"Mijung, I want you to tell me something."
Mijung hung a salvaged kettle over the roaring fire, their only source of light save for the half-moon outside. Her clothes hung on her more loosely than they used to, and her complexion was a little too pale, but her smile was genuine and her eyes were bright when she looked back at Yutrin, who was sitting on the edge of their bed. "Yeah?"
"Where did you get that locket?"
There was a sudden frosty silence.
"…Where did you get yours?"
Yutrin knew she would ask him. He had prepared himself. If he expected honesty, he should be willing to give it as well.
"A goddess who I couldn't see gave it to me. She said I could open it and be able to heal again, but I had to pay a high price she wouldn't name."
Mijung was quiet, then she looked back at the fire, waiting for the kettle to boil. "The gods of this world are evil."
Either he didn't properly interpret her body language or he was ignoring it. Yutrin hugged his knees, pressing forward with the line of conversation. "They're making you do something, aren't they?" Yutrin asked quietly, shifting to the foot of the bed, his ears flopping a little. "It's okay to tell me."
"They're not making me do anything." Mijung stood up, brushing herself off with a tight frown. "I'm going for a walk."
Yutrin's ears flopped down in discouragement, obviously unhappy with her reaction. He wanted her to honestly tell him about the situation she was in, not throw herself in another unsafe one. "Mijung, it's too dangerous out there." He stood up, grabbing her shoulder as she turned to leave. "I'll go with you. I won't ask—"
Too late, he realized she wasn't in the mood to be trifled with. "Don't touch me, goblin!" She turned on him, clutching his hand hard enough for her nails to draw blood before throwing it back at him, dark eyes furious. "Remember your place!"
She had a chance to see his surprise turn to genuine hurt and fear before she turned and stormed off.
Yutrin stood there silently for a while, fingering his locket, his throat closed up and his heart beating fast.
Remember your place.
That's what those humans said to him before they killed his little sister.
He slowly crawled under the covers, pulling off his shirt, and tried to fall asleep.
Mijung didn't let herself think at all until she reached the public bath.
She shoved open the wooden door, her footsteps echoing through the spacious room, and she sat at the edge without pause, turning the faucet to allow scalding water through. She tore her clothes from her body, throwing them at the bottom of the bath to cover the drain.
She ignored the pain when she slid in the water. It was so hot it was steaming, but that was fine. She needed the hurt.
The locket felt so heavy on her chest. She wanted to think about what had just happened, but she banished the thought from her mind. Guilt was already squeezing her stomach.
Soon. If only he were here. She wouldn't care at all about the situation if she had her husband with her.
Mijung watched as the water rose.
Baths always reminded her of Soon. Their first time making love had been in one.
She ran a hand through her hair, playing the memories in her head. Her memories of him always calmed her down.
They had gotten dirty because they had been in the woods during a rainstorm. They had been young at the time and she had wanted to investigate some strange magical disturbances in the mountains (it had turned out to be a strange bugbear cult doing divine rituals, but it was harmless enough so that the king didn't bother extending the resources to remove them), and her father, a noble, had assigned a paladin to watch over her in concern, oblivious to the attraction and the secret flirtations between them.
The memory made her smile. Her father had loved her dearly, but he never really understood that she had grown up. If she so much as wanted to go to a store, she had to have an escort. Any men who showed interest in her found themselves either transferred to a far-off island or taxed beyond comprehension, depending on whether or not they were military or civilian. If he had known what she and Soon got up to on that trip, he would have thrown a royal fit and sent relentless appeals to the king to have Soon arrested. It was only through Soon's reputation for honor above all and his long, respectful, and (what Daddy thought, at least) pure and virginal courtship that they finally got her father's blessing for marriage, and even then it required a fight (and an eventual threat to plea to the king to grant her the right to marry without her father's approval).
And to think it may not have happened if he hadn't been protective enough to assign a paladin to her.
Of course, she remembered, Soon had been too much of a gentleman to try anything during that trip in the heavily-wooded mountains, though she had sorely desired him to. When it started to pour down on them, he had attempted to shield her from the water with his cloak, though it had made no difference. After considerable slipping down the steep mountain face (their Dexterity scores weren't the best at the time), they found a little public safe house built by the Azurian government after multiple deaths in the mountains. The safe houses were basically just small but sturdy unmanned inns equipped with dry food and water, a few beds, and a public bath with water drawn from nearby rivers or lakes.
The first thing on her mind was a bath when they had come to one of those places, though Soon had protested since the safe houses had a bad reputation of being homes for criminals lurking to rob, rape, and kill hapless travelers and he didn't like the idea of a poor, delicate, defenseless (Mijung privately scoffed) noble girl being exposed like that in a place he couldn't watch over her. She had jumped on the opportunity to start something with him and convinced him to come to the bath and watch over while she bathed.
He hadn't looked at her while she undressed, which had been a little discouraging, but she didn't give up. He had insisted on doing the gentlemanly thing, which he always did, even during their marriage when he had seen her naked plenty of times. It got a little exasperating when he needed encouragement to actually watch while she was naked, but it never lost its gentlemanly charm.
The water had been freezing. She remembered yelping in shock, and he had turned to make sure she was okay. Of course she was fine, just nude and cold. He was about to turn away again and apologize, but she asked him to come in with her. It took convincing, after all, it wasn't the 'professional' or 'gentlemanly' thing to do. She just cited the facts that he was dirty too, neither of them had anything the other hadn't seen on some other man or woman, and that it would be faster to just bathe together.
In retrospect, it should have been utterly impossible to convince him. He had told her later on that he had wanted to be in there with her, so his willpower wasn't what it should have been.
Mijung leaned back in the boiling bath, watching as steam rose from her red skin. She usually hated boiling baths. Now it was one of the only things distracting her from the vice on her stomach.
Once he was with her, it wasn't long before they started kissing. He had objected to it, telling her that she was his charge and a noble woman while he was just her bodyguard, but he wanted her. She could feel it in his tight grip around her waist, the searing heat in his kisses. After she pointed out that they were two consenting adults and other factors shouldn't matter in this modern day and age, his objections died away and he allowed them to make love.
She remembered his touch. It was always gentle and respectful, even when it was on an intimate area, as if he would stop the moment she told him she wasn't comfortable, and yet it was dominating. Mijung had always liked that in him. He gave her the thrill of being commanded in bed, but the moment she found that she didn't like it, she knew he would relinquish the power without hesitation.
After they were finished in the bath, he had told her quite matter-of-factly that he loved her before drying her off with a towel and ushering her to one of the beds. It had been a few months or so after that until she had told him the same thing.
And even during their marriage, she found that she loved him more every day. With every compassionate helping hand, every noble sacrifice, every smile and soft kiss… she loved him.
But she couldn't remember the shade of gray his eyes were. She couldn't remember the exact way he told her he loved her that day in the bath, though she had reviewed the memory multiple times since then. She couldn't remember the feel of his skin or the precise sound of his voice or the sound of his infrequent but fulfilling laughs…
She let out a furious shout and slammed her hand in the water, making it splash, and she turned off the faucet before it overflowed.
Soon would come for her one day. He always did. She was just frightened that it would be a day when she didn't remember him.
He had wanted children very much, but she was frightened about it for a while, so he waited patiently until she was ready. She warmed up to the idea by their sixth anniversary, and they started trying for kids about nine years into their marriage, when they both had more stable jobs that gave them a reliable source of income, as neither of them were eager to rely on her father for money and her father was too disgruntled about Soon 'stealing' his daughter to help them even if they were. She had gotten pregnant, but she miscarried when she caught a very serious fever that had been going around the city at the time. It took them a while to recover after that, and then Azure City got into a short but vicious war with Cliffport over trading, which Soon had to fight in as he was still a faithful paladin of the city. Of course they didn't want to bring in children during such a messy conflict, and they didn't really have a chance to try even if they wanted to. By the time all those distractions were finished, they had been married for thirteen years.
Mijung groaned softly, covering her face with her hands and curling so that her knees were at her chin and her nose was almost touching the water. They started trying again after that. It was only around a year ago that he came back from that war. Nerves had made it difficult for her to conceive, since she was still a little frightened about having kids and even more frightened of the possibility that she was starting to get too old to get pregnant, though she was only in her thirties and she knew better. Soon had figured it out quickly and soothed her worries in his usual gentle but firm way.
So it only stood to reason that she would have finally gotten pregnant again around when they were sent on that messenger journey to the elven lands.
Soon would be so happy to know that they had another chance at having children.
The water was cooling down slowly. Mijung finally let herself think about the present, forced to move away from the happy fading memories.
She didn't like thinking about the goddess's curse and mandate. She wanted to convince herself that she'd always remember her husband and would never be forced to be unfaithful. She knew that many couples grew bored and decayed over the years, but she and Soon weren't one of them. Neither of them had even thought of being untrue, even when they fought or didn't make love for an extended period of time, and they had always loved each other. The thought of lying with someone besides her husband made her sick to her stomach.
But… even so, she had to face the truth. She was forgetting. And the goddess would force her into getting pregnant again. And again. And again. And again.
She was little more than a breeding mare. The concept made her nauseous, but it was true.
It occurred to her what she had said to Yutrin.
Guilt flickered in her gut, tightening its harsh grip. She didn't know how he found out, but she couldn't let her prejudice cloud her perception of him. He had only been concerned. It had been horribly unkind of her to throw that back in his face, especially after all he was doing for her and her unborn baby.
Remember your place. She cringed when she thought about the phrase. She felt so… bigoted.
There was a soft hissing sound. Mijung perked, wondering if something was going on with one of the pipes, and looked towards the faucet.
"Is the monster alright?"
Mijung swung her head around, catching sight of the tail end of a giant snake just before it slithered back where she couldn't see. "Don't look at my face. You can't see it."
The voice sounded normal, even pretty. Like one of those gorgeous women Mijung used to feel jealous of before she got married. "Who are you?"
"No one uses my name anymore."
There was loud hissing, and now that she was listening, it sounded like there were hundreds of snakes in the room. "Are you the one making that sound?"
"Is the monster alright? Was he cured?"
Mijung didn't like being unable to see who she was talking to, but she had an inkling of who it was. She trusted it enough to not attack her, so she opted to do as it asked and not try to get a good look. "…Yeah. He's fine."
The hissing seemed to ease a little.
"My blood should be able to cure all ailments, but I've never seen his kind before. I wasn't sure it would work."
Mijung self-consciously covered her breasts, staring straight ahead. "Why did you save him?"
"We're both monsters."
"Yutrin's not a monster," Mijung said sharply, and only realized a moment later that that contradicted everything she had believed back in her world.
"I would say so." There was more hissing and the sound of a snake slithering across the mosaics. "But I don't think you believe that. Humans never believe that. Humans judge us because we look so different from them. Even if we think and feel and hurt just as acutely as they do…!"
The hissing got loud, the voice cracking, then there was silence.
Slithering started again and the hissing began softly. "Monsters. They call us monsters because we look different. Because I… we hurt people without meaning to, just because they see our face, and they murder us."
The voice became icily cold, making the hairs on the back of Mijung's neck prickle. She hadn't expected this reaction.
"If it had been you, I wouldn't have done it. But it was him. He's a monster just like me. So I saved him."
Mijung frowned, starting to get a little concerned for her own safety. "I'm sorry."
"You're not. Humans never are." The hissing got a little further away, but it kept echoing around the room. "Go. I don't like it when people invade my home."
"Maybe we can help each other. Yutrin and I are just looking to survive. If we work toge—"
The hissing got loud again.
"I can't help you. If you so much as see my face, you'll suffer a fate worse than death." There was a slapping sound, like the body of a snake coming up and slamming against the ground. "No. I'm only sparing you because you're his for now. I know how much you pine for your husband when you come here—I hear you moaning his name."
Blood rushed to her face.
"I don't respect that. I don't respect whatever love you think you may have shared. I don't respect you and your grief, and I don't respect the child you're growing."
The words were hard and bitter. It didn't take much for Mijung to guess that this person had been unlucky in love or with men. She took a breath to speak, to somehow calm the slithering person down, but she was cut off.
"The only thing I respect is the monster's willingness to help a human. So I'm not going to make it more difficult for him. I hear the things you fight about." The voice was picking up speed, getting more and more accusatory. "You don't know what it's like to be hated and abused because of how you look. Having men with swords coming for you and your family because they say you're a monster. It makes you hate. It makes you hate so much that your heart aches for the opportunity to destroy them all. And he puts that aside for you."
Hands, spidery and clawed, rested on Mijung's bare shoulders, making her jump in surprise. She hadn't known how close the creature had been.
"And that's the only reason I don't add your remains to my garden."
The hands drew away and the slithering started again, the hisses getting more and more distant until she couldn't hear them anymore.
Yutrin hadn't been able to sleep well, so when Mijung slid under the covers next to him, he was awake and he drew away, frightened of what she'd do to him. All he heard was the vicious tone she had taken when she spoke to him last. It matched so many other humans' before they hurt him or his family.
Instead of snapping and striking him as he had half-expected, she rested a hand on his shoulder, propping herself up on her elbow.
He withdrew, staring with big gold eyes, and he felt his heartbeat rising.
"Please don't look at me like that, Yutrin. I don't know what humans have done to you, and I'll admit that I'm prejudiced, but I'm not going to hurt you." She sighed softly, her grip tightening a little. "That's a lie. I have hurt you, and I probably will keep doing it, but I promise that I'm going to try to stop it now. We aren't home anymore. It doesn't matter who's Evil and Good, what gods we worship, or what species we are. The only thing that matters is whether or not we can survive like this. I… didn't realize that."
She sighed, bowing her head in shame. Yutrin didn't come closer, but his heartbeat slowed down. "You're doing a lot for me. I don't think I can really appreciate the magnitude of it. I have no right to treat you like a lesser person because you're a goblin. You're sacrificing for me and I'm taking it for granted. I'm sorry."
He sat up slowly, ears twitching gently.
"Please help me get over this… well, I guess it's bigotry. Please help me stop it because you deserve better and it's shameful and, worse. dishonorable for me to treat someone who treats me so kindly that way. Please."
He stared at her for a bit, quiet and thoughtful. She bit her lip, wondering if he would accept the apology. He would have been well within his rights to dial back their relationship back to what it had been in the beginning—careful tolerance and need. They both realized that. Mijung's heart ached at the thought.
He slipped an arm around her waist and rested his face against her neck, a soft rumbling purr coming from his chest, vibrating against her breast. "I'm glad you're going to try, Mijung. I'll try to help you."
She stiffened in surprise, then relaxed, letting herself drape an arm around his neck before giving him a soft kiss on the cheek. They sat like that for a while before they both lay down.
"I'll explain the locket in the morning, Yutrin. I promise."
He nodded, then tentatively shuffled closer, wrapping his arms around her, not pressing her close but touching. She hesitated, then rested her arms on his neck and pillow, allowing him to stay in contact with her. They both fell into a better sleep than they had in a while.
A/N: Alright, I actually managed to post an update while I am at camp. Yay! But it wasn't edited thoroughly because of time constraints and this probably won't be a regular thing. Awww. But anyway, I wrote it and posted it and with any luck it's enjoyable, despite the fact I'm not too happy with it. Have a nice day! :D