“Can you tell me what happened?”
Upon hearing the gentle tone (pity) oozing out of his voice, Damian wanted to snap that he was a Desmond and didn’t need to be coddled. But if he imagined this conversation with his own father, he knew he’d be shrinking in on himself even more, trying to disappear.
He didn’t have to look up to know Ewen laid a hand on his shoulder. It was unbefitting of a Desmond to hang his head low, especially when he did not care about Dr. Forger’s opinion. And yet he still couldn’t bear to make eye contact with either adult. Must be a side effect. There was no other reason.
A steaming cup of tea of some sort was set in front of him, along with a plate of light eating in the middle. He mumbled an obligatory thanks, but had no appetite, despite his rumbling stomach. (When was the last time he ate?)
The words were stuck in his throat. To say it would make it true, to admit his own role in it. That there were standards that he had failed to live up to. He was old enough that he should have known better to make mistakes (and oh, how big of a mistake it was).
The hand squeezed comfortingly. “I—...we were…”
“...not on a date, okay?!” he hissed to her after hearing the women down the hall giggle at their departure from the apartment complex.
She smiled that damned smug smile, the one she had whenever she thought she knew something he didn’t. The difference between their test scores were still stark—she had no reason to act like that. “Whatever you say, Sy-on boy! We just happen to be going to the same place at the same time, wearing coordinated outfits. Are you excited, at least? Even if you’re too embarrassed to admit it, I know how much you like—”
“I’m only going because it’d be so lame if you went alone and that Blackwell girl is busy this weekend!” Her and his friends both. Again. Suspicious, but none of his business. He didn’t even have an idea where Anya was taking him, half the time. He was just tagging along to have more opportunities to laugh at Anya. That girl had no shame whether she was alone or not, like at that one Valentine’s fair. She was so carefree, as if she didn’t assign particularly any meaning to anything. That was it.
Nodding his conclusion to himself, he realized she had skipped ahead, idly peeking into the storefronts on the side. He took extra long strides to catch up and grab her hand, coughing into his hand and only keeping her expression in his peripheral vision.
“So you don’t get lost.” He muttered in between fake coughs.
“We’re going to the same place.” She reminded him easily, not making such a big, clueless deal out of it like she would have done a few years previously. Or worse, teasing and prodding him about it.
“You’re so short you’ll get blown away!” That was a good one, he smirked. And it worked wonderfully.
She pouted and scuffed her shoe at the ground, but didn’t trip. He’d have to try harder, then. “We’re the same height, you know!”
“Not for long, I’m—” at the approaching noise of a car engine pulling up, he couldn’t help but stop and turn his head. Not out of any altruistic will, no. More like idle curiosity and an open willingness to assert himself as a good, upstanding Desmond.
A fist flew at him and he quickly took it all back as he made impact with hard, unforgiving stone, ears ringing. Anya’s hand was torn from his. Through the din, he heard a man yowl, then yell, “Bitch bit me!” Good on her. Having only been on the receiving end in a physical altercation once (albeit, when they were 6), he knew it wasn’t fun. These jerks deserved it.
He staggered upwards, body smarting from the pain, only to be met with steady hands. And a syringe to the neck. Twisting around to face his assailant (white coat, dark hair, opaque glasses) made him dizzy. His blood went cold at the sight of the gun (but his hands were clammy, and he was acutely aware of how much he was sweating). He wouldn’t...but who knew what was in the syringe, already.
“Come along quietly, Anya.” Anya looked up from where she had someone wrapped in a chokehold then paled. Even when it was exam season, he had hardly seen her express such raw fear or surprise.
Either his thoughts were moving slowly, or there was some sort of disconnect. He was scared out of his mind, but not frantic. Tranquil. The gun was surely a bluff—a dead hostage was a useless one. He couldn’t let Anya go with them, but what could he do. What did they want? And in broad daylight, no less.
“Let Damian go first,” She tried to flash him a determined smile, but there was something resigned in her eyes. He wanted to protest, he really did, but his tongue felt like lead. He could only stand (rather, be thrown back to the ground) helplessly, panic and perception passing through him like molasses.
“...have obtained Subject 007…”
“...Sy-on boy, don’t…”
He woke up to Ewen, Emile, and Becky with the sun starting to dip into the other side of the horizon. The car, whose plate he didn’t even see, was long gone without a trace.
The comforting warmth from the tea in his hands was all but gone. Nobody, not even Emile, touched the snacks on the table. Silence reigned, and the atmosphere felt tense and cold. He could barely see Dr. Forger unclench and relax his fists. Damian couldn’t gauge his reaction, but part of him waited in fearful anticipation. The other, in numb apathy. Or shock.
“Are you okay?” Damian’s head finally shot up to take in the Forgers (odd, that Anya’s mom had definitely brought the snacks, but was nowhere to be seen). Obviously he was fine, but what about Anya?! “And Damian, it isn’t your fault.” Suddenly, his face transformed into something chilling, mouth set in a grim line. Damian felt the others tense beside him, but the moment passed quickly.
“It’s getting late, you kids should head back. And Damian, if you feel any weird side effects, you should get checked out at a hospital.” Yeah, right. Not like anybody at home would notice or care, but still.
At the door, Damian hesitated. “Hey Pops,” he whispered quietly while the others were occupied with their coats. “They were wearing white coats and called her ‘Subject 007,’ they coworkers of yours?”
Dr. Forger’s eyes narrowed. In recognition or not, Damian couldn’t tell. He patted his shoulder, “We’ll see. Thank you for telling me.”
Days passed. (Probably. His body no longer ached.)
“Do you think they told the authorities? Or should we, Boss Man?” Ewen asked one morning. A good question. Did the authorities know? The school? He zoned out through attendance, but he knew whatever happened was bad enough that the Blackwell girl had stepped out (run out), leaving Ewen and Emile to split up damage control, it seemed.
She was the one who knew the Forger residence phone number in the first place, so surely she kept in contact with them. Was there a ransom note? Some feud? What if she was dead—
Not his problem, not his business. “Don’t know, don’t care.” He ground out, turning away to focus on the lecture, and proceeded to take in absolutely none of it, through his ears nor his notes. Class ended, and he noticed that Blackwell and Emile had returned at some point. That made three people he could ask for notes from, later.
It was past curfew, but he couldn’t sleep.
“Pa rented out a castle for me once! And I was a Princess getting saved!” Then Becky had spent the next ten years gushing over wanting to be saved by Anya’s dad.
“What if.” He said to nobody in particular, uncaring whether the others were asleep or not. “This is another stunt. And her dad will show up and save her, just like Bondman, and everything will go back to normal when it’s over.” (But she didn’t need saving, she was taking care of herself back then.) And it’d only be a matter of days until he could tell her stupid face off for scaring him—no, he wasn’t worried at all. Anya Forger meant nothing to him.
“Listen, it’s called personal life for a reason. There’s no way Henderson’s perfectly elegant all the time. He’s definitely got some secrets that nobody knows.” His friends’ argument was background white noise.
“That doesn’t mean I want to imagine him naked!” Hissing, really.
“Wh-no! I didn’t say that! I just said he could have a six pack and we’d never know! He can still run faster than us! And remember the dips in that dance and etiquette class?”
“What if he collects nail clippings?”
“That’s so gross! Who’d do that?!”
“That’s the point of having a secret, you won’t tell anyone! What do you think, Boss Man?”
“Unlike you fools, I’m not going to waste my time on this bet. I’m studying and being productive so I can get a stella on the exam. Maybe I’ll even get two and become an Imperial Scholar first.” he emphasized.
Anya’s head shot up from where she was zoned in on her work, but it wasn’t because of his bait. He didn’t like the glint in her eyes. That was the only warning he got before the thick book was snatched from his hands, revealing the slimmer one behind it.
“You’re catching up to me in Spy Wars! I knew it! Oh that’s a good one, you know, in this arc Bondman—”
Emile lunged across the table to press a pack of fancy, expensive peanuts into her face. “You’re not spoiling for Boss Man anything again!”
Blackwell screeched, ignoring the shushing from the library staff and occupants, “That’s no way to treat a lady!”
The peanuts fell away to reveal the smuggest face that’d ever come into existence. “Just because I take your bribe doesn’t mean I’ll do as you say.”
They were kicked out of the library from the ensuing commotion.
Damian sniffed. “Now look what you fools did, getting us kicked out of the library.” His friends had mirroring looks of betrayal and outrage. It lasted right up until they got to their usual haunt, at which they started arguing about whose drink was superior.
Exams were coming up. Was it time for that already? Through an awkward, unspoken arrangement, Blackwell was joining their study session (as usual). He hadn’t asked for their notes yet.
He arrived at the library through a familiar routine of motions, but something felt off about it. It was too quiet. The silence was ringing. He was able to focus (he couldn’t focus). Each of the four of them focused on their own work, rarely pleading for help. There were no distractions. There was nobody to call him out on not studying and taking an early break.
The words in front of him blurred, the time ticking from the nearby clock blurred, but the days dragged on.
The study session ended at the library, not relocating for the first time. It was. Peaceful. But what was the cost of peace? (Doing nothing, running away.)
“Hey Damian, mind if I keep this in your locker? Mine’s full.”
A casual agreement was on the tip of his tongue before a leaning figure slammed his locker closed, pink suddenly filling his vision.
“Oh, yeah? What’s in the bag? Things you shouldn’t have at school?” The boy reddened, clutching the bag to his chest tightly, before running off to disappear into the crowd.
Blackwell was heatedly saying something to Anya, but he tuned it out, wondering out loud, “If he wanted to hide it in someone’s locker, he should’ve hid it in yours. The teachers are too afraid to mess with you.”
Anya must have heard him, because she craned her head back to look at him.
“You’re very nice sometimes, Sy-on boy.” She paused, looking genuinely indecisive. “Hm, more like oblivious.” Blackwell squealed, clutching at Anya’s shoulders.
“What do you mean nice sometimes?! I’m a very kind, generous ruler.” And oblivious? He wasn’t even going to honor that with a response.
He didn’t know his classmates’ names. Why should he? They weren’t from important families, and they didn’t have anything significant to contribute to his life. Most of them were sycophants that were too scared to approach him. Were.
Now, they were crowding him everywhere like they had nothing better to do. If he said any cutting words, their fragile egos couldn’t take it, and it would reflect badly on him as a Desmond. His verbal wit wasn’t worth wasting on these people, anyway.
Footsteps neared, and the crowd receded.
“Hey, can we talk?” Wrong voice, wrong hair. He inclined his head ever so slightly in agreement then followed her to an empty student lounge.
She sat down, then opened and closed her mouth in a few false starts, averting her eyes.
“If you have nothing to say, I’ll just leave.”
“Wait!” He winced when he saw the tears, damn it.
He shoved a handkerchief in front of her, “Don’t cry, people will think I killed your dog or something.” Instead of following that up with a sharp retort about all his supposed transgressions against her over the years, the tears started flowing, and she grabbed the proffered cloth.
“Ahhh,” she blew her nose noisily. Ah well, he didn’t like that handkerchief that much anyway. “I was supposed to be the one comforting you.” She chuckled humorlessly.
“Why would I need comforting? And from you?” Honestly, he and Blackwell were at each other's throats more than him and Anya, probably. Although he knew it wasn’t out of pure malice, of course, but on principle, the thought was still a weird one.
She stopped talking again, silent but for the occasional sniffles. He wasn’t sure how much longer she wanted him to stand awkwardly near her—he sure as hell wasn’t going to hug her or anything, she could get that from...anyone else. “I know I might be the last person you’d want to talk to about this but...you haven’t talked to anyone about it, have you? Are you...how are you?”
Who did she think she was, trying to play at being his therapist? “What, you like her dad so much you trying to be like him?” It wasn’t the first time he had said something like that, but the feeling behind it was different this time.
She paused, “I was mad at you for a while, too, you know. Like it was your fault.”
He wanted to rail against that, cast off all the blame, but he had been right there. (Not even useless, leverage against her. Not taken, or shot, but the dead weight.)
“And then I was mad at myself,” Blackwell quietly admitted. “You both knew—Ewen, Emile, me—we were never busy, or lost. We were just trying to give you two alone time. If I had done anything differently, if I had been there, would it have happened differently?”
“What could you have done?” A bitter retort, but it sounded more for himself than her.
“Could have brought my tank,” she offered halfheartedly. Neither of them laughed. After a beat, she changed the subject. “She was going to tell you—”
“That’s not your business.” He interrupted sharply, nails digging into his palms, “Whatever it is, she can tell me herself.”
“I—” her voice cracked, “I have so much I wanted to ask her. To say to her. I should have told her how much I appreciate her more often. She was my first friend, after everyone in preschool hated me. It could have been us against the world. She always knew what was on my mind, but sometimes I could never tell what she was thinking, even about you. And did you know her Ma isn’t her actual mom? I was always too afraid to ask if she remembered her biological mother. I guess it didn’t matter if I knew, but I wanted to know if it still hurt, either way. She was always so strong, and I wanted to support her.”
A doctor, and remarried, huh. That was new news to him.
“Damian, it isn’t wrong to hope. But don’t let the past consume you. You need to take care of yourself, too.”
“Are you giving up? Some best friend you are.” He challenged. Anya didn’t even let her dismal grades get her down. She was coming back. She’d be too stupid for whatever dumb experiment they were up to, or she’d annoy them enough to let her go.
Blackwell took an audible deep breath in, then released it. The high and mighty look she gave him was the one adults had when they thought they were being so mature. “I’ll see you in class. Talk to someone when you’re ready. It doesn’t have to be me.” But it could be, if you want.
As if he’d take her up on that. There was nothing he needed to talk about.
He stood in front of the phone, deliberating whether to pick it up from the receiver cradle.
“...not her actual mom...”
He had nothing to lose. What was the worst that could happen?
The call to Jeeves hadn’t even taken 5 full minutes, and soon enough, the request had been fulfilled.
Anya’s birth certificate and her deceased mother’s death certificate, both issued by Berlint General Hospital. After the death certificate, files for 4 foster homes and 2 different institutions with her picture as a toddler, but different names. Anya Williams. Anya Levski. Anya Roche. Could have been a coincidence, had it not been for the uniqueness of her hair.
What did it all mean? Where did Loid Forger fit into that equation? Did he give up his child from grief, only to take her back a year later when he remarried? He always thought Anya was oddly convinced her parents were going to abandon her for some reason. Anger welled up in his chest before he squashed it. (What was he doing, trying to play detective for a not-missing girl he did not care about?)
Despite their strained parting the other day, Blackwell had taken to sticking close to his friend group, albeit more a silent shadow than the active participant she used to be. Although, he supposed, it beat being alone.
The number of people that kept trying to creep into his inner circle didn’t stop, but even if he cared to pay attention to them, none of them had pink hair, green eyes, or a horrifyingly blunt lack of manners. He had never been good at keeping connections where they mattered, anyway. Society was quick to change who had earned favor and who fell out of grace, after all.
She showed up in his dreams. No, the fact that she was there meant it was a nightmare.
“...Sy-on boy, don’t…”
Don’t what? Don’t get in the way, don’t forget her, and she already acted like society’s rules didn’t apply to her, and that she knew things others didn’t. Who said she got to tell him what to do? He’d show her. Tell it to her face. But she’d have to come back first.
“Boss Man, you look…” Emile paused, looking for a diplomatic approach, “...like you could use a shower.”
“A Desmond always looks presentable.” He replied automatically.
“Doesn’t mean you’re above showering, even on the weekends!” Ewen nudged at his form.
Emile’s face lit up, “I know what you need! A good dessert.”
“You always say that!”
After the night he had, he deserved to get dessert. “Yeah, why not.” He shrugged.
Ewen whipped his head around to stare at him, then changed his tune. “Yeah, well, we haven’t been back to that one shop in awhile. It’s about time.”
“Aw come on, do we have to keep doing this, the owner of the shop down the block gives us the deals.” Ewen whined, Blackwell backing him up by giving Anya a pleading look.
He had the perfect snark about carrot cake, but he’d have to do it when Emile wasn’t around.
“Too much carrots,” Anya shot Becky down mercilessly.
“It wouldn’t be a dessert shop crawl otherwise.” And then, four pairs of eyes were on him.
“Well, Sy-on boy, guess you’re the tiebreaker. You really liked the last—”
His eyes flicked between the two sides. He gulped. “I’m pretty sure the server there had a crush on me, let’s try somewhere else.”
Blackwell coughed, huffing something that sounded like, “Now he’s self aware?” in between.
“Hey Ewen, don’t worry. Even if we don’t have the ins, it’s okay because Boss Man’s covering the bill.” Emile snickered.
“Who said I’m paying for you three again?!”
“Pa gives me enough money to pay for myself, you know.” Anya rolled her eyes, but wasn’t able to protest further.
“Shh, let yourself be pampered, Anya!” Becky said out loud before latching onto Anya’s shoulders and whispering something else he couldn’t catch.
He disliked it when employees in establishments acted overly familiar with him. Not only was it a breach of professionalism and privacy, but an unnecessary complication of what should just be a simple business transaction.
“Welcome—oh, it’s you three again!” His friends made small talk with one of the employees as they browsed, so he moved away to look at the trays in the other display cases.
“Where’s your girlfriend?” A voice piped up from in front of him.
“She’s—” Not my girlfriend. Then what was she? His rival. Just a friend.
Jeeves’ background check into the Williams, Levski, and Roche families didn’t unearth much. The sheer lack of paperwork about this girl’s whereabouts in her toddler years was worrisome. When he tried to put the files together to form a timeline, there were still many gaps where Anya was unaccounted for. Or worse, transitions that just didn’t make sense.
Once he had started trying to make sense in their change in residences, he started to suspect he was becoming a tad detached from reality.
He was probably missing his extracurriculars, now that he thought about it. (So was she.)
Unlike everything else in his life, there was no concrete and obvious goal or path.
The weight of the Desmond name had no use here, other than giving him more questions than answers. He couldn’t study his way through this—and no amount of physical strength from this point could change the past. (Useless.) He was an Eden student, adults frequently said they’d be Ostania’s future. (A group of teenagers and children.)
They were students of Cecile Hall since he was 6. And then they’d graduate, and then what? He was a Desmond, he was bound for great things. And where would Anya Forger be? Still at his heels, trying to surpass him? (That wasn’t why.) She was just a constant annoyance, a stubborn thorn in his side for so many years that he forgot what a peaceful life was like.
He had his entire future in front of him. He could forget her and move on. (Don’t.)
He was feeling oddly...tranquil, despite the exam results being ready. He felt emotionally untouchable. For once, he was neither stressed nor excited for his results. Maybe it was because the days leading up to the exams were already blurred enough as it were.
The noise and clamor from nearby students washed over him, until hands tugged at his sleeve and invaded his vision.
“Boss Man, look! You’re an Imperial Scholar now!”
He didn’t feel anything. Not a single thing. Where was the sense of satisfaction, the happiness? He did it. Finally. (Even if it took longer than Demetrius did—but there was none of his usual disappointment or desperation.) He could wake up tomorrow and, and what? Suddenly feel like he’d be worth his father’s time?
A shoulder jostled into his arm. The Blackwell girl. (Huh, he could have sworn she wasn’t that short before.) “Guess it’s you first.” Their bet on who would become an Imperial Scholar first. It didn’t count if she wasn’t there to see it.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this.” Everybody, everything, life was moving on, with or without her in it. And something in him caved in.
He slowed when he heard voices down the corridor while returning from the bathroom. He was just curious and didn’t recognize the voices at all, nope.
“It’s okay if it doesn’t come out.”
“It’s not okay!! I can call Martha and ask her how to get it out. Gosh, if that girl were really sorry, she’d be helping you!”
“It was an accident, and she said she was sorry.”
“That’s what they all say! Her friends laughed at you and said it would be easy to mistake you for the trash can! She could get a tonitrus for this, and we’ll see who’s laughing then!”
“She really didn’t mean it, I don’t want her to get in trouble for it.”
He wasn’t planning on making his presence known, but then Anya turned and noticed him anyway, drawing Blackwell’s attention to him.
“And what do you want?” she snapped. He gave the two a once over and couldn’t see any stains as for why they were hovering next to the water fountain.
He shrugged, going for casual. “I just heard voices, that’s all. What are you two doing here, Rebecca?”
“You know that’s not my name!”
And then Anya grabbed a pair of scissors and clumsily lopped off a chunk of her hair. Blackwell whipped her head around at the sound and made a surprisingly big deal of it, as it wasn’t her hair that was cut.
“There was gum in it,” she flashed the clump of hair in her hands at him, and he couldn’t help but stare. “Becky, can you help me even out the rest?” Blackwell griped about split ends and other things he didn’t understand, but complied nonetheless.
“And you cut it just like that? Didn’t you say you wanted to grow it out?” He didn’t understand her. She would’ve had to wait out the rest of the day, yes, but surely it could wait to be removed. (He was sort of curious why she wanted to grow it out.)
She hummed, “Mama and Papa wanted to do more with my hair. But hair grows back, so it’s fine. I still have them, and they can wait.” She turned and eyed him for a bit, as she was wont to do. “Do you want this?” She offered him...the rest of her hair that Blackwell cut.
“Wha—no! First you give people things on the ground—”
“When have I ever done that?” She asked way too innocently to actually be clueless.
“Yeah, don’t just accuse people of things!” Blackwell added, although he knew she knew fully well what he was talking about.
“You give people leaves you pick off the ground!”
“They’re pretty colors! And I press them into bookmarks!”
They bickered all the way back, and he thought that was the end of it. Until he found a tied off braid of pink hair in his bag. First, gross. Second, he had no idea when she did that without him noticing. Which was kind of creepy. (So of course he kept it. As evidence. If he ever wanted to prove she was being weird towards him.)
He knew his friends were worried about his behavior. About him (a strange thought, even now. For them to be concerned about him not as a Desmond first and foremost). But they had already given him comfortable space up until now, so he figured they’d be okay with waiting longer.
It turned out he knew even less about Anya than he thought. Her family, her past. For all the time he saw her inside and outside of school, did he even know her? Did he even count as her friend? Was it fair to mourn someone if they weren’t close?
Life wasn’t like Spy Wars. He wasn’t able to do anything for her, not like how she gravitated to try to help others, and there was no blindness faith that he’d get out of this permanent, aimless cliffhanger.
He turned his thoughts in circles as he sat in the forest he frequented whenever he wanted to turn off his brain. (Now he knew that wasn’t how it worked, but it stuck.)
Contrary to his friends’ beliefs, he wasn’t completely averse to nature and the outdoors. He was sitting on this log just fine. He checked it for loose bits and insects already. (Not like that ever stopped Anya, Ewen, or Emile from chasing him, bugs in their hands.)
He stood up. (What did he want? Which was it? He had no patience trying to distract himself, talking to his classmates. But he couldn’t find peace in his thoughts either—forgetting her or remembering her. Was he here to find her or himself.) He found himself at the lake anyway.
“Why don’t you like going places on new moons, anyway?”
"Oh, you noticed." He felt the movement of her shrug through their joined hands. “Well, it’s dark and hard to see, like now.”
“The stars are better to see on a moonless night.” Which was the reason she agreed to be out here in the first place.
He didn’t need to turn or have light to see her smirk before she teased, “Oh but Damian, you are my star! My stella star~” She sang. He almost wanted to dig a hole in the ground to become a hermit. Hopefully it was dark enough that she couldn’t see how embarrassed he was.
“Alright, enough of that. We’re here.”
She oohed and aahed at the sight, just as he had once before. “It looks like there’s stars in the lake!” she giggled. (It made the trip worth it to see her happy.)
He cleared his throat. “Look, I just...I know you want to be an Imperial Scholar to make your dad proud. And I know the feeling. So. Just don’t give up.”
She blinked at him owlishly, then laughed. “I can’t tell what you’re thinking.”
“Don’t look into it too much! You just looked sad—you know what, whatever. I don’t care. We’re not close or anything!”
“Then, I don’t know you, but I’d like to get to know you.” She responded cheekily. Before he could respond, she shifted their hands until their pinkies were aligned. “Thanks. How about we become Imperial Scholars together and show our fathers how hard we’ve worked?”
He scoffed, “What are you, 4?” even though he laced his pinky with hers.
Did he know and miss her, or was he just chasing his image of her?
Either way, he couldn’t cut her out that easily. She was supposed to be in his future.
He came back to the dorms to find a surprise visitor waiting for him.
Whatever anyone said, he did not gawk. That would be unbefitting behavior for a Desmond. “They let you in, just like that?”
“I’m an alumnus, not a stranger.” Demetrius looked no less tired than he did as a student. Although seeing him without the Imperial Scholar cape that sat on his shoulders for so many years was still slightly jarring. “I know you just got back, but are you up for heading out again?”
“What about curfew?” He was already cutting it close as it were. Probably. He honestly had no idea how long he had been outside.
Demetrius waved his hand lazily, “Live a little, you can just stay at my place.” Damian was too tired-drained-surprised to protest and got swept up into following his older brother (always following, never ahead).
“Did you eat dinner yet? Heard you’d been out for a while.” He shook his head first, then responded when he remembered Demetrius would be focused on the road and likely wouldn’t see it. “Alright then, your choice, my treat. As part of my congratulations.”
He paused. “For what?”
“Heard you became an Imperial Scholar.” Demetrius took a hand off the wheel to ruffle his hair messily. “I had some time to drop by.”
“You didn’t have to.” He groused, swatting at the hand half heartedly, not even trying to salvage his hair back into order. “I didn’t ask you to…”
“I wanted to. And do I need an excuse to visit my little brother? Or are you too old and cool for that, now?” Damian didn’t answer, unsure of how to continue the conversation, and too tired to think about it. Demetrius let him drop it, comfortable with the silence as he always was.
“Well, here we are. Time to get comfortable. You’re not a Desmond here, just my little brother.” Another hair ruffle, then he was free. He had only been inside Demetrius’ apartment on a few occasions, although many things were familiar and moved from his room in the manor. The strangeness was distracting.
“Tea? Coffee?” Demetrius’ voice drifted over from the kitchen.
“Uhh, whatever you’re having.”
Demetrius let out a breathy laugh, “Straight black coffee? If you say so.”
He grimaced, turning around from where he was setting the table to glare weakly. “No, tea. Don’t you dare.”
“Mistreating your host, are you?”
“Some good host you are.” His jab sounded more like a grumble than banter.
Demetrius walked back over and unloaded the tray before taking a seat. “Alright, spill.”
He was too tired for this. Time to play dumb. “All over your tablecloth? You want to clean something that badly?” Well, maybe too dumb.
A snort, and rolled eyes. But nothing else. So he was going to wait him out, huh? Two could play at that game. Damian sipped at his tea just to have a reason to not talk, and bit back the reaction from burning his tongue.
Yet in the end, he cracked first. “Do you ever just—” He stopped. Demetrius just sat back, sipping his coffee. “Do you still talk to your classmates?”
“Hmm. Yes and no. It’s hard to keep in touch when people go their own ways, but if you care about someone, you’ll put the effort in to make it work.”
“But what if you don’t have a choice?” Demetrius raised a brow, and Damian took a moment before he could elaborate. “When Max died, I...that’s a part of life. I knew it was going to happen. But she’s not dead, she’s alive.” She had to be. “She’s out there somewhere but it feels like nobody’s looking for her. I don’t know.” He finished softly, wincing at the admission. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize for being human. It’s natural for you to feel that way.” A kick under the table. “I can’t say I know how you feel, but. People change, people leave. You’re not even adults yet. Life isn’t fair, and doesn’t always go as planned. We’re not very honest, you know. If you don’t tell people how you feel, that you appreciate them, then a day might come when you never can and you’d regret it.
“I’m not saying you have to live every day as if it’s your last, but do things on your own terms sometimes. You may be hung up on lost chances with this girl, but don’t forget the friends you still have, either. Plus, you don’t want her to come back and see you’ve made a mess of yourself, right? You’re not doing her a disservice by taking care of yourself. Neither are other people.”
Damian kicked back. “When did you get so mature?”
“I’ve always been mature, I’m your big brother, after all.” He huffed tiredly. “And now, I’m an adult.” Jazz hands. His older brother, Demetrius, everyone.
“Who taught you these things, then?” It didn’t magically come with age, he knew. Learned that the hard way.
“Talking to people, reflecting. Remember, it’s okay to rely on the people around you. Start looking and I’m sure you’ll find them. There’s no right way to heal and everybody’s different, but just think about it, okay? And eat something too, while you’re at it.”
It wasn’t until he was helping put dishes in the sink until he next spoke. “Hey.”
“That’s for horses. Got anything for me?”
He struggled to keep his face neutral. “Thanks,” which earned him another bout of hair ruffling and teasing.
“What flavor didja get, Sy-on boy? Can I try?” Without waiting for a response—why did she even ask, then?!—she leaned over and took a sip from his straw. His thoughts raced, and she shot them all quizzical looks.
“An indirect kiss Anya, how bold!!” Blackwell gasped.
“Whuzzat?” Anya leaned back and sipped at hers, before tilting it towards him. “Want to try mine?” He wildly gestured back and forth between themselves and their straws, unable to voice a thing.
“Oh, but Becky and I share all the time.” As if to prove her point, she reached over to take a sip from Blackwell’s straw. Looking wary and afraid, Ewen and Emile clutched their glasses closer to themselves.
“Yeah well, you also eat food off the ground,” Emile began, before she interrupted him to counter back.
“5 second rule! And that’s a waste of food.”
“That’s not how it works??”
Everybody else had dropped the incident but he couldn’t get his mind off it. (Blackwell was getting to him, damn her.) He stared at his straw as if it might attack him. Maybe one day they’d properly—he thunked his head onto the table, cradled in his hands to hide the creeping flush, before shoving his glass over to her. “You can just have the rest of it.”
One step at a time. One day at a time. He wasn’t doing anything particularly weird, he was just going to talk. To his friends. Which he did every day. Waiting at the gate for Blackwell to arrive? It wasn’t that he’d never done it before, it’d just be the first time he didn’t do it to wait for Anya.
Blackwell made eye contact with him, and he was sorely tempted to revert to his past behavior, until he reminded himself about missing green eyes and a bright smile.
“Where are the other two?” Once she came near, he fell in step easily.
“Watching our stuff.” He flexed his empty hands, then shoved them in his pockets to stop the fidgeting. “Can we. Talk.” He finally got out.
She turned to scrutinize him. “You should talk to your friends. They were worried.”
“I am.” To her credit, she blinked the surprise away so quickly he almost didn’t notice it. “And I’ll talk to those two too, later.”
Their roles were reversed. She waited patiently for him to say something. He knew what he wanted to say, and yet. “You’re a good friend. Her best friend.” He eventually allowed.
She raised her eyebrow at him, as if to ask if that was the best he could do. “Is that all?”
He scrunched his face. “I’m sorry. And...thank you, Becky. For being worried about me. And being my friend. You’re not terrible.” He grimaced, and she did as well.
“Okay, enough of that.” They reached her locker. For a while, the conversation lulled, until she piped up, “You know, I’ve been writing her letters. We used to call each other all the time to talk, so I want to make sure she doesn’t miss out.”
When they reached the classroom, even with the empty seat next to him, the restless feeling turned into a dull ache, and he didn’t feel like his chest was going to cave in on itself.
The paper sat blank in his folder for a while. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to write, or didn’t know what to write. He didn’t know how to start, and it never felt good enough. Some things felt too trivial to be mentioned—why mention what was happening in Spy Wars when he was already recording the episodes on a VCR tape for her—others oversimplified when written.
Putting his thoughts to paper was difficult, but it had to be done. And it was. Eventually, he reached an ending point. How to end it? She was the only one going to read it, after all.
P.S. Stop calling me by that weird nickname, you did it once already.’
He wondered if it was still complete without his last name, but decided it was better that way. This time, he’d be Damian first.