A/N: This is an explanation of something Marceline mentioned in Part XVI: a whisper of the past. I hope you enjoy it. Like the other chapters of Tower, Tower, this is a thousand words in total.
Again, you should read Part XVI before you read this.
TOWER, TOWER - [An Old Tale]
Before the princess, there was a boy.
The pain comes to her as though by cleaver, deep in her chest where the remnants of her heart slumber still. She drops her face into her hands and waits for it to pass, but in her mind’s eye her memories are crueler than most and so the sensation—the terrible, twisting wrench of loss—lingers. She gasps for breath she hasn’t needed in centuries now; tears mold a merciless lump in her throat. She is struggling to swallow it when a stick cracks in the wood outside her firelight’s circle.
Smearing her face against her sleeve, she scowls into the darkness. It’s him again, she knows—his scent is thick on the air, fleeting and furry and ferocious too, damn him. Sure enough, he steps into view not a moment later. He’s nearly naked: his breeches are tattered beyond measure, studded with brambles, and his tunic is nothing but a scrap of faded blue cloth stretched over his shoulders. Even his hat is torn, one of its stubby ears gone glob knows where.
“Marcy,” he sighs happily. “Marcy, I found you.”
Without further preamble and with absolutely no invitation, thank you very much, he hops over the fire—his knees are scraped raw and the wet, wounded flesh flashes as he leaps—and trots to her side. He drags one leg, favoring it a bit; the ankle of it knocks hers as he drops down beside her. He stretches his hands toward the flames, and in the glow of the meager blaze—Marceline made it for atmosphere, after all, not warmth—she can see that his fingers are both chapped and trembling.
“I found you,” he repeats in something like a croon. “I found you.” Studiously not looking at her, he finishes smugly, “I told you I’d find you.”
“And I told you I’d skin you if you came near me again, you ridiculous little leech,” she rumbles. Studiously not looking at him either, she tosses more kindling onto the fire. Red sparks spiral up into the night and he makes a noise of pure appreciation, scooting closer to the flames: and to her. His hip, a square of bone, rubs her thigh’s outside. “I meant it,” she maintains. Away from him she twitches her legs, both of them. Just in case.
He says nothing, not at first. His strange, sky-colored eyes narrow to slits; his mouth trembles into a grin. “You didn’t,” he offers abruptly. Then he looks at her, expression mixed shameless and apologetic. “You’re lonely, Marcy. And I brought a rabbit. It’s not a big rabbit, but—”
Quick as a flash Marceline has her axe in hand and is on her feet. She steps between the intruder and the fire. Her shadow eclipses him; her left boot’s tip jostles the shin of his wounded leg. Settling the flat of her blade under his chin, she angles his head delicately upright and asks him in a hiss, “And how would you know whether I’m lonely or not, Finn?”
He blinks at her. Next he shrugs, and the motion carries him forward into the blade’s grain, enough that a thin, watery trickle of red starts in his throat’s hollow and runs down his collar. It makes a purple blotch on his tunic’s remaining shred.
“I am,” he offers. “Lonely, I mean. And you look the way I feel, so.” Reaching for his belt—or rather, for the frayed length of rope that passes for his belt—he plucks free the limp carcass dangling there. He holds it up to her. It’s the smallest rabbit she’s ever seen, and she wonders if maybe he found it dead because it looks like it’s been gnawed on already too by a host of wild creatures. “Share?” he asks. He adds gingerly, “You, uh. You might have to skin it because I kinda… don’t remember how.”
Insert explanation of the teethmarks on the poor rabbit.
Marceline suppresses a groan. Lowering her axe, she snatches away the carcass and mutters, “Geez, kid. I showed you last time. Twice.”
“Well I passed out the first time, so that doesn’t count,” he argues. Leaves crunch as he rocks onto his knees. Crawling over to her, he yanks off his hat and digs his grubby fingers through his hair until he unearths from the tangle a minor dagger. He drops it into the dust at her feet and pleads, “Show me again? Huh? I’ll pay close attention. Honest. I swear.”
Light dances over the minute blade. Marceline squints at it—at Finn. At the rabbit in her hand.
Sinking her axe into the log she was sitting on when he arrived, she takes up the dagger and mutters, “Once only. And if you faint I’m stuffing the entrails into your mouth.”
“Okay!” He nods—frowns, the expression faint and foreign as it creeps across his face. “Uhm. Marcy? What’s entrails?”
“Guts, Finn. Long slimy gooey guts.”
“Eeugh. Right. Sure.” He straightens, clutching his hands so hard over his knees that they start to bleed again. Apparently he’s so used to leaking that he doesn’t notice. “Got it,” he insists. “So not passing out this time. Promise. Cross my heart.”
And he doesn’t pass out. Raptly he watches her disembowel and skin the rabbit, his lips bitten from the inside, his complexion greener than usual but determined too. She spits the meat for him: roasts it, turning it slowly in the fire until it splits open and steams. He burns his mouth trying to eat it, whimpering around the skewer she hands him.
“Slow down,” she huffs. “Geez.” And then, “I’m not lonely, you brat.”
He glances up at her, smiling, little charred bits in his teeth and on his tongue too. He licks his lips. “Hey,” he realizes, “me neither!” And Marceline pretends not to hear him when he says, “Not anymore.”
Before the princess, there was a boy. And as with the princess, she loved him so.