A/N: This most likely still contains some errors, but I don’t have time to proof it more at the moment. I will look it over again later, I promise!
Written for Bekuh. =)
Read the previous part of this story here.
TOWER, TOWER - [Part LI]
The kingdom’s ruler and her protector enter the dining room with their hands still twisted thoughtlessly together. The only one to see this is Peppermint Butler, however, and he gives the two women a knowing look—his eyes linger on Bubblegum’s neck; a needling heat crawls up her collar in accordance—before he gestures to the meal waiting on the table. “Please, Majesty,” he urges, “it will be cold soon.” To Marceline he says, “Excepting your usual, of course. Those are already chilled.”
He means the bowl of strawberries settled at the knight’s customary seat. With a noise of relish Marceline drifts there, taking up one of the glistening, ruby-colored fruits to roll it between her fingers. Behind her she draws the princess gently along, two links of a chain following one another. “Thanks,” she says. She makes short work of the strawberry, asking once it’s gone, “Hey Peppermint, where’s my squire? Didn’t think he’d miss an opportunity to stuff his face.”
The question comes off nonchalant—idle, even. In the crease of Marceline’s brow, though, there is a flicker of concern evident to anyone who knows to look for it. Bubblegum gives the taller woman’s hand a squeeze before leaving off her fingers.
“Finn is with the Marquis still,” the butler supplies. He pulls out Bubblegum’s chair for her—tucks her napkin into her lap despite the monarch’s sidelong frown and murmur of protest. “They are taking their dinner in the infirmary. Ah—unless you want me to go fetch him for you, Marceline?”
“Nah.” The smallest measure of tension easing from her shoulders, Marceline sets about picking through her requested fee for another choice strawberry. To Bubblegum they all look the same, but apparently her knight’s gaze is more discerning. The vampire decides as she plucks a choice specimen from the bottom of the bowl, “I’ll get him later. Leave him for now, though—he’s probably having a conversation I’d do better skipping.”
Peppermint Butler executes a bow. He takes a step back too, away from the table: hesitates. Bubblegum smiles at him.
“Join us, Peppermint?” she asks hopefully. “We’d like it.”
Her servant wrings his hands. “Grateful as I am for the invitation, Majesty,” he provides, “I only wanted to tell you that the invitations for your coronation were sent to the press this afternoon.” At the monarch’s twitch of surprise, he goes on fretfully, “I know I should have asked your permission regarding the final draft”—he glances up at the princess—“but it seemed, uhm…” He falters, flushes, and forces out finally, “It seemed a shame to interrupt your… conference.”
The blush that was beginning to recede roars back across Bubblegum’s face, and across the table Marceline chokes on a bite of her strawberry laughing. “Conference, wow,” she manages. “That’s—yeah, that’s inventive, you bet. Hey Bonni, about that memo—”
“What she means,” Bubblegum interrupts her companion, “is thank you for your extraordinary patience and discretion, Peppermint. It’s fine. I’m sure the invitations are lovely and I look forward to being surprised by them when they return from the press. Now.” Holding up her hands, she props both elbows on the table’s surface and finishes, “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to die a little inside.”
She drops her burning face into her palms.
Marceline chuckles heartily but leans across the table to kiss Bubblegum’s brow, bringing with her the thick, sweet scent of strawberries, and in peeking through her fingers the princess discovers Peppermint Butler smiling too. In a rare moment of teasing, her advisor ventures, “Was it at least a… productive conference?”
“Oh, thrice over,” Marceline agrees immediately. She blinks—chews her lip and looks to the horrified Bubblegum. “Wait, no. Was it four times? How do you say that? Fice? Fice over?” She nods to Peppermint Butler. “Fice over.”
“I wish to be buried,” Bubblegum groans, “beneath the poplars at the western wall, Peppermint. A modest funeral, please. I leave everything to you. Please burn my old diaries—”
“Fice,” hisses the knight triumphantly.
“That is not a word.” Lifting her head again, Bubblegum scowls at the taller woman, seizes her fork, and uses it to spear haphazardly at her plate. She sloshes a goodly portion of noodles onto the tablecloth. “The appropriate phrase would be four times over and that second time doesn’t count because you didn’t also—”
“Princess,” Peppermint Butler interjects. “Please. Please spare me, I beg you. I held you when you were once so small you could but cling to my fingers.”
There is a moment of crystalline quiet.
Marceline shatters it by musing, “Huh. Speaking of fingers and four times over—”
The butler abandons all pretense of poise and flees.
“Marceline!” Dropping her fork with a clatter, the princess looks desperately at her remaining companion.
“What?” Innocently the vampire ferrets about for another fruit: filches one from the bowl and taps it to her chin. “Why’s he so surprised? I mean, c’mon.” She spreads her free hand and waves it in the monarch’s general direction. “You’re made of gum—”
“Be that as it may, you are not allowed to intentionally traumatize him. Please apologize to him later and, in the future, leave your dirty-minded ponderings for my ears alone.”
Marceline drains her selected strawberry. “You like my ponderings,” she accuses Bubblegum gently. “You don’t wanna share ’em. I see how it is.”
“Mm,” offers the monarch, noncommittal—but she’s unable to look Marceline in the eye even so.
They work through their dinner together quietly then. When the vampire’s berries are gone and Bubblegum’s plate clean, the monarch decisively clears away the silverware, swings her bag onto the table, and tips it over. The stones she collected hours before scatter free, catching in the crooks of the boards. One pings against a goblet’s base.
Bubblegum’s stomach flutters nervously.
“I can’t put this off anymore,” she says aloud. “I’ll try to make the anti-possession charms now.” She looks up. “Marceline? Please douse the torches.”
Read the next part here.