. Her moody attitude at breakfast deterred any conversation, especially with the way she speared the sausages on her plate. Ewen had winced, shuffling his legs under the table, thinking that she was going to attack them for some stupid prank they had done. While Anya wasn’t sure just what he and Emile had yet to confess to, it was a mere blimp on her radar.

Hiding wasn’t an option she had realised during class, as it was a perfect moment for her to be attacked. Instead, she stuck to the crowded areas, letting the thoughts of her fellow peers wash over her in attempt to drown out her own. Becky had opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but seemed to think better of it as she stared at the pink haired girl. Feeling nauseated with her radiating worry, Anya had excused herself from her company, stating she needed to finish a report in the library. It was while she was there that she got angry.

How dare these people try to intimidate her? Belittle her into thinking she was something that could be owned? Snatching the letter out of her bag, she glared at it with rising irritation. Do not follow us. She must have scared them that day at the cinema. But they had been so open about the whole thing it was like they were daring her to engage. Anya was more than convinced now that the ring she had found was definitely tied to them, and it gave her more reason to investigate. Maybe if she found them first, she could form a plan of attack.

Smoothing out the parchment from her harsh grip, she studies it for the first time, looking beyond the words. It was made of thick writing paper, the kind you got in official writing sets, used to draft business agreements or reports. The spacing of the letters suggested an older model of type writer, maybe one released in the last ten years. She’d need to pull out some references to confirm this, but it didn’t match Eden’s newer machines. There were no company logos, from either the supplier or the threat, no marks to identify where it may have travelled from. Picking it up to sniff it, she got the faint scent of cleaning chemicals but nothing more. The envelope bore no stamps, the penmanship of her name scribbled on top was unrecognisable to her. It looked like it had been swiped from another student’s supply, as it was bit flimsy in comparison to the letter. Maybe some poor sod had written her a confession, carefully sealing it with love in this envelope before her stalkers had repossessed it. She’d have to ask the Dorm Mothers who had dropped it off.

Getting to her feet, Anya stormed over to technology reference section, planning to verify her theories. Whoever had decided to mess with Anya Forger was in for a world of torment, as she would not abide by their rules.

We will come to you.

She was not going to sit around and wait.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Damian had never been so glad for a half day in his life.

Stepping out of his final class Wednesday morning, he’d risen his face to the sun with a sigh, letting it warm his skin. Despite midterms being over, his tutoring sessions were just starting to pick up as kids flocked to him in a panic over their results. He had barely had time to himself the last few days, and all he really wanted to do was curl up for a nap.

Anya scuttled past him in a hurry, her expression stormy with thoughts only privy to her. He found himself snatching out an arm to stop her, blinking in surprise when she stumbled to a halt. He had barely seen her the last few days, and looking at her now made his heart pang in worry. The deep, dark circles under her eyes looked tender and raw, enhanced further with how pale her cheeks were. Her uniform was creased as if she had been clenching at it, a few threads peeking out around the cuffs from anxious pulling. Her usually fluffy and wild halo of curls hung limply around her face.

He carefully brought her closer, shifting his hold on her arm to her hand, squeezing it gently. Using his other hand he brushed her fringe off her forehead, checking for any lumps, before travelling down to tilt her chin up and force her to look him in the eye. His worried gaze met her slightly curious but tired one, and he was relieved to see some sort of life in them.

“You okay?”

She sighed, body sinking in exhaustion but gave him a strained smile.

“I’m okay, just incredibly tired. The last few months have just finally caught up to me it seems.” She reassured, shifting to lean into him, an embrace he readily received. Tucking her under his chin, Damian rubbed her back gently, uncaring that they were blocking the corridor.

“Want to talk about it?”

She shook her head slowly, hair tickling his neck. “Not yet. But I will soon, I promise.”

Sighing he tugged her closer, enjoying the feel of her little hands creeping around his waist to clutch at his shirt. She nuzzled into his collar sleepily and he considered inviting her to take a nap with him in a warm patch on sunshine. Flushing at the thought, he reluctantly pulled back a bit trying to see her face.

“Anya I-we've barely seen you this week. Becky said that you ditched her yesterday during lunch. Are you avoiding us?”

Anya flushed guiltily, trying to hide her face in his shoulder.

“N-no. Just needed some time alone. I wasn’t feeling great.” She muttered weakly. His hand found its way back to her face, coaxing her to look at him.

“You can’t lie to me Peanut. You’re an open book with how expressive you are remember?” He said, voice light with worry. She just pouted sullenly and he had to resist the sudden urge to kiss her. Feeling flustered, he chose to focus on the latter part of her excuse. “Did you catch a cold over the weekend? You were a mess during the swim meet.”

“I think I may of. I must have been really run down.” She laughed awkwardly, jumping onto his readymade excuse. “But I’m feeling okay now, just needed some rest.”

He wasn’t buying it, but decided to let it go. Whatever was bothering her she’d tell them in time. He just wished she’d be more open with them. Let him support her.

“Hey Damian?”

“Yes?”

She shuffled closer again, “Can you just hold me for a while? Just for a bit longer.”

He pulled her back against his chest, wrapping his cloak around her protectively. Resting his head atop of hers, he inhaled her subtle scent of coconut and chlorine, vowing to protect her for as long as she wanted him to.

They stayed that way for a while, utterly at peace with each other before a small cough sounded nearby. Opening his eyes (when did they close?) Damian looked up to see his brother standing a few feet away, looking a little awkward but amused.

“Hello brother. Am I interrupting?”

Damian hummed in greeting, pulling Anya a bit closer before realisation struck. Wait, his brother?! Startled he slackened his hold on the girl, staring at Demetrius in shock.

“Demetrius! What are you doing here?” His voice betrayed how surprised he was, tinted with a bit of embarrassment. Anya shuffled in his hold, turning to look at the older Desmond son.

“Ah Demi! Nice to see you again.” She chirped, seeming to have no intention from moving from Damian’s side any time soon. Demetrius’s eyes twinkled with more hidden humour when he realised it was her.

“Miss Forger, always a pleasure. I’m glad to see you still accompanying my brother. Thank you for looking after him in my stead.” He bowed his head in acknowledgement, voice laced with amusement.

Anya waved him off with a tired hand. “Don’t bow to me, you’re the wealthy one here.”

“Demetrius, what are you doing here?” Damian repeated, frowning now in warning.

“I heard you had a half day today and though that maybe you’d like to accompany me for lunch? There are some things I wanted to discuss with you that can’t wait until the Summer.”

Intrigued Damian could only blink at him in answer. A hand tugged on his collar and he looked down to see Anya beaming up at him.

“Go with him! You were saying the other week how you wished for an opportunity like this.” She whispered full of encouragement. He knew this, but now that the chance had arisen, he was a little nervous about what to expect. Deciding to make the decision for him, Anya turned back to the heir and smiled.

“He’ll gladly go to lunch with you. It’s been so long since you two caught up. I’m going to go to the library to study for the rest of the day. Have to get ready for those resits am I right?” Before he could protest, she had planted a swift kiss to his cheek in goodbye and ducked out of his hold, disappearing out of sight. Left in the whirlwind that was Anya Forger, he could only blush as his brother chuckled.

“She still seems the same. Though I would have appreciated you telling me that you were courting so openly.”

Those words triggered some sort of semblance back into his body and he straightened up quickly, blush deepening.

“We’re not courting.”

“But she just kissed you-”

“She does that to all her close friends. Anya is just very affectionate.” He grumbled, knowing that he relished said affectionate a little more than the others. “Besides, I was comforting her. She hasn’t been well the last few days. She needed a moment of rest.”

Demetrius considered his words thoughtfully before humming in consent. “Yes, she did look a little haggard.”

They were silent for a moment before he clapped his hands together as if dismissing the topic, looking at his younger brother again hopefully.

“So, shall we head out? We can stop by your room to drop off your gear if you want? You might what to get changed as well.”

“Where are we going that I can’t wear my uniform?” Damian queried as they started towards the dorms. Demetrius just smiled knowingly in response.

After changing quickly into something casual but signifying his wealth, Damian followed his brother out of school grounds and to the waiting car. Surprised that he had brought the town car and had driven there himself, Damain began to wonder just what was going on. Still he stayed silent as Demetrius pulled out into the traffic, heading in towards the city. After twenty minutes or so they pulled into busy uptown street, boasting many of his favourite restaurants and brands. Getting out, he watched as his brother locked up before heading towards a small cafe close by, ignoring the fancier establishments they could afford. Holding the door open to him, he waited for Damian to step inside, the bell tinkling merrily above their heads. After greeting the proprietress, they settled in a small booth at the back and examined their menus.

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Damian asked once again after they had chosen their meals, watching as the waitress walked away. “Or are we just going to eat in silence like we do back at the manor.”

Demetrius cringed slightly at the remark, but remained steadfast as usual. “Can’t I simply enjoy the company of my younger brother during a small meal?”

“No.”

He sighed in annoyance. “Fine. But you might not like what I have to say.”

Wary now, Damian could only stare him down over his nose, wondering just what he was going to say.

“As you know, there’s a war going on-”

“Yes.”

“-and Father and I have been trying to lead the council in favour of not fighting in it.” He continued as if he wasn’t interrupted. “It’s been a difficult month or so, and we were succeeding until the latest news came out.”

Damian knew what he was referring to. The invasion of the southern border. Österreich had occupied Ostania land unknowingly for nearly a week now, bring with them battlements from their war. The unusual act of aggression on a neutral country’s land was being defied as an act of terrorism, and the country was screaming at the Government for blood.

“Has anything been decided on what’s going to happen?” Damian hissed, picking up his pastry with trembling fingers. Demetrius frowned at his coffee, staring at his own reflection.

“Not yet. They decided earlier this week to send some military factions down to negotiate. See if they are aware they’ve come so far North. But many believe they’re will aware and simply don’t care in that regard. They want to move East but are blocked off by the mountain range. Invading us and taking control of the River Salzach would be beneficial to them, until they can get their planes off the ground. There were some reports they have a stock pile of bombs ready to be loaded and air dropped over Magyar's capital, but I haven’t seen anything officially confirming that.”

His blood ran cold, the thoughts of what devastation that air strike would cause. Demetrius sighed and took a sip of his drink. Wrinkling his nose at the taste, he reached for the brown sugar, dumping a teaspoon into the cup.

“It’s been messy and tiring, and I’ve left council with barely any voice more times than I can count.” He muttered, stirring the liquid roughly. Taking a considering sip, he nodded in approval. “Father has taken to closing himself in his office more, and I hear him arguing over the phone late into the night.”

He hesitated before continuing.

“Which is what I wanted to discuss. I entered his office one night in search of him, needing his approval on some forms we were co-signing. He must have stepped out for a cigarette as he wasn’t at his desk. It was messy, and there were fast food wrappers everywhere which surprised me. So I decided to clean up and came across...some concerning reports. I didn’t have enough time to really go over them, but from a quick glance there were a lot of numbers, a lodge of finances, supporting some kind of weapons experiment. The earliest date I gleamed was from eighteen years ago, just before you were born. There were others, but they were written in code, and I couldn’t crack it. I heard him coming, so I went to leave, but a symbol caught my eye. It looked like an eagle, holding a sceptre. I didn’t see the rest, but it looked like an old Government stamp from around twenty years ago. I haven’t found anything to match it, but it’s reason enough to be concerned.”

Damian didn’t know how to breathe. His once delicious pastry was now starting to curdle in his gut. Pushing his plate away, he stared at his elder brother in shock.

“Weapons experiment?” He whispered in disbelief, “But Father’s party is all about peace.”

The heir grimaced, turning to look out the window.

“That’s what I thought as well. I haven’t had a chance to really look into it, but it was definitely his signature at the bottom of the form. I would like to believe that whatever involvement he had in it stopped when you were born, but there were dates after that. There were more pages underneath, but I'm unsure if the dates stated were for before or after the ones I read.”

Glancing back at the young scion he frowned. “I just wanted to warn you encase the Desmond name gets dragged into the mud. Whatever Father’s past wrong doings, it doesn’t reflect on us. No matter how much he wants us to uphold the family name, we continue to do so in honour and for peace okay?”

He watched as Damian could only nod mutely. Sighing he ate the last of his sandwich and wiped his hands clean on a napkin. Seeing as Damian wasn’t going to finish eating, he kicked him under the table.

“Finish up. You need food in your stomach for the next part.”

“Next part?” Damian asked in surprise, dutifully eating again. Demetrius’s wild grin was enough for him to panic.

“Family tradition of course. You turned eighteen over the winter break and are now old enough to receive a family heirloom. We didn’t have time to bestow it to you then, but what better time than the present?”

Damian nervously finished his meal despite his churning stomach. He did not like the glint in his brother’s eye.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

“One, two, three.” Anya counted slowly, moving her game piece along the board carefully. Stopping on a red square, she frowned for a moment before grabbing a card of a pile nearby. “Tax evasion. Fined 500 dalc. Oh man, I just got that back!”

Yor chuckled as her daughter handed her the fake money, the pout on her face too cute for words.

“You have to abide the law Anya dear. You can earn this back as a respectful citizen.” she chided, smiling as Loid picked up the dice. Anya could only grumble as her father rolled a six, moving him further into the lead.

“I’m never going to win one of these games.” She whined, stuffing a handful of peanuts into her mouth.

After studying all afternoon in the library, she had felt mentally exhausted and longing for a break. Having seen Damian go off with his brother for some sibling bonding time earlier in the day, she found herself longing for the comfort of her own family. A quick phone call later and she was given permission to visit, her parents missing her as much as she did them. While Damian’s hug had settled some of her frayed nerves, her mother’s tight hold squished any remaining troubles aside with ease. Her father’s gentle touch on her head was tear worthy, and she had ended up crying in their arms.

She had lied to them and said she had been stressed, just needing some time to relax and unwind, to which Yor had hurriedly suggested a game night. It had been a monthly ritual in their little family, one that had been interrupted due to the discovery™. After a dinner of cheap takeaways, they had set up in the lounge, sitting on the floor around the coffee table to play. It was a simple board game, though there were moments of trivia and curveballs of life thrown into it to hinder their progress. It was just the right amount of mindless fun Anya had needed after her hectic last few days.

“How's Eden Anya? Your friends all okay?” Loid asked as he moved his piece forward, landing on a blue square. She watched as he picked up the corresponding card and hummed in delight, holding it out for Yor, the banker, to see.

“It’s okay. Slowly settling back to normal after exams. I haven’t really seen the others this week. Didn’t want to get them sick.”

“You should invite them over at the end of the week! Maybe we could do another game night. I’m sure they’d appreciate just relaxing for one night.” Yor suggested, handing her husband the correct amount of money he had just won. Anya watched as he counted it in disdain.

“Yeah, that might be a good idea. But Papa can’t play. He cheats.”

Loid spluttered in protest as she scowled at him, Yor only encouraging it more as she laughed.

The peace was broken though when a loud, shrill siren pierced the air. Jumping the three turned towards the window, looking for the source of the noise outside. It was unlike anything Anya had ever heard before, only the fire alarms at school coming close to it. As it rang on, she saw her parents’ faces pale in understanding, quickly scrambling to their feet, the game now forgotten.

“Anya quick get up, we need to leave.” Loid urged, tugging her to her feet. Yor was already at the safe, quickly gathering their most important documents she could carry, stuffing them down her top. Anya could only stumble after them, confused and scared as to what was going on. The siren continued to ring, never seeming to stop.

Barely stopping to put on their shoes, the Forgers raced out the apartment, heading for the stairs. Their neighbours were pouring out of their homes as well, all in different stages of dress and panic, some clutching crying children to their chest. Their elderly neighbour, Mrs. Darnaby was trying to go down the stairs while holding her cat, her cane shakily supporting her on each step. Yor stopped to help her, taking the cat from her arms and placing it in Anya’s care.

“I’ll carry you down Mrs. Darnaby. It’ll be quicker.” She said with authority, as Loid ushered a young family from a few doors down, in front of them.

“Oh thank you dear. I thought I had lived long enough to never hear that blasted siren again. Just about died then and there when it sounded.” The lady muttered appreciatively, allowing the younger woman to scoop her up. Anya could only clutch onto the senior’s cat in confusion, hopping down the stairs after them.

“What’s going on Mama? What is that siren?” She asked as they neared the basement, watching as everyone tried to crowd in the doorway.

“It’s a sign of war! We’re all going to die!” Someone screamed in response, causing a few to wail in distress.

“We are not going to die. Everyone go calmly to the bunker and hide. It must be a test.” Loid snapped, helping more people go ahead of them. He stood back as Yor ducked into the room, holding Mrs. Darnaby’s head away from the doorframe. Seeing Anya hovering nearby, he grabbed her shoulder and pushed her inside.

“Stay close to your mother. I’ll help the last few people.”

“Loid, don’t be a hero!” Her mother shouted, worry written on her face. He just flashed a small smile and disappeared back up the stairs, calling for any stragglers. Sticking close to her mother, Anya could only watch on in fear.

“Mama?”

Yor put the elderly woman down with a sigh on one of the crates lining the basement walls, before coming over to take the cat out of her daughter’s arms. Giving it back to their neighbour, she made sure she was settled before taking Anya in her arms. Out of all the hugs Anya had received today, this one felt the most nerve wracking.

“That siren is a sign of war. Well, it’s associated with it at least. I can’t count how many times I heard it during the war all those years ago, and I wish I had never heard it again. It’s an air raid siren. Meaning that enemy aircraft have been spotted in our sky. Usually that means we’re about to be bombed.”

Anya froze in shock. All around her people were panicking, all wondering if it was Österreich finally declaring war on them like they had Magyar. Maybe it was the West taking advantage of their weakened state. Either way, a high pitched whining sound was echoing in her ears long side the shrill of the siren, and she panicked.

“Papa, we have to get Papa!” She gasped, trying to move towards the doorway in search of him. Loid hadn’t returned yet, and she was worried that he wouldn’t before the bombs dropped. Yor pulled her back forcefully, shaking her head.

“No Anya, we can’t leave. We must stay here where’s it’s safe. He’ll join us soon.”

“But Papa!” She cried, struggling to break free. The whine was louder now, splitting her eardrums. They were coming. They were going to die. The world shook around her suddenly and someone screamed. Then her eyes rolled up into her head as the world faded to black.

Chapter Text

“...Berlint citizens are in a state of shock after last night’s horrifying hoax. At nine twenty pm, the city’s air raid sirens sounded, sending the city into a frenzy of terror as people rushed for safety. Reports detailing the madness include stampedes at crowded restaurants and malls, leaving at least two dead and many more injured. The Government has yet to issue an official apology over the scare, but are claiming to be investigating the matter thoroughly. This hoax is another unfortunate event that could very well catapult our grand nation into war, though whom against is yet to be decided.

In other news-”

Loid switched off the television with a frown, plummeting the tired household into a deep silence. Anya watched as he stood there for a while, unable to move as he contemplated memories from his past. Yor was just as pensive beside her, staring at the steam rising from her tea cup.

Last night had been terrible. After she had fainted from her panic attack, Anya had awoken in her mother’s lap, surrounded by concerned, but scared neighbours. The siren had finished it’s blasting wail, but everyone was expecting the drone of a plane at any moment. When none came, they waited for the whistling of descending bombs, clutching their loved ones tightly to their chest in what they thought were their final moments. But again, nothing had happened.

Hours had ticked by, and someone had found a little crank handle radio hidden amongst the storage. After getting it to work, they tuned into the nearest news station, and listened to the broadcast. For a while the reports just described the panic the city was in, cars left running in the middle of the streets, homes and businesses left abandoned as everyone had run to safety. Anya and the younger occupants of the apartment complex had waited in baited breath, unsure as on what to do. They had never experienced war and its hardships. Never had this unsettling fear for survival coursing through their veins. They could only look up to their veteran guardians, all sullenly reliving their worst moment.

Yor had been distraught, as Loid had never come back into the room. Anya could tell she wanted to run out and find him, but her need to protect Anya overpowered her, especially after the young girl had fainted. Instead, she had resolutely wiped the blood from her nose and chin, running a gentle hand through her fringe to calm her down, murmuring words of reassurance to them both. Anya had silently cried for her, hearing her mother’s heart breaking in unknown grief. They had just gotten back together. Life really was a cruel bitch after all.

It was around midnight when the radio crackled that there was no perceived threat, and that it was safe for people to return to their homes. No one in the bunker had moved until a loud knock had sounded on the door, causing a few to scream.

“It’s safe! You can all come out now.” Loid had shouted through the thick metal. Yor had all but dropped Anya in her rush to open the door, swinging it open with so much force it had left an imprint on the wall. She had thrown herself at her husband, who caught her readily, tears staining his cheeks as he buried his face in her neck, clutching her as if she’d disappear if he let go. Yor had responded in kind, bawling openly about how he just had to be the hero, hitting his arm gently in her hiccupping scold. If any of the neighbours still thought there was no love between these two, then it was definitely crushed in that moment.

Anya could only watch her parents embrace, a mixture of feelings flooding her chest. Relief to see her father alive. Adoration to see them so openly affectionate after months of hardship. Longing for something like theirs...

Pushing it aside, she had allowed them their moment, before throwing herself into their welcoming embrace, expressing her own relief. Together they had cried, sinking into a puddle on the cold basement floor, brought back to being just three lonely orphans who had found their own family.

It had taken a while for anyone willing to go back upstairs, but eventually parents started shooing their children off to bed, carrying those already slumbering back home. Yor helped Mrs. Darnaby again, before they headed inside their own little apartment, surveying the mess. Remanets of their calm, fun evening were scattered across the lounge floor, but no one moved to pick them up. It was far too late for Anya to return to the dorms, and she didn’t want to leave her parents company any time soon. They had settled around the dining table instead, drinking warm tea and holding hands, reassuring each other they were there.

As she lay in her childhood bed later, trying to drift off to sleep, she mulled over everything that had happened. She had wanted to call her friends, her other family, but it was late. Besides, they should all be contacting their families, trying to confirm that they were safe. She’d see them in the morning at school. She had managed to fall into an uneasy sleep, barely aware of the gentle rhythmic squeak of the bed down the hall.

The clock chimed obnoxiously, startling the household from their revives. Looking at the clock, Loid sighed and moved towards the kitchen.

“Come on Anya, I’ll drop you off at school.” He muttered, picking up the spare keys to the company car before moving to put on his coat. Anya gathered her school supplies slowly, hesitating on wanting to leave. Yor had seen this and reached out to squeeze her hand with a wobbly smile.

“We’re right here dear. Always.”

Anya’s bottom lip trembled, but she nodded back before heading out after her father. The trip to school was quiet, both observing the world around them. It would take a while for the city to regain some normality but it didn’t stop people from trying. They would go about their daily lives, returning to their jobs and schools like normal, trying to maintain the routine as if they weren’t shaking like a leaf. When they had arrived at the Eden drop off queue, Loid finally broke the silence.

“I love you Anya.” Startled she looked up at him, seeing him stare back at her with all the concern and affection a father could. “I’m sorry if I scared you last night. You and your mother are the world to me, and I just...”

He trailed off, unable to communicate the thoughts running through his mind. Ever the over thinker, his inner turmoil screamed at her to understand, which she did so with a smile.

“I love you too Papa.”

He shot her a small, relieved smile before ruffling her hair affectionately and shooing her out of the car.

Waving him goodbye, she had headed into school, intent on finding the others. She was barely through the main courtyard when a body tackled her, sending her flying onto the concrete. Becky’s tears wetted her shirt as she clung to the smaller girl, unapologetic about the light concussion she had just caused. Anya had let her cry, her own eyes brimming with tears, clutching at her best friend in comfort. They weren’t the only ones losing composure across the school grounds, Eden’s halls filled with the sounds of relieved shouts of joy and cries of terror as friends and classmates reunited. Gone were the refined students that the academy boasted, but for today, the professors would turn a blind eye.

“Anya, Becky!”

A pair of hands hauled them from the ground and into another pair of arms, squeezing them in a crushing embrace. Twisting to avoid getting hurt, Anya stared up at Ewen’s blotchy face, noticing his thick blonde hair wasn’t styled as usual today.

“We’re okay Egeburg, we’re okay.” Becky gasped, struggling to breathe, but her hold on him tightened in return. He squeezed them once more before letting them go, wiping at his face with his sleeve. Emile appeared beside him, reaching out to hug the girls as well.

“We were so worried about you guys. We had no idea if you were in the city centre or at home when the siren started.” He explained as they gladly stepped into his hold, wrapping their arms around him. Though shorter than Ewen, he still stood taller than them both, resting his head against Becky’s gently.

“Dad has an underground bunker system that he designed years ago. He’s always made us practice emergency evacuations in case something like this happened. I couldn’t stand them before but know I see their reasonings.” Becky murmured, rubbing his back comfortingly.

“I was at home. We hid in the bunker in the basement.” Anya sighed as they pulled back, smiling at each other. Looking around she frowned when she didn’t see Damian.

“Bossman has been in the library all morning. He was a little weird when he came back last night but we didn’t get a chance to talk about it before the siren sounded.” Ewen explained before she could ask. Disappointed she nodded at his words, before looping her arms around her friends again in a big hug.

“I’m so glad you’re all safe.”

They reacted immediately, gathering her against them protectively, as they soaked in each other's supportive comfort.

________________________________________________________________________________

The school day progressed as normal, though the professors had tried to lighten the mood of the classes with group discussions and educational movies instead of their usual crushing classwork. By the time lunch rolled around, Anya was feeling much better, her tension from the week starting to ease.

Sitting in the shade of their favourite oak tree by the sports fields, she laughed with her friends as they ate lunch, enjoying the warm spring weather. Damian had been quiet all day, lost in thought about something he wasn’t ready to share, though he did try to join in on the fun every now and then. Anya was a little worried about him, but a dive into his mind showed he was over thinking about his brother’s visit, doing his normal spiralling. Sighing she reached out to hold his hand, anchoring him to the moment then and there.

He startled at the contact, blinking back to focus on her before giving a guilty but reassuring smile. She rolled her eyes knowingly, but let it slide for the day. He could keep his secrets. She had her own as well anyway.

“You should have seen Swan’s face when the sex scene came on.” Ewen was chuckling, humour shimmering in his eyes, “I don’t know who switched out the tapes but they deserve an award. I’ve never seen him look so purple. Looked like he was about to bust a nut.”

“Ew, the mention of Swan and sex in the same context makes me want to gag.” Becky said, sticking out a tongue in disgust. “My poor virgin ears don’t need to hear this.”

“Nothing about you is virginal Blackbell.” Ewen teased in response, ducking out of reach when she swung at him. Emile chuckled loudly which resulted in him being a direct target for Becky’s wrath.

“What about you Oma? That lover of yours taken you to the sheets yet?”

He spluttered in embarrassment, blushing to the tips of his ears. Damian perked up in surprise, having not known of his friend’s love life.

“You’re dating someone?”

“Didn’t you see those hickeys he was wearing like a trophy the other day?” Becky asked, looking at the brunette in surprise.

“I was not!” Emile cried, before muttering under his breath, “I told Oliver not to bite so high.”

“His name is Oliver!” She cried, clapping her hands gleefully, “Is it Oliver Shriw?”

“No!” His face told them otherwise. Damian was confused.

“But I thought you liked that girl in Wald’s Hall? Um, Yasmin...Moreno?” He said, frowning as he tried to remember her face. Emile blushed deeply.

“I do...she was there.”

A stunned silence fell over the group, as all jaws dropped audibly.

“Damn Oma!” Ewen eventually whistled, looking impressed as Becky fanned herself hurriedly.

“This is better than any episode of Berlint in Love.” She wheezed, as Damian and Anya could only stare on in surprise. A thought struck her suddenly and she turned to the small girl.

“Oh Anya, do you have that book I asked for?” Jolting, Anya gasped having forgotten all about it. Letting go of Damian’s hand, she grabbed her bag, flipping it open to rummage around.

“I did! I got it yesterday afternoon before I went home. Agh, it’s in here somewhere. Just let me find it.” She assured, sticking her arm deep into her bag. She had shoved a bunch of today’s homework and revision papers into the confined space throughout the day, pushing the borrowed library book to the bottom of her bag. Grumbling she started pulling them out, setting them beside her in a messy pile as she dug for her prize. Ewen noticed something interesting amongst them, and tugged it out gently, the call to create mischief coursing through him.

“Ohhh Anya, what’s this!” He crowed, waving the red envelope in the air enticingly. She looked up in horror, book dropping from her grasp.

“Ewen, no-”

It was too late. He had already cracked it open and pulled out the letter, intent on reading it aloud. She could see the words die on his tongue, all thoughts of trouble making fading to disbelief, then anger as he scanned the parchment.

“Ohh a love letter! Were you holding out on me Peanut?” Becky crooned, nudging the silent girl in the ribs. But her giggles faded when neither Anya or Ewen responded, the silence starting to worry her.

“What’s it say Ewen?” Emile asked cautiously, not liking the look on his friend’s face.

Pale and shaky, the blond turned to the youngest member of their group, anxious terror in his eyes.

“Anya. What is this.” He demanded. She kept quiet, not wanting to look him in the eye. He leaned forward, trying again. “Anya, tell us. What. Is. This.”

“Ewen, it’s a confession, it can’t be that bad.” Damian snapped, not liking the way the girl was starting to shake. Holding it out to him, Ewen snarled in response.

“I would call it a threat more than a confession.”

Surprised, the scion snatched the offending paper off him, reading the words for himself. Emile crowded over his shoulder, jaw dropping in horror as he read, before he glanced at Anya in worry.

“Anya, how long have you had this?”

“What’s going on? Let me see.” Becky snapped, trying to grab the paper from Damian, but he pulled away quickly. “Desmond stop hogging it. Let me see.”

“It’s probably best you didn’t Blackbell.” He replied, his tone unnervingly calm, chilling the others. Anya remained quiet through it all, trembling in fear. She couldn’t meet their gaze, afraid of what they’d do. One mildly threatening letter had been enough for her to be kicked out of her familial home, into unnecessary ‘safety’. A second would put all her friends’ lives in danger and she’d forever feel guilty if something happened to them. No, she was meant to deal with this alone. They weren’t meant to find out. They weren’t meant to get involved.

“You weren’t meant to see that.” She croaked, leaning against the tree as if it could absorb her into its trunk. “No one was meant to see that.”

Becky succeeded in snatching the letter from Damian’s grasp, ripping it in the process. Her eyes quickly scanned the few short words, raging building up inside her.

“Anya, when did you get this?” She growled, causing the girl to cower.

“Last week. After the swim meet.” She muttered anxiously, looking down at her fidgeting hands. She could see it. Her carefully crafted world starting to crack in her hold.

“You’ve been holding on this for that long? Did you tell your parents?”

She shook her head, tears starting to build up. The edges were starting to crumble.

“Is this why you’ve been off all week? Avoiding us? Anya when were you going to tell us?” Becky said, voice starting to rise in anger. Another crack, another ledge crumbling to the sea.

Emile was the first to notice her shallow breathing, hurriedly reaching out to grab her knee.

“Anya, breathe. We’re not mad at you.” He said gently, shooting Becky a nasty look as she looked ready to explode. Sniffling, Anya took a deep shuddering breath, following his calming words as he counted her through them. Seeing how shaken the girl was, the others tried to tamper down their anger, realising how terrified she was.

“I’m sorry. You weren’t meant to see it.” She repeated, tears starting leak down her face. Instantly Becky’s disposition changed, as she reached out to cradle her friend to her chest.

“Oh Anya,” She cooed, her own tears forming. “You poor, brave girl. Why did you feel the need to hide this from us?”

Anya couldn’t tell her, just shrugging in resignation. Ewen grumbled mutinously, glaring at the parchment beside Becky as if he could burn it. “When I find the fucker that dare threaten my little sister...” He growled, eyes narrowing further.

“I’ll help.” The others all muttered instantly, causing Anya to sob loudly.

“I don’t deserve you guys.”

She broke down as they encompassed her in a group hug, letting her cry out her anguish that had been building for weeks. She had to tell them. She had to tell them everything. Her little world was damaged, but they could help her repair it. But to do that she had to be honest with them. Or risk losing them forever.

After a while, she pulled away from their arms, accepting Damian’s handkerchief to clean her face. Scrunching it in her hand, she took a deep breath to explain, but found herself unable to. Seeing her hesitancy, Emile patted her knee comfortingly.

“Take your time. We’ll be here.”

Finally she whispered, “I have a secret.”

She was surprised to hear the words leave her mouth. The others stayed silent, willing her to go on.

“It’s one I’ve never told anyone before.”

She was doing it. She was breaking her only rule.

“I think it’s why I’m being targeted, but I haven’t been able to confirm that just yet. I think the person I saw at the swim meet and the cinema are connected to this letter. I went back to the alleyway a little while ago and found something.”

She reached into her pocket, pulling out the ring for them to see, ignoring their annoyed splutters of her going back by herself. They stared at the item in her hand, frowning.

“I think my stalker left this behind on accident. Or on purpose. I’m not sure, it’s rather confusing. But I've been studying it the last few weeks, and I think it’s connected to my secret.”

Becky took it off her, holding it to the light. They could all see the eagle engraved on it. Damian’s breathe hitched when he saw its talons.

“My parents-” Anya stopped, frowning suddenly. Her parents. They didn’t know about any of this. Looking around at her friends, she thought about how they’d react. They'd probably murder anyone to get to the truth. And probably get away with it too. But they would be so disappointed that she hadn’t told them. She knew their secrets, even though they weren’t aware of that just yet. If she ever wanted to them to be fully transparent with her, then she needed to be the one to bridge that gap first. She owed them the truth.

Her friends were wonderful, caring people that she had selected in creating her world. And while she cherished them dearly, her parents-

“-deserve to know first.” She finished slowly, feeling a weight settle on her shoulders. Glancing around at the other teens, she smiled weakly. “I need to tell them this secret first before I can tell you. But I will eventually! I just need some time.”

“You owe us nothing Anya,” Becky reassured, rubbing her shoulder. “Tell your parents. This is the second threat you’ve received in a few months. You have a stalker who wants to cause you harm. While you’re safe at Eden, they can only do so much to protect you.”

Grabbing the letter again, she frowned as she held both it and the ring to the light.

“These have to be connected. Can I borrow them? Dad might have something at home that had trace for minerals or residue. Also I can find out what shop sold this type of ring. We might be able to track where these came from.”

“We’ll help out. That symbol has to mean something.” Ewen agreed. “I can ask the history buffs on the debate team if they know anything about it. Discreetly of course.” He added seeing her panicked look.

“I already study all the symbols in the school library books. It’s none of them.” She started, only to be cut off by Damian’s scoff.

“You forget we’re rich. We have vast libraries outside of school to go through as well.” He reminded her, taking hold of her hand again.

“I can ask the war veterans at the community shelter if they know of any old symbols. Maybe it’s a resurgence of some old battlement with all the fighting along the border. A gang’s decided to pick it up possibly?” Emile pondered, a thoughtful frown on his face.

Bit by bit Anya saw them start to piece her world together. Teary eyed, she could only sniffle, wondering just how much crying she was going to do in twenty four hours.

“Thank you. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you sooner.” She said, a weak but affection smile gracing her cheeks. She really didn’t deserve them.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

It was late. Pushing her book aside, Anya stared at the clock resting above her door frame. It was nearly two am already and she still was still awake.

Exhaustion clouded her mind, but her high-strung emotions from the last few days meant she just couldn’t fall asleep. She had all the tricks, from drinking a warm drink, to meditation, to pacing around her room. She even resorted to studying her Physics notes, their wordy jargon usually putting her to rest. Instead she had found herself actually understanding them, much to her displeasure.

Getting up to walk around her room again, she frowned in contemplation. Telling her friends had been the right thing to do. It wasn’t how she would have liked to do, but she really couldn’t hold that much longer. They had resources she could only dream of, and the power to extract the information needed. She was just worried as to what they might find when they scratched the surface. How much they would hate her when she finally told them the truth.

Sighing, she tugged at her hair frustration. She felt stuffy. Maybe she needed some fresh air. She could go see if the boys were awake. Maybe convince them to take a run around the grounds with her. Reaching for her jacket she stopped, reconsidering the time. No. They had helped her out a lot today. They needed rest. She would see them in the morning. But she could still leave.

All thoughts disappeared when a light tapping sound filled the room. Freezing she stared at the door, waiting for it to happen again. Oh gods, was this it? Did they finally come for her in the dead of the night? Was it because of her friends?

Tap, tap, tap

It came again, though she now realised it was behind her. Turning slowly, she stifled a shriek when she saw a face at her window, only calming down when she realised who it was. Holding her hammering heart, she raced over to him, wrenching the window open.

“What are you doing here?” She hissed, trying to remain quiet. Damian frowned at her in annoyance.

“Selling Girl Guide biscuits.” He snarked, gesturing for her to move. “What does it look like I’m doing? Hurry up and let me in. It started raining on the way over.”

Moving aside, she watched as he clambered through her window, felling odd at the reverse situation. Once he was inside, he closed the window softly and shook out his damp hair, shivering a bit.

“You got a towel I can borrow? I’m a little damp.”

Thumbing in the direction of her towel, she continued to stare as he moved past her, trailing a little water along her floor. As he dried his hair and shoulders, she tried to process what was happening.

“What are you doing here? It’s two am.” She repeated, still confused. He hung up the towel where he’d found it, hair a little frizzy from the friction. Turning to her, he shucked off his jacket, raising an eyebrow in response.

“Came to see you. Why else?” He stated, if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“But...but..”

Sighing he stepped forward to take her hands, ignoring the blush that started to creep up her face.

“You come and visit me all the time. Especially when I need it most. I thought it was about time to return the favour.” Damian explained gently, causing her brain to malfunction.

“But this is the girls’ dorm. You’ll be in so much trouble if you’re caught.”

“So I just won’t get caught.” He shrugged as if it was as easy as that. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

“Who are you and what have you done to Damian Desmond.”

He groaned and let go of her hands, stepping back to get his jacket.

“Fine if you don’t want me here, I’ll leave.”

“Wait no! I don’t want you to go!” She hurriedly grabbed his arm, forcing him to stay. Looking away with a blush she murmured, “Thank you. I would appreciate the company.”

Instead of smirking or haughtily replying like she expected he just smiled that same gentle smile that made her stomach flip. Turning back to her, he opened up his arms welcoming. She readily fell into them, sighing as his body heat washed over her. She didn’t realise how cold she had gotten. Like yesterday, his chin rested on top of her head, tucking her in carefully.

“Sorry for startling you before. I should have known you’d be jumpy especially after what you told us today.” He murmured, holding her close. She shook her head against his collarbone, the incident already forgiven.

“It’s okay. I was about to go out for a walk myself. But it’s probably best I stay in here.”

Pulling back, Damian examined her face again, trying to decide if she was too pale.

“You look tired. How much sleep have you had recently?”

“Not a lot. I’ve been stressing over that letter.” She yawned, her exhaustion hitting again. Tenderly he tugged her towards her bed, indicating for her to sit. She sat down willingly, scooting to sit up against the headboard with a sigh. He went to sit at her desk but she patted the space beside her invitingly.

“I want cuddles.” She demanded, knowing he wouldn’t refuse her. He hesitated for a second, eyes roaming over her body and she realised just how undressed she was in comparison to him. Pulling the blankets over her bare legs, she blushed at his attention but patted the bed again. He awkwardly sat beside her, refusing to entertain the thoughts of how cute she was in her oversized night shirt.

Settling in, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, hand resting lightly on the clothed part of her shoulder as she snuggled into his side for warmth. She wanted to know why boys always seemed to run warm. How did she steal it and port it around with her everywhere?

“How are you feeling after today?” He eventually murmured, crossing his legs one another as he stretched out beside her, causing his sweatpants to ride down slightly. She stared at the slither of skin in had revealed in fascination, shrugging at his question.

“Drained. Overwhelmed. At my wits end. Take your pick.”

“Well you’ve got us now so if you feel overwhelmed again just let us know okay?”

She hummed in response, fingers idly toying with the fabric of his shirt. He flinched as she traced a ticklish part of his stomach by accident, shaking his head at her murmured apology. Reaching out he grabbed the offending hand, holding it in his.

“You know, that ring really alarmed me.” He slowly stated, staring at her wall of posters thoughtfully.

“And the letter didn’t?” She asked in surprise, looking up at him.

“No the letter pissed me off. But the ring was...a surprise. Especially that symbol.”

“Do you know what it means? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“No, I don’t know what it means only that it sounds really familiar. Demetrius mentioned seeing a government symbol similar to that one yesterday on some paperwork he had seen. He didn’t see the whole thing, but he described it as an eagle holding a sceptre in its left talon. I just wonder if they’re somehow connected.”

Resting her head against the headboard, Anya frowned in thought.

“Maybe. There were a lot of government symbols in the books I studied that were close to it. It could be possible I missed something.”

Damian shrugged in response. “Who knows, but I’ll look into it. Speaking of Demetrius, he wanted to know if you wanted to come round for dinner during the holidays. Something about ‘reconnecting the families again’.”

Anya blushed slightly as she saw the memory filter through his mind, the embarrassment strong from that conversation.

“I’ll ask Papa and Ma. Should be fine though. So what did you end up doing on your afternoon out?” She drawled, curious to know. Damian snorted in amusement, a small smile on his face.

“Not much. Talked about the war, caught up a bit about school and home. Boring stuff really. But it was after lunch that it go interesting. He said that I had missed out on some family tradition on my eighteenth birthday, and that he had decided to do it now. Apparently it’s a Father to Son passing of an heirloom, but as you know, Father is ignoring my existence so it was never going to happen.”

Curious now, Anya pulled back to look at him properly, wondering what happened.

“What was it?” She breathed, scanning over his appearance as if he was sporting it on him now. Her breathe hitched in her throat when she spotted them, glistening in the bedroom light.

Oh no..

“I got my earrings.” He chortled, tilting his head to show off the dark jewellery sitting snuggly in his ears.

...He’s hot.

Gulping Anya could only stare at the new jewels, heat creeping up her neck and face. Thankfully he didn’t seem to notice, reaching up to touch them tenderly.

“Hurt a little but I think it’s rather cool. I’m surprised I never considered it a tradition as all the males in my family have them. Just thought it was a trend the Desmond men decided they liked.”

She struggled to control her emotions, instead turning away to silently scream into her shoulder. Oblivious to her suffering he continued, “I was surprised no one notice them today. Thought Becky would have caught on with her attention to detail, especially fashion. But considering the day’s events, it seems fair. I’m going to wait and see how long it takes everyone to notice. My bet is Ewen will take at least three months.”

His jovial attitude was a welcome change from how stressed he had been lately, and she couldn’t resist smiling at it. Encouraging him to continue talking, she listened in content as he blathered about his classes and upcoming tutoring sessions. She let his voice wash over her, easing her aching soul as her eyes began to dip shut. After a while she slumped against him fully, sleep finally coming to claim her. She felt a light pressure against her hairline, breath fluttering her bangs as he whispered to her sweet dreams.

She slept peacefully, content for the first time in weeks. She didn’t remember what she dreamt about, but the sound of laughter and a field of flowers echoed in her brain when she awoke hours later, still slumped against his warm body.

Blinking awake, she leaned back to yawn, taking in his dozing face. He looked peaceful, long eyelashes fluttering as he dreamed. Glancing at the clock she hissed in horror, realising the Dorm Mothers would be making their rounds soon. Glad she had locked her door earlier in the night, she knew they’d have some time if they decided to check in.

Shaking Damian, she hissed softly, “Oi, wake up. It’s nearly morning check in.”

Groggily he groaned in annoyance, shuffling to lean closer. “Five more minutes.”

Blushing she shook him again.

“No Sy-on boy, you need to get up now! The Dorm Mothers will be here soon. It’s getting light outside, you’ll be spotted leaving.”

That seemed to rouse him as he sighed stiffly, scratching at his head. Seeing the time he grimaced but pulled himself away from her and climbed out of bed.

“I didn’t mean to stay so late. But I didn’t want to move encase you woke up.” He explained, slowly putting on his jacket. Ruffling his bed hair, he took in her own rumpled appearance. “At least you look better. You’ve got some colour back in your cheeks.”

Not for the reason you think you idiot!

“Just go before you get caught.” She grumbled, pushing him towards the window. He obliged and quickly climbed out, steading himself on the slope outside. Leaning against the window frame, she poked her head out the window to whisper to him, “Thankyou for coming over. I really did appreciate it.”

He looked up at her in surprise, a faint blush tainting his cheeks.

“You’re welcome. I’d do anything for you.” Her heart was in her throat as he stepped forward a little, staring at her fondly. “I couldn’t leave you alone with how anxious you were. What kind of friend would I be if I did?”

Her own cheeks were starting to burn now. His gaze searched hers as if trying to convey something, but his mind was utterly blank.

“You know we care about you, right Anya?”

“Yes.” She all but breathed. She just wanted him to keep looking at her like that. To never stop. He paused for a moment before something flickered in his eyes, a decision made. Bracing himself on the window sill he leaned forward, surprising her. Before she could do anything, his lips lands softly against her cheek, warm and tender and very, very close to the corner of her mouth.

Her blush rose intensely the longer he remained, and she could feel her legs melting beneath her. Eventually he drew back enough to take in her shocked appearance, a small smile gracing his lips.

“I’ll see you in class.” Was all he said as if he hadn’t just caused her internal panic, before heading off swiftly back to his dorm. The only sign that he was as flustered as her was when he tripped slightly on the edge of the pave way, hurrying away in embarrassment. Closing her window, she let her jelly legs collapse, hand touching the spot he had kissed.

If this was a dream, she was never waking up.

Chapter Text

Stepping outside, Anya raised a hand to cover her eyes, squinting up at the clear skies above her. The sun was warm and bright against her skin and she sighed deeply in content. Shifting her bag on her shoulder she casually started walking down the stone steps, heading towards the sunken courtyard around the corner. The balmy April weather had everyone flocking outside for break, all intent on absorbing as much warmth as possible before heading backside to the chilly classrooms. All around her, her fellow peers were stopping to chatter, but there were very few jovial conversations.

It had been just over a week since the hoax and the Government’s inaction over the incident was hot gossip. The funerals for the two that had died were widely publicized, the media using their deaths to antagonise the public into a frenzy. The protests outside Parliament were growing, in size and in anger each day, as Ostania waited for their officials to do something.

As she passed the groups clustered around the walkway, she caught snippets of conversation and thoughts, all murmuring lowly in her ear.

Such an injustice! We need to do something!...

...I’ve just turned eighteen, I'll be recruited...

...said that we should leave while we can. Not safe...

Frowning she weaved past one particular group of younger students, quietly discussing their parents’ concerns for their safety at the school. What if the hoax had been real? What would Eden have done?

Jumping down the last few steps into the courtyard, she spotted her friends sitting around a small picnic table, a newspaper and notes shared between them. Approaching them silently, she peered over Emile’s shoulder at what he had written, an open letter from the shelter he volunteered at addressed to the Government. He was planning on giving it Damian to pass on to his family, the closest connection they had to the politics.

“...It has to stop! They were so scared-terrified- of what they had witnessed! The fact that none of it is being reported is the true crime.” He was arguing passionately, his cheeks a flame with rage. Becky ran her hands over her face before looking at him with tired eyes over the top of her own scribbled notes.

“I agree, it’s horrible, but we’re just kids. We can’t do much.”

“We’re rich! What’s the use of our wealth if we can’t use it for good?” He snapped, unable to let go. Ewen reached out to place a supportive hand on his shoulder, looking sad but understanding.

“It’s not our wealth though, it’s our parents. Becky’s right, we’re just kids. What adult is truly going to listen to us?”

“We make them.” Anya piped up, startling them. “We maybe kids, but we’re the future of this country. That’s got to count for something right? Let them hear our voices even if it means screaming at the top of our lungs. We will not be repressed.”

The four were silent as they looked up at her, taking in her own shimmering rage. She was never one to be side lined, always pushing towards what she wanted. She had been trained from a young age to achieve world peace by any means necessary. If writing a very strongly opinionated letter could be a start, why not try?

Beautiful

The thought rang clear in her head, causing her to jump. Looking over her friends' face, she realised they ranged from shock to pride to...

Damian’s face was hard to read, his eyes wide, cheeks a little flushed. Catching her eye he turned away quickly, the blush spreading further along his cheekbones as he hid his face in his palm. She gulped, her own blush staining her cheeks, but she refused to focus on it. This was not the time to be thinking about that.

Becky sniffed, breaking the silence as she stared teary eyed up at her best friend.

Anya.” She murmured, touched by her strength. Sitting down beside Emile, she discarded her jacket distractedly, before grabbing the draft off the table. Skimming over it she frowned, taking in the rage behind his words.

“Alright, explain from the beginning. I get why we’re writing this, but...why are we writing this?” She asked, looking towards her friend. Ewen chuckled, but it was more of a clearing of the throat awkwardly.

“Emile had an incident at the community shelter yesterday. He’s feeling rather patriotic today because of it.”

If she wanted to, she could divulge into the honey blonde’s mind, see the fight first hand. But she respected her friends and let them tell her their thoughts through words. Clenching his teeth, Emile growled lowly under his breath.

“They were hurting them. Denying them their rights.” He started, knuckles white with rage, “A group of refugees from the south had made their way into the city, hoping to seek protection. Their villages were being burned down by those Österreich troops, and they were reporting that Magyar armies were raiding their fields. Scared, they had fled here. They had hoped they would bump into our soldiers on the way, but there was no sign of them. When they finally arrived here, the city tried to turn them away, arguing that they were lying, that there was no war. Which is bullshit! We’ve all seen the reports! While the Government hasn’t declared war just yet, it’s happening whether we like it or not.”

He stopped to take a breath, shaking as tears began to form in his eyes.

“You should have seen them Anya. I have never seen such a group of terrified people. They had managed to find the shelter, but no one was willing to help. They were given food and water as usual, but they needed actual help. When we tried to step in, offer the counselling services and ways to communicate with the Government, the project leaders pulled us aside and told us to stop. That these people were liars, just regular tramps from the street. That they were experiencing delusions from the first war, not the one brewing currently. We tried to argue back, wondering when they had become so callous. When they threatened to inform the school that we were warmongering, Oliver got...well, Oliver got furious. He punched the main leader, similar to how you punched Damian back in our first year. Yasmin and I had to pull him back when he tried to go further, and we left in a hurry. The leaders were shouting at us not to come back, but I can’t stay away. I have to do something to help those people. No one else is going to.”

The group knew Emila was passionate about social justice and the welfare of their country, but this was like watching it emerge like a phoenix, born from the flickering flame in his heart.

“Oma, this country doesn’t deserve you.” Becky whispered, reaching out to take his clenched fists in her gentle hands. He sniffed, tears leaking down his face.

“I just want to do better. It’s the less that they deserve.”

“So we’ll start with your letter. From what you’ve written we have a good starting base.” Anya said, already planning out phrases in her head, searching for a pen in her pocket as she reread the letter. A pair of hands gently prised the parchment from her fingers, the owner proof reading it himself.

“She’s right, it is a good start. But definitely room for improvement. Demetrius would dismiss this on first read let alone Parliament.” Damian confirmed, eyes scanning the page. Anya ignored how her fingers tingled from his contact, instead focusing on scribbling out what was in her head.

“Alright, why don’t you two sit down together and plot it out and we’ll research some sources to cite?” Becky suggested, rummaging through her notes for a starting point.

“No!”

Both stared at each other, surprised by the other’s shout. The others were equally surprised, observing how a matching blush was spreading across their cheeks. Becky narrowed her eyes, suspicions that had been building all week starting to rise again.

“I mean, no, I’ll help with the research. As much as it pains me to admit it, Anya is better at compassionate writing than I am, but I know the library like the back of my hand.” Damian stammered, looking anywhere but the aforementioned girl. “Ewen can help, he’s probably studied this for a debate at some point.”

“R-right.” Ewen stuttered, watching as Damian hurriedly got up from the table, face a shade of red he’d never see before. “We can hit the library now. I have a free period next.”

Stuffing his gear quickly in his bag, he waved goodbye to the others, tripping in his haste to chase after the awkward teen who was already disappearing into the corridors. Emile and Becky could only exchange a look before turning towards Anya, who gulped nervously.

“Okay. Are we going to address this or?” Emile started, watching as she shuffled in her seat.

“No. We should start drafting your letter.” She refused, pushing what she had written towards him. But Becky wasn’t having it.

“We should. You two have been weird all week. Did something happen?”

“Nothing happened! Can we just focus on this situation at hand?”

They didn’t look convinced, but she really didn’t want to explain herself. She didn’t want to tell them how her heart had raced so violently in her chest during the kiss, or how long it had taken for her to climb to her feet after she had collapsed. That moment was between just her and Damian. One she would treasure in her memories, pulling it out on her worst days. Sure things were a little...off between them at the moment, but they’d work through whatever line they had unintentionally crossed. It would just take some time.

“Okaaay, if you say so.” Becky drawled, frowning at her stubbornness. She sensed a scoop and by God did she want to sink her teeth into it. But she’d respect her friend’s wishes. Straightening up, she pulled out one of the papers in her messy pile, handing it to Anya.

“Before I forget, I’ve been doing some research on my own. The ring had a stamp to prove it was quality Sterling silver, which meant the maker had to include their hallmark. It took some digging, but I tracked it down to a small company here in the city. I got Martha to go in the other day to ask about the ring and when it was manufactured. But the jeweller got really shifty and refused to answer. She said they had paled when they saw the insignia and began to tremble. They wanted to take the ring off her, but she left before they could.”

Tapping the paper in Anya’s hands she continued with a mischievous smirk.

“Of course, I got curious. So I went and found their ledger. Don’t ask me how, just count it as one of my extracurricular activities and that I may have less money in the bank now. They had some really interesting customers that I will use for...research at a later date, but this one was unusual.”

Emile and Anya peered at where she was pointing, a company name underlined in red pen.

Apfel. I’ve never heard of company with that name. It was around twenty-five years ago when this was made, so maybe it’s renamed since then? I could be clutching at straws, but I think this is significant.”

They could only stare at her, watching as she beamed with pride. “You’re amazing Becky.”

“I know I am.” She smirked, before deflating slightly, “But it got me thinking. These people are no ideal threat. If the ring caused the jeweller to have such an adverse reaction, how powerful are they? And what could they want with you Anya?”

Dread crept through her, as she stared at the name again. Apfel. Apple. It seemed like her hunch was correct. But she couldn’t tell them yet. She didn’t have the whole truth.

“I’m not sure, but I do think it’s connected to my secret. I really need to sit down with Papa and Ma soon and tell them what’s going on.”

“Mmm probably best done sooner or later. You’re seeing them after your lacrosse game on Saturday, right? Tell them then.” Emile suggested, looking over more of Becky’s notes. “Becky, was is this code? You’ve got it scrawled everywhere and I can’t make sense of it.”

She lit up, pleased with his reaction. “Really? That’s good, it means it works.”

“What works?”

“My cipher! Anya and I have been working on since I started my research. I don’t want just anyone reading my notes, but I can trust you guys. Here, while Anya continues working on that draft, I’ll teach you what I’ve come up with so far. It’s pretty simple to crack once you know what you’re looking for.”

Anya watched as they poured over the paper, proud of far her friends had come. They were taking this all in stride, acting like it was just another school assignment. They would go on to achieve great things in life she thought with a smile. Turning back to the draft in front of her, she rolled her shoulders back decisively, clicking her pen a few times to get the inspiration flowing. She would help with the only way she knew how, encouraging others towards world peace. With that she let the words flow, ink hurriedly transferring to the parchment. They would make this country proud.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

The rest of the week passed uneventfully, and soon she was lacing up her cleats as she prepared for a home game. The bleachers were packed with Eden supporters, cheering for their girls to win. Everyone needed a distraction from the rapidly demoralising news, and a competitive high school match of lacrosse was just what they sought. She heard her name from the crowd, and she turned to wave back at her Ma who was decked out in Eden’s colours. Her Papa just smiled fondly from beside her, though she noticed Yor had painted his cheeks to match.

Grinning she turned back to preparing her equipment, half listening when some of the girls squealed excitedly beside her.

“He finally asked you!”

“Yeah, turns out he had been planning it for months. I had heard rumours but didn’t dare get my hopes up. I can’t wait to step out on the town with him.” Hmm, seemed Michael had finally sucked up the courage to court Vanessa. Her mouthguard sat uncomfortably in her mouth. What would it be like to be courted?

Her coach called everyone’s attention, snapping her back to the game. Jumping to her feet, she grabbed her stick and hurried over to join the group huddle, ready to release some nervous energy.

“Alright you know St.Wards is ruthless but we’re strategic. No fighting, no shoving, no fouls. Understood?”

They cheered their acknowledgement before he waved them out onto the field, encouraging them one last time. When the whistle blew to begin the match, Anya lost herself into the familiar rhythm.

It was easy to drown out the crowd’s thoughts alongside her own when she was playing, just losing herself into flow of running and catching, throwing the ball when needed. She always knew the other team’s plays, communicating effortlessly with her teammates. They had questioned her on this at the beginning but she had played it off as having scary intuition and being able to read body language as easy as speaking.

The first two quarters went smoothly, neither team scoring a goal just yet. They were halfway through their third quarter, close to the opposition's net when the crowd became restless, murmuring about something she couldn’t see. The whispers became shouts as the whistle blew, interrupting a near goal. Groaning they turned to see who had made a blunder, only to freeze at the sight of the State Security Service approaching the field. One of them stopped to talk to the referee, who looked shocked before pointing out to the field. At Anya.

Holding her stick up protectively, Anya could only watch as the soldiers made their way towards her, the other lacrosse players parting to make way, sending her nervous looks. She was wondering if she was Icarus, having flown too close to the sun in her attempts to find out about her stalker and assisting Becky with her studies. Maybe they were here to take her back to the labs, clearly having connections to the Government.

“Miss Forger?” The one in the lead asked, stopping a short distance from her.

“Y-yes?” She asked nervously, watching as her parents came flying from the stands and onto the pitch, making their way towards her. Her mother was there first, snatching her up in a tight embrace, snarling at the officers.

“What do you want with my daughter?” She growled, as Loid joined them shortly after, frowning deeply. The officer held up his hands in a clear signal he meant no harm.

“I’m sorry to do this so publicly, but time was of the importance. Would you rather we stepped aside from the crowd and discuss matters privately? I’m afraid it’s not great news.” He suggested passively, digging into his uniform to draw out a red envelope that made her blood run cold.

“Where did you get that?” She croaked, startling her parents.

“Anya?” Yor asked in confusion as the officer grimaced.

“I was afraid this might be true. You’re familiar with this letter then yes? How many have you received?”

“Two.” She answered, starting to tremble. Was that really another one? So soon?

“Dr and Mrs Forger, I suggest we leave the field.”

With a brief look, the Forgers all agree with a nod, trailing after the officers quietly. Anya tries to shut out the whispers of the crowd, all curious as to what drama was unfolding before them. She glances back at her teammates were still standing around in shock, mouthing I’m sorry to them as she left.

She’s vaguely aware of the referees calling in the coaches to see if they should continue the game, as she’s led inside the stadium and towards one of the rarely used storage rooms at the back. Upon entering, she sees more soldiers, but one in particular makes her sag in relief.

“Chihuahua girl!”

“Poindexter!”

He hurries across to her, gathering her in his arms in a tight hug that she gladly returns. If he’s here then she’s not in trouble. She’s safe. He releases her with a gentle squeeze, turning to look at her parents.

“Yor, Loidy. I’m sorry for the interruption.” He said, looking troubled. “But something came up at work that involves Anya somehow, and we needed to get her to safety as quickly as possible.”

“What’s going on Yuri?” His sister asked. He didn’t answer, just gestured towards some nearby chairs.

“You may want to take a seat. It was hard enough for me to cope with when I found out.”

Nervous again, the family settled in to the provided seats, clutching each other’s hands tightly. Anya realised she was still holding her stick under her arm, and drew it closer for protection. The officer who had escorted her off the field handed them two envelopes.

“A few days ago we received an anonymous letter warning us of an organisation targeting students at Eden. We were going to dismiss it until we read further and realised it contained information about a side project we were currently investigating.” He started, pointing at the plain envelope in Loid’s hands. He ripped it open quickly, taking out the letter to read for himself, frowning at the brief message.

Apfel? What organisation is that?” He asked, not noticing how Anya went stock still beside him.

“We’re not entirely sure, but it’s a government organisation that should have disappeared twenty years ago. As for the other letter, we intercepted it in Eden’s mail, a controlled protocol after the warning. Turns out, the whistle-blower was right.”

Anya could only stare at the words printed on the same thick parchment she had been carrying around for weeks.

We told you not to get involved. This is your last warning. Your friends will be next.

They had been watching. She knew she shouldn’t have involved her friends. Becky’s hunting must have tipped them off.

Panic began to rise in her.

“As we recall, Miss Forger received a threatening letter at the end of last year that made you enrol her in Eden’s dorms for protection? This came just after you had a major break in, correct?”

“Yes,” Loid answered, his voice thick with tension. “It threatened her safety within our care, saying she would soon return where she belonged. Being simple citizens, we did what we thought was best for her at the time.”

“Well it seems to have worked until now. Though Miss Forger, this appears to be the third letter now addressed to you. Care to explain?”

She shifted guiltily in her seat, not making eye contact with anyone.

“I got one after the swim meet a few weeks ago. It said not to chase them, that they’d come to be in time.” Turning to her Papa she bit her bottom lip in worry, “That person I told you about at the first swim rally and then at the cinema. They must be part of this. I only got the letter after I chased him.”

Loid looked like he had aged ten years during the conversation.

“This seems to be bigger than just a simple stalker like you let on.” He muttered, aware of his wife’s murderous rage on the other side of his daughter. “When were you going to tell us Anya?”

“After today’s game! I promise!” She swore, clasping her hands together desperately. “I promised the others that I would tell you today. They’ve been really worried about me all week.”

“Your friends knew but your parents didn’t?” The officer asked, looking a little surprised.

“They found out by pure accident last week. I wasn’t going to tell them. Now they’re involved as well.” She whimpered, remembering the new message she’d read.

Yuri sighed in the corner, rubbing at his head in annoyance.

“I was really hoping it was just some silly stalker, but this organisation isn’t one to be trifled with.” He muttered, standing up to approach them. “I’ve been reading as much as I can on them this last month, and while a lot of it is heavily redacted, I managed to find out that were in charge of developing weapons of some kind for the war. It didn’t state what kind, but if Anya is involved, I’m not sure I want to.”

Stepping over to them, he handed his sister a thin folder containing his notes. “Apfel, or ‘Project Apple’ existed under Government control about twenty-five years ago, developing specialised technology to use in the war. Twenty years ago, they went underground, seemingly disappearing. One small report came through about ten years ago, suggesting they were still operational and had moved onto...human experimentation. It doesn’t specify what, but it did say one of its test subjects had escaped. A young girl. Simply named 007.”

His eyes lingered on Anya’s huddled form, observing the way she shook.

“Anya, I have no idea what they did to you during that time, but you’re safe now. Your parents and I will protect you, no matter what, okay?”

She began to bawl, years' worth of terror overcoming her at once. Yor instantly scooped her up in a tight embrace, clutching her close to her chest as she rocked her soothingly. She felt Loid’s hand hover over her head for a moment before pulling away to drag down his face.

“Can you leave us be for a moment? We need to talk about this as a family.” He asked stiffly, glad when the officers nodded.

“We’ll be just outside if you need us.” Yuri said, turning to leave. Anya shot out a hand, urging him to stop.

“No, Uncle Yuri please stay. You need to hear the truth as well.” She sobbed, casting a look at her parents and back. “You all need to hear the truth.”

They stared at her shock, watching as she hiccupped quietly. If she had felt like her world was crumbling down around her last week, then this was a nuclear blast, destroying her from the inside out.

“I know everything.”

Chapter Text

There was a brief silence after her statement as the other officers shuffled out of the room. They were dying to know just what information this small teenage girl could possibly have, but they would respect the young family’s privacy. They were officers of the law, vowed to protect Ostania’s citizens. Not the underhanded criminals they were sometimes panned out to be.

Yuri remained frozen in front of them, staring at Anya in surprise. Loid and Yor were looking at each other in fear, unsure by just what she had meant.

“Can you sit down? And please don’t get angry when I tell you.” Anya pleaded, directing the last part at all three adults. Yuri obliged, falling into a vacant seat, trying to prepare himself for the bomb. Panic was beginning to rise in her parents. But before she could say anything, Yor turned to Yuri with a frown.

“Firstly, Yuri. You’re part of the SSS? How long has that been happening? Why didn’t you tell me?” She asked, startling the two men. Unfortunately it was Loid who spoke up first.

“He’s been an agent for as long as I’ve known you at least. Top ranking one now too if I’m not wrong.”

She spun on him in furry, eyes glinting with controlled anger.

“You knew?!” Yor screeched, hands clenching around Anya’s shoulders tightly. “All this time you knew my baby brother was acting against us and you didn’t tell me?”

Loid held up his hands in a peaceful gesture, leaning back from her wrath.

“I did it for you! For your protection.” He stammered, trying to reason with her. But before he could get out any further of an excuse, Yuri gasped in stifled accusation.

“Loidy! That was my line!” He snapped, leaning towards the man in anger. “I joined the SSS to protect my sweet sister! I would never harm her.”

“Stop!” Anya cried, jumping between them, shaking with fear. She hadn’t been there for when her parents found out about each other, but she had seen the aftermath. She didn’t want to witness another bloody brawl “Stop fighting! This is all my fault, and I need to explain!”

The three adults sat back stunned, all brimming with unnecessary rage but their love for the teen won out on those feelings. Trembling Anya covered her face with her hands, taking some deep breaths to try and calm herself. How did she even begin?

“It’s true. I was experimented on as a child. My earliest memories are of scientists and cold metal chairs, and electricity buzzing in my brain. I don’t remember how I escaped, just that one moment I was in the labs, the next I was crying in some back street in the city. I was bounced between orphanages and foster homes for a few years until Papa found me.”

She turned to him now, giving him a wobbly smile.

“I knew from day one about Operation Strix. That you needed to adopt a child to complete your mission. I was so eager to leave that hell hole, and you being a spy was just so cool, just like Bondman! That I couldn’t resist. I lied about my age so you’d adopt me. I’m not sure of my actual age to be honest, I think I’m around sixteen. But it didn’t matter as you chose me to help with world peace, and I remember the scientists always proclaiming that I would help the world, so I thought this was just a kinder option.”

Glancing at her Ma, she saw how pale she had gotten. She knew about the adoption already and about operation, but hearing that her daughter knew was another thing.

“Mama, when you came into that tailor shop the day we meet, I thought you were so cool. Papa was already impressed with you, I do believe it was love at first sight-”

Loid made a wounded sound but she chose to ignore it.

“-but when I realised you were an assassin my little heart couldn’t take the excitement. We were in need of a mother figure, you were in need of an alibi. I wanted a family. And one where an assassin and spy raised a human experiment could exist, then I was going to achieve it any means necessary.”

“A spy? An assassin?” Yuri choked, staring at the two adults before him. All those years of suspicions about Loid were coming true, but the shock that his sister was a ruthless killer was over powering his internal satisfaction. Anya placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Uncle Yuri, I found out your role because of Papa. He clocked you the first night you met. Something to do with a bottle of wine. I was deep in the throes of childish joy when I found out. It was just another layer to this epic tale. But I couldn’t tell anyone. World peace depended on it.”

Looking back at her parents under her eyelashes, she sniffed back the tears that were beginning to form again.

“I tricked you all into adopting me. I lied about how smart I was so you didn’t replace me with another kid. I really tried my hardest to become friends with Damian so you could get close to Donovan, and it worked in a roundabout way. I want to tell him the truth, he deserves to know. He’s my best friend and I love him dearly. But if I’ve blown your cover and compromised you I’ll leave. I go back to hiding. I’ll try escape over to Westalis where Project Apple can’t find me. I didn’t want to drag you guys into my mess. I promise, I’ll be good.”

She was crying now, hoping they’d let her stay. Yor quickly stood up and embraced her tightly, pouring all her motherly affection into the hug. Anya clutched back at her, savouring what could be her last moments with her mother. She had exposed her. In front of her own brother. She had caused a rift between the two siblings that wouldn’t be so easily fixed. She was a terrible person.

“Anya, you dense, naive child. You brave, brave child.” Yor whispered into her hair, her own tears trickling down her face. “I am never letting you go you understand? You are my daughter. I don’t care how you came into my life, just that you did. I love you too much to let you go on suffering.”

Anya buried her face against her shoulder, sobbing harder.

“I love you too Mama.”

Loid sat with his head in his hands, trying to calm down. His mind was racing more than usual, never having expected the reality slap to hit this hard. It had been difficult when he had found out about Yor. But hearing this child who he had come to love as if she was his own flesh and blood, was experimented on and knew all about his mission? What other truths had she discovered over the years?

Raising his head, he frowned at Anya in confusion. Wait, just-

“-How did you know Anya?” He asked. The girl stiffened as the two Briar siblings looked at her in realisation. She never did say how she knew. “What gave me away that first day? And with Yor?”

“Did I have blood on my coat?” Yor mused, trying to think back to that day so many years ago.

Anya twitched nervously, looking utterly more terrified than before.

“Promise you won’t call Anya a freak?” She whispered, reverting back to her childlike behaviour, flashbacks of the first time ringing in her head. “Promise her that you won’t be mad?”

“Anya, dear. We just want to help. We promise.” Yor soothed, rubbing the younger girl's arms in comfort.

“But that’s what my first family said. And then they kicked me out that night. I don’t want to go back to that.” She whimpered. Loid stood up to join them, enveloping both his girls in a strong embrace.

“We won’t kick you out or call you a freak. We promise.”

She was silent for a while, reading their thoughts to see if they were telling the truth. Yuri was unusually quiet beside them, not daring to breath a word about this interaction to anyone. Eventually she took a deep breath and broke that long ago promise she had made to herself.

“I can read minds.”

Silence.

Of all the things the adults had expected her to say, this wasn’t it. She could see the sudden halt of their minds all at once, before they kicked back into gear, working overtime. Memories of past conversations and interactions swirled around her, all the times they had found her behaviour weird or the unexplained help on their missions. It was dizzying and she staggered in their arms, whimpering at the onslaught.

“Please, don’t think so loud. Hurts.” She gasped, clutching at her head as the headache bloomed. Immediately the thoughts calmed down a smidge, worry overpowering all the internal screaming. Loid led her to a chair which she collapsed into gratefully, as Yuri stuck his head out the office and asked for some water. Yor remained standing, fidgeting with her hands as she recalled all the deaths that Anya had been exposed to through their lines of work, all the terrors she must have seen.

Sipping the offered water gratefully, Anya tried to give her a reassuring smile.

“I didn’t see all that much. I had some close calls, and I helped out where I could. Like that time on the cruise ship. I somehow managed to get your needle back onto the upper deck. It didn’t land where I wanted it to, but it worked out anyway.”

Yor’s face paled even further as she recalled in the incident. Turning her father, Anya continued, “And there was that time when we got Bond. I knew about the terrorists, a split cell from Project Apple. I left the message on the door about the bomb.”

“The pineapple...” Loid murmured, face blank.

“It was an explosion.” She sniffed, before taking another swig of water. “Oh, and speaking of Bond, he could see the future. We had some crazy adventures.”

She smiled fondly at the memories of racing around the city on the back of the giant dog. Part of her wished to return to those simple days of childhood. It would be much better than what was accruing now.

“Mind reading. Dog that could see the future. An assassin. A spy.” Yuri muttered in disbelief, leaning heavily against the wall. She let the adults have their moment, finishing the bottle of water as her nerves began to return.

“So, what happens now?” She eventually asked, breaking the still silence of the room. Her parents exchanged a look with Yuri who sighed, trying to form a plan.

“There’s a lot to discuss. A lot of legal matters to sort through.” He began eventually, looking at them with calculating eyes, “But our main importance is you. I’m gathering Project Apple is the cause of your mind reading? And the dog being able to see the future?”

“Yeah, they were always asking me to test it.” Anya confirmed with a small nod.

“Human experimentation. Weapon manufacturing. They wanted to make child soldiers.” Loid breathed in disgust, looking like he wanted to punch something.

“I’ll kill them.” Yor growled, already reaching for her needles, “I’ll hunt them down and kill them all. How dare they.”

Anya suddenly felt incredibly safe, loved and stupid. Why hadn’t she told them sooner? She should have known that this would be their reaction. Her family loved her, had accepted her from day one despite her flaws.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered, huddling down in her seat. “I should have told you at the beginning. Then maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“No, you did what any kid who’s suffering from PTSD would do.” Yuri huffed, pacing over to the abandoned files on the table. “Now we just need to support you and your decisions. Are you comfortable with me telling the rest of the officers out there about your powers?”

She hesitated.

“No.” Her father said quickly, mind already forming a plan. “It’s best if that’s kept a secret between us.”

“Yeah, I’m not ready.” Anya said slowly, looking between the two men. “And I want to tell my friends first.”

“Okay, fair, we’ll just confirm you were experimented on but nothing came of it apart from some fried brain cells.” Yuri nodded, flicking through the report. “What about the spy and assassin thing? Who do you work for? They’ll need to be involved if they aren’t already.”

“WISE will be already waiting for me to communicate. They’ve been invested in this operation for years. Reports of the SSS interrupting the game and escorting us of the field would have travelled fast.” Loid confirmed before glancing at his quiet wife. She sighed, still ringing her hands.

“The Garden would have been notified too. They were reluctant on our truce as it was. This will make them want to push further into hiding.”

Yuri was looking at them in surprise.

“WISE? The Garden? Those are top names. Just who are you two?”

“Twilight and Thorn Princess.” Anya stated, ignoring the blood draining from their faces. “Best of the best. The hidden shadows of Berlint.”

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Yuri breathed, knuckles whitening as the report crinkled in his grasp. “We are going to have a long talk about all this latter.”

Anya could see the mental explosion happening in his brain and took pity on him.

“They only found out about each other recently. That first threat came around the same time. I thought it was false so they could get me out of the house as they worked through their differences. Could we form some sort of lie that’s based on that?” She asked, satisfied when she saw ideas start sparking.

“Yes, that’s a good idea. This faction of the SSS has been working on Apfel in secret. The guys outside are under strict oath not to talk about it to anyone. Even we don’t fully trust our comrades especially when we realised it tied to the Government. That being said, I won’t tell them about your agencies if you don’t allow it. But if I am able, I would like to work alongside you to aid in this investigation.” Yuri asked.

“Give us a day to talk to them. As Yor said, they weren’t too happy when we found out. To let the SSS know goes against a lot of what we’d planned.”

“Understandable. But for now, we need a cover story as to why we interrupted the game. I’m afraid we made quite the spectacle.”

Anya sat back and listened as the adults talked, feeling one weight lift off her chest but another settling on her shoulders. She was glad it hadn’t gotten violent. Well, at least not in front of her. To be able to finally talk about this was a relief, and it encouraged her to tell her friends later. Their reactions maybe different, but at least if they rejected her she had her family to fall back on.

An hour later she was finally released to go get changed, escorted through the halls by two of the officers. First Sergeant Reinhard Krüger and Master Sergeant Burke Baasch would be her unofficial bodyguards from now on, under the pretence that her life was endanger due to some criminal threat. She was to remain at Eden for the time being, the grounds safer than in the city. She was thoroughly embarrassed about the guards but they had promised to remain a short distance away, and let her continue her social life as usual. That meant no more sneaking out in the middle of the night to talk to the boys. Or sneakily working on Becky’s cipher and resource searching.

After changing and grabbing her gear, she said goodbye to her parents and Yuri, all promising to be more open with each other in the future. The trio headed back to her dorm, getting to know one another slowly. If she was going to have them shadow her at all times, she was at least going to make friends with them.

They were near the entrance to the dorms when a thought struck her.

“Where you going to sleep?”

“Eden has already made arrangements for us close by.” First Sergeant Krüger explained, “There’s a guest house just around the corner that goes unused for most of the year, only when foreign diplomats come to visit.”

“Huh, I had no idea that even existed.” She mused as they rounded the corner. She saw them straight away, lounging on the steps to the dormitory casually. Only one was pacing nervously, and he stopped when he caught sight of her.

“Anya!” He shouted, immediately running over to her, the other two boys jumping to their feet to follow. Damian tried to reach for her, but the officers jumped in front, blocking him from approaching.

“Hey guys, it’s fine! They’re my friends.” She shouted, struggling to get between them.

“Sorry Miss Forger, but your safety comes first.” Master Sergeant Baasch apologised as they stepped aside, bowing slightly to the young heirs. “Apologies young masters. We’ll step aside for you to talk.”

The teens watched as the men backed off into the shadows, giving them some space before they turned to look at one another, worry oozing off the boys.

“Who are they?” Ewen asked stiffly as Damian started frantically checking her over, making sure she was okay. “And what happened at lacrosse? We heard that the SSS interrupted the game and escorted you and your folks away. Did something happen?”

“I’m okay.” She smiled, as Damian’s hands stilled on her face. “It’s true the SSS came. Another threat was intercepted in the mail and they came to make sure I was safe. Those two are my bodyguards for the time being.”

Ewen and Emile both sighed in relief, glad that she had some protection at long last. Damian on the other hand tensed, hands trembling on her cheeks. She looked up at him in surprise, only to flinch when he pinched at her cheek roughly.

“You dolt.” He growled angrily ignoring her squirm of annoyance, “Do you have any idea how worried we were? And to show up with two grown men following you around? Do you realise what that looks like?”

“They’re protecting me!” She cried in defiance, batting his hand away.

“And I couldn’t?”

“Not with this threat level. The SSS had to get involved.”

“Where are they going to stay?”

“In the guest house around the corner. Did you know it even existed?”

He looked like he wanted to say more, but controlled his tongue, snorting in rage. Ewen and Emile wisely stayed quiet, exchanging an amused glance behind his back. As if sensing their humour, Damian stiffened with embarrassment, cheeks flooding red as he realised his actions.

“Fine, you idiot. Just...let us know if anything happens okay? We just want you safe.”

She smiled, stepping forward to hug him tightly.

“Promise.”

He sighed, sinking into her embrace in relief, holding her just as tight. She realised this was the most physical contact they had had since the week before, and snuggled closer, relishing in it. Ewen and Emile snuck away to talk her body guards, no doubt to give them a moment of privacy and interrogate the men on their true intentions.

After a long while they slowly let go of each other, the other two boys now long gone. A quick search around showed the bodyguards had left as well, deeming her safe with the Desmond scion. She yawned, drained from the day’s events. Reaching up to rub at her eye, she looked at Damian tiredly.

“Can we go nap together again?” She asked, enjoying the blush that appeared. He kissed her forehead fondly but shook his head.

“Not with your watch dogs guarding you. Go inside and get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow okay?”

She nodded tiredly, returning his kiss with one of her own before stepping out of his arms and heading up the dorm steps. He waited for her to be safely inside before turning to leave, embarrassment washing over him anew. She had no idea, just trekked into her room and belly flopped on her bed. Her last thoughts before she fell asleep was that she hoped her mother was killing Uncle Yuri right now.

Chapter Text

Sinking against the desk, Anya buried her head in her arms in embarrassment. Yet again people were murmuring about her two shadows, giggling to themselves about the rumours that had been swirling for the last two weeks. The interruption of the lacrosse game had spread like wildfire, and with the only other news drifting around being about the war, the commoner’s drama was far more entertaining. She still hadn’t come up with a proper excuse as to why she was getting threats, but she decided to encourage some of the tales she had heard.

“Did you hear? She angered some mafia boss last year and has since been receiving death threats. Her parents had to practically beg the school to allow her stay, let alone on campus grounds.” One of the girls nearby whispered to her friend.

Ouch, but not a bad lie.

“I heard she ran away from the circus. But it was really a cover for human traffickers. They made her do unspeakable things.” The friend giggled in response, before murmuring, “She does look like a clown anyway.”

Their laughter had her cheeks burning, and she hid further in her uniform. Beside her Becky grit her teeth angrily.

“Stupid bitches. If they knew the truth they wouldn’t be saying that.” She hissed, slamming her bag on the table as she glared at the two girls. Anya winced, cause she still hadn’t told her friends the whole truth herself, never having the right time to explain. They hadn’t pushed her, but she could tell they were curious, especially when she was pulled out of class or when professors stopped to ask how she was doing. The honest answer was that she was still terrified, a bad feeling having stirring in her stomach for the last week. She reasoned she hadn’t told them yet for their safety. The less they knew the better.

“It’s okay Becky. I’ve always been the subject of gossip.” Anya murmured into the table. “I mean I have naturally pink hair. It is kind of freakish.”

“How many times do I have to tell you it’s adorable. I wish I could pull off a colour like that.” Becky sighed, playing with said curls idlily.

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

Becky hummed noncommittally, braiding the strands now in boredom. They were waiting on the professor to begin the last class of the day, already wishing it was over so they could hang out with the boys. They were going to read the response letter Emile had received from the Government, hoping that it would hold some hope. They were all severely doubting it, plans already forming on how retaliate.

Looking back on it, the late arrival of the professor was the first clue. The second being it was a substitute no one recognised. But this was ignored in favour of trying to work through the course material, and waiting for the end of day bell to ring. When it finally did, the class jostled around in animated chatter, all trying to leave the classroom first. It was a beautiful afternoon and the boy’s track team were practising on the field today. If Damian had joined the team this year, she would have joined the group of girls to ogle.

“Miss Forger, can you stay behind for a moment?” The professor called out, halting her conversation with Becky. Glancing at her friend, she looked up at her two bodyguards who were quick to stand beside her.

“Uh, sure.” She said, approaching the desk slowly. Becky waved her goodbye after she said she’d meet them in the main library as planned. The professor shot her a grateful look, rummaging around on the desk for something.

“Thank you. Your Professor Clark called in unexpectedly today due to a sick kid. I was asked to come in last minute. She did say that she had an extra assignment for you, in relation to your efforts to improve your grade. I’m sure I had it here for you...” the professor sighed, having opened his last folder. “Damn, I must have left in the teachers’ lounge. Can you come with me to get it? Then I'll be out of your hair.”

“I don’t see why not.” She shrugged, not seeing any harm in it. That was clue three.

“Awesome. Follow me and we’ll be quick.”

The walk to the teachers' lounge was awkward, the substitute trying to fill the silence by conversing with her bodyguards. Neither really replied, but when they did it was in polite, clipped tones. Eventually they came to the quieter corridors, the lounge only a few hallways away. The uneasy feeling that had been brewing in her stomach began to bubble.

“You know Miss Forger, I’m surprised by your academic results.” The professor suddenly said, his voice ringing off the walls. “With your talents I thought you would have achieved better marks.”

“What do you mean?”

“Surely with that brain of yours you could apply it better to your studies.”

The comment was laced with something that made her panic, but before she comment on it the sound of gun’s safety latch clicking off reached her ears.

“Duck!” First Sergeant Krüger roared, as a shot rang out through the hallway. Anya screamed, ducking as instructed, covering her head with her hands. The professor lunged at her, eyes glinting with malice but Master Sergeant Baasch stepped in before he could reach her, upper cutting the man across the chin.

“Miss Forger we need to get to cover! Now!” Krüger demanded, grabbing her by her arm and hauling her back the way they came as more shots fired. Baasch was returning fire on the men approaching from around the corner, shielding them from behind. They raced back towards the safety of the classrooms, but were soon blocked off by more armed men. Staggering to a halt, Krüger looked around quickly, before using the butt of his own gun to smash a nearby window.

“Quick, out the window.” He said, shaking off his jacket to lie across the glass, turning to help her out. She was suddenly glad for all those nights sneaking into Damian’s room, as she ignored his offered hand and vaulted over the frame as a bullet whizzed past her head. Tumbling out into the courtyard, she rolled across the rough cobblestones before coming to a stop against a well-manicured bush. Shakily getting to her feet, she raced to hide behind it watching as the officers clambered out behind her. Krüger was beelining towards her when Baasch cried out, crumpling against the frame.

“Burke!” His superior yelled in surprise, watching as the other man struggled out the window, their attackers approaching. Making sure Anya was safe, he ran back to help the younger man, who was clutching at his shoulder in agony.

“I’m okay, bastards just clipped my shoulder. They’re not a great shot.” He hissed, before turning to the teen. “Are you okay Miss Forger? Your knees look a little scratched.”

She could have laughed. He was shot and she had a few gravel scrapes, and he was still concerned about her well being. Before she could say anything, the enemy started filing into the courtyard, urging them to run.

“We’ll get you some medical attention soon. Let's get this girl to safety and call for back up.” Krüger growled, helping Anya to her feet and placing her between them, running towards the nearest exit. They ran for a while, ducking incoming bullets and body slamming the occasional random jump attack. Anya was glad the school day had ended, as other students weren’t around to be caught in the crossfire. Surely her friends would be looking for her by now, worried that she hadn’t come back already.

“Shit!” Baasch hissed, lowering his gun in annoyance. “I’m out of ammo.”

“I’ve got one bullet left. We need to find somewhere to hide.” Krüger responded, already looking around for an empty classroom.

“Off the West hall. There’s a supply closest there.” Anya gasped, already moving ahead of the men to lead the way. She was hauled back as another bullet zipped past, scaring her.

“Do not move so recklessly Miss Forger!” Krüger scolded her, using his last bullet to stop the shooter. “We can’t protect you if do something stupid.”

“Sorry.” She gulped, pushing him towards the right corridor. “I just wanted to help.”

He obliged to her shoving, reaching back to grab her arm and pull her behind him. Baasch covered the rear as usual, keeping closer now to shield her from any more stray bullets. Eventually they arrived at the supply closet, and Krüger shoved her in.

“Stay here for a moment, we’ll guard the door. If you hear us fall, climb out the window and get to safety.” He instructed, not entirely happy with situation they were in. Anya did as he said and hid behind one of the spill kits in the room, watching as he closed the door on her. It was dim in the closet, the only light coming in from the rear window that faced out into main pavilion. She held her breath as the shouts outside increased, gun fire being replaced with grunts of pain and bodies breaking. Her heart hammered in her chest when she heard Baasch cry out again. She could feel his horrendous pain as he clutched at his chest, having caught a bullet. She cried out as he collapsed against the door, Krüger shouting in worry with her.

“Burke!”

But no more thoughts came from the fallen man.

“Shit! You’ll pay for that.” Krüger yelled, and she heard him move away to punch whoever had killed his partner. Anya stumbled back from the door, knowing that he wouldn’t last long on his own. Back up was probably on the way, but it’d be too late by the time they arrived. She looked up at the window, determining how to climb out. It was a louvre window, so she could easily wriggle the panes of glass out. Reaching it was another issue.

Moving a couple of buckets into position, she stood on her tip toes as she struggled to remove the glass. It was a bit stuck, having been neglected for a few years, but she eventually got it, dropping them to ground without care if they smashed. There would be a lot of damage to the school grounds today, but her safety was more important. Soon she had a hole big enough for her to wriggle through and she heaved herself up to the ledge. Years of swimming had toned her arms, and lacrosse had helped with her stamina. With the fear coursing through her veins, she easily cleared the frame and began wriggling out.

“Anya, run for it!”

The door smashed open, letting Baasch’s body tumble in as the enemy hurried after her. Krüger was collapsed in the corridor, blood pouring from his head as an assailant held a gun to his temple. He seemed proud that she was already escaping out the window, and with that she jumped out into the pavilion and took off running.

Her legs trembling, she tried to look for an exit route, unsure of where to go. But she was tackled from behind too quickly, a hand coming up to cover her mouth when she tried to scream. Tears falling, she bit on the hand, but instead of releasing her as she’d hoped it just gripped tighter, fingernails scratching at her cheeks.

“Listen to me. If you fight, more people will get hurt. We much rather this go quietly.” They growled, ignoring her attempts to tug away from them. “Come I’m giving you a choice. Either you meet us back here tomorrow night, with all the research you’ve conducted on us and your little friend’s extra study, or we will shoot up the rest of this school looking for you. Try to run and we will make your friends suffer. Do you want that 007?”

She sobbed, trying to scream.

“I’m giving you twenty hours 007. Get me those papers, or your friends die. Choice is yours.”

A rough shove to the middle of her back pushed her forwards and she stumbled before spinning around to look for her attacker. They had disappeared and the gunfire had stopped. She could hear sirens in the far distance but her only concern was for her friends.

The others...

She staggered away, slowly building momentum until she was running again, heading for the main library. She ignored any of the damages around the school, the surprised shouts from lingering students and staff. She just had to make sure her friends were safe.

Barging into the library, she caused a few to jump in surprise, but her eyes only swept over to their favourite desk, relief flooding through her when she saw them there, all staring at her entrance.

“Oh thank god.” She whispered, knees shaking as she hurried towards them. They reacted quickly, seeing her covered in dirt and blood, and by herself, shaking like a leaf. Damian reached her first as usual, catching her when she tripped. She clutched at his jacket in terror, glad when he wrapped his cloak around her protectively as the others circled her, blocking out any curious glances.

“Anya, what the hell happened to you?” He hissed, wiping at the blood on her cheek.

“All my fault. They’re dead because of me. Because of my powers.” She gasped, fresh tears pouring. A librarian hurried over to the group, urging them to hide in one of the spare study rooms.

“Miss Forger, reports are coming in that you and your escorts were attacked. Stay in the back rooms until the all clear is given. I’m putting the library in lock down.” She ushered them away, handing the key to Becky who grimly took the lead. Damian scooped her up as her knees were knocking together too hard, and they quickly hurried down the hallway. Becky ran ahead to unlock the room, holding it open for him, as Ewen and Emile grabbed their gear, racing after them to catch up. Emile immediately took over first aid duties once Anya was situated, but thankfully she was mostly unharmed. Just very shaken.

“All my fault.” She muttered again, tears stinging the tiny cuts on her cheeks. Damian placed his cloak around her, tucking it under her arms. “They’re coming for you next.”

“None of this is your fault Anya,” Becky whispered, stroking the hair off her face soothingly. She clutched the cloak tighter around her, breathing in the lingering cologne. It smelled woody with a hint of lime and ginger. She found herself burying her nose into the fabric, trying to inhale more.

The intercom sounded above them, making her jump in fright, but she soon relaxed as the librarian announced the school lockdown, urging students to hide where they were.

“No, no, no.” Anya gasped, trying to peek out the door way, but Emile kept her face still as he patched up one nasty cut behind her ear. “This wasn’t meant to happen. They’re here because of my powers. Baasch died because of me. Krüger is probably dead too.”

“They did what they were meant to do Anya,” Ewen said firmly, squatting down to look her in the eye, “They protected you until their last breaths. You’re safe here with us because of them. Don’t let their fight be a wasted effort.”

She sobbed, wishing that she could believe him.

“What do you mean by powers Anya?” Damian asked slowly sometime later, having heard her say it for the second time. “Is this related to that secret you never got around to telling us?”

“Yes.” She gasped between sobs, looking up at him through her tears. “All because of the experiments on me as a kid.”

“You were experimented on?” He asked, his voice suddenly cold. It lingered in the air, making the room colder by the minute. The others froze, looking at her in shock.

“Yes, since I was born I think. I was a human experiment for Apfel, the company you found in the ledger.” She confirmed, glancing at Becky as she said this, “I escaped when I was two or three somehow, and ended up in a few orphanages. Papa found and adopted me a few months before I was enrolled here. I’ve been safe with him and Ma ever since.”

“What did they do to you?” Becky breathed, her own hands starting to shake with rage. Emile’s hand had dropped from her wound, as he stared at her in disbelief. Damian looked like he was going to strangle someone, so Ewen placed a firm hand on his shoulder, his own frown deep with worry.

“I don’t remember a lot, but I remember the electrocution. It made my whole body buzz for days. I just wanted to colour, but they said it was for world peace. When they realised their experiments worked, it turned into mental exercises, seeing how much I could read and for how far of a distance. I had so many bloody noses.”

“Mental...” Emile murmured, hands shaking.

“Read?” Ewen pointed out, sharing a quick glance with Becky. Anya nodded.

“I can read minds.”

Again there was silence. But the worry that filled their minds was laced with anger and embarrassment. None of it directed at her.

“Did you hear when I...” Ewen was the first to squeak, blushing as the thoughts crossed his mind again. Surprised, Anya could only let out a laugh before clamping her mouth shut.

“Or when we were...” Becky muttered, her own blush filling her cheeks as she glanced at Ewen again.

“Yes, and I kept my lips sealed about that.” Anya confirmed. She didn’t dare look at Damian, his thoughts short circuiting over everything he had said and done over the years, especially in regards to her. He had his back turned them anyways, a furious blush covering his face and neck.

Emile was the first to snap out of it, letting out a long sigh. “Oh we’re so stupid. Of course you could read minds. You were so obvious about it as kids.”

Becky groaned, covering her face in her hands. “No wonder you’d just stare into the void so much. Or react with that cute squeak when someone thought about you. You could hear us.”

Anya could only chuckle, slightly embarrassed herself. “I didn’t know how to make friends back then. I was only about four. Maybe five.”

That other bombshell slipped out as they all whipped back to look at her.

“It explains her height.” Ewen eventually said before getting back to the matter at hand. “So you escaped all those years ago and have been living peacefully, undisturbed until now. Why have they chosen now to come after you.”

“I dunno. I have a theory, but I’m not sure it’s correct.” Anya started, shuffling in her seat.

“We’re all ears Anya. Tell us everything.”

Slowly she explained about Apfel or Project Apple and their history. About the experiments and the government funding. How the SSS had found out about her and put her in safe keeping in case of an attack like today. There was silence for a moment before Ewen swore under his breath.

“They’re using you. They've allowed you to be free until now because of the war.”

“What?”

“Think about it guys, why let such a valuable asset roam free- no offense Anya-”

“No problem.”

“-but only now decide to capture her? They developed their technology to use in a war, one that finished before they gained any fruit from their labours. And now that the Cold War with the West is breaking further every day, and enemy troops fighting on our lands in the South, now’s the perfect time for them to swoop in and take her back.”

He stopped pacing to turn towards her, pain written all over his face. “They’re using you as a politic chess piece. A pawn- no a rook, that they can sacrifice.”

The teens fell silent as they took in his words, all coming to agree to his statement.

“No, we can’t let them. They can’t take her.” Becky argued, gripping onto her friend’s shoulders tightly. “I’ll fight them all. They can all burn in hell!”

“Becky we’re just a bunch of kids in comparison to them. We need a game plan to protect Anya.” Ewen snapped back, watching as the girls clutched at each other in comfort.

“They gave me twenty hours to decide. They caught me, but let me free. They want all our research on them.” Anya said quietly, tears forming again. Agh, she was so sick of crying. “If I don’t agree, they’ll attack you. I don’t want any of you getting hurt.”

Shit.” Damian hissed, punching at the nearest wall.

The intercom crackled to life again, the librarian confirming the lock down was over, and students were to head back towards their dorms or home. The group stayed quiet for a while, before there was a knock on the door, asking for entry. Emile jumped to his feet to greet them, the others blocking Anya with their taller bodies.

Outside the door Yor and Loid stood, crowding the staff member in worry.

“Anya!” Loid cried, catching a glimpse of her around her friends.

“Papa! Mama!” She responded, jumping to her feet to greet them. She pushed past her shields, running into her parents’ open arms. They clutched her to them in relief and worry, happy that she was safe.

“Thank you all for protecting her.” Loid rasped, looking at the gathered teens.

Emile shook his head. “It was those bodyguards that did most of the work. She came staggering to us about an hour ago. We just kept her company until it was safe.”

“Still, that’s better than we could have hoped for. You’re all such wonderful kids.”

Anya waved goodbye to her friends as her parents scuttled her out of the library, promising them she’d be in contact soon. She didn’t realise until she got to one of WISE’s emergency bunkers that she was still wearing Damian’s cloak.

“Anya dear, I’m glad you’re safe.” Handler said as she entered the room, running a concerned eye over the young girl’s appearance.

“Aunty Sherry.” She murmured in greeting, glad for a familiar face. The older woman crossed over and wrapped her in a strong embrace, sighing in relief.

“First Sergeant Krüger told us everything. Nice work escaping through the window before they could attack.”

“He’s okay?” Anya asked, looking up at her for reassurance. “What about Baasch?”

“Master Sergeant Burke Baasch unfortunately succumbed to his wounds. Krüger is in hospital, suffering from severe injuries, but he will survive. He was very concerned about your wellbeing.”

Tears again, this time in relief that the man had survived. Tears also for the man that didn’t.

“Eden is going to close for a few days to assess the damages and reinforce security. Your Professor Clark was found unconscious in the carpark a little a while ago. She claims to have been attacked by a man matching the first attacker’s description. The SSS has been informed, but thankfully the faction that knows of your past is the one taking control.”

“Yuri made sure that any news that came from the school was passed onto him straight away.” Yor explained, stroking her daughter’s hair. “He was the first to alert us when gunfire was reported. We raced to Eden as quick as possible.”

“But we’re confused as to why such a brazen attack. Why not kidnap you when you were alone? Why all the fighting?” Loid frowned, still puzzling over it.

“It was a show of power. Another threat.” Anya sighed, fisting her hands in the soft material of the cloak. “They did catch me, but gave me an ultimatum. I have twenty, no probably eighteen hours now to act on it.”

“What did they want Anya?”

Slowly she explained to the three adults Ewen’s theory, watching as the colour drained from the women’s cheeks and build in her fathers. Once finished, Loid began to pace, until the Handler reached out to stop him.

“Twilight there’s no use in fighting. Your main concern is getting her to safety. Once that’s done, we can plan an attack. I don’t want her in this city when that happens.”

“But where should we go?” Yor asked with a frown. “We don’t know where they’re based. They could be out of the city limits for all we know.”

“There’s a safe house about four hours from here. Use that as your first stepping stone, before heading towards the border. WISE agents will escort you across, and keep you safe in Westalis for the time being. The fighting that’s going along the border will aid your escape.” Handler responded already turning to leave the room. “I’ll get some supplies ready for you. Be prepared to leave in an hour.”

“Wait, what about my friends! They’ll be attacked if I don’t turn up tomorrow!” Anya cried, making her pause.

“Don’t you worry about them. We’ll have our best agents and the SSS protect them. Especially the young Desmond.” She said with a small smile, watching as Anya clutched at the cloak again.

“Can I at least write them a letter goodbye? I promised I’d be in contact with them once I was safe.” She asked, glancing at her parents.

“Sure, write them a letter. There’s some paper and pens in the draw next to you. Again, be ready in an hour. We leave for Westalis soon.”

Chapter Text

The car ride was quiet aside from the radio, the city lights fast fading in the rear-view mirror. Anya could only stare out into the darkening suburbs, jostling every time they went over a bump. Her mother sat beside her, gripping her hand tightly, trying to pour all her protective comfort into it. Her father focused on the road, knuckles tight against the leather of the steering wheel.

They had packed in a hurry. Well, she did. Her parents had to go bags ready all the time, in case of an emergency like this. She had debated on what was deemed essential for running away, only having what was in her childhood room to choose from. Any of the personal belongings in her dorm room were untouchable for now, and she longed for her chimera plushie she’d had since she was a kid. She had sat on her bed staring at Damian’s Imperial Scholar cloak for a long time, playing with the cords and clasps in thought. It was a source of comfort to her now, but not one she could readily take with her. Eventually she had folded it up neatly and placed it on the kitchen table alongside the individual letters she had written to her friends. Pressing her fingers to her lips, she kissed them lightly before transferring it to the pile, a stray tear trickling down her cheek. She’d see them again one day. She just wished she’d more time.

They joined the motorway heading north, merging in with the late evening traffic looking any other commuter travelling how from the city. They stayed on the main road for about an hour, before Loid indicated right and pulled onto a bypass. It led them down underneath the traffic before popping out on the left, the road taking them west as planned.

Anya sighed, resting her elbow against the door handle, and propping her chin in her free hand. She wanted to cry again, out of grief, anger and frustration, but she had no more tears in her. Instead, her eyes were ring red from rubbing at them, cheeks streaked with faded mascara and eyeliner that she had tried to clear up. Of all the days Becky had convinced her to wear makeup.

“Do you ladies want to pull over for a break soon?” Loid asked as they hit the two-hour mark, somewhere deep in the Ostania countryside. “There’s a small township up a head. We may be able to get a hot meal before continuing.”

“I think that might do us some good.” Yor sighed in agreement, having needed to use the restroom for a while now but to worried to say anything, “What do you think Anya?”

She just hummed in bored agreement, letting all her teenage angst flow through her. She had a right to it, especially in this situation. Her parents cringed slightly, but shared a mutual nod, and before long the car was bathed in the town lights, warm and welcoming.

Finding the local diner, they pulled into a spare park and shut off the car. Anya stepped out with a big stretch and yawn, very tired from the day’s events and journey. Scratching at her arm, she wondered if it would be a good idea to try and nap for the remainder of the journey. Maybe if her Papa told her where exactly they were going, she could offer to drive. He’d shown her the basics in an empty carpark numerous times. Surely on a blank stretch of road she could do the same.

“I can drive the next shift if you want Loid.” Ah damn, her Ma beat her to it. Loid just smiled fondly at his wife and shook his head.

“Thanks for the offer but it’s crucial that I drive. I’m the only one who can access the safehouse after all.”

“But if you get bored, I can drive.” Anya piped in, looking up at him hopefully. He took one look at her tired eyes and dirty face and frowned.

“No.”

She pouted, but knew not to argue. Another time. She’d wear him down.

They were ushered by a friendly barmaid to a free table, who gave them menus and explained the house specials that evening. Once she was gone with their drinks orders, Yor excused herself to the ladies leaving Anya and Loid alone. Ever one to sense her mood, Loid looked at her over the top of his menu.

“How you doing Starlight?” She looked up, blinking in surprise. He hadn’t called her that nickname in years. Even her friends rarely called her that these days and she found she missed it.

“I’m okay I guess.” She said slowly, lowering her menu to look at him. “Sad. Angry. A little scared. But okay.”

“You had a rough day. Well, actually, that may be an understatement.” He mused as she cracked a smile at his blunder, “You experienced a lot today that no child should ever witness. Your mother and I have fought for years to maintain your peace, and we feel like we failed you today. We’re sorry for that.”

She reached across the table to hold his hand, touched at their love for her.

“They were going to come for me eventually. You didn’t fail me, you protected me by subtly training me all these years. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you guys sooner. Maybe we would have been better prepared if I did.”

Yor slid back into her chair at that point, looking between the two quizzically. Loid answered her silent question as he squeezed Anya’s hand.

“You didn’t tell us because you were afraid of abandonment. That’s only fair considering the childhood you experienced. I’m a psychologist. I know these things. I’ve had my fair deal of trauma and I recognize it in you. When we’re safe, we’ll talk on how to manage your PTSD, depression and anxiety. Probably work on your fight or flight response too.”

“Your father is right dear,” Yor smiled, reaching out her own hands to add to their pile. “The three of us are a unit. Now that everything is out in the open and there are no more secrets between us, we can work through our issues together and form a plan for survival. Eventually we’ll return to Berlint and you can reconnect with your friends. I know you see them as found family as well.”

Anya smiled tiredly at them both, overflowing with affection for her parents.

“I love you guys, so, so, so much.”

“And we love you too Starlight.”

Dinner was greasy and filling, and Anya was glad she wasn’t driving as she waddled out of the diner. Patting her stomach with a sigh, she slid back into her seat, fully intent on taking that power nap. She felt a little better after their talk at dinner, and feeling her mother’s hand settle back into hers relaxed her even further. Before long her eyelids fluttered shut, and she was snoring blissfully against the window.

Unfortunately, that didn’t last long.

An almighty smash startled her awake as Loid swore, trying to keep the car under control. They were serving over both lanes, rubber burning against the tarmac as he sped, trying to shake the car behind them. Her mother was resting out the window, gun in hand as she shot at the tyres of the pursuers.

“What’s going on?” Anya yelped, clutching onto the handle above her head, heart hammering in her chest.

“Nothing sweetie, just go back to sleep.” Yor yelped, loading the gun with more ammo before taking another well aimed shot. The car behind them screeched as it lurched to the side, the front right tyre blown open and breaking down. She took another few shots at the driver’s side, huffing in satisfaction when they broke the glass and buried in her target. The car slowed down behind them as it veered off the road, crashing into the ditch running alongside it. Ducking back into the car, she climbed into the damaged passenger seat beside Loid, reloading once more.

Wow, Mama is awesome!

“Anya, I want you to hold on tight and keep your head down. When you sit your driver’s exam, do not follow the example I'm about lead.” Loid warned, already accepting the gun from Yor as she fished another out of the glove box. Anya had always wanted to join her parents on missions, but now she wasn’t so sure if that had been a good idea. Reality was much scarier that Bondman action sequences.

They sped down the backroads, avoiding any of the major highways as they continued to their destination, eyes peeled for any further attacks. Loid took the roads at random, never following a straight path, but eventually they were found again, two cars this time approaching from either direction.

“Shit.” Yor hissed, narrowing her eyes at their strong headlights, “They’re trying to blind you off the road.”

“I’m aware. But I’m better than they are.” Loid hummed, not slowing down for a moment. He slowed down suddenly, enough to change into a lower gear, and as the other two cars came closer, he seemed like a sitting duck. They tried to box him in both picking up speed to pin him, but at the last second, he spun out, driving off the road and into the empty paddock, causing a spectacular crash behind him. They chugged along the rough dirt for a bit, before popping up on another road, struggling a bit over the ditch, but maintaining their sped. Loid stabilised the car, shifted back into gear and continued on as if nothing had happened. Anya was in awe.

Papa is so cool.

They drove on for a while, before finally the backroads ran out and they had to join the highway again. Loid swore grumpily at this, but reduced his speed to comply with the traffic laws, not wanting to be targeted further. Yor kept a tight grip on her handgun, checking all blind spots regularly. They all groaned where headlights flashed in their review, a car catching up to them quickly.

“Seriously, how do they keep finding us?” Anya exclaimed, turning to look at the approaching vehicle.

“They must have a tracking device planted somewhere. Maybe on the car or on you Anya.”

“But I changed out of my uniform when I got home! I haven’t brought anything from school with me either.” She protested as suddenly Yor groaned from up front.

“It’s me. I helped a lady in the bathroom at the restaurant and she patted my arm in thanks. This little fucker was planted on me.” She spat, pulling a small circular device from the folds of her blouse. “I’m sorry you two. I should have been more aware.”

“It’s okay Yor. Just toss it out the window as far out as you can so it doesn’t get caught on the car.” Loid soothed, watching as she struggled to wind down the window to do just that. Anya watched as she chucked it quickly at the oncoming car, who was now dangerously close to them.

“It might be too late though Papa. What are we going to do about them?” She asked, watching as the passenger window rolled down.

“They want you alive. They won’t harm us too seriously to achieve that goal. You are to stay down and safe. Leave this to your mother and I.”

Grumbling, she did as she was told, but she was unable to stop shaking. Gunfire sounded from behind, as the attackers aimed for their tyres like they had before. Loid swerved across all lanes, glad there was hardly any other traffic and wishing for more at the same time. Yor leaned back out the window and fired in response, getting a few more targeted hits than they did. Again, she won, causing the car to spin out of control and into the barricade.

“Go, go, go Loid!” She instructed, jumping back in. They raced down the highway for the off ramp but their victory was short lived. Out of nowhere another car appeared from in front of them, ramming into the side of their car with enough force to flip it. Anya screamed as her world tumbled around her, vaguely aware of her head hitting the window and her parents own pained yells of surprise. They tumbled down the road, landing with a screeching halt of metal against asphalt as the roof of their buckled in. Hanging upside down and feeling incredibly sore, Anya blinked at her surroundings.

There was glass everywhere, ranging from shards buried in the seat beside her to little slithers dusting her clothes. There was an unpleasant smell of smoke, and she realised that the car was about to catch on fire. She was seeing double of everything, each image slipping and sliding against each other in an unpleasant tide. She could feel blood trickling down her face from somewhere, and her leg felt horribly pinched. She left arm seemed to be dislocated, and she reached up to pop it back into place with a pained groan. The action made her want to throw up, but she held it in, closing her eyes in pain.

“...Anya...”

The world hadn’t stopped ringing. She could still hear the faint music from the radio, garbled now but someone was crooning away. Her parents were shuffling about in front of her, both their thoughts echoing their own injuries. But their main concern was her.

“...gotta go. Now.”

Her father was beside her now, blonde hair matted with blood, a distinct glaze in his eyes. He was helping her unbuckle her seatbelt, gently lowering her to the ground. Her mother was outside the car, uncarring of the flames now licking at the bonnet, barking at anyone who dared to approach. The car that had crashed into them was steaming a little way behind them, but more perfectly intact cars were closing in. She started firing at those who tried to approach, aiming to kill like always.

“...Anya, can you...me?”

“What?” She groaned, squinting up at her father. He looked worried, before turning to shout something at Yor. She yelled back in response, hurrying over to shield them. Her father scooped her up in his arms, staggering off towards the embankment as Yor brought up the rear, taking a shot every now and then. The car was now fully engulfed in fire, the other one looking not far behind. They managed to escape off the road and into the nearby pasture, hiding amongst the foliage that lined it for now.

“...bad...concussion....bleeding...”

“...safety...not here...need to run...”

She was slowly starting to piece together the conversation they were having, but when she struggled to stand her leg buckled, and the vomit lurched from her mouth. Her father quickly jumped to help her, his own injuries screaming at him to stop.

“I’m out of ammo Loid!” Yor whispered, chucking the gun to the side. He frowned, looking at his own cartridge.

“I’m nearly out too. I can get in a few more shots, but it won’t be enough. We’re going to have to go down fighting Yor. Take as many out as you can. WISE should have been alerted to the attacks by now, and should be enroute. If we can hold on until then, then we’ve won.”

Yor grimaced, already favouring her bad leg but hobbled towards him readily. Kissing him determinedly on the mouth for what could be the last time, they took in each other’s wishes for safety and love before moving to protect Anya.

“Anya love, stay hidden. We’ll be back soon okay?”

With that they burst out of the tree line and ran to attack those waiting for them. It was a while before Anya felt strong enough to move, shakily getting to her feet to watch from behind the trees. She couldn’t tell if it was because of her injuries, or if it was because it was so close to the new moon, but she couldn’t hear anyone's thoughts from so far away. Her parents fought beautiful, a well-oiled pair that had been seemingly working together for years.

Yor punched a man across the face before spinning to stab the leg of the attacker to her left. Wrenching out her needles, she ducked under Loid’s outstretched arms and pierced the lungs of an assailant that had appeared in his blind spot. In turn, Loid shot down the one aiming for her exposed back, before turning to cover her flank as the one she had punched staggered to his feet. In all there were about twenty other villains trying to take them down and he recognised a few as corrupt SSS officers. That would explain on how they were tracked and attacked so easily. A bunch of mad scientists wouldn’t dare use this approach. They had to send someone else in to do their dirty work.

With a flurry of kicks and punches, the two parents defended their daughter despite their serious injuries from the crash, trying to make sure neither hindered the other. They managed to whittle down the group to about eight, when Loid chucked his gun away, having run out of ammo long ago, the butt smeared with blood.

“These bastards don’t stop, do they dear?” He panted, flicking out the switchblades he rarely used from the sheath at his side. Yor’s eyes widened at the sight of them, a dark flush spreading across her cheeks.

“Did you always carry those on you?” She murmured, and he shot her an amused look.

“You can be turned on later. Now aim to your three o’clock and throw.”

They succeeded in killing or knocking out a few more attackers, before an unexpected shot rang out and hit Yor in the stomach. With a grunt, she collapsed heavily, clutching at her wound in pain.

“Yor!” Loid roared, turning in the direct the shot had come from. Another set of cars had pulled up, and a tall man stood in the shadows of the door, gun in hand.

“That’s quite enough of this. Men, find the girl and seize her. I want her in the back of the van in no less than five minutes. Their reinforcements are unfortunately on their way.” He drawled before aiming the gun at Loid. “And you Twilight, will sit out.”

Anya couldn’t help but scream as another shot rang out, hitting her father square in the chest. He too fell to the ground, and she couldn’t tell if either of her parents were alive.

“Mama! Papa!” She screamed, her voice hoarse with the effort. Unfortunately that alerted the men to where she was hiding and they scrambled down the embankment towards her. She staggered away from the tree, but she was too stiff and slow, the day’s travel and attacks all catching up to her. She made it no further than ten metres before she was tackled, sobbing into the dirt. The assailants gagged and bound her, hefting her up over a strong shoulder and carried her back up to the road. They passed Loid and Yor’s crumpled, bleeding forms and she tried crying out for them again. Loid managed to raise his head, feebly trying to reach towards her.

“Anya.” He croaked, tears pouring down his face as she struggled to get to him. She screamed for him in terror, glad he was alive but knowing he might not survive. Her mother moved slightly beside him, unable to get up from the tarmac. Anya got one last look at their battered forms, framed in the firelight of the wrecked cars before she was thrown into the back of a van. Her injured shoulder banged roughly against the side and her screams turned to ones of pain.

“Ah shut up.” A fist swung at her temple and she collapsed backwards, seeing nothing more but rapidly approaching darkness.

Chapter Text

Pain.

A dull, throbbing pain is what roused Anya from a dreamless state. Groaning at the sensation, she was unwilling to open her eyes. A dirty tasting rag covered her mouth, and her hands and feet felt numb. Panic washed over her and her eyes snapped open in fear, though she instantly regretted it, as the world spun and bile rose in her throat. Gagging, she clenched her eyes shut again, but it was too late. Vomit hit the cloth barricading her mouth and she choked, struggling to breathe as it went up her nose and stayed on her tongue. Tears welled up as she coughed, unable to stop it.

“Shit, help the girl. She’ll suffocate.” A voice snapped from nearby and she felt rather than saw a rough hand grab at her face, removing the gag. Vomit spilled out into their hands, tracking down her neck and chest, and they whined in disgust.

“Stop complaining and clean her up. We just got her back. The boss will be pissed if she dies.”

A cloth was wiped angrily across her mess, but Anya could still feel chunks of dinner up her nose. She sneezed, trying to clear her airways.

“Ew.” The captor grunted, but wiped her nose clean too.

Her head was pounding. She could feel dried blood against her scalp and on the side of her face, cracking with every small movement she made. Her arm was screaming at her, probably severely bruised from earlier, and she realised that all she could feel of her legs was painful static, most likely from how she was sitting. She tried to shuffle around to get the blood pumping again, but was roughly pushed back by her guard.

“Stay still. Can’t let you get any more injuries.”

And who’s fault was that?! She mentally screamed at them, suddenly remembering the attack. Fresh tears stung at the corner of her eyes, but she held them back. Anya hated feeling like a damsel in distress, especially when so many people had been hurt because of her. She needed to work on her fight or flight, just like her father had suggested. She needed to fight her own battles. Avenge those who had died for her.

A pang travelled through her heart as she thought of her parents. Last she had seen they were bleeding out in the middle of the road, surrounded by the enemy. Their terrified faces as she was carried off screaming would haunt her dreams for years to come, her inability to help wounding her soul. Were they alive? How injured were they? Did WISE get to them in time? Were they looking for her?

And what of her friends? Would they know what had happened to her? The letters she had just written to them explaining she was safe were now filled with false hope and promises. Was the crash reported on the news? It was rather spectacular. Would they connect the dots and realise it was her?

The van turned, and the sounds of crunching gravel beneath the wheels filled her ears. They bumped along for a few minutes, taking sharp corners at speeds she didn’t think were truly acceptable. One particular turn had her thrown against the side of the van roughly, making her hiss between her teeth as pain bloomed fresh in her injured shoulder. Whoever was driving surely hadn’t passed their practical exam.

She almost sighed in relief when the gravel changed to smooth tarmac, the van slowing down a smidge as it neared its destination. Eventually they rolled to a stop, the engine still idling as the driver shouted at someone outside the car. There was muted whirring sound, and Anya realised they were at a security gate, awaiting entrance. Heart thudding with dread, she gulped as the van lurched forward again, rolling into the compound.

Struggling, she opened her eyes, blinking through the dizziness to focus on whose around her. In the dim light, she made out two unknown men in the van with her, both armed with pistols and a baton at their waists. They were staring into space, not paying attention to her as they relaxed their guard. No uniforms present to show whom they worked for, but she caught the glint of silver on both their right hands, and a shiver raced down her spine. She didn’t need a closer look to know those rings bore the emblem of Apfel.

The van finally stopped, ignition switching off and the two men braced themselves beside her. Footsteps sounded around the vehicle, and the door swung open, letting enough light for her to wince. Her pounding headache really didn’t appreciate that. A figure urged for them to exit, and Anya found herself being picked up again, dangling from the men’s arms helplessly as they climbed out the door. Once outside she was swung back over one of the guard’s shoulders like a sack of spuds, and she tried to hit out at him weakly. A sharp cuff to the wound on her head quickly made her stop.

“Quit squirming 007.”

Oh.

That name.

She really was back then wasn’t she.

Anya trembled in fear as she was carried into the tall building, no distinguishable features showing in the dark night. The faintest sliver of the waxing moon hung in the sky and she knew that her powers would be gone in the next day or two. Hopefully whatever testing they were planning to do they would hold off until after that. Give her time to rest and heal a little.

Bright artificial light welcomed her into the building, as she listened as a group of scientists greeted the guards as they entered. Miffed she couldn’t face her opponents, she slouched against her captor’s shoulder, digging her elbows into his back unpleasantly. He jerked his hold on her roughly, threatening to drop her, but she bit back her yelp, wishing he’d do just that. Maybe if she pressed harder.

Or... she realised where her legs were hanging, having finally revived the blood flow to them. She was shorter than most, but her feet still brushed against his belt. If I just...

Omph!” The guard groaned, dropping her in favour of clutching at his crotch, staggering in pain. Feeling triumphant she landed with a painful crash, but rolled away quickly to the side. She knew she couldn’t go anywhere, but she was going to cause as much trouble as she could while she was here at least. Scooting into a sitting position, she leaned against the wall as the other guards advanced on her, one stopping to help their fallen friend.

“Stop, leave her be.” A voice snapped from the scientists, and guards grumbled to a stop. A man dressed in perfectly creased, beige slacks and a cream colour shirt tucked under a lab coat, parted the crowd as he approached. Anya shivered when she caught sight of him, long forgotten memories bombarding her mind. He came to a stop in front of her, before crouching down to her level, staring at her snarl.

“Well 007. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” He greeted as if finding a lost toy. She spat at him, satisfied when it hit his cheek. Ewen teaching her how to launch her loogies when they were ten had suddenly come in handy. The scientist just heaved a deep sigh through his nostrils, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe his face clean. Anya expected him to slap her but instead he just smiled coldly.

“I see we’ve learned some new tricks. Tell me, what else have you learnt in your years of freedom?”

Anya watched with cold dread as he got back to his feet, turning to bark some orders at those around him. They immediately went to action, hauling her up again and dragging her down the hallway. Of course, she fought, screaming obscenities at them that would make Ewen and Becky proud, and her father have a heart attack, but the grip on her arms was iron wrought. Down corridors and up flights of stairs she was lead, kicking and screaming the whole way. She tried to memorise just where they were going, but she was too exhausted and weak to take it all in.

Eventually they arrived at a familiar wing and she kicked into overdrive as she realised where they were going.

Already! She panicked, screaming with everything she had in her. I just got here and they’re testing me already?!

The door to the testing labs banged open and she greeted those inside with a furious howl. They cringed but remained steadfast, pushing her into the cold iron chair. A few held her down, while another untied her legs, grasping her ankles firmly as she kicked out violently. One foot met the sweet under spot of someone’s chin before getting clamped into its brace. The other unfortunately missed before meeting the same fate. Her hands were next and she tried to remember her Ma’s training, aiming for the back of elbows and wrists, but despite her punches landing her arms were soon strapped to the seat. She tried to bite, grinning around the flesh of the poor soul who had tried to gag her again. Damian had screamed just like that when they were eight and he wouldn’t let go of her doll.

The gag was shoved in her mouth, knocking at her teeth and the leather band wrapped around her forehead, holding her place against the chair. Wires were attached to her temples and exposed arms, hands creeping down her top to place them on her chest. She braced herself for the first bolt, knowing they only shocked her a few times to make her body go numb and more resilient. Still when it finally zapped at her veins, it was as unwelcome as ever, her scream stifled by the gag.

“Again. Higher voltage. She’s fighting too much.” The man from earlier demanded, glaring at her over the machine. Panting she glared back at him, refusing to close her eyes as another bolt of electricity arched through her body.

Dr Francis Dreher.

She fought she’d seen the last of him when she was three. How she would have loved to spend the rest of her life never laying eyes on him again. He had changed over the years, having added more wrinkles from age than from frustrations with her. The greys in his hair shone in the dim lights of the lab equipment, overtaking the natural black it had been when he was younger. But his eyes, dark brown and shallow, had not changed, still shinning with an unnerving coldness.

He had been the one to force her to study, day in and day out, repeating the electrotherapy testing until his heart was content. He had been amongst the team when they learned she could read minds, and it had been the only day she had seen him smile happily. It had turned her veins to ice and she wished never to witness it again. Now, back in his grasp, she vowed to do anything and everything possible to be an inconvenience to him.

Another long bolt of electricity flowed through her, and she gritted her teeth in pain. The edges of her vision were beginning to fade, and the world was titling slightly. She was too weak, all the trauma from the day piling on her. Geez, how long had it been since the first attack? How long had she been out cold in the van? With how high the moon had been in the sky she summarised it must be around one am at least. About ten hours since she unwittingly followed the substitute into a trap, causing Baasch to die. She should have been in the safe house now, perfectly safe with her Ma and Papa, thinking only about her upcoming trip across the border. But now she was suffering, trembling with every bolt that filled her body.

“Give her the meds. She won’t resist.” Dr Dreher ordered, and she watched helplessly as a nurse scuttled forward, needle in hand. Anya couldn’t even flinch as it entered her vein, it's clear contents surging into her system. There were hands unbuckling the strap around her head, peeling the damp leather off her sweaty brow. The gag was removed from between her teeth, and she cracked her jaw uncomfortably. The wires were removed around her temple, replaced with darker ones and metal helmet was place on her head. It was slightly too small, having been made when she was a child, and the scientists tsked at their own incompetence, realising too late. Anya fought back a sigh, hoping this would delay the testing.

But it was too late. The drugs had entered her system and her body was buzzing with the electricity. Stepping forward towards the writing desk, Dr Dreher picked up his notebook and pen and approached her.

“Alright. Let’s begin.” He said, looking at the first item on his checklist. “What is your name?”

“Anya Forger.”

A shock.

“What is your name?”

“Anya. Forger.”

Another shock. Slightly higher in volts.

“Again, what. Is. Your. Name.”

“An-ya. For-ger.”

She yelped at the next one, tears stinging. Dr Dreher did not look impressed.

“We can do this all night you know. You’ve spent years outside our reach and we’re not going to let up now that you’re back. So, comply to us and you’ll be allowed to rest. And again, WHAT. IS. YOUR. NAME?”

She whimpered, refusing to give in.

“My name is Anya Forger.”

Her screamed bounced around the hallways for all to hear, hurt but filled with pride. She was not going down without a fight.

________________________________________________________________________________

“...Protests in the square are in their third day now, as the fighting in the south moves eastward. Ostania troops have been told not to engage, but to redirect, urging the surrounding villagers from their homes and to safety. Community centers in the city are becoming over run, as refugees are filing in, trying to find shelter from the devastation. The protestors are calling for the Government to act, claiming that the battle between Magyar and Österreich is heavily influencing the brewing tension at the Iron Wall, as reports of fights along the border to the West are coming in fast and heavy.

‘We just want peace! Help our citizens with their official rights and reclaim the lands that belongs to them! The fighting has been going on for far too long, and we deserve an era of peace, without the struggle of political conflict being shoved down our throats!’

Parliament has been meeting daily to discuss the matter at hand, and the State Security Service have been working overtime to control the crowds. While peaceful for now, they are growing tired of the lack of response, and it’s unclear as to what might happen...”

The television shut off causing Anya to sigh. The cold press of an icepack against her brow startled her, but she leaned into it, absorbing its soothing presence as her eyes closed.

“Oh 007. They really did a number on you today didn’t they?” Her old nursed hummed, dabbing at the burnt skin around her temples. Anya only grunted in agreement, too shattered to really reply.

It’d been about five days since she arrived and she had barely slept in that time. Her first night was torturous, as she refused to bend to their will for hours. Her body held so much electricity she kept accidentally zapping anyone around her, and she was amazed she hadn’t gone brain dead from it all. Eventually they had given up, shoving her in her old room to rest, where she had cried quietly until dawn. By the time they came back for her, her powers were gone, locked away until the moon reappeared. They had been angry at her, especially when she pointed out it was their own fault for kidnapping at such a stupid time of the Luna cycle, but it had allowed a few days of rest. Instead they had gone over her academic abilities and fitness levels, updating her statistics. Dr Dreher was furious any time she saw him, but his anger did nothing to rival her own. He would have to kill her before she revealed any secrets, and she knew that would never happen. She was too valuable to them.

Once the moon began to shine again, she had been whipped back into the chair, helmet now resized and sitting on her crown. The drugs hinder her ability to fight, and she had reluctantly given them answers to the tests they ran. It had taken days, but eventually they won when she responded to 007, too tired to fight it for now. But she would never forget her name. She would wear it like a badge with pride. She was just biding her time for when she would scream it in their faces as she escaped this hell hole. She will not be here long.

“Dr Dreher wants you back in fifteen minutes.” The nurse stated, soothing some balm across her injuries. Her left arm was a righteous purple that travelled part way up her neck and down across her pectoral, tender after hours of neglect and further damage. It hurt to move but the joint was back in place, and she was finally out of the sling that had tugged at the hairs on the nape of her neck. Her left leg wasn’t much better, having suffered a long laceration she didn’t notice until bathing the next day. The bruising around it the raw red ridges was a rainbow of blues and greens, and she marvelled at the fact it hadn’t drawn blood. She was still unsteady, the rope marks highlighted against her ankles as her circulation slowly returned to her feet. Her wrists were a little better, but chaffed from the constant tugging on the straps of the chair. She was pale, eyes dark with held in pain and shadowed with bags no teenager should have. The burn marks that speckled her skin were sure to scar and she found herself picking at them occasionally, watching the blood run free in boredom.

But she was alive.

“Come on deary, let's get you ready.”

She was donned in another thin lab dress, allowing the nurse to tie up the back where she couldn’t reach. While not the parchment like scrubs she had to wear when she went to the hospital, the dress was a little freer and modest. It fell just above her knees and she practiced her self-defense in it just to see how far the material would give. Surprisingly it hadn’t torn until she attempted one flying kick and landed heavily against the side of her bed, catching the fabric against the springs. Her butt had ached from that fall, but the scientists and doctors wrote off her limp to her injured leg.

Anya followed the nurse down the hall back to the testing room, already deciding that while she would cooperate today, it wouldn’t be too willingly. She really just wanted to curl back up in bed and sleep.

Opening the doors to the room, the nurse waved her inside, before shutting her in with no chance to escape. Dully she prodded over to the chair, flopping into it dramatically. Holding her wrists up and out and shuffling her feet apart, she let them tie her in.

“You know, in some parts of the country this would be considered foreplay.” She mused, watching with some amusement as the hands on her stilled.

“Don’t be crass 007. We’re just doing this for your own protection.”

“Protection, did you bring any?”

The boys would be so proud of her right now.

She grinned past the slap she received, spitting out the blood that filled her mouth. Dr Dreher entered the room, oblivious to her impishness.

“007, good afternoon. I hope you had a good lunch break.” He said, eyes still darting across the reports in hand.

“I was feed. Wouldn’t recommend it.” She drawled, shrugging an uncaring shoulder. He just hummed at her comment before flicking over a page and grabbing a pen. Starting towards the machines again, he tapped some buttons before a blurry image of her brain came up, watching as the reds pulsed and waned.

“Okay, from where we left off. We’re going to test just how far your mind can reach. Dr. Wendell will step out of the room, and go down the hallway to the next spare one. Please focus on him and tell me what he’s thinking about.”

She watched with bored eyes as said scientist left the room, his thoughts already jumping from one topic to the next. She stayed with him as he hustled down the hall and to the left, opening up the room and staring into space. His thoughts ranged from the test to the news, but as the time ticked on and he continued to wait, he thought about the tuna salad sandwich his wife had made him for lunch and how he wondered what mayonnaise she’d used. Anya couldn’t help but to laugh.

“Hmmm, what’s so amusing 007?” Dr Dreher asked, observing the colourful explosion happening on screen.

“Tuna salad.” She replied with a giggle. He frowned before ordering someone to bring Dr. Wendell back in, and when the man returned, he sheepishly confirmed he had been thinking about his lunch. Sighing, Dr Dreher marked it down, mentally complaining about how the man was as useless as Daybreak, but was ultimately satisfied with the result.

“Okay, next test. Dr. Bergmann went out onto the grounds today, and buried something on the compound. Read her mind and find out what it was.”

Anya didn’t even need to focus on the lady in question, just huffing out a sigh as she reclined back in the chair.

“A silver dollar, under the willow at the creek, near the west gate. The ground was hard so she could dig about a foot down.”

More scribbling as her brain shone with more reds. She was more focused on those, interested to see what would happen with each answer. As much as she hated the testing and torture, watching the colour dance across the screen was fascinating.

This continued for a while, with the questions getting more and more drivel each time. Eventually they were interrupted by a knock at the door, just Anya tried to stifle a yawn. They had barely zapped her this time round. She was struggling to stay awake.

“Dr Dreher, there’s an emergency phone call for you. Something to do with the summit?”

He swore in annoyance, throwing the reports down on the table.

“Can’t they go at least one day without needing my input?” He growled before turning to the other occupants in the room. “We’ll finish up for today. Knowing those fools, I’ll be stuck for hours in a phone conference. Dr Bergmann, type out my notes. I’ll need to fax them through to the investor later.”

That caused Anya to perk up. Investor? Summit? They were preparing for something? She suddenly wanted to find out more.

“What’s the summit?” She asked curiously, watching as he started for the door.

“You’ll find out soon enough 007. Now go rest and continue your political studies. Observe as much of the news reports as you can. We will continue testing in the morning.” He called over his shoulder before leaving the room with a bang.

Anya was soon released from her shackles, hoping to her feet to wriggle the numbness out of her body. Stretching painfully, she followed the nurses out of the room and back to her cell. Once she was alone, she donned a light robe over her dress and headed towards her desk. Shifting her studies aside, she pulled out a piece of paper that she had hidden from the always observing eyes. Scribbling on it, she wrote down what she had learnt today to her list.

No other experiments on grounds, just me

Staff reduced due to funding. Money very tight

Conflict between Dr Dreher and main investor. Who runs this organisation?

Unclear. No one knows confirmed answer

Government hoping for clear results soon. Must continue hindering testing

Scientists are just as bored as I am. Should start a fight again

Summit soon? With investors? Find out more

Chapter Text

Inhale.

Moss, warm from the morning sun and damp from the rain. The sharp, sweet scent of pine needles, mixed with the earthy richness of the fungi littered around the log. Sticky sap that oozed with the smell of resin and curiously...balsamic? The acrid sting of cigarette smoke curling in the breeze. The nauseating scent of charred skin.

Exhale

The rain hung to her like a lover, dripping down her neck and collarbones as she titled her head to the skies, enjoying its warm contact. Her toes curled into the damp soil, squelching slightly in the growing mud, hands gripping the rough bark of the fallen log beneath her fingertips. Keeping her eyes closed, Anya tried to absorb as much of the outside word as she could, before she was inevitably dragged back inside and to the chair. When they had released her for her daily walk around the grounds, she had been at first disappointed that it had been raining, thinking that they would haul her back inside straight away. But the guard escorting her had simply handed her an umbrella and told her to move.

Eager to feel something other than pain, she’d run out into the rain, chucking the umbrella at the first chance she got. She had stumbled down to the pine tree grove that sat at the base of the hill, collapsing against the log with a sigh and simply existed. No testing, no mind games, no political interrogations. Just her, the earth and the sky.

It’d been weeks since she had been able to simply relax, having been confined to the lab for hours of mind-numbing examinations. Dr Dreher had been pleased with whatever progress they had apparently been making at first, but after the first two weeks he’d gotten bored, instead wondering if her mind would reveal other cognitive functions. The electrocution had been dialled up higher and for longer bouts, as he demanded she try different things. Could she lift this apple with her mind? Could she throw this object across the room mentally? Could she impose her own thoughts or hypnotic suggestions on his colleagues? When none of that yielded any results, he had been furious but continued torturing her into trying. He claimed that they had given her the power to read minds, so it was possible they could give her more. She was theirs, nothing more than a test subject that they would use, and use, and use until she broke.

Anya had thought about running away. All too often. There were nights where she’d lay awake, too twitchy to rest, as she stared the ceiling and plotted plan after plan. Run away during one of her walks and hide in the forest until it was safe. Escape in the back of one of the vans out of the compound, then hijack the vehicle when they least expected it and drive back to the city. Grab one of the batons or guns the guards carried and shoot the place up injuring as many as possible. Set the lab on fire, and watch as they all burned trying to safe their years and years' worth of research, before realising she had trapped them in. Create a bomb from some of the janitor’s cleaning materials and let them all die together in an atomic explosion.

Honestly, the more wired she was, the worst the ideas got. Her apathy for those around her continued to diminish with each passing day, even the kind old nurse who helped her eat or changed the dressings on her injuries. When she fought the guards, biting and scratching, she rejoiced as they cried, satisfied they were getting a little taste of the same pain she was feeling.

She wrinkled her nose as another waft of smoke hit it, frowning slightly as she remembered her guard. Reality was she was weak, and far too injured to go far or do anything. Though her wounds from the car crash had begun to heal, the ones gained from the beatings and electroconvulsive therapy were fresh. One particularly tender burn pulsed on her temple and she tried to let the soothing feel of the drizzle caress it more. She was just one, small teenage girl. She was too easily over powered no matter how hard she fought. Her head ached at the mere effort of picking up a fork to eat, and her hands and legs trembled from the electricity running rampant through her veins. She had shocked herself by accident too many times to count, and it had gotten so bad she had taken to dragging her mattress of the metal bedframe and sleeping on the floor. When she did sleep, Anya’s dreams varied from the longing for the comfort of her friends and family, their gentle embraces and kisses soothing her brow, to terrors about the chair, the leather chaffing her skin as volt after volt flooded her brain, until she was nothing more than a puppet with the strings cut loose. Either way, she’d always wake up crying.

“Right kid, time to go back.” The guard grunted, squishing his finished cigarette beneath his foot into the tree litter. She frowned, not wanting to go, but he simply grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet. Grumbling, she wrenched her arm away, straightening her posture and daring him to hit her. He was tempted but just jerked his hand towards the compound, signalling for her to get moving. Exhaling heavily through her nose, she brushed back a wet trendle of hair from her eyes but started back up the hill, going as slow as she possibly could. An hour was far too short to ease her troubles.

They reached the doors too quickly, and she was ushered inside with the annoyed clicking of a tongue, hands roughly grabbing at her drenched clothing as soon as she was in some sort of privacy of only the female guards. They left her shivering in the room for a few minutes, before turning with a scratchy towel and another dress. She had originally wondered why they were so thin, but the answer had come after her first day in captivity, as she was released from the chair soaked in sweat and blood, feeling faint as her body temperature tried to regulate. One of the nurses tried to towel dry her curls, and she thought of how dismayed Becky would be if she could see the state of it now. So much for a ten-step hair routine.

They forced her to eat a dry sandwich and scull about a litre of water, insisting that she stay somewhat hydrated, before she was pushed back into the testing room for the afternoon. Stomach sloshing uncomfortable with the liquid, she dragged her feet towards the chair, and settled in it with a sigh. Dr Dreher was already there, busy scratching away at his notes, forehead permanently wrinkled in a frown. He was muttering something under his breath, and she tuned in curiously, wondering what had gotten him so riled up.

...Have to meet with them soon. Director Protz is demanding that we find something conclusive as of yesterday. Haven’t had time to prepare 007 for the summit. Need to start that today. See how much she’s retained from her studies, maybe another test tomorrow? Ugh, no. Her last results are deplorable. Need to work that NOW.

“007, how much do you remember from your politic tests?” He asked a loud, making her frown.

“What do you want to know?” She asked cautiously. She wasn’t strapped in yet, so he couldn’t shock her. He groaned, running a hand down his face.

“Nevermind. We’re going to the Blue room. Follow the guard out.”

Well, this was new. Hopping down from the chair, she followed the guard out in confusion. The Blue room was where she use to do all her academic studies. It was boring and small, but it had one small window that let in actual sunshine. The walls were filled with scientific posters with terminology that boggled her mind and diagrams of the anatomy that made her queasy. As a child she had tried to fill the room with colourful drawings instead, placing them all over the posters. She even tried to appease the scientists with crudely recreating some parts of the posters, but they had taken one look at her masterpieces and torn them apart. When she tried to make something more permanent and drawn directly on the wall, she had gotten the worst beating of her young life. If she remembered correctly, that had been just before she escaped. She wondered if the small chimera she had drawn behind one of the blandest posters still remained.

Turning down the corridor, she shuffled along in silence, trying to listen in on everyone’s thoughts. The mention of the upcoming summit was repeated a lot and she was growing more and more curious as to what it was. She had a key part in it apparently, and it was beneficial that she performed well.

“What’s the summit?” Anya asked again, swinging her arms by her sides as she skipped up to the guard casually. She found that if she acted more childish, they relaxed, seeing her as the young three-year-old test subject yet again.

“An event happening next week, after the new moon thankfully. The Director and Dr Dreher will be taking you to see some colleagues and showcase what you’ve learnt.” They responded, glancing down at her. She blinked up at them, making sure her eyes were large and round.

“You mean with my mind reading?”

“Yes.”

“And I get to leave the compound to go see these people?”

“Ah yes. The summit is back in Berlint so you’ll have to be there. The Director doesn’t want some of the guests at the compound anyway, saying that they’re undignified.”

Interesting. Anya thanked the guard and skipped ahead of him, beelining for the Blue room like a good experiment should. But her mind was brewing. They needed her. She was pivotal. It seemed like this was their once chance to prove something or they’d be in ruins. If she failed, then they’d have no use for her. There was no way they’d just release her back into the arms of her loved ones. She’d have to fight for that. No, the grounds were large, there were plenty of places for them to hide her body. But she’d never do anything worthwhile for them. If they wanted her to behave, they’d have to do something for her. The threat of not killing her wouldn’t work on her anymore. Especially when she didn’t even know if her family was alive. A battleplan was needed, a way for her to escape.

She waited for Dr Dreher to catch up, mulling over ideas in her head. Some would work, others needed a lot of fleshing out. It seemed like she didn’t have a lot of time. The new moon was on Sunday, so she had a week to put everything into motion. By the time of the summit, it would have been a month of her existing in this torture camp. What could she possibly want that sounded reasonable to these madmen that they would believe that she was behaving enough that they would willingly take her to the city unrestricted? Better food? Better clothing? Maybe a new pillow? Her old one was a little musty from all her sweat.

Nah, all to cheap. It needed to be substantial.

Drumming her fingers against the desk, she frowned, brain pinging from one thought to another. Nothing seemed quite right. A shadow flew past the window and she turned to look at it, wishing to be that fleeting. Outside the rain was starting to ease, sunlight shimmering through the clouds. Her fingers stilled slowly. Outside. They knew how much she enjoyed being outside.

“Right 007, going over your course notes, you’re every behind in Politic Relations at Eden and here at the lab. We really need to get these up to scratch today.” Dr Dreher sighed as he entered the room, still having not bothered to look at her. “We’ll go over the funding of some of the local parties, including the National Unity- what are you looking at?”

Anya continued looking out the window, giving him a half shrug.

“Just a bird.” She explained. He frowned slightly but huffed in annoyance and continued on.

“So, we’ll cover the annoying National Unity Party and their opponents the Patriot and the New Morality Parties.” Seriously, I can never get over that name.

“Do I have to preform to them the most for the summit?”

“Yes this is-wait. What do you know about the summit?” He snapped, catching on to her question. She turned to him slowly, head resting in her palm as her eyes glinted dangerously.

“Enough to know you need me to behave. And if I don’t, your life’s work is in shambles.”

He snapped the folder closed, trying to look like he was the one in control.

“Even if that’s true, you’ll do as I say 007. If you refuse to help, I’ll have you killed. I’ve been dreaming about strangling you myself.” He warned, but Anya just scoffed.

“Big whoop, kill me then. Not that I have much to live for outside these walls.” She drawled, swinging her legs back and forth idly. Seriously, she was still too short for these chairs? “And the Director would probably kill you before you had the chance. They seem to be after your hide after all.”

She could tell he was nervous now, but trying very hard not to show it. Ah, so the Director bluff wasn’t a lie then. Bringing her other hand up to support her chin, she grinned at him deviously.

“But, I might be willing to make a bargain.”

He scoffed, leaning back against the wall in annoyance.

“You have no grounds to make bargains. You’re ours. You’ll do as I say.”

“So if I kill myself tonight while the rest of you sleep, that wouldn’t matter to you? You’ll just go find some other Esper to present at the summit?” She hummed, pulling out the knife she had swiped from the guard just before. Emile maybe the philanthropist one of the group but he had the stickiest fingers, a trait Anya had always admired. How proud would he be to see her now?

“Where’d you get that.” Dr Dreher hissed, moving to snatch it from her, but she flicked it open against her wrist, daring him to try. As expected, he stilled instantly, hand out stretched.

“Where I got it from is none of your business, but what I'd do with it is yet to be decided.” She said, eyes narrowing in warning. “If you want me to behave and go to the summit willingly, then you’ll do as I ask.”

“I’m not going to listen to you.” He growled, moving forwards again to call her bluff, but she applied more pressure, ignoring the sting of the metal cutting into her already tender flesh. Blood welled up readily, dribbling down her forearm. She had made sure to position the knife down her wrist, not across it. Ready to really slice open her tendons. Anya watched as he hesitated, mind whirring with a thousand possibilities before he snapped out of it, realising that she was probably seeing them all. Finally, he sighed in resignation, glaring at her.

“What do you want.”

She smiled, but didn’t remove the blade.

“Simple. More time outside.”

He blinked, unsure he heard her right.

“More time...outside?” He repeated slowly. She nodded, giving a joyful hum.

“Summer is nearly here, and if I’m going to be here a long time, I want to enjoy part of it. The grounds are really large, and I’m sure there’s a lot to see and do. I want to explore it all. But with only an hour outside each day, I'm not going to get far. Increase it to four hours and we have ourselves a deal.”

Dr Dreher straightened, snorting in disgust.

“You’re not getting four hours outside. We’d never get any testing done.”

She pressed again. He flinched.

“How about two?”

“No, I want four.”

“Three, and that’s it.”

She paused as if to consider it.

“Sure. Three is good. Oh and a new pillow.”

He rubbed at his face, unbelieving at how stupid she was. Anya just smirked to herself.

“Fine, you have a deal. Three guarded hours outside and a new pillow. Now will you give me the knife?”

“No, I’ll keep this just encase I have to fight off some wild creatures.” Anya chirped, sliding the knife back into its sheaf and tucking it against her side. “I hear there a lot of them on the grounds.”

He didn’t like that, but allowed her to keep it. Picking up his folder again, he walked over and slapped some papers on her desk.

“Now, if we have a bargain, you need to study. Memorise these facts and figures. They’re key for the summit next week. Your powers will be weak, but present at the time, as the new moon is on Sunday, so you won’t be able to rely on our thoughts. Once you’ve done that, we’ll go over the history of the parties and their roles in our parliament.”

Anya let him drone on about the Politic Relations she had to remember, pressing her wounded arm closer to her side. It seriously hurt, but she wasn’t going to break so easily. Let him think that she was dumb. She was going to relish in those three hours outside every day. But what he didn’t know was that wasn’t her main goal. She was going to escape. Once they hit the city, she’d find a moment of weakness and extort it. She just needed to get there. And if tricking him into thinking she didn’t want to go, but was being forced to with the bargain of some extra free time made him think that he was wining, so be it. She’d hold her pride for a few days. After all, she had learnt from the best.

Tilting her head so he couldn’t see her face, Anya smiled slyly to herself as she scribbled down notes on what he was saying. Behind him she could see the tiniest part of a child’s drawing, peeking out from behind the poster talking about Mosley’s Laws of X-Ray Radiation.

Operation Chimera: Phase one- success

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The week flew by before she knew it, and she had tried her hardest to maintain all the information he had forced her to read. But now that she was getting more time outside, he had turned to electrocuting her more in response, and her memory was starting to suffer. She had always found it difficult to maintain focus from a young age, thinking it was just because she was younger than her classmates, but now with how fuzzy her brain felt, she wondered if it was a side effect from the testing.

Blinking back into focus, she stared at small pile of clothes before her, marvelling at the fabric. After a month of thin, scratchy cotton, she had something more presentable to wear. Shucking on a bright, floral dress that cinched in comfortably at the waist and had wide, billowing sleeves, Anya twirled around happily, feeling like a teenage girl again. Her shorter hair, having once clung to midback, bounced against her shoulders, curls springing at the action. Apparently, she couldn’t look like a lab rat to whomever they were presenting her to. From all the political talk she’d endured it had to be the faction of the Government that had known about Apfel and its testing. They hadn’t been able to present her with their findings last summit, so this was opportune for them.

A knock at her door (also new) alerted her to company, and she stopped spinning, feeling slightly dizzy. The old nurse poked her head in, smiling once she saw she was ready.

“Alright deary, it’s time for you to go.”

Grabbing her bag, and making sure the knife was still tied around her arm, she left the room and towards the waiting car. Dr Dreher meet her outside, with a tall woman in a smart power suit standing by his side. Anya’s blood ran cold she saw her, having heard stories about Director Athala Protz but having never seen her in the flesh.

She was the reason for Apfel existing in the first place. She and few likeminded scientists had approached the Government nearly thirty years ago, with an idea of studying the minds of trauma victims of the war and how their brains responded to triggers, in comparison to those around them. It was at first under the guise of getting to apply their findings into creating a cure, or a psychological approach to help ease their suffering. When tests had gone well, and they began to see progress, she had turned the path towards helping the trouble minds of the next generational youth as well, hoping to distinguish behavioural problems and their mental causes. The first warning sign to her descent into what she became was when she offered her own son to the cause.

Six years old and showing signs of rebelling due to his parent’s fighting and failing marriage, he had been taken to his mother’s lab and forced to undergo experiments. They had been simple at first, normal in the eyes of the public. But then began the shock treatment. Little zaps, like a slap on the hand if he said something naughty. Longer ones when he tried to talk back. Painful ones when he tried to fight. Eventually Protz had tied him to a chair, and shocked him with enough electricity that he became obedient. Brain dead, by obedient.

She had brazenly taken these findings to the Government, expecting them to fall over backwards for her. But instead, they were horrified. Just what had she been expecting to achieve from this? She practically killed her own son. She had been shunned by them; five years of research thrown back in her face. Angry she had taken what she could and left, vowing to prove them that the studies of the mind were limited to their range of thinking. But there were those few corrupt souls that saw benefits in her work. They had approached her, asked her questions about where she wanted to take her studies, learnt more about how she wanted to delve deeper into the human psyche and see if it was true, they could unlock further potential. Create the most obedient soldiers known to man.

Apfel had been created, funded by a select few from across the Government board. They were officially listed as weapon creation, but Director Protz had failed to disclose what or whom those weapons were. She went around the country looking for children to adopt, claiming to be a grieving mother after her own child’s death. Those too poor and negligent to care for their children, handed them over, thinking they were going to have a better life with this rich business woman. But all had met the same fate, dying for a cause that crossed the realm of human torture.

Eventually someone had snitched, and Apfel was forced into hiding. They lay low, waiting with the children they had before slowly going out in search for more test subjects hen those failed. The Government had expunged any source the group had ever existed, not wanting such criminal activities linked to their names. But they still carried on. Anya wasn’t sure if she was born into the group or one of the adopted, but she was the only one who had survived. She had been their saving grace, obedient with fear and with an ability to read minds. The Director and Dr Dreher had rejoiced, evidence that their research was worthwhile and should be continued. They had planned to join the next summit, present her to their investors. Convince them to help sway the Government. But then Anya had disappeared and the without war readily knocking on their borders, the investors had turned away. Only a few remained, loyal to this day. They had helped find more children, but whatever they had achieved with Anya failed to be recreated.

Now Anya had to sit in the back of a van, driven by her greatest enemy for who knows how long to where she could finally escape. Suddenly she felt meek, unsure of how to act. This woman was delusional, thoroughly convinced everything she had done was for the greater good. Every child had been a sacrifice to the cause and she had absolutely no regrets.

“Come now 007, we don’t have all day. It’s a long drive to the city and we’re meeting some of the investors this evening at dinner.” Athala snapped briskly, waving her into the van. She obeyed slowly, not once letting her guard down around the dangerous woman. Once buckled in and her suitcase at her feet, Anya watched as the other two and guard climbed into the vehicle and began their journey out.

The next few hours were in silence, not even the radio playing quietly in the background. Anya wanted to sleep, but her survival instincts screamed at her not to. Unlike her last road trip, there was no high-speed chase or epic crashes. Just mundane driving and boring company.

It was late by the time Berlint appeared in front of them, and Anya had to hold back a whimper of relief at being back. She’d missed this place so terribly, and she longed to duck and roll out of the car now and run searching for her friends and family. But she had a mission to uphold. She would find them once she was done.

Soon everyone, she thought as she rested a hand against the window, watching the city come to life around her, soon I'll be with you again, I promise.

Flowing with the stop/start traffic around the centre of the city, the van eventually pulled up to the curb side outside a hotel. The Director, Dr Dreher and Anya climbed out, with the guard taking over the wheel to go park the vehicle. They made their way inside the lobby and the Director strode forward to finalise their rooms.

“007.” Dr Dreher murmured lowly, causing her to look up at him. “It is imperative you be on your best behaviour tonight. The rest of the week is important too, but tonight is with our closest allies. While the Government know that we’re here to report on weapons findings to aid us in the war, they don’t know about you. Only our loyal investors do. If you are rude to them, everything will be ruined. I’ve kept my end of the bargain all week. Can you please do the same now?”

Ah. So, she was to be used for war negotiations after all. She was just acting as a bargaining chip to line some power-hungry pockets. She nodded in understanding as the Director returned, the guard close behind.

“007, you’re with me, Dreher taken Maxwell. We’ll meet back down here half an hour.” She snapped, handing the man a set of keys. Anya’s blood ran cold. She had to share a room with this woman for the next few days? She might have to enact her plan a little earlier than she thought. Reluctantly she followed her to the elevator, keeping as much distance between them as she could while they travelled up. When the door dinged open, Anya waited for her to leave first and considered just staying in there until later. But she needed to find out where she was sleeping. So she stepped out at the last possible second, and trailed after the tall Director.

Room 7007 was sparse, holding one queen size bed, a table, TV and a couch. No kitchenette was attached, just an electric kettle to boil some water and arrangement of single packet teas on top the table. Anya walked over to the couch to see if it was pull out, but was disappointed to find out it wasn’t. She wasn’t even going to dare try for the queen, her feelings confirmed with Athala slammed her suitcase on to it. Plopping down on the couch, Anya wondered if there was anything interesting on TV, but didn’t make an effort to turn it on. Her hand hovered close to her concealed knife, knowing the Director wouldn’t attack her unless something really stupid happened. She was the main event, they had to keep her in tack. But it didn’t stop her from being cautious.

Soon time had passed, and they were back in the lobby, meeting with the two men. Anya was flanked from all sides, hidden from the public as they made their way to the attached restaurant, the Director getting the maître d’s attention and asking for directions to their reserved room. Swiftly they were brought along the side of the room, and down a small hallway that led to a private room. With a bow, the maître d’ left them, and they shuffled into room with hellos.

Anya glanced around the faces sitting along the table, trying to put the facts she’d learnt to each person. It wasn’t until she laid eyes on the last person in the room, the one approaching their little group did she freeze. Tall, gaunt and greying, he extended a hand to the Director, greeting her like long-time friends. His sunken gaze flickered to Anya over her shoulder and she tried not to tremble.

Of all the people that could be in the room, he just had to be here. How long had he known about her father’s mission? He had called him Twilight after all when he’d fired the gun. And what about her? Did he know from day one when she had first met him? Is that why she was unbothered all these years, cause his eyes had been on her the whole time?

“007, it’s nice to see you again.” He said, tone anything but pleasant. She held her tongue, fighting the desperate desire to run. Dr Dreher elbowed her sharply in the ribs.

Be nice to our best investor! He thought angrily at her and she swayed even more.

“H-Hello again.” She croaked in return, forcing herself to bow her head out of respect. He hummed in acknowledgement, before taking the Director’s arm and leading her towards her seat, chatting socially. Anya could only stare after him.

Out of all the people. It had to be him.

Donovan Desmond was the lead investor in her torture, and the deciding factor of whether she lived or died.

Chapter Text

This had to be the most awkward, but terrifying situation Anya had ever found herself in. Nervously she pulled at the sleeves of her dress, watching as the gathered adults ate and laughed around the table. She had been given a small plate of food to eat, but trying to choke it down had proved too difficult, let alone getting it to her lips in the first place. She had nearly spilled her glass of water all over the table when she had reached out a trembling hand for it, so she had pushed it away further, watching as the condensation gathered against the cloth.

In all there were seven investors in the room, alongside Donovan. The men and women ranged in age from around 40-60 years old and all nationalities but prominently Ostanian. She didn’t recognise them, but knew their backgrounds were in politics or shady enterprises that had been crucial in the war. From the little she could read of their minds, none of their friends or family knew of their funding for this private project, and she was a dirty little secret they wanted to keep for themselves. She felt disgusted and a little used, wondering what exactly they planned to do with her.

Just after dessert was served, Director Protz wiped at her mouth with a clean napkin and cleared her throat. The rumbling around the table settled down, as the investors turned to look at her expectantly.

“Thank you all for gathering here this evening. It’s been some time since we’ve all been in the same room and we appreciate your efforts to be here, along with your continuous support over the years.” She began smoothly, dazzling the crowd with a small smile. Anya felt like she was watching a predator at work, and a shiver ran down her spine.

“As you know, our research over the years has always been about expanding and developing one’s cognitive thinking. Harnessing it as a tool to use for the country’s benefits. And while we had little success over those first gruelling years, we finally got a break through with subject 007. Unfortunately, she was lost to us for a while but after fourteen years she came back to us.” She waved a hand in Anya’s direction, all eyes sweeping over the girl curiously. If the investors were prey to the Director, she was a fresh carcass in the sun. The hunger in their eyes made her blood cold and she had to fight the urge to bolt out the door. At the flick of the Director’s hand, she rose to her feet shakily and gave a small curtsey, unable to look anyone in the eye. She felt Donovan’s eyes on her the most, calculating and cold. Dr Dreher whacked at her arm.

Say something! And look at them when you speak.

“Hello.” She murmured, unsure on how to present herself, “Um, it’s nice to meet you?”

The room was silent, but she could hear all the harsh criticism and filthy thoughts about her body flowing their minds. Disgusted she was unable to keep the snarl off her face as she turned to one portly man, glaring at him.

“I will not be accompanying you anywhere. If you even try to lay one filthy hand on me so help me I’ll-”

“That’s enough 007.” The Director scolded, making her stop. Turning to the man who looked rather stunned, she smiled, “While I appreciate your admiration of her beauty, she is a tool for war, not for the bedroom. Maybe when she’s older we can look into that realm Mr Dara. But for now she is simply here to gather intellect.”

Oh hell no. Anya needed to leave. Yesterday.

Shaking with undeniable rage, she sat back down forcefully, keeping her distance from the men in the room. Dr Dreher looked like he wanted to kill her, even more so this time, but he restrained himself.

“As you can see, 007 exhibited the power to read minds from the age of a one year old, and we further developed this power over the next two years. By three she could hear thoughts from a fifty metre radius, and recent testing shows this has improved to two hundred. She can narrow thoughts down to just one person in a crowded group, though it does come with the mild side effect of a nose bleed and dizziness. Easy to maintain with a bit of medication and cold press.”

“Can she move stuff with her mind?” One of the women asked curiously, glancing at Anya with a thoughtful eye.

“Unfortunately testing at this time proves inconclusive. We thought she moved an apple across the desk the other day, but we later found out a small earthquake happened around the same time. Further testing is needed on this subject.”

“What about controlling the minds of others?” Another man piped up.

“Again, no. We have tried a range of experiments to unlock this power, but nothing deemed worthwhile yet. Though I must say her power of persuasion lies in her silver tongue. She can be rather blunt when she wants to be and it comes with mixed results.”

Murmurs went around the room, the investors discussing these answers. Donovan stayed quiet, watching them all with thoughtful eyes. Eventually he spoke up, holding as much power as the Director over the room.

“007 seems rather damaged. I'm guessing she put up some resistance during her time at the lab?”

Dr Dreher shifted uncomfortably as the Director sent him a harsh look.

“Yes from the reports I was given, 007’s attitude is...obstinate, and not from the lack of trying. It is a flaw that we are trying to work through and if it means a few harsh beatings then so be it.” She sighed as if it was a difficult stepping stone they were trying to avoid. Anya glared at her, her anger growing. They were treating her as if she was a wild horse they were yet to reign in. She would never break. She would escape by the end of this hideous summit.

“Still, it’s probably best we did something about the wounds around her face. We can’t use her in public with her looking like that.” Donovan suggested, looking at the burn marks around her temple and bruising around her eyes. Anya reached up to touch one swollen cheek, remembering the blow she had received from one nasty guard during the week. The Director hummed in agreement before taking a drink of water.

“You’re correct. I’ll get some corrective make up in her shade range before Friday’s summit.” She conceded before taking a bite of her dessert. Once she finished chewing, she took out some folders from her purse and handed them to the group.

“Here is all her statistics we have gathered over the last month. Her studies aren’t the greatest but we will work on that. We don’t want her too educated anyway at the risk she may use it against us. Her time at Eden has proved useful and she seems to have formed some sort of relationship with your son Mr Desmond.”

“So I heard, but it was all just a ploy to get to me I’m afraid. It’d never amount to anything. But still, could prove useful later on I suppose. We should meet in my office before the summit on Wednesday to discuss that further.” He shrugged, scooping at some his melting ice-cream absently.

“Oh don’t keep her all to yourself now Mr Desmond! You’ve had the luxury of knowing her gifts for years now! What about the rest of us?” Mr Dara dared to speak out, ignoring the snarl of fury Anya gave.

“I will do nothing of the sort Mr Dara. I just want a bit of help in maintaining my family’s situation. She will still be of critical use during the summit as we originally planned.”

“And what exactly is my purpose?” Anya drawled out angrily, unable to keep quiet any longer. The adults all paused in their eating, looking at her like was a piece hair in their food.

“Your purpose,” The Director ground out, “Is to sit there and speak when spoken to. But if you are so desperate to hear it, I suppose we should discuss our plan of action for Friday.”

Anya ignored her icy gaze, knowing that whatever punishment she’d receive later in their hotel room would be nothing too substantial. Maybe a few broken ribs that she could hide in front of a crowd.

“As you know, at lunch time on Friday we will be having a summit with the Government to discuss any calls of action to go to war. It is in our favour that the Cold War breaks, and that we go against those in the South and the West. The public is already crying out for this announcement, the fighting along the borders and in the south growing steadily every day. We’re basically at war already, but the Government refuses to acknowledge that. If this continues, we’ll either have a Civil War break out, or a coup d'état which the later option maybe beneficial. We do have some powerful names we could push into more leading roles in the Government if that were the case, but we need to start somewhere. Over the next few days we will escort 007 to some meetings, and get her to dive into the minds of our opponents and see where true loyalties lie. She’ll report anything useful that we can use on Friday in the persuasions the build a Government that meets our needs. All this will be done in secret of course, we can’t publicly show our hand. And there is the matter of keeping your covers intact.”

She directed the last part at Donovan who hummed in agreement, scrapping the sides of his bowl thoughtfully.

“Yes, it is a pain to continue pretending to be someone I’m not.” He sighed, lifting his last morsel to his lips, “But there are few individuals in my party that I need to look into. Again, let’s meet Wednesday to go over this.”

“Agreed. Now let’s discuss arrangements.”

Anya sat back and listened as the adults talked, feeling a little bemused. So she was to be a spy. Kinda ironic. And after all these years of working towards world peace they had revealed their true hopes lay in power. Looking around the room again, she realised that they may just achieve that if things went their way. But she was a hairpin in their plan. An active grenade ready to explode. One little knock in the wrong direction and she could ruin all their lives. Though it would be hard to do it properly. She had originally planned on seeking out WISE or the Garden now she was back in the city. She’d still try for that, but to bring all her captors under fire she’d have to speak out in front of the Government. Even then it may take some convincing, as she knew they wouldn’t want any mention of Apfel to rise up.

Gritting her teeth, she snatched a piece of her abandoned meal off the table and chewed at it angrily. She had until Friday. Her powers would be far stronger by then. But for now, she could only wait.

___________________________________________________________________________________

The next few days consisted of the most boring few hours Anya had ever endured. At times she almost wished she was back in the chair as the screeching tones of politicians were like nails on a chalkboard. Were they all this damn whiny? By Wednesday afternoon she was ready to put her Ma’s needles in her ears, just to stop the murmuring. Picking at the scab on her wrist instead, she wrinkled her nose as yet another politician flaunted their severely over inflated ego.

“What’s that face 007?” Dr Dreher asked, pen scratching against paper again.

“Mr Hearst of the Patriot party wants war.” She monotoned, before another thought came through causing her to smirk, “And to fuck the Director across the desk.”

Dr Dreher stilled, a surprised snort of amusement escaping his lips. They shared a shocked look before he frowned and muttered, “We’ll keep that one to ourselves. I’m sure the Director would butcher him if he even tried.”

Amusement soon fell away as more of the same thoughts, accompanied by images filtered through and Anya pulled away from them quickly. She had peeked at Ewen’s adult magazines once, and what she was seeing now made those look like romance novels.

“Ew no more. I’d rather swallow poison then see more of that.” She gagged, just as the Director came back into the room, looking rather miffed. Seeing Anya dry retching she glared over her shoulder at the door she just came through and straightened her suit jacket.

“Bloody pervert. Even I didn’t need your power 007 to know what he was thinking.” She huffed before turning to Dr Dreher. “Did you pick up anything of importance?”

“He’s in favour of war, but I’m not sure if that was to get on your good graces or an actual fact.” He admitted before turning to Anya.

“Oh, it was both. He really wants to be in a position of power.” She smirked, feeling rather impish. The Director looked like she was going to slap her again like she did after the first night, but just sighed heavily and turned to leave.

“Come on, we’re meeting Donovan soon to go over his plans. I need a stiff drink before we do that.” She muttered, already power walking down the corridor. Anya and Dr Dreher quickly followed after her, taking up their respective positions easily. They had decided to act like a family unit, with Anya being their niece who was interested in political studies and was observing them for the week. They had disguised her to look like a passing relation of theirs, and she kept wanting to rip off the itchy brunette wig. She kept telling herself that this was just a cover for her mission, just like here Papa use to do. There was nothing real about the situation.

At the bar, the Director ordered a whiskey on the rocks, while Anya requested some wedges. She hadn’t eaten since the night before, and her stomach was growling with hunger. Dr Dreher looked like he was about to deny her this simple need, but having heard the song of her stomach more times than he could count, he sighed and ordered two bowls. Munching on them happily, she enjoyed watching the people coming in and out of the bar, all the while keeping an eye out for a particular person. Stretching the melted cheese as high as it would go, she watched with satisfaction when it snapped about thirty centimetres above the plate.

Ahh, good cheese. She thought, scooping it all into her mouth.

Disgusting. Dr Dreher thought at her, eating his own with a fork and knife. She scowled at him in annoyance, picking at the bacon with her hands. The Director slammed back her whiskey quickly, not savouring the drink like you were meant to and enjoying the harsh burn it left down her throat. Looking at her watch she pulled out a file and flipped through it, waiting for them to finish. Five minutes later, she ordered another whiskey and drank that just as rapidly.

“Alright, time to go.” She stated, wiping her mouth with a handkerchief before getting up from her stool and leaving. Anya scooped the last bit of cheese off her bowl hurriedly and followed after her obediently, Dr Dreher quick on her heels.

The walk to Donovan’s office wasn’t too long, but it was across the building. Upon arrival, the Director looked over Anya with a critical eye, before straightening out her blouse and brushing crumbs off her face harshly.

“You will behave in this meeting. Donovan is our best investor and a close friend of mine. If he asks you to do something, you do it.”

“I’m not doing anything sexual.” Anya warned, to which the Director nodded.

“Relax, he’s not like that. Honestly I think he had children out of commitment to his wife. I don’t think that man would ever willingly think of getting his dick wet let alone with a minor.”

Well that was gross.

Ignoring her look of disgust, the Director knocked on the door a few times, and stood back readily. There was a pause before footsteps were heard and the doorknob twisted open. Donovan stuck his head out cautiously, relaxing slightly when he saw the three.

“Oh, come in. I didn’t realise it was that time already.” He welcomed, holding the door wider for them. The Director and Dr Dreher nodded their thanks, but Anya refused to look him in the eye. She wanted to know what he knew, and for how long. If she could stumble upon it during this meeting, she could report it back to WISE somehow. He took a seat in his desk chair, leaning back against the plush leather as they sat across from him, Anya standing off to the side, anxiously playing with the side seam of her pants.

“So, what have you learnt?” He asked, reaching for the notes Dr Dreher handed him.

“Less than we hoped for. But a lot of our targets are in favour of the war as well.” He said, watching as the older man flicked through his folder. “There are a few candidates that we think would fully support you when you lead the National Unity Party to victory, and you can consider their votes now. As for some others...” He trailed off, grimacing as he recalled Mr Hearst. The Director huffed, clearly guessing what he was thinking.

“Scoundrels are unfortunately part of politics. While their path towards means of power may not corelate with ours, we can still use them to a means. Mr Hearst will just be one of those pawns.”

“Mr Hearst? From the Patriot Party?” Donovan asked in surprised, glancing between the two.

“He was not very good at hiding his desire for the Director.” Anya spoke up with a disgusted grin, causing the adults to flinch.

“How uncouth.” Donovan muttered, returning to the paperwork in hand.

They continued on for a while, boring Anya with terms she didn’t understand but tried to absorb. She’d had to tell this all back to WISE somehow, and the clearer her intel the better. They were there for at least an hour, before Donovan cleared his throat and threw the folder back on the desk.

“Well, at least we have some form a strategy for Friday. But now, I need to discuss my family.” He sighed, rubbing at his temples. “As you know Demetrius is part of my party, planning on following in my footsteps. And he’s been good and loyal about it until just recently. Something has spooked him, and he refuses to meet me alone. I’m worried someone has snitched to him and need 007 to investigate for me. I can’t have a weak link on my team right now.”

“Of course Donovan, she’d be happy to assist.” The Director confirmed, standing up to leave. “Let us meet tomorrow with Demetrius and the others, and we can see if your fears are profound. We can-”

“No.”

She paused, looking at him in surprise.

“No? What do you mean?”

“I mean no, she can’t be seen. Demetrius and the rest of the party still think I’m pushing for peace. And he’s rather fond of 007 here, having to unfortunately coming to see her as a little sister over the years. He was quite concerned when he learnt she was missing, helping the school and her fake family in looking for her. If he saw her here at all he will be suspicious.”

“Very well. We’ll try to disguise her or something, find a way-”

“Cheap wigs and makeup won’t work on the boy. He’s far too smart for that. Leave me alone with 007 for a moment. I need to discuss this matter with her.” He snapped, waving them from the room. Shocked the Director and Dr Dreher got up uncertainly, glancing between each other before glaring at Anya in warning as they left the room. Once the door was shut, Donovan waved a hand at her to sit.

Jerking her legs forward, feeling stiff from standing for so long, Anya slowly sat down in one of the recently vacated seats, wondering what he wanted.

“How much did you tell those boys?” He asked, glaring at her over his fingers.

“What?”

“How much, did you tell those boys?” He repeated slowly but she was still confused as to what he was referring to.

“I’m sorry, I’m not sure I understand. Tell them what? This mission? Nothing, I haven’t seen them.” She said, frowning in confusion. Donovan sighed and massaged at his temples.

“Not that you dim-witted fool. Operation Strix. What did you tell them of that?” He snapped, making her blood turn to ice. Ah, so he really did know all about it.

“Nothing. I didn’t breathe a word to it to anyone. Though, how much do you know?” She pushed back, trying to gain some intel from his mind.

“That it’s been a waste of effort on Twilights behalf for years. I will admit, I had no idea when Demetrius first introduced us all, but when I realised who you were I did some digging. There wasn’t a lot of information on you unsurprisingly but what I uncovered about your parents was the real goal. Twilight did well in hiding his tracks, but I have better informants. I let him continue on as it was amusing.”

Anya gritted her teeth in anger for her Papa. All those long nights and wasted hours for nothing. All that stress he had accumulated at the hands of man who saw him as a mere plaything.

“So you said you never told the boys. Did they know about your powers?”

“No.”

“Not even after I ordered that attack on you at the school?”

“That was you?” She asked quietly.

“Yes. We wanted to see how far people would go to protect you. We had planned on just snatching you while walking to school one day but you were always surrounded by those idiot friends of yours. Including that disgrace of a son of mine.” He spat, looking wholly uncomfortable at the mention of having a child. Anya couldn’t stop shaking.

While she had been waiting for the adults to talk earlier, she had looked around the room curiously. It was well furnished and comfortable, as if set up from someone to spend a lot of time here. A fully stocked bar cart rested on the left wall, and there was a corner of shelves closer to the door, stacked with neatly lined books. Some watercolour artwork hung from the walls, but she had noticed that there was only one picture in the room. A pretty lady of Eastern European decent, smiling at the lens demurely. Her thick black curls and golden eyes shone through the frame, and it was clear where the Desmond sons had inherited their looks from. But there were no pictures of said boys. No family photos or knickknacks to even suggest of a family anywhere. So for him to be so blasé about Damian now, cemented the cold truth she had been trying to hide from him for years.

His father really didn’t care about him.

“If you’re telling the truth 007, this is could be very useful. Demetrius needs to be loyal to me and while I can’t be certain of that fact just now, you can help. Get the Director to meet up with him somewhere public, where we can both observe him from afar. You can read minds up to two hundred metres no? We’ll use that to our advantage. Once I have a confirmed answer, I’ll know just how much I can trust him with our little secret. He’s at the age where he needs to know. As for Damian-”

“No.”

He paused, taking in her trembling form. Misjudging her rage for fear he raised an eyebrow in amusement.

“No 007?”

“No, I’m not involving Damian.”

“Well you don’t have much choice in the matter. I’m sure he would be curious about this whole situation. He’s nearly finished with school, and while I had hoped to have this conversation with him a little later, plans unfortunately change. He’s spineless and weak at the moment, and giving him this push will help decide where his loyalties-”

“I said NO!” Anya screamed, slamming a hand against the table, jumping to her feet. “Don’t you dare bring Damian into this!”

Seething she watched as he closed the folder in his hands, regarding her with a cool gaze.

“Why not 007? Why can’t I encourage my own son down the path of justice?”

“Because you don’t consider him to be anything let alone your son.” She spat. “He has no part in this. You made damn sure of that from the beginning.”

His gaze dared her to continue. Infuriated Anya hit the desk again.

“You never shown him a hint of parental love or support, that he so desperately craves and now you care? So you can use him in your fucken plans for war? To what benefit? What do you plan to do with him?”

“And you care?”

“Yes!”

“Why? He’s just a boy. Simple, loyal to me, loyal to this country. Why should his involvement be so detrimental to you?”

“Because he is so much more than that! He's not a pawn for you to toss aside once you’ve completed some sort of stupid power move.”

Donovan gave a low chuckle.

“007, you seem to have a lot emotions for a worthless science experiment. Could you possibly be in love with my child?”

Anya flinched, a righteous blush taking over her face. He watched it with an amused gaze.

“My how interesting. From what Demetrius has told me about your interactions, it seems Damian has a fondness for you as well. But we can’t have that now. It would ruin my family image.”

“Family? As if you’d have a bloody family. I bet your wife wishes she was dead than let you touch her again.”

That was the wrong thing to say as suddenly his hand was around her throat, gripping her tightly. Choking she struggled to break free from his grasp, taking in his stormy eyes.

“Never, insult my wife. You are nothing in comparison to her do you understand?”

Gasping, Anya tried plucking at his fingers, alarmed when he rose to his feet, lifting her off the ground as well.

“Now listen here 007. You are just a tool to us. An object for war. You will help convince Demetrius to my side, and Damian will join the National Unity Party and continue the Desmond name. Science experiments and all. Then you will continue on with this little mission, guaranteeing my success as a Senator and future President. You will obey us, bend to our will. Do I make myself clear?”

She spat in his face. Growling he threw her to the aside, watching as she smashed into the bar cart painfully. Coming around the desk, he ignored the crunch of glass against his shoes, tsking at the spelt liquor as she lay there feeling dazed, struggling to breathe. Stepping on her ribs, he pressed down painfully, causing her to scream. Her face dug into the cart, fresh cuts oozing blood in the process.

“Did you understand 007? Did you get that all through your stupidly thick brain?”

Heaving she nodded reluctantly, wishing only for him to get off her. He ground his sole against her a little harder before kicking her in the stomach and turning away.

“Good. Now get out of my office. I’ll call the Director later and organise a meet up.”

Scrambling to her feet, she hurried out of the room, refusing to cry despite the pain. The Director and Dr Dreher were nowhere in sight, and she realised now was the perfect time to escape. She hurried down a hallway quickly, thinking of doing just that when Damian’s face flashed before her eyes.

She couldn’t let Donovan corrupt him like that. She needed to stay, just a little bit longer so she could avenge her father and make sure Damian stayed safe. Sobbing now, she angrily punched the wall, not knowing what to do.

Damn it all! She thought, I fucken hate politics!

“Are you alright there miss? Do you need some first aid?”

The voice made her look up, and she blinked in surprise at the face staring back at her. No bloody way. She had been hunting for a WISE operative all week, and just when she decided she couldn’t escape just yet they bloody turned up. Grumbling to herself, she reached inside her trouser pocket for the note she had prepared in advance.

“Do you have a pen on you?”

“Uh, sure? But are you okay? You’re bleeding pretty badly.”

“I’m okay. Just...tripped. Anyway, can you get this to Nightfall or Twilight? It’s rather important for their mission. Let them know that Agent Starlight is okay but deep undercover.” She said, scribbling down some adjustments to her note. The agent stared at her in shock, quickly realising who she was.

“You-”

Where is that girl?

Alert, Anya shoved the note into the agent’s hand and pushed them away.

“Go, quick! I’ll be okay. I’ll see you on Friday. Just get that to them now!”

The agent stumbled away looking conflicted, but the approaching footsteps of her captors made her shoo them away urgently. Understanding the agent tipped their hat at her, before hurrying off around the corner. A second later the Director and Dr Dreher appeared, looking annoyed at her absence.

“There you are 007. Why are you bleeding out in the hallway so publicly? Come on, let's get you patched up so no one gets suspicious.”

Allowing them to force her to her feet, Anya shuffled down the corridor, wincing slightly at the pain brewing across her ribs. She would make sure that her family stayed safe. That Demetrius knew the truth behind his father’s deeds. That Damian stayed safe. She would go down fighting these madmen and prevent the war if it was the last thing she did.

Chapter Text

Fidgeting with the cuffs of her top, Anya watched as Donovan tuned the radio quietly. It’s static cut through the tense silence of the room, echoing the thoughts of the older man’s mind, which she gave up trying to scryer. Sunshine shone through the open windows, illuminating the grimy space they had set up in, the ghastly summer heat resonating in the closed space. Anya wrinkled her nose, trying to hold back a sneeze as Donovan’s moving around stirred up more dust, but was unsuccessful. He glared at her over his shoulder but didn’t say anything as she rubbed at her nose, scowling back. Huffing she tugged at the collar of the thick turtle neck the Director had forced her wear, grumbling internally as she felt her sweat pool along her collarbone. The Director had been annoyed at the visible marks on Anya’s face and neck, swearing that Donovan knew better, especially after he had complained about her older injuries at dinner. They had wasted half an hour this morning arguing over the heavy layer of foundation the Director had tried to apply to the young girl before she had given up and told her to wear the shirt despite her protests about the weather. She had received a sharp cuff around the ears for her whining and had begrudgingly put it on. Coupled with the heavy brunette wig, Anya was sure that if she looked in the mirror now, she’d look a fright; ruined make up splotchy and dark, with the angry red of her infected wound on her cheek, throbbing against her pale skin.

Wiping at her brow, she winced at the action. She still had some shards of glass embedded along her hairline, too small for her to pick out with her fingers and she was sure there was more in the webbing of her hand. Her torso was also a rainbow of black and blue, with a marvellous shoeprint on her side, that reminded her of the full force of his stomp whenever she stretched. Breathing was difficult, and her hand moved from her collar to settle gently around her throat, remembering the burn of his hand as he crushed it. A faint part of her found morbid humour in the fact Becky always teased that a Desmond would leave bruises on her neck one day. What would she say if she saw them now?

“...like sugar with that?”

“Ahh, no thank you.”

Anya blinked back into focus as Donovan stepped away from the radio, looking satisfied. Brushing his hands against his expensive suit jacket, he walked over to the window, picking up his binoculars on the way. She hung back, watching him from the shadows, disgusted by his presence. She really didn’t want to be here, but if her mission was to be successful, she needed the espionage for WISE. Anything she found useful she filed away for later, doing her best to remember Damian’s tips on how to retain information from their days of studying. Her memory was unfortunately foggy these days, especially after the chair. She worried that when it came time to take this man down, she’d forget the most important piece of evidence and that he’d be let off for all his crimes. What she had managed to pen in that letter the agent took yesterday was only a brief warning to WISE and her parents about what she had discovered. She wondered if they had managed to crack her cipher and understood what she had so desperately tried to relay. The summit was tomorrow, so hopefully they would get in in time. For now, she could only watch as Donovan looked down at the busy street, watching his target.

“007, can you hear him?”

Unfortunately, this is where she came in. Anya took a deep breath and closed her eyes, filtering through the thousands of voices she could hear around her, until she found the one he needed.

...this sandwich is good. Nice relish.

“Yes. He’s enjoying that sandwich.” She replied, a little amused. Donovan tsked but remained focused on the man. Anya slowly came to stand nearby him, taking the second window from his right to watch the flow of people below. The cafés along the terrace were filled with the lunch time rush, the outdoor tables overflowing as the citizens of Berlint enjoyed the summer day. Parliament sat two blocks away, shining in the sunlight, its green lawns dotted with council members soaking up the weather before returning to their cramped offices. But the councilman they were focused on was sitting outside Café Melon happily munching on his lunch, unaware of the bug planted on his waistcoat by his father. Demetrius picked up the folded newspaper beside his plate and shook it open, intent on catching up on the latest news and stock market affairs. He was half way through one rather drivel article of some lowly businessman getting caught in the redlight district, when someone approached his table, coughing lightly to gain his attention.

Blinking up at the woman in surprise, Demetrius frowned when he didn’t recognise her.

“I’m sorry, is it okay if I join you? All the other tables are full.” She gestured to the chair across from him, her hands filled with a plate of food from inside.

“Ah, um...” be a gentleman Demetrius. “Yes, that should be okay.”

She smiled thankfully, and sat down, unaware of his internal grumbling about how he really wanted to be alone. Maybe he could shield himself with the newspaper? Picking it up again, he turned in his seat to face the road, burying his head behind its pages. One hand blindly groped for the rest of his meal, and he brought it to his mouth hungrily. He only had half an hour before he had to return to work, and he fully planned on enjoying what he could of the sunshine before the meetings he had all afternoon. That and procrastinating on the finalised party budget for the next campaign that his Father expected on his desk by that evening. He had been putting it off, not really keen on seeing his Father just at the moment. After what he had unintentionally heard last week, he had avoided meeting him in fears that he would snap and accuse his Father of something he desperately hoped was erroneous. But the proof was starting to stack up and-

“That article was horrid was it not?”

“Huh?” He lowered the paper again, his train of thought ruined as he looked at the woman in confusion. She stopped at his gaze, cup halfway to her lips as she realised his bewilderment.

“Oh, the article about the riots at the border? You were staring at it so intensely, I thought...” She trailed off, looking a little sheepish. “Sorry, I must have misread the situation.”

“Uh...” Demetrius was at a loss. Looking at the article she was talking about, he skimmed it quickly, hating what he read. She was right, it was horrid.

“Are they really trying to tell us no one has been killed yet?” He murmured, seeing her look up in surprise out of the corner of his eye. Setting down her cup, she propped her chin on her hands, nodding slightly.

“Seems unreasonable right? All that fighting and blood shed yet no deaths? Especially with the way they’ve been demanding war in the recent months.”

He hummed in agreement, flicking over to the next article which detailed yet another instance of the Cold War and how it was starting to crumble around them. There wasn’t much good news in the papers these days, and he worried about what the summit would bring about tomorrow. Everything was hanging on a piece of fragile string, swaying dangerously from one side to the other.

“I wonder what they’ll announce at the summit tomorrow.” She murmured as if reading his thoughts, “Probably that we’re going to war. Do you think it’ll be with the West or with the South?”

Demetrius frowned, flicking to the next page of his paper as she stirred at her coffee.

“I personally hope there will be no war announcements. I much rather live in this era of peace.”

“Not much peace when people are calling for blood all around us. It’s a naive hope to think peace will last much longer.”

“Then I wish to remain naive.” He remarked coolly, lowering the paper to glare at her. She simply hummed at his response, making him baffled.

“My daughter is part of the Government. She’s hinted that tomorrow’s news isn’t going to be great. She couldn’t tell me much but she mentioned something about the new training programme they’ve made for the soldiers. About the mentality of war and how it will affect them.”

Demetrius stilled, not liking the way she spoke so casually. There was a sharpness in her eye now, as if calculating his response. He was faintly aware of voices shouting in the distance.

“She said they had gone to great lengths to study this, and pushed science to the limits of the human mind. Rather intriguing stuff, am I right?” She paused to finish the last of her meal, before adding, “Imagine what wonders we could accomplish if you knew just how the brain works.”

“The brain is a curious subject, I agree.” Demetrius said slowly, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “But pushed too far and they can break.”

“Mmm, you speak the truth. But what if someone has unlocked the potential to fully develop the mind? To harness a greater power than anyone could imagine? How could they apply that to our soldiers and guarantee a win for our country? Wouldn’t that be an interesting headline?”

Demetrius froze, alarm bells ringing. This was too close to what his Father-

“Who are you? What do you know?” He whispered. The woman just smiled slyly, wiping at her mouth daintily with a napkin. The voices were a lot louder now, accompanied by marching feet.

“An ally if you chose the correct path young Desmond. Consider my words and find me tomorrow if you want to discuss this further.”

The voices were upon them now, a large group of protestors taking up the street, shouting for the fighting to end and the era of peace to continue on. The lady got up from her seat and slipped away into the confused crowd, not bothering to give him another glance. Demetrius sat there, unable to figure out just what had happened.

“Gah, too many thoughts.” Anya whined, collapsing against the window as she pulled away from Demetrius’ mind. While his thoughts were in turmoil over everything the Director had said, the angry voices from the crowd were hammering down on her, too much for her to take in. Donovan frowned in annoyance, turning off the radio as he set his binoculars down.

“Tell me 007, how much does he know?” He demanded, ignoring the fresh blood pouring from her nose. Anya winced, her ears ringing from the shouting as she tried to straighten up.

“Not a lot, but enough to be suspicious of you and the Director. He knows you’ve been backing some kind of Government experiment but that’s about it.” She said, wiping at her nose in annoyance. The protestors were loud, and the sound of sirens could be heard in the distance. Something smashed below them and Donovan sighed, rubbing a hand over his tired eyes.

“Come on. We will discuss this further in my office with the others. We need to leave before the SSS get here to deal with the riot starting outside.”

She watched as he stormed off, leaving behind all the expensive equipment in the room. Stumbling to her feet, Anya glanced out the window at the crowd below, watching as people argued with the protestors, smashing into the innocent businesses that rented the street. She could smell smoke somewhere nearby, and sighed as she realised Donovan was unfortunately right. The Cold War was affecting everyone, and tensions were especially high being the eve of the summit. While no official riots had broken out yet, they were always brewing. The crowd below was one gunshot away from becoming one. Looking over at the equipment left behind, Anya contemplated bringing it with her. But before she could decide, Donovan stuck his head back into the room, snapping at her to get a move on.

They descend the stairs quickly, aiming to head out the backdoor and down the side streets. While Anya is disguised, Donovan is not, and none of his usual security team are in the area. If anyone were to spot them rumours would surely rise. She wonders just how they’re meant to get back to Parliament without detection when she sees a car at the end of the alleyway, idling for them.

Of course, he has a getaway car. She thought in annoyance as he slips into the passenger seat. She hesitates again, wondering if she’s allowed in the car as well when Dr Dreher’s head pokes out the other side, frowning at her.

“007 we don’t have time. Get in.” Sighing she does as she’s told, sliding into the plush leather just as the voices of the crowd got louder. Seems the fighting has spilled out onto the nearby streets now, and as they drove cautiously back to Parliament she could see smoke rising from one of the buildings.

“Head back to my office Francis. We’ve got a lot to go over before tomorrow.”

“Are you sure it’s safe? The riot has just started and they’re sure to head towards Parliament.”

“The SSS are already here trying to do crowd control. Security is already increased for tomorrow’s summit anyway for instances like this. We’ll be fine.”

Dr Dreher hummed something distasteful under his breath but obeyed Donovan’s instructions, taking them up the winding streets until they reached the back of Parliament. After parking in the underground lot, they made their way up to Donovan’s office, keeping the same guises as yesterday. A few people tried to stop him on the way, to talk about the situation in town and the summit preparations, wanting his view on things as the National Unity Party leader. He was still callous in his replies, but oozed the charisma of a well-liked politician, only speaking of peace and hoping that nothing serious came out of the riots. It reminded Anya of how he had maintained his cover for so long. Politicians were like a double-edged sword, silver tongues preaching what the people wanted to hear, while their talons sunk in to whatever greed benefited themselves. She despised them.

Eventually they were situated in his office again, with the Director joining them shortly afterwards. The adults started talking about their interaction with Demetrius, wondering how much he really knew and if he would blab anything.

“He’s suspicious and far too smart for his own good. You need to tell him Donovan before it all goes to shit. He could ruin all our plans.” Dr Dreher argued, watching as the older man pulled out some files.

“He will do as I say if I ask him. He’s a loyal boy, striving to take over my role once I retire or become President. I had planned on telling him tonight when he came to visit. But the riot and Athala’s little conversation with him may have done more harm than good. I need to watch him for a few days, see what he does.”

“You wanted me to approach him! See what he knew! Don’t make it seem like I’m a hinder in this operation Donovan.”

“And it could have been handled a lot more smoothly if you hadn’t-”

Anya tuned out of the conversation, bored of their arguing. Instead she let her eyes wander around the office, leaning against the wall as she had done yesterday. She took note that the bar cart had been replaced and restocked as if nothing had happened, sending a cold shiver down her spine. If she were to die by one of their hands, would they act the same? Treat her like a broken piece of furniture that they could easily replace? As much as she threatened them with her life and their years of research, what if they did find someone to continue experimenting on? She’d be tossed into an unmarked grave without a moment's notice. Would she be buried alive? How would they kill her?

She let these dark thoughts stumble through her mind, mulling over them with mild curiosity for about an hour, only half listening to the conversation to her left. She was on a particularly dark debate of whether it would be better to suffocate or burn when a familiar voice poked at her mind. Blinking she looked towards the doorway, focusing in on the confused thoughts.

Should I go in? He did want to see me. But do I want to see him? And what of that lady? What did she have to do with everything? Father probably knows...

Glancing over at the adults who were busy pouring over some documents, she slowly shuffled her way towards the door, pretending that she was looking at the books stacked nearby. She could hear the nervous pacing of the person outside, feet slightly muffled by the carpet. She wondered what would happen if he were to burst in now. He seemed to know a little of what was going on, but if he knew the full truth would he go along with his Father’s schemes? She knew very little about him but if what Donovan had said about him helping her family look for her was the truth, she wanted to at least try to return the favour and get some answers.

“007, what are you doing?”

Spinning around she realised the room had gone quiet as her hand had touched the door knob.

“Oh, I just needed to go to the bathroom. I saw there was one just down the hallway. I promise I won’t be long.” She lied, shuffling anxiously. The Director looked resigned, starting to get to her feet to accompany her, but Donovan pulled her back down.

“Let her go. I’ve got guards under my wing blocking the hallways leading here. If she tries to escape they’ll catch her.” He sighed. The Director didn’t look convinced, but waved for Anya to leave, mentally warning her of what punishment would befall her if she tried anything. Nodding, Anya slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her softly. Demetrius stood frozen on the other side, hand raised as if to knock. His surprise at seeing a young, clearly injured girl leaving his Father’s office was not lost on her, and she fought down the sudden surge of hope. Staring at him, unsure of what to say, she watched as his eyes scanned her face, before settling at the edge of her wig. Raising a trembling hand to where he was looking, she realised some of her natural hair was peaking out.

“Miss Forger?”

The sound of her name was the most beautiful thing she had heard all month. She nearly collapsed just at that.

“Miss Forger, what...what are you doing here? And in my Father’s office? What happened to you? Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” Demetrius stammered, dropping his files as he rushed to reach out to her, pulling back when she flinched involuntarily.

“You can’t go in there. They think I’m just going to the bathroom. I need to back soon. But we need to talk somewhere, urgently.” She whispered, bending down to pick up his folders. He hovered over her in confusion, only moving again when she stood back up and pulled at his waistcoat, removing the bug.

“Quick, where’s somewhere private we can talk?”

“Um, down here.” He gestured, pointing to a small alcove further down the hall. She marched towards it quickly, glancing anxiously back at the door as if the Director would come out at any moment. Once hidden from the hallway, she realised there was a small door behind the pillar, and she pushed through it nervously. It led to a small sitting room, illuminated by just one light. The space seemed to have been used as a file storage area, with piles of boxes lined up against the walls and around the couches. Gesturing for Demetrius to sit on one of them, she double checked that the hallway was clear, before closing the door behind them. Leaning against it, she stared at the young man, suddenly unsure of how to start.

“Miss Forger, what’s going on? You look pale. Do you need to sit down?”

“Is he safe?”

Demetrius looked surprised at her outburst. “Who?”

“Damian. Is he safe?”

“Ah, yes. He’s at the manor with Mother and Jeeves. He was fine when I last talked to him. Why, what’s wrong?”

Anya sunk to the floor in relief, ignoring his questions for the moment.

“What about my family? Donovan said you helped them look for me when I was kidnapped. Is that true?”

“They’re also fine. Recovering but safe. And yes, there was quite the manhunt for you Miss Forger. All your friends and family were really concerned about your whereabouts this past month. But please, tell me, why are you here?”

“It’s a long story that I don’t have enough time to tell you in detail, so I’m going to give you the cliff notes. Though I warn you, you may not like what I'm about to share.” She said, meeting his gaze resolutely. He hesitated but his need to know the truth won out.

Slowly she explained everything. Project Apfel, her part in the experimentation, Operation Strix and how she came to Eden Academy. How their meeting all those years ago was the catalyst she thought they needed to succeed but was really their downfall. The threats, the attack on the school and her kidnapping. How she had been tortured for the past month and how his Father was an investor in all of it. How he had helped supply young children for the project and his plans to use her to entice war between them and the West, possibly the South as well. Demetrius remained silent the whole time, listening to everything she had to say. When she finished, she watched him nervously. The ball was now in his court. Whatever he decided to do now would determine her fate.

He buried his head in his hands, grabbing at his hair in frustration.

“Fuck.”

She tried looking in on his thoughts, but immediately pulled away, the spiralling making her sick. He continued to swear softly under his breath before he got up, looking like he wanted to hit something. He kicked at the couch uselessly before reaching for the pin on his lapel and ripping it off. She realised that it was the symbol for the NU Party and let him have his moment as he contemplated it.

“How much did you know?” She eventually asked, as the silence went on too long. She needed to hurry back. She had been gone for some time now.

“Not a lot, but you’ve given me the puzzle pieces I needed. I’ve been suspicious for months, ever since I found some weird finances in his office. I sent a letter to the SSS warning them that something might happen at the school, but I had no idea just what level of craziness would occur. Shit Miss Forger, this is...I’m...” He stopped with a sigh, turning to look at her sadly. “You need to leave. Escape while you can. I’ll cover for you. I’m sure there’s still some members of the SSS hovering around town after the riot. Find one of them and get to safety.”

“I can’t. I need to continue on this mission until tomorrow at least. I need to stop any war announcements they’re planning on making.” She denied, shaking her head regretfully.

“That’s not your fight. You’ve been used enough in this stupid war; you deserve to get to safety. I can’t let you walk back into that den. Damian will kill me if he knew I let you leave with them.”

“I’ll escape tomorrow, I promise. I’m sick of being a damsel in distress, I need to do this. There’s so much happening that WISE and the SSS need to know, and I’m an inside link. They haven’t broken me yet. I will continue fighting right until the moment comes.”

Demetrius looked at her with a mix of worry and admiration. Coming closer to her he sunk down to her level, making sure there was some distance between them. She appreciated that, both of them knowing there was only one Desmond man she would ever fully trust to touch her again.

“Miss Forger...Anya. You are not a damsel. You’ve been through so much in such a short time, more than any man of war could encounter in his life time, that you should not be putting yourself down like that. You’re a fighter. I wish I could be as strong as you are. However, you are allowed to step aside. To rest. Let someone else take over for now. Please allow me to do that for you.”

He was so earnest in his pleas, and she knew he meant it truthfully. Eyes brimming with tears, she shook her head.

“I can’t. Not yet.”

He sighed, shoulders slumping as he accepted her answer.

“You’re incredibly stubborn. I wish I could take away all the pain my Father has ever put you through, and my apologies on his behalf are probably useless. Go back to that office. Continue yourself assigned mission until tomorrow at the latest. I will help you in whatever way I can, okay? But tomorrow I will make sure you are back with your family and safe if it’s the last thing I do, do you understand?”

She nodded, crying silently now. “Yes, I understand. Thank you Demi.”

He smiled ruthfully and patted her head sympathetically. “Now get out of here. I have a lot to think about, and you need to a good excuse as to why you took so long.”

Wordlessly she grabbed the pin still in his hand and used it to pierce the scab on her cheek. Freshly bleeding, she ignored his shout of horror and stood up on shaking legs.

“I’ll tell them I tripped and had to wait for the wound to stop bleeding. That and I took a shit. That should be cover enough.” She shrugged. His eyes bulged at her bluntness, unsure whether to laugh or fuss over her.

“You’re something else Anya.” Was all he murmured, allowing her to leave the room. She paused outside in the hallway, looking back at him thankfully.

“I’ll see you tomorrow Demi. Please stay safe in the meantime. And don’t tell anyone that you saw me.”

He looked conflicted about that but nodded. Waving goodbye, she dashed down to the ladies' room, slipping inside before anyone spotted her. There she took some time to set up her scene, stuffing a bunch of bloody tissues in the bin and washing around her wound. The leftover makeup and sweat really stung at the cut, but it helped with her story. Before she left, she made sure to drop harshly to the ground, satisfied with the fresh bruising forming on her lower legs.

She was scolded when she stepped back in the office, but they brought her excuse with turned up noses. Settling back against the wall, she resumed her watchful eye over them as they continued to ignore her presence, focusing once again on their game plan for the next day. She kept her fledging hope to herself, wishing that she could have left with Demetrius as he had offered. She just had to make it through the next twenty four hours. Hopefully by then, it’d all be over.

Chapter Text

The early morning traffic was what slowly roused her back to the conscious world. Blinking the haze from her eyes, Anya lay quietly on the couch, listening to the Director’s gentle breathing. The age-old question of how evil could sleep at night was apparently peacefully. However, Anya felt like she hadn’t slept a wink, having been spiralling all night.

Turning stiffly under her light blanket, she watched the dawn light warm the room through the curtains, thinking about how the day would go. The summit was finally here and all the anxiety she’d been feeling throughout week bubbled over in her gut, making it hard to breathe. If she didn’t stop them today then it’d all be for naught. Operations Strix and Chimera hung heavily on her shoulders at this moment, with her ultimate goal staring down at her from its ridiculously high pedestal; stop the war.

Curling into a small ball, she stifled a panicked sob. How was she meant to do that exactly though? She was just a teenager. A small, very battered and tired teen. She had been fighting on the fly up until now, half-baked plans only working in her favour due to extreme luck or persistence. Now faced with the biggest obstacle, she felt like everything she had planned flew out the window and had no idea what to do.

Is this how her Papa felt? Crippling depression and anxiety chipping at his walls every day until he felt utterly useless? She vowed to give him the biggest hug when she saw him again. Let him know just how much she appreciated all his efforts.

Sniffling she wiped at her eyes hurriedly, trying to draw in deep breaths. She had to remind herself why she was doing this. For the safety of her loved ones. When Demetrius had told her how they had hunted for her, she had felt incredibly sad and guilty. This was not the lives they were meant to be living. Her parents should be planning on getting ‘remarried’, retiring from their jobs to spend more time with each other. Her friends should be finishing off their school year with only the stress of exams weighing on their minds. Nobody should be worried about being recruited for a war they didn’t want to fight.

It took a while, but she managed to calm down, thinking of positive memories to keep focused. She settled into a daydream where she was back with her friends under the oak trees at school, laughing and gossiping as they shared a picnic lunch. She could practically feel the summer breeze playing with her hair as she laughed at how many muffins Ewen could shove in his mouth, as Becky shook him angrily, warning him not to choke. Emile would be reading her an interesting passage from his book while she leaned against Damian’s shoulder, his hand gently entwined with hers.

She would have stayed there for as long as possible, but unfortunately the time came for the Director to shake her awake roughly.

“Come on 007.”

Sighing heavily, Anya got to her feet and allowed her to get her ready for the day. The morning flew by, and she felt like she was on auto pilot the whole time. Her mind kept wandering back to her daydream, and how she wished it was reality. Her captors probably thought they had finally broken her, becoming the perfect little robot they had programmed her to be. So, when reality did hit, it hit hard.

The noise of the gathered crowd startled her. Anya looked around in surprise and realised she was in Parliamentary Chambers, sitting in the over hangs. Below her politicians from all parties were starting to settle in, murmuring quietly to each other and rereading their notes. Leaning forward, she glanced at the watch of the man in front of her, frowning at the time. The summit was supposed to start in about an hour and if she focused enough, she could hear the crowd of citizens protesting outside. Wriggling in the smart coat and dress the Director had dressed her in, Anya looked over her shoulder, trying to find her. It took a while but she eventually spotted her and Dr Dreher with someone in the shadows. They were talking in hushed voices and as she watched she saw the smooth exchange of money and manila folders. Frowning she turned away from the interaction, focusing back on the crowd. The information she had been gathering all week for them seemed to be valuable. She wondered how it was going to be used in the upcoming debates.

She was busy staring down one sweaty politician, trying discern what was going on in his mind when they shuffled into the seats beside her, their smug pride oozing off them unpleasantly. They really thought they had won this. Taking a deep breath, Anya swore mentally. She needed to think of something to stop it all. Fast.

“The President will be entering soon. Please find your places.”

The room fell into a hushed silence, everybody shuffling into their assigned seats. Anya watched with some interest, scanning the crowd for any familiar faces. Demetrius wasn’t in the room, but his father was sitting below her, slightly to the right. She took notice there was an exit two rows behind him, convenient if he needed a quick escape. She wondered how he was going to twist the conversation in favour of war when he was meant to be aiming for peace. She hated to admit she was curious as how his brain worked and how deep his influence went.

“Rise for the President.”

Everyone clambered to their feet, watching the front of the room. A woman dressed in a smart three-piece suit entered, her long ceremonial robes brushing her ankles. Her heels clicked against the tiled floor, her escort guarding her rear. She nodded in acknowledgement to the room of gather politicians, settling in her seat above them with all the authority Anya expected of her.

She had only heard rumours about Dorathea Kasner, about how her affluential influence coupled with a strong desire for peace had won her the peoples’ vote, making her way up the political ladder until at the age of fifty-six, she had become the first woman president of their country. She was about ten years into her tenor, and showed no signs for stopping soon. While her government was shit, the people still loved her, and she strived to maintain a fair though justified ruling of the country. The last few months must have been weighing heavily on her, though she showed no signs of it in front of Parliament. Anya felt immediate respect for this powerful woman and hoped that she chose to stick with her regiment despite what today may bring.

“You may be seated.” She called out, her tone brisk and strong. The rumble of people moving and chairs scrapping filled the silence, accompanied by shuffling paper and clearing of throats. President Kasner surveyed the room, staring them all down thoughtfully.

“Gather dignitaries and friends, thank you for coming today for this last session before the Summit. We don’t have a lot of time, and the public is awaiting our response. Let’s cut right to the chase. Should we go to war?”

The crowd of reporters and witnesses in the overhangs all murmured with anticipation as they watched the politicians. There was no beating around the bush when it came to President Kasner. Unsurprisingly, Donovan Desmond was the first to rise, tapping his microphone lightly.

“President Kasner, thank you for your time. As leader and representee of the National Unity Party for Ostania, I feel obliged to begin this session in favour of retaining the peace we have with our neighbours and finding a simple solution to end the rioting along our borders. Our country and citizens have seen enough fighting to last a life time, and it’s opportunities like now that we can use in favour of officially declaring peace.”

Anya snarled at his words, knowing he meant absolutely none of it. A few murmurs of appreciation circled the room, cameras clicking away to get a good shot of this powerful man’s face. Donovan nodded once more to the President before settling back in his seat, awaiting the counter argument from his opposition. Ulrike Rantzau got to his feet, shooting a deathly glare at Desmond.

“Thank you, Parliamentary Leader Desmond, for beginning this debate. You speak of peace as if it’s child’s play to achieve, when in reality it's been something that’s taken years of back breaking work to toll for. Need I remind you that we are already at war, unofficially or not. Everyday Magyar and Österreich continue to claim more of our land in the south, ruining the livelihoods of our terrified citizens. In the West we have people climbing the Iron Wall, fighting to the death to maintain our borders. Our country has become weakened in our decision to do nothing, and we need to restore our strength by striking back. While the New Morality Party is reluctant to go to war as is the rest of the country, we need to be realistic in this day and age. The world responds to power, and we have fallen sadly behind in showing our strength over the last few years. War is our ultimate solution.”

The murmurs got louder and camera flashes quicker at his words, reporters eagerly scribbling down every interaction. Listening to the thoughts of the Director, Anya realised that the shit show had only just begun, Mr Rantzau was sitting on the newly acquired blackmail her had received in the shadows. Feeling a headache brewing, she could only sit back and nervously wring the sleeve of her coat.

Donovan frowned at the man across the room, taking his time to think of a counter argument. A few minor parties addressed the situation, calling forth their votes for either peace or war. The President remained neutral, questioning some statements every now and then, but ultimately keeping quiet. Eventually he arose to his feet again, straightening his suit jacket casually.

“Your arguments are all justified and precise but you fail to maintain the bigger picture. Our citizens do not want to fight. Our children have lived without the horrors of war and we should be respecting that decision. Do you want to turn our children into soldiers?”

“We cannot avoid it, most of them are already fighting for their rights. And with our country’s research and knowledge of past wars, we can help them succeed in this venture.”

Anya leaned forward, perking up at these words. She wasn’t the only one.

“What research do you speak of Mr Rantzau?” A voice in the crowd asked, accompanied by noises of curiosity.

“Historians have examined our failures in past fighting, and discovered the mind is our absolute weakness on the battlefield. We have raised our children to be loving and courageous, instead of cautious and strong-willed. We are afraid to send them out into the world due to this, but what we now know of mental health and how to combat the effects of the war, we can help them be successful. The mind is the most powerful tool in any situation. Unbroken and filled with determination, it can lead to greater ventures.”

“So you’re saying that if we brainwash our children now, they’ll be amazing foot soldiers?”

“No, I’m saying that if we give them the proper resources now and show an example of what the world can be like, we can mould them into better leaders for our country. There is no peace without fighting, and we are in that fighting stage.”

Those slimy bastards. Anya thought angrily, her sleeves wrinkled with how tight she was clutching them. Complaints filled the room following those words, and the President looked resigned from where she sat. Anya lost track of the arguments being thrown as Parliament descended into chaos. The reporters were shouting out questions, asking for him to explain further the research he spoke of. Would he really admit to the horrors she had befallen so easily?

“Enough! Let the room rest.” President Kasner finally yelled, calling attention back to her. She looked bone weary and Anya could tell she was anxious of the time. “You have all brought forward some interesting debates, but the main issue is still at hand. Do we fight or not?”

Mr Rantzau got to his feet again.

“President Kasner, our argument remains the same. We need to fight. We have no other choice. As much as Mr Desmond wishes to hold on to that fragile string of peace, it is frayed and unravelling before our eyes. If we chose not to fight now, the West will be upon us before we can blink. They will follow the example of the South and soon there will be no Ostania to fight for.”

It was a very compelling argument. Donovan sighed heavily, as if hating what he said was truth. He murmured to his surrounding party members, nodding at whatever decision they had said before leaning into the microphone.

“Party Leader Rantzau is right on one thing. Peace is fragile, and we are losing our country as we speak. But there has to be a better alternative than war. I am reluctant to agree to his ideals, but we will support whatever decision comes from the vote.”

This drew more anxious murmurs. Even Mr Rantzau looked surprised. President Kasner frowned at him thoughtfully before glancing at her watch with a sigh.

“We have fifteen minutes before summit begins. I will give you all five minutes to decide your vote before we call it. A decision needs to be made before we leave this room.”

Everyone went silent, waiting in baited breath as those five minutes ticked by. Usually there would be more debates, and other hearings before making such a grand decision, but they had been arguing for months and time was no longer a luxury. They could all hear the crowd outside, their cries for their country weighing heavily on their minds.

Finally the five minutes were up and the President clambered to her feet.

“We will begin. All those in favour of going to war?”

There was a lot more shuffling than Anya expected, as a lot of Parliament rose to their feet. She paled as three quarters of the room stood tall in their decision, the silence deafening from the over hangs as they realised what this meant. There was no need to see who was against it. The Cold War was broken. Ostania was officially going to war.

President Kasner surveyed the room with a heavy gaze. There were even a few members of the National Unity Party on their feet at this moment, Donovan included though he looked thoroughly defeated at the act.

“Well. We seem to have our-”

She was cut off as the sound of screaming sounded from outside. Surprised the members of Parliament turned towards the noise, wondering what was happening. The sound of marching feet could be heard in the corridors before the doors to the room burst open and the State Security Service filled inside, guns at the ready. One of them ran up to the President and whispered something quickly in her ear. Grimacing she turned back to her audience, whom were waiting for her report.

“It seems summit will have to be postponed for a while. The citizens outside are rioting and it’s unsafe for us to be here. Parliament is adjourned for now. We will finalise what we have discussed in the next few hours. Please follow the SSS out as they escort you to safety.”

The public in the overhangs began screaming for answers, as the politicians below scrambled out, trying to protect their own hides. Anya was half aware of the Director and Dr Dreher trying to leave as well, her eyes glancing down to find Donovan in the crowd. She frowned when she noticed him slipping towards the exit by himself, and rage flooded her system. The lying weasel had made his vote known and was now trying to maintain face in the public eye. She couldn’t let him get away with it.

Ripping her arm out of the Director’s hold, she raced towards the exit and down towards where Donovan would be fleeing. She passed some of the SSS gathering some politicians into a guarded room and from their thoughts she realised that WISE was in the building, completing their mission. She knew that for Operation Strix to be finished, Donovan needed to be taken down. He had shown his true colours in session. He had voted in favour of war.

Jumping down the steps two at a time, Anya ignored any aches her body had, running on pure adrenalin. Coat whipping behind her like a cape, she felt like the secret agent she had always dreamed of being for the first time in her life, and it filled her with extreme dread. Donovan couldn’t escape. That was her mission.

She spotted him turning off one of the side halls, slipping away from the crowd. Sliding down the balustrade for the last flight of stairs, Anya jumped off at the last second, using the momentum to propel her forward towards the exit. She stumbled a little on the landing, but regained her footing quickly, hurrying after the man. She closed the distance between them faster than expected and before he could even register that he had company she launched herself at him, tackling him to the ground.

They rolled down the carpeted corridor in a rough tumble, both winded from the attack. Anya used the surprise to her advantage and rolled on top of him, pinning the older man to the ground by his neck. Donovan seemed surprised at first, before his face contorted into a scowl.

“007. What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He snarled, spitting at her.

“It’s Agent Starlight to you, filth. And I’m completing my father’s mission.” She growled back, squeezing his throat more tightly. She unfortunately wasn’t quite as strong as him, having to use both hands to apply any decent pressure. She really needed some kind of cord or tie to choke him, but she didn’t have time for that. Donovan quickly realised this and easily her over powered her, flipping her off him into the wall. She wheezed as her back collided with the solid surface but she clambered to her feet in time to avoid his kick, ducking out of the way. Taking his out stretched leg, she jabbed at the pressure points her Mama had taught her about, causing him to swear. With one leg now rendered useless, Donovan resorted to swinging at her with his fists, and Anya squeaked as it nearly landed on her still recovering left shoulder. Stumbling away from the wall and under his reach, she hurried a little way down the hall, heart hammering in her chest.

What the fuck was she doing?! How did she think she could take on a fully grown man in her state? Sure, her parents had taught how to fight, but that was only to defend herself not to initiate the attack. She’d have to use her fight and speed to her advantage, and hope that her knockout punch would land another Desmond in agony. Puffing out her cheeks, Anya steadied her stance, raising her fists as Donovan ripped his hand free of the plaster and turned to her with a snarl.

“You made me bleed.” He said, his knuckles now scrapped raw.

“I’ll make you suffer.” She replied confidently, awed at her own bravo.

He didn’t like that. He had never been one to appreciate back talk, always demanding respect. He lunged at her quickly, swinging at her head with his left fist. She ducked, but he had already followed up with a knock from the right, and she hurriedly threw up her arms in a protective cross over her face, blocking the punch. She winced as her forearms bloomed with pain, but didn’t hesitate to drop down and aim a sweeping kick at his feet. Her foot made contact with the lower pressure point in his tibialis and coupled with her earlier attack, his leg crumbled beneath him. Cursing he hopped onto his other foot, allowing her the time to roll away and spring back to her feet. She was trying to decide if it was wise to go for his off kelter balance when he attacked, backhanding her across the face.

Anya howled, lifting a hand to the bruising cheek as tears sprung to her eyes. He had aimed for her fresh injury, lacing it with all the hatred he had stored in his heart for her. While she was distracted, he grabbed at her hair, pulling on it tightly. She swung madly, trying to fight him off but he was already punching at her solar plexus, knocking all the air from her lungs.

Black spots crowded her vision, and Anya struggled to do anything. He was pulling back as if to punch her again, still wobbly on his one good leg. The pure rage in his eyes made her scared, and she knew that if she didn’t do something, he would kill her there and then. Instead of trying to pull away from his reach, she stumbled in further, surprising him enough to loosen his grip on her hair, and giving her the range of movement to swing her own upper cut across his chin.

The satisfaction she had a five-year-old at the strength of her punch was nothing in comparison to seeing his head whip back, blood spurting from his lips.

Heaving she fell backwards, barely managing to stay on her feet as she watched him stagger, spitting out blood as he went. She knew she had hurt her hand with that ill formed punch, but she was beyond caring. She had something to prove. Someone to live for. She was not going to suffer at his hands anymore.

“You little bitch. I should have killed you when I had the chance.” He yelled, grabbing one of the decorative vases that sat on display nearby. Anya’s eyes widened as he hurled it at her, dodging the missile as it smashed against the wall to her right. He was running towards her, dragging his useless leg against the carpet and she had to will her feet to move quickly. Looking around for a weapon of her own, she snatched one of the paintings off the wall and swung it out at him, smashing the canvas over his head. It didn’t even slow him down for a second and she narrowly missed his next punch. Ripping the broken frame from off his shoulders, Donovan tossed it at her, scratching at her torso with the broken wood. Anya tripped backwards, stumbling over a divot in the carpet, falling onto her butt painfully. He continued to advance, and she snatched at a piece of the broken framing hurriedly, stabbing it into his face when he leaned over to strangle her.

It made contact with his eye, piercing the squishy organ roughly. Horrified at her own daring, Anya watched as he lurched back, clutching at his wound in pain. The wood remained in her hand, splintered and bleeding and she could only numbly stare at it in disbelief. Blood was pouring down his face, but Donovan was already turning back towards her, blocking out the pain with his murderous intent. She scrambled to her feet, dropping her crude weapon as she raced down the hallway, looking for an exit.

She could hear his thoughts, filled with numerous ways of how he was going to kill her, slowly and painfully for what she had done. His voice echoed them down the hall, and she resisted covering her ears, knowing that he meant every last word. Surprisingly his thoughts weren’t the only ones to filter into her mind. Skidding to a halt at the end of the corridor, she glanced left and right, knowing Donovan was a fair few metres behind her, struggling to catch up. The other thoughts were familiar, calling of safety. WISE agents were nearby, and if she managed to lead Donovan towards them, they would surely jump in to protect her. Her muscles were screaming at her, the energy she had at the start of this attack fading away. A month of electronic torture and beatings had weakened her, and this fight was one she wasn’t really ready to have. She had the advantage for now, but he was closing in. Glancing over her shoulder she shrieked when she saw how close he had gotten, his punch only cuffing her cheek as she moved.

“You worthless, piece of filth! How dare you hurt me? You were meant to be nothing more than a tool. You aren’t even human!” Donovan screamed at her, grabbing at her coat. She barely slipped out of his reach, deciding to run to the left, hoping that’s where the voices were coming from. Her lungs ached with the effort, panic seeping through her. She emerged from the corridor into an overhead pass, the doors to the entrance of Parliament standing across the way about ten metres below. She couldn’t see anyone else around, and the riot outside was loud in her head. Panting she leaned against the railing, desperately looking around for the agents. They had to be nearby. If she screamed for them, would they come running?

“HELP!” She yelled, drawing all her breath into the sound, “HELP! DONOVAN IS TRYING TO KILL ME!”

The sound of fabric swishing towards her was her only alert and she didn’t have time to avoid the punch to the back of her head. Groaning she staggered against the railing, nearly falling over as she tried to maintain her balance. Donovan pinned her against it, hands throttling her neck again just like two days ago. Choking she scrambled to escape his grasp, hoping that the agents had heard her.

“No one will save you. You’re dead.” He spat, lifting her up towards the edge. Anya took as deep a breath as she could, kicking out in an attempt to land any last attack. Her foot caught in his stomach and he stumbled forward, his grip loosening slightly on her throat. She dropped her arms, preparing to catch herself on the railings if he dropped her, as he failed to maintain his balance and fell against the railing. They were both leaning heavily over the edge, one swift over balanced movement from falling when a bright light exploded from behind them, fire bursting through the doors. The boom of the explosion and breaking glass quickly followed, sending a blast wave through the building. Anya could only registered the way Donovan’s eyes filled with surprise as they were knocked off their feet, plummeting to the ground below.

Then, the darkness took over and she felt nothing but pain.

Chapter Text

Parliament was falling.

Screams of horror and rage echoed amongst the crowd as they tried to escape from the burning building, shoving those who dared stand in their way aside. The SSS were trying their best to do crowd control, not wanting a repeat stampede after the air siren hoax. But amongst a crowd as desperate as this, there were always those eager for blood and violence, whom would not listen to reason. They had come for action, to finally get the confirmation that they’d go to war. For that to be knocked from their grasp and replaced with a different panic than they hoped to achieve, well. They had to let loose somehow.

The rioting started instantly. More yells of anger at the Government’s inaction despite the circumstances at hand. Threats to hunt down and kill those who had stood in their way. Some picking up pieces of the burning building, and lobbing it at the SSS and the innocent bystanders they were protecting. Security had been tight, having expected a reaction of this level. But even they were overwhelmed with how strong the anger was of Ostania’s citizens. They were already placing calls for the army to back them up.

Those stuck inside coughed in the thick smoke, crawling on their hands and knees towards any kind of exit. Windows were broken in their hurry, as politicians and civilians alike rolled through the rough glass onto the pristine gardens bordering the building. Reporters far enough away from the grounds where hurriedly taking pictures, desperate to be the ones to report this madness in the evening paper.

It was pure chaos.

Lying on the floor of entrance to Parliament, two badly wounded bodies lay. The male, older and bleeding profusely seemed to be dead, but his chest rose with shallow breathing. The much younger girl was curled in a ball, pink hair damp with blood and soot, but groaning in agony. Blood is pouring from her nose and face, and she’s clutching at her ears. There’s a ringing sensation flowing through her brain, along with the scattered words of many peoples’ thoughts.

Make it stop.

Wincing, she hacks at the smoke filling the room, unable to find the strength to move just yet. Her fight and subsequent fall from the explosion have winded her, and all her limbs feel like lead. Landing on Donovan helped cushion her fall, but the sickening crack of his head against the tile as they thudded to the ground plays over and over again in her mind alongside the screaming. Spitting out some blood, Anya slowly opens her eyes.

Fire licked at the walls around her, its heat pressing against her skin. Thick black smoke circled the top of the room, blocking out the passage way she had just been on. She wasn’t sure how long she had been lying here, too dazed to comprehend time. But she knew that if she waited any longer, she wasn’t going to survive.

Struggling onto all fours, she wheezed some more, squeezing her eyes shut. The world span at any movement and she could feel her breakfast lurching into her throat. Unable to stop it, she threw up against the soot covered marble, heaving at the effort. She continued like this for a while, until eventually she could draw enough air into her lungs and the nausea subsided. Arms trembling at the effort of holding herself up, she willed her body to move backwards as to not collapse into her pile of spew. Somehow the floor was still cool through the thin fabric of her dress and against her bare legs, and she latched on to that sensation instead of the overbearing heat. No one had tried to exit or enter through the front doors due to the blast originating here, and she needed to find a way to escape. Glancing at Donovan’s prone body, she wondered if she should try taking him with her.

She buckled unexpectedly, crashing against the floor again. Ah, that’d be a no then. Besides he could burn to a crisp for all she cared. But maybe Damian and Demetrius wanted a body to bury. Oh, he was still breathing. Shit. She didn’t have the strength or guts to finish him off.

Actually, she didn’t have any strength. Maybe this is where it ended for her. At least she accomplished her missions. Donovan wasn’t going to hurt anyone ever again. The war had been decided, but no public announcement had been made yet. Besides, who knows how many of those votes now counted with at least one politician...incapacitated. The evening papers will be too full of this attack on Parliament to report that anyway. And she’s sure WISE and the SSS would stop any publications of any war mentions before they could hit the streets. Let the country remain in peace for a little while longer.

Closing her eyes, she took in a ragged breath. She was tired. She had done so much in so little time. She just wanted to rest forever. Could she be allowed that?

She drifted back into a state of unconsciousness, barely aware of what was going on around her. So when the sound of feet slapping against the tiles filled the room, and shouts of her name echoed through the haze, she frowned in confusion.

She was dead. Why did the voices sound so desperate?

A pair of gloved hands shook at her shoulder lightly, and she was made a small whimper of pain at the touch.

“Oh good, she’s alive and awake. Don’t move her encase she’s broken her spine. She’s looks incredibly injured.” A voice said, filled with relief. She recognises that voice. Gruff if a little whinny. Where has she heard it before?

“Second Lieutenant sir, what about Desmond?”

“Ah, I suppose you should register first aid on him as well. But my darling niece is more important.”

There was a shuffling of feet, and she saw a stretcher lowered to the ground beside her. Black shoes entered her vision, along with the hem of military green pants. She blinked and found herself looking into red, concerned eyes, black hair falling into them slightly.

“Heya Chihuahua Girl. Keep holding on for me okay?”

“..dexter.” Was all she was able to mumble, and he grinned somewhat somberly.

“That’s me. Now this may hurt. Continue being strong alright?”

Hands gently lifted her from the ground and onto the stretcher, and she groaned loudly in pain. A hand soothed the hair away from her face, patting at her none injured cheek gently.

“Get them out of here and to the medics. I’ll continue looking for any other survivors.”

Anya tried to protest, wanting nothing more than the comfort of her uncle but he just stroked her hair again comfortingly.

“Rest Anya. You’re safe now.”

________________________________________________________________________________

She is on the comfiest surface she has ever had the pleasure of lying on. Sighing as the cloud like texture cushions her head, Anya stirs awake slowly. That’s all she feels like she’s been doing lately. Slowly waking up in new situations. It takes a moment, but the pain comes back quickly, though hazed with the effects of whatever drug is pumping in her veins.

Huh, I’m alive. She thinks, dumbfounded by the fact. Did that all really happen?

Looking around the room, she half expects to be back in her cot at the lab, sweating after an intense round of electrocution. But when she sees the IV stand and the machines beeping away by her bed, she realises that no, she’s definitely in a hospital. The scientists have never put her in a room so nice during her stay, and the soft lighting of the room is that of the afternoon sun, shinning on the other occupied beds. Reaching up to rub at her face, she winces at the motion but continues to scratch at the itch of her eyelid. The other occupants of the room are all in states of semi consciousness as well, and from the slowly churning thoughts circulating, she knows they’re all victims of the fire as. Most of them are SSS agents, placing her a private ward of the hospital with them. She remembers Uncle Yuri ordering for her safety, and wonders if he had managed to get everybody out.

A nurse enters the room, wheeling a cart of extra bedding and water in front of her. She slowly does her rounds to each bedside, offering extra blankets and pillow adjustments, before topping up the water on their nightstands. She checks a few charts, helping some with medication or fiddling with IVs if needed before finally coming to Anya’s bed. Seeing her green eyes staring up at her, the Nurse breaks into a wide smile.

“Oh Miss Forger, good afternoon. I’m glad to see you awake. How are you feeling?”

“Like shit.” Anya croaks, wincing at how rough her voice sounds. The nurse laughs and helps her sit up slowly.

“Here, have some water. You’ve got a bit of smoke inhalation in your lungs, and numerous injuries. Water will help ease the dryness of your throat first and offer some clarity.”

Her hands trembled too much to grasp onto the cup, so the nurse ever so patiently helped her drink it. Yeah she was definitely back in the real world. None of the scientists or doctors would have helped do that.

Once she had finished, the nurse set aside the cup and perched lightly on the edge of her bed, clipboard in hand. Smiling at Anya, she started going through her records.

“You’ve been through hell and back recently haven’t you my dear? I’m surprised you’re awake despite all the pain you must be in. If you want to go back to sleep, we can hold off this assessment until you feel a little better?”

Anya shook her head slightly.

“No, I’m...okay I guess. What’s the prognosis?”

Broken ribs. Smoke inhalation. A concussion. Bruised larynx. Bruising to eighty percent of her body. A minor fracture to her jaw. Cuts and abrasions all over her body. Miraculously, no broken limbs.

“But we are concerned about your heart rate and your blood pressure. You have some interesting older injuries as well, especially burn marks around your temple and collarbone. Your left shoulder seems to have been dislocated a little while ago, but never treated am I correct? Did you set it yourself?”

“Yeah. Hurt like a bitch at the time too.”

“Hmm. I don’t know what happened to you, the SSS has kept that information on a need-to-know basis, but I can tell the signs of torture from a mile away. Whatever you’ve been through lately young lady is astounding. You’re a real trooper.”

Anya smiled weakly, cherishing all her words of comfort.

“Thank you. I did it for our country.”

The nurse looked concerned at that, but didn’t push it further. Getting to her feet, she replaced the clipboard and soothed out the blankets. Tucking Anya in until she was comfortable, she brushed the hair out of her face.

“Your parents arrived a little while ago, and are getting treated for their own injuries. They got caught in the explosion as well. They tried to come here first to see you, but we insisted on them receiving medical care first and to wait for you to wake up. Do you want me to send them in here now? Or would you like to be wheeled into a separate space so you have some privacy when you reconnect?”

“Separate space. Please. I haven’t seen them in so long.” She whispered, tears gathering in her eyes. The nurse just smiled kindly and patted her head.

“I’ll get that arranged now.”

Twenty minutes later, Anya found herself in a new room, staring anxiously at the doorway as she tried to calm her racing heart. What would she say when she saw them again? How injured were they? How would they react her injuries?

Would they be proud of what she had done?

The sound of hurried footsteps approaching made her perk up, and before she knew it, they were there, silhouetted in the doorway.

There was silence, the three Forgers staring at each other in disbelief. They were dishevelled and bruised, minor nicks scattering their exposed skin. Loid seemed to be favouring a leg, while Yor had a tightly wound bandage around her arm. Anya realised she herself was wearing a light hospital gown, similar to the ones she wore for the past month, her clothes from earlier folded on the seat beside her. Before she could say anything, Yor burst into tears and crossed the room in three long strides, smothering Anya in a hug. She didn’t care that it was too tight and she was so very sore, she clung to her mother, fingers scrambling to get purchase on her shirt.

“My baby.” Yor whimpered, burying Anya’s face against her chest, her own nose nuzzling into her pink hair. Loid was slower to approach, trembling legs carrying him across the floor. Anya sensed he was near, and flung one arm out to him, grabbing desperately at thin air until his jacket was in her grasp. Pulling him into the hug, she turned so she could lay her head against his heart, sighing in relief when she heard its frantic beating.

This is what she needed. Her parents and their suffocating embrace, beating hearts letting her know they were alive. She had been haunted with too many dreams of them lying dead in the middle of the road, and despite murmurs that they had survived, nothing bet this moment.

“Peanut. We are so fucken proud of you.” Loid finally murmured against her hair as Yor squeezed her tighter, nodding at his words.

That’s all it took.

Anya broke.

She finally let all the tears she had been holding in, out. She cried in relief at first; at the wellbeing of her parents, her survival, the mission finally being over. Then the sobs turned to ones choked with fear; the horrors she had witnessed, the experiments they had put her through, the physical torture her body had endured. And when that was finally out of her system, the tears still came, for the loss of her childlike innocence and the heart wrenching pain she was in.

Her parents held her through it all, their own tears flowing down their faces. If anyone was to understand even a tiny part of her pain, it’d be them. The Forgers had all been dealt a rough hand in life. But now...

Now it may be time for it go their way for once.

The small family stayed like that for a long time, not willing to let go of one another unless someone were to slip away. Eventually Anya had to draw back, her arms too tired to hold on for much longer. When she did, she finally took a good look at her parents, grimacing at their appearances. Seeing her eyes trace their injuries, both parents shuffled uncomfortably.

“It’s not as bad as it looks.” Yor started, having no real concept of pain anymore, as she touched the bandage on her arm. “All our injuries are shallow. Most of it from the blast of the rubble. Though your father was thrown through a window.”

“You were in the building?”

“We got your message from Agent Northwood. Clever little cipher you made there. It gave us just enough time to infiltrate Parliament security and work a sort of plan with our SSS friends. Yuri was furious when he found out everything.” Loid said, running a hand over his silvering hair. Anya was surprised to notice that it wasn’t ash tinting it like she originally thought. He really was just getting old.

“Becky and I made the cipher a few months ago for...research purposes. I’m glad it worked.” Anya murmured, eyes tracing the gauntness of her father’s cheeks. His complexion was too pale, his scar bright in comparison. “Also Yuri was the one who found me. Did you see him? Is he safe?”

“No he was on the opposite of the building from us. We were hunting for your captors. We thought that if we found them, we’d find you.” Yor explained, clutching at her hand tightly, her thumb lightly grazing her knuckles. “We were...heart broken when we couldn’t find them.”

Anya’s heart cracked at how forlorn her expression was.

“Mama.” She whispered, flipping her hand to entwine it with hers.

“No one knew who to look for either. It was like hunting shadows.”

“That’s pretty ironic coming from you two.”

Loid let out a harsh chuckle as the wrinkles around Yor’s face creased further. “Yeah, thankfully your terrible disguise helped jog people’s memories, and they managed to give us a brief description of the man and woman you had been seen with all week. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed in you Anya. You’ve got better sense than that to step out in such...tacky workmanship.”

“I’ll have you know it wasn’t my doing! I tried to fix it. But the Director was nuts. She didn’t really understand ‘blending’. Either in the crowd or with make up.” Anya paused, considering something a moment. “Maybe that’s why she hired him.”

“Who?” Loid asked, eyebrow quirked.

“You know, that man I said was stalking me. He was a spy as well. I overheard Dre Dreher complaining about him one day in the lab. Ugh, I forget his name. You...'fought' him once Papa.” She stressed the word carefully, frowning as her memory slowly kicked into gear.

“I did?” Loid said, looking surprised. “But I’ve fought a lot of people hunny.”

“Mmm I know. I just remember you coming home that day when I was little, whining about a terrible spy.”

Yor’s face lit up, bringing some colour to her pasty complexion. “Daybreak!”

Anya looked up at the name, nodding quickly. “Yes! Daybreak!”

“That fool?” Loid could only stare between the two. “He was hired to follow you?”

“Apparently. Though maybe I should be thankful he did such a shit job. If I had never of noticed him, or found the ring he left behind, I wouldn’t have known what to prepare for with the threats.” Anya said slowly, thinking back over it all. Loid just sat back on his hunches in utter disbelief.

“I don’t know if I want to straggle the arrogant fool or shake his hand.” He murmured, his eyes glazing over. Yor hauled him up onto the bed beside her, patting his shoulder comfortingly.

“We can do both when we find him.” She suggested, a few other murderous ploys running through her mind behind that simple smile. Anya flapped a hand lazily.

“Nah, you’re too late. He’s dismembered in the woods at the estate somewhere. They got fed up with his narcissism before they caught me, and tried some of the experiments on him. His brain got fried.”

The adults paled at how casually she recounted this, and she wondered if her empathy really was shot. It wasn’t long before tears pricked at Yor’s eyes again and she let out a loud sniffle.

“We were so close to losing you. We don’t even know the half of what you went through.”

The mood immediately became somber again. Anya tried her best to reassure them, leaning forward to place gentle hands on their shoulders.

“Hey, hey! I’m okay! I made it through. I’m alive and with you guys again. I’m a peanut with one hard shell remember?” Her vision was getting blurry again, and she choked back a sob, “I made it through cause all I could think about was you guys and my friends. You were with me every single day.”

It was Loid who tucked her into their embrace again, squeezing her until she felt like she might pop.

“We are never letting you go again.”

She could do nothing but bawl against his shoulder.

Hours later, as the afternoon dwindled into dusk, they sat around a small table at the cafeteria, sharing a meal. Anya had changed out of the scrubs at the first chance she got, willing to wear the destroyed clothes from the summit than be reminded of her uniform at the lab. She was a little cold in them, but felt far safer, wearing it almost like a badge of honour. She was nibbling on some fries, watching as her parents flirted when a familiar figure entered the room, power walking towards them.

Lowering her handful of potato, Anya stared up at her in surprise.

“Aunty Sherry,” She started to say, alerting her parents to her presence. “It’s-”

The Handler engulfed her in a tight hug, causing her to wheeze. After moment she stepped back, taking a deep breath as if to compose herself.

“Hello Agent Starlight. Thank you for your endeavours. Your courage and resourcefulness have been recognised.” She said stiffly, but her eyes swam with emotion. Anya could only blink back at her, unsure of what to say.

“Handler, what’s the meaning of this?” Loid asked quietly, frown deeply settled on his brow.

“Forgive me, I let my emotions get the better of me.” She murmured, straightening her posture. “I was sent to find you. There’s be news.”

She regarded them all carefully, her eyes darting to nearby tables quickly as if judging the environment. Coming to a decision that they were safe for now, she slid into the empty chair beside Anya, folding her hands on the table.

“I just got word from the higher ups that the decision for war has been over turned. With bomb killing a fair few members of Parliament and injuring a dozen more, many retracted their vote. President Kasner announced about half hour ago, that they were postponing the summit for about a month, give the city to recover and rebuild. There's a lot of rioting happening in the streets at the moment. And we’re concerned that within all the chaos, Anya’s captors will come looking for her here and take her away again. It’s the perfect environment for it and we can only provide so much security without seeming suspicious in a public hospital.”

“You want to move her to out of the city don’t you.” Loid growled, fists curling in his lap. “What if I don’t want to? Look what happened last time we tried to leave the city unseen?”

“I understand Twilight, it's not something I wanted to risk either but the bunkers are safer. She won’t be going too far, about thirty minutes away. It’s the same bunker that Donovan currently resides in. He’s in surgery right now. Anya did a right number on his eye it seems.”

“You’re keeping the bastard alive?”

“Unfortunately, we need information only he possesses. Once we extract that, he’s in the hands of the SSS. We can’t do much. His family have been reported to the SSS, and being brought in for questioning. We’re unsure of how deep their involvement went, especially with Demetrius.”

Anya tried not to look curious about that. She already wanted to leave the hospital, sick of all the beeping machines and moaning of the other occupants, and the opportunity to explore a WISE bunker was rather tempting. Plus, if someone were to...

Before she could even open her mouth to argue her case, there was a wail of an alarm from the hallway, and a bunch of nurses flew by. Rumbling from outside reached their ears, and the Handler grimaced.

“Another bomb. That’s the third one today. These riots are going to enact a civil war if they’re not careful. Quickly, we need to leave now.”

Reluctantly the older Forgers abandoned their meal, not noticing their daughter’s frantic haste to follow the Handler. They stuck together tightly, sandwiching Anya between them all, guarding all her weak spots. Handler led them down to the underground garage, crossing a few rows until she stopped in front of a non-descript Honda Acord, unlocking its driver side door. Loid seemed like he wanted to step in and drive, but she just shot him a glare that made him recoil as if scolded and slide into the passenger seat without any further argument. Anya and Yor couldn’t help but giggle at this as they clambered into the backseat.

It wasn’t until they had pulled out of the garage and had successfully navigated the back streets away from the riots, did they begin to relax, their check for wire taps or bugs cleared. Relaxing in her seat, Anya made eye contact with the Handler in the review mirror, and swore she saw a smile grace her lips.

“One last thing Agent Twilight.” She said softly, the city lights filling their car periodically.

“What’s that?”

“Congratulations. Operation Strix was a success. It’s finally over.”

Chapter Text

The words rang in the silence of the car heavily.

It was over. After years of careful planning and execution, Operation Strix was done. There was a bitterness on Anya’s tongue as she mouthed the words to herself. Victory felt like the morning fuzz on her teeth, present but unacceptable. How could they celebrate when they had been compromised for years, toyed with by the enemy for his pure enjoyment? If they had known each other's secrets from the start, would her heart be feeling this heavy?

Staring out at the passing buildings, she tried to focus on the positives. She was back with her family. Donovan was in custody. War would not be coming to Ostania. They were fragile wins, but she treasured them all the same.

Sighing, she slumped against the door, plagued with all the losses instead. The Director and Dr Dreher were still on the loose, probably half way back to their lab by now. She had no way of directing WISE or the SSS to it, having gotten lost after the first few turns on the main highway when they left. She may be able to point it out on a map, but there was a lot of sprawling land north...west(?) of Berlint. Damn, she wasn’t even sure what direction they had come from.

And the riots were pretty bad. She knew the citizens wanted answers, and if they had to spill blood to get it, they weren’t concerned. She would hate for them to have prevented a war with their neighbours, only for one to break out internally.

They continued on, bumping over some unevenly filled potholes the closer they got to the city limits. Sherwood handled the car smoothly, directing them towards some lay lowing buildings barely lit in the evening glow. As they drove into the hidden driveway, Anya had to stifle a yawn. Today had been long. She was ready to crash into some semi plush bed and sleep for years.

A few guards came out to greet them as they pulled into a small lot. No one spoke as they exited the car, Anya getting out last at an unspoken command from the adults. The guards bowed to the Handler as she approached, briefing her in hushed tones. Anya was tempted to eavesdrop, but she was over mind reading for a while. Swaying on her feet slightly, she leaned heavily against her Papa’s side, feeling like a five year old again.

“Want me to carry you?” He murmured, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She considered it for a moment before shaking her head.

“Nah. I’m not five anymore.”

Loid glanced down at her his expression filled with sad, fatherly affection.

“No, you’re not.” He said softly, pride laced in his tone. She grinned up at him, wrapping her arms around his waist.

“You know, I never did thank you for everything you did. It’s hard to be a spy.”

He sighed, returning her embrace tightly.

“It’s true, it’s a tough job. I long ago accepted I’d get no thanks for doing this. But I did it for you anyway.”

Anya hid her face in his jacket, masking her tears. Yor stood to the side silently, not wanting to interrupt their little moment. Anya could feel her reluctance, and blindly reached out to grab her hand, pulling her into the embrace.

“Papa may have started this forgery of a family, but you made it real Mama.”

Yor’s lip trembled heavily.

A small cough broke their moment, and they looked up to see the Handler looking guilty nearby.

“Sorry, I know you have a lot of catching up to do. But we need to move inside. There’s quite a bit we need to go over before tomorrow morning. As soon as that’s done, you can rest. The next few days are going to be draining.”

Sighing, the three looped arms and followed her inside, the guards bringing up the rear. She led them through the halls, until they reached a small but cosy office. Pulling the chair out behind the desk, Handler waved at them to sit around the room, and as one they collapsed into the low-lying couch, squished together. She pulled a face at their close contact.

“I forgot how...” she waved a hand as if trying to find the right word, but failed. Instead, she just gestured at them. “Honestly Twilight, I’m glad you got over that denial stage you were in for so long. ‘For the mission’ my ass.”

Anya couldn’t help but laugh as her parents’ faces reddened quickly.

Opening a draw, Handler brought out some folders and spread them across the desk, leaning over them with a sigh.

“Now Anya, I know it’s the last thing you really want to go over, but we need to talk about Donovan and his involvement in your case. He’s currently in a coma, so we won’t be able to question him for some time. Is it true he’s known about Operation Strix for years now?”

“Apparently. I don’t know if he was power tripping when he told me the other day, but he seemed rather smug about it. He definitely knew recently. He was the one to shot Papa and Mama when I was kidnapped.” Anya said slowly.

“And what about Demetrius? What part did he play in this?”

Anya shuffled uncomfortably.

“He...he knew a little. But when I spoke to him yesterday, he seemed horrified.”

“You spoke to him yesterday?”

“Yeah, I had to tell him everything. He spotted me in the hallway outside his father’s office. Donovan had roped me and the Director into spying on him, seeing how much he knew earlier in the day.”

The Handler grumbled, running a tired hand over her face.

“Okay, what about Melinda? Or Damian? What is their involvement?”

Anya felt her blood run cold.

“Excuse me?” She whispered quietly.

“Hmm?”

“I said excuse me. Who’s involvement?”

The Handler regarded her before huffing in annoyance.

“Come on Anya, I know you have an attachment to the Desmond boy, but you can’t deny he wasn’t involved. He was spotted having lunch with his brother months ago. Witnesses said that part of their conversation revolved around Donovan’s financial backing of you case. They can’t be innocent in this.”

“No. Damian is innocent. He would never do...” She trailed off, thinking back to their conversation in her room all that time ago. He never really mentioned much of his conversation with Demetrius, focusing only on his incredibly attractive new piercings. He did mention the symbol on the ring, but she had put it down to their own investigation at the time.

“Think now Anya. Did he-”

“NO!” She shouted, jumping to her feet in rage. “Sy-on boy would never do something like that! He wasn’t even on Donovan’s radar let alone his payroll! Donovan used my feelings for him as a threat. Said he would corrupt Damian into some little foot soldier who would die for his country and father’s sake! Laughed about it! He was proud that none of his family knew of his terror. He was nervous over the fact Demetrius was suspicious of him. He only got angry when I mentioned how his wife must hate him. That’s how I got these bruises around my neck!”

Tears were beginning to form again. All her life she had been told to get close to Damian, he was the son of her father’s target. And she did just as she was asked. She got to know the boy, awkward and slightly reserved, sheltered in his privileged upbringing. Ego the size of the moon that she had happily deflated any chance she got. She loved their bickering, the constant challenge to one up another. And as they grew up, and the mission was put more or less on the back burner, she had clung to their friendship, unwilling to let him go. He seemed to feel the same, allowing her to hold his hand, helping her with studying and gossiping about their friends. He showed his softer side, snuggling up to her on his touch starved days, or simply sharing affectionate kisses on foreheads or cheeks when he knew she was down. She knew his deepest fears and secrets. She was well aware of went on his mind ninety percent of the time, and not once did he ever think of seriously harming her.

Well, aside from the desire to strangle her when they were shouting till they were red in the face, demanding the other accept they were right.

No, he had no clue about his father’s plans. He may have idolised him as a boy, but he had long grown out of that. He still yearned for his father’s affection though, maybe just one ‘you did good son’ after some kind of achievement, but he wouldn’t go as far as participating in war crimes to do it.

“Anya, you’ve always said Damian would do anything for his father-” Loid began to say, but stopped when he saw the rage in his daughter’s eyes.

“When he was six. He’s his own man now. He knows better. He strives to do better.”

“Still, even if that’s the case, we have to hold him here for the investigation.” The Handler muttered, picking up another file. “He may not know it, but he’s filled with valuable information.”

Anya froze.

“He’s here?”

“Hmm? Yes. We escorted him here under the guise of his own safety when Parliament was attacked. We’re keeping an eye on him while we question Demetrius. Melinda is in a separate building, talking to the SSS- hey where are you going?!”

Anya wasn’t listening anymore. She ran out of the room, swinging the door open violently in her rage. She had to find him. He must be so confused right now. As much as he was distanced from his family, he loved them all the same. That was one thing they had bonded over. Family was everything.

Heart hammering in her chest, her feet pounded against the laminate floors as she flew down the long corridors, occasionally glancing into the rooms quickly. She had no idea where to go, racing blindly into the maze of the building. She just thought he had to be close to the centre, somewhere he couldn’t easily run from.

For minutes she ran, her breath shallow with anxiety and exhaustion. Wide tired eyes searched every corridor, as her mind screamed at her to stop. She clipped a wall at one turn, causing her to fall heavily to the ground. Wincing as every injury flamed, she peeled her face off the floor and clumsily got to her feet, feeling the wound on her cheek break open. Wrinkling her nose, she realised it was bleeding as well, and she cursed how fragile her body was right now.

Wobbling she leaned on the wall for support, looking around her nervously. She could feel the blood trickling down her face, mixing in with the soot that covered her skin to drip onto her clothes. Using the sleeve of her coat, she wiped at them in annoyance, having no time to stem the flow. It’d stop soon enough. She probably didn’t have any more blood to bleed at this point anyway.

Choosing another random direction, she took off again, frantic to find him. They were surely catching up to her by now. The staff she passed were startled, yelling in surprise as she weaved around them. They probably would alert the Handler and her parents to where she was. She simply didn’t have enough time.

Sliding around the corner in her dainty scruffs, she tried not to trip again and instead use the momentum to carry her forward, her singed curls slapping across her face. Brushing them aside in annoyance she continued on, straining to hear anything other than her own heartbeat. She ignored the voices calling her to come back, her desperation calling her forward. Screw the consequences of her actions later, this was important. He needed her. She needed him.

And then, like always, she heard him.

There

She somehow managed to sped up, clinging to the fleeting familiar thoughts like a life line. Her chest hurt unbearably and she knew her lungs were still trying to recover from the smoke.

Approaching the last corner, she managed to sail around this one more smoothly and immediately spotted her target, sitting outside one of the rooms by himself. Damian looked a mess as well, clothes rumpled and untucked, hair sticking up in all directions as if he had been repeatedly tugging at it. She briefly considered smoothing out her own appearance, but his tired, worried expression vanquished that from her mind. She must have called out, as his head jerked up in surprise, his eyes widening when he spotted her. Hurriedly he jumped to his feet but before he could do anything she was slamming into him, clutching at him tightly.

Despite a small stumble, he managed to hold his ground, holding her just as firmly as if he was afraid to let go.

“You’re here, you’re here, oh thank god you’re here. You’re safe. You’re here.” She gasped raggedly against his shoulder, feeling his shocked confusion roll over her. Happy, but so utterly confused.

“Anya?! What are you doing here? H-how'd you escape? Are you okay? What’s going on?” He babbled, trying to hide the shakiness in his voice. He tried to step back to look at her, but she just clung to him tighter, afraid of what might happen if she let go.

“I’m okay, it’s you I’m worried about Sy-on boy. Are you okay?”

She felt him start to shake, hands clutching at the destroyed coat around her shoulders.

“Are you kidding me right now? You’re worried about me? Anya I haven’t seen you in over a month! Last I saw you, you had been attacked at school and having a panic attack in my arms. Then I find out you’d been kidnapped by those same crazy scientists when you were meant to be fleeing to Westalis?” He half yelled, half laughed, as if he was unable to believe it himself, “Anya, I thought I’d never see you again. Yet here you are, in some crazy bunker, looking like you should be restrained to a hospital bed until you’re better. Seriously, what war have you been through?”

He tried to pull away again but she refused to look him in the eye just yet. She wanted to pretend this was just another one of their hugs, wrapped in his cloak protectively as they shared each other’s warmth on the school grounds.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you worry. I really did mean what I wrote in those letters. They surprised us and-”

He cut her off with a tight, but gentle squeeze.

“You don’t have a damn thing to apologise for. You didn’t ask for any of that.” He growled in her ear, and she had to repress the shudder that rolled down her spine. Taking a deep breath, she nuzzled closer to his heart, taking comfort in its steady toll. After a moment, he leaned down to whisper in her ear.

“What’s going on Anya? Do you know why we’re here? Are we safe here? Are you in danger? I was just at the manor this afternoon, bored as fuck mind you, when I get this call that Father was in some sort of serious accident at Parliament and they weren’t sure if he was going to survive, and then these guys just turned up at the house and took us here before separating us and no one is telling me what’s going on, or how Father is, or if the rest of my family is safe, and I've been here for ages waiting on someone to let me in and no one has stopped to answer me and-”

She finally pulled back enough to take his face in her hands, halting his flow of questions. Stroking his face soothingly she tried to give a comforting smile.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Your family is safe. I'm safe. Your Father was in the operating room, and last I heard he’s in a coma. I’m sure it’s a medically induced one, to help him recover.”

He stared down at her in surprise, eyes shimmering with tears.

“How’d you know that? What’s going on?” He asked again, but she could only shake her head in response.

“It’s hard to explain. I think I have to wait until your Father is cleared before I’m allowed to tell you anything Damian. I’m truly sorry about that. I know how hard it is being kept in the dark. Just know that I’m fighting for you and after this there’ll officially be no more secrets between us. Well, at least on my end.”

He paused, considering her words with a thoughtful frown.

“Can you at least tell me where we are? And who those people were? Where you've been? And why you look like you’ve just gone through a battlefield? Seriously, you should be getting some medical attention for the cut on your cheek, it could get infected.”

She just buried herself back into his embrace uncaring about her injuries.

“We’re in a safe place. Though its location is undisclosed. The people are a group of intelligence officers that have been working for as long as I can remember to help your family and the country. And like I said, I’m okay. You’re more important right now.”

She could tell that her response brought up more questions than answers but he also knew she wouldn’t give him any more information. Burying his face in her filthy hair, he inhaled shakily.

“I was so scared Anya.” He whispered making her clutch at him tighter. “And so confused. I just want to know what’s going on.”

“I know, I know.” she whispered back, hands rubbing his back in comfort. “That’s why I’m here.”

She didn’t want to reflect on her involvement in the situation just yet. But when she told him the whole story, would he take her side right? What the Handler had implied was completely unfunded correct? She repressed the thought, burying her nose into his chest, savouring his embrace. Any consideration of what was going to happen outside these long corridors once the aftermath came to light didn’t matter right now. The tall teen in her embrace and how she could help him was all she cared about. She’d protect him from WISE and the SSS. She’d be his pillar of strength, like he had been hers during those dark, small hours at the lab.

They stood there, wrapped up in each other for a while, simply cherishing that the other was living and breathing in their embrace. If anyone came into the corridor they didn’t notice, uncaring to the rest of the world. But eventually, guilt at her actions began to eat away at her, and she pulled back slowly.

Glancing over her shoulder she realised they were still alone, no one having found her yet. Though there was definitely a small blood trailing leading her way. She sighed, knowing that they were waiting for her to return to them.

“I gotta go.” She said reluctantly, stepping out his embrace and turning to leave. “I wasn’t meant to come find you anyway. I’m going to be in serious trouble with my Papa for this.”

“Wait, you’re leaving?”

“Yeah, I’m not even sure where I’m going after this. This was just a stopping point, a safe house for a few hours I think.” She explained with a tired smile.

His hands scrambled on her shoulders, not wanting her to leave.

“What?! No! I just got you back! You can’t leave.” He exclaimed, and her heart tore in two. She really didn’t want to leave him either, but she had to face the music.

“I have to. I was in the middle of giving an official report on everything that happened, when I escaped to come see you. I promise it won’t be for long...though if my Papa gets his way, I’m never leaving the house again.” She muttered the last bit under her breathe, but he was too caught on her earlier statement to hear her.

“You came running like a bat out of hell, to come see me? Why? You should be in an infirmary.”

She looked up at him with a blush, not wanting to state what she thought was so obvious by now. He just stared at her in confusion, before she raised an eyebrow slightly, and realisation flashed across his face. The cutest flush she had ever seen settled across his cheeks and neck, and she bit back a giggle.

“Oh.” He squeaked, not letting go of her. Oh indeed.

“I’d do anything for you.” She breathes, repeating his words from a few months ago, enjoying the way the flush spread further along his face. He struggles to say something, before he slumps with a heavy sigh, pulling her back against him again.

“I’ve missed you terribly Anya.” He whispers against her hair, and she trembles at how raw his voice is, laced with every emotion she’s currently feeling. She knows she crying again, suddenly not liking how this seems like a goodbye.

“I missed you too. But I really need to go.”

He pulls back, taking her face in his hands gently, a soft, caring smile gracing his lips. He runs a thumb over her cut, affection in his eyes.

“You’re amazing, you know that right?”

“I-I know, but you could care to tell me more often.” She stammers, heart racing against her ribs like it always did when he got like this. He ignores her attempts to joke, still cradling her jaw line.

“You’ll... you’ll be safe right? I’ll get to see you again soon?” You won’t disappear into thin air again?

Tears are stinging at her cuts. His touch is so delicate like he’s afraid he’ll break her, but strong enough to make sure she doesn’t slip through his fingers like she does in his nightmares. Placing her hands on his wrists, she nods in his hands.

“As soon as I can, I’ll come find you.” She promises. A roguish smirk replaces the gentle smile as he leans his forehead against hers.

“Not if I find you first.” He breaths. Her heart does summersaults and her knees buckle.

“Is that a promise Desmond?”

“I’ve always been searching for you Forger, I’ll always search for you.”

She can’t help but to laugh slightly, allowing him to tilt her chin up so he can kiss her at long last.

It’s not the soft, tender first kiss she had always imagined. It’s pained, filled with all their love and reluctance to let go of one another. Salt and iron flavours their lips, as Damian pours all his worry and grief into them, along with his wishes for more time and his happiness that she’s safe. Her hands tighten on his trembling wrists, and she tries to say it all back, slanting her mouth against his in reassurance that she’s there, real and breathing.

His fingers twitch at the edge of her hairline, and she sighs into the feeling.

They stay like that for a long time, taking in as much of the other as they can before the need for air unfortunately pulls at her damaged lungs. The hesitance to separate lingers on their lips, both puffing for air, before she’s kissing him again sadly.

“I know, you need to leave.” He murmurs, his own face wet with tears, moving slightly to kiss her nose. She wriggles it automatically much to his amusement, but steps back before she loses herself into another kiss.

“I’ll see you soon.” She promises him, shooting him a sad smile. His hands slip away from her face as she turns to walk away, catching one of her hands before she can. He brings it to his lips gently, kissing the back of her bruised knuckles with care.

“I look forward to it.”

Chapter Text

She practically floated back into the office.

Sitting back down on the now empty couch, she released a happy sigh and melted into the cushions. Handler looked like she wasn’t sure if she wanted to strangle her or chuckle at her obvious lovestruck expression. Yor was giggling despite herself, eyes flickering to her husband every now and then who was crouched against the opposite wall, hands twitching between his gun and his hair.

Eventually Handler let out a long suffering sigh and smiled at her.

“Did you have fun?”

“Yeah.” Anya nodded. Even her voice was dreamy.

“Did he say anything?” She questioned further, noticing how she didn’t tense up.

“He’s worried. Doesn’t know why he’s here. Confused about everything.” She replied, not wanting to tell them about their moment. Those little interactions were between just the two of them, things she treasured dearly. Her heart ached as she realised she had no idea when she’d see him again, and how he’d react when they did. She had been brave at the time, only focusing on him, but now back in the spotlight, all her anxiety was boiling over again. Nervously she turned towards the Handler, glancing between her and her parents.

“When it comes time to tell him, can I be the one to break the news?” Anya whispered quietly, “I just feel like he’d accept it better from me than anyone else.”

“I suppose that’s fair.” Sherwood hummed, tapping at something with her pen as she read her file, “But only if we believe he’s innocent. And don’t start with me again Anya. I know you love him, but he’s still a Desmond. We don’t know how deep their knowledge goes.”

Anya bit back her retort, not wanting to argue again and huffed angrily.

“Fine. What do you want to know.” She said bitterly, resigning herself to a long night of questioning. Loid looked up at that, frowning in confusion.

“Wait, Handler, you’re going to question her now?” He said, surprise colouring his tone. His senior looked annoyed at having been interrupted again, and rolled her eyes.

“Yes Twilight, I have to. She-”

“She’s injured. Incredibly injured. And it seems like she’s aggravated those injuries in her little joy run. Anya needs to get medical treatment and some sleep before she goes on.” He interjected, his fatherly side overpowering the spy. “Besides, when was the last time she had a proper bath or slept in a warm bed. She’s still my daughter and I demand that she gets some rest.”

Sherwood groaned, her head flopping forward onto the desk, hat falling to the floor as she pressed her forehead against the lacquered wood.

“Fine.” She snipped, “Only because I’m worried about her too. Make sure someone gets her an inhaler. She’s wheezing like nobody’s business and I know she didn’t stop running until she was in his arms.”

Anya flushed at the true accusation, before getting lost in a slight daydream about how good it had felt to be in Damian’s strong embrace again.

“Oi, Anya, come back to us. Geez, you really do need sleep.” Loid muttered, snapping his fingers in front of her face. Yor just let out a loud laugh, pushing him aside so she could scoop their daughter up in her arms, cradling her to her chest.

“Let’s go get you clean and warmed up. Despite how warm your face might be feeling, the rest of you is freezing. And that cut looks nasty. Could get infected.” She said, gently carrying her out of the room. Anya reached up to touch it, her icy hands a cool relief against her flushed cheeks.

“That’s what he said too. Was more focused on that than anything else. For a while at least.” She admitted, her blush darkening as she remembered the kiss. Again. Oh sweet Jesus, she was going to be thinking about that for days on end now, wasn’t she?

Her Mama just laughed again and nuzzled her affectionately. “Oh I’ve missed you little one.”

The bath was wonderful.

Sinking into the warm waters, Anya felt every screaming muscle in her body begin to relax, the steam helping to clear her breathing. While at the lab she had to submit to freezing showers, only getting enough time to rinse off the sweat and blood before being yanked back out. Sometimes they allowed a little longer to wash her hair, but she never felt like the shampoo was completely washed out. Now, she had the luxury of just sitting for as long as she wanted, Yor scuttling around the room as she organised her sleepwear and bandages for when she was ready to get out. She glanced down at the young girl, her gaze filled with love and happiness that she was safe, but there was also a question on her mind. Sighing, Anya decided to indulge her.

“Ask.”

“What?” Yor stopped, looking at her in surprise.

“Ask the question. I can hear you thinking it.” She explained, leaning against the bath edge lazily, propping her chin on her folded arms.

“Oh right. Mind reading. I forgot.” Yor stammered, looking away guiltily. She finished folding the top in her hands and placed it on the chair, before turning to lean against the sink. She seemed unsure of how to phrase it, so Anya just smiled and murmured, “It was nice. But there were a lot emotions in it that I don’t want to unpack right now.”

Yor smiled at this, “I’m glad. Damian seems like a good kid, and I would hate to have to hunt him down.”

“You won’t. If you tried, I would stop you myself.” Anya said, surprising even herself with her daring. “After all, I took down his father, and I’d do it again if anyone tried to hurt him.”

There was a stunned silence at her threat before a glimmer of something dangerous came across Yor’s eyes.

“I can respect that.” She said evenly, her tone hinting at her darker side, “Us Forger ladies need to look out for our men.”

Anya grinned.

“But Peanut, nothing bad happened to you while you were gone, right?” She continued, before blushing and stammering, “Well, I mean, obviously bad things happened to you! You’re injured and frightened. You’ve seen some shit that young girls like you should never have seen. But you fought back. Oh I’m so proud of you for doing that. But-!”

“Mama, it’s fine!” Anya laughed, seeing her frantic mother come back out. “I wasn’t sexually assaulted. Discriminated against and had to hear lewd thoughts, yes. But nothing physical happened to me. The scientists didn’t see me as a girl, just a test subject. They wouldn’t dream of doing that to a child. And when we were in front of the investors, even the Director helped shut down any sexual advances. Though she did offer to pimp me out when I was of age.”

“I’ll kill her.” Yor fumed, already grasping for her knives. “I’ll tear the bitch apart.”

“Mama, it’s okay really. I’m fine. I’ve heard and seen way worse over the years. Remember that pervert I told you about when I was thirteen?”

Yor did indeed remember, and relaxed with a slight sigh. “Yes, you did really well handling that situation. I know you would have done the same if it happened again.”

“Don’t worry Mama! Besides, the only man to lay hands on me like that will be Damian.” Anya grinned cheekily, seeing the blush rise up on her mother’s face.

“Anya!” She cried, rushing over to berate the laughing teen. “You’re far too young for that!”

“I kid, I kid!” Anya squealed as her mother splashed water at her lightly. Giggling the two continued to play fight, until the steam began to fade and Anya yawned widely. Testing the water with her hand, Yor hummed.

“Alright Peanut, I think it’s time to get you out.” She said, shaking her hand to dry it from the drops. “Hope in the shower to rinse. The bathwater is dirty and you still need to clean your hair.”

Getting to her feet shakily, Anya pulled herself out of the bathtub and sauntered over to the shower, not looking at the murky waters she had left behind. She waited for the water to warm up, not letting it get as hot as the bath or her head would swim, before setting about washing her hair. There were some knots she couldn’t untangle, she Yor came to assist her when she called for help. Her fingers grazed over a few balding spots, grimacing at the tender burn marks along her scalp. Anya let her touch them, knowing that despite how sad they made her feel, she needed to see them for herself.

“I’m sorry we ever let this happen to you.” Yor whispered, trailing her fingers through the ends of her jagged hair, “No child should ever have had to go through the torture you endured.”

“It’s okay Mama, you did your best to protect me.” Anya replied softly, not turning to face her as the water ran down her face, hiding her tears. “You and Papa gave me a world of love to live in. That’s more than I could ever ask for.”

Eventually she was clean and warm enough to sit down and allow Yor to treat her wounds. Cosy in her cotton pyjamas, Anya tilted her head to the side so Yor could dab at the wound carefully.

“This is going to take a few weeks to heal. It may leave a scar. We’ll make sure that it’s cleaned and redressed every day until it can heal up properly, okay?”

There was a knock on the door, and both ladies sing songed ‘come in’. Loid popped his head around the door, smiling at them both.

“Look Papa! I’m going to have a scar to match yours!” Anya said, showing off Yor’s medical work. Her father paled at that, frowning at her accusingly.

“You should joke about Peanut.” He muttered, stepping into the room further. “Though I’m glad to see you’re better. Your room is made up for the night, but we’re leaving to another location at dawn. Handler doesn’t want you around encase Donovan wakes up. He’s been stirring lately.”

Anya sighed, having had a feeling that was coming.

“Alright, we’re nearly finished here. I just gotta apply the bandage and we’re all done.” Yor smiled at Loid, who’s lips tugged upwards in response.

“Okay, I’m just outside if you need me.”

They finished up quickly, before cleaning up their mess and leaving the steamy bathroom. Anya’s bed was just around the corner and it was calling her name. Without even a goodnight to her parents she flopped down onto it with the smallest of winces, closing her eyes immediately. Her parents chuckled, knowing that she’d been snoring away soon, and tip toed out of the room quietly. Sure enough, sleep over took her quickly, and her dreams were filled with laughter with her parents and their warm embraces, before turning strong arms with gentle hands, tender lips and amber coloured eyes melting into her soul.

____________________________________________________________________________________

The new building looked the same as the previous one. And surprisingly, it was only fifteen minutes away from it, though closer to town. Anya looked around the room curiously, wondering what they knew that she didn’t. She had overheard her parents murmuring together early this morning, unaware of her presence. It seemed Yor was detailing all the injuries she had seen on her body, holding Loid back from going to finish off Donovan so she could do it herself. They had treated her extra carefully when they had spotted her, wrapping her in the tenderest of hugs.

Now she was back in front of Sherwood, ready to go over everything she had learnt. Having learnt from yesterday, all questions steered clear of Damian.

“Tell us about Project Apfel.”

“It was a programmed originally started by the Government in the aid of treating PTSD in trauma victims of the war. When Director Protz began spiralling, she took everything with her, and turned it into trying to create the perfect solider, a puppet that would fight in the war for the graces of our country without any cares for themselves. A weapon they could use in any situation.”

“And how did you come to become part of it?”

“I was born into, I think. I’m not sure about my birth story or my origins. I just know that I’ve been tested my whole life, electricity has always run through my veins. I think that’s why there’s a like a static charge popping around my head every time I pick up peoples thoughts.”

They observed this for a moment, finally seeing the slightest shimmer of something popping around her head as she concentrated.

“So, you were created. How did you get these powers?”

“Through lots and lots of torture.”

Sherwood winced, scribbling it down reluctantly.

“And why only you?”

Anya shrugged. “Even the scientists didn’t know. That’s why they needed me back. They hadn’t been able to recreate their success on me with anyone else. The closest they got was with the side project with the dogs, where Bond could see the future. But I don’t think they knew that, as I was the only one who could read his thoughts.”

“A dog that saw the future.” Handler breathed, opting not to scribble that down. “You think you hear it all but there’s always something more with your family.”

The Forgers all chuckled nervously.

“Alright, so there’s limitations to your powers, correct?”

“Yes, I can’t hear thoughts during the new moon, and crowded places make my head hurt and I get bleeding noses. When I was younger, it was really hard to discern actual fact from knowledge. I’ve gotten better at it now. I can also block them if I try really hard. Otherwise it’s like I have a talk show radio station playing in my head at all times.”

“Okay, so moving on. Donovan obviously knew of Operation Strix. How did he know?”

“Well, he was an investor in Apfel which obviously we had no idea about. When I meet Demetrius all those years ago, he invited us over for dinner in thanks, and Donovan recognised me then. He dug into my past, found the files on Papa and Mama and continued digging. I don’t know when he truly learnt of the operation, but it was very early on. His constant meetings with Papa were just to see how far the investigation had gotten, always turning away from whatever leads he had found at the last minute. He truly enjoyed toying with Papa.”

“Shit.” Sherwood swore, stabbing at her notes hard enough to splash ink. “That cunning bastard. No wonder you struggled so much Twilight. And you did suggest there was a snitch at some point.”

“It’s the only thing that made sense at the time. I just didn’t realise it was me in a way.” Loid sighed, looking utterly defeated. Yor patted his hand comfortingly.

“Right, so he’s known for a while. So why not do anything until now? Why did none of them do anything until now?”

“My friend Ewen suggested that I was a chess piece. Needed only in times of war, as an object to finalise their progression. I suppose that was the worst kind of torture. Allowing me to live out in the world, carefree and meeting people I love, only to rip them away from me in an instant. If I wasn’t stronger, I might had just succumbed to that.”

Handler pushed her notes away in disgusting, rubbing at the bridge of her nose.

“I hate this. I hate all of this.” She muttered, unable to continue. “There’s still so much more that I need to ask you, but I don’t think I can take anymore for now. Are you able to write out a report for us? List any names or details you remember, where you went, what you saw? You’ll also have to write out what they did to you, in as much details as possible. It may be triggering, but it’s need for your medical files. The doctor wants to assess you, especially after you’ve mentioned how much electrocution you endured. He’s worried that it has long term side effects on your body. From your tremors, I’m guessing that he’s right.”

“My memory is pretty shoddy.” Anya said weakly, trying to still her hands. “I’ve always found it difficult to retain information, often getting teased about in school. But it’s been worse since I went back. I had to write things down as so as I got back to my room, just to remember them. There are details I know that are important to the investigation, but they’ve slipped my mind and I don’t think I can get them back. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, it’s not your fault. The fact you sustained so much shock to brain, and are still walking around like a regular person is amazing. A few gaps in the memory and tremors are easy to deal with. Don’t cry now.”

Anya wiped at her face, aware of how her parents were ready to jump in if she needed them.

“I have some questions myself if that’s okay.”

“Ask away.” Handler smiled, propping her chin in her hands.

“What happened after I was taken?”

“A lot. We got on the scene about five minutes after you had left. Your parents were unconscious, bleeding out terribly, so we had to focus our efforts into saving them. We had no idea what direction you had gone in, so a few agents were sent out on all routes, trying to find you. But with no idea what car to look for, and the witnesses on the scene being too scared to say anything, it was a lost cause. It took a couple of days, but when your parents were awake, they were clawing their way out to try and find you. The SSS were informed of course, having had to investigate the major accident for public safety. Thankfully we managed to get through to the right channels and get in contact with Second Lieutenant Briar, who flipped his lid when he heard you were abducted and that Yor was in hospital.”

“He really didn’t give two shits about me.” Loid sighed, already accepting the fact.

“He started an investigation as well, using sources we didn’t have access to. Through them we located the car, and saw that it travelled north, but it was soon lost due to unkempt video records and lack of surveillance in that region. Back here, your friends freaked out. We gave them those letters as you requested, but obviously we had lost you. Desmond was the first to realise something had happened, and demanded to know what was going on. He’s pretty protective of you, admirably so. Still don’t trust him. We weren’t about to disclose what had happened though, especially to a bunch of teens, but then Blackbell said you had told us about the mind reading, and that they worried about your attack. So we confirmed that yes you had been taken, and we didn’t know where. I’ve never seen four teenagers get that mad before. You’ve surrounded yourself with some pretty powerful and loyal friends there Anya.”

Anya’s heart melted at this. Her friends. She couldn’t wait to see them again.

“They started pooling their resources as well, going about the city trying to follow up on shallow leads. Their efforts were nothing close to ours, but we respected the effort. Eventually the older Desmond son was enlisted to help, and even he seemed rather concerned when he learnt you were missing. But he was quiet about it all, always looking like he had something on his mind, something he was holding back.”

“That’s because he was suspicious of his father. He said something about finding finances the other day, and that he was the one that alerted the SSS to the threats about my safety. He didn’t know it was me at the time, probably thinking it was about Damian, but still, he helped save my life.”

“Or was it all an elaborate rouse. He’s in questioning now, we’ll have our answers soon.” Sherwood muttered, before wrinkling her nose in thought. “When the fighting escalated, all schools shut down for an early summer, fearing the safety of the children. Many had already begun to fled, fearing that a civil war was going to break out. When news of the attack on Eden came out, a lot of parents were angry at being kept in the dark. Eden has been battling this ever since, their social status hit hard.

Aside from fighting and trying to find you, not a lot else happened. It wasn’t until we got that report from you, did we have something to go off on. You can imagine our joy when you made contact. We planned with the SSS on how to infiltrate Parliament to get you to safety. Garden cleared the way underground, removing a few key members, while we planted agents. That disguise you were in was...memorable so it helped lead back to you. When the explosion happened during the rioting, we nearly lost contact with everyone. Yuri was insane, knowing that you all were still inside. So when he came running out, escorting your limp body on a stretcher, we made way. To find out that you had somehow taken out Donovan as well...wow.”

“He was trying to escape. I had to stop him at least. Operation Strix relied on that.” Anya said simply. “Besides he’s a prick and he hurt me and Damian. I decided to repay the favour.”

“Yes, I don’t think he’ll ever see out of that eye again.”

“Since then, you know about the rioting. The remaining Government officials are trying to maintain it, but it’s hard to exude power when your backbone is crumbling.” Loid piped, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. “It’s going to take some time before that power play winds down.”

“Yes, and we’re going to have to be part of it. We cannot have a civil war.” Sherwood agreed before pushing away from her desk with a sigh. “I suggest we leave that here today. Go and get something to eat and just relax in each other’s company again. If I have any more follow up questions outside of your report, I’ll come find you Anya.”

Clearly dismissed, Anya got to her feet shakily and stumbled over to her parents. Loid caught her easily as she staggered forward, and she sighed in his arms.

“Can we go explore the grounds? I miss being outside.” She murmured, feeling rather sleepy.

“We’ll get some food and have a picnic somewhere on the compound. Does that sound nice?” He whispered, stroking her hair lovingly. It did sound nice. Incredible in fact. She was free, she could do whatever she wanted. Handler’s report could wait till later. For now, she just wanted to cherish all this time with her parents. It had been months since they were all this relaxed.

“Okay, let's do that.”

Chapter Text

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?”