A/N: A little longer than usual to make up for not updating the past couple of days!
Written for Bekuh. =)
Read the previous part of this story here.
TOWER, TOWER - [Part XLVII]
“Princess?” The voice comes to her as though through a great tunnel, distant and muted, tinged with concern. “Majesty? Majesty, please—wake up. I—”
A timid pressure on her shoulder snaps Bubblegum’s thin slumber in twain. Instinctively she jerks aright, knocking heads with Peppermint Butler and upsetting the stack of books by her elbow too. As her rounded advisor bowls backward and rolls across the bedchamber floor, the monarch blinks blearily about and asks, voice hoarse from sleep, “What? What’s happened? Is something the matter?” Belatedly she adds, “Oh, Peppermint—I’m sorry. Are you all right?”
She reaches to offer the servant a hand up. “I’m fine, Majesty,” he agrees, hoisting himself onto his feet. He drives his thumbs into his collar to neaten his tunic’s remainder. “And no, nothing is wrong—at least, not that you don’t already know.” Wincing, he offers, “Your position just seemed terribly uncomfortable, is all.”
“Uncomfortable?” Sitting up amidst a rain of parchment and empty quills, Bubblegum surveys both herself and her immediate surroundings. Every inch of her carpet from her bedside to her desk is littered with spellbooks, notes, inkwells—all just as empty as the quills to which they previously played host—and candles, each of those burned down to dead, shapeless lumps in their cups. Her new crown, askew, digs its rim unpleasantly into her brow; her neck throbs and she appears to still be dressed in yesterday’s clothes. The carpet’s pattern is pressed and stippled into her flesh from the elbows down; the tingling sensation sweeping across half her face suggests that her cheek is probably in a similar state. Finally the monarch discovers that her hands—wrists to fingertips—are stained sapphire. Half-moon crusts of ink the same shade wink from beneath her fingernails.
“Oh,” she realizes, befuddled still. “Yes. Ah… right. I see.”
When she offers no further explanation, Peppermint Butler sighs and steps forward a second time. Shamelessly he plucks her recent headpiece free, settles it on the bedside table: grasps her by the elbows next and insists, “Up, Majesty. There you are. Sit on the bed there”—she takes an absent seat on the edge of her mattress; he nods approvingly—“yes, good. I’ll be right back.”
She watches him disappear into the latrine off the bedchamber. True to his word, he returns not a moment later with a steaming washcloth.
“Lean down, please,” he instructs briskly. With a sleepy smile, the princess obeys and her butler, taking her chin in hand, tends her face now as lovingly as he did when she was a child. He mops her eyebrows first, smoothing them into their appropriate shapes: scrubs gently from her cheek the carpet’s impression and a smear of ink too. “Close your eyes,” he says. Bubblegum does and he wipes the sleep from them, patting her skin dry last.
“Thank you, Peppermint,” she murmurs into his thumb, dropping a kiss there. “I feel better now. Not to mention far more lucid.”
“Of that I’m glad, Majesty.” Stepping back, the butler wrings out the washcloth into a plant on her dresser and ventures, his gaze flitting about the chamber’s general disarray, “I’m assuming you’ve chosen to embark on some course of action following yesterday’s tragedy.” At Bubblegum’s nod, he allows, “Given the, err… current state of things here, forgive me”—he makes a supplicant gesture—“but I am unable to divine that course of action.” For a moment he fusses with the square of fabric in his hands. Draping it eventually on the rail of her desk’s chair to dry, he looks his monarch in the eye and asks simply, “Is it your wish for me to remain uninformed about the proceedings?”
Bubblegum blinks down at her advisor, folding her fingers together in her lap. The promise she made to her castle’s head healer only yesterday drifts into her mind unbidden: following the briefest pause for contemplation, she echoes it now. “I’ll take care of you, Peppermint,” she tells him quietly. “I will. I promise. Know that and trust my word,” she maintains, “before I explain.”
Morosely the butler queries, “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“I’m afraid not,” Bubblegum admits. She motions to the chair canted into her desk’s shadow. “Your turn. Have a seat. This might take a bit.”
Half an hour, actually. Half an hour, a few moments more or less: that’s how long the monarch spends telling Peppermint Butler about Marceline’s past, about her taken, tormented brother and the Lich and how a bustling coronation will fit all the pieces of the puzzle forcibly together. Dawn’s ascent fuzzes the room a fragile, filmy blue and her advisor’s face is ashen by the time she has finally finished speaking, his eyes squeezed shut, his lips pressed into a thin, hard line.
“And your idea is to repeat history?” he asks at length. “You intend to invite your friends here under false pretenses, see them slaughtered by a malevolent force you are unable to control, and ultimately succumb to that force yourself? Because Majesty,” he persists as Bubblegum opens her mouth to protest, “please, consider your plan. That is exactly what it sounds like you mean to do.”
“Maybe it does sound that way,” acquiesces the princess, “but rest assured that is not at all my goal. I have two things Marshall Lee didn’t.” Peppermint Butler makes a questioning noise and Bubblegum offers, “I know who my foe is and what his capabilities are. And I know how to keep myself and others from falling under his influence. From serving as his future hosts.” Leaning down, she picks up the blue spellbook from the previous night and displays for her servant the same page she showed Marceline but hours prior.
“Anti-possession charms?” Peppermint Butler murmurs, studying the proffered tome. “Magic amulets that protect against mind- and body-snatching and ward off evil spirits?”
“Magic amulets,” repeats the man. “Magic. Not alchemic. Magic.”
“It’s a simple spell, Peppermint. I’ve managed far more complicated ones before. I made Lemongrab—constructed a living being—”
“An endeavor of pure folly and luck,” interrupts her friend, “that nearly killed you, or have you forgotten the months afterward you spent bedridden and on the brink of death?” Fuming, he cries, “I do! I remember how I found you, gray and nearly lifeless in the garden—I remember how it took you weeks just to speak my name again and I—I can’t, I won’t—”
He chokes and falls silent, glaring miserably at his monarch through a haze of furious tears.
“Peppermint,” manages Bubblegum, stunned. She rises: steps to him around the heaps of planning detritus. Kneeling to embrace him, she whispers, “No, no—it won’t be like that this time. This spell is minor at best and I’m working it all out before I even attempt it, see, and I’m older now too—stronger—”
“Foolish,” he hisses. In the greatest move of defiance he has ever shown her, he thrusts his face into her shoulder and laments, the words half a sob, “My utterly foolish little princess.”
He clings to her then, weeping and snarling against her collar. Bubblegum nuzzles his brow and holds him until he is quiet once more, his breathing hoarse in her throat’s hollow, his chest heaving.
“Does Marceline know how taxing magic has been for you before?” He asks the question in a manner that suggests he already knows the answer, and because of that Bubblegum says nothing. With a watery sigh, Peppermint slumps: fists his fingers in her dress. “What can I do, then?” he attempts. Lifting his head and his free hand too, he cups her face and says again, “What can I do?”
Forcing down the knot of heat in her throat, Bubblegum requests, “Help me organize my coronation?”
“Of course, Majesty.”
Read the next part here.