A/N: A little over 1,500 words to compensate for being late yesterday. Hopefully it’s worth it! I’ll proof it better later, I promise!
Written for Bekuh. =)
Read the previous part of this story here.
TOWER, TOWER - [Part XVII]
They return to dinner together. Evening deepens and plates are cleaned—Marceline entertains the princess and her cohort by draining dry anything Lady Rainicorn transmutes red, including a fork, a seating bench, and a curtain with its hooks still attached. Eventually the unicorn takes her leave, though, and as servants clear away the table the princess retires to her bedchamber too, her knight in quiet tow. The windows along the corridor are teeming with stars; as yet unattended by the night staff, the torches in the wall sconces gutter low. Marceline’s shadow stretches tall alongside Bubblegum’s in the sooty orange light.
Once back in the bedchamber, Bubblegum takes the desk and Marceline the window. The latter straightens her legs out along the ledge beneath the panes and rolls her axe into her lap. For a good while there is little sound but the discreet ssshk of the vampire’s newly acquired whetstone gliding down the blade’s enormous curve: the softer accompanying rustle of Bubblegum’s papers, the scratch of her quill. A blanket of calm, thorough quiet descends on the castle.
“I’m not accustomed to company this late,” admits the princess somewhere between treaties.
Halfway down the axe Marceline’s whetstone pauses. Bubblegum watches it from the corner of her eye. “Is that your overly polite way of saying you want me to leave?” the vampire asks.
Hiding a smile in her sleeve, Bubblegum denies, “No. It was merely a lead-in to a conversation, provided you’d like to have one. If you’d rather not,” she maintains, “that’s fine too. I’m content with this.” Turning slightly in her chair, she motions between them.
Marceline cocks her head and grins. The moon rises in the window above her ear like a coin washed white, its glow pale and ethereal on the axe’s sharpening swell. “Yeah? Not tired of me yet?” She moves the whetstone again. A single cobalt spark leaps from between it and the blade, smoldering into a smudge on the knight’s knee.
“Quite the contrary.” Bubblegum tucks her quill back into its well for more ink. “As a storybook figure you were intriguing.” The quill clinks against the well’s rim. “In reality you are more than that. You are fascinating. And, if I may say so,” she adds, turning her gaze back to her parchment, “you are also unexpectedly personable.”
“Oho, is that so?” Sssshk. “You thought I’d be a jerk?”
“Mn, no.” The quill blubbers, drips. Scowling, Bubblegum blots at its mess. “But admittedly I didn’t foresee our apparent rapport.”
Ssssshk. “So you thought we’d fight.” It’s not quite a question. Marceline’s brow wrinkles a bit in her curiosity.
“I knew this quill was trouble.” Bubblegum’s efforts are futile. The parchment is ruined. With a sigh the princess crumples it and tosses it into her wastebasket. “And again, no. I didn’t so much think we’d fight as I thought you wouldn’t like me,” she confesses.
The candle at the corner of her desk flickers, and Marceline’s whetstone slows to a halt a second time. The vampire ventures, frowning now, “Say what?”
“I didn’t,” Bubblegum repeats, “think you’d like me.” She starts in with the quill anew on another bit of parchment.
“Aw c’mon, Princess,” groans Marceline, knocking her temple to the windowpanes. “You told me your kingdom was in peril. You didn’t say a thing about having deep-seated self-esteem issues yourself.”
At this Bubblegum can’t help but laugh. “My self-esteem is just fine, thank you so much for your concern! I am”—and she performs a flourish with her quill, unwittingly spattering ink across her desk’s surface—“perfectly well-adjusted and stable.”
Marceline makes a face. “Good.” Jabbing her axe once at the monarch, she offers, “Because I wouldn’t know how to fix that sort of thing anyway. I’m a knight. Not a therapist.”
Solemnly Bubblegum nods. “Duly noted. Rest assured that should I ever require mental rehabilitation of any kind, I will seek other sources of aid.”
“Good.” Sssshk. With particular vehemence Marceline grinds the whetstone into the blade, showering the carpet with a fresh spray of sparks. After she snuffs out the few that threaten to smolder, she hedges, “Uh. Not that I’m trying to imply you can’t, you know, talk to me about stuff. Because you can.” She contends firmly, “I’ll listen. And if something’s bothering you, I promise I’ll do my best to kill it for you.”
Startling warmth flowers in Bubblegum’s chest at the assertion—enough to make her curl her toes in her slippers. Never, she realizes with fleeting resignation and amusement mixed, has the vow of violence inspired in her such positive emotion. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Yeah.” Sssshk. “Do that.”
A measure of what just might be shy quiet unfurls in the space between them. Bubblegum’s candle burns down its wick for an hour’s quarter. Somewhere out in the kingdom a flock of nightgeese take wing, honking; from the lower corridors echo the occasional squeaks of a housekeeper’s cart.
“So,” Marceline asks finally amidst the briefest pause between scrapes of the grinder. “Why did you think I wouldn’t like you?”
“It’s not obvious?”
“Don’t think I’d be asking if it was.”
“Hm. Fair enough.” Bubblegum lifts her parchment and flutters it gently, hoping to dry it. “You’re a hero, Marceline—a fierce, mysterious warrior strong enough to protect a kingdom. To bear unto your monarchs the hearts of dragons, sometimes still beating.” Marceline smirks and the princess resumes, “You’ve seen things I haven’t—been places I will never go.” She looks at her knight over the crease in her elbow. “Why would you be at all inclined to like me? Compared to you, I’m not interesting in the least.”
“You don’t have to be interesting to be likable, sheesh,” mutters Marceline. Rolling her axe aside against her bicep, she shrugs; glances back at the princess. “But hey, don’t sell yourself short. You are interesting. If I didn’t think so I wouldn’t be here.”
“Nope.” Marceline taps her thumb to the axe’s blade, nods in satisfaction—leans the weapon into the ledge. She laces her fingers next and folds them behind her head, angling her face to gaze out the window. By the moonlight Bubblegum can count her lashes. “Maybe you haven’t fought any dragons,” muses the knight, “but you stood up to me. That’s interesting.”
“And a lot scarier than a dragon?” teases the princess, taking turns looking between her treaty and her companion.
“Ten freaking times scarier than a dragon,” agrees Marceline. “They just breathe fire. Man, you don’t wanna see me when I get mad. I make brimstone look bookish.”
The vampire gifts Bubblegum a wink and the warmth the monarch experienced earlier returns in a rush, tightening her chest, making her palms itch. Her cheeks feel hotter than they should, given the banked embers in the brazier nearby. “Marceline?” she tries.
Bubblegum hesitates: posits hopefully next, though, “Understandably you aren’t willing to be a therapist, but… perhaps a friend?” She clarifies, “Mine?”
A breeze gives the panes of the window a ginger rattle, and slowly the other woman unhooks her fingers. She tilts her head—not quite toward Bubblegum but not away either. “A friend’s not the same thing as a knight, Bonnibel,” she murmurs. A grin hovers in the shadow of her mouth’s sharpness. “Sure you want both from me?”
“Is there a particularly marked difference between the two?”
“Yeah, I’d say there is. That thing you mentioned earlier—our rapport.” She drawls the word—lifts a hand to pull the curtain closed too, strangely enough, shutting out the moon and the pleasant speckle-shine of the stars. “That would change.”
“Well, knights and their princesses… typically they have a civil, professional relationship. An arm’s length kind of understanding. But friends…”
In Bubblegum’s peripheral vision there is a flutter of movement. She checks it and Marceline’s face is a handspan from her own—suddenly, soundlessly. The vampire lifts her fingers to her lips, wets them, darts them aside: closes them over the wick of the candle on Bubblegum’s desk.
Ssst. The meager blue flame dies. The room snaps into blackness and Bubblegum stabs her quill’s nib down through her parchment, surely ruining it as superbly as she did its predecessor. Her wrist jerks, jostles the inkwell. Her tiara slides in the slot behind her ear as Marceline’s hand feathers over her jaw, nigh disembodied in the dimness.
“Friends,” husks her knight, “are a bit closer.” The lashes Bubblegum counted earlier flicker fair against her cheek. “You okay with that, Princess?”
The coals in the brazier slip, snicker. Marceline’s eyes burn ruddy holes in the gloom and Bubblegum asks, “How close?” Her palms are slick, her fingers crooking into knots. She drops her quill without realization, without care.
On her face Marceline’s hand curls. “Just a little more,” she admits, “if you want. Milady.”
There is no malice, no teasing, no coercion: nothing but the shameless wink of red in the dark and the slow slide of the knight’s fingers too, tracing soft down Bubblegum’s throat.
Leaning tentatively into the cool star of that touch, the princess tips her head up and brushes her mouth to Marceline’s.
Read the next part here.