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“Huh.” 

Bog rolled over, the mossy spread of his bed making the crackle of scales that usually accompanied such a movement muffled to an almost plush pitch, and raised a brow heavy with contentment at the Fairy Princess beside him, her elegant lean against the headboard of his bed a stark contrast to the sprawling tangle of limbs he currently was. “What is it? More inane comments from dusty old fools?” 

Marianne smirked, amber eyes still tracing over the last page of the sheaf of papers she had brought with her. While most of their time spent in his chambers – and upon his bed – were dedicated to a more…passionate sort of pleasure, both had found that the comforting calm of sharing a cup of tea (oak root for him, clover and honey for her) and reading through the endless piles of paperwork each of their kingdoms accumulated was quite the pleasant way to end the day and suited them very well indeed. “If it were, you would have gotten some commentary by now. This is a good huh.” 

Bog arched a brow, putting aside the scroll he had been attempting to immerse himself in for the past half-hour, but gods, there was kingly diligence and devotion to duty, and then there were meandering reports about root rot whose sheer dullness could be labeled deadly. “A good huh? As opposed to what, a malevolent one?”

Marianne deigned to pull her attention away from her paper only to poke her tongue out at him. “Maybe one whose middle name is misery might be more frightening, Almighty Bog King.” 

Bog made an idle attempt to grab it, but the wee thing retreated back behind blunt white teeth, which Marianne clicked at him in an equally idle threat. Bog launched a counterattack by baring his own teeth in a soft growl before claiming her lips, his own tongue darting deftly at hers. 

Marianne gave a soft, sweet mew of either surrender or encouragement, and Bog took his victory with an equally soft smirk as he pulled away, his eyes lingering on how his kiss had turned those lips of hers an even more delectable shade of rose. “Which report is it, then?” 

“Not a report, a letter.” Marianne held it out before her, and the amber light of his chambers lanterns fell upon the paper, the elegant spidery script thrown into relief under the honey-hued glow. “Just one of our noble families from the West sending in their monthly account. There’s was a wedding recently, and I recognized the name of the bride.” Marianne smiled down at the paper, eyes thoughtful and fond. “Estella. I used to call her Stella, and she would call me Mari. They would travel here all the time during our summers, and she and I would go off and have all sorts of adventures. God, I haven’t thought about her in ages, and now she’s married.”

Bog moved closer, intrigued. Marianne wasn’t necessarily shy about sharing stories from her life before she had met him, but she wasn’t like her sister, an endlessly bubbling fount of cheerful memories. For Marianne, memories could just as easily mean pain, and for that reason alone he was honored that she was comfortable enough to have him privy to any of them. “Childhood friend, then?” 

To his surprise, Marianne’s cheeks flamed with a sudden flush, the delicate pale curve of her profile pink as the petals on those dratted primroses. She bit her lip, wee teeth catching it in an expression that could have been a smile but also could have been a nervous grimace. “Well…yes…but, also…no. Stella and I were close, no question, no one could deny that. But I don’t think anyone else knew just how…”

She trailed off, and the look in those honey-gold eyes was so uncharacteristically nervous that Bog was compelled to move closer to her, experiencing a strange state between nonplussed and concerned. “Knew what, Tough Girl?” 

Marianne dropped the letter to the bed to run a hand through her hair, giving a long sigh. “You know that Roland was my fiancé, right?” 

Bog nodded, a faint grimace twisting his lips as it always did at any mention of the blonde bugger. 

Marianne sighed again as she dropped her hands to her lap, and though her fingers fidgeted, a faint smile graced her lips. “Well…Stella was my first crush.” Her smile grew and she huffed out a laugh, bashfully raising a shoulder. “Heck, I guess you could say we were childhood sweethearts.” 

“Really?” Bog breathed. 

Marianne laughed again, a soft and fond exhale as she leaned back. “Sure, I suppose. I mean, heck, we were always friends. I always looked forward to when the Western Court would visit us. And then one day, when she was visiting…” she shrugged once more, a soft smile still on her lips. “I realized that friendship didn’t quite capture just how I felt.” 

Her smile stretched, and her eyes got soft and sweet with reminiscence. “She had the prettiest gray eyes I had ever seen…starry, you know? And her accent was so cute, I used to imitate it all the time.” She tossed her head and fixed her lips into a mock pout. “Zat is not ‘ow I sound, Mar-ee-anne!”  

“And she returned your feelings?” Bog queried, leaning back against his headboard to join her. 

Marianne’s blush deepened, and though she rolled her eyes, her smile was full of fond reminiscing. “For the longest time, I was too nervous to say anything, to find out if there was any chance of her feeling like I did. But one day, when we were both thirteen and were out wading in the shallows of the stream, I grabbed her hand to keep her from slipping and…” Marianne tucked her hair behind her ear, amber eyes alight with the sweetness of the memory, “…she didn’t let go. Gave me a smile and looked at me with those eyes, and I realized nothing needed to be said. No matter what we did for the rest of the day, we didn’t stop holding hands. And after she kissed me goodnight…” Marianne leaned her chin upon her hand, dreamy with the memory, “…I felt like I should flying among the stars, not wasting time sleeping. But I already knew nothing could compare to that.”

Bog felt a strange sort of ache in his chest as he looked at her – happiness that she still had such sweet memories of love, and a bittersweet sort of something that he had never experienced such tender wonder in his youth. And yet…

He cocked his head at her. “If both of you felt the same, why didn’t your families think to draw up a match? Surely being part of the Western Court wouldn’t have proved too problematic.” 

Marianne’s smile faded like the mist before the dawn, and now her sigh was melancholy. “No one knew about us, Bog. Stella and I didn’t need to say anything to know what was between us, but both of us knew that neither of our courts would be…happy about it.” 

She shrugged, her mouth twisting in a rueful grimace. “I guess they could have brushed it off as just…misplaced curiosity.” She made a face, as if the words had left a nasty tang in her mouth before giving him a frank look, one that had an echo of past pain to it. “But even then, I knew the danger of being different. I didn’t want to risk losing Stella entirely, even if it meant we had to hide.” 

She then shrugged, picking at the moss upon the bed. “Looking back, it was pretty innocent. But…” Marianne paused and took a deep breath, and curled her fingers into a fist, and a flintiness born of certainty came into her voice, “…it was real. I didn’t want anyone to tell me any different.” 

Bog looked at her, utterly baffled. “Why would they tell you any different?”  

Marianne paused, looking at him with eyes that were wide and wary and wondering under knit brows. “Goblins don’t think having a…preference for the same sex is strange? They don’t think it goes against the instinct to mate and have babies?” 

“Over population is a thing, Tough Girl,” Bog retorted. “What’s more, goblins know when to mind their own bloody business. If they aren’t placing harm upon themselves or doing it to others, their life is just that, theirs.” Now it was his turn to shrug, scales crackling before he spoke once more, his low voice a strange sort of state between soft and rough. “As is their love.”

Marianne almost sagged, her relief was so real. “God, I wish our Kingdom could take that note from yours.”

“Perhaps it could be another focus of our diplomacy,” Bog suggested, a sly slant to his smile. He then cocked his head, confusion coming into his eyes. “So…you have a preference for females? Then why did you and the blonde bugger—?”

“No, no, I like both,” Marianne laughed, her eyes still sparkling with a happiness born of relief. “Stella was my first crush, Roland was my first love.” Marianne paused, making a wry face. “Unfortunately. But I’ve always been attracted to both men and women, Bog. I just…never really said it out loud to anyone.” She sighed, bring her hands to her lap and looking down at them. “It’s…not something anyone in the Fairy Kingdom would really want to hear.”

Bog found he did not care at all for the soft sheen of pain in her eyes. “Why not?”

Marianne smiled at him sadly. “It’s different.” 

Such simple words, and yet they said so much. Thankfully, he knew exactly what to say back. 

Bog tugged her to him, his claws circling her wrist so gently, and Marianne readily let herself be pulled to him, snuggling up to his scaly chest. Bog pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, his words muffled and only for her. “That’s what I like.”

He could feel the flush on her cheeks now, but he knew it was from happiness, a knowledge that was further confirmed when Marianne squirmed away from him to plant a kiss upon the prickly line of his sharp cheek. 

Bog bent his head to nudge his nose at hers, their mouths brushing. “Ah’m honored ye said it aloud t’me.”

“I’m glad I did,” Marianne whispered back, the confession small and heartfelt.

They leaned as one back against headboard, Marianne giving a soft and satisfied sound, content to lay in his arms. Bog, however, was sinking into the twist and turn of his thoughts. If she was brave enough to give him such a personal part of herself…

His closed his eyes and cleared his throat, causing Marianne to look up at him with knit brows as she took in the weary grimace twisting her lover’s mouth. “In the interest of being equal…ye aren’t alone in keepin’ such things…secret.” 

Marianne blinked and then swiftly rose on an elbow, her eyes wide. “Wait, Bog, are you—?”

“Perhaps,” Bog readily replied, because while he had never fancied anyone besides Marianne and Fe—his first love, he was certain he would have still fallen for both if they had been male. “But that’s not what I’m talking about, Tough Girl.” 

He took a deep breath and settled his eyes upon where his claw lay entwined with her hand, focusing upon that. “Ye know how I said that goblins mind their own bloody business when it comes t’ mating?” 

Marianne nodded, cautious and curious. 

Right. Bog tried not to fidget as he spoke, concentrating on slowly brushing his thumb along the curve of her palm. “Well, ye’re…ye’re still expected t’…t’want ta mate. An’d fer th’ longest time, Ah…did nae want to.” 

Marianne boggled at Bog before realization gave her a subtle slap, and she closed her gaping mouth. Still, when she spoke, the shock was evident in her voice. “But…you…with me, you’re always so…!” 

“Because that’s with you,” Bog replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s different with you, Tough Girl.” He smiled softly at the still stunned look in Marianne’s eyes before dropping his own down with a sigh. “But…aye, I had no interest in tha’. When the rest of the youth were workin’ themselves up in a lather over potential mates, I wanted nothing more than t’spar or go off adventuring. I could nae understand wha’ all the fuss was about…” 

Bog paused and took another deep breath, determined to get the worst of it over with. “Tha’ is ta say, Ah…Ah still had…frustrations that needed ta be…” he gestured with a claw, helpless and humiliated. 

“Worked off?” Marianne supplied gently. 

“Aye, just that. But whenever I thought about doin’ such things with another,Ah just…” Bog tensed and then gave a slow exhale, his jaw clenched. “Ah couldn’t. Ah was certain Ah was… broken, certain tha’ something was wrong with me. Ah never told anyone, but Ah’m sure Mother suspected, and Ah’m certain it worried her. If it was any other Goblin, it would nae matter, but when yer th’ only heir ta th’ throne an’ ye have t’ carry on th’ bloody bloodline—”

Marianne pressed her hand to his cheek, trying to stem the flow of the harsh self-loathing in his voice, empathy rich in hers. “Sweetheart, there’s nothing broken about you.” 

Bog smiled at her, beautiful and bittersweet. “I know that now, Tough Girl. But…” he looked away, weariness weighing on his brow and wryness twisting his mouth. “Aye, for a long time, I did not.” 

Marianne bit her lip and looked at him, hesitancy and curiosity warring within her. “Then…with the Love Potion…?”

With the first girl…

Bog grimaced sharply, closing his eyes, before sighing and shaking his head. “I had…never seen anyone like her. Had never met anyone like her. So beautiful, so sweet…” 

He sighed again, shoulders slumping a bit. “I was smitten immediately. Suddenly…all the romance rot my mother always carried on about made sense. Now I wanted to do it with her. It was…the most I had ever felt for anyone, ever.” 

“But…?” Marianne prompted, because this was Bog and she damn well knew when a but was coming from him.  

Bog wriggled almost miserably. “But…Ah…still did nae want ta…well…” 

“It was romantic love, not sexual love.” 

Bog sputtered and blushed, and Marianne resisted the urge to roll her eyes. For a King who had been ruling the dire and dangerous Dark Forest long enough to build up a dreaded reputation, Bog could be such a teenager. 

She then looked at him frankly, mustering all the sincerity she could into her gaze. “Both are real love, Bog. There’s nothing wrong with preferring one over the other.” 

The blush dimmed a bit upon Bog’s sharp features, and he shrugged thoughtfully, eyes narrowed in consideration as though he had never thought to contemplate such a thing before. “Tha’s fair…” 

Marianne picked at the moss before venturing her next question. “So…when you decided to use the Love Potion…?” 

Bog closed his eyes again, the self-recrimination fierce upon his face even after all this time. “Ah thought Ah could never care for anyone as Ah could for her. Ah…could nae bear ta lose tha’. Whatever love I had for tha’ poor girl, it did nae stop me from bein’ selfish.” 

Marianne lay her head upon his chest, both to comfort him and to keep him from seeing her face as she asked her next question. “And…with me?” 

She felt Bog look down at her, and she could clearly imagine the bewildered look upon his face just from his voice. “What d’ye mean?” 

C’mon, Tough Girl. Marianne closed her eyes and breathed deep before speaking, still squeezing her eyes shut. “I’m not…Bog, I would never want you to feel like you have to be with me physically to make me happy, not if it makes you unhappy, not if it isn’t what you want—” 

Bog moved so suddenly it was as if the world was spinning around Marianne, a world of darkness and the amber glow of lanterns reflecting off stained, sharp teeth, bared not in anger but in feeling. It was the same feeling that made the impossibly bright blue of those unfairly beautiful eyes flash at her in a way that sent a hot shiver down her spine. 

Then Bog spoke, and more shivers chased after the first one as the rumble of his voice washed over her skin. “What Ah want,” the Bog King growled, “is ye, Tough Girl.”

When he reached for her, Marianne met him willingly, and then there she was, cradled close in his arms, oh yes, baby, hold me tight—

Bog’s eyes grew tender as he took her in, her face tilting up towards his like a flower seeking the sun. “Ah meant wha’ Ah said, love,” he murmured. “It’s different with you.” 

Because you’re you.

Marianne felt the unspoken words echo through her, and her smile was a bright and beautiful thing, beaming only for him. Such simple words, and yet they said so much. Thankfully, she knew exactly what to say back. “That’s what I like.”

And the dark and fearsome King of the Dark Forest gave her such an achingly tender smile, a soft fire of want already beginning to smolder in his eyes, that the Princess of the Fairy Kingdom could only laugh before she pulled him into kiss, their embrace caught between light and shadow and all theirs.