Disclaimer: Makai Kingdom is the property of Nippon Ichi Software. Rating is for language, violent imagery, and the discussion of rape.


Vulnerability

Salome didn't want to come awake, but neither did she want to remain asleep and find herself lost in that dream again. Why she even bothered dreaming it was beyond her. She remembered killing Seedle with perfect clarity, and she didn't want her subconscious assaulting her with anything new.

She didn't want her subconscious assaulting her with the familiar memories either.

Salome lay in bed, her hot cheek pressed against her pillow, unable to stop herself from gradually wakening. She became aware of the sheets that had crept off her shoulder, giving her goosebumps from the cold. The heated blood in the mattress sloshed gently as she moved her arm. Salome tensed, sucking in her breath as she realized someone was lying beside her -no, wait. It was only Zetta. Her husband. Her beloved husband. Not Seedle. Never Seedle. She'd never given Seedle the chance to touch her. And she was stupid for brooding on her fear, especially when she knew she was more powerful than Seedle.

Carefully, so as not to cause a tidal wave in the mattress and wake him, Salome rolled over to look at Zetta. He was lying on his back, deeply asleep. It was one of the few times she had ever seen him look so peaceful, never mind that there was quite a large snot bubble formed over his right nostril. Salome gazed at him in the dark, trying to feel serene and reassured. She no longer had any doubts whether Zetta loved her, even if he'd never said it out loud. That he'd been willing to revive her at the cost of his own life had said everything clearly. And she knew that Zetta would enthusiastically assist her in any revenge plans against Seedle. And Salome knew that she loved Zetta, and that she was happy with him. Even arguing was fun, most of the time. But she also knew that there were certain things about her that Zetta didn't understand, and her instinctual fear of Seedle was one of them.

"What?" she could imagine him saying. "You're more powerful than that bastard! Please, you could rip out his vocal cords and play cat's cradle with them if you wanted to. So why don't you?"

Salome sighed and slipped out of bed, not wanting to wake him. Her shoulders shook slightly in the cool night, and she pulled on her silver robe, padding out onto the balcony. The east of Zetta's Netherworld spread out like a panorama below her, rings of lighted houses and training barracks, factories, nightclubs, hospitals. The countryside was a dim black smudge far away. Deep red clouds spun constantly in their own wind, whirling and racing around the bony moon.

Salome perched on the stone edge of the balcony, not afraid of falling; she could fly and rather enjoyed it. But she wasn't in the mood tonight. For the moment, her dreams had made reality inconsequential; the past seemed more important than the present.

Why didn't I know? she wondered, remembering how Seedle had taken her by surprise. Why didn't I see any signs? Were they actually there? Did I really have such blind trust in him?

Salome sighed heavily. When she'd first left Zetta, she'd asked herself questions with much the same bleak insistence. What was I thinking? Did he really love me? Was I deluding myself? She'd never known for sure until Zetta himself had proved it. As for Seedle... Salome laughed darkly. Right. She'd go down and ask him: Seedle, were there any signs that you wanted me so much you were going to take me by any means possible? Or was that just a whim?

But just thinking about it brought that coldness back. Why aren't you in bed? Salome upbraided herself. You're not thinking clearly, so this isn't doing you any good. Your thoughts will make sense in the morning.

She looked over her shoulder back into the bedroom. Zetta hadn't moved, his explosive red hair billowed around his face. Should she wake him, ask what he thought? About what? Salome demanded. About your fears, Salome answered herself. Salome looked away. I know what he thinks. He thinks they're stupid. And he's right.

Salome didn't want to be alone; she wanted to crawl back into bed, curl up against her husband and sleep. She also knew she far too restless to accomplish anything beyond tossing and turning.

Salome jumped. Zetta had moved. He'd gotten out of bed and was shuffling across the bedroom. Salome's heart danced. Had he sensed her uneasiness? Was he unable to sleep because she was so troubled?

Her badass freakin husband shuffled into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

Salome let her face drop into her hands.

Oh well. She didn't expect him to be that intuitive anyway.

The toilet flushed. Her husband came shuffling out, heading automatically back towards the bed. "Zetta," Salome said.

The shuffling came to an unsteady halt. At this hour of the morning, there was no way he could talk and move at the same time. "Hmmm? Whuh?" He blinked unsteadily at her.

Salome tried not to sound too hesitant. "Would you come here?"

"Izzzzzz-" Zetta collected himself. "Is someone attacking?" He yawned so widely she heard his jaw crack, but he altered his shuffling towards her.

"No one's attacking," Salome answered. "I...just wanted to talk."

"Talk?" Zetta repeated vaguely, wondering if he wasn't still in the dream he'd been having, the one with the dancing jellybeans and the end of the world.

"Yes, I had a dream," Salome continued, pitching just the slightest note of vulnerability into her voice, trying to alert her mate to the fact that she was in need of sympathy.

"Oh," Zetta mumbled, shuffling to a stop in front of her. His heavy lids were down again. He held his hand in front of a second yawn, then plunked his backside down on the railing next to her. "Cool."

"Zetta," Salome said again. She leaned forward, resting the side of her face against his chest. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what's wrong with me."

Zetta's eyes blinked open again as he felt someone pressing against him. Huh? Oh...Salome...Oh, she wants a hug...Okay... Zetta floppily put his arms around her and leaned his cheek against the top of her head. She always smells so nice... Here come the jellybeanzzzzzzz...

Salome had her arms around Zetta by then, holding him tightly around the waist. Feeling the comfort of his strength beside her gave her resolve not to hide her uncertainty from him anymore. "I don't know why I'm so scared. I mean, it's not like I live in fear, not at all. I just...remember how helpless I felt when he attacked me, how I was so afraid he was going to completely use me. I felt as powerless as any other object. And I know that's not true. I killed him, after all. And...I'm so powerful now. You've trained me not to be afraid of anything. And I know that even if I was powerless, you wouldn't let anything hurt me. But...but that's why I don't understand why I keep dreaming of it. Why I keep waking up frightened. Zetta?"

Zetta had gone fairly limp by then, oozing comfortably against her. At this point, his face was nestled cozily against her neck.

"Zetta, do you think I need to kill him before I stop feeling frightened?"

"Mmm," Zetta mmmed.

"Kill him again, I mean. So he's no longer the Overlord?"

"Mmhm," Zetta mmhmed.

"Drive Seedle into the deepest circle of his own Underworld?"

Zetta snorted. "Seedle? Underwear?"

Salome sighed in exasperation. "Weren't you listening?"

Her tone of voice sent alarms a-wooging through Zetta's head, and he rattled his way to full consciousness that instant. To his extreme surprise, he found himself out on the balcony snuggled in his wife's arms. And she was mad at him. Uhkay, this was something new.

"Listening?" Zetta repeated, sitting up off her shoulder. "Were you...talking?"

Salome hissed and kneaded her forehead.

Zetta looked confusedly around. "How'd I get out here anyway?" He scratched his lower back. "What time is it?"

Salome decided to leap back into the breach, even if it meant starting over. But she no longer really had the patience to sound vulnerable. "I had a bad dream! You were supposed to be comforting me."

Zetta considered taking this opportunity to mention that he was an Overlord, and Overlords do not console their women tenderly, but they'd been through that. Several times. So he said, "Oh." He tried to think of something reassuring. "That's...too bad. But, hey, why don't we go back to sleep?"

Salome slumped dejectedly against him.

"...Or not."

Salome exhaled sadly.

Zetta blinked, quite, quite irritated. "Fine. Okay. You were dreaming about Seedle and underwear. That would upset me too. Let's go back to bed."

"I wasn't dreaming about underwear!"

"Then why did you say you were?"

"I didn't."

Zetta rubbed his suddenly aching forehead. Magog, why did this sorta thing have to happen at two in the morning? "So...what do you want me to do?"

Salome decided that her answer should not be "I want you to magically soothe away all my fears and insecurities forever. Right here and now. And tell me I'm gorgeous while you're at it, and that I'm the only woman you've ever loved." Salome waited, long enough to calm herself, but not so long that Zetta dropped off to sleep again.

"I keep dreaming that Seedle's trying to rape me," Salome said slowly. Zetta stiffened but didn't say anything. "And I know it's stupid," she went on. "Being frightened of him. Being frightened of memory even. But I don't know how to let go of my fear."

There was a long silence.

"And?" Zetta prompted.

Salome stiffened this time. "I told you! I don't know what to do."

Zetta sighed impatiently. "I don't know how you can let go of your fear either! It's your fear, not mine."

Salome jerked out of his arms to stare lividly at him. "Why are you always so cold when I need you the most?"

Zetta's eyes narrowed. "I'm being honest. Which is more than you are." There was a taut silence between them before Zetta added, "Like hell I'm always cold!"

Salome grimaced. "I'm looking for answers! I need your help!"

Zetta spread his hands. "As soon as you figure out what you need to do, I'll help you. If it involves castrating or eviscerating Seedle, I'm all for it."

Salome clenched her teeth, furious at landing back on square one. "But I don't know what I need to do, I-"

Zetta sighed. "I think you need to calm down." He watched as Salome's left hand made a quick twitch in his direction. Probably she was that close to clobbering him and shoving him off the edge of the balcony. Well, at least they were communicating.

"Zetta," she said slowly, trying to keep calm by not looking at him, "can't you understand? Seedle almost raped me. He almost had complete control over me, and I had trusted him. That I could've been so wrong -That he could've gone from being my friend to my worst enemy so quickly -that frightens me. And even though I killed him once, he still has the power to hurt me again. That frightens me too. I have trouble believing that killing him a second time will end all my fears." She looked hesitantly up, a very slight pleading in her voice. "Do you understand now?"

Zetta thought about what she'd said for a few moments. "No," he said finally. "I don't understand at all." Salome clenched her teeth and looked away. Zetta frowned in exasperation. "But just because I don't understand doesn't mean I don't want to help you!"

Salome looked quickly back at him, her eyes wide.

Sensing that somehow, somewhere, he'd stumbled onto the right track, Zetta plunged on, hoping that track didn't lead off the edge of the balcony. "I can see you're upset, and I don't want that. So -yeah, as soon as you figure out what to do with the samurai bastard, just let me know. Gog and Magog, Salome, don't tell me you expect me to be a mind-reader? Sheesh."

Salome sighed. "I suppose so. Still-" The next thing Zetta knew, his wife had affectionately snuggled back into his arms. Okay, he'd definitely done something right. Now, what had it been?

"Haven't you ever had a fear you don't understand?" Salome asked.

"What?" Zetta expostulated. "Me? I'm the most badass freakin Overlord in the cosmos! The only thing I fear are lame enemies!"

Salome sighed long-sufferingly. "Honestly, Zetta."

"I am being honest."

Salome rubbed his shoulder. "There's nothing you're afraid of? Nothing that haunts you?"

Zetta shifted a bit. "Please, I don't have any phobias!"

Salome kissed the hollow between his collarbones. "Please tell me?"

Zetta frowned. "Er...well..."

"There is something?"

"Maybe...I mean, it's pretty minor. Nothing an enemy could hurt me with. Of course."

"Tell me," Salome murmured, leaning against his shoulder. "If I can understand your fear, maybe I can help you understand mine."

"Well..." Zetta took a moment to collect his thoughts. "Sometimes I have dreams that...They're pretty stupid. I mean, I know I have nothing to worry about. I am the most badass freakin Overlord, and nothing will ever change that but...Dammit, I keep having dreams I'm that stupid book again."

"Really?" Salome whispered.

"Well yeah." Zetta shook his head. "They're bizarre. I'm usually in the middle of a battle or something, and I turn around to kill my enemy, and suddenly I can't move. I'm rectangular! And all my Mana's locked up where I can't use it and I'm totally helpless!" Zetta took a deep breath. "Salome, there is nothing so paralyzing as suddenly realizing that you're helpless. Do you know what I mean? One moment the blood is flowing, prinnies are screaming, and everything's right in the world. The next moment -BAM. Everything's changed. You're helpless, you can't do anything about it and... Well, yeah. Yeah. I think I do see it now. That's how you felt when that bastard assaulted you? There you were, sitting pretty, thinking that brute's your best buddy, and the next thing you know he -THAT BASTARD! Magog, Salome, I see it now! It -it's just like me, being turned into the Sacred Tome! I thought everything was all right, and in just one false move everything went up in flames! And you and Seedle- Gog, now I see why you can't let it go! You and I are stuck in the past because we don't know why things happened, where they went wro - Salome! Don't worry, babe, I'll find some way to work through this. I'm going to go right down to the Forbidden Library and demand an explanation out of Trenia! If she won't tell me who wrote that prophecy, I'll -I'll -I'll do something. As for Seedle, we're going to go down to the Underworld with guns blazing, and we'll humiliate him, and we'll demolish him, and we'll pulverize him into samurai-powder, and we'll make him pay for all the hell he's put you through! Right, Salome?"

"Zzzzzzzz," said Salome.

Zetta looked down at his peacefully sleeping wife. She was cuddled against his shoulder, and there was a smile at the corners of her lips.

Zetta huffed through his nose. "Magog! Why do you always have to be either dead or absent when I need you the most?"

Salome slept on, already deep into the most fascinating dream about dancing jellybeans and the end of the world.

Zetta sighed. Great. And now he had to figure out some way to haul both of them off the balcony railing, across the bedroom floor and back into bed, all without waking Salome up. At two in the morning. And great, now he was all keyed up. How was he supposed to get back to sleep now?

Well. At least they were communicating.