Lying comfortably on one of Eden’s many sprawling lawns, with an arm tucked behind his head, Damian heaved a blissful sigh, feeling perfectly content for the first time in, well, forever. For once he was all up to date with his assignments, he had completed reading ahead on at least three topics for all his courses and he’d had an hour-long conversation with Demetrius just last night that had left a skip in his step all day. Now getting to absorb the autumn sunshine filtering through the oak branches above, he felt like he could just fade out from his world of responsibilities and simply, be.
Snuggling down into the grass, he mildly registered it was getting a little long, just like his hair as it tickled at his cheeks. Trailing a hand through it, he felt the blades slide between his fingers gracefully, little squeaks emitting if he twisted it too hard in his absent play. The most soothing breeze washed over him, bringing the smell of warm rain brewing in the atmosphere, along with the brisk scent of fallen and decaying leaves. It made the petals of the daisy crown Anya had crafted for him dance across his forehead, light and ticklish just like her fingers had been when she bestowed it upon him earlier. Eyelids fluttering closed with a sleepy yawn, Damian relaxed even further, content on just listening to the world around him as he became one with the earth.
Far of there was the faint chatter of the student body, carried over the rise of the hill that bordered the school grounds. The lazy rapids of the brook echoed nearby, and was that the call of an Icterine Warbler as it fluttered above him? All sounds he picked up on, adding to his lazy Tuesday afternoon. But mostly, he just listened to her.
To her excited ramblings of how she had taken down a mugger the other day, punctuated with her bright laughter as Ewen teased her. To his racing heartbeat as she shuffled, her thigh warm on his side as she leant against him. To the pleased hum escaping her throat as she sprinkled more flowers and grass in his hair, fingers deft as they combed through his locks, her perfumed wrists brushing against his cheeks. She smelled of cattleya and jasmine, a combination he had thanked Becky for profusely.
Quietly of course.
In his head.
Really, was this peace? He wasn’t sure, but it was the closest he’d ever achieved to it, and he never wanted to let it go.
“Nyeh, Sy-on. You’ve got a giant pimple forming on your chin.”
He cracked open an eye to see Anya still leaning over him, face only centimetres away, hand cradling his cheek lightly. His face warmed at their proximity and she poked at the tender blemish, making him lazily swat at her hand with mild annoyance.
“Don’t touch it then dork. You’ll make it worse.” He scolded lightly, only to be rewarded with her glistening smile. Honestly, he didn’t consider himself a weak man, but under her gaze Damian couldn’t help but to simply crumble.
“Desmond’s right Anya.” Becky piped up from where she was lounging against Ewen’s back, sporting her own Anya Creation as she read her novel. “They’ll get infected if you pick at them. Though considering his snot nosed face it may be too late save.”
“Up your ass Blackbell.” Damian replied, casually flipping her off, enjoying their little game.
“Eat a dick.” She sneered returning the gesture, without removing her eyes from her page. Damian grinned and settled back on his arm, happy to let her have the last word this round. He was too relaxed to care, especially with Anya giggling beside him as she continued to weave his hair into the grass, sprinkling stray handfuls across his chest every now and then. Ah damn, he was most definitely going to find that in the weirdest places later, but who was he to ruin her fun?
Ewen and Emile paid the three no mind, instead arguing over their failed tennis game as they played a round of explosive snap.
“You said you had it! And then I look up to see you just standing there? Fluttering your eyelashes like some ditz as the ball whizzed past?” Emile said waspishly as he placed the eight of spades down on the pile.
“I did! I thought flirting with him would make him miss his serve, but the boy was laser focused!” Ewen whined, nose twitching when his seven of clubs landed on top. “He was stupidly pretty, I thought it would work.”
“He was pretty, but not stupid unlike you beans for brains.” Emile scoffed, pushing his daisy chain back into his hair absently. “Besides, how does your girlfriend feel about you flirting with other men? Ah ha! SNAP!”
“Shit.” Ewen grumbled, shaking his hand out from where it had been slapped, “That hurt man. And Becky’s cool with it, just like how I'm cool with her flirting with that hot senior in her debate team. Right babe?”
“Mmm, Angela. She’s a woman after my own heart.” Becky sighed, tilting her head back to knock against his. “Hopefully someone will snatch you away from me so she’ll hug me and my face can be smothered in her ‘pity’.”
“Ohhh. If that happens, let us know what it feels like.” Emile said coyly and the three sighed dreamily at the mere thought. Becky felt something drop against her hair, and she plucked it out to see Ewen’s daisy crown had broken.
“Look at that, even Anya’s hard work can’t maintain your ego.” She sighed, sitting up to pass it to her best friend. “Hey Peanut, can you please fix this for him?”
“Make it extra-large to fit my-”
“Nope. Never mind. Daisy crown privileges revoked.” Becky snapped, pulling her hand back before Anya could take it. Pulling out a single daisy stem, she handed it over to him with a sneer, “You can have this. It’ll be more than enough to cover you.”
Emile and Damian howled with laughter as Ewen grumbly took the offered stem, while Anya simply started making a new chain with a knowing smile. Settling back again, Damian smiled. He had missed this, just hanging with his friends and being teenagers, his Imperial Scholar duties having been pulling him away as of late. Sure, he hung out with them where he could, but with conflicting classes and their extra curriculars, it wasn’t often they all had time to be together.
But of course, he had tempted the fates, for a shadow fell across him just then, silence falling over the group at its arrival. Not wanting to look up, Damian squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that the person would just go away.
“Good afternoon all. Sorry to interrupt.” A sleazy voice sounded and Damian’s face screwed up in annoyance. God damnit, anybody but him!
“Oh, hello Angus.” Anya greeted warmly, smiling up at the scholar standing behind her. “How have you been?”
“Why hello Miss Forger. I’ve been well. You seem radiant as always.” Angus purred, making Damian sit up quickly, a shower of grass and flowers falling off him. Every damn time this smug son of a bitch came round he leered over Anya, and it always made his stomach flip violently.
“What do you want Angus?” He growled, casting a subtly glance to make sure Anya’s legs were still covered with his borrowed cap, breathing a sigh of relief when he spotted it. But she had taken her blazer off at some point, and Angus pulled his eyes away from where he was looking down her popped collar, a smirk playing on his lips as he did.
“Apologies Desmond, but there’s an impromptu meeting being held across campus. I was sent to come find you.”
More like he volunteered if it meant he got a chance to ogle at Anya. Biting back his retort Damian huffed in annoyance, shaking off his blazer as he did so.
“Fine, just give me a second.” He muttered, before turning towards his friends. “Sorry guys, I'll have to catch you later. If I'm not back for dinner, can you please keep a plate of dessert aside for me? I heard it’s mean to be Mrs Koch’s Peach Kuchen tonight.”
“Gotcha Bossman. No one can miss out on that.” Emile agreed, the boys drooling over the thought of rich treat for a moment. Turning to Anya, Damian swapped out his blazer for his cloak, making sure no inch of skin was exposed to the hovering teen’s eyes.
“Put your blazer back on if you’re cold dummy.” He murmured to her lowly, picking up her jacket to wrap around her shoulders. Her face tinged slightly with pink, but she tucked her arms back into the sleeves anyway, keeping her collar pinned as she did.
“Come one Desmond. They’re waiting on us.” Angus sighed, not happy that his viewing had been disrupted and Damian grabbed his bag with a grumble. Leaning down he kissed Anya before scrambling to his feet, and clasping his cloak more securely around his neck.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” He muttered, brushing past the taller teen, swatting grass off his sleeve as he did. “See you later guys.”
He was halfway up the hill before Angus caught up to him, oddly quiet now that they were alone. Damian didn’t mind, it let him pretend he didn’t exist. But as they walked through campus, he realised he didn’t know where they were going and he heaved a long sigh in defeat.
“Where are we going? And what’s the meeting about?” He asked, scowling at his brooding companion.
“West wing. It’s about Erntedank.” Angus replied snippily and Damian ran his hand over his face with a groan. Right, he had forgotten that was coming up. How, he wasn’t sure when they had spending so much time organising the parade and mass. Maybe cause it wasn’t something he really enjoyed, the religion making him snore into his notes every time.
“What is it now? I thought we finished organising everything?”
“Something to do with the parade floats and setting up the fair afterwards. I’m don’t know but the sooner we get there, the sooner we can leave.”
“Here’s that.” Damian grumbled, kicking at a stone in his path. Angus cast him a curious side eye before sniffing loudly. They eventually made it to the meeting hall, pushing open the doors to hear a lot of arguing taking place, giving him a headache straight away. Everyone though Eden’s Imperial Scholars were the best of the best, refined in their elegance and studies. But truthfully it was a hodgepodge of overly stressed teens who survived on too much caffeine and not enough sleep, all clashing with one another with their similar personalities.
“Oh thank god, you’re here.” Maëlys breathed as she scurried over to them, her thick curls looking ready to fly loose from their braid. “They won’t stop arguing about haybale arrangements, or which pumpkin is more orange and should be at the front of the display.”
“Why are we even doing this again?” Damian heaved, shoulders already slumping as he felt the weight of the afternoon fall across him. “It’s a rural commoner tradition, not ours.”
“Because they wanted to be ‘more inclusive and elegant’ about traditions.” She reminded him, pinching his sleeve to drag him across the floor. “Now put on your ‘I’m so much better than thou’ voice, and get them to shut up.”
“I’ll try, but no promises.” He agreed reluctantly, as Angus followed behind them, still quiet in his thoughts. How he had been put in semi in charge of this mess of teens, Damian wasn’t sure, as he was one of the youngest out of the lot. He was just nearing his sixteenth birthday, had only received his eighth star two years ago, and was still lost on just what exactly his duties really were. Stepping up to the bickering crowd, he snatched the plans for the fair out of one kid’s hand, and the heavily discussed pumpkin off the table in the centre, lifting it above his head in warning as they all hushed quickly.
“This is stupid. Shut up, and talk one at a time, so we can go back to doing nothing on such a fine day.” He growled, lowering his arms when he had their attention, not noticing anything different from their shocked stares. Placing the vegetable back and he spread the plans across the desk and stabbed a finger at them in annoyance. “Why are we changing the location of the haybales? We had them planned out strategically for sitting and borders.”
“They just look, off, where we had placed them.” Someone spoke up, trailing off into a mutter when Damian screwed his nose up along with most of the crowd. “Okay, never mind.”
“Alright, that aside. Now for the pumpkin. Really? It’s a vegetable. It’s going to rot or get smashed wherever it may end up, so just shove it at the back and place everything around it. Now, is there anything else we’re so desperately need to discuss, or can I go back to hanging out with my friends?”
“You mean your little sprite girlfriend who weaves you daisy crowns?” Someone sneered, and Damian tilted his head in confusion. Girlfriend? What girlfriend?
“I was going to ask about that,” Maëlys chuckled beside him, eyeing something on top his hair. “You seemed to have frolicked through the fields before you came here. Very unusual for you to look so dishevelled.”
“What?” Damian’s hand flew up to pat down his hair, knocked stray grass and daisies out as he did. Well, that explains why the back of his collar felt so itchy. Anya’s crown came tumbling down as well, and he stared at it for a moment in surprise. Oh, he had forgotten about that.
“Oh, this is Anya’s handiwork. She made us all one earlier and I guess I forgot it was there.” He shrugged, tucking it into his pocket. “She gets fidgety easily, so Becky suggested she craft something while we relaxed.”
“If I were you Desmond, I would have found ways to keep your little girlfriend entertained.” Angus muttered, making his blood boil immediately.
“First, never let me hear you say shit about her like that ever again. And second, she’s not my girlfriend.”
“Really?” Angus said in surprise, arching an eyebrow in disbelief. “So, you just casually kiss all your friends like that?”
Kiss? What did he mean by kiss? His confusion must have shown on his face, as Angus rolled his eyes to the heavens in frustration.
“You kissed her before we left, after you were down flirting with her. And you didn’t have to lay it on so thick. I got the message loud and clear.”
Damian was really confused now, trying to remember what he was talking about. Kissing Anya? Noooo, not unless it was his wildest dreams. He didn’t have the courage to do that in waking life. But as he pulled out the daisy chain out of his pocket again, the ghost of a memory drifted across his mind.
Warm breath against his lips, the subtle taste of peanuts and strawberry lip gloss.
Damian’s eyes widened in realisation, the crowd of teens around him snickering as a blush erupted across his face. Ohhh, what had he done? And in front of the others too! He was absolutely screwed. Collapsing against the desk he hid his burning face in his hands, daisies crushing against his cheek as he let out a whine of happy disbelief, uncaring of his audience. He was thrilled at his boldness, but also absolutely mortified right now, and it showed in his voice when he finally managed to speak.
“Holy fuck! I kissed Anya Forger.”