She met Damien when she was still quite young. He was a gawky kid who hid his shyness with smiles and bad puns. She was a girl with a bad heart who tended to get called cute and hated it. They pretended that he was the loyal soldier and she was the warrior queen, and that they were infiltrating a dangerous palace to get her throne back. And to get to the good sandwiches that didn't have slimy ham in them. The Sommers kids would play along sometimes. Hector Gantelet would always sneer at them and say they were being stupid and childish. He preferred to talk to her seriously about politics and marriage and the duties of women.
She thought the duties of women and manners was a massive conspiracy to keep girls from kicking rude people in the nuts.
That usually ended up with Damien getting Hector furious, and Damien's mother scolding Hector when he tried to punch Damien. Damien preferred to make a fool of someone instead of fighting them head to head. Part of it was the fact that he was too small and thin to really be good at fighting, and part of it was the fact that he was good at insulting people without using swear words. Hector wasn't clever with words, so he hated Damien for that. Yvette also suspected that Hector had a crush on her for some reason.
It was inevitable that Damien was sent to a military academy. His father was a well-decorated soldier much like his fathers before him. There was a Montechristeu in almost every military department, and Damien had no reason to go into any other field. Yvette went off to a liberal college and had a degree in literary criticism and political theory. Her electives were whatever her heart could handle. This included, in one memorable semester, a class in fencing in the morning, a pottery class in the afternoon, and some sort of martial arts and meditation class before dinner.
She had written to Damien saying that his warrior queen could now duel people, make lopsided dishes, and then calm her heart and clear her mind. He wrote back to ask if she would be using the dishes for weapons. She replied that she'd only used the ones that the glaze didn't work on. He said that her loyal soldier was learning how to handle almost every tactical situation other then a head on assault, so she'd be well defended so long as the enemy didn't attack honorably.
She graduated with honors and started working for her parent's company. The latest thing they were working on was promoting local artists and making a market for them. It was a good way to get money into the poorest areas of the lower town. She was still writing to Damien, of course. He headed into the army, and was soon a captain of a little division in some overseas embassy. He said that Hector was working in the same area. The Gantelet family was more into politics and Hector was, unsurprisingly, cultivating friends in high places.
He was also, Damien told her, an insufferable git.
Hector apparently had trouble with his soldiers because he wasn't that interested in talking to them as people. He also was, from what Damien reported, frustrated with the informal atmosphere at the embassy. Damien said that some of it could be stress though, since there were rumors that the rebels had some secret weapon. Hector didn't sound stressed in his letters to her though. He mostly wrote about the minor day to day frustrations and asked prying questions concerning whether or not Damien had proposed to her yet.
Damien's parents wanted Damien to marry her. Her mother's response was a fluid shrug and the comment that her daughter would marry when and who she chose. Neither Yvette nor Damien truly were interested in each other. It was like they knew each other too well to imagine marrying and pretending to be husband and wife.
Hector was apparently imagining himself as her brave protective husband, and "I'm not interested" merely made him get more courtly. She finally stopped replying to him, and eventually the letters stopped.
She started writing to Montague Orchard sometime around there too. Damien had introduced them via a letter saying that Montague was a "damn good sniper with too much modesty and too much brains to advance well." Montague's letters were always written in painfully clear script and it took about three letters for him to relax enough to reveal his quiet sense of humor. Montague just wanted to know if she knew any safe cities outside of the city for his mother to move into. She gave him a list, and inquired about his family. It slowly came out that he had five siblings and that he was in the army to get enough money for his mother to support his siblings and perhaps to move out of town. She met his mother, and found her to be a strong woman with very little education but a sharp tongue and mind. She didn't tell Montague that she pulled some strings to help get his mother's passports accepted. He never asked.
She was getting busy then. There was a campaign by the government to encourage sterilization of women to help cut down on excess pregnancies. A few of her contacts in the lower town said that people weren't getting told that they were getting the surgery, and she confirmed it through some other contacts. Even more disturbingly. there seemed to be an unofficial set of recommendations to sterilize poor women without telling them.
So, Yvette found a nice hat, rolled up her sleeves, and set out to change things. It didn't take long for her to get her parents to start helping out, and she started an informational campaign. With some fundraising and her parent's money, she got a few clinics set up with the standard STD testing and pregnancy information. Of course, she had the usual people saying that she should keep her nose out of their business, the usual people saying that she should be doing things differently, and the usual lot of people who claimed that they were right behind her - so long as the publicity was favorable. In the end, it worked, and the sterilization program was quietly paused for a while.
When her life slowed down again, she noticed that Damien hadn't written in a while. His father, Charles, said that Damien had been arrested under accusations of having ties to terrorists. The next few Montechristeu parties were rather strained, and his parents only referred to their son as a "great pity." That wasn't that surprising to her. The Montechristeu's always tended to bend in the direction of the fairest wind when it came to politics. Even if she wasn't surprised, she was angry that they weren't even asking about the evidence. Or when their son would be released. Or even where he was being held.
Yvette asked some questions, but only managed to confirm that Damien had been shipped back to town, and that he wasn't going to be released anytime soon. Montague contacted her about three months after Damien was arrested. He was working as a bodyguard and frankly looked like he had aged three years in comparison to the photo that Damien sent her. Montague had asked her if she knew anything about Damien, and she told him everything she knew. When she invited him to stop by her place and talk sometimes, Montague had looked ridiculously grateful.
He did stop by occasionally. He usually brought food, and they talked over coffee. She went by his place occasionally, and found his apartment to be a cramped dingy little place, but the kitchen was clean and Montague seemed proud to afford the rent. As best as she could understand it, Montague had gotten his pension in a lump sum (with an estimated date of death at forty,) and he had some money saved from his army pay. This meant that he had far more money then he had ever had as a child.
Some part of Yvette was a bit disturbed that said amount of money was about equal to her allowance from the family trusts for a month. She knew that the lower town was poor, and she knew that people were getting by on what she called pocket change. It was just startling to suddenly remember that she had forgotten. Again.
Either way, she was going down to meet Damien. Montague had sent her a letter saying that Damien had been released, and asking her to wait a while to stop by because Damien was "fragile." When she called Montague a few monthes later and talked to Damien, Damien did sound fragile. He had a stutter, which was new, and he sounded like he was missing his old sense of confidence. Damien sounded scared on the phone, and she couldn't remember him ever showing his fear before.
She had a lower town apartment that wasn't that far from Montague's place, so it was easy enough to use a roof bridge and then the streets to walk to his door. As usual, Montague had all his windows shut save for the kitchen one, but the balcony doors were open for a change. She knocked on the door and waited.
After a bit, Montague opened the door and smiled at her. "Come on in."
She stepped inside and toed her shoes off. "Where is -" She paused as she looked into the living room. Damien was curled up in the armchair with a blanket and a book, and looked to be asleep.
Montague shut the door quietly. "Want me to wake him up?"
"No - there's no need right now." Yvette walked over to look through the archway into the living room. "He's lost weight."
"Yeah." Montague leaned against the wall. "He's gained a few pounds since he came here." Damien looked like he still could stand to gain some weight. He was curled up a little in his sleep, but Damien always slept like he thought the roof was about to collapse on him. His hair was starting to grow out of his military buzz cut, and he was wearing some stuff that looked like it was mostly raided out of Montague's closet.
"How bad . . . ." Yvette trailed off. She wasn't sure what she wanted to ask. How bad was it for Damien in prison? Montague wouldn't know that. How bad was he when he showed up at Montague's place? How bad were his nerves? How badly was Damien handling his arrest?
Montague eyed her, and then said, "How bad was he when he got here?"
Yvette nodded slowly.
"He had bruises on his wrists. And he was nervous." Montague's jaw tightened, and then Yvette could see him force himself to relax again. "Let me make you some tea. He should wake up soon." He headed into the kitchen and fished some mugs out of the cabinet.
She followed him into the kitchen. "You're angry about it."
Montague looked at her, and then nodded. "Yeah. I am." He sounded almost cautious. "Are you?"
Yvette looked back into the living room at Damien. "Of course. He's my friend."
"His family didn't even defend him." Montague crouched and fiddled with his stove to get it heating the water. His shoulders looked tense, and Yvette remembered how angry Montague sounded when she mentioned Damien's mother.
"They were probably afraid of being arrested just like he was." Yvette pearched on the edge of the kitchen table. "For all of their military positions, the Montechristeu aren't that rich."
Montague finally got the stove going and turned to look at her. "They aren't? Even if they lost a lot of money in the Collapse, they should have the military pensions."
"They lost a fair amount of overseas investments after the collaspe. Most of Damien's money is from his mother's side." Yvette shrugged. "His mother loves his dad, but she always impressed me as wishing that they didn't have to work."
"She wanted a husband who never raised a sweat and had his hands clean?" Montague didn't sound that bitter. He actually sounded like he could empathise with that wish.
"Yeah, that, and she didn't want to lose her husband to a sniper." Yvette looked out the kitchen window. "She - called my mother and was very scared after the Collapse. The declaration of martial law and the riots didn't help."
Montague frowned and looked down at his hands. "I . . . can see why she'd be scared."
Yvette eyed him. "You don't like her?"
"She impressed me as being the sort of woman who believed the idea that the poor were to stay in their place and die in the mud they were born in." Montague's voice sounded like he was fighting to keep it light.
"She is." Yvette stood up and touched Montague's shoulder. "Montague -"
Montague smiled crookedly at her. "It's okay. I just keep wishing there were more like you in the upper town. It's - hard to suddenly remember that most of them up there think I'd be better out of sight."
"I wouldn't say his mother thinks that," Yvette said slowly. "I think it's more that she doesn't know what to say."
Montague was silent for a minute. "She honestly thinks he's sleeping with me?"
"I think her logic is that he must have seen something in you." Yvette leaned against the kitchen counter. "And since you're not blackmailing him, and he's got a place to live with her so he doesn't have to live in the lower town -"
"Then obviously we're screwing like bunnies." Montague shrugged with his good shoulder. "I don't think I'll ever understand rich people."
"I'm one of them, you know." Yvette smiled at him through her hair.
"You, Miss Moreau, are different."