A/N: Sorry for the delay: blame Tumblr, because it wouldn’t let me post this previously! Here’s a longer update to compensate a little for the lapse, at least — I hope.
Written for Bekuh. =)
Read the previous part of this story here.
TOWER, TOWER - [Part LV]
The headpiece fractures with a faint sizzling sound, throwing up into the darkness a single persimmon spark. Marceline leans away, startled, while Bubblegum tightens her hold on the crown’s two new parts. “The gems,” she urges. “Are they nearby?”
“Yeah.” Marceline’s eyes skitter sidelong to the monarch’s desk. The bag Bubblegum used to carry the garden stones just this morning is there, slumped but nevertheless full, its stitches shining with a feeble pink light. “Bonni,” the vampire huffs, “c’mon, you really shouldn’t be doing any alchemy right now—”
“I’m nearly finished, I promise.” Elbows quivering, the princess smiles and requests, “Will you pass me a pair? Of the gems, I mean. Please? Quickly—I’m at the end of my strength, almost.”
The mattress squeaks to signal Marceline’s departure. Drifting over the bed to the desk, the knight mutters, “Yeah—all the more reason you should be sleeping, glob. Here.” She plunges her arm down into the bag. From within sounds a subtle symphony of clinks and gritty, gravelly clatters. Pulling her hand free again with two glowing orbs stuck between her fingers, Marceline offers them to Bubblegum and nudges, “Hurry up, Princess. You need to rest.”
The gems slip together from the knight’s grasp, landing in Bubblegum’s palms amidst the jagged remnants of the crown. Summoning up a frail burst of power, the monarch seals the spelled stones into each of the lumps in her hands—next closes those hands and wills the parts of the headpiece into distinctly separate shapes. A low, droning hum fills the bedchamber as the metal flattens, thins, stretches, slender threads of it vining together again to form—
“Oh,” Marceline realizes. “Oh—oh Bonni, no, no, that can’t be what I think it—”
Bubblegum drops onto the bed beside Marceline a glittering circlet.
For the next few seconds she finishes fashioning a band for herself too, a tiara much the same as her previous one save the addition of a gem on its prong. Leaning aside then to place it on the bedside table, she looks to Marceline.
Her lip buckled between her teeth, the vampire shifts her gaze between the bronzed circlet and the princess who made it. Once, twice, three times she opens her mouth to say something: finally closes it again and shrugs, the motion almost helpless. Her mail clinks. “Bonni,” she hazards, “what do you mean by this? Because don’t take this the wrong way or anything but I, uhm. I don’t want to, uh… rule your kingdom with you. I like you, of course, and your people are all right once you get past the jelly filling, but—”
“But you already have a kingdom.” Bubblegum nods. “Yes. I know.”
“…no,” Marceline corrects slowly. “No, my brother—”
“Died.” Following the briefest hesitation, the monarch allows, “Twice. He died twice—by your hand either time, if you were the one to tell it. Yes?”
Showing Bubblegum her shoulder’s silhouette, Marceline turns away and stares off into the bedchamber’s creeping dusk. “Yes,” she agrees. “Both times it was either my fault or my doing. But—”
“And whosoever kills the king,” Bubblegum interrupts as gently as possible, “inherits his throne. The story says as much—I remember.”
“Of course you do.” The exasperation mixed fondness in the other woman’s tone is unmistakable.
Bubblegum smiles in her knight’s vague direction—or she hopes so, at least. “Well?” she wonders. “Was… is that a true custom of your realm?”
There is a pause: a lull wherein Marceline says nothing, the castle offers up not even the smallest whisper of sound, and Bubblegum herself can find no reason to rush the silence away. She squints: leans her head back into her pillow.
“It was a custom,” Marceline admits then, “but we didn’t—I mean. Marshall didn’t invent it. See, Bonnibel, his kingdom”—the taller of the pair takes a small, shuddery breath—“he… we didn’t make it. We found it. It… it was there already, and we just happened to walk into it.” Drrrm-drrrm: the vampire’s fingers thrum against the edge of the mattress. “There was a horrible frostwitch or something terrorizing the place, I guess, and this one kid was trying to save the whole kingdom from her. This sweet, stupid little kid, Bonni. Blonde, blue-eyed, zealous beyond measure—”
“That sounds more than a little familiar.”
“Doesn’t it just?” Marceline’s voice hazes, distant. “But this kid—we came across her bloodied and banged up with this other guy in a cave, you know, the same dude I tried to tell you about before. The one who—”
When Marceline can’t quite finish, Bubblegum supplies, “The one who looked like me?”
“…uh-huh.” The bed bobs: Marceline takes a seat again, nodding. “She called him Peeg—the kid, I mean. And the pink guy—he called her Fionna.”
Quiet descends once more, threatening the semblance of a shroud. Bubblegum threads it away by asking, “They became your friends, these two?”
Bubbling from seemingly nowhere, Marceline’s chuckle is like sunset, warmth and quiet and slow, simmering promise. “Man, Princess,” she sighs, “it was so much more than that. See, Marshall never wanted to be a king and I never wanted to be a knight or anything like that. We just… we just wanted freedom. And Fionna and Peeg, y’know, they were after the same thing in a way, and we all just—”
She breaks off. Her eyes, two watery pinpoints of light in the darkness, flicker to Bubblegum. There is something pleading in them.
Opening her arm, the princess beckons Marceline near. As the knight tucks herself gingerly—gratefully—into the available elbow, Bubblegum presses, “You all just…?”
“Just.” Against her ribs Marceline moves, searching for comfort of both position and words. “Just—like, we meshed, Bonni. We fit together, all of us.” A hitch happens in Marceline’s throat then, hoarse, hurried, and the knight swallows it and resumes quickly, “So yeah, we helped Fionna defeat the frostwitch, but it was Marshall who kind of accidentally struck the killing blow—she slid into his axe, geez, and some of the kingdom’s citizens saw it and soon everyone knew, and there was this frenzy of all these people wanting to crown him, crown the conqueror, crown him, and…”
She extends a hand. Taking up the circlet abruptly, she lets it fall over her fingers: turns it to, fro across her palm. The gem embedded on its fore gleams more red now than pink, Bubblegum has time to think, before Marceline speaks again.
“It was Fionna’s idea,” she whispers. “The crown, I mean—for him to take it, and me to protect it. Because she wanted to help those people—wanted to let them get back on their feet. And she was strong, but we were stronger. ‘Just for a little while,’ she said. ‘Then we can all leave and have adventures together and it’ll be amazing.’ And so Marshall…”
The vampire mimes putting the freshly minted circlet on her head. She doesn’t let it settle, though, not yet, pulling it away again before it can so much as make an indentation in her hair.
“We rebuilt the kingdom,” she mutters. “We started hacking away at all the ice and it took years, geez, so many years, and before we knew it, well, we were comfortable and we were together and it was fine, it was great, and then Marshall—Marshall and his axe—”
Marceline stammers, stops: for good this time. She turns her face into Bubblegum’s shoulder. With all the strength and surety she can muster, the princess holds her.
In the window’s shade the stars come out, pale hot needlepricks that gleam, glow, shimmer. The floorboards in the corridor creak as the castle’s temperature plunges: with a weak ksssshk the brazier’s final ember splutters, smolders, and dies.
“You are,” Bubblegum says at last, “a queen, then.” As Marceline lifts her head to protest, the monarch goes on firmly, “Maybe of a kingdom gone—maybe of a kingdom dead, a kingdom done. But,” she insists, “a queen. Not only my knight.” Softly she concludes, “It isn’t fair to think so.”
She takes the metal loop from Marceline. Stretching her other hand up in the dark, she fumbles her fingertips down the taller woman’s face: finds her chin and gently pulls at it until the vampire, complacent, lowers her head.
Sliding the circlet into place on Marceline’s brow, Bubblegum breathes, “My queen,” and leans in to kiss the words true.
Read the next part here.