It begins, in a way, when Hopeless finally takes their name. They run away from home, desperate to get away from parents, family, a town who did not care for them. They did not follow the norms, the standards for what they were supposed to be, and were not willing to try. Not anymore.
Disowned and shifting over and over and over til it hurt- running, trying to be anything. They thought of all the times they were called hopeless. All the anger and disappointment in that word- how it dragged them down, made them feel like a prisoner, like there were lead weights around their ankles.
They decided that word was never to be allowed to hurt them again. If you spoke to them, you called them Hopeless, and for once, it made them feel strong.
H opeless goes through town after town, choosing different forms for each one. With every shift of skin, every new set of freckles and moles and birthmarks, they felt right. Better, new and whole.
Hopeless decided they were not meant to conform the way the world wanted. They were no man, nor woman. They were just a person. And as strange as it sounded, it was okay.
Ghastly noticed, long before they were Ghastly, they were a bit different. At the time, they were a young girl named Aisling. She kept to herself, often finding herself in Deaglan’s - Skulduggery, now- shadow, and was fine with that. Mostly. Usually.
Occasionally she would find herself casting lingering glances to other young girls, all bright eyes and perfect hair and dresses that fit just so-
But then they’d look towards her, and she would freeze up and quickly look away.
She knows it’s not entirely normal, but she figures since she spends the same amount of time looking at boys then it’s fine (and now Ghastly laughs, looking back on it and putting two and two together).
Of course she spends even more time looking at one boy in particular. And maybe particular parts of him.“
Experimenting,” they’d called it, and it was! But it was also understood between the two of them that best friends didn’t need to.. Experiment as much as they did, nor as often, or as with as much living intimacy (especially not secretly in the woods). They’d come to accept themselves as a couple, and they liked that, even if they told no one else they were. Though it was obvious enough, as sometimes when they sat close, they would end up holding hands, exchanging loving looks and even sharing a peck on the cheek when they thought they were being especially sneaky.
Deaglan for his part, struggled with accepting homosexuality as well as other things growing up. Constantly pushing away thoughts about boys he thought were handsome, or strong- ones that could help him feel good-
So brought the thoughts up to Aisling, who listened with all the patience in the world as she sewed, looking much like her father as she did so. She claimed she had similar thoughts- finding herself glancing often at both boys and girls. And while this was supposed to be comforting, it only frustrated Deaglan further. Deaglan ‘hmph'ed like he had any reason to, and Aisling paused in her sewing, looking up and narrowing her eyes at him. “Is something the matter?” She had asked. Deaglan furrowed his brows.“
Of course something is the matter!” He’d yelled. “Boys aren’t supposed to find themselves attracted to boys, girls aren’t supposed to find themselves attracted to girls. It’s unnatural. It’s wrong, Aisling. Something is wrong with us.” Aisling sighed.
"Nothing is wrong with us,” She replied after a moment, voice quiet. “It’s just attraction, what does it matter anyhow, if we’re together?” She looked up at him. Deaglan was silent for a while.
"Deaglan?” Aisling asked, and silently cursed her voice for faltering. Deaglan stood up from the chair he’d been sitting in, frowning.
"I don’t think I want to be together anymore. Not as a couple.” He looked at her, gave a look she couldn’t place, and left after bidding her goodnight.
Aisling sat still, listening to the door open and shut as Deaglan left, and trying to piece it together. She knew it wasn’t commonly accepted for people to like those of their own gender but.. Deaglan couldn’t really believe that, could he? That it’d send them to Hell? He wasn’t even Christian, of course he couldn’t..
Then why was he so upset over this? Why did he break up with her? Had… Had she done something wrong? If she had, what was it? Was he really so upset over her finding boys and girls attractive?
She decided she had done too much thinking and put her sewing away for the night, fighting off tears. She didn’t want to think anymore tonight.
Deaglan trudged home as the sun set. His mind was racing too fast for him to keep up. He needed to think, needed to get his thoughts sorted. Boys weren’t supposed to be like this. Girls weren’t supposed to be like this. They weren’t supposed to be like this.
Then why were they? Was it a punishment, Deaglan wondered. His mind raced all night, even when he laid himself down in his bed, and they only hushed when he fell asleep.
Deaglan and Aisling didn’t speak for days. They passed each other by, nodding to one another. There was a rift between the two, and it felt wrong. Like they couldn’t speak to one another.
Aisling had cried, long and hard, in the sitting room with her mother and father gently shushing her. She was scared, wanted to blame herself, but her mother wouldn’t have it. Admittedly her mother didn’t understand the attraction to both either, but in a world where magic was real, she didn’t even bother or dare to question affairs such as love and attraction. Her father brought her tea, and they drank and sewed and talked. When Aisling was done being sad, she got angry. Her mother knew, and told her to put her all into it when they sparred, and by god, she did.
Deaglan did his best to think about it logically, but it didn’t work so well. He pushed all the thoughts away when he got frustrated, and ended with him hitting something and hurting his hand most times.
Til one day, Deaglan finds himself in town. He sits on the edge of the markets, watching people pass by, and ignoring the surprised feeling in his chest when he first saw Aisling. He lets his gaze wander, and ends up looking at a boy, then looking at Aisling. The boy is handsome- strong arms, tones legs… Admittedly, a nice ass. Aisling is also strong, her arms muscled, his stomach has abs.. But she is soft in nice places. Her hips have a bit of give, and her smile gives him butterflies.. And he could look into her eyes forever and suddenly he gets it.
This- this is how Aisling feels. How she looks at people, looks at him. Did. Did look at him. Before he fucked up because he decided he needed to figure things out for himself.
And suddenly he’s watching her trade her coin for something and she’s walking away, back down the roads to her horse to ride home on and he’s thinking. He’s wondering if she’d ever take him back. If he could apologize enough and what might help. His mind screams at him to get up, but he can’t move. He feels stuck. Would it even matter if he apologized? Would she ever forgive him?
He decides he’ll never know if he doesn’t tries, and gets up, and races to her home.
He makes it there long after she does, finds her sparring with her mother. There’s sweat on her face, determination in her eyes, and he feels his heart get tight. He knows he loves her, he knows it. As he comes to a stop, he waves his hand like a dunce, “Aisling! Aisling, Missus Bespoke!”
She ignores him, and she watches her go harder. She pushes herself into the punches, moves quicker, and there’s anger in her eyes now as well. Her mother blocks her still easily when she came, but she gets more hits in now, and her mother grins her wicked grin. Aisling moves forward, tries to elbow her mother in the side while kicking out, trying to trip her.
“Aisling!” He calls again.
And her mother catches her foot, but there’s enough force behind it, that it causes both of them to fall over in a scattering of dirt. Her mother grunts and begins to laugh, but Aisling is already starting to push herself up. “Again,” she demands, not even looking at Deaglan. Her mother gets up, casually brushing dust and dirt off her pants.
“Later,” she says with a glance at Deaglan, “you have a visitor.” She rests a hand on Aisling’s shoulder, giving her a look and them seeming to have a conversation with just their eyes. Then quick as it happened, she’s gone inside.
Deaglan and Aisling stand, facing each other. Aisling is pulling on her coat, “what do you want?” She asks. Deaglan can’t help but feel taken aback, even if this was the reaction he expected.
He doesn’t know what to do, so for a moment he stares at the ground, but then she makes a frustrated noise and goes to walk inside, “wait!” He says. She stops, turns to look at him again, raising a brow. He looks at his hands, “I’m sorry.” He says.
“I hurt you, I really did, didn’t I?” Aisling looks away for half a second, debating on responding before slowly nodding. Deaglan nods back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t- I didn’t get it. I was.. Angry? I was angry, and more angry at myself than you, but- but I took it out on you, and that…. Wasn’t okay. And I’m so sorry.” She looks at him, like she’s trying to put puzzle pieces together, so he continues.
“I get it now, I think. I’m not entirely s-sure, but it suddenly felt better. And, and if I’m not mad at you for the way you see things, how you are, and I’m the same, I can’t be mad at me for it. It’s not fair. And,” he feels like he can feel a lump in his throat, “And I don’t wanna be not fair to you. I don’t wanna be mean to you or hurt you like that. I like having you by my side and- and I like how you smile and keep me from getting my ass kicked. I like your eyes and I’m know I’m rambling I just- You- You weren’t by me for days. And you were so angry and I hated it. I hated knowing you were angry at me, I hated knowing I made you upset, and,” there are tears in his eyes now.
“And I made you cry. And I’m so sorry. And I want you by my side again but I can’t even be mad or upset if you don’t wanna be, because I hurt you.” The tears spill over, and he’s looking at his feet, because he can’t stand the idea of looking in her eyes and seeing that hurt still there.
He tries to talk more, but he can’t because every word comes out choked or too quiet. He’s so ready to be turned away, for her to call him pathetic. But there are arms around him, hugging him close. And finally he really cries, leaning into her touch. He buries his face in the crook of her neck, and they sink down to sit on the grass. She pets a hand down his back, gently shushing him. She tells him it’s okay. It’ll all be okay.
He finds one of her hands and grips it tight. And when his crying is calmed, his head is being moved and nudged, and he looks at her-
And she kisses him.
She doesn’t care about how hard he’s just cried. How red and puffy his eyes are, how hoarse his voice is. She just kisses him. When they part, she rests her forehead against his own and hums. He reaches a hand up, traces a finger on her scars, and doesn’t let go of her hand in his other one. “I-” he tries, but his voice cuts. He drags in a ragged breath. “I love you.” He whispers, and she hugs him.
“I love you too.” She says, “I love you so much.” And holds him like she never wants to let go.
When Hopeless is older, no matter the form they take, people still ask, “when will you marry? Settle down? Do you have anyone on your mind, anyway?” And, admittedly, they had seen someone once or twice who had piqued their interest. But, they had never gone after them, and were no worse off for it, so they didn't mind. Any sexual desire they had heard of, was experienced so rarely by them they practically forgot it was a thing most times. When they were reminded, it was nothing their own hands and imagination could not fix, and were otherwise not bothered by it.
As they were badgered more about it, the more that they found the questions annoying. Why did it matter if they ever married? And why were even sorcerers bothered that they were not involved with another? Hopeless was still practically a child in a sorcerers life, and had plenty of time before they might even begin to feel the need to be in a relationship, let alone marrying someone.
When people suggested those of potential suitors, they would politely decline, and find themselves changing again to keep others off their back. They decided they would not be bothered with the questions. No was no, and that meant they would take their time. If one day they fell in love, so be it, and if they did not, they would never be worse off for it, just as before.
As time passed, they met a young man named Erskine. He had brown hair and the prettiest eyes Hopeless had ever seen, but he seemed nervous of the whole world around him. Like it had harmed him before, and he expected it to do so again.
When they met, and exchanged names, he’d asked if Hopeless was a boy or a girl. Hopeless had responded that they were neither, they were just Hopeless, he had tilted his head, but nodded anyway, and Hopeless smiled at him. They didn’t mind him being around, and was glad when he decided to stick around through their travels.
As Aisling and Deaglan grew, things settled into routine again. But Aisling could never shake the feeling that something was… Amiss. Something that made her unhappy as she would look in the mirror each morning. She felt conscious of her body, even around Deaglan. She wasn't sure why, he had never shown anything but nothing short of adoration of her body and yet… She felt lacking.
She would look at Deaglan, see how he presented, how he was respected, how confident he was. And she wanted that. She wanted that same feeling of confidence in herself that she just.. Didn't have anymore. She supposed, maybe, she never had it. When people would call her a girl, even though she was one, something in her stomach would tighten and start to form knots. It got worse as she got older, started to develop more.
It got to the point that when she looked in the mirror, she could recognize herself, know it was her, but it still felt like she was looking at a stranger.
She had brought Deaglan out to the woods to talk about it, in quiet, in secret. She swore him to not tell anyone. He agreed, obviously tense, but trusting. She breathed in deep, closed her eyes, and gripped on tight to his hands. “I don’t feel like a woman.” She said, and opened her eyes. Suddenly, it had sunk in, she really didn’t feel like a woman. She never had.
Deaglan furrowed his brows, obviously confused, “I don’t.. Understand? Is this like how you, we, both find ourselves attracted to men and women? You don’t have to be a man to be attracted to women, Aisling, we’ve figured this out.” She smiled in a sad way, but shook her head.
“No, no, this is different. It’s.. I’ve- I’ve never felt like a girl, not really. I’ve always seen myself more like boys, but.. No one else ever had.” Deaglan tilted his head.
“Because you.. Are a girl..? You have women’s parts, not men’s parts.” Aisling frowned.
“I know.. I know what parts I have but.. I just. I don’t feel right being called a girl. I don’t.. I don’t even know for sure, everything, yet. Just for a while, in private, can you try calling me.. A boy? I want to wait until tomorrow at least to tell Mum and Da.. To see how it feels.” Deaglan took a moment, then nodded.
“I can try.” He agreed, still sounding a bit confused, but when Aisling smiled and hugged him, he felt such a warm kind of happiness that he didn’t worry about it anymore.
Through the day, there had been little slips, but Deaglan had regaled stories to Aisling, about him , like he wasn't talking straight to him. “And then, s- he kicks with all his might! And they went down, just like that! He hadn't broken a sweat!”
And Aisling laughed and smiled, and looked so much brighter than Deaglan had seen him in a long time.
They had slept in the same bed together that night, curled close and protective around the other.
The morning came, the sun rose, they all woke and ate, and Aisling tried to pretend he wasn't scared out of his mind. He had packed a bag the night before, telling Deaglan it was just in case things had gone wrong. He prayed in his head the bag wouldn't be needed.
They had talked it over, the previous night, trying to figure out how to tell his parents. Deaglan had suggested saying it as they were going to leave to town for a bit, to give them time to stew it over. Aisling nodded, but hadn't felt that would be right. It was important, but he couldn't risk getting hurt. His stomach clenched at the idea of his mum actually hurting him. She had never intentionally meant to hurt him, even during sparring. When she had, she was quick to apologize and help bandage him up after the session.
He had decided to tuck his bag by the door, and tell them when he was sewing with his father. Deaglan had hardly left his side all day, and while usually he'd have felt annoyed by it, today he appreciated it more than ever, taking any chance he could to hold Deaglan’s hand in his own.
So, the time had come, Aisling was sewing with his father, and when he had accidentally pricked his finger with the sewing needle for the third time in a row, when he put his sewing down with a frustrated noise. “Dad, I need to talk to you, really. And mum, this is important.” His father raised a brow, confused.
He stood up, calling outside for Aoife, and she came inside, wiping her hands off with a rag. “Is there something wrong, Ardan, Aisling?”
“Aisling said she’d like to talk to us about something,” They glanced at their daughter. Aoife raised a brow, looking at Aisling.
“Is something wrong, Aisling?” Aisling swallowed, suddenly feeling more terrified than before. He swallowed, and subtly Deaglan grabbed his hand. He took a deep breath.
“There’s.. There’s not something wrong, I found something out. I want to tell that, uhm,” He looked to Deaglan, then tried not to meet anyone’s eyes. “I don’t feel like a girl. I haven’t in a long time. I want- I want to be a boy, I want to be called a boy.. I am, I am a boy.”
And things were very quiet for a moment, and Aisling looked at his parents, pleading with his eyes for them to understand this. He was terrified beyond belief, could feel his hands shaking.
His mother and father seemed to look at eachother for just a second longer than they should, having a conversation with their eyes. Then Aoife looked at Aisling, “Can.. Can we ask how long you've know?” She asked, voice quiet. Aisling swallowed, his mom's voice was never quiet.
“Not.. Not too long, I think. But I had, uh, Deaglan call me a boy yesterday and it felt. Right. It felt more right than it ever had being called a girl..”
Then, his father was there, and his mom, hugging him tight. “We just want you to be happy,” his father said, “whatever that takes.” And suddenly Aisling had tears in his eyes, and was hugging back.
“This, thus does make me happy,” he said in a trembling voice, and his mother nodded.
“We know, and we're.. So thankful you told us. We might- we might make mistakes, you must give us time,” Aisling nodded quickly.
“Of course, yes, I just- I needed to know everything would-”
“It's all okay, all of it.” His mother looked into his eyes, “my baby boy..” She said, tears in her own eyes and smiling.
And Aisling felt safe.
Around 11 years later, Aisling and Deaglan have chosen names, Ghastly and Skulduggery. And they've made a friend. A few friends, actually, but a particular one as well. One named Hopeless, who's face they didn't know until months after they met.
On a particular day, Ghastly had decided to bathe in the river nearby, when Hopeless stepped into the river beside him. “May I join you?” They asked, and began to strip when Ghastly nodded, setting their clothing on the ground. Ghastly glanced their way, and felt a twinge in his stomach when seeing Hopeless was male-bodied. Something of jealousy flashed, but he did his best to let it go, as quick as it came.
He began to pull off his own clothes, pausing at his pants and underthings, before deciding 'fuck it.’ He had worked too hard for too long to let this scare him into not bathing, for pete's sake. He pulled off the rest of his clothes and stepped into the water, quickly beginning to wash when he noticed Hopeless was staring. He frowned.
“If you're going to tell me what I am is a sin against God, and I'll wind up in hell, you have s-”
“No!” Hopeless interrupted, then flushed, “no,” they said again, quieter. Ghastly tilted his head.
“What do you mean no?”
“I mean, I think, I think it's interesting! And, I'm? The same? Similar?” Ghastly's eyebrows shot up.
“Huh? Do you mean to tell me you're a.. Woman?” He asked, but Hopeless shook their head.
“I- uh- it's better if I just-” They closed their eyes, flexed their fingers and took a deep breath, before their skin rippled quickly, changing ton and shape. It was like a mirage had suddenly disappeared, but still there in Hopeless's place, they stood. No longer did they have the body of a male, but of a woman. They looked down, not meeting Ghastly's gaze.
“I actually.. Look like this. I am a shape-shifter. I change nearly any and every time I enter a new town. It keeps people from recognizing me. It keeps me safe.” They explained, voice quiet. “But I believe I feel similarly to you, not agreeing with the gender I was assigned to. I don't particularly feel connected to either of them, but.. A penis seemed to get me more respect most of the time, so a penis I had.” And Ghastly let out a sort of incredulous laugh.
When they had finished their bathing, something between them had shifted. Things felt lighter between them, and it was good.
More time passed. War started, love was found, lives were lost, and soon enough there was a squadron of eight soldiers. Skulduggery Pleasant, Ghastly Bespoke, Descry Hopeless, Erskine Ravel, Anton Shudder, Saracen Rue, Dexter Vex, and Rover Larrikin. They completed the tasks no one could do. They did the tasks no one else wanted to do.
When they were close enough, they began to share secrets. Because secrets kept them close, and because sometimes, when you were scared you were going to die, you had to get things off your chest so at least would wouldn't die feeling so heavy.
“I don't think I'm a heterosexual,” Ravel says one night, when they're all sitting around the campfire, and he leans in a little closer and doesn't meet anyone's eye. It's quiet for a moment, before Ghastly speaks.
“We aren't, we're sure,” Ghastly says with a laugh, gesturing at Skulduggery and himself, and breaking the tension before it could settle in.
Hopeless waits a beat, before blurting, “I'm not a man or a woman.” And Ghastly puts a hand on their shoulder. “I've never felt like either, I just usually have the parts of a woman. I want to be they, I don't want to be associated with one or the other.” They speak quickly, and Ghastly nods.
“Just as I was born with a woman's body, but want to be addressed as a man.” And he gives a look, judging the other's reactions thus far.
They are quiet again, and Hopeless and Ghastly share grab each other's hands, knowing they understand each other.
“I've never really felt all that connected to either, either. If that means anything. I've never really been able to pin it down, but I don't mind if people call me a man or a woman.” Saracen says, looking up at the sky.
Shudder stares at the fire, poking at some of the kindling with a stick, “Nor do, or have I.” He says after a moment, “Though I do believe I prefer to be called a man.” He says with a shrug, “I am.. Also not heterosexual. I believe so, anyway. I, admittedly, haven't had much experience in relationships. It takes a great bond for me to begin to get that sort of idea going through my head.” The others nod, and Hopeless grins.
“I understand that, I've almost never felt attraction to people, in the romantic or sexual sense. People are nice, attractive, but my brain has never seemed to made any sort of connection.” They explain, and they and Anton share a smile.
Dexter waves a hand, “I've never really, uh, what's it, connected to gender either. And I sorta just.. Like anyone, after a bit.” He gives a little grin and shrug, and Saracen claps a hand on his shoulder.
“Anyone can be quite beautiful,” he says with a laugh, and Dexter agrees.
They settle again, before they realize, for once, Larrikin has been quiet. They asked where he falls on all this sudden sexuality and gender hullabaloo, because he must, and he laughs. “I've never really had any sort of label or understanding of it all, I've just.. Always been me, whatever that means!” He smiles, and laughs, and everyone else does too.
They have bonded, they're closer after that, and by God, is it nice.
This time, hundreds of years pass. The war ends. Things are good. Until the Dead Men are faced with another task to stop the end of the world, and this time, there's a new Dead Man.
A miss Valkyrie Cain, who has all the fighting spirit and loyalty of a Dead Man, and apparently fits the unspoken quota of being queer as well.
As they camp out one night, she takes a deep breath, asking them to keep it secret. “I'm.. Not straight.” She finally says. “I don't have it figured out yet, but I know I like girls, as well as liking boys, maybe more. And I wanna tell someone before.. Before the world ends.”
And there is a beat of silence.
And some grins.
“Hell yeah!” Dexter finally says, “Not Straight Team!” He laughs, and so do the others, even Valkyrie, though hers is a startled sort of laughter.
Larrikin gives her a high five, “Well,” he says, “let's make sure the world doesn't end, so you can get yourself a cute girlfriend!”
“Or boyfriend,” Anton says.
“Or datefriend,” Hopeless adds, and Larrikin laughs.
And Valkyrie grins, wide and happy.