A/N: 1,100 words tonight, because it was necessary.
Written for Bekuh. =) Welcome back!
Read the previous part of this story here.
TOWER, TOWER - [Part XXXII]
Because Marceline is perched on her desk, feet braced on the chair beneath it, Bubblegum moves to take a seat on the bed instead. The mattress creaks—turned down already, the sheets crinkle. She removes her tiara and settles it aside, leaving her hair to froth free in heavy curtains down over her ears. As she makes to unlace her bodice next, she ventures, “A story?” She adds gently, “Are you all right, Marceline?”
“A story,” confirms the knight. With her thumb she flips open Bubblegum’s book. Its worn whorls flutter: residual dust wafts up and the spine of the tome whispers an archaic, papery protest. Turning the thing about widthwise on her knee once she’s found the page she wants, Marceline shows it to her monarch. Bubblegum is unsurprised to see it parted now to the same tale that spawned her interest in the knight in the first place. Marceline’s fingers are hooked like claws about the book’s edges, her thumbnail in particular dimpling the ancient parchment.
The princess flicks her eyes from the story’s start to the taller woman’s face, a gray circle scarcely illuminated and nigh ghostly as it hovers in the darkness over the book. “Are you all right, Marceline?” she asks again.
Marceline smiles. It’s an expression at once both genuine and bitter, and she murmurs, evading the question a second time, “Bonni, the night you met me—you said something then.” A shadow furls in the corner of the vampire’s mouth. “Something funny.”
The bodice loosens. Bubblegum twists from its slack grasp and frowns. “I did?”
Nodding, Marceline taps the storybook’s page. Skk-kkt. “You said,” she revisits, “that this was your favorite story as a child.” She looks up at the princess, expression nearly inscrutable—but Bubblegum thinks maybe it’s the tiniest bit disapproving.
“Well,” Bubblegum defends, “it was.”
“Why?” pursues the knight. “It’s—it’s not a good story.”
“That’s true,” the monarch acknowledges. Working at her dress now, she slides it down her legs: leans sideways to seize the room’s poker and stir the embers in the brazier. “That book,” she allows, “is filled to the brim with good stories, Marceline. Stories with resolutions. Stories with happy endings.” She finishes, “All but yours.”
Marceline’s brows climb her forehead. “So… you don’t like happy endings?”
“I,” Bubblegum corrects, “don’t like endings.”
Marceline gazes for a moment at the princess. Stripped down to her underthings, Bubblegum pulls up her coverlet, wraps it around herself, and gazes quietly back.
“Once,” her knight begins, “there was a fierce child. She grew into a fiercer woman in a place distant by both land and time, and her name was Marceline.” Spinning the book back such that it’s facing her, Marceline swallows—splays her hand across the pages.
Bubblegum says nothing. She waits.
“It was a place of darkness,” the taller woman continues thickly, “but Marceline was taught to love it, and did, and fought to protect the crown. Because the king—”
She chokes: squeezes her eyes shut. Her tears start again anyway, rolling down her face in strands that glitter red for the fading candlelight.
“Marceline,” Bubblegum worries, reaching for her. “Marceline, you don’t have to—”
“The king,” Marceline insists. Bubblegum’s hand falls over her knee. Blinking through her tears down at it, Marceline touches it: dips her thumb into the spaces between the princess’s pale knuckles. “The king, you see,” she breathes, “was her friend. But—but especially he was her brother, and Marceline… dang, she did everything for him she could. Because hey, Bonni, you know better than anyone.” Managing a wobbly grin, the knight whispers, “Running a realm’s not easy, is it?”
“No,” Bubblegum replies numbly. “No, it isn’t. Marceline, the king was your—”
“He got in trouble a lot,” Marceline says. “He had a big mouth and no sense of tact, and he started a war because he mooned a prince and offended a bunch of people, and—and he was an moron”—the knight’s grin caves in at the edge—“but he was a goodhearted moron. He tried to be tough but inside, Bonnibel, he was—he was just this big, dumb, ridiculously soft marshmallow—”
She stops. Over Bubblegum’s hand her own grip tightens: not enough to hurt, but almost. “Marceline wanted to help him,” she eventually resumes. “So she became his knight and she defended him, and bailed him out of all the messes he got himself into, and once when a vampire managed to sneak past her and bite him, geez, Bonni.” Marceline’s voice breaks. “She let him bite her next, because she couldn’t bear the thought of dying one day and leaving him alone to look after himself.”
Heat wells up in Bubblegum’s throat. “Marceline—”
“And Marceline, you know,” the knight snarls, except it’s more like a sob, “she would’ve watched over his stupid ass forever. She was prepared to do that. But then something happened to him, something just happened and he—he started acting weird.” Shoving the book aside, Marceline scrubs her free hand down her face. “He locked himself in his bedroom at first—he wouldn’t eat either. I had to make him do that.” Marceline is clutching Bubblegum’s hand now. “He refused to play his music and he loved music, Bonni, it was his favorite thing, and finally he—he invited his close friends to an audience and they’d been so worried about him, so of course they came and he slaughtered them and I found him in the middle of them in his room, him just standing there surrounded by pieces of them and he was smiling, glob, smiling this terrible cracked kind of smile and he started asking me to hurt people too, he asked me to help him and I just—”
Marceline motions to her axe where it rests by the bedchamber door and dissolves into helpless, hitching sobs. Bubblegum, crying now too, scrabbles from her bed and atop the desk. She closes her arms about the taller woman. Wordless, she rocks her until the candle dies in a wisp of frail smoke—until the moon slides fingers of cold, silver light through the gap in the curtain.
“He would’ve liked you,” Marceline rasps at last, laughing a little too. “He had kind of a thing for pink.”
“A family trait, obviously.” Bubblegum hesitates. She finally gathers the courage to ask, though, “Marceline?”
“Your king—your brother.” Smoothing back a salt-sodden clump of her knight’s hair, the princess wonders, “What was his name?”
No knock on the door interrupts them this time. Marceline answers, “Marshall Lee.”
Read the next part here.