Written for Bekuh!
Read the previous part of this story here.
TOWER, TOWER - [Part LIV]
Horrified to see Marceline so near tears, Bubblegum strains upright a bit on her pillows. She reaches for the other woman: touches her wrist, the skin cool under her fingers. She starts, “Marceline, I won’t—”
“Promise me,” interrupts the vampire roughly. The bed bounces as she slides closer to Bubblegum—the sheets wrinkle, pull and she snarls, the words softer this time but nevertheless fiercer, “Promise me! No more of this”—she struggles; her voice hitches and her eyes, glittering harsh, flicker closed—“this stupid heroic suicidal on-your-own garbage!”
Despite being full of blood, Bubblegum’s ears set to ringing. “It wasn’t garbage,” she defends hoarsely. She wants to cry too, but she settles for shaking a finger at her protector. It feels almost as ridiculous as Marceline’s expression is seeing it. “The spell worked. Now we’ll be able to protect everyone—”
“We!” Marceline spits this. “Oho—yeah! We! Like you didn’t just almost die—”
“Key word being almost—”
“Key words,” the taller woman corrects, leaning forward into Bubblegum enough to press the princess back against her pillows, “being you as related to the verb die, Bonni!”
She smiles then. It’s a terrible expression, a twist of lips and a crook of fangs—shadows puddle in her cheek’s well and tiny wet pearls, like bits of glass, glisten along the furls of her lashes. Touching her brow to Bubblegum’s, she says, “It’s not fair, okay? It—I mean.” Again she squeezes her eyes shut. “You’re the princess here, I know, and soon you’ll be a queen and I’m your knight and if we’re talking about power between us, Bonnibel, well, all right—you’re supposed to have it all. And I know that. Knew that, coming in to this.”
She falls quiet—whether to think or to fume Bubblegum isn’t sure. Carefully the monarch starts, “Marceline, I haven’t ever thought—”
“And if I was just your knight still,” hisses the vampire abruptly, “maybe this would be fair. Maybe you doing whatever you want to do would be fine—maybe you just, hey, trying to throw your life away without my regard would be okay, but I’m more than just your knight now and you’re more than just my princess, you can’t tell me that’s not true—”
“I’m not trying to—”
“—and we owe each other more than this!” Marceline explodes. She’s definitely fuming, Bubblegum decides. “I’ve given you my secrets and my shame and my lo—”
She stops. Her fangs grind; her throat works and a flush, cold and purple, creeps slow up her neck’s slant. “I’ve given you everything I can,” she finishes finally. “Or I’m trying to, and you—you won’t let me, doing things like this, and that’s not fair. You can’t ask me to come be your knight and not let me protect you when the time comes, and you—you can’t have surprise torchlit library sex with me and then not let me in on your near-death scheme, don’t you get that?”
“You told me once that your trust comes in pieces. How many pieces, Bonni?” Her horrible, harangued smile dims. “Where are the rest? Do I even have any of them, or do you really think so little of me now that you’d rather nearly die than let me help y—”
“Marceline,” Bubblegum interjects. Reaching up, she cups the other woman’s cheek: rubs her thumb down the narrow ridge so sharp. It’s almost warm. “Marceline,” she says again, “you’re right. I’m sorry.”
The coals in the room’s brazier stir, snickering over one another. Jagged gray shapes leap over the walls and across the sheets too, and Marceline turns her face gingerly into her monarch’s palm. She waits.
“You,” Bubblegum resumes, “are right. We do owe one another more—I owe you more than what I’ve given you. I’m sorry. And…”
She hesitates. Always has the princess put her kingdom’s welfare first: always has she forgone sleep in favor of treaties—always has she bitten her tongue to uphold diplomacy, to promote pacifism, to placate unruly neighbors. Always has she trusted no one else to look after her subjects. Always has she loved her people more than any personal agenda: more than any relationship born of a book and balanced on the blade of an axe.
“And I promise,” she offers. “I promise I’ll stay with you.”
They study one another then, quiet. Marceline is the one who looks away first, smearing her arm hurriedly over her eyes. Wordlessly she lifts a hand to lace it over Bubblegum’s, pressing the smaller woman’s knuckles into her cheek, her ear. Her hair undulates as though by breeze; against the base of the monarch’s wrist she brushes her lips, an almost-kiss.
“Good,” she acknowledges.
Some time later, after Bubblegum’s ears and nose have finally quelled their respective torrents and she is drowsing down toward sleep, the princess shifts and murmurs, “Marceline?”
It’s too dark for Bubblegum to see the vampire: the moon is gone from the window now, the chamber’s torches extinguished. Stretching her fingers out into the murk, though, she touches cloth—her protector’s tunic, creased at her hip.
“Mm?” asks Marceline. She catches and clasps the monarch’s wandering hand.
“I was thinking about what you said earlier,” confesses Bubblegum. “About power. About you being my knight and me being qu—”
She breaks off to yawn. A chuckle blooms in the darkness for it, and Marceline nudges, “Go to sleep, Bonni.”
“No,” disagrees the princess. “No—not just yet. Please. Marceline, hand me my…”
She reaches for the bedside table and the instrument she knows must be there. It is, as ever: the spikes of it sear her fingertips. Pushing the crown into her hand proper, Marceline asks, “What? This?”
“Yes.” Taking and worrying the headpiece between her palms, Bubblegum considers. “I was thinking,” she repeats, “about power. Fairness. You and I.”
“What do you mean?”
In answer, Bubblegum sinks her fingers into the cool metal and breaks her crown in half.
Read the next part here.