Marceline never had a formal education because society was crumbling from nuclear war when Simon found her, but he knew that. He was smart, educated and full of science. He was also full of secrets that she failed to recognize, on account of being a little girl, until the crown took his soul and mind away from him, and her.
What she does know is that the war didn't happen overnight. It happened in bits and pieces. There were different kingdoms back then, and different titles for the rulers. Some were called countries, nations and corporations and the rulers were called everything between Abadeer and Zoltar. First there was a little fight on the TV, then a slightly bigger fight on all the channels and then the reception went out, her mother was dead, her father was missing and strangers would point at her and say 'mutant'. If they were being nice.
Which she is, when it comes down to it. Granted, she isn't a mutant the same way the people left over were, sickly and dying, born malformed and choking on their own blood, turned black with disease. There were plenty of people all tucked away in tiny pockets around the world, but not enough who weren't sick to keep going. There's probably a scientific reason for that. The only person around to watch them die with her was Simon but he'd been hiding in the shelter of his royal fantasy by then. Her father didn't count. Her father thought it was funny if he considered it at any length at all, or a mildly fascinating distraction, a science experiment gone wrong. Or right, from his perspective.
What Marceline knew was that she'd been born late in the year two-thousand twelve, discounting several thousands more that came before an arbitrary zero. It was the year that some calendar ended, so the world was supposed to end too, but it didn't so everyone laughed. But she was born and no one thought to label her the anti-christ except for some of the goofier neighbors down the street. According to that version, which wasn't particularly scientific, but was pretty darn magical, the entire Mushroom War was her fault.
Well it wasn't. There was a difference between being a herald, let the angels sing, and pushing too many red buttons. The Lich caused the war in its, their, attempt to bring order to the universe by eliminating the chaos called life. So really, it was supposed to be her job, as the heir apparent, to ensure chaos continued merrily on its stubborn way. Somehow, that was evil and it made her a monster and people like Bonnibel kept insisting that Marceline was disrupting order and reason, as if she didn't care.
But then, words like apocalypse, god, nuclear war and humanity were ancient, historical notions to Bonnibel. She also thought mushrooms had something to do with it. Marceline tried to set her straight once, so many years ago, but she could swear the years kept repeating themselves one to ninety-nine and over again. She'd tried to explain, and Bonnibel had listened attentively, then begun debating the lesson as if it were a philosophical debate.
It was such a big fucking joke. That was a joke, too. Sometimes Marceline would swear a blue streak but the words were so alien, so ancient, that they were no longer shocking. They meant nothing at all beyond the heated emphasis behind them, as irrelevant as her memories. Which was actually hilarious if one considered that time was essentially standing still.
Humans had gone extinct, one lone remnant notwithstanding, and the magical mutant creatures left over recreated rulers in their image. They conjured them up with spells and incantations, like left over demons summoned from the Nightosphere.
Marceline and Peppermint Butler got into a staring contest once because she knew what he'd done.
She wished she hadn't known any of it. She wished she hadn't been seduced by the offer to live forever just because she was surrounded by so much death. She wished she could have clung longer to being eighteen. But that's part of the cosmic joke, too, hoo hoo. If she'd done her job to begin with, the death might've ended but she didn't so she had to stick around. Either that or Prismo thought she needed to level up to beat the Lich. Maybe if her father had spent less time sniveling and licking his father's clawed feet and more time....
Well, she's doing her job now, though it's hard to remember with the amulet around her neck, muddling her leftover human thoughts. She wonders if that's how Simon felt, always trying to fetch back Bonnibel for her, never remembering why he felt driven to kidnap her to begin with, making up reasons that seemed to make sense. Well, moot point. She had to kill him.
Wreaking havoc and leveling the playing board is her job, so she stood on bright green grass with rainbows overhead and smiled broadly with an army at her back. She looked at Queen Bonnibel, armored under noxious layers of pink regalia and real armor, too, if caramel shells count. Peppermint is standing beside her, a stout bitter circle but Marceline can see him shaking. Everyone behind the queen is shaking and a few even explode, messy fillings everywhere. It's such a pitiful army with its taffy banners and candy corn cannons.
The only one not shaking is Finn, but he's a man now and wears the trappings of one. He's too large to ride Jake, who stands beside him, bristling, but he still has a sword. His hat has been replaced by a helmet, his clothing with armor, dented and mismatched, but still passingly impressive. He looked back and forth between the two monarchs in a manner that would have indicated youthful naivety once, but now revealed miserable comprehension.
She looked back Bonnibel, who hasn't moved, hasn't twitched a muscle and Marceline remembers how gum dries out and gets brittle with age. That's the trouble with simulacrums housing not quite human souls. She grinned until she felt her face splitting, trying to bloat and reform into something with horns, but restrained the metamorphosis just as her father could. Her hair prickled with the waiting energy of the demons and monsters behind her, but there's protocol to follow.
Finally, Bonnibel raised her chin slightly and her eyes seemed to glow purple, but that was the reflection of the amulet. Her fingers tightened on the scepter doubling as a weapon, but it seemed she wouldn't speak. Maybe she couldn't.
Fine. Marceline looked past the tiny army meeting them on the field, looked at the ridiculous castle and walls shielding terrified, artificially sweet citizens. It was going to be a mess soon, all sour burnt sugar melted together revealing the carbon black base.
She softened her fang laden grin into a smile and sing-songed, "Hoo, hoo, who let the dogs out?"
Queen Bonnibel Bubblegum hadn't lived over a thousand years, hadn't traveled the world, hadn't frittered away her life playing games or indulging in 'red fury' to wake up hungover the next evening. She didn't destroy her enemies; she out-smarted them with words, strategy and tactics. After all, what was she supposed to do? Blow bubbles at them? That wouldn't work but it was her duty, among many others, to safeguard her kingdom and citizens.
So she educated herself as best she could, studying every science and philosophy, every text she could acquire. She memorized ancient weapons, time-tested battle tactics, and she trained herself to think ahead of her enemies. She learned how to play three dimensional chess. It turned out to be ridiculously easy because the basic structure was what she practiced every day in courtly negotiations. She had created candy warriors stupid enough not to scare easily but smart enough to follow simple commands. The project had consumed a gross amount of natural resources, but she couldn't rely on one man and his magical dog to battle an army.
Eventually, her calculations, spies and scrying had indicated that an invasion was imminent. The Lich were coming again, backed by an army of monsters and demons. White always had the advantage because it went first, so Bonnibel was on the palace lawn doing her best to bolster her troops when lookouts identified the second force marching on the castle.
She couldn't cry because it was, first of all, pointless but, second of all, her subjects relied on her example. If she showed the slightest measure of fear, there would never be a battle or resistance. There wouldn't even be a surrender; her subjects would all die from fright, first. Consequently, when Marceline, the Vampire Queen, arrived, Bonnibel met her on the field and refused to budge as she considered her alternatives. Logistically, a victory for the Candy Kingdom had become impossible.
Queens were such dangerous pieces.
She looked the same as the last time Bonnibel had seen her. Marceline wore an impeccable black suit, lavender shirt and red tie topped with a purple crystal. She wondered if it was worse to have a crown on one's head or wrapped around one's neck. Perhaps one seemed more ornamental or the other understated, but she was desperately relieved not to see the crown.
As Marceline approached, walking on the ground, a trail of dead brown footprints collecting behind her, she smiled. It grew into a monstrous grin, though her eyes remained a placid yellow, her hair still and coiled loose behind her. When she folded her hands behind her back, Bonnibel expected to hear a legal proposal spill out her mouth. But she remained silent as soft huffs, grumbles and grunts issued from the horde of monsters behind her.
Bonnibel gave in to a small frisson of fear, gripping her scepter more tightly. An edict was in place preventing demons from traveling outside the Night-O-Sphere, yet here were several hundred. It also seemed that taking over the family business had turned Marceline barking mad. Either that, or she was passing on a message from the Cosmic Owl, which seemed unlikely.
Either way, she barking and singing. Maybe she had worn the crown. Maybe it had driven her insane.
Several years ago, Marceline had begun spending longer periods of time in the Night-O-Sphere. Bonnibel's first assumption had been that she was sulking, angry again that a working monarch had no time for company or self indulgence. She grew increasingly distant with each return, until she didn't come back one year. Bonnibel noticed, but there was no practical course of action and the fact that she missed the smug, lumping whiner was fundamentally irrelevant.
She didn't see Marceline again until the Ice King pulled his usual hijinks one time too many. Maybe if she'd had more sleep, had been more attentive, if Finn hadn't been spending more and more time with the Flame Princess, the unpleasantness could have been avoided. She wouldn't have been going stiff from the cold, sitting in a rotten jail cell, wasting precious time while listening to him babble.
Marceline did not fly into the cave. She arrived in a congealing mist as the Ice King began screaming and ranting, waving his arms frantically attempting to dispel the black smoke. His struggle did no good, the mist winding around, taunting him with disembodied laughter before Marceline appeared.
The Ice King was panting in fury, spittle collecting on his beard, adding to existing grime. "Go away! I have her! She's mine!"
Marceline walked. She walked and her feet left steam curling up from the ground, which was odd because Bonnibel had never known her body to be anything but cold or lukewarm. Her footsteps hissed and it seemed her feet sank slightly into the frozen ground as it softened.
The Ice King edged around her nervously, rubbing his hands, making small distressed noises.
"No," she said casually, when his hands twitched as if he meant to raise them.
He shuffled anxiously for a minute, maybe more, while Marceline hummed tunelessly. She had no bass or guitar, nothing except herself in a depressing black suit. The only spot of color was the large, purple amulet topping her tie and her eyes, flushing orange, then red.
Bonnibel held her breath, and scooted into a recessed corner of the cell, behind a jut of ice. It didn't offer much protection, but there was a reason Marcy hadn't greeted her, hadn't moved toward the bars, hadn't drawn attention.
"How are you, Simon?"
His whole body twitched, his slump vanished as his head came up, brows lowered. He raised his arms offensively. "Ice King! Ice King! I'm a wizard and you're dead!"
"Well, that's true," she answered with a smile, such a tolerant smile with only the tips of her canines peeping out past her lips.
Marceline wandered over to his drum set, tapping an aged, tarnished cymbal with one finger. She established a soft, tinny beat, humming again. "Do you remember the song you liked to sing? To everything, turn, turn, turn..."
Ice King started shaking, arms spread and he screamed as blue bolts shot from his hands, "Time time time!"
"Yes, that's right." Marceline held up a hand, still more interested in the drum set, still tapping the cymbal and the blue bolt stopped dead in a fall of white snow, powder falling into a soft pile at her feet. She sang in a plaintive warble, a lullaby, "I swear it's not too late."
Bonnibel hoped she wouldn't die in a stupid cave, feeling sorry for a crazy old man. She tucked herself more tightly into the corner and waited, silent, curling and uncurling her hands to keep them from going rigid.
"You can't stop me! It's my world, it's mine and... and...." He began mumbling furiously, then burst out, light crackling around his entire body as he floated, "It's too late for you!"
"You wanted to save the world. Do you remember, Simon?"
"Stop calling me that!" he screeched, his voice cracking.
He couldn't see, but Bonnibel could. Marceline's face transformed, mouth widening into a grimace and she hissed, eyes blazing red. She whipped around as the Ice King threw another bolt at her, and she walked forward as it dispersed into more snowflakes that hissed and steamed off her body.
"Simon, Simon, Simon. Simon says," she taunted, nonsensically.
"No, no, no!" He shouted back angrily, desperately floating backward. "It's not fair!"
And Marceline inhaled, flicked a finger and he fell down unconscious. A squirming, translucent soul was in her fist, squealing and shrieking. She held it like that until Simon's soul quit wriggling, listening to the morbid lullaby. Then she tipped her head back, jaw opening so wide it became a maw of jagged teeth and ate him.
"You can stop hiding now, Bonnie," Marceline announced, pointing at the Ice King's corpse with a serenely bored expression.
Bonnibel shielded her eyes from the flash of green light. Then she watched as Marceline picked up a pair of broken spectacles, turning them over in her hands, before tucking them into a suit pocket.
"Why did you call him 'Simon'?" she asked, standing stiffly, careful so as not to break her legs. It was so globbing cold.
"'Cause it was his name," Marceline answered, ripping the cell door off its hinges. "But that's none of your biz."
Bonnibel tightened her lips over the rude put-down, but it was typical and, at least, familiar. She busied herself straightening her clothes best as possible, extricating her hair from where it had gotten wet against the wall. So she missed part of what happened next. When she looked over, Marceline was holding the Ice King's crown, examining it thoughtfully. There was something... something....
Bonnibel ran as fast as she could the short distance, grabbing Marceline's arm without thought, as if she could stop her. Peripherally, she was aware that her hand didn't melt because the arm underneath was cold as ice.
"Don't! Marcy, don't!"
It hadn't stopped Marceline from plopping the crown down on her head at a jaunty angle, picking up a drum stick and rattling out a beat against a worn cymbal, a smile playing on her face.
It was almost worse when Gunter and a batch of penguins arrived, attempting to swarm Marceline. Mostly, because of the mess it made, bits of blood, gore and small bones sprayed in a circle. The lone survivor was a subdued Gunter herself, whom Marceline tucked under her arm.
Bonnibel had seen a great deal of death and undeath over the years. She'd always known that the vampire harbored a vicious, vengeful destructive streak, but the friend she remembered had always done her the courtesy of... of what? Being a demon, being herself, elsewhere? She'd looked down at her dress, already ruined by the pointless kidnapping. Now there was a swatch of red decorating her hem.
Marceline had laughed again. "Hey, there, peppermint patty."
Bonnibel had started screaming at her and refused a lift home. In retrospect, it was mortifying. She'd been impossibly rude and ungrateful. Granted, but was that any reason to destroy a kingdom?
She broke out of her reverie when Marceline stopped singing.
One of the demons moved, an excited lurch forward, and Marceline's head snapped around, eyes flashing bright. The unfortunate demon turned inside out, all blue and green flesh, pulsating and its arms and legs began to thrash. It managed to scream, lungs shuddering, but no one stepped up to interfere.
"Stop it," said Bonnibel, after she heard one too many pops from behind her. It was worth a try.
Marceline snapped her fingers and the demon flipped back, fell to its knees, then crawled back into the group. "There's your tongue. I thought someone might've eaten it."
"You don't need to be crass," Bonnibel said in automatic reprimand, bobbing her head politely to compensate. "May I ask what brings you to my kingdom?"
"Oh, this'n'that, passing through. Wanna get some ice cream?"
Bonnibel sighed. "This really isn't the best time. If you would be so kind, please state your intentions."
Beside her, she could positively feel Peppermint Butler vibrating with rage. He thought she didn't know what a syrup-thirsty gumball he was. He thought she didn't know that he'd all but trained her to eat, drink and sleep when he saw fit but as his schedule met her ends, she always thanked him for his service.
She remembered being fifteen years old when Hunson Abadeer, the Lord of Evil, appeared on the castle drawbridge with a cohort of demons. He'd requested to meet the new Candy Monarch. Peppermint Butler had taken one look at Bonnibel's ashy face and stepped forward to do his duty as regent. She'd been desperately relieved when the demon lord settled for playing golf with her butler. Now she could only wonder what negotiations had occurred in her absence.
The real question was, why had Marceline shown up to befriend her shortly thereafter?
To her other side, she heard Finn fidget and she resisted the urge to reassure him. He was a grown man, young, but proud of his broad shoulders and unyielding posture. Sometimes, despite his relationship with Flame Princess, she would catch him watching with sorrowful blue eyes. He continued to style himself the kingdom's champion and like Billy before him, he filled the role admirably.
"Looked like the best party in town," Marceline said, as if it explained her presence.
Bonnibel tamped down her growing irritation, that feeling she always got when Marceline was being a pest for no logical reason. She shuffled the feeling into a compartment and locked it, forcing her mouth to form words. She looked slightly past Marceline's shoulder and said, "My kingdom has little value, your Highness. I can think of nothing to offer in exchange for amnesty, but if you have a request, I will consider it."
"Dude, Bonnie, you're dense as a dum dum."
The oddly disappointed tone of voice made Bonnibel look, really look. "Pardon me?"
"If I wanted to waste your kingdom, I wouldn't be all yakking out here on the lawn. I'd be all shock an' awe death raining from above and poof, one big crater and sugar everywhere," Marceline elaborated, swinging an arm from one side to the other to encompass the field. "Boom! Mushroom candy city, one big caramel crater."
Bonnibel parsed what she'd said. Half the things Marceline said or sang made no sense, but she accepted that as she accepted Peppermint's well-intentioned manipulations, Finn's less than obvious romantic pining, her court's petty rumors and the ogres in the forest. Nevertheless, it sounded as if the demon army wasn't here to raze the Candy Kingdom.
Her eyes widened of their own accord and she looked to the left at the Lich army amassed outside the outer wall.
"Oh," she said, a sour feeling in her gut telling her she'd done it again and she hated that feeling. "You jerk."
The fact was, Bonnibel has nothing against considering the Night-O-Sphere and its ruler allies. Yes, many of its citizens were evil. They murdered, raped, terrorized and a whole slew of other acts that she imagined people assumed she didn't comprehend. But, they did so within the confines of their kingdom and that was largely the product of their legal system, which was a product of their ruling class, enforced by the Lord of Evil. The initial assumption would be that Hunson, and now Marceline, was capable of moral choice and benevolent action, despite inherently demonic natures.
The initial assumption failed to take into account history. Bonnibel had created a library unrivaled in all of Ooo and it contained a small selection of manuscripts that survived from the time of the Mushroom War. Many were inconsequential, containing recipes, food labels, lists of names followed by numerical sequences, advertisements for curious products, and so forth. But a few were considered heresy, blasphemy and their writers executed by hysterical mobs. Most of those texts had been destroyed, but those that hadn't were in her library.
One of those ancient scientists had gone at great length about the influx of demons resulting from the great cataclysm that created Ooo from what once had been Earth. Indeed, if one had the means, one could still travel to that great crater that provided direct access to the Night-O-Sphere, so the author claimed. Regardless, demons swarmed the land and interbred with the surviving humans and animals and it was their offspring who inherited Ooo.
That would make everyone demon spawn, so Bonnibel could understand why the author wound up burnt on a stack of used tires. If it were true, then even even she was part demon. Either she was partly evil or demons weren't inherently so. It was truly an unsettling concept and, she was profoundly grateful that the hypothesis hadn't been tested under stringent scientific guidelines.
Despite her claims otherwise, Marceline might be staging an incursion from the Night-O-Sphere, but the Lich definitely were on a rampage. The reliable fact was that if she didn't accept the alliance immediately, it would mean her kingdom's destruction. It was exactly the sort of 'freedom of choice' a demon would offer. It seemed a bit evil, to Bonnibel.
"We would be grateful for any assistance," she said.
She wanted to discuss terms, but Marceline lifted into the air, finally, looping in a circle and that was apparently the signal her army needed.
They charged off toward the waiting Lich army, a thousand screaming, screeching, roaring voices, fire and brimstone in their wake. Before she could stop them, Finn and Jake were off with the group, but the rest of her cohort stayed put.
Bonnibel raised an enchanted shield on her left arm, scepter armed with a potion in its tip in her right hand. She turned around to face her troops, a kindness to call them such, and ordered them to form an inner cordon to protect the castle. With any luck, they wouldn't need to fight. With any luck...
Bonnibel looked out toward the seething mass of monsters gradually spilling over the outer walls and spotted a glowing, green form darting about overhead. She stood and waited, keeping her place, knowing the candy people needed her too much to take risks. She couldn't see Finn, though she sometimes spotted Jake elongated over the pitched battle. Soon, there were too many flashes of brightly colored light, too much fire and smoke obscuring the view as it inevitably rolled closer.
Her hands felt glued to her weapons when a massive, horned skull appeared from the smoke. The Lich crawled closer, spotting her, jaw-bone hanging open in what passed for a grin. She raised her scepter, pointing it and the potion she'd prepared sprayed across the bony face.
The Lich wailed, clawing as its face began to dissolve and Bonnibel knew there was nothing for it, now. She threw down her scepter and it disappeared into the tall grass. She jogged forward, drawing her sword so the idiot, rock candy solders she'd created would follow.
The smaller monsters proved easy targets, inept in their combat skills, unprepared to face a trained and educated opponent. It was difficult to tell friend from foe and, a few times, Bonnibel felt certain she'd cut down an ally. There was no point in dwelling on what the books termed 'collateral damage', so she kept swinging her sword and fighting. She would never understand what Finn found so enjoyable about such monotonous destruction.
There was a lull in battle, a welcome respite, and Bonnibel allowed her arms to droop under the heavy weight of sword and shield. Her back ached and she squinted to prevent sweat from dripping into her eyes. Past the nose guard of her helmet, she could see a swell of enemy troops backing away from some attacker. Really, it was more like the fleeing of a panicked mob because some were tripping over each other in their haste.
Marceline swept down from above, raking her terrified foes with green bolts of energy, darting in to swing her axe in wide arcs that sprayed bloody carnage in her wake. She laughed in a wretched cackle and some of the soldiers dropped arms, attempting to flee wholesale. Landing on the ground, jamming one edge of her axe into the sodden ground, she thrust out at arm in the direction of a werewolf.
The creature stood no chance as a black tentacle wrapped around its midsection, yanking it back like a marionette. It yelped and whined, attempting to shift forms and escape the choking grasp, but Marceline dragged it close, into her arms. She held it tight, one hand under its jaw, an arm around its chest, holding it from behind.
Too far away to shout over the din, Bonnibel watched in fascination as Marceline tilted her head and sank her teeth into the werewolf's throat. She stumbled once under its weight, hunching over to keep her mouth locked in place. By the time she finished drinking, she was on one knee and the werewolf was pale and shrunken. Bonnibel wondered how it was that Marceline was strong enough to keep the large monster imprisoned, yet too weak to stand, until Marceline flung her head back.
She panted, prehensile forked tongue wiping blood off her chin, catching a rivulet that began to trickle down along her throat. She stayed that way, lips parted, eyes closed, either unconcerned or unaware of any danger. Then she stood, shakily, dragging the werewolf up with her and Bonnibel realized it was still alive, somewhat. Marceline looked in her direction, expression flat and composed, and shoved the freshly made zombie toward her. Behind it, she shot off to create another pool of burnt gore.
Bonnibel swallowed, tasting bile, though what she'd witnessed could not be as heinous as the slaughter around her. Nor could she begrudge the respite the zombie guard offered, catching her breath and pulling her feet free from some bit of some body, soggy ground pulling at her boots. Soon enough, the enemy surged back around her and she stayed behind her undead shield until the werewolf fell, hacked to bits.
Her arms were shaking with exhaustion when she turned to find another Lich far too close to her. She couldn't raise her sword fast enough and she hoped she didn't scream. Mostly, she was surprised. It wasn't supposed to happen like that. She hadn't dreamt it yet.
Bonnibel regained consciousness, blinking, bleary eyed but only for a second. Then she held her breath and held still, cataloguing her environment. She was in a bed. It felt familiar, the sheets and blanket looked exactly like those in her castle suite. Everything she could see, from her bedside table, lamp, doorway, wardrobe, wall drapes and window were exactly as she remembered. It appeared to be her bedroom.
She started breathing when her chest began to hurt from the strain and wriggled her toes and fingers. All her limbs were present and accounted for and she didn't feel significantly smaller. She was even wearing a nightgown. None of it meant she was alive, though. She might be having a vision or croak dream. Any moment, the Cosmic Owl might fly in through the open patio doors and deliver his omen.
She tried to feel something aside from dull shock and a vague sense of guilt. She'd left her kingdom without a reliable heir. No doubt, Lemongrab and his clone would attempt to seize power, but there was no way the people would tolerate his, their, rule because he was, in fact, intolerable. How it was that what she considered her finest qualities distilled into that, she would never understand. Was she truly a sour lemon on the inside?
Outside, the wind shifted and the stench of burnt sugar and charred flesh reached her nostrils. She gagged, then coughed, squinting as her eyes watered.
She took a better look around her chambers. The remains of her helmet and crown were on her vanity. The white helm had been crushed flat, one cheek and the nose guard curled like fallen leaves. It was smeared with something brown. The crown remained attached, slagged and lopsided where it had melted, the tall central tine folded upon itself.
Bonnibel sat up, reflexively brushing her hair behind her ears. She froze.
Marceline was sitting in a wingback chair that had been obscured by a bed post from Bonnibel's supine position. Sunlight from the patio washed over her, apparently without consequence. She was still in her spotless formal attire, arms splayed over the armrests, legs crossed at the knee. She was motionless except for the absent bob and swing of her raised foot in a red boot.
Bonnibel paused to think, fingering the strands of hair that ought to have been soft, pliant gum. It definitely wasn't. It felt more like keratin, but with somewhat greater elasticity. Letting go, she examined her hands and arms. She skimmed her fingers over goose pimples along her arms, feeling the fine, nearly invisible hairs against familiar pink skin. She was vaguely aware of her breath coming in rapid, shallow gasps. Something was roaring in her ears, a white noise with a rhythmic beat. She was choking.
"Breathe," Marceline ordered urgently, rising from her chair. "Get a grip, Bonnie."
"I am breathing! Don't lecture me on basic core exercises!"
She flattened a hand against her chest. It hurt, a wrenching twist beneath her ribs. Something was in her throat, a bitter taste in her mouth. She resisted the urge to bend over, to curl in on herself. Instead, she fisted the other hand in her sheets, mentally releasing tension through her fingers until her hand was spread against the silky fabric.
She inhaled slowly, centering and dropped the palm from her chest. None of the sensations had been alien and it wasn't the first time she'd nearly died. Still, they had been so intense. Her nerves felt raw. Undeniably, her body had changed in some fashion.
"You okay now?" Marceline asked, settling back into the chair.
"Yes. What happened?"
"You got burnt to a crisp. It was pretty final."
"Yes, I gathered. I meant, the outcome of the battle?"
Marceline snorted derisively.
Instantly, as if a band had tightened around her head, she felt anger squeezing all rationality out of her thoughts. She compressed her lips to keep unfiltered opinions where they belonged. If nothing else, being irked by Marceline's bad attitude was familiar.
"If you might try and communicate in a more civilized manner," Bonnibel bit out the reprimand.
"Oh, well, I wouldn't want to disappoint such high expectations."
She looked up, bracing for the tantrum, the shouting, the accusations followed by petulant sulking.
Marceline's expression was placid, slightly vacant and detached. Her eyes were yellow green, pupils slit against the bright morning sun. Her business suit seemed to suck in the light that touched it, pitch black no matter the angle. She gave a single, measured blink.
"A Lich got you. I creamed his butt and grabbed your soul before it flew off. We were winning by then, so the rest of 'em surrendered and got gone. Peppermint was flipping out and no one wanted to tell the candy people what happened. But it turned out he was regent if you died without a declared heir and no one wanted the Lemongrabs, so he asked for my help," Marceline answered, a wary note in her voice.
Bonnibel watched a faint plume of smoke rising in the distance, visible through her window. She suspected there had been less 'asking' and more 'bargaining', but it was a moot point. "Some survived?"
"A bunch. Most of them melted. The view outside is pretty crap."
Bonnibel nodded, sliding the pieces into place. She wanted to look, but if she did, her subjects would spot her. They needed to see their queen, not a young woman with messy hair, wearing a nightgown.
As if he'd been summoned by discussion, there was a perfunctory knock at the chamber door before Peppermint Butler entered. He carried a tray with several covered dishes and set it on the bedside table. Lifting the dome covers, he revealed steaming soup, some pound cake and a glass of sweet juice.
"Your Highness," he greeted her, a bit meekly with a smile and bow. "It is good to see you well."
Then he turned to consider Marceline. After an awkward delay, he gave a stilted bow and departed, without another word.
Bonnibel frowned, wondering if he had cause for the snub. She couldn't fault his machinations. She'd been young when her parents died and her grandmother needed to attend her political duties in the wake of war. Caring for the young heir had fallen to Peppermint and he had always treated her with deference and concern. If there was one thing the butler could do without fail, it was to sense evil and malevolence.
Bonnibel felt her lips twitch into an involuntary smile over his silence.
"Didn't think you'd have much to smile about," Marceline said inquisitively.
"It's the irony," Bonnibel explained. "My parents died the last time the Lich laid siege."
"Yeah, I know. I was there."
"Yes, I've read. You and Billy, battling on the front lines before you both disappeared. Him to his cave, too disenchanted to continue. You to.... Some historians argued you must have died, but Gran insisted you'd gone on vacation and set up on a cantina on some island."
"Your gran was a total nerd," Marceline injected, without denying the guess. "Grape flavor," she added, baring a fang in a leer.
Bonnibel's smile wavered, becoming a grimace. The camaraderie between them was painfully familiar. She raised her hands, pointedly, and pressed her palms flat over her ears. She was in no mood for playful misdirection.
Marceline rolled her eyes, but let it go. She held on to her smirk for a time, but it faded into a grim line as her foot bobbed to an inaudible beat. She sighed and said, "I ordered for you. Didn't want them bringing you nothing but a bunch of cake and candy."
Bonnibel's stomach growled as if agreeing with the notion, so she picked up a spoon and the bowl of soup. It was salty, savory and contained bits of... of meat. She gagged. She held the back of her hand against her mouth, turning her face away from the bowl.
"You're not gonna be able to get by on sugar, Bonnie."
She felt hot, wet moisture collecting in her eyes, breaking loose to trail down her cheeks and drip off her nose and chin. She supposed it was the cumulative shock. The texts she had studied had warned that a soldier's first major battle could me mentally traumatizing, but that the reaction usually passed. She shouldn't be crying; she'd been in combat on multiple occasions.
Marceline sighed and it was like claws being raked over her last nerve.
She clutched the sides of her head. "Glob-"
Marceline placed a cool hand on her shoulder. "At least you're still pink, so quit sniveling."
"Not all of us grew up beating and murdering people for entertainment!" She brushed the hand off her shoulder, shrugging backward for emphasis. There were times when she loathed the vampire's inhuman speed and stealth.
Marceline took several steps backward as if the words had been a physical blow.
She would need time to accustom herself to this new body but would, doubtless, be denied the indulgence. Her kingdom required strong, commanding leadership in its time of crisis, but she made no effort to restrain the tears that continued to fall. Grief was cathartic, she told herself. It was also a waste of time.
She considered what little Marceline had told her thus far and asked, "Why did you do it?"
The vampire shrugged.
"Why?" she demanded more forcefully.
"Because you need an heir and haven't been able to cook one up in your lab."
Bonnibel took a deep breath, careful not to hyperventilate. She moved cautiously, sliding out one leg, then the other, placing her feet on the cool tile floor. So, she'd experienced a minor physical makeover. Her people needed their queen and this was no time for self pity. Nor was it time to puke up her luncheon, even a revolting one. She stood and went to her wardrobe and pulled out a robe to buy herself time. Her new body was uncomfortable, strange and likely came with a steep price tag.
Tying her sash, she asked, "What if I refuse it?"
"This body. What if I refuse it? What if I de... request a closer approximation of my former body?"
Marceline answered with a dry chuckle.
"I mean it."
"Chill," Marceline drawled, stretching her arms, hands clasped overhead. "Way I see it, it's the same one. You were always part candy and part human. I just made the human part bigger, is all."
"You're still a legit candy person but you're almost a real girl. Real enough so you can fix that heir problem the easy way, if you feel like it. Course, if you want to keep trying to do it the hard way-"
"No," she cut her off quickly, biting back both resentment and trepidation. The concept was revolting. "Though the idea is dis... novel."
Marceline didn't miss the slip, watching with hooded eyes that flared red for a second. "You gotta get over that squick, Bonnie."
"No, I do not. I am not obligated to pursue the matter in any way other than I see fit."
She was proud of her composure despite the way her skin flushed with heat and sweat broke out in a number of places. There had once been an extensive Bubblegum family line. Over the centuries, their numbers had dwindled. The Lich had destroyed the rest. She hadn't much choice except to try and cook up an heir in a laboratory. She was surprised that Marceline even understood genetics well enough to grasp what had happened to her family line. Or was it that she simply observed the long-term results of interbreeding, had witnessed other examples of human blood dwindling until it disappeared?
"Geez. I was trying to do you a favor."
"I'm not certain how you expected me to react."
Marceline circled idly, looking her over, then bared her teeth. "I expected you to thank me."
Bonnibel tracked her movements, holding still, worrying her hands until she noticed. If she'd heard such a demand when she were younger, she would have missed the insinuation. She couldn't decide if Marceline expected her to catch it or if she was making a plain threat, habit born among the customs of her people. Most likely, she was laughing at another bit of sly innuendo she expected Bonnibel to miss.
She picked up the bowl of soup, to try eating again and said, "Thank you."
Marceline did not offer the traditional response, returning instead to the chair she had commandeered.
After a few minutes, the clink of her spoon and sounds of broth became uncomfortable. She imagined that a vampire could sit motionless for a very long time compared to a normal person. Perhaps time passed more quickly for them, as if it were relative to one's natural life span. It would explain why Marceline had always been so surprised by her ire and oft repeated accusations of being tardy. She focused on that bit of potential physics to ignore the taste and texture of her food, but then it was gone.
She set down her bowl. Her hunger had abated but her guts churned. "How long will you be staying?"
"Long as I want," Marceline said in a whimsical tone, resting her head on her fist, making no effort to disguise her frank attention.
"I see. And how long is that?" she pressed. She resolved to ignore the blatantly heated look. It was ultimately harmless and Marceline was far from the first, and wouldn't be the last, person to admire her.
"I missed you, Bonnie," she said, instead of answering, a smile curving her lips.
She looked at Marceline's smile, took in the friendly banter and her attitude. It was as if nothing ever changed for her, as if they were still friends, one a teen, the other posing as one. It was as if she failed to notice the growing divide between them. It was akin to having her emotions invalidated, dismissed by overbearing arrogance. She wondered how she'd ever found that cocksure bluster attractive.
"Are you going to sit around in my bed chamber and feign complete ignorance of rampaging demons, monsters and zombies over the past few years? Am I meant to pretend you aren't responsible merely because you graced me with your benevolence for a change of pace?"
Marceline's face phased, her nostrils flaring as her eyes reddened and her ears pinned backward. "I won't claim I wasn't responsible for those events, but I didn't instigate them."
"Forgive me but I'm naturally skeptical."
Marceline's expression didn't change, the faint quirk of her lips habit. "You asked me to leave you alone, remember?"
"Yes," she confirmed, knowing there had to be more to the seemingly irrelevant point. She expected Marceline to demand to know why, forcing her to, once again, deny her an answer. Time apart had helped, but the reason hadn't changed.
Marceline's expression eased into melancholy. "Well, I almost did. I've done it before, lots of times, now. Just gone off to play music and have adventures until a few decades or a century passed."
"Am I supposed to ask why you didn't?"
Marceline raised one shoulder, the corner of her lip pulling further for a second. "Not sure. Time was passing too slow, so I did something new instead."
Bonnibel glanced at the amulet before she could stop herself.
"Yeah," Marceline agreed in what sounded like an exhausted sigh. Her lips tipped into a frown, fangs denting her lower lip. "Like my dad always said, 'you gotta take what you want, baby'."
As simple as that, Bonnibel's stagnant anger dissolved into unease. Automatically, she scanned her room for weapons. She wasn't dealing with an old man made incompetent by insanity. As experienced a man as Finn was, she wouldn't wager on him in a battle against Marceline. She returned her gaze and saw something unexpected.
Marceline's face was etched with pain and she was shaking her head slowly.
"You've changed, Marcy," she said in defense. She wouldn't apologize for a rational response.
"Yeah. Guess it had to happen sometime, huh?"
"If that's how you justify sending out raiding parties to murder, rape and pillage, then yes."
Marceline inhaled deeply, exhaling a faint stream of smoke or steam. "I didn't send them. I went home. I went home and I... I took the amulet from my dad and there was a lot of fuss and bother afterward."
Bonnibel raised her eyebrows. "Fuss and bother?"
"Chaos and destruction might be better words," she admitted.
Wrapping one arm around her stomach, Bonnibel used it as a rest for her elbow and propped her chin on her hand, finger curled over her lips. She'd inherited a peaceful kingdom but history was full of regime changes, coups and revolutions. She tried to imagine Marceline leading one but her mind balked at the idea of anything more violent than the Night-O-Sphere itself. And the truth was, there hadn't been a demonic incursion in at least a year.
"How's your father doing?"
Marceline dropped the hand supporting her chin. Her head turned mechanically, answering with wooden silence as if she'd been asked an inordinately stupid question. Then she looked back out the patio doorway.
"I'm sorry for your loss," Bonnibel said automatically.
"No you're not. He was evil."
"Now who's being presumptuous?"
Marceline drew her legs back out of their sprawl, as if she meant to rise. "Screw it. I don't know why I thought this time would be any different. Sorry for helping. You obviously didn't want it."
Bonnibel stood quickly, scowling. "After a great deal of consideration, I have determined that the Lich had nothing to gain by attacking the Candy Kingdom first. We've nothing of value and do not occupy a prime defensive position. Either their attack was arbitrary or a feint in pursuit of another target entirely," she finished meaningfully.
"No shit," agreed Marceline, but she didn't pick up the conversational thread. She leaned heavily on her knees, perched on the edge of the chair.
Bonnibel raised her chin and squared her shoulders. She was a grateful, but that didn't make her a marshmallow. She waited.
"The Lich weren't after you. They were after me."
Oh glob, it was the Ice King all over again. "And should I expect another attempt soon?"
"Nah. They're totes happy with me being Lord of Evil."
Bonnibel simultaneously frowned while raising an eyebrow at the implication that a battle that decimated many of her people was little more than some variety of coronation ceremony. The kingdom would be extremely vulnerable to attack while her people rebuilt the city and she replaced her populace. She'd read so much about war, but how much more did a person who'd witnessed multiple wars over the centuries know?
Marceline seemed content to remain still and quiet in the chair, a living fossil. She didn't breath, didn't blink, didn't twitch. The only motion was the slow, fluctuating glow of the gemstone from the amulet that denoted her rank. Most of the royal gemstones, those pieces of the Enchiridion, refracted light. Few glowed with raw power and she wondered if that would be how Marceline ended.
Bonnibel would die one day, not from age, but from choice in accordance with her dynasty's bargain with the Cosmic Owl. He would hoot his dream and the ruler would go. Somewhere. She wasn't sure where, but it wasn't really death and it defied scientific explanation. She shuffled away her discomfort with that concept. No, she would die and she was glad because she'd seen what immortality did to an old man named 'Simon'. Ordinary people weren't meant to live forever; the mind couldn't cope.
So she tried not to stare at the amulet and wonder if it was how Marceline would go. She was already a stranger despite a few years. She'd been gone before for years and never changed from a young woman desperately clinging to anger, singing away her grief, even if Bonnibel had been too young to see it. Then she went away for a handful and came back like this.
Bonnibel jerked in pain, clasping her head at the sudden stabbing headache, at the colors that seemed too bright swirling in front of her eyes. She gasped, more of a hiss, and stumbled backward. Then it stopped, as suddenly.
"Sorry," murmured Marceline, turning her head as it were on a ball-bearing again. "Reflex."
Mind-worm, Bonnibel realized. That was new, enough so that Marceline was clumsy with the skill. "You could just ask, you know."
"Sure, but then you'd have to lie to me."
"I have never lied to you, Marcy. Is that what your life is now? Deceit and manipulation, but now it's not about pranks and laughs?"
"My life? You mean, my immortal death, times two? It's never ending paperwork, all filed in triplicate, the coffle is always cold, I've got appointments all week long, three hour meetings, my secretary is too busy fucking the courier to do her job and I have to play golf with Death. Golf!" Marceline repeated furiously, making a rude gesture with her fingers. "Do you know how boring golf is? I could shove a nine iron through my skull!"
Bonnibel approached Marceline carefully. A lecture about accepting duties and responsibilities would be misplaced, but that wasn't the sole issue. "If you hate it so much, why did you do it? I thought Hunson could do the job forever, if necessary."
Marceline's frown deepened, her fangs denting gray flesh. Her lips and cheeks were flushed from her temper, blood coloring the skin though it couldn't have been pumped by a shriveled heart. Her eyes were a deep red now, slit in consideration.
"Do you believe in prophecy?" she asked.
The scientist in Bonnibel wanted to say no, that events recorded as the product of prophecies were retroactively warped to fit the words. Unfortunately, experience with the Enchiridion and beings such as the Cosmic Owl and Lich had taught her otherwise. "Yes."
Maintaining eye contact, Marceline shrugged as if she might unburden herself.
Bonnibel withheld a congratulation, nor did she try to praise Marceline for assuming her adult responsibilities. Truthfully, she couldn't imagine what it was like to assume an immortal office. It was far more than ruling a single kingdom with its quarreling neighbors. She also didn't miss that Marceline had avoided stating her motivation, despite implying she'd been acting upon a preordained schedule.
"That sucks," she said, instead.
Marceline grunted, standing up in a fluid motion, which brought her back into the sun that had been creeping its way across the tile floor. Standing where she was, backlit against the morning sun, she was a tall, slinky blot with red eyes. The amulet pulsed again, briefly casting inverted light upon her calm face.
It forced Bonnibel to look up. "You do have my sympathy, Marcy."
With a warning rumble deep in her throat, Marceline's face shifted until her eyes were yellow with red, narrow pupils, pointed ears laid back and a gratuitous number of fangs in her mouth. "I didn't come here for your sympathy, Your Highness."
Bonnibel raised her chin back up and put aside her own deplorable state of dress, the likelihood she was in complete dishabille, and their location. She'd know the vampire too long to be frightened by her theatrics. "Please forgive my poor manners La-, er, Lord Abadeer."
"It's 'lady' if you're going to use my name."
She cursed the flush she felt at her faux pas. "Lady Abadeer, then. You have done this Kingdom a great service, more generous in that it was unsought and misinterpreted. Moreover, I am-"
"Oh, glob, stop before I puke. I get it. Yeah, I saved your kingdom, saved your life and fixed your heir problem even though it grosses you out. I had to do it because the Lich wanted to see if I would make the effort. There. I said it for you. You're welcome. I'm going."
"No, you are not! Do you think it's easy knowing I can't just run off when things get too lumping hard for me? Is that why you always do it for me? You think you're doing me a favor?"
"It's what you asked me to do."
"Do you think I wanted to say it? You're almost fifty times my age and you couldn't see the truth?"
Marceline's face contorted. "Of course I could. It's why I went home." Her expression continued to twist in wrath, becoming more hideous as she stalked toward the patio. "But even that isn't good enough for you."
"I'm indebted to you," Bonnibel repeated forcefully, shaking her head in negation.
"No," Marceline said, her face conveying a mocking grin, "you're indebted to the Lord of Evil."
"Ah," Bonnibel said as the last puzzle piece fell into place. She had failed to note the distinction, ironic really, but she wasn't accustomed to Marceline behaving as royalty. Every treaty and alliance was based on achieving a compromise between disparate needs, on maneuvering between selfish desires. She was rather pleased with her own composure. "And what sort of recompense does the Lord of Evil expect?"
Marceline had made it to the patio door, but she stopped, hanging her head. Her visage returned to its more humanoid configuration. She sighed loudly enough to be heard across the room. "The usual."
Bonnibel sucked in her breath through her teeth, despite expecting the answer. As an ancient prophet once said, 'Think fast, motherfucker'. Between demonic beings and mortal women, 'the usual' almost always meant one thing. So, the motive was bared and she experienced a moment of unabashed fury at the injustice. It wasn't fair. It truly wasn't fair. Her kingdom for a nail, she told herself but it couldn't stop the litany of German epithets.
She finished shouting by the time she caught up with a cringing Marceline. "And if I refuse?"
"I've already helped you; you can't refuse," Marceline gritted out, fangs glinting in the sun as she winced.
"I meant, if I ask you to change me back, so I'm more candy than human again," she clarified, though, they both knew she wouldn't sacrifice her dynasty and lineage over such a personal thing as fear.
"Is it really that squicky?"
"It's not... I mean... I've never... Oh glob, I'm stuttering." She took a deep breath, closing her eyes, then looked Marceline in the face, shielded by her shadow. "You know perfectly well that is not how candy people procreate. I have read about it and Rainicorn is a gigantic blabbermouth, but it's different. I'm also well aware that you.... I'm sorry, but you can't just take what you want."
"Funny thing, Bonnie, that's true. I couldn't just march an army out of the Night-O-Sphere because I wanted to. I needed special dispensation. It had to be carried by the board and approved by Death and the Cosmic Owl and guess what?" Marceline shouted, "There was only one acceptable reason and I wasn't going to watch you die being a hero!"
She swallowed stiffly. The bitter injustice left a hollow tang in her gut, but she understood. Bonnibel was many things, but first and foremost, she was a politician. "I see. You're proposing a long-term alliance."
"More like it's a done deal."
Bonnibel nodded. She had wondered what the price would be for accepting aid in battle and she'd expected it would be something she did not want to give. That was how demons worked.
"It's hardly romantic," she said.
Marceline smirked sadly. "I'm sure Finn would be happy to lead you through it."
"Really?" As she spoke, Marceline leaned in subtly, tilting her head to inhale deeply.
Marceline held up placating hands. "Wasn't doing nothing."
"You were trying to vamp me." She pressed two fingers to her temple, feeling it throb. "Good, Glob, Marcy! Do you have any tact at all?"
Baring a single fang in a lop-sided smile, Marceline said, "If I wanted to vamp you, you'd be naked on the bed and wake up tomorrow with a wicked hangover. I think I'm being pretty tactful by going home."
Bonnibel bit the inside of her cheek, feeling the increased fleshiness with her tongue. "Just because I'm aware of your feelings toward me doesn't mean I'll, uh, you know."
"Thank you for your finesse," she said dryly, "but I still want an answer. Would you change me back?"
"If it's really what you want."
Some of the tension binding her shoulders bled away and Bonnibel sagged in place, indulging in a moment of self pity. "It is, but I'm not asking. I know my duty."
"Ugh, buzz kill," opinioned Marceline.
"About time," she groused in exasperation, before frowning as her mind had continued to whir away. She had a nagging, unpleasant suspicion. "But how would Finn know, either?" She wrinkled her nose, wishing the books she'd found had more useful pictures. "I guess Jake could have told him but he's a dog and Rainicorn's a unicorn. Strictly on a mechanical level-"
Marceline made an awkward noise, fidgeting in place, the motion contrasting starkly with her prior poise. She scratched the back of her neck, raising her eyes at the ceiling.
"Oh," Bonnibel said and cursed her tendency to blush."I thought he and Flame Princess...?"
Raising a shoulder in a laconic shrug, Marceline said, "There's some junk they can't do. He asked me about it one day and Jake practically shoved him in my lap."
"And you... you just...?" Bonnibel shook her head, confounded. "Do you have no ethical boundaries?"
Marceline raised her eyebrows. "He's human," she said bluntly, as if that explained everything.
"Humans really like sex and he can't get any with hot stuff, he can't get any with you and all his friends are hooking up and I've just told you more than he wants you to know." She opened her mouth as if she intended to explain further, then gave a brief shake of her head. "The important thing is, if you wanna try out getting laid for, like, research or something, he's your best bet."
"Because he's had a good coach?" Bonnibel asked, pursing her lips.
"The best, babe."
She wondered how many years it had taken Marceline to perfect her stupefyingly, condescending arrogance. "Well, that explains his poor mood recently."
Bonnibel felt that was more diplomatic than saying, 'gigantic flaming hissy fit that left Finn crying on her couch for a week'. If it weren't for the underlying topic, Bonnibel might have dismissed the confession for the admission of insensitivity and cavalier amusement it seemed to be. She would have, in the past and made a mental note to review past instances in a more suspicious light. Consequently, she didn't take the remark at face value and she focused on Marceline's motive rather than her own appalled disgust.
Marceline had deliberately led Finn astray to destabilize his relationship with the Flame Princess and free him as a potential suitor. The situation would be salvageable with sufficient apologies and remonstration, but she was honest enough to admit she would refrain from interfering unless Finn asked for her help. She was sympathetic toward the couple, more deeply than Finn realized, but could not to this day fully, comfortably condone the risk to all of Ooo. He was, quite literally, playing with fire.
She allowed herself to look, not quite admire, but look at Marceline and fought not to be a hypocrite. If she didn't choose a human, her children or grandchildren would run straight back into the problem of genetic dilution. But there were kinder and tidier ways to handle the situation than by the method Marceline was suggesting. Moments like this, she genuinely wondered how demons normally conducted their relationships. Moments like this, she was certain she didn't want to know more than she did.
Because she was looking, she noticed how Marceline's skin followed a gradient of violet, gray and white, smooth and even unlike the mottled appearance of a corpse. Her cheekbones cut a line that threw a shadow, her lips full, eyes set under winged brows. A sinuous lock of hair cast a shadow across half her face so that eye glowed faintly. Was Marceline's beauty natural or a product of shifting? She recalled how Hunson had appeared devilishly handsome while on business, but more average without his amulet. Traveling with Marceline and managing a band seemed so long ago.
She didn't realize she was staring until she noticed the ruddy tinge to the tip of the single visible ear. She pulled her gaze away and chided herself for allowing Marceline to change the subject. "But we were discussing what I owe you."
"We can discuss the details later, like, when you're more comfortable about it all," Marceline demurred, her voice rasping until she cleared her throat.
"No. Your idea of later might be years from now," Bonnibel got out quickly, grabbing Marceline's tie in a fit of courage. "Then, one day you'll show up and it'll be a total drama bomb, so I'd rather know now. Well, I mean, you already told me but I'm trying to negotiate for better terms."
"There isn't much leeway. I'm sort of bound by tradition here, Bonnie." Marceline made no attempt to make her let go, but her tongue snaked out, whipping the air in front of Bonnibel's nose. She added sarcastically, "You do get tradition, right?"
"Traditionally, monarchs can compromise because they're considered equals." She swallowed, biting her lip, then slid her hand up to grasp and amulet and pulled.
"Um, you know I'm-"
It came free more easily than she expected and Bonnibel stumbled back a step, startled by the amulet's weight as it sucked the suit off Marceline's body. The vampire hissed, his hair fanning out as a shield before the patio door slammed shut of their own accord.
Marceline was floating several inches off the floor, wearing nothing but a smile, yellow eyes crinkled in humor. She held out her hand, palm up.
Bonnibel tucked the amulet in her hands behind her back, knowing perfectly well she was turning red as a cinnamon ball.
Marceline laughed, a warm, rich, friendly laugh. "You look like you're gonna blow your top," she said, her smile mutating into a familiar lop-sided smirk. "Awful tempting color," she drawled.
"No!" Bonnibel hopped backward, eyes skittering past Marceline's body, then back again. It was her. It was still the irreverent Marcy she remembered.
"Are you sure?" Marceline taunted.
"No!" Bonnibel held out the amulet, practically throwing it back, not caring if she seemed rude. She really should have taken into account the possibility, but she'd wanted to see if the Marcy she remembered was still there underneath all the black and glower. Besides, Hunson had worn clothes underneath his suit so what had she been to think?
Marceline gamely returned the amulet to her neck, her clothing reappeared and her booted feet landed on the tile floor with an audible impact. "Should I be insulted? Because I'm feeling pretty insulted."
At that moment, Bonnibel was aware of several things simultaneously. She was incredibly embarrassed, felt hot enough to melt, her palms were sweating, her heart apparently had some sort of nefarious escape plan, some other sensation she couldn't place and she rather wanted Marceline to remove the amulet again. She was also staring at her lips once more.
"No," she repeated a third time, incongruously picturing Marceline with Finn and feeling, well, a bit lime green about it all.
Had he been bold and brash as he was in combat or had he been shy, allowing Marceline to lead? She imagined her curling her tongue around his throat, hair falling in a curtain around them both and soft cries, rising in volume. She pushed the unfamiliar thoughts aside, tamping down on the odd note of panic and ignored the rapid tempo of her heart.
She looked up to catch Marceline staring at her neck, lips parted, the tip of her forked tongue visible. She remembered the vampire sinking to her knees on the battlefield and her breath caught.
The sound jerked Marceline to attention, ill-fitting professional mask slipping back in place.
"I haven't heard you play in a long time," Bonnibel said instead of everything else she was thinking. "I have my old guitar."
"Seriously? You'll do it for a song?"
"Well, second born, not the first because I'll need that as my own heir and no, not for a song," Bonnibel said in a rush, avoiding eye contact. "It's been ages since I heard you play."
She held her breath, praying for composure and heard twin pops of displaced air. Then she heard the warbling twang of Marceline's bass, the modified red battle axe having appeared in her hands. Bonnibel looked at her bed, from where she'd heard the acoustic guitar appear. Taking a hint, she picked it up. Perching on the edge of the bed, her hands automatically checked its tuning.
"So long as it's my first, it don't matter."
Bonnibel swallowed, mouth dry, processing that last requirement. She tried to speak but her mind came to a sluggish, jumbled halt for a second. There was dust on the guitar and she wiped it away for something to do, somewhere to look. There wasn't a pick, either, but she would manage despite the soft, new skin of her hands.
"And if I die before I can-"
The statement was too flat to be arrogant, or some promise of always being able to protect her as if she were a wayward child. She nodded slowly. The bargain went back into antiquity. It must have equally ancient, rusty but iron-clad statutes. But, she wouldn't make any assumptions; it is her future that is being bartered more deftly than the Ice King could ever have achieved. She felt she ought to be more outraged about it all but, then, she'd been raised in service to the crown.
Bonnibel was all too aware of being watched and that Marceline had crept closer. "Death and the Cosmic Owl are forbidden from interfering?"
"Pretty much. There are some, like, floppin' old rules about it."
She nodded because that was something she understood readily. "Could you provide me a copy of the relevant documentation?"
"Oh, yeah," Marceline mumbled, snapped her fingers and two fluttering sheets of parchment bearing ornate script landed on the bed.
Bonnibel glanced over, indicating she meant to read the entire contract, then began to skim. She was careful as possible, though bore in mind that she was already partially bound by her actions. The agreement was more or less what she expected, but with one surprising boon.
She made no effort to disguise her apprehension, asking, "Then if I wish to wait, I can? Death will wait upon me and...." There was no help for it; the question had to be asked. "And, you will respect my decision?"
Marceline's nonchalance slipped, pain leaking through every crack as her eyes flared red and her bass issued a discordant, involuntary twang from where her hand rested. She silenced it quickly with the flat of her palm, but tendrils of her hair curled about like so many vipers. "You still think-"
"Forgive me for asking, Marcy, but your methods thus far have been abhorrent, to say the least."
"Are you calling me a butt?"
Marceline's face crumpled further into anger for a moment, fangs elongating before she clamped her mouth shut with an audible click. "I'm trying to be nice," she gritted out, words slurred slightly by the mouthful of teeth.
"I know. You do things differently in the Night-O-Sphere." She saw Marceline open her mouth and continued quickly, adding, "How do I sign this?"
"Gimme your hand," Marceline said brusquely, reaching with her own.
She hesitated and saw that flicker of hurt again on Marceline's face, quickly banished behind her ill fitting professional veneer. Bonnibel held out her arm, letting her hand go limp as Marceline clasped it gently. Lifting it to her lips, she sank one fang into the pad of Bonnibel's thumb. She braced for the sting of pain, but there was none.
"Press your thumb print to the parchment."
She did so, leaving a partly smeared print, watching as her name appeared beside it, along with a date. The document phased for a moment, tripling itself, then two copies disappeared. She squeezed the tiny wound shut, discovering it was a bit numb. There had to be a venom gland associated with the canines. It made sense, in retrospect. By the time Bonnibel turned back to face Marceline, the vampire had regained her poise and normal appearance.
"Will you ever visit?"
"You'll need to summon me," Marceline murmured, ducking her head, allowing black hair to curtain her eyes as she pushed up off the floor and drifted.
Bonnibel bit her lip, chewing on the bottom one. "Okay."
"Are you really mad at me?" Marceline asked quietly.
Bonnibel looked at her crown resting crookedly on her vanity. It was so much heavier than a tiara. She looked down at the guitar in her arms, curling her fingers to pick out a chord.
"Tell me about Simon," she asked, cursing how tremulous her voice sounded, strumming her guitar to drown it out.
Marceline smiled sadly, picked out an accompaniment and began to sing a lilting lullaby.