He thought he was in the clear. When the queen had caught him kissing Oliver, Derek immediately flew to his room. Oliver had tried to help in whatever way he could, but Derek had dismissed him. No use having both of them cussed out for breaking the rules.
He’d locked himself away, heart pounding and hands shaking. He didn’t know why, but he knew this was going to be bad. Like, real fucked and nasty. The humans had all these stupid rules he needed to follow, and the queen had caught him breaking the worst one. His fate, Oliver’s—fuck, maybe even Runa’s and Nero’s, they’d all get punished for this.
Anger swelled with the fear in his throat. Why? So what if Oliver was a boy? So what if he had horns and could float? He was just the same as them, why was liking him such a crime?
He paced, then started burning branches in his fireplace to calm down. He kept checking the window, wondering if Oliver would disobey him and come back to check on him. He’d throttle the fucker if he did—he couldn’t have him getting more in trouble, and he obviously had more to lose than Derek. The humans, for the moment, still liked him.
His hands got too close to the fire, purposely heating up his goosebump skin. He didn’t want Oliver to come.
But all he wanted was him.
Morning came at five. Normally, the royals would wake up at around seven, eat, go to church, and then start their royal duties. Derek would wake up on his own time, jerking off and choosing the least ugly outfit the maids had sewn for him.
That morning, Nero unlocked his door without his permission and threw pre-picked clothes over his bed.
“Get up,” he said tersely. “The king needs to see you.”
It was cold outside his room. The Sun was gone and cooled the halls in greys and blues. There was a frost that coated every tall window. It grew thicker the farther they walked.
Humiliation dragged him along the rugs. All this time, he’d been treated like a real God, or angel, a person who, at their core, was good. He thought he was invincible here, like the glass ceiling would never break.
Apparently, it had, and all the glass pieces had come shattering down on him.
The king, queen, Cellena, Jabel, and many others were waiting in the king’s little room. When he came in, the king, who was sitting in a very important chair, got up. He almost knocked it over, he got up so quickly.
Derek clenched his jaw to keep his feathers from quivering. Nero had to close the door behind him, and the feeling of being trapped doubled. He massaged his throat and it didn’t help.
The king stared at Derek with absolute disgust, and shame, and every fucking emotion that made Derek want to scream at him to stop. He couldn’t even keep eye contact with him. Everyone, even Cellena, was looking at him.
“Is it true, then?” the king asked. “You don’t deny what my wife saw last night?”
He checked in with the Queen, but her face was as still as stone, silently judging him along with the rest of the family.
“I…” He gulped. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You do understand the severity of these actions, do you not? Have we not made them clear to you?”
“You have,” he admitted, “I just…don’t think it was a big deal.”
Jabel and Cellena shared a quick look with each other. They were behind their parents, melting into the curtains.
“You were with a demon,” the king stated outright, “at night, in a highly provocative situation. We thought you understood how tremendously dangerous this was. We thought you knew better.”
“I-I did. I do.”
“And we’re bringing you into town this week. How can we do that now?”
“Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…” He shut his eyes to escape. He knew that saying sorry would’ve at least helped this situation, and he could’ve blamed it on a number of things: how dark it was, how late it’d been. Demons mated for life, they tempted you. He could’ve blamed Oliver for blinding him by temptation.
But that wasn’t true. He didn’t feel like apologizing because, in his eyes, in his heart, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d kissed a man who liked him, go fuck yourself if you thought that was wrong.
He finally looked the king in his dark eyes. “Why am I being yelled at?”
“Excuse me?” he asked.
He licked his lips to hide his nerves. “Yeah. I kissed Oliver. So what? I don’t know why that’s such a bad thing.”
Jabel went for his cross, physically taken aback by what Derek had said. The queen covered her mouth as if he’d declared a death.
“See?” Cellena said quickly. “He just doesn’t understand. We shouldn’t punish him so harshly. Let us just teach him our ways in a way he’d understand. Let us put this behind us and—”
The king gave her a vicious glare like a hungry snake, and Cellena flinched and grabbed her brother’s hand.
Jabel looked between all of his family members, then a fleeting look at Derek that crumbled to the floor. He bit his lower lip until it turned scarlet red. “Could he possibly be…possessed?”
“He’s still acting like himself,” the king refuted.
“But we’ve never known Oliver to possess anyone before. Maybe this’s…this’s how he does it?” As he said that, he closed his eyes, wincing at a lie he knew to be true.
“That…can be it,” Cellena agreed sheepishly.
“And he’s been quite…loose with obeying our laws. He doesn’t pay any attention in church and does things quite sporadically and without thought.”
Derek went to argue with them, but he didn’t think it would benefit his case. He never had a say in this family, even when he was “pure.” He kept quiet.
“He’s doing his best,” Cellena said. “Let’s just give him a stronger sense of our laws. Then…then things will be better, right?”
“But with Oliver,” one of the men in the room said.
“He has no excuse,” the king said. “He knows our country’s rules.”
“You hate him so much,” Derek muttered, “why would he work under your rules?”
The king looked up, then walked over to Derek. Derek readied for another battle to defend his actions. Oliver wasn’t here and would never get to lash out at the king for making fun of him like this. Let it be Derek to defend him.
The strike across his face hit him before the actual pain did. He watched as the king raised his hand and struck him right across the mouth. Then searing pain stung his eyes.
Cellena covered her mouth. Jabel’s back hit the windows. Nero, only a few feet away, stood still without the ability to defend him.
Derek held his panging cheek. He tasted blood, felt like a tooth had come loose. His mind went cold as his heart poured into his mouth.
“I did not want to do that,” the king started, “but you twisted my hand. I am being very lenient with your behavior, but I will not have disorder taint my family.”
Derek felt his panting mouth open. He couldn’t control it, and he couldn’t control what came out next.
He flapped his wings, startling the king back. “Fuck you!” he yelled. “Fuck you, fuck the church, and fuck your backwards ways of thinking. I don’t live to abide by all of these stupid laws that don’t make sense.”
The king gasped. “You are in my castle—”
“And I never asked to stay!” he exploded. “You’re acting like I had a choice to be here. You took me in and just expected me to fix all your problems. Have you even cared about what I thought? You treat me like I’m just some prized pet, but you don’t care about me as a person at all.”
The king reached for him again, as if Derek would let him get in his personal space ever again. He kicked open the door and slammed it as hard as he could. “I hate this place! I’m gonna—gonna tell God about this! You’re all gonna get spited and sent to the Underworld for this.”
The king, who had started to chase him, fell back. “Your Grace, wait.”
“No!” He laughed through the hurt and humiliation. “You’re going to hear it from God. Oh, yeah, you thought the Barrier was hard to live with? You think the demons are your biggest problems? Wait until you meet, uh, Shào! Yeah, then you’ll be sorry. All of you are gonna be so fucked up when God hears about this.”
Opening up the nearest window he could fit through, Derek flared out his feathers and dove straight out of it.
Drail had changed outfits overnight. The pine trees he once loved were now underneath a blanket of white. Whiteness had flattened the bushes and stretched every tree to the ground. Icicles hung from pinecones, the sky had discolored grey, and little white things floated from the sky like rain, but slower and softer like ash. Cellena had called this “snow.”
The world’s beauty almost made up for what the king did. Then the coldness hit his hurt cheek and erased all of it.
He flew, letting the icy wind mess up his hair and face. It stung so good, he almost dared himself to plunge straight into the ocean. Scramble his brains across the waves, tear off his wings at the bone. He clawed at his arms to feel something stronger than the hurt, but it wasn’t enough. All of their staring, the hatred…
His nails dug too deep, and he realized what he was doing and came back to reality. He was half a mile away from the castle, over the trees and passing-by clouds. His cheeks were beginning to hurt by how wet they were.
He landed on the top of the church’s bell tower, the belfry, as they called it. It was where the bell rang and allowed him enough space to rest in peace.
Which he hated, and only buried himself in a deeper grave. He didn’t want to be alone. He wanted to scream and moan and sob on someone’s warm shoulder and hold them for hours, but he couldn’t. Touching him would only get them in trouble. He’d become undesirable by giving in to his desires.
He pressed his cheek into the cold, white railing, staring off into the forest. Nothing was stopping him from just flying into the forest and meeting up with the demons now. They obviously knew about him and were curious about him more so than these stupid humans were. He deserved to be with them rather than these fucks.
But he couldn’t say that. Cellena was different, kinder, and Jabel seemed on the cusp of liking him. Nero and Runa were the nicest adults who treated him like a human being, or whatever the fuck he was. And the food and security were nice, the maids helped him. He’d enjoyed it, save for the rules.
Stuck, he stuck his tongue on the church’s wood and hoped it would stick.
Beneath him, a courtyard was slowly filling up with snow, creating fluffy hills along the walls and arches. Tiny birds flittered along the windowsills and open yard. Stupid idiots didn’t know there was nothing for them here.
A door opened near them, scaring them into the forest.
Jabel stomped out with his hands touching his head. Covering his eyes, wiping his mouth. He walked in circles, making patterns in the snow. Cellena followed behind him, lifting up her dress so it didn’t get dirty by pure white.
“What the fuck were we thinking?” he said. The wind carried his voice to Derek’s sensitive ears. He eyed them from his hiding spot.
“Why’d you speak out?” he asked. “You were too rash. It wasn’t time for that.”
“I couldn’t let him be verbally abused like that without saying something.”
“But now Father is going to beat us. He’s going to hurt him more—” Jabel’s voice broke off in a cry. He covered it with a balled fist and turned away from his little sister.
Cellena reached for him. “It’ll be okay.”
“No, it won’t. Now he’s going to be cross with me. You know I can’t get on his bad side any more than I already am. D-did I say anything to insinuate…anything?”
“No,” she said immediately. “You’re safe.”
He sighed, but it didn’t sound like it was in relief. He collected himself in short breaths.
“You came here,” Cellena said, looking up at the castle walls. Very few windows were built around this courtyard. They were, aside from Derek, alone. “Are you going to call for Maxwell?”
“No, I can’t. I—” He took a deep breath and pulled back his hair to free his face. “I shouldn’t.”
Derek whispered that name under his breath. If he wasn’t mistaken, that was the name of the water demon that’d saved Jabel from a heart attack. He’d brought him back to the castle. He’d saved him.
“Has he returned your letter?” Cellena asked. “You sent one last night, right?”
“Course I did, but I wouldn’t have expected him to answer yet. It’s not safe for our hawks to fly in this weather, and Oliver must be in a wreck with what happened. God, why’d they do it in public? They should know better.”
“He doesn’t know any better.”
“Oliver does. Boys can’t go around kissing boys.”
“Perhaps it’s different in Heaven.”
Jabel laughed bitterly at that. “Now I’m a saint? Fantastic.”
She didn’t have an answer for him. All she could do was hold out her hand and wait for him to take it.
He wiped the corner of his eyes once more before walking back into their home. Their hands only touched once the double doors began to close.
Derek let go a draconic breath, puffy and white like he was smoking. He replayed that conversation over in his head, wondering what they’d been talking about, what hidden meanings they were keeping from their family, church.
Jabel was in talk with one of the demons his family hated. And they seemed to be on good terms, good enough to expect letters from the other when things in the castle got bad.
He shivered, and felt a sneeze come up from his lungs. Jabel was right: this weather was not good for hawks.
Someone behind him finished a sneeze.
Derek nearly threw himself off the bell tower. With Shào still a threat in his mind, he clutched his throat and turned around.
Holly the cat girl was spying on him from behind the church bell. She had her mouth hidden by her scarf. A dollop of snot was hanging down her upper lip.
“Above, warn a bastard next time,” Derek said. “Did you just materialize yourself here, or have you been spying on me spying on them?”
Holly stepped away from her clearly obvious hiding space and ducked her head into the bell. She seemed to get lost in it before hitting her head on the way out.
He went to steady her, but she didn’t want to be touched and he withdrew. “Can you, like, understand me? I remember you saying you can’t talk. Well, you wrote it. Can you hear me?”
She shook out her long hair from her scarf. It was such a tattered thing. She must’ve had it for years, even slept with the damn thing.
“Is Oliver coming to save you?” Derek asked hopefully. “He probably hates me for getting him in trouble. If you see him before I do, tell him I’m sorry.” He smirked at nothing. “If I ever get to see him again.”
Holly cocked her head.
“Okay, never mind. This’s pointless. Absolutely pointless,” he called out to the sky. “Stupidly, humorously, pointless.”
Holly walked up to him cautiously, looking around the railings and bell. Her ears were up, and once her eyes caught on something interesting, her pupils turned to slits.
Humoring her, Derek followed her sights to whatever was catching her interest.
He went as rigid as the icicles hanging above them. Shào, in his lifeless self, was hovering on the shoreline beneath the castle. He floated parallel to the sand in a straight line like he was killing time, like he wasn’t a murderous brat.
“Fuck. Wait.” Derek double-took Holly. “You can see him, too?”
Holly pushed underneath his wings and got in front of him. With her hair flaring out and ears down, she put herself in front of Derek to protect him until Shào came and went behind a cliff.
She stayed like this for several extra seconds until she relaxed and fell back on her butt. Repaying her kindness, Derek wrapped a wing around her to protect her from the cold wind.
“You’re like me,” he guessed. “Is this a non-human thing, to see Deities?”
She said nothing about that.
“Holy shit, okay. You know, Shào told me something before I met you.”
Holly focused on him. He also guessed she could understand him mostly, just not speak.
“He’d mentioned something about me being a soulmate, which I think is a person connected to a Deity? Do you know what that means? Are you a soulmate, too?”
Holly jumped and sat on the railing, tail flicking, eyes unblinking. He could see the gears turning in her head, but her mouth refused to speak.
Derek gave up. “I’m glad that you’re here. Between the humans and demons and these weird Deity people invading my brain, you’re the most normal person here, and you’re a cat.”
He looked down at Holly’s hands. She wore fingerless gloves that looked picked at. “Hey, Holly,” he said. “Was I in the wrong? For liking Oliver? I don’t know much about him, but I want to. He’s nice, you know? It sounded like he genuinely cares about me. Is it that bad to like someone in this world?”
Holly, who was picking something out of her hair, looked back down at him.
“I am, aren’t I? I should just fly into the forest and hang out with other troublemakers like you. I should just leave all of this behind. I’m not a good person. I’m not even an angel, I’m—”
He looked up. Holly was pulling something out of her heavy sweater.
It was a doll. A little girl with hair made of yarn and two button eyes. Her clothes had teeth marks in it, and a little slobber. She presented it to him with both hands. Its little head bobbled from being overstuffed.
“Oh.” He took it, looked it over. “This your baby?”
She nodded and placed the doll on his head.
Not happy with his response, Holly then put the doll against his cheek, then underneath his chin, which made him ticklish.
“Holly, stop.” He laughed and batted her back. “Quit it.”
Holly blinked, processing the change in his tone. Then she made it her mission to find more places to tickle him with the doll, forcing a needed smile out of him.