Chapter 36: Derek

“Derek, are you sure you’re alright?” Oliver asked through the door.

“Yeah, totally. Totally fine. I just need a few more minutes with Holly. Again, totally fine. Nothing’s wrong.”

“Are you lying?”

“Yeah, sure. I’m just…” He looked over the notes he’d scrawled on the back of his hand. “I need to talk with her.”

Oliver paused, panicking Derek’s heart, before hesitant footsteps creaked the floorboards. “Okay. I’ll be downstairs getting ready. I’ll be waiting for you both, okay?”

After the door closed, Derek sighed and squatted down to collect himself. Both he and Holly hadn’t gotten any sleep that night and, similarly, had both locked themselves away so they didn’t go insane.

Derek started pacing the perimeter of the rug. He was in some type of writing room or tea parlor on the third floor, one fancy enough for only couches and bookshelves and windows of snow-capped pine. He couldn’t stop moving here, as his brain wouldn’t stop overthinking.

“So, today’s a No-Talking day, right?” he asked Holly. She was currently spinning on a chair, kicking off the ground to keep her momentum going. She nodded.

“Okay.” He wiped his face of sweat, then realized he’d smudged his hand notes. “Here’s what I have so far. We need to figure out a way to tell Oliver about, lemme see…

“The existence of Deities and how most of them are batshit crazy, what soulmates are and how both of us are one, whatever that means, what was in that basement, the existence of that basement, the pictures we found down there that you once drew but don’t remember drawing, and how all of this is connected to us and invisible people only we can see. Shouldn’t be hard at all. So, firstly, does he know anything about that underground fallout shelter place?”

Holly chewed on her cheek, then shook her head.

“Do you know for sure?”

She shrugged.

“Are you making this up?”

She grabbed for Derek’s quill to write something down in her notebook. As she wrote down her thoughts, Derek wasted time by over-analyzing how many different ways this conversation with Oliver could go south. “Hey, Oliver, turns out I’m connected to a Deity who I’ve never met before and other Deities wanna kill me for it for some reason because they hate her, not me, so if you stay with me, you’ll be in constant danger and I’ll likely die early because some girl with a weirdo name used to know me from my past. Your best friend’s also in on it. Also, I used to be a girl.”

He felt sick.

Holly gave him her notebook.

I haven’t any idea what happened underground. Memories are coming back to me, but when I think about it, I get dizzy.

“You don’t think that’s because you’re spinning?”

She motioned for him to continue as she spun.

 I did recognize those two people we met down there. I don’t know why. It’s like my memories have been jumbled up into a salad.

“That’s like me. I had amnesia when I first came here, and still do, sort of. You think they’re related? Some Deity is taking away our memories?” He kept reading.

I think this amnesia might be the same for Oliver and the other demons. He’s never brought this up to me before, and many of us don’t remember how we came to be 500 years ago. Before today, I had no idea that place existed. I didn’t even know about Baby

The child

The infant

The little boy who looked like me.

Derek studied how furiously she’d scribbled out those words. “That was your old home, right? You and him and that…baby lived there together.”

She shook her head, not saying he was wrong but refusing to think about dizzying thoughts. She took back the notepad.

He didn’t know if he should’ve sworn in front of her. She was so demure and innocent, but that photo he’d found of her was clearly of her holding her baby, so she must’ve had sex before. He was sure the photos were still in his jacket pocket downstairs. Maybe he could show them to her again.

But she didn’t have the baby now, and he didn’t want to think about what might’ve happened to it. He walked towards the window to let his thoughts escape him better. “Shào and those other Deities said I had a brother and a sister. That’s, like, really fucked up that I don’t remember them and they do, or they know about them. Somewhere, I have this entire other life I don’t remember having.”

A dollop of snow fell from the trees. Hyper-aware of everything always, Derek scanned the forest, the sky, anywhere a floating person could be hiding.

He didn’t find any floating person, but he did see someone just as deranged.

“Woah!” He pressed his face into the cold window, then tried opening it but realized he didn’t know how. “Hey!”

Riding towards the demons’ Manor, dressed in haughty winter clothes and jewels, was none other than Jabel, followed shortly by Cellena on her own white horse.

Derek banged on the window. Neither of them looked up. Jabel kept checking down their path before ending his journey at the moat encircling the Manor.

“It’s Jabel and Cellena,” he told Holly, and went for the door. Holly had already left, leaving the door swinging behind her.

Derek flew down the stairs into the main living room area. Down here, every demon was too preoccupied to notice him. Shimah and Kumo were digging through wooden boxes and pulling out gold jewelry. Rosaline and Maxwell were beading identical bracelets on each other’s horns. Yomi and Brennen were in the kitchen, cleaning up a bigger mess than usual.

“Welcome back to the world of the living,” Rosaline said. “We saved you some breakfast, or as much as Shimah would let us.”

“You missed this whole bit where we light Rosot berries on fire and everyone tries tossin’ ’em in my mouth,” Shimah said. “I saved a few for you to try.”

Derek walked over an emptied box of mothball clothes.  “What’s going on?”

“We’re celebrating the turn of the new year. We dress up, dance, sing, and drink. There used to be more of us to make it an all-week celebration, but…”

Their ears turned down. Oliver floated back to the first floor with a frown. He’d been nailing up strings with paper stars dangling from them. “Are you okay?”

Derek tried on a smile, but it didn’t fit. To feel better, he walked over to his man and let himself be eaten up by a hug.

He sighed into his warmth. His strong arms pressed up his hair into his cheeks. One hand cupped the entirety of Derek’s shoulder blade. It tickled the tinier feathers against his skin.

Too bad the laws of this world forbade him from merging his body into Oliver’s. That’s where he felt the safest right now. The closest he could get away with that was sex, but he didn’t think he’d ever fuck someone so wholesome.

“Get a room,” Maxwell called out.

“Maxwell, be nice,” Rosaline said. “Derek, you okay? Do you need anything?”

“Just this, “ he said, and hugged Oliver tighter.

“Here, my dear.” Yomi came in with a vial of that venom they secreted from their fangs. “This’s from Brennen, for your nerves.”

“Thanks.” That metallic taste hurt good going down. Oliver made it better by petting the top of his head as he took it. “Also, uh, Jabel and Cellena are outside.”

What?” Maxwell sat up too suddenly, clipping the bracelet—hornlet?—Rosaline was creating on him and scattering the beads on the floor. “I told him he wasn’t obligated to come today. We wrote letters and—”

He disappeared in a cloud of Dark Matter and left outside. Derek snuck over to the windows and saw him helping both Jabel and Cellena off of their horses. Jabel was much taller than Maxwell. He had to lean down to hug him properly, snuggling into the crook of his shoulder as a gentle snow fell around them.

Derek chuckled. “Get a room,” he called out.

Maxwell stuck out his forked tongue, then brought the royal heirs over the moat into the Manor one at a time, puffs of black smoke trailing from side to side. Jabel dusted off his jacket before Maxwell jumped back and helped take it off for him.

“Derek!” Cellena ran up and smushed her face into his chest. “How I’ve missed you.”

“Hey, there.” He scooped her up and hugged her right. He’d missed their scents. Instead of forest pine and firewood and berries, they burned with expensive perfumes that made his nose tingle. “I missed you, too.”

“I’ve missed you, too! You never wrote to us once! Are you alright?”

“Hey, I was only gone a few days, right?”

“It was too long. I’m so sorry about what happened to you in town. I’m sorry our parents did that in front of you. You don’t hate us, do you?”

“Course not. Don’t worry about that no more. You’re okay.”

“See, Cellena?” Jabel said. “I told her you wouldn’t hate us, but she didn’t believe me.” Unable to help himself in a safe space, Jabel leaned down and kissed Maxwell. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Maxwell burned up. Literally. A puff of smoke left his color-changing hair, turning it from its natural black to stark white. His face turned a deeper shade of red like an apple as he waved the smoke away. “R-right. Yup. Same.”

Derek mockingly laughed at them. The hypocrite. “Ew, two people loving each other so earnestly? How dare you. Off into the ocean, both of you.”

“Don’t joke about that,” Jabel scolded.

“Hey, you didn’t answer my question,” Cellena said. “Are you alright?” She looked at Derek, at the dark bags likely forming underneath his eyes.

“Yeah. I’m just…ready to hang out today. Forget everything that’s happening and chill. You’re here for this party thingy, right? Were you invited?”

“I went last year with Maxwell,” Jabel explained, trying to stay regal-looking with Maxwell clinging to him like a schoolgirl, “and Cellena’s been pestering me to bring her this year.”

“Your parents allowed it? Won’t they, like, kill you for coming here?”

“Our father went into town for a quarterly meeting with his landowners. Left our mother in the castle. I hardly suspect she’ll notice our absence, but just to be sure, I had Nero tell her that Runa will be teaching us the important skill of the categorization of texts and scrolls.” He rolled his eyes. “She shan’t come looking for us.”

Shan’t,” Derek said with a snort. “Fuck, I missed you two.”

“And I you!” Cellena hugged him again and didn’t let go.

After the demons and heirs introduced themselves and everyone was given tea and cookies to dine on, they all relocated into the lounge.

And drank. Derek got to savor his vodka again and tried mixing it with a new drink to gain a deeper high. Two bottles in and he got warm and fuzzy. Everything to do with Deities burned away in the fireplace. He didn’t even feel bad about his lost memories anymore. If Holly could find them, he’d find his eventually, and then he’d reunite with his alleged brother and sister and everything would be fine. Were they birds, too, or did they have bat wings like Shimah? He couldn’t wait to find out.

He got off seeing Jabel act like a real teenager here. Without his father breathing down his neck, he let himself slouch on the couch with his lover. They shared a cup of hot chocolate, courtesy of Cellena stealing it from the castle kitchens, and they stayed glued to each other’s sides for the whole afternoon. Thighs touching, arms around shoulders, and heads leaning against the other as drowsiness stole them away from the festivities.

Jabel had been so uptight and angry when Derek had first met him. Now, he had his shoes off and was trying hard to make Maxwell laugh. It took Derek’s all not to grill him on it—he was mirroring their touches with Oliver.

As the afternoon rolled into night, Brennen and Yomi brought out pipes that smelled of herbs and berries. Smoking it made their eyes glossy with delirious delight. Shimah took one to smoke while Rosaline tossed lit berries into his mouth. Jabel was nervous about them getting too high, but after drinking a thick ale that made him cough, he settled down. He took to stroking Maxwell’s curly hair, making it turn white and grey and then black.

“Y’all are so handsy,” Derek slurred, passing them his half-finished drink. “Couple of lovebirds, huh?”

You keep away from your mate for weeks at a time,” Maxwell said, taking the bottle. “Our meetings are precious. When we meet, we don’t take our hands off each other.”

“Precious?” Derek teased, but neither of them disregarded their feelings as anything less. “Cute.”

“And you’ve been with Oliver,” Jabel said. “How has that been for you?”

Derek watched said man throw another log on the fire. “Dunno. What’s it supposed to feel like?”

“I haven’t known another non-demon/demon relationship. It was rare in my grandfather’s time, and now, it’s nearly extinct. How does it feel?”

“Just, like…I dunno,” he said. “It feels like a crush.” He dropped to a whisper. “He’s, like, really devoted to me.”

Jabel nodded. “Their love is some of the strongest known in the world. They’ll do anything for you, even sacrifice themselves for you. It’s something to ease into.”

“I don’t mind it now.”

Jabel snuggled into Maxwell’s side. “Nor do I. Once you find your rhythm, every day with them is a gift.”

“Okay, too much info.”

You’re the lovebird here,” Maxwell said, and Derek didn’t disagree.

Nothing was really scheduled during this festival. The demons switched from indulgences to singing and dancing without notice. Rosaline and Shimah took to battling each other for the worst dance moves. Cellena danced with Kumo, who had to keep in her wheelchair but wanted to learn ballroom dancing. Yomi and Brennen helped cook the deer Oliver had hunted and brought out samples for everyone to try. Derek devoured all the fish dishes while he persuaded Holly to try some. She’d finally come down but kept back from the horny drunkenness. She chose to people-watch from the banisters, her eyes locked on Derek.

Everything tasted familiar, like remembering a home-cooked meal. He forgot about Sabah and Tsvetan, the fallout shelter, Keva. While he dozed off on the couch, Oliver and Brennen brought out carved instruments to sink him even deeper into his high. Kumo played a flute with flowers and ravens etched into it. Shimah, a guitar made from horsehair. Rosaline danced to the rafters.

Oliver threw another log on the fire. He was wearing pretty necklaces and a headpiece that left his horns sparkly.

Derek opened up his legs to air things out. Oliver’s eyes were half-lidded with a smile he didn’t often see. With the number of bodies in one area, things had become hotter. Oliver had peeled off one of his layers, revealing a loose shirt that showed off his biceps.

“This’s nice,” Derek told everyone. “Like, really nice. I needed this.”

“I’m happy you’re enjoying it,” Oliver said.

Smirking, Derek opened one wing and motioned him in.

He came. “Hello.”


“Are you okay?”

“Dance with me.”

“I don’t really dance.”

“Does anyone? Cellena, you stay there with your pretty self. Shimah, Kumo, move.”

“Bah!” Shimah blurted out, and hung from the ceiling with drool dripping off his nose.

“Just so you know,” Derek warned, “I’m an amazing dancer.”

“You’ll be much better than I. I have two left feet.” He danced Derek towards the foyer, away from everyone else. “I love days like this. Living the way we do, we never know if today’s going to be our last. This festival’s becoming more of a celebration to memorialize the fact we’ve lived another year, not to celebrate our God giving us a new year to live.”

“Is that what this’s for?”

“It used to be. It’s alright. I know you don’t believe in it as strongly as I do.”

Derek’s heart turned. “It’s just that so much has happened to me. I’ve seen a lot of stuff that doesn’t make sense. I don’t want to add to the list, especially if it’s a tricky subject that needs a mature mind to talk about. I’m trying not to think about it.”

“About everything, or about what happened yesterday?”

Derek answered by dancing around him, walking over his tail and rubbing up against him.

Oliver half-heartedly danced with him. “I feel like my world has shifted this season. I can’t even think without panicking. I didn’t even greet their highnesses correctly.”

“Dance to forget.”

“But I don’t want to forget. With you, I feel a lot better about the future, however cloudy. You make me hopeful for a better tomorrow.”

“Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Oliver’s hand snuck past Derek’s waist. “Good thing.”

Grinning, Derek embraced this new side of Oliver, shutting his eyes and hearing him breathe.

Then something slipped into his pants.

In a turn of events, Derek was the one to stop Oliver’s wandering hand. He checked the redness in his eyes to make sure he hadn’t lost it.

“…Yes?” Oliver asked.

Feeling like he wasn’t in on some joke, Derek hid him around the corner into the kitchen.

“Did you do that on purpose?” he asked, sensing where that hand would’ve travelled if he hadn’t stopped it. “Do you know what you just did?”

Oliver bit his grey lip, then nodded. “Was that okay?”

“Oliver, I’m in a very fragile state right now.”

He futzed with his hands. “Do you…want me to take care of it for you?”

He could’ve screamed. He probably had, he couldn’t remember. All he remembered was hauling Oliver up the stairs and trying to rip off his clothes without tripping over Holly. Fuck dancing and drinking. Fuck procrastinating and pretending he was chill with partying. This is what he needed right now. To feel like Derek Harrow, to be normal again, he needed to turn off his brain and let his dick decide his future.


“Do you think it was obvious asking Shimah to boil some water for our impromptu night bath, or do you think it went over his head?”

Oliver sat at the edge of the bed. His hands were threading through his wire-thin tail. “Do you remember if you’ve ever done this before?”

Working with the fear in his voice, Derek outlined Oliver’s chest with a free hand. The other rubbed down his thick thighs.

Oliver bit his lip.

“You okay?”

“Yes, I’m just…I-I haven’t done this before, you know.”

“I haven’t done it with you either, in this timeline.”


He straddled Oliver with the slowest of movements, grinding his hips against his to make him blush. When he got comfortable, he tore open the condom he’d stolen from Yomi’s and Brennen’s room. “You gotta say in this, you know. If I’m going too fast, we can stop. I’m good with cuddles.”

“But you want more than that.”

“I want you.”

Oliver blushed and looked away to think. Derek knew some people were like this, that not many people were so drunkenly impassioned by sex as he was. Oliver was filled with love, yeah, but it could’ve been on different levels than Derek.

Derek pulled back his ready hands. “Tell me when, love.”

Oliver gulped one last time and looked him in the eyes. “When.”


He was falling again. For a winged kid, you’d think he’d be more in-tuned with taking to the sky and saving himself from plunging to his death. Maybe he was just ready to die and his brain was telling him that was okay.

There was nothing but shades of blues in this dream. He was falling alongside a dark, crumbling wall, and something behind him was roaring, like a motor or a waterfall. Water droplets were soaking his wings.

The fall lasted seconds. He half-expected himself not to die, to victoriously grab onto the wall at the last minute, but no. He just fell into the sky, waiting for a queer death.

He closed his eyes. That would be nice, if life would ever allow such a peaceful end.

An energy bloomed behind his wings, like a gust of wind had blown him sideways and stopped him in midair. He felt himself slip into someone’s arms, and suddenly, his fall ended.

Tsvetan, that meek, one legless Deity from the fallout shelter, was looking down at him. He looked scared, as if wondering how Derek had managed to fall from the tallest structure on Earth and not die.

“Can you understand me?” he asked hurriedly.

All the blood in Derek’s body filled his senses. His head fell back. He saw stars. He saw water.

“Oh, All.” Tsvetan looked up to the sky for someone to help. “Did she push you out? I can’t bring you back to her. You’ll die. But she’ll only get angrier if you’re taken from her. What do I do here?”

How was Derek supposed to know? He wasn’t meant to aid in Deity affairs.

An idea dawned across Tsvetan’s green eyes. “I’ll send you away, then. It’s the only way. I’m so sorry. This’s for your own good…and for her own good.”

For who? Nikki, his sister? Cellena, his friend? Holly, the other soulmate connected to these beasts?

Still unsure of his decision, Tsvetan touched Derek’s forehead, and Derek disappeared from the world, his memories spilling from his head as the sound of waves brought him deeper into the dream.


Derek rolled over from his warm blankets and dropped to Oliver’s floor. Confused from his dream, he stared out the snowy window.

Confused from his last memory in Raeleen, Derek Jada Harrow, age twenty, an osprey crossbreed who lived on 201 Newbridge Lane in Raeleen, who’d once played a part in an underground operation to drill through the Muralha and save their country from corrupt rulers, whose memories had once been stolen by a shit Deity, stared out a window to a world that, to his knowledge, shouldn’t have existed.

Derek Jada Harrow needed to get the fuck out of this backwards country and get home.

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