Written for Bekuh. =)
Read the previous part of this story here.
TOWER, TOWER - [Part XXXIII]
“And you believe your Marshall Lee,” Bubblegum murmurs, the name of the dispatched king ginger in her mouth, “is somehow responsible for the string of murders across Ooo?”
Marceline shifts. Her hip jostles the inkwell: the small jar makes a ticka-ticka-kkk noise and skitters sideways. Reaching out to steady and silence it, the knight confirms, “Yes.”
A moment passes as Bubblegum considers this. Finally she replies, however, “Is that even possible? He’s been dead for—”
She stops. She squints into the dark, incredulous, wondering—turns slightly and stares at the vague silhouette of her knight at her hip. “Marceline,” she breathes. “Marceline, Marshall Lee is dead, isn’t he?”
For a while—Bubblegum isn’t sure how long—they sit silently together atop the desk. Downstairs the guard changes: the quiet is thorough enough that the princess is able to hear the echo of the new sentry’s footsteps. When those have faded and then some, Marceline corrects in a voice soft and slow with shame, “He was.”
Bubblegum’s neck prickles. Hard, relentless gooseflesh crawls up her arms next. “What do you mean, he was?”
The question comes out a bit harsher than she intended, maybe. She feels Marceline shrink away from her a little. In pain? In anger? Both? “I mean exactly that,” the taller woman snaps back. “He was dead. I buried the axe in his chest myself and he—he screamed, sort of, but it was all whistly and wet-sounding and then he fell—”
Horrified, the princess hurries to say, “I didn’t want you to describe—”
“Fell,” Marceline maintains, snarling now. There’s only a thread of calm left in her voice, drawn taut. It shivers. Threatens to snap. “You asked and he fell,” she says a third time, as though explaining it to a small child. “He slid off the blade and fell, and his lips moved and he was saying my name, Bonni. A thousand-thousand times before then he’d said my name, yelled it and whispered it and screamed it, and that time, that last time, he tried and he didn’t finish it, but he didn’t have to because I recognized it. I mean, of course I did. How could I not?” In the darkness she throws her arms forward. Bubblegum can’t see her do it: she only knows because Marceline’s elbow catches her in the shoulder on its way out.
“His knees didn’t hit the floor at the same time, you know,” continues the vampire. “First one: thunk.” It’s a horrible sound, that, a compression of tongue against teeth, and Bubblegum’s stomach heaves. “Then the next. Tock. And the rest of him last, like a bag of meal, and then he was dead. He and his friends. Dead. Gone. Staining the carpet and my gloves because instinctively I dropped the axe and tried to catch him, I tried to catch him even though I’d just bisected his ribcage myself—”
“Marceline.” Blindly Bubblegum plunges a hand out to her friend. She finds the knight’s arm, knotted and trembling. She folds her fingers in its hinge: squeezes it. “Stop,” she commands. “Stop. Stop it. That’s enough. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” She adds, “He was dead. I understand.”
Marceline slides off the desk. She begins to pace the room, not quickly but slowly, methodically, the sounds of her bare feet scarce on the floorboards. She doesn’t seem to want to talk anymore and Bubblegum, who doesn’t much know what to say anyway, keeps quiet herself, worrying her hands together in her lap.
At last the knight stops. She’s nearby the window and Bubblegum can make out the shape of her for the moonlight’s ghost, so tall and lean. So sharp too, her face all angles. Looking at the princess over her shoulder, Marceline admits, “You were right.”
Swallowing, Bubblegum wonders, “About?”
“About me being a coward.” Marceline shrugs. “You said that to me the night we met. I’m positive you remember.”
Bubblegum surely does. She bites her lip. “Marceline, you’re not—”
“A moment of need arose and you were afraid and you ran, just like you’re running now. That’s what you said. And you were nothing but right.” Turning fully to gaze at Bubblegum again, Marceline does something no one else ever has. She opens her arms. Washed pale as stone in the moonlight, the tips of her fingers curve and quiver, asking—no. Pleading.
Pushing off the desk herself, her heart crowding up into her throat, Bubblegum crosses the room and slips into Marceline’s embrace. The other woman’s face drops to her brow: Marceline kisses her temple and revisits, “Really. You were nothing but right, Bonni. And I am so, so sorry.”
Bubblegum curls her arms about the knight. “I’m afraid I don’t understand why you think you’re a coward, much less why you’re apologizing.”
“Because I did run,” Marceline admits. In Bubblegum’s hold she quivers. “I killed my own brother. And then I left. I left because Bonni, vampires are so hard to kill—believe me, I would know.” Her tapestry of scars says as much. “I left because I had this tiny, terrible hope that maybe what I’d done wasn’t enough to finish him, not really: that what the kingdom’s people did when they found him, dividing his body and burying it in different places… I hoped that wasn’t enough either. I left because I didn’t want to be the one to kill him again if he came back. And especially I left,” she claims bitterly, “because I wasn’t fit to be a part of my kingdom anymore. I couldn’t destroy my brother a second time and what kind of queen—what kind of knight”—she hides her face in the small sliver of skin at Bubblegum’s ear—“would let even the idea of such a horrible threat linger like that?”
Bubblegum smiles: helplessly. Honestly. Reaching up to cup Marceline’s face, she admits, “The kind of queen I strive to be, Marceline, and the kind of knight I would have in my company.”
Read the next part here.