Title: Diplomatic Measures
Fandom: Adventure Time
Characters: Marceline Abadeer, Bonnibel Bubblegum
Rating: NC17
Continuity: Future Headcanon, sequel to 3:1-15
Summary: Is it better to rule in the Nightosphere or serve in the Candy Kingdom?
Disclaimer: Adventure Time and all related characters property of Pendleton Ward and Cartoon Network.


Diplomatic Measures

K.K.Glinka

Marceline felt the portal open, a prickling along her nerves like an electric shock, the buzz down her spine urging her to wake. She grunted, unwilling to leave the warmth of her bed or the supple body pressed to her back. It was comfortably warm everywhere in her home, with demons underfoot at every turn, groveling and serving to the point of aggravation. She'd had time to get used to it all in the past few years, but she still woke in a suffocated panic some evenings.

Yaffe stirred, unwrapping hirself from around Marceline, subserviently withdrawing from sight. The succubus was a household feature and refusing hir presence had nearly caused hir death by execution for failure to fulfil hir duties. The assumption had been that hir mistress was displeased, which hadn't been the case, and fortunately, one of the braver house demons had explained the situation to Marceline. So, fine, she had a sex slave and that was weird but she remembered her dad had them too, so that was totally normal.

She convinced herself most days and on the days she couldn't, she would lock herself in a room with a guitar, a mic and notebook.

That was how the Nightosphere worked. Everything and everyone had its proper place and function, no exceptions. The realm was brutally unforgiving on the subject, with any excess trimmed away with harsh finality. Consequently, every demon did his, her or hir job with desperation because life depended on it. Yet those duties often conflicted, resulting in rabid eternal struggles amongst the various classes and the most officious, intractable bureaucracy in existence.

Marceline stretched against the silky sheets, reluctant to rise but unable to ignore the incessant buzzing in her skull. She shoved the pillow off her head and sat up, scratching at the back of her head, yawning. She was exempt from all those regulations, with one exception. The Lord's job was to generate chaos and uncertainty, both good and bad and she liked that part. It was the ultimate prank job, but it sucked up time like crazy.

The vault-like maroon doors of her sleeping chamber cracked open and a demon poked his head through the gap. "My lady? A portal has opened," he said tremulously.

"Yeah, I know. Something feels off about it," Marceline said in disinterest, unconcerned by her nudity.

She'd given up on modesty as a lost cause about a month into the job. Those little guys were everywhere. She'd had as much luck convincing them to use her first name. It was always 'Lady Abadeer' this or 'Lady Abadeer' that and even that turned into 'My Lord' if a particular demon was writhing in panic.

"It's a blood portal," he added cautiously.

"Oh," she said, squelching a weak burst of disappointment.

She hadn't seen topside in.... She stopped the line of thought before it provided a date. It was better not to dwell on it. She was here in the Night and she would be here for the rest of her unnatural life. It blew harder than the north wind but she had to get used to it. She didn't have a choice.

Bracing her elbows on her thighs, she laced her hands behind her head. She remembered her dad smiling in relief, fatigue lifting from his face when he realized she had come for the amulet. She'd never thought about it that way until he thanked her, sighing in exhausted relief.

The demon at the door fidgeted, wringing his hands. "It means-"

"I know what it means," she snapped.

"Forgive me, Lord, of course you do." He yanked her head back out of her room, scuttling off to summon other servants.

Someone who didn't know how to summon her using a friendly portal wanted to speak with the Lord of Evil. Whoever it was had used magic that involved the blood of an innocent to open a one-way portal into the Night. Someone wanted something from her and it was her job to fuck them up as much as possible.

She stood as the servants arrived, bearing a selection of clean clothes. She grabbed at some jeans and a random shirt, kicking at one demon who was too slow getting out of her way, then dressed. They had quit trying to do that for her after some firm and violent discouragement. Lastly, she picked up the Amulet of Chaotic Evil off her side table. None of the lesser demons could handle it safely; they imploded if they touched it.

She slipped the chain around her neck without bothering to lift her hair out of the way. The chain was a symbolic element that didn't truly exist. The amulet snapped to the base of her throat, a smooth, warm pulse reminding of its presence as if it were alive. She felt her uniform of choice settle into place, concealing her real clothes, like a protective cloak.

Another demon appeared, holding a tray laden with red foods.

She walked past it. "Take it back. I'm going to eat topside."

Snagging the family battle axe, her custom bass guitar, from where it rested against the wall, she stalked out into the central antechamber. Ahead of her, a deep red portal swirled, like a pool of blood lit from within. She could guess some of what was on the other side, silly chalk lines, an impatient summoner with demands, but everything else was a gamble.

She growled at the interruption to her well-earned sleep and slung the axe over her shoulder. "Anyone poke an eye through?"

"Yes, my lady. An eye and ear stalk, though the first three were destroyed the fourth returned unharmed," her personal advisor reported, pointing at an unassuming demon bearing all of its sensory organs on spindly stalks. "So, this one lived."

"And?" she asked pointedly, directing her question toward the lesser demon.

Ze had the sense to tremble in panic. "I saw a bunch of humans. They had guns. Lots of guns. Kept going on and on about someone I never heard of but I figured they meant you, Lord. Some old guy was in charge. Wants, y'know, lotsa power, sexy ladies, gold and stuff. I dunno. The usual, probably."

"Well, they're not going to get the usual 'cause I was having a real nice dream and these bozos have ruined my breakfast."

"Yes, Lord," ze agreed quickly, misunderstanding the rhetorical nature of her statement.

"Go away," she said, kicking vaguely in the demon's direction.

"Yes, Lord!" ze crowed happily, running like a dervish when ze realized ze wouldn't be subjected to random or weird punishment.

"You're too nice to them," her assistant said, reprimanding her fondly.

"Bah, I haven't eaten yet. I'm not on the clock."

He smiled at her, dropping his gaze with a twist of burnt sienna wings. "As you wish."

"And you'll protect me if they get uppity."

"Always."

"Damn straight," she said, stepping through the portal before nerves got the better of her.

There were a group of heavily armed men with guns, swords and crossbows in a half circle facing her. Behind them, crammed into the small room, was a primitive cannon of some variety, pointed straight at the portal or whatever came through it. The walls were constructed of hewn stone with mortar but lacked windows. A lone door was visible, wood rather than metal, but she'd lay money on some hidden escape hatch.

Sure enough, there was a chalk diagram scrawled on the stone floor in an area that had been swept clean of dirt and straw. It looked like one of the pentacle designs with random garbage decorating each arm of the star. Right in front of her was a golden basin filled with dark liquid and her mouth watered for a second as the coppery smell reached her. She ignored it.

An old man in the finest and most ridiculous uniform stepped forward as his subordinates shuffled uneasily, metal scraping and leather squeaking. He was careful to stop before crossing the warding line, the toes of his shiny black boots brushing the chalk. He had his hands clasped behind his back, his shoulders back and his head raised. The faintest of chronic tremors betrayed his age.

"Are you Lucifer, the shining one?"

"Sure, why not. What's he look like? Should I glow? Sup, by the way." She wriggled her fingers in the air in greeting before resting that hand back on her hip. The other remained wrapped firmly around the neck of her axe where it balanced on her shoulder, the double bits hanging in implicit menace.

The old man frowned, wrinkles creasing his mouth and framing it in permanent displeasure. He squinted until his eyes practically disappeared and didn't return her greeting. He looked her up and down with obvious disdain, though his attention lingered lecherously along the way.

"I dunno," she said. "I'm getting the impression you're a real donkus. Got anything to eat?"

He raised a fluffy white eyebrow and pointed at the bowl. "We've provided the specified offering."

"Yeah," she drawled, concealing her growing anger. "That didn't come from that girl you tossed over in that corner over there, did it?"

The man began to look but stopped with a shake of his head. "Of course it did. She was not tainted; we made certain."

Marceline ground her teeth together, studying the corpse in the corner. It was way too small to be an adult, nothing but a limp, naked piece of human refuse. Very deliberately, she shoved the bowl full of blood with her toe, then kicked it over so it splattered most of its contents onto the old man's boots.

Every man in the room shifted nervously, weapons being aimed more firmly and she could smell the stink of fear.

The old man balled his free hand into a fist, sneering in outrage. "The texts made no mention of a woman. Assume your true form if you be Lucifer!" he ordered, throwing out his arms theatrically.

She yawned, scratching behind an ear. "Uh huh. This would be it but you really gotta be more specific. Sure you don't have anything I can eat? Because all I'm seeing his brown, crappy green, puke color and a bunch of really, really," she dropped the guise of humor, "really dumb patoots."

The old man sneered, a gradual twist of his lips until it bared yellowing teeth. "Not so stupid we couldn't summon you from your foul lair, Deceiver."

"Actually, that was the dumb part and my room is really nice," she countered, squinting an eye shut and pointing a finger pistol style at him."Last chance, donkus."

He hesitated at something he saw in her face but clearly couldn't appear weak or ignorant in front of his soldiers. He tried to hide it but there was no mistaking his surreptitious glances at them. He huffed.

She knew that gig and rolled her eyes. "Look, old guy. Right now, I'm not too pissed. I'm willing to be nice and let you dumbnuts see another day and burn another village or whatever you do for fun. You apologize for waking me up in the middle of the day and I'll go right back home. Whaddya say? Gonna be smart about it?"

He began to quiver, fisting his frail liver-spotted hand again. The pistol he held in the other shook with his rage. "I am General Howard and I command you, Deceiver!

"Uh, command me to what? Hello, specifics? " She pulled a face, flapping a hand in question. "And, it's Marceline."

"You are a woman!" he spat out, making less sense. "Return from whence you came and send forth your master!"

She slung her axe around easily until the head rested on the floor with a clunk. "Dude, you are rude."

"I am in control," he insisted.

She rolled her shoulders to work out some minor kinks. Then she levitated several inches off the floor, twirling her massive labrys like a baton instead of the instrument of war and symbol of rank that it was.

The general's haughty mask fell about the same time she crossed the warning boundary and froze into another expression when she landed beside him, a bit at his throat. She heard all the weapons in the room being re-aimed, the confusion when most realized their target was right next to their leader, the way many guns were lowered. She waited for the racket to die down before speaking.

She grinned widely to expose her fangs and teeth, elongating her upper and lower canines for added effect. It would slur her voice but that didn't matter at this stage. "You're totes not," she said bluntly.

The general shoved away from her, twisting quickly to aim his pistol, crying, "Now!"

She phased into an amorphous cloud seconds before bullets flew. Acrid black smoke filled the air, blurring the boundaries between her and it with every booming shot. She felt blades press through what would have been her torso and absorbed them so hapless soldiers withdrew stubbed hilts.

Then the general jerked, clutching at his ribs, shouting in reedy encouragement to his men as he stumbled backward. He held up a bloodied hand, inhaled deeply with a wince and scowled at her. He fumbled in his jacket pocket, coming out with some golden amulet he dangled in front of her menacingly. It looked like a bunch of crisscrossed squiggles to her and she held back in bemusement rather than fear.

"By the power of Alan, I command you to return to the underworld!"

"Huh?"

"By the power of Alan, I command you!"

She vaporized a couple of soldiers in rapid bursts of purple light, puffs of char wafting to mix with the smoke. She formed eyes and a mouth in the mist.

"Sorry, General Donkus, but I don't know any 'Alan' and even if I did, you don't command shit. I offered two minutes ago to go home but, no, you morons had to shoot at me. Now you want me to go?" she roared, swinging her axe despite a complete lack of hands, not looking when she felt meaty resistance and the crunching of bone..

The remaining soldiers were shouting too much to hear what she said or any orders their general might give. She didn't blame them. They were human and she was probably the first overtly magical being they had ever seen and their leader had been tragically misinformed. She hovered immaterially as bullets zinged one by one as soldiers reloaded and fired, turn by turn. It seemed a tedious process and the bullets tickled.

She could feel the haze slipping over her conscious awareness as the demon within sought dominion amongst the chaos. Alternately, she could rip them into pieces by assuming a bestial form. She could strangle them with tentacles. She could become invisible, taunting and confusing until they slaughtered each other in terror. Two men had already fallen from gunshot wounds, slain accidentally by compatriots.

She allowed her consciousness to take a step back and life became a dream. Her body reformed, near impervious to attack by their simple weapons. Her head split apart as the demon emerged, bulbous, horned head overshadowing her body, mouth split wide into a lamprey's maw. She laughed, a booming cackle that drowned out their screams as she sucked at non corporeal matter.

A soul sprung free from one man, wriggling pale gray as its former body crumpled uselessly. A second followed and when the soldiers comprehended what was happening, some screamed in shrill panic. Others waved amulets, fell to their knees or heaved with futility at the unbarred door that would not open.

She stopped before the old man, who stood impotently amidst the carnage. His eyes were wide, his amulet hanging limply and forgotten from a gnarled hand. It shook, causing the golden chain to rattle faintly. He watched her approach with a slack face.

"I was under orders," he explained hollowly, trembling like one of her petitioners in the Night. "We were ordered to find... to find...."

She studied him from a mental distance, experiencing neither pity nor anger. She could let him live the rest of his decrepit life, let him teach someone else how to open portals to the Nightosphere. The demon wanted to devour him on the spot just for kicks and brunch and her stomach cramped with real hunger from her recent exertions. She took a mental breath and pulled herself together, stitching her skull back into its normal shape until she shrank back into herself.

She dislocated her jaw to better reveal her elongated fangs and grabbed him by the thinning gray hair on his head. His fancy hat had fallen on the floor and been crushed in the melee. She lifted until he was on his tip toes, then forced his head to tip to the side, exposing his carotid artery.

"Is it going to hurt?" he croaked weakly.

She wavered. It had been a very long time since she'd broken this habit. Such a very long time, but it hadn't been much of a choice then, with humans going extinct.

"Not the first part," she said after a moment.

He began to pray and she allowed him to believe he was going where he thought he was. Her fangs slipped easily through the skin and soft tissue and the first bit of human blood almost brought her to her knees. Her vision blurred and she felt the demon stir again. She gulped quickly, then seized shaky control, adjusting her intent. Lifting off the ground, removing the strain on shaking legs, she started to drain the color from the blood rather than drink it.

Done, she stepped away from the insensate general, running her tongue over her teeth, inside her mouth, cleaning away blood residue. She spat it out. It was both nauseatingly coppery and a maddening tease that left her mouth watering and her senses disoriented.

She watched the old man gasp for air, clutching at his chest as his heart beat frantically, pushing blood no longer capable of oxygenating his body. She watched until he stopped lurching and flailing, until the last twitch. She waited for the last choking wheeze and inevitable limp stillness. Then she snagged his soul before it could escape with a single, hard inhalation.

She hung exhausted in the air, breathing harder than she ought as she pulled the labrys back over her shoulder. She would need to clean and tune it, but that could wait. Frowning in consideration, she surveyed the scene. Some of the soldiers were alive, surviving as soulless husks. Their bodies would keep going once the shock of forced transfer wore off. It would be a piteous existence devoid of emotion and her human self experienced a twinge of pity. But, that wasn't what bothered her, not really.

It had been oddly difficult to isolate the color from the blood, a struggle to resist taking it all for its heady intoxication. She could remember the sensation but the memories were dim. It had been so long ago, with magic permeating every natural process, when she learned the trick of separating color from substance. It was a magic trick at heart, which meant she was far from Ooo and the wellspring of chaotic magic, far around the globe and dependant upon older, bloodier forms.

It was good as well that she had fed on the souls but if she stayed in this land much longer she would need to feed the old fashioned way. She wrinkled her nose, scanning the room for signs of movement. When she saw none, she dropped to the ground, crouching to pick up a discarded rifle.

It was a heavy, cumbersome tool made from dark, polished wood and blackened steel. She saw no revolving cylinder or clip, so it was a single shot weapon. She fumbled with it, attempting to break it open but realized it didn't that way when she spotted a long push rod on the floor along with a bag of spilled round shot. She grunted. It was a primitive firearm compared to those she had witnessed as a child, but easy to produce. She threw it down in frustration.

The first of the soldiers sat up and stared vacantly at the wall ahead of him. His expression was placid and he showed neither fear nor interest when she approached.

She looked down upon him, feeling that twinge again and crushing it down. She began asking simple questions and a half hour later, she set the room on fire and made her way out of the underground bunker. Invisible to the human eye, she floated past two oblivious guards and hung within the recessed doorway, watching the bustling energy of the city.

The first whiff of smoke reached the entrance and she floated out of the way as the guards, startled and scared, chose to jog back into the bunker. Outside, the humans milled back and forth without concern. She saw some dressed finely and others in rags, shoved and cursed for their poverty until they huddled in alleys like frightened dogs. Others wore uniforms and armor, strutting about like peacocks amidst the filth and stench.

She took to the sky until the city shrank into an angular blob with arms reached out into the nearby countryside. Roads snaked away in all directions except to the sea which pressed blue gray against the city. Dotting the bay in a horde were single and multiple masted sailing ships, white fluttering in the strong trade wind. The sails dotted the horizon as far out as she could see, spread out in all directions, and her heart froze.

She shivered, rising higher into the sky until the city was a smudge of humanity on the coast of a continent. She could no longer make out the ships but her thoughts fell back to the guns used against her. Little guns meant bit guns. Many ships were a fleet and where there was one fleet, there were more. More and more guns floating upon the ocean and spreading out like a cancer.

She looked for the sun and began to fly toward it, skin prickling uncomfortably as her amulet struggled to shield her from it. She ought to open a portal back into the Night but a gut instinct drove her forward. Instead of going home, she flew higher, high enough that the air grew thin and frigid tearing bitterly at her lungs and throat. She squinted at the impossibly bright sun against the blackness of space.

Then she looked down, searching with transformed eyes for a mass of white dots in the ocean, clustered together and sailing east. Her breath came in shallow pants, freezing into mist, so she stopped trying. Lungs still, her heart followed suit after an agonizing twist of protest, blood pooling so that her skin mottled with sickly patches. The amulet throbbed against her neck, heat saturating her body as if a fire were in her throat.

There.

She torpedoed down and east, pulling up sharply over the exploratory fleet. There might be individual vessels out there too, but she wasn't as concerned about them. She tried counting the separate heartbeats, but there were too many, each ship crawling with humans. She gave up counting altogether, watching the activity on the decks as her skin felt increasingly raw and a protective haze dropped over her vision.

The ships were crewed mostly by armed men, some clothed excessively, others half naked. A good percentage were teenagers barely out of childhood and she spotted a small number of women. Some appeared to be functioning crew, others lounged temptingly, flirting with the men.

She started breathing again, deep heavy gasps, each breath a struggle. Picking a ship, she landed on its highest rear deck and slid to a sitting position in the shadow of a great sail. The burning eased but she didn't miss the trail of smoke that curled from her nostrils as she rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. Her head throbbed and the demon clawed at her throat but she rested, watching the crew of this particular ship.

Some men climbed up and down the rigging, others shouted orders or warnings. Some men washed the deck while others sat in groups repairing various items. She watched a man cuff a boy about the head over some error as a finely dressed man observed officiously. Her ears twitched at the cacophony of human noise, the slap of waves and cloth in the wind but below deck she could hear sounds of copulation, of struggles and conflict, the nasty sounds of malice and selfish greed.

Those sounds never changed over the centuries.

One of the fancy men walked a few feet in front of her, apparently bored. He went to the railing, resting a hip against it to gaze west. She couldn't see his face from her position, but the heat of his heart beating in his chest was plain as day to her. She stretched her legs out, scraping her high boot heel on worn wood. The man didn't hear, or if he did, assumed it was something innocuous.

To her right, on the lower decks, she could see guns lining the deck and smaller ones pointing forward. They were huge, black iron affairs and on the nearby ships, she saw tidy rows of portholes along the hulls. She'd wager those were more guns. She imagined banana guards with spears trying to face down a mob of organized humans armed with guns, of a man with a sword raising it in utter futility before spinning and jerking like a puppet under repeat impacts.

She stood up, leaning heavily on the railing, the strap of her axe digging into her shoulder like a razor. Throwing her shoulders back, she straightened her posture, allowing her hair to billow up as if it were a living thing. She walked, each heel hitting the wooden deck like a hammer and the man turned, expression quizzical.

His lips parted and he stared. His eyebrows went up into stunned arches as his lips pursed before the tip of his tongue peeked through and he said nothing.

She let him look. It was the purpose of her chosen outfit, after all and she knew exactly when his eyes fell on the revealed hip and thigh, then trailed up to her modest cleavage. She waited until his eyes fell on the gem around her neck and the glimmer of uneasy caution as he saw it glow.

She smiled.

He gasped, fumbling at his waistband for a pistol.

She stalked in closer before he could draw, fingers pinning down on his wrist as she pressed her body against his. Looking up slightly, she tipped her head, lips scant inches from his.

He was shaking but his lips parted. "Who are you? What are you?"

"I'm Marceline and you need to make your peace with God, Glob, Alan or whatever." She tilted her head further, leaning in closer. "Right now." She heard him gasp, utter a protest and his hands fell to her waist.

He dug in with his fingers, trying to shove her away. "Woman, I am not-"

"I," she said firmly, "am your end."

She sank her fangs into his throat, feeling him stiffen as his pulse throbbed against her lips. She grabbed him under the jaw and armpit, holding him absolutely still to avoid tearing open his throat. Her fangs could do the work; she didn't want the blood in her mouth again but, this time, she made no effort to take only color. She took it all and kept at it until his body sagged and his pulse faded.

She could hear agitated shouting behind her as she dropped the corpse. She heard more when she turned and some gasps and shouts of fear when the former man stumbled to his feet, undead. He swayed behind her awaiting orders and direction while she considered her options.

The men were pointing at her, shouting to each other and then pointing weapons. A fancy man was running to join the growing mob, trying to make himself heard. She released her line of thought and though the demon no longer crawled in her throat, she shot up into the air and dissipated into a black mist. She grew outward until she blotted the sun from all the ships.

As always, her consciousness dimmed into the background and she didn't care. People were born and died every day. People came and went, very few of them truly unique. They existed over and over and never changed. For all their passion and dreams, humans loved their weapons and they loved war. So she gave them war.

She rained down bolts of violet energy, wood shattering into splinters and when they retaliated with puny balls of black iron, she laughed like the booming of thunder that drowned all their fury. And when she tired of attacking from above, she hurtled into the ocean, spreading into a tentacled mass that flung arms around and about their ships, dragging them beneath the water. Humans were everywhere, small fleshy sacks spilling off ships, leaping into the water, swimming and sinking.

The screams seemed far away from beneath the surface as she picked off their ships, turning them over like toys and crushing each. The water frothed with wreckage, struggling humans and the carnivorous scavengers the blood drew. She kept at it, ignoring the sting of their guns, metal sinking into her body until they quit. When there was so much blood and debris that she could no longer see, she shrank and rose back into the air, water dragging at her hair and clothes as if reluctant to release her.

There were some larger pieces floating but they were on fire. People were still thrashing about everywhere but they were far out at sea and being eaten one by one. And she was so tired, despite drinking. Taking a deep breath, she wrung out her hair in a wet rope. Eyes stinging from the salt water, she opened a portal back into the Nightosphere.

She staggered into the antechamber, waving closed the portal with one hand, dragging her axe with the other until she reached the kitchen. She paced the anachronistic room with its white linoleum and chrome fittings, opened the refrigerator without taking anything from it, then closed the door in disgust.

Simon loomed in the doorway, the bright lighting of the kitchen highlighting the warm browns of his skin. He furled his wings tightly to fit through and watched her pace. "Are you all right?" he asked, his voice a rich timbre that normally soothed.

"No, I'm not fucking all right."

He held out his hands, oversized mitts with claws, really, and studied them helplessly. "I haven't been doing this job long enough to give you worthwhile advice, Marcy, but if you need a-"

"No. Go away."

"You're being childish."

"I can be a fucking five year old if I want."

He nodded reluctantly, padding closer. "And they would praise and indulge you for fear of damnation. Is that what you want?"

She sneered at him, face contorted and hair wild. "Right now? Yeah."

She saw him reach out with one hand but then she was gone, bleeding out the kitchen window in an oozing mist that crackled with fury. Below her, lesser demons fled as the shadow reached them, others too simple and foolish to run. And it was an easy way to live. The monster within given life by the amulet wanted nothing but fear and adulation. It wanted the tears and the screams and she let it have those things until her mind uncurled from its fetal position.

She found herself out in the abysmal plains when she reasserted her control. She huffed at the vacant land around her, smoke rising from fissures in the mirrored surface. Tiny demons scrambled about like ants, seeking shelter behind pebbles and random outcroppings of volcanic glass. She usually remained in the Hall of Judgment when transformed, with the occasional foray into the greater realm, but she was far from the citadel. She couldn't even see it, though she knew her location just as she knew where each and every demon existed at any given moment.

She drifted up into the murky red atmosphere, quelling an awkward, puzzling dissatisfaction that remained and floated back toward the citadel. Her anger — it was always anger — had faded into a familiar burning resentment and disappointment nestled in her belly. If she had wreaked havoc then it was fine. Heck, it was good for the ecology, she told herself, slipping back through the kitchen window.

When her stomach grumbled, she shook her head with another huff and opened the refrigerator again. Fits took up so much energy. She poked at the solid food, pushing around a carton of bug milk, some strawberries, a package of hot dog rolls and random condiments. She wasn't sure if she wanted red or solid food. Maybe it would be smart to have both, just in case.

She bellowed for a servant and had to wait longer than usual for one to peek its head around the door jamb. She almost vaporized it but then remembered why it was scared and drew on some regained patience. She wanted something greasy and salty, loaded with fat and no nutritional value, something deep fried and processed to death. And, she wasn't cooking it herself.

She was smearing ketchup and mustard on everything on her plate when Simon walked back into the kitchen.

"Won't that mess you up?" he asked, eying the ketchup.

She looked at the red paste coating her fingers, then licked some more of it, shrugging. It would.

Simon sat down, a ridiculous feat given his size. He dwarfed the rickety chair, perching more than sitting, really. "Was it that bad?"

She stuck her entire hand in her mouth, slurping at the condiments, knowing it would disgust him. "There were loads of humans. They had guns." She paused to cram fries into her mouth, grinding them into pulp with teeth ill designed for anything that wasn't meat. "And ships with guns, coming this way."

"To Ooo, you mean," he said, tacitly reminding her that topside wasn't her responsibility.

"Whatevs," she mumbled.

"It was only a matter of time before society recovered. History shows time and again that civilizations rise and fall and rise again. It's the cycle of human life."

She dribbled more ketchup onto her plate so it formed a red puddle, then dipped pieces of a hot dog in it. "I'm sick of it."

"That's no reason to go on the rampage you had today."

She stiffened. "Amulet's got a will of its own."

"No, it doesn't. If I believed it was anything like my crown, I'd rip it from your throat with my teeth. I would swallow it whole and pitch myself into space," he declared with desperate passion, leaning over the table so that it creaked. "But it doesn't. It feeds off your subconscious."

"All I'm hearing is science mumbo jumbo," she said, deflecting his analysis.

"And you're still lying because I know how many books you've read, how many you have squirreled away in that library," he said, pointing out into the antechamber, "and I taught you better, besides."

She slammed a fist down on the hapless table, baring her teeth. "You know, I just got to feeling better. Are you sure you wanna lecture me about psychology junk and question my choices?"

He was unmoved. "You thought I meant something else when I mentioned rampaging a moment ago," he said. "A possibility springs to mind."

She sniffed, looking away from him. "I should've let Death have you."

"And I would have wound up here anyway for all the sins I've committed." He shoulders heaved with a sigh. "Please, tell me what happened. It's always better to talk about it."

Her stomach turned and she shoved away her plate. "I kinda destroyed a couple hundred ships full of people." Fisting her hands together, she rested her chin. "Because I could, I guess."

Simon laced his hands over his mouth, obscuring his reaction, an index finger straight against his temple. "Because you could?" he echoed in question.

She blinked as the kitchen around her lost focus, going double and super imposing on itself. One was pink and one was blue and she smiled wishing she had three-dee glasses. "I guess they might've been peaceful but they're humans. Humans aren't peaceful."

"Neither are demons."

"Yeah. That's why we're locked in the Nightosphere by God itself." She went back to licking ketchup off her fingers. "What would you have done?"

"Attempted to parlay. Given them a chance."

"Give an enemy a fair chance and you may as well lay down and die," she growled.

She looked at Simon and his features blurred, growing wavy white hair and gaining a pair of broken spectacles. She remembered looking up in the sky at a passing bomber, an enormous missile dropping toward them as frigid winter winds whipped her hair and clothes into a frenzy. Simon was screaming into the sky, arms up and his hands bent into rigid claws as he chanted hoarsely. She didn't remember crying as she clutched Hambo, but he said she had and she believed him.

That bomb hadn't killed anyone, but it had meant the end of the world as anyone knew it.

"You asked what I would have done, but I'm not you. I barely remember who I was. Maybe I'm too optimistic to be giving advice, missing all my common sense."

She sunk her chin to her chest, slouching and sucking on her fingers. "I guess but I gave you the job and you're stuck with it til judgment day."

"Fine. Go wash your hands."

She eyed him peripherally.

"With soap," he specified, crossing his thick arms.

She got up and washed her hands in water so hot it steamed. It didn't hurt.

Two hours later, she was setting fire to a stage, figuratively speaking. There was fire enough in the Night, heat haze warping the horizon, an orange glow throwing dancing shadows. She shook the ground with her bass because she wasn't her father and split the air with screaming guitars. She was on one knee, genuflecting to the crowd of surging demons, bit of the axe digging into the stage floor as she fondled the strings.

She set the bass line and heard a keyboard fall in sync behind her, around her booming from the speakers and then the drums picked up the rhythm. It was drowned out by the blood pulsing in her ears as the crowd roiled with energy, waiting and she threw back her head to sing. She didn't need a mic anymore but it was old times, new times, the beat and lightning sharp energy radiating from her until she was flying on air.

Burly guards held back the crowd, kept them from trying to mob their liege, but she could see them, a writhing mass of wings, horns, beaks and tentacles with too many eyes. She could hear them roaring, snarling, squealing until they and the music screamed together, the noise throbbing with more intensity than the amulet at her neck.

She howled of blood and war and eternal struggles until her throat was raw. The colors and lights were too bright, her vision swimming and shifting but she didn't care. She drank in their adulation, their worship and fed on it like a glutton until the bass slipped from her grip, the strap pulling her down like a yoke.

She staggered up with assistance, allowing herself to be carried back to the citadel. She let hands hold and guide her through the psychedelic blur as she laughed and stumbled. She was led back to her personal chamber within the solid core of the citadel, not a window in sight. She wondered why it mattered if there was no sun and spun in a circle when they left her in peace.

But of course, Yaffe was waiting on her whim, walking toward her with smooth, regal grace. She heard a deep sibilant hiss, knew distantly that it was hers and the succubus shifted uncertainly. She leered at hir drunkenly, waiting for hir to make a decision, daring hir to make the wrong choice. Yaffe would be beautiful no matter what, two legs, four or more, smooth, furred or in between but there could be an incorrect choice.

Marceline smiled, unsteady on her feet, a pleasant buzz in her belly.

Yaffe became someone else, someone pink and Marceline swung her axe into the ornate floor, growling. She was shifting as well, partially into one form, then another as the mood took her. Her ears were ringing as they healed and Yaffe had the nerve to be pink.

"Idiot," she slurred at hir.

Oh, but ze wasn't stupid, no, because ze was a man, athletic and slender with the sweetest lilac eyes. That young man was coming closer, a smile curving his lips in welcome, so calm and confident.

Her head lolled to one side, lips parting with sluggish thoughts. She ought to cleave hir in two and sentence the two halves to eternal pain for the misjudgment. But she let go of her axe, leaving it upright, embedded in the floor, to advance on Yaffe. The sweet, cloying scent of sugar and strawberries filled her nose and she inhaled deeply. She whined.

"I should kill you," she said thickly as Yaffe nuzzled her neck and shoulder. "I should kill you," she repeated but her hands rubbed against hir pectorals, catching on hard nipples before tracking across hir abs. She swore, swallowing hard, unable to determine if it was the demon or her heart in her throat.

"It's not what you want," ze said, nipping at her ear, tracing hir fingers lightly over the bodice of Marceline's gown.

She pressed into the contact. "Get out of my head," she snarled, fisting her hands in soft gummy hair, too short to be familiar.

"You know that I am not, Lord," ze said evenly, smoothing hir hands down Marceline's ribs, waist and down to her thighs to pick her up.

Marceline shuddered, wrapping her legs around hir hips, grinding wetly against hir. She tightened her hands until her nails, becoming claws, dug into hir scalp but Yaffe gave no protest, lips searching and nibbling. She wanted to tear out hir throat but her hands softened instead. Her mouth was filled with sugar and she wrapped herself around someone who didn't exist. She closed her eyes with a moan, forcing herself to forget the screaming of damned souls.


Adjusting her schedule to match another ruler's was hardly a new experience for Bonnibel. She would send a messenger, or call on the phone, depending on her level of familiarity, and they would wrangle a mutually acceptable date. Nevertheless, she had never been in that position with Marceline. It had been years, decades, since she'd so much as called her by phone. What if she was busy or otherwise occupied with state affairs when Bonnibel opened a portal to the Nightosphere?

Then she would reschedule. The real question was what was driving her to procrastinate? Tucking her hands into her lab coat pockets, she ignored her chemicals and equations to gaze through the window. People walked through the streets below within the inner castle walls, people made of sugar, confections, pastries and fruit, but sentient people with lives and families. They were all free to do as they pleased, leave the kingdom if they wished. None of them had come to awareness and been informed it was their duty and responsibility to rule and protect, to fix every problem until worn and numb.

None of them were ever isolated by the growing realization that they possessed exponentially greater intelligence than any immediate peer. If she weren't surrounded by idiots, she would have long ago handed off her kingdom to an elected body of representatives.

She was crumbling a stick of chalk between her fingers, chipping off bits of flaking white, when Peppermint Butler cleared his throat.

"Your majesty, if I might offer a solution?"

She dipped her gaze past her shoulder, then raised an eyebrow mutely demanding explanation.

"If you are uncertain how to contact Lady Abadeer in advance of summoning, I might be able to arrange a mutually agreeable date. Er," he stammered, "appointment."

Bonnibel eyed him from the side without moving her head until her immaculate butler, valet and personal advisor fidgeted uneasily. She returned her attention to the scenes outside, through a window that might have as well been an impenetrable force field. Her chief of staff evidently had a history with the Abadeers, but he'd proven his loyalty to Bonnibel time and again. Perhaps he would offer an explanation, perhaps Marceline would, but until then, her only demand was that he always do his job.

"We would appreciate the assistance," she said, finally, dismissing him with her inattention.

Now, Bonnibel watched the clock on the wall, ignoring the faint stink of the bug milk, the refined secretions of a common aphidoidea, as it ran in rivulets over chalk lines, leaving behind a film of muddy residue on her private chamber wall. She smoothed down the panels of her stole, making certain her half cape was draped as fashion dictated in tidy folds. She fought the urge to check if her crown was seated on center and uttered the ancient latin invocation.

The wall split asunder, a small crack spreading into a swirling blue maw. She felt air displace around her in a breeze that sent some loose papers fluttering off her writing desk. Absently, she berated herself for not setting a weight on them in advance. Pale blue light filled her chamber, bright enough to drown out the sunlight falling on the floor tiles into a sickly green.

Marceline poked her head through, scanning the room suspiciously before looking at Bonnibel. "Sup?"

"Good morning," said a well trained part of Bonnibel, while the rest of her goggled at the woman who stepped through the portal.

She was expecting to see a conservative, well tailored business suit of a fashion long since out of popularity. Instead, Marceline wore a form fitting black, sleeveless gown slit high up on one thigh, red boots that went almost as high. A red sash wrapped her waist, falling in a twist off the exposed hip and the neck gathered to a red choker that housed the amethyst Amulet of Chaotic Evil. Her black hair was draped in familiar careless twists, but held back by a filigreed, silver brow band. It served to expose her pointed ears and throw faint shadows over her eyes, emphasizing their habitual glow. Bonnibel's mouth went so dry she couldn't speak.

She coughed gracelessly, raising a gloved hand automatically to her mouth.

Marceline grinned and Bonnibel knew she wouldn't demonstrate tact. "Man, I knew I should've grabbed a camera for this."

Fortunately, the ribbing gave her time to regain composure and clear her throat. "You're looking quite elegant but I admit, I was expecting the suit I saw last time. I thought it was part of the amulet?"

Though Marceline appeared to walk, she slunk with the effortless grace that suggested she was, in fact, levitating fractionally. "It was. Turns out I can wear what I want so long as it meets certain rules." She threw a crooked grin. "We haven't been wearing that dumb suit for the past million years or whatever."

"We?"

"The Abadeers, my family."

Bonnibel watched her drift about the chamber, fingering a book here, a vial there, examining her reflection in a mirror before catching her gaze through it, a sly smile curling lazy across her fangs.

"That makes sense. It would be logical to appear within a familiar construct, one mortals would identify as an individual possessing both power and influence without the excess that might result in instant recognition."

"Mm hm." Marceline finally moved toward Bonnibel, circling in too close to pass as formal. "So why am I here? Pain, pleasure or weird science?"

Feeling her back tense, Bonnibel tilted her head back to maintain eye contact. She almost gave a direct answer. "It's a bit of a social call and a bit of business. I've put this off long enough and..."

Marceline cocked her head, ears pricking toward the door, listening intently.

They heard authoritative footsteps at a rapid clip followed by thunderous knocking. "Hey, Peebs! Sorry to interrupt but you gotta hear this!"

A second voice murmured urgently, indistinct behind the heavy candysteel doors.

Bonnibel closed her eyes saying, "This is beyond statistical probability."

"Maybe," Marceline muttered but before Bonnibel could question her, Finn pushed open the door.

Jake and Peppermint Butler spilled in behind him, both appearing sheepish, though the butler was wringing his tiny hands.

Bonnibel held up a hand before he could begin his protestations and apologies, turning to face her royal champion. He was a grown man and understood manners and decorum, so if he'd insisted on bursting in, matters were likely urgent. "Good morning, Finn. Please state the nature of the emergency. If it is, then I will attend to it later."

"Uh," he drew to a halt, catching the warning in her formal choice of words. He bowed, stiffly. "Your majesty," he answered, eyes widening as he noticed Marceline watching drowsily from beside a wardrobe.

She waggled her fingers at him and Jake, then blew a kiss at the latter, who backed away uneasily.

"Toldja we should've waited like Pepbut told us to," Jake grumbled.

"Yes, well," Bonnibel interrupted the potential tangent, "I'm waiting to hear the reason you're here."

"There's a bunch of humans wrecked on the coast, your coast," Finn began saying. "Some are hurt pretty bad and they had a ship, or something, but it's in pieces. I tried to talk to them but they use some other language so we drew pictures in the sand and it looks like they were on a mission before there was a storm and they got attacked by a sea monster," he finished with a gasp for air, then flushed over the display of childish enthusiasm. He cleared his throat, hooking his thumbs on his jean pockets and looking at her expectantly.

"How many?" she asked, aware of her own eagerness leeching into her tone of voice, but not caring.

This was a far more appealing challenge than the one she had set out for herself. She hadn't seen other humans in decades, since the last few populations were decimated by battles and predation, and these newcomers sounded as if they brought technological advances. For their ship or ships to have come close enough to Ooo alone.... It was a miracle they had survived the voyage, never mind the smaller monsters that swam the coasts.

"A couple dozen," he answered promptly. "Mostly dudes, but a few kids and a couple of chicks."

She nodded, mentally planning how to offer aid while establishing her authority. She felt a buzz in her chest, an electricity in her bones, that she hadn't in ages. It was the burn of genuine, giddy excitement and she reined it back with a deep breath. Pure, unadulterated, intelligent humans, her mind whispered insistently.

"Peppermint," she ordered and he snapped to attention. "Gather guards, a doctor, appropriate emergency supplies and two, no, three carts."

"Are you sure it's a good idea to help them?" Marceline asked, a sing-song note in her voice indicating she disagreed with the decision.

Bonnibel watched Peppermint Butler hustle out the door, mostly to keep Marceline from seeing the expression on her face before she could wipe it smooth. "Perhaps I should allow them to sicken and starve, be eaten by any number of predators, or wander off and meet other potential allies, only to learn I left them on the beach?"

"That's kinda my point. Humans are trouble."

Bonnibel tamped down simmering anger, looking at Marceline. She was too excited to let the other woman spoil her mood with doomsaying and dour predictions. It wasn't that she misunderstood or didn't give the possibilities credence, but the potential gains outweighed the known risk. Finn was as human as those shipwreck survivors and he was as far from evil as Bonnibel knew. Whether it was his isolation or birth on Ooo, she didn't know, but it was ignorant to paint all humans with the same brush.

Something else niggled at the back of her mind, some tiny bit of paranoid suspicion over Marceline's blasé response to what should have been unprecedented, shocking news. Bonnibel knew she'd stared for too long when Marceline rolled her head, cracking the joints of her neck in aggravation. Then again, as old as she was, she'd probably seen this happen and considered it a tiresome repeat: More humans, more drama, what's for dinner?

Bonnibel grinned at Finn, dropping some of her royal façade. The moment slipped and caught as he smiled back, poorly concealed emotion softening his blue eyes. After all these years, it was still there, still worrying away at her nerves and leaving them both on eggshells. Her grin faltered into a prim, polite smile.

"Thank you for bringing this most excellent news to my attention."

"Yeah, it's fantastic," Marceline drawled, insincerity coating every word.

"Shut up," Bonnibel in the same exact tone of voice she'd been using with Finn, never looking at her. In her peripheral vision, Marceline raised her hands in compliant surrender.

"Whatevs. I'm going home. Got torturing to do."

Finn started, face falling. "You're not coming? I mean, you're half human, too. Don't you care at all?"

She snorted rudely, the contrast jarring with her image. "Bonnie's more human than I am, but if you want me to go with," she said in a long, suffering tone, "then I guess I'll go."

He bit his lip, wiping his palms against his thighs as Marceline walked up to him. His eyes darted down, then back up again, lingering here and there. "Nice threads."

Her fangs dimpled as she bit back a smile, eyes sparkling. "Lookit you go, remembering how to have manners." Then she snap kicked Jake who had been creeping ever closer and begun lifting the hem of her dress.

Jake stretched out of her boot's path in the nick of time, scampering back with a grumpy 'woof'. He made a rude gesture behind Marceline's back.

Finn jammed his hands into his pockets, hunching his shoulders. "Gotta learn sometime, huh?" His smile fell as he raised his eyes back to hers. "Guess it's called growin' up."

"Yeah," Marceline agreed in a sorrowful sigh.

Bonnibel squelched a frown before it could start. When Marceline had flippantly related her sexual involvement with Finn, she hadn't mentioned any emotional attachment. They had always been friends, not as long as Finn had fixated on Bonnibel, but more closely as pals after less time. They two fought beside each other, visiting each others homes and jammed away idle time Bonnibel hadn't possessed since childhood. She swallowed back the sour resentment.

It was good as well her plan for the day had been derailed.

"Why don't you and Jake go on ahead. I'll need to change my clothes and pick up some things before I catch up."

Finn jerked back, blinking in surprise. His cheeks flushed as Marceline turned away without missing a beat. "Yeah, that's a good idea. Don't wanna leave 'em alone for too long. They might think we weren't coming back and go get jacked up."

"Worse than they already are?" drawled Jake.

Finn shoved him on the head with a broad, calloused hand. "Be cool."

The two comrades fell into a friendly banter, seemingly oblivious to the two women they left behind, but Bonnibel knew better. She smiled, remembering a time when tact was a foreign concept to Finn.

She looked back at Marceline in time to see her jovial expression drop away like the well-worn, comfortable mask it was. Though she might have been whatever age passed for late teens among demons when she became a vampire, though she embraced joy and laughter with desperate ferocity, Marceline was old. Bonnibel has known her too long, has lived long enough herself, to be fooled, most of the time. The emotional extremes were painfully genuine enough, but Bonnibel had begun to wonder. At what age did one accept that the child's understanding of emotional truth was more correct than any adult concept of maturity?

It wasn't a new concept. She'd come across multiple iterations of the belief that wisdom could be gained through honest expression, often in the most unexpected of texts. It was an idea that humans had repeated throughout ages and cultures, in different languages, yet always the same conclusions.

She recalled the many times she had condemned Marceline's wild, emotional outbursts, until she'd learned to avoid objecting to prevent the violent rage that followed. Her silent disapproval had been met with silent fuming, departure and worse, sometimes pity buried beneath the hurt. Every time, Bonnibel had experienced an upwelling of impotent fury in response.

It hadn't been a healthy relationship by any standard, even as a peripheral friendship existing only because a traveling bard would sometimes prove too much the pest to ignore, hovering outside Bonnibel's window with her sorrowful ballads. She would croon, invisible in the dark, while Bonnibel worked with facts and figures, whiling away the night with soothing technical pursuits. She ought to have been sleeping, preparing for another work day, but when else could she pursue personal interests? Marceline would sing of grief and past loneliness while Bonnibel dreamt of building a better future and it began to grate.

Marceline had been a lead weight of cynical, bitter truth. She would view each invention with patronizing tolerance, that cold glint of humor in her burning eyes, an animal intelligent enough to recognize technology but not sentient enough to value it. But how that humor had flattened into silent condemnation whenever Bonnibel demonstrated some crafty weapon, a deadly poison or transformation potion. She would hover, observing the new creation, tapping a finger against a string of her bass, thum, thum, thum.

Bonnibel learned quickly to keep a sharp eye on Marceline lest she break something, ever so accidentally, carelessly as if science were beneath her notice. Until one day - was it one day? - many days? - she lost patience with the patronizing superiority, the willful ignorance and childish behavior. She began closing her windows and avoided dreaming of a life in a music-filled laboratory, far from any royal halls, soirées or congressional meetings.

The next she heard of Marceline, she was living with a low grade, but immortal, wizard in a junk heap outside the forest. Obviously, she'd been correct in gauging the sincerity of Marceline's intentions toward her. Just has she had known that Finn was too young to commit to anyone. Just as she tried not to be surprised by the considerable tension between the two, now.

She felt she ought to be pleased by the misery on Marceline's face. She tried to take satisfaction in knowing that Marceline was experiencing the same stifling limitations of ruling a kingdom, the same expectation that she would lead by example, but couldn't. Not because she found schadenfreude immoral or gauche, but because she suspected that ruling the Nightosphere might be quite different from any kingdom in Ooo. Maybe, despite earlier complaints, it was fun in a perverse way.

Going to her wardrobe, she nearly hit Marceline with the door, then rummaged through her shoes. She didn't need to change because her current ensemble would present the proper royal image, but she didn't need sand in her hosiery. She pulled out several different pairs of boots and as soon as Marceline stopped watching, bored, Bonnibel snagged her second accessory, tucking it into a concealed pocket. That done, she donned a pair of knee high boots and closed the wardrobe.

Bonnibel folded her hands together, watching Marceline snoop. "I'm going to call Lady."

Marceline's face never acknowledged the snub. Instead, she said, "I could take you through the Night, if you want. Port out to the beach."

Bonnibel considered. Both would be dramatic entrances highlighting her power and authority, but using Lady might undermine her efforts to reach an accord with Marceline. It might also be best to keep her flying unicorn a secret.

She nodded. "Very well."

Cracking open her chamber door, she found Peppermint Butler waiting, loyal as always. He jogged off, recruiting two guards to find Finn and Jake before they left the palace grounds. Then she turned back, taking advantage of the little time remaining to satisfy curiosity, if nothing else.

"Marcy?"

"Yeah?"

"You and Finn-"

"Aren't really a thing, so make your move."

"I have no intention of pursuing a romantic relationship with Finn," she bit out. "I smoothed out the political upset you caused, with no small effort, I might add."

Marceline held up a hand, palm out. "The Fire Kingdom abuts the Nightosphere, transdimensionally. We've a long standing treaty, you've got one with me and Finn is your champion." She smirked, still looking out the window. "You were never in any danger, no matter how mad she got."

"No, only the potential destruction of Ooo." Bonnibel ground her teeth in consternation. "You seem to be picking up politics quickly, for a musician."

That got Marceline to look at her, sunlight casting sharp shadows against her face. "My dad made me learn all that junk when I was a kid. I thought it was lumping lame then and still do." She held out her hands dramatically, "Politics! How to compensate for gross stupidity with more gross stupidity!" She leant back against the window pane. "Congrats. You get a gold star for gross stupidity because Princess Hot-butt is well aware of her limitations."

"Do you get off on being rude?"

"Kinda, yeah," Marceline said with an awkward, one sided shrug.

Bonnibel curled her lip. "Eighteen forever," she snarled. "Fortunately, some of us age."

"Did you summon me to yell at me? 'Cause," Marceline made a show of picking at her cuticles, "that's okay but it's kinda boring. I can get all the hysterical shouting and screams of agony I want back home."

Bonnibel took a deep breath, blood boiling in her ears, then counted to ten in her head. She took several more breaths before she trusted herself to speak. "Why do I let you do this to me? Or did you change me when you brought me back to life?"

Marceline curled her lips inward, biting back visible amusement. Then she shook her head with a long, drawn out, "Nope. Lemongrab got it from somewhere, after all."

Bonnibel dropped a shaking hand onto the nearby vanity. In all the years, she'd never determined what it was about Marceline that so infuriated her. That woman was a concentrated package of conceit, smug beyond the point of arrogance and she just wanted to... to.... The poor vanity suffered her wrath, tipping as she flung it away, scattering bottles and brushes across the floor.

"Oh, hey, wow, throwing furniture again, huh?" Finn said from the doorway. "Bad moment?"

Bonnibel began to answer, but then realized he was looking at Marceline.

"Aw, she was just jelly," Marceline said, flapping a hand in dismissal.

"I was not-"

"Heh, yeah," agreed Jake. "She gets pretty violent over it. Good thing," he stretched a fist out to Marceline, "that you can handle it."

Her smirk twisted and broke into a grin as she fist-bumped him in greeting. "Lookin' good, old man."

"Thanks to you," Finn said, having made his way over to her. He'd grown tall enough to look Marceline in the eyes, his helmet and white bear skin adding to the impression of height. He sidled in closer than proper, but she didn't move back to make room. "But I guess that's what you do, help us heroes out, huh?"

Marceline ducked her head, smiling, eyes curving with humor. She flicked a finger under his stubbled chin, forked tongue curling out as if to mimic the motion. "Aren't you taken?"

He shuffled his feet in scuffed black boots, hands jammed into jean pockets. "Nah. Flame and I couldn't.... Well.... But she's not mad anymore," he paused to throw a grateful smile at Bonnibel, "so we're friends. It's easier, I guess." He shrugged, breaking eye contact for a second, then looking back into Marceline's face.

For one second, no one was moving. Marceline was a sinuous twist of black, red and slate, the sun at her back, eyes like embers in the shadow. Finn was a towering block of blue and white, eyes soft beneath a jagged scar bisecting his brow, an irregular profile of a nose broken far too many times. Then Marceline's hair twined through the air, strands curling around his shoulders, the grip and pommel of his broadsword as she brushed her knuckles across his chest and took a step backward.

Bonnibel caught Jake watching her watch them and refused to lose her temper again. It would be pointless. The callow, oblivious boy had grown up into a blond, blue-eyed hunk that had half the brainless girls, boys and beings in between fawning all over him. If Marceline wanted to be one of his groupies, that was her business. Bonnibel wasn't adding herself to the list.

"We should go," she said.

"Yeah, before those two start making out on the floor," Jake said sarcastically, rolling his eyes and making elaborate lewd gestures.

Bonnibel swept past the laughing gaggle of friends, through the portal and into a stone room of blessed silence. She looked around the familiar antechamber of the Abadeer citadel in what looked like, and probably was, an excavated and furbished volcano. A number of ornamental stalactites had been left hanging, along with a central stalagmite. The circular chamber was broken by rough hewn windows to the outside, alternating with identical doors. She knew from past experience that the unsightly view through those windows was subject to change, but the family portraits remained stationary.

She took several steps forward to clear the path as the others followed and scanned the decor for any changes. Marceline had taken over the Nightosphere several years ago, so surely she would have altered her new home to reflect her tastes. As she moved slowly in reflexive caution, she caught shadows darting about in her peripheral vision, always gone if she looked directly. Those would be the household demons keeping themselves out of guests' sight, under standing orders from the Lord. It was meant to be a courtesy but it gave Bonnibel the heebie jeebies. She would rather face them directly in plain, reddish light than know she was basically being stalked.

She could hear the other three chatting amiably, jokes intersticed with continued flirtation, Finn's excitement pronounced in every raised shout. She parked herself in front of Marceline's chief family portrait, which featured a little girl flanked by her mother and father. There was a title placard on the frame, which she had tried to read on an earlier visit. Marceline had ushered her out of the antechamber with a scowl on that occasion, hustling her past what she considered private stuff. Bonnibel glanced casually at the group. They were still ribbing each other and Marceline had an arm draped around Finn's shoulders, a coy smile on her face.

Bonnibel read the placard, slowing down to translate it from the archaic human language called French. She frowned upon finishing. There was nothing useful, not even a name, unless something called 'Disney World' counted. Was that another dimension of Ooo? She scowled, dismissing the notion and blaming her nerves. It was obviously some Earth place from before the Mushroom War.

"I don't think she wants you snooping," someone rumbled.

Bonnibel sucked in her breath, squelching a gasp and clasping her hands behind her back. "Forgive me. I was under the impression this was a public room."

The demon who had spoken was massive, significantly larger than Finn. He stood on the balls of his feet, knees splayed like the haunches of an animal, but he wore semi-formal attire consisting of dress slacks, a button down and cardigan. He also possessed a furled set of bat wings, sweeping horns and deep set brown eyes, behind a hooked nose, darker than his pale brown skin.

The demon smiled, baring a mouthful of bright white fangs, and chuckled softly. "You always were so polite when you dissembled, Princess."

She stepped backward when he reached out with a clawed mitt to take her shoulder. "Pardon me, but have we met?"

"It's not my place to say."

He held out his hand, gesturing faintly that she should go with him and she fell in step beside him.

"I've been coronated," she informed him.

"I know."

She was considering who he might be when her attention was snatched away by another demon. This one was beautiful. There was no other word for it. It was androgynous, possessing a perfect, sinuous body, a smooth, angular face, full lips and voluminous blue eyes and silvery hair down to its shoulders. It was also slowly but surely dry-humping Finn, lips pressed against his, hands sliding under his shirt. It was simultaneously vulgar and mesmerizing. For the life of her, she couldn't look away from the pair. She could not.

All the same, Marceline was close enough that Bonnibel could see her wide, delighted grin at the show, apparently unperturbed. Then again, she had such a fleeting concept of relationships, it probably didn't occur to Marceline to be upset. Bonnibel wondered if she was wrong about them, if they were putting on a show expressly to spur her to some childish jealousy. She tried to close her mouth but only got as far as swallowing back saliva before her lips parted again. What on Ooo was happening?

Marceline laughed, a deep chortle that rose into a brief cackle. "Go on, Yaffe."

The demon slid off Finn, bowing slightly in obedience. It glanced at Bonnibel, a sly smile and wanton eyes pinning her in place.

"Guh," she tried to say.

"Yaffe," Marceline growled, no longer smiling.

The demon cowered, curling upon itself like a submissive dog. "Forgive me, Lord."

Marceline jerked her jaw toward the side and the demon slunk off at a quick jog.

Jake, who had watched the entire scene with a stupid grin on his face, wiped both paws down his jowls. "Oh, man," he lamented in awe.

Finn looked at Bonnibel unrepentantly, doing an awkward dance as he adjusted his jeans to no avail. He pointed a thumb over his shoulder, still squirming. "Succubus! How math is that?"

"What was it doing to me?" Bonnibel snapped, ignoring him.

"Ze's a succubus," Marceline said with exaggerated patience, as if that explained everything. "It's what they do."

"What's it doing in your house?"

"Jelly?"

"No, I just don't understand what...."

"Really?" Marceline asked, raising a dubious eyebrow and screwing up her face in patronizing amusement.

"I understand that a succubus skims off and feeds on sexual energy and I understand how that would be beneficial to you. What I don't understand is why you and Finn," she added forcefully, "are attempting to antagonize and manipulate me."

Marceline pulled a derp, putting a wounded hand to her chest, then turned it into a wry smirk. "Oh, well," she lamented, as if in defeat.

"Man, Peebs, you're no fun at all. I mean, c'mon," Jake winked at her, "didn't you feel the tiniest little bit of -"

"No," she cut him off, turning back to Finn. "Are there humans stranded on a beach or was this an elaborate prank?"

He looked at Marceline and the two traded a look Bonnibel couldn't interpret before he sighed. "Yeah, there are, but they aren't going anywhere. They were busy freaking out over everything they saw, last I checked."

Bonnibel crossed her arms. "Then maybe we should stop wasting time."

Marceline smirked wryly and opened the second portal with a wave of her hand. "After you, your majesty."

"Finn, Jake," Bonnie prompted, waving at the other two instead. "They've seen you already. Let's give familiar faces first."

Finn and Jake traded a look of agreement, heading through the portal first. Bonnibel waited several seconds, then stepped through to meet the humans.


Marceline took a moment to make her own adjustments before stepping through the portal after Bonnibel. Concentrating, she switched her default appearance back to that of a black business suit, white shirt, red tie with clip, red cowboy boots and a broad rimmed red hat in matching theme. She considered making herself more human to appear less threatening but the truth was, she wanted to scare the ever loving fuck out of the survivors. She wanted them to jump into the ocean and swim back to their home continent. So she left her features natural, but changed into a man.

Bonnibel was waiting for her right on the other side, posture elegant and relaxed but her expression went rigid. She looked up, down and back up again, checking out Marceline without ever changing her facial expression. It was impossible to tell if she was genuinely shocked, confused or maybe appreciated the new look. She smoothed her palms against her thighs, not quite wiping them, but obviously searching for a place to put her hands.

"Interesting," she said finally, switching her attention back toward the crowd of wary shipwreck survivors being greeted by Finn and Jake. "Ready?"

Marceline followed on her heels to create the appearance of unity, closing the portal behind them, feet firmly on the ground. She didn't want one of her servants poking a head through to ask any silly questions and scare their 'guests'. Sand wet from the morning tide dragged at Marceline's boots. It was probably murder on Bonnibel's heeled boots but it didn't show in her graceful motion or poise. She stopped a pace behind and to the right of Bonnibel and struck a casual, confident pose, hands loose, expression as impassive as she could manage.

Ahead of them, Finn and Jake were communicating with the humans through a variety of charades and pictures drawn in the sand. The group appeared to be led by an older man with shaggy salt and pepper hair and a thick, mangled beard. His clothes were a sodden, ripped mess, but the colors looked brighter and they bore some brocade and embroidery. Gathered in a tight, nervous knot, approximately two dozen equally ragged men, three women and two children milled behind their leader.

Behind them, mostly submerged in the receding water was the ruined hulk of a three masted ship. A set of hashed rags served as emergency sails and repairs were visible along the hull. Dark ports revealed the snub noses of cannons and Marceline cursed the fatigue that had made her leave before properly checking the field of battle. Bonnibel might not know what she was looking at, but she'd figure it out soon enough.

"Can you understand them?" Bonnibel murmured without looking at Marceline.

She frowned, debating how to answer. She could claim she didn't but Bonnibel would be smart enough to notice if she slipped over anything. If she admitted she could, Bonnibel would know she had been in contact with other human cultures.

"I'm a bit rusty, but it sounds familiar," she said, fudging the facts.

"I'll need you to translate for me. Just do your best but please don't embellish."

"Yes, ma'am," Marceline drawled.

Bonnibel threw a quick suspicious glance at her before returning her attention to the conversation occurring between Finn and the leader. Soon, there was a great deal of repeated pointing in Bonnibel's direction and Marceline heard her take a deep, fortifying breath.

"Let's go," Bonnibel announced, stepping forward to meet the man walking toward her hesitantly.

"Greetings. I am Queen Bubblegum of the Candy Kingdom and this is Lord Abadeer, who will be serving as my translator. You have already met my champion, Finn and his companion, Jake. We welcome you to our land, despite these regrettable circumstances and wish to offer you whatever assistance you may require."

The human leader goggled, looking between them, his eyes darting down and back as if he wanted to dash back to his group. He firmed his posture, raising his chin, lips shut tight but the pallor of his skin and dilation of his pupils gave away his anxiety. At least, it did to Marceline.

His mouth opened, shut, then opened again as he spoke. "I am Captain Roberto Ortiz, from the port of Tin Sea. We come in peace and seek refuge. We are the sole survivors of a monstrous attack by... by...." He stammered nervously, shaking his head. "By something impossible, a monster from fairy tales."

"There is no need to explain, Captain Roberto Ortiz. My champion already related the basic details of your plight. My people will arrive soon to provide medical aid and assistance."

Ortiz looked out toward the sea, at his sunken ship and drew a hand through his beard. "I do not know what we will do. It was a long voyage and we have nothing left. We have no means to repay your generosity."

Bonnibel smiled reassuringly. "I believe that if you permit me to study your sailing vessel, I could have another constructed, if you wish to return home. It would be to mutual benefit and serve as more than satisfactory compensation."

Marceline bit her tongue repeating the strategically unwise offer and something of her opinion must have shown because Ortiz' eyes hardened as he listened to her. The lines around his mouth tightened as he assessed her level of threat, gaze fixating on her ears and fangs.

"We do not wish to impose upon your hospitality, Queen," he demurred

Bonnibel insisted and so it was, Marceline translating for both until Finn began to add comments. She tuned out much of the tedious pleasantries, circular phrases and empty words as the two politicians took each others measure. Her inattention seemed to put Ortiz at ease, which was good as well. After reaching a temporary accord, the two leaders approached the group, Marceline trailing along quietly, keeping her gaze indistinct and level.

The other humans scattered into a circle, placing the women and children behind them. Most sets hands on weapons without drawing any, but the clicks and rattles had the hair on the back of Marceline's neck standing erect. She drew power to her, preparing to unleash a storm of magic and fire if necessary.

Bonnibel defused the tension with smooth, honeyed words, her tone of voice imprinting the words Marceline repeated as inoffensively as possible. She needed to repeat herself several times at first because the humans were preoccupied with examining their strange benefactors rather than listening, much to Bonnibel's irritation. Spotting no weapons aside from Finn's sword, the men folk had circled in closer.

To her credit, Bonnibel resisted striking the humans who poked at her pink skin or pulled her hair for several minutes before slapping one. Jake laughed and tolerated the petting and prodding as if it were a grand old time. Marceline soundly cuffed the first one who tried, knocking the man to the ground with casual ease, ignoring Bonnibel's rebuke.

The man jumped up, drawing his pistol but before he could raise it, Finn stepped between them, arms spread.

"C'mon guys, cool it. Enough with the poking, right?"

Marceline bared her teeth, daring the man to shoot, desperately hoping he would give her an excuse.

He didn't. He holstered his weapon, dusting sand off his baggy trousers and hands. He dropped his eyes and head with a submissive jerk, making an odd gesture at the same time.

Marceline narrowed her eyes but couldn't tell from the reaction of his comrades if it was rude or polite, so she ignored it. She stepped back behind Bonnie, watching with lidded eyes, speaking on autopilot when required. She waited for the inevitable lull that would occur once initial greetings had been finished, tensions eased and everyone sat back to wait for the rescue caravan.

Eventually, Bonnibel took a seat on a large piece of driftwood, the stump of some uprooted tree gone gray in the salt water and sun. Ortiz perched gingerly beside her as they traded words and translations, Bonnibel rapidly picking up on the basic vocabulary of the new language. With her attention thus diverted, Marceline focused on the ship.

She counted the cannons she could see and began feeling out the iron, the way it trapped heat from the rising sun. Then she directed intense flames around each gun, melting them into slag one by one. She wasn't prepared for the massive explosion and billowing black smoke that burst in a spreading cloud from the back of the ship.

Splinters of wood and ash showered everyone, the distance sufficient to avoid shrapnel injuries, but everyone had flattened to the ground except Finn, Jake and Marceline. She stood with eyebrows raised, watching the fire that grew to life, consuming the wood. Taking off her hat, she shook off debris and replaced it before checking to see how Bonnibel was taking the destruction of her intended science project.

Bonnibel wasn't looking at the ship. She was glaring in mute fury at Marceline, lips in a line so tight they were nearly white. A muscle worked in her jaw before she turned back to Ortiz, putting a hand on his shoulder and inquiring as to his health.

He was unharmed and proceeded to explain that their guns used a highly volatile black powder. A barrel must have rolled, striking the stock pile and setting off the entire lot. It was deeply unfortunate but with access to three simple ingredients, they could make more.

Off with the group, Finn had ceased entertaining his fellow humans with charades. He stood with his arms crossed, looking out at the ocean, at the burning wreckage. He turned his head, looking straight at Marceline, a harsh frown marring his face. He held her eyes for a moment, then turned his back on her and rejoined his friend, Jake.

Marceline slipped her hands in the pockets of her wool slacks and watched the fire burn, meditating on the orange, red and blue and shimmering haze. Humans were so lumping fickle, friends one moment, bitter enemies the next, then suddenly dead, a moldering skeleton in the dirt. Fire, on the other hand, was a constant. It began and ended the same way, with the same intent and she'd watched so many things burn over the centuries. All she needed to do was wait long enough and everything would burn down around her.

Most of life was waiting and she was so very good at it. She dozed, half aware, using levitation to maintain the appearance of standing. Around her, the new humans gradually began approaching Bonnibel individually, asking questions with gestures and drawings when vocabulary failed. Ortiz got up off the log to speak to the other men, one by one, smiling and gesticulating, pointing toward the Queen, before returning to his informal seat of authority beside her. No one approached Marceline, cutting a wide berth around her when necessary, though she was often aware of sidelong glances or an occasional intent gaze.

The humans were playing a game, sitting around some cups and dice when the rescue convoy arrived, three open carts pulled by bulbous, mutant horses. The humans stopped playing, pointing and shouting, gaping openly. When the banana guard in the lead cart dismounted, a nervous energy swelled within the group, a shuffling of feet and anxious looks despite what they had been told about the proverbial natives.

Then one of the men started sniggered, covering his mouth and the laughter spread throughout the group. A few humans remained sober and suspicious, but most surrounded the guardsman, staring, pointing and trading comments.

Marceline sharpened her gaze, turning to watch the humans in case the gregarious crew turned into a vicious mob. She headed for Bonnibel, feet shuffling through the drying sand with each measured step, but she kept her attention on the group. When she reached the two leaders, Ortiz was looking at her thoughtfully, a wary gleam in his eyes whilst Bonnibel barely concealed her irritation.

He and Bonnibel stood simultaneously, shifting their attention to each other.

Ortiz smiled congenially, pinching one end of his moustache. "It would seem the promised rescue party has arrived."

When Bonnibel looked at her expectantly, Marceline bit back a protest and translated his overture and the smarmy, flirtatious exchanges that followed. Mostly, she kept her temper by pretending that Bonnibel was talking to her, rather than him. Though, when Bonnibel gave her a lidded, condescending look partway through, Marceline figured she'd guessed her strategy and didn't think much of it.

She felt Ortiz' eyes on her but when she snapped her gaze toward him, he ducked away, concealing the motion as a turn toward his waiting crew and the approaching guardsmen. Marceline was forced to let him go as Bonnibel took the lead and split off to give orders.

Bonnibel took the first wagon with a few men and all the women and children. Finn and Jake took the third. Marceline assumed she would take the second and was heading toward it when she was stopped.

"Lord Abadeer, if you'll come with me," Bonnibel called out, pointing a guard toward the second wagon. "Captain Ortiz will be driving the second wagon."

Marceline halted, unable to prevent the sneer of disapproval but wiped it off her face before turning around. She understood how solidarity worked just fine. She wasn't going to let Ortiz see an easily manipulated divided front. Winning a fight wasn't all about how hard one could swing an axe, after all. Winning a fight was rather like pulling off an excellent prank, only the victim died.

She walked casually back to Bonnibel, bowing her head in the least deferential of nods. "Your majesty."

Bonnibel's eyes narrowed again and she held her gaze for a heartbeat before climbing the side step up onto the driver's bench. Once she slid over to make room, Marceline climbed up, pausing to study their passengers. The children, who she knew were actually functioning crewmen looked back at her with wide eyes. The women were openly fearful, dim terror mixed with resignation.

One of them, a woman with dark brown hair and hazel eyes looked back with more calculation than fear, her arm wrapped around the youngest boy. She studied Marceline more closely before her gaze drifted to Bonnibel in speculation. A quizzical frown grew on her face and Marceline could guess what she was trying to decipher. She wanted to know why a man was taking orders so readily from a woman. Or she was wondering if it was a ruse.

Well, it was so she didn't blame her for being suspicious. Marceline smiled faintly, just enough to expose a bit more of her fangs and reveal that all of her teeth were pointed and the woman blanched, holding her child more tightly.

"Leave them alone," Bonnibel warned under breath, barely audible.

"They're suspicious."

"Of course they are. They're stranded in an alien land surrounded by what must seem like monsters. They've no way to gauge our honesty or intent. Caution is natural."

Marceline grunted, stretching at arm along the backrest. Bonnibel would need to either tolerate the warm weight around her shoulders or scoot forward the entire drive. She waited with bated breath to see what image Bonnibel chose to portray.

Bonnibel stiffened at the contact but didn't move away from it.

So, maybe the queen did sense some of the danger involved and potential threat the humans represented. Or she was merely determined to ignore Marceline's provocations on general principle. Marceline slouched down, presenting the image of cultured ease but kept her ears tipped back, listening.

Ortiz was trading terse comments with his men but they seemed innocuous, as best as she could tell over Finn and Jake's volume. Those two were still doing their best to tell as much as they could about Ooo, the Candy Kingdom and their adventures as possible, despite the language barrier. She ground her teeth.

"What is it?" Bonnibel asked, flicking the reins to encourage their horses to pick up the pace.

"Finn and Jake are spilling as much info as they can and Ortiz keeps whispering about something," she replied as quietly as Bonnibel had asked.

"Well, I might have more cachet with them if someone hadn't blown up the humans' ship," Bonnibel said, facetiously.

"I wasn't trying to blow up the ship."

"Doesn't matter. You did and now our hero is more sympathetic toward them than he is interested in following my counsel."

"Then I think he's in for a rude surprise."

"You mean, like the fact that you destroyed their fleet?"

Marceline sucked in her breath, air whistling through her teeth. Then she mentally cursed her lack of composure. She scowled, refusing to defend actions she felt justified.

"You're not going to deny it?"

"Tell you what. Next time, I'll let the human navy make landfall, overrun Ooo and shoot everything in sight. Then you can take comfort in your superior morality."

"If I were sending out an exploratory party, I would arm them against potential hostiles. It wouldn't mean they were a hostile force."

"Yeah, but your navy would be harmless candy people who are too dumb to run from anything, never mind invade a country."

A tic started at the corner of Bonnibel's eye. "I won't be side-tracked into a debate on the merits of candy life forms."

"Sounds like there's trouble in paradise," a human woman said sarcastically to another, from behind them.

Marceline rotated her head one hundred and eighty degrees to face their passengers. "Who said anything about paradise?"

The women had the good sense to gape and fall silent, cowed temporarily if not forever.

She rotated her head back into a normal position, raising a nonchalant shoulder at Bonnibel's inquisitive look. "They thought we were squabbling."

"We were squabbling," Bonnibel said sagely, guiding the horses and wagon around a deep rut.

Marceline smiled warmly because it was what their passengers wouldn't expect and they dropped the subject by mutual consent. Bonnibel would rip her throat out over it later, no doubt, but there was no reason not to enjoy her company for the time being. She kept her ears tilted back, braced herself against the uneven ride and lost herself in a fantasy that involved going on a picnic and a carriage ride, stupid romantic shit that would never happen.

It was pleasant enough and the humans made nice the entire way to the castle, though they became more vocal and animated the closer the wagons approached. They began standing to achieve better views, pointing with excitement at routine sights such as candy people traveling the road, confectionary buildings, the two giant guardians further in the distance and the pink and white castle itself with its many turrets and crenellations.

Marceline tried to see it through their eyes and dimly recalled Simon reading from a book of fairy tales when she was a child. Skyscrapers, airplanes and nukes were the fairytales now, her entire childhood nothing but a children's tale. She remembered bounding and leaping ahead of Simon as they were pursued by men with guns, always hounded like animals if spotted by humans. She wondered what the moral of the story was.

Once inside the inner bailey, Bonnibel pulled the brake as the other two wagons pulled abreast. Marceline hopped down first and when Bonnibel looked at her expectantly, she offered her a chivalrous hand down. She was turning to watch the human men before Bonnibel was on the ground. So, she saw the humans encircle Finn and Jake, smiling, laughing, patting the man on the back and shoulders in camaraderie.

At about the same moment she realized the women and children had stayed in their wagon, the men circling Finn and Jake mobbed the two heroes. Three shots were fired, gray smoke obscuring the group, before Marceline reached them, hurling the nearest human through the air. He landed heavily, his bones making decidedly unhealthy noises and he rolled on the ground, moaning and crying.

Finn went down under a dogpile while Jake rolled under the impact of gunfire. Forced to choose, she grabbed two more men, each by the neck and struck their skulls together with a meaty crunch. Tossing them aside, she reached for another but the pile burst up as Finn shook them off, roaring a battle cry. He drew his sword, heedless of the gun barrels pointed at him.

Marceline transformed, throwing off any semblance of humanity and growing to an enormous size. Her winged, horned form cast a shadow across the entire group and drew their fire from Finn. Below her, he charged forward, slashing and thrusting at the unexpected enemy, clearing making a path for Jake. Then the humans needed to reload their weapons and the tide shifted.

Marceline set fire to several men, vaporized two more and bit another in half, flinging the bloody sections into the fray. She heard human screams and an unholy caterwauling that was probably her demonic voice reverberating off the stone walls. Then she heard Bonnibel.

"Stop!"

She swung around, discarding the human she meant to disembowel, heard him scream in terror as he fell to the unyielding cobblestone ground. Back by the first wagon, Bonnibel was back against it, facing down two men. One was Ortiz and he was raising a pistol.

Before he had it level, Bonnibel was moving into an attack, capturing his arm and wrist, side-stepping and spinning to hurl him into the second man who came at her with a sword. She parried it neatly with the back of her arm, threw a right hook and took the man's sword.

Ortiz had scrambled onto his knees, but rather than waste time standing, he raised his arm to shoot.

Marceline roared, a booming, multi-tonal sound that shattered his concentration for a split second.

Bonnibel swung and arm out, as if pointing, and the sharp report of an automatic pistol filled the inner bailey.

Head snapping back under the impact of a comparatively tiny metal bullet, Ortiz tipped to the ground, his crude wood and metal handgun slipping from his grip.

Marceline didn't hesitate, advancing on the swordman Bonnibel had parried, meaning to dart in and rip him into bloody pieces.

Throwing down his sword, with a panicked glance at the wagon, he backed up until he tripped, falling to his knees. He started begging, pleading, crying and then he did the one thing that could stop her. He prayed, face pressed into clasped hands, babbling a string of promises and vows until he said, "I pledge my body and soul, O' Lord Abadeer!"

Marceline froze and shrieked her outrage, claws outstretched. She could smell blood, vomit, feces and urine all around her, some of that stench coming from the man cowering at her feet. She hissed, darting her tongue into his face but he was shaking, tears running down his face, unable to show more fear.

He wrapped his arms around his head, huddling on his side as the women in the wagon screamed.

"Marcy! Enough! It's done!" Bonnibel grabbed her nearest wing, pulling.

She shifted back to her normal form, tired of the charade and seeing little remaining purpose in it. "Yeah, whatevs."

The man at her feet started, looking up when he heard her voice. His mouth opened and he gaped, nonplussed. He tried to rise but shook too badly. Giving up, he knelt back on his heels, staring at her. He wiped a filthy sleeve across his face, smearing away tears and snot. He took a better look at her.

"Be that your true form, demon?"

Too tired to explain that she possessed two default forms, and seething with unexpended rage, Marceline said, "Yes."

The wagon beside them creaked as the women and children within stood up, one by one, taking in the carnage around them.

The man looked up at one woman and smiled shakily. "Hey, Ruthie," he said weakly. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay, honey. It's okay." Ruthie, the woman with brown hair and hazel eyes, looked down at Bonnibel and Marceline. She kept running a reassuring hand through her son's hair, an absent-minded parental gesture. Spotting Ortiz' body, she spat in its direction.

Bonnibel jerked as if she were a puppet and someone had pulled her strings. Tucking away her pistol, she walked out to survey the ad hoc battlefield.

"It's not okay," said Finn.

Marceline made herself turn and face him rather than give into agitated fatigue and leave.

"You killed all of them," he said contemptuously. "I guess you had to finish the job, huh? Or did you think I was still that little boy, too dumb to see you pulling strings? Who else could be a deadly storm cloud or kracken? Why don't you kill me?" He jabbed a thumb into his chest and his face into hers. "I'm human too!"

Her lip curled. "I am not in the mood to explain and you aren't entitled. Get the fuck out of my face, you naive little twerp."

Finn drew his sword without saying a word.

She listened to the scrape of the red blade, then ignored it. The sword was fashioned from the blood of a lesser demon. It couldn't harm her. Behind her, she heard the surviving humans talking quietly, making no move to fight or flee. She blew smoke out of her nose in twin jets of gray.

"Guys," Bonnibel interrupted cautiously, "why don't you think this over and discuss it another day?"

Finn wheeled on her. "Don't you get it? She's responsible for the whole mess? They were human! Do you know what it's like to be human in Ooo? Do you?" The sword in his hand shook, the point wobbling. "Every day of my life, dressed up like a lumpin' animal because humans are unnatural freaks worse than second class citizens! And I could have.... They...."

Bonnibel jumped back as he swung the sword wildly, the edge wedging into the side of the wagon. "I do understand. I can-"

"You mean intellectually?" he taunted. "You understand everything," he said with a grunt, wrenching the sword free, "except what she really is," he finished by pointing the tip at Marceline. "Her dad was a real piece of work, but she takes the cake," he said, his tone blending into insinuation on the final word as he raked his eyes over Bonnibel.

"Don't be a hypocrite," Bonnibel said, so mildly her voice might've cut through butter.

Jake limped up behind her and spat out several bullets, retching at the taste. "And don't be stupid, bro'," he added.

"Jake?"

"What?"

"How can you side with her?"

"I'm not. I'm siding with my kids and Lady. Where Peebs goes, Lady goes and I'm not getting myself banished over this malarkey. You're my brother, you're special, but I'm a dog. I don't care about a bunch of humans I never met more than my own family. That be cray."

The tip of Finn's sword touched the cobblestones as he stared at Jake in growing desolation. His eyes were bright with unshed tears and he closed them, covering his face with his arm before sheathing his sword. He swallowed hard, looking at the few survivors who watched him back, warily. Composing himself, he straightened, raising his chin and looking down at Bonnibel.

"I'm not letting you keep them, as prisoners, permanent 'guests' or science projects. They're coming with me."

Jake cocked his head. "Maybe they don't wanna go with you. Maybe they got their own ideas."

Finn balked, then frowned in frustration. "Either way, I won't let you-"

With a subtle shift in posture, Bonnibel dismissed his bravado. "I've no intention of forcing them to do anything that they do not desire to do. I was forthright with my intentions from the beginning," she said bitingly. "I suggest we stop wasting time and ask them." She jerked her chin, "Marceline?"

She'd been hoping no one would notice she was still there, that she might creep away or pop off through a portal. Well, it had been a pretty futile notion. She turned her head, making eye contact with the surviving man.

"You got a name?"

"Seth Mac'n'tire."

"All right, here's the deal. Everyone's pissed. The queen says you're welcome to stay same as before. Finn says you can go with him. He lives out in the central plains. Nice area, but you'd have to build homes and stuff."

"But I've pledged my soul to you," Seth said, dubiously.

"Yeah," she drew out, "I didn't ask for that, but it's binding so I get it when you die. Oh and, uh, I can sort of mind control you if I want."

His eyes bugged out, but rather than protest, he turned to Ruthie and repeated, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"If it saved our lives, that's horseshit, honey. I'm glad you did, for me and our boy," she said bravely, despite the quaver in her voice.

Marceline flapped a hand in exasperation. "Pay attention, dude. You can do whatever you want except cause malicious harm to any living thing. And you gotta watch out 'cause lots of stuff in Ooo has faces."

Seth stared at her. Ruthie stared at her. The other two women and kid stared.

Finally, Ruthie asked, "Aren't you Satan?"

"Heck, no. That was my great-great-bunch-greats-great grandpa. I'm Marceline Abadeer, Vampire Queen and Lord of Evil."

"And you are allied with Queen Bubblegum of this Candy Kingdom?"

"Yup."

Ruthie looked between them as she frequently had during the journey. She seemed puzzled. "And you've no intention of enslaving us, stealing our souls, devouring our children, dragging us to hell?"

"Nope."

"But you are the Devil? Or is that another of your relatives?" she asked facetiously.

"Uh, that's an old title, but yeah, I'm the Devil. You can call me that. Most people use my name, though."

Ruthie puzzled over all the information, then clambered out of the wagon, followed by the others. She joined Seth, patting him over to check for injuries. Finding nothing significant, she embraced him for a moment before looking back at Marceline. Her expression was shrewd.

"That one," she pointed at Finn, "is he human, like us?"

"Pretty much."

"I would like to see him without the helmet and bearskin, if it would not cause offense, Ma'am."

She raised her eyebrows at the address, but passed on the request to Finn as neutrally as possible. He was equally civil and removed his headgear, smoothing back his mass of bright, blond hair which fell to his shoulders. He raised his chin, turning his head from side to side to demonstrate the lack of outward mutations, then grinned to show normal teeth.

Bonnibel stepped forward, catching Marceline's attention. "Explain that they needn't decide immediately. They're welcome to dinner, bathing facilities and rooms for the night, or however long necessary for them to come to a final decision. I swear that they will not be restrained so long as none engage in willfully harmful behavior."

Ruthie was looking at her attentively by the time Marceline turned back to her. "Yes?"

"The queen says you can kick back here until you make up your minds and she swears you can go loose anytime you want so long as you don't jack anyone."

"Jack?"

"Cause trouble, hurt someone, destroy stuff, that sort of thing."

"That's perfectly reasonable," Ruthie said, in implicit agreement. "Please allow us to discuss our choices."

Marceline strolled over to Bonnibel, planting her hands back in her pockets. Because she'd set the amulet to generate a suit, she was back in one despite switching back to her female body. She'd fix it when she had a minute. In the meantime, she crooked a finger under her collar, tugging to get some extra room. It kept chaffing her bite scars.


Bonnibel leaned against the door of her private quarters and temporarily gave up on regal composure. She had always enjoyed learning but today had tested her limits. There were humans, multitudes of them, living on other continents of the planet. There were humans and Marceline had known about them and their technology for centuries. She had known of their violence, murder and perfidy and never spoken a word. And maybe she went out every now and then and protected Ooo's borders.

It was barbaric and she never would have credited Marceline, the narcissistic, self-absorbed punk rocker with having any sense of responsibility. But the Marceline she remembered would never have relieved her father of his burden, either. Perhaps she was attributing too much altruism to acts Marceline might consider strictly self-preservation. Maybe Finn had it right.

She looked up to see the topic of her consideration stalking away in a wide arc, expression sullen and wary.

Bonnibel had listened to Finn. She had given the human survivors a chance. She had offered every opportunity for a fully recovery. But it seemed that humans, on the whole, were fearful, paranoid and unable to recognize an ally past outward appearances. They had been so confident, so arrogant in their ignorance, smiling and laughing as they planned their treachery. They had thought to take the castle from her, to murder her despite their few numbers and weakened state. Were humans fundamentally stupid? Was Finn's heroism a naive refusal to consider failure?

"I should go," Marceline said, interrupting her line of thought.

"Forgive my silence. It's been a trying day," Bonnibel said automatically before she noted Marceline's acute wariness.

"Then I won't be adding any strain," Marceline mumbled quickly as a blue portal crackled into existence behind her.

"You could have left at any time," Bonnibel said, stepping forward hastily, "but you followed me up here. Why?"

Marceline glanced at her tightly, her demeanor flighty as a nervous cat's. "Though you had something to say."

"If you are asking if I'm upset, the answer is: Yes. I understand why you... why you did what you did. I want to believe you were frightened and acted impulsively to protect me and the kingdom, but I can't discount your centuries of experience with humans. The fact that you can easily murder so many people horrifies me." She closed her eyes, taking a shaky breath before opening them. It horrified her more that she could accept it.

Marceline was looking at her impassively, or trying to, rather. Bonnibel had known the vampire for too many years to be easily fooled. Her eyes were leaning toward red, lids partially closed as if in boredom but her gaze was distant with resignation. Her eyebrows, normally sharp wings slanted over them, were turned up a hair toward center. Her ears drooped and her jaw was set, faint creases settling at the corners of her lips. Her left hand gripped the worn strap of her bass tightly lest she lose it as well.

"But, it would be unfair and illogical to judge you by mortal standards. I'm sure you had your reasons, maybe ones that only make sense if regarded from the perspective of centuries." She raised a hand to smooth back an errant strand of hair tickling her cheek and saw the flecks of blood lining her arm. "Having said that, if you ever take such an action again without consulting me, I will find a way to ensure your eternal misery."

The hand gripping the bass strap clenched convulsively. A crease formed between Marceline's eyebrows, habitual resignation shifting into puzzlement. One ear swiveled a fraction toward Bonnibel.

"Do you understand?"

Marceline flat out frowned. "No."

Bonnibel sighed heavily. "Glob give me strength. You are not this stupid," she said in exasperation. "You can't protect us from them! There are more, aren't there? More humans, more ships, more guns and if they found Ooo once they can find it again. Am I right?"

"Then I'll stop them too, whether anyone approves or not," Marceline stated flatly, dodging the question.

"How? The same way your father prevented the Mushroom War? Saved you and your mother?"

Marceline's apathy crumbled with a harsh inhalation as her body curled in on itself momentarily, eyes blazing wide with flames. Just as quickly, the outward ennui reasserted itself. Her free hand claimed a place by the first on the strap as she angled her body to face the portal.

"You're right," she said, agreeing as flatly as she'd vowed to slaughter humans earlier. She paused in the midst of shifting her weight in preparation for stepping toward the portal. Looking at Bonnibel, she added, "There are lots of them, millions probably. There are a bunch of states competing for resources and each one is building a navy to find more land to exploit. I added a bunch more sea monsters to the western seas but they'll run out eventually, so good luck."

"Don't you dare step through that portal and force me to re-summon you."

Marceline sagged in place but her expression was mulish. "Sure, no problem. What else you have to say?" she asked with blatant insincerity.

It took Bonnibel a few seconds to realize that Marceline had stayed her departure because she was obligated to cede by their shared contract. It meant there was no pressing business in the Nightosphere, which confirmed her suspicion that Marceline was merely trying to escape her displeasure.

She hit the light switch while weighing a decision, conscious of Marceline watching her with intent curiosity disguised as boredom. Then she played for time by walking across her chambers to close several sets of shutters to block out the deadly sunlight spilling into the room.

Marceline turned her head to study the closed shutters, visibly perplexed again.

"Marcy," Bonnibel began, hoping the nickname would ease some iota of tension, "you can't protect me from something that big. No one person can. But given access to technology, facts and figures about the forces involved, the distance between our respective continents gives me time to strengthen the kingdom as a whole. A study of history shows that technological superiority always dictates social and cultural dominance. I know you hate guns, bombs and everything in between but don't leave us carrying spears and swords when the humans come."

"War isn't-"

"War is the last possible solution. If they discover technological equals armed with additional magic, they'll be forced to think twice before acting with force. So please," she paused to rein in her temper, "do not treat me like a child. Consult with me next time and allow me to do my job."

Marceline was rubbing a finger over the bridge of her nose, kneading the creases there as if she could smooth them away with force. "I don't get it," she insisted dimly. "I killed over a thousand people and you're okay with it?"

"I'm appalled but what's done is done. Last I checked," Bonnibel raised an eyebrow, "I made a lasting bargain with an immortal demon vampire turned Lord of Evil and I did it because the safety and well being of my kingdom comes before my personal qualms."

Marceline looked up, eyes like burning embers and scowled.

She rolled her shoulders against stiff, bruised muscles, then stretched her neck. Taking off her crown, she set it on the righted vanity. The prototype handgun tucked into the folds of her dress followed. "Let me put it differently. I would rather have you as an unpredictable ally than an enemy or neutral party. I realize that isn't particularly romantic but-"

"No, 's'cool. I know you're not interested. Wish you were," Marceline admitted with a weak, crooked smile that faded, "but it could be worse."

"Yes. I could leave you to rot in the Nightosphere," Bonnibel said bluntly.

Marceline's expression hardened and her eyes slid away as she dropped her head in agreement. "Something like that," she said quietly.

Hearing the fragile honesty, Bonnibel stopped. She dismissed what she had been about to say and looked at Marceline. Earlier that day she had summoned the vampire and demon for one simple reason, if one that had her terrified. It would be easy to send her back to the Nightosphere now. She had every justification. She had seen Marceline become a raging monster. She could imagine that a hundred-fold to recreate what she must have done a month earlier. Marceline was a monster. She was evil and maybe that was inherent or maybe it was the amulet, but it didn't matter. Bonnibel had a binding legal agreement with her, which made Marceline her monster.

"Is that what you think I'm going to do? Abandon you? Forget you exist?" She walked over to Marceline, standing between her and the portal. "Would you please close that? It's making me nervous."

Marceline cocked her head, raising an eyebrow in suspicion but Bonnibel felt the portal close, saw the blue light vanish from the room.

Now.... Bonnibel floundered. It was a curious thing to know intellectually that another person was an ill suited choice but to be drawn to them regardless. She reached out and took one of Marceline's lapels between her fingers, rubbing the fine black wool and following the edge down to the first jacket button. The suit fit her beautifully as designed but she missed the warm fuschia shirt. Letting go, she grabbed the brim of the bright red felt hat, pulled it off Marceline's head and tossed it to the side. It vanished.

"Bonnie, what are you doing?"

"Thinking. I wanted to see your eyes."

"Okay?"

"You were gorgeous in that dress earlier," she admitted, hand hovering over Marceline's cheek but she lacked the courage. She brushed imaginary lint off her shoulder instead. Marceline's hair tickled her fingers where it brushed the back of her hand. "I know you've been away from your duties for some time. Do you need to leave?"

Marceline craned her head to look at Bonnibel's hand before answering. "No, not really."

"Good." Bonnibel nodded, experiencing a paradoxical mix of satisfaction and anxiety. She realized she was chewing her lip and stopped.

Turning away, she headed for the bathroom while removing the stole and unbuttoning the blouse underneath. She needed a minute or two to make certain of her intended actions, of her motivations. She shut the door behind her hoping that Marceline had the good sense to stay put but willing to provide her an escape route if she was too angry and frustrated to stay. Turning on the faucet of her bath tub, she set it to filling while shedding most her clothing and using the facilities.

Down to her camisole, she regarded herself in the mirror, leaning heavily on the sink basin. She didn't need to do this. She was not required to do this, though she had studied the matter extensively. Once she made this choice, it could not be unmade and it would have permanent consequence on her relationship with Marceline. She wasn't sure she wanted that change, but she did want an end to the pernicious tension between them. And it would work well in the long run.

She didn't want another person in her life day in and day out, pestering her for every bit of her free time when she would rather devote it to scientific studies. She didn't want the constant emotional work, second-guessing each word and juggling her political actions and gestures against the way a partner might take it personally. She didn't want to be constantly accountable to another person when she was already accountable to an entire kingdom. She didn't want a king who would usurp her crown by his presence.

But someone flawed enough not to hold her to absurd standards, someone who understood the often bizarre burdens and expectations of ruling a kingdom, someone who would be in her life in small doses, she could handle that. She could try, at least. It was almost always better to try and fail than never try at all.

Her reflection disappeared under a film of steam and she pushed away from the sink. Opening the door, she searched immediately for Marceline and spotted her reclining mid air, hands behind her head and staring aimlessly at the vaulted ceiling with its frescoes and paintings. She waited, shivering at the change in temperature.

Marceline glanced in her direction, then fell to the ground, hopping gracelessly on one leg before catching her balance. Then she stood there, gaping. Biting her lip, her eyes snapped up and she blushed guiltily, swallowing.

"Sorry," she mumbled.

Bonnibel smiled at the eager hope she saw in her face. She knew she was back-lit by the bathroom light and her nipples had to be visible through the thin fabric. "How is it that after a thousand years you still blush like a girl?"

"I dunno," Marceline answered weakly, taking a step backward before turning obliquely. Her expression was in profile as she closed her eyes, her lips closing and turning down. Her shoulders dropped on an exasperated exhale before she wiped a hand against the back of her neck, hair draping over her arm. "What are you doing?" she asked despondently.

"I intend to take a long hot soak to ease the bruising I experienced and settle my nerves before going to bed."

Marceline fidgeted several times before taking another quick but thorough sidelong look. She jammed her hands into her trouser pockets, a curled boot toe tapping like a metronome. "I should go?"

"It's cold, Marcy and the tub's almost full. Are you coming or do I need to use your hair as a leash?"

With widening slit-pupil eyes and pricked ears, Marceline looked nothing so much as a startled kitten in her daddy's suit. "Bonnie?"

If she hadn't been so deadly nervous, she would have laughed. "Come here," she ordered mildly.

After significant hesitation, Marceline approached, boot heels echoing despite her light steps. Her eyes would stray down, then snap back up as she caught herself and she vibrated with tension standing in front of Bonnibel. If she sunk her hands any deeper into her pockets they would wind up in her patent red cowboy boots.

"It's okay," Bonnibel said, injecting as much humor as she could muster into her voice. "You can look if you want."

"Sorry. It's rude. Even I know that." Marceline inhaled deeply, keeping quiet to conceal it but her nostrils flared as the pulse at her throat fluttered anxiously.

"Without permission, yes but I imagine you've become accustomed to indulging your whims," she mused. "You've already changed in the past few years."

"Maybe, but I won't be like him. I won't take everything I want just because I can."

"I'm not under the impression that you will," she said. Bonnibel smiled, hoping that was true, then repeated more firmly, "But you have my permission."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Marceline said, clearing her throat.

"Do you want me to stop and schedule dinner?" Bonnibel asked seriously, backing up into the bathroom. "Because I thought, that with our respective obligations, it would be more efficient to go straight to the real test."

"You know, normal people go on dates before doing a strip tease," Marceline joked, eyes impossibly wide.

Bonnibel quirked an eyebrow. "I said 'look', not 'touch'."

Marceline appeared conflicted. She smiled as if she intended to wisecrack, then clearly changed her intention, taking a more serious tack. "Grod, I'd love to do you but this isn't one of your royal duties or social responsibilities. You can't break the contract by giving me the cold shoulder so, like, don't worry okay?"

"But you mean to have a child with me?"

"Well, yeah, it's the law, which sucks 'cause it means I'll be training my kid to take over the Nightosphere same as my dad did to me," she said morosely with an exasperated sigh, "but it can wait. Besides," she added with a smirk, "we're both chicks and sex doesn't work that way. I figured you could some science junk. No fuss, no muss."

Bonnibel was biting her lip by the time Marceline finished bumbling through the explanation. It wasn't in her nature to be ruled by emotions, though she could be overwhelmed by rage. Nor was she now, but Marceline was being inordinately chivalrous and it was sweet.

"I would agree with that strategy if it weren't for my spectacular failures to produce a viable heir to my own throne. It's possible I could refine that technique but I feel obligated to ensure success considering that the Nightosphere is larger and more volatile than my kingdom. So I have a question: Do demons reproduce sexually?"

"We can."

"Can you become pregnant?"

"If I want to but," Marceline grimaced, "if I forgot to keep my heart beating or changed shape...."

"It would result in a spontaneous miscarriage," Bonnibel finished for her, nodding. "Now, I have another question. Your father considered you fit to be his heir with no outcry from the populace. That fact taken with the succession law suggests that outside breeding is commonplace amongst your family. So, how is it that you are fully half demon?"

Marceline stared back mutely.

"Allow me to explain," Bonnibel said, preparing to give a simplified introduction to genetic recombination.

"I'm not an idiot, Bonnie but I was hoping you wouldn't figure it out."

She gave Marceline a look, the one that meant she expected better from her.

Sighing again, Marceline admitted, "Within legal contractual limits, my will is absolute."

"Which is to say, you could snap your fingers," Bonnibel said, miming the action, "and I would become pregnant with an embryo that might be anywhere from partially to wholly demon. Am I correct?"

"Yeah," Marceline muttered in reluctant agreement.

"Your father must have loved your mother a great deal to make you half human."

"My mom agreed to have me because she was dying from cancer and he fixed it," Marceline said harshly, but her voice broke toward the end.

"I'm sorry. I can be insensitive when I'm problem-solving," she said, refraining from pointing out that her mother's potential lack of emotional attachment was a separate issue from her father's emotional investment. Just as she was beginning to grasp the only logical reason Marceline had chosen her as a consort despite the absence of a relationship between them.

Marceline wiped away tears, regaining her composure quickly. "No biggie," she said hoarsely. "I don't know how it worked between them, but I stayed with my mom during the week and visited dad on the weekends, even though he was always so busy...." Whatever she said was lost in a mumble. She squeezed her eyes shut, a muscle in her jaw working, before she looked at Bonnibel tightly. "I was visiting him when the bombs hit my home topside. My dad was so busy he didn't have a clue before the portal closed behind me." She shook her head. "They weren't close."

Bonnibel wanted to offer a hug but suspected Marceline would balk at the intimacy. She remembered the story she'd related about her meeting and life with Simon Petrikov, the late Ice King. She had just been given another piece of a very large puzzle even though she had used part of that revelation earlier in the morning to wound Marceline. She would never understand why her parents had gifted her with that temper.

"Thank you for telling me," she said, injecting all the sincerity she felt into those words. She dared to put a hand on Marceline's shoulder, an awkward, insufficient gesture. "We can change the subject. I shouldn't have been so presumptuous."

Marceline swiped at lingering tears, examining the back of her wet hand in frustration. "It was so long ago," she said in irritation.

"I think some memories last forever. All you can do is make better ones to ease the pain."

"Tried that. Doesn't work. The new ones run together."

"Then I consider it a challenge," Bonnibel said, forcing a smile onto her face. Drawing her courage back together, she slid her hands under the axe carry strap, prompting Marceline to shrug off the instrument and set it against the bathroom wall. "So please allow me to familiarize myself with my future child's guardian rather than assuming we can't reach a compromise."

Without the obstruction, she unbuttoned the suit jacket, not because she intended to undress Marceline, but to see how it looked. And maybe to flatten her palms against her ribs and feel them jump and the gasp that went with it. Heat seeped into her hands.

Reluctantly, she turned away to cut off the water. She straightened quickly enough to catch the direction of Marceline's gaze during that time and bit back a smirk.

Marceline flushed again. "You said I could look."

"And I meant it." She held out a hand, touching the amulet at Marceline's throat. "May I?"

"Yeah."

Bonnibel grasped hold of it, pulling at the amulet and feeling the suction as it resisted despite its owner's willingness to have it removed. It popped loose, a golden chain appearing and she draped it together in a pile on the bathtub ledge. She wasn't expecting consternation when she looked back at Marceline.

She set her hands on her hips. Well, drat. Someone had learned from experience and worn proper clothing beneath her amulet generated outfit. "Would you please remove all that?"

Marceline bit the inside of her cheek. "I'm not trying to be a dolt but what's going on here? I mean, I know what I want this to be but...." She sighed noisily, eyes pleading.

"I am trying to salvage the remainder of this unfortunate day with my original intentions. But, I would also like to take a bath and it seemed practical to combine my goals."

"I'm a goal?" Marceline quipped. "Which goal am I? First base? Second base? Third base?"

"I haven't decided," she said honestly. "Can you accept that without pressuring me?"

Opening her mouth on a quick retort, Marceline stopped. She weighed the question and her answer before saying, "Yeah, I think so. I'm not a rube. I can take things slow."

"And stop if I say 'no'?"

Marceline's face crumpled in wounded morality. "Of course I'll stop. I know what it's...." She averted her face before discarding some fleeting memory with a shake.

Bonnibel caught her chin, meeting Marceline's eyes soberly. She'd read an adage once that claimed it was those who experienced the most pain who laughed the brightest. Moments like this made her believe it but before she could speak, Marceline shuttered her gaze in refusal.

Marceline took Bonnibel's wrist in her hand, guiding it away, her thumb circling over the sensitive tendon before releasing her. "It's cool," she said.

Bonnibel rubbed her wrist with the other hand where it tingled, ceding the issue to a later date. "I'm not certain of what I want or what I'm comfortable with. What I do know is the scientific method which calls for experimentation. I realize that isn't romantic or spontaneous or anything else you normally do but I don't think I could be coquettish if my life depended on it."

"Okay."

"Okay? You're not offended?"

"This isn't the weirdest thing I've done, not by a long shot."

"So you'll cooperate?"

Marceline shrugged, ducking her head. "I say 'no' and I got no chance. I say 'yes' and I got some chance. Of course I'll cooperate."

Bonnibel nodded. "Good. Then get your clothes off and stop fussing."

"Yes'm," Marceline said, kicking off her boots before tugging at the hem of her shirt.

Rather than watch, Bonnibel took off her camisole and stepped into the tub. She heard Marceline gulp over the splashing as she eased herself down into the steaming water. She exhaled long and slow, resting her head against the ceramic as her muscles relaxed. It was both satisfying and reassuring to know that the far more experienced woman was as unsettled as she was.

She opened one eye when she realized Marceline was balking. "Get in. There's plenty of room."

Marceline's agitation was obvious in the way her hair slithered restlessly, her eyes burnt orange and the lopsided scowl on her face. She sunk into the water, seemingly unaffected by the temperature. "Been planning this a while, huh?"

Bonnibel dragged a hand lazily through the water, tiny whirlpools developing in its wake. "I wanted to have all my facts straight," she began.

"Can't learn everything about life from books."

"They haven't let me down yet." She started a mental stop watch.

Marceline smirked, increased confidence settling over her features and posture in a way that set off those flutters on Bonnibel's gut again. She glided forward in the water, angling her head.

Bonnibel swept up a hand and caught her jaw, tipping Marceline to the side and back, aided by the water's buoyancy. She smiled and in that moment when Marceline was off kilter, Bonnibel dunked her head underwater. She watched the resulting explosion of air bubbles, mentally counting again as she felt hands grab her wrist and squeeze. Soon, Marceline stopped breathing and a low growl rumbled from beneath the surface. She released her.

Marceline slung herself against the other side of the tub, water flying up in an arc, wiping her face off in disgust.

"What the hell?" she groused, attempting to rise but jerked to a stop with a wince. She followed the trail of her long black hair to where it swirled in the water and disappeared underneath, a hunk of it wrapped around Bonnibel's fist.

When Marceline gave an experimental pull, Bonnibel yanked lightly in warning.

"Seriously, what the fuck?"

Bonnibel smiled wanly. As long as she had known Marceline, the vampire had always kept up with modern jargon and slang. It was the natural evolution of spoken language but, under stress, she often reverted to archaic words and phrases. As she had just done, twice.

She slid off her submerged perch, a built in step along the edge of the tub, going forward to float in the deep center. Using her free hand, she brushed the pad of her thumb along Marceline's lips which parted in surprise. They were chapped from careless weathering and Marceline's breath was hot and moist. She traced the ridge of the upper lip, then doubled back along the lower, so much softer.

She pressed her thumb against the enamel of one incisor. "Can you feel that?"

"Not really. Just the pressure." Marceline squirmed, stretching down her upper lip to scrape her teeth over it.

"Hm." Bonnibel sidled closer until her knee bumped Marceline's thigh. She smoothed her palm across her cheek until she had Marceline's ear in the crook of her hand. Her eyes had fluttered shut at the contact. "Turn around. I'm going to wash your hair."

"'Kay, but I have a lot of hair."

"And I'll bet it's as filthy as the rest of you. I can't imagine you avoided all that blood. I'm guessing no one dares criticize your hygiene back home."

"Not if they want to live," Marceline said, allowing Bonnibel to guide her deeper into the tub on her knees.

Bonnibel hummed, keeping her opinions to herself. If she understood matters correctly, Marceline was the equivalent of royalty in the Nightosphere. Anything she was too lazy or disinterested to do herself could be managed by servants, including bathing. On the other hand, Marceline bristled at intimacy. Come to think of it, Bonnibel found herself bristling at the notion of strangers bathing the vampire, or whatever other passing needs she might have. Funny. It shouldn't matter.

"Got yourself a pretty evil look there, Queen B."

Bonnibel dragged her fingers through wet locks of Marceline's hair, watching the it discolor the water with traces of gray and ochre brown. She snorted. What could she say? That she was experiencing an inordinate and inappropriate level of jealousy? She had no personal agreement with Marceline outside a legal contract and could not fairly hold her to any standard of behavior.

"It's nothing," she said.

"Oh boy. When chicks say 'nothing' they never mean 'nothing'," Marceline challenged sagely before her tone changed abruptly, "and that was apparently the wrong thing to say. Please don't rip my hair out."

Bonnibel snorted again, pulling on her hair to drag her back into the lee of her legs, taking a seat back on her previous ledge. The warmth of ribs against her thighs or calves against her feet was less pronounced by the heat of the water, the task she had set for herself providing focus. She didn't want to think about how many times Marceline had been permitted the indulgences denied to her. She wound Marceline's hair into a loose coil, filling the space between them.

Despite her expectations, she found few knots or tangles. It was thick, somewhat coarse and absolutely filthy. Washing was soothing, comforting work that gave them both time to relax. She poured shampoo straight on the crown of Marceline's head, smiling when she flinched from the cold blob of it, and worked it into the frothy pink lather that filled the room with the scent of lilly.

She wrinkled her nose at the gray scum filling the water. How could a person live encrusted in muck? Was it pure laziness or the apathy of knowing one would never meet anyone who cared enough to notice? Were torn and ragged clothes a fashion statement or likewise symptomatic of psychological exhaustion with change? Had Marceline stopped noticing when things wore out, ground down and disappeared?

She cupped Marceline's jaw from behind, bracing her head to massage shampoo into her scalp. She could feel her pulse against her palm. She gave into curiosity and rubbed behind Marceline's ears, taking the opportunity to slide her fingers from base to pointed tip.

Marceline flicked the ear, tossing off suds before reaching up to rub her knuckles against the ticklish spot.

Bonnibel took note of the sensitivity without comment and returned to scrubbing her scalp. She indulged, taking longer than necessary until she felt the increased weight in her bracing hand. Craning around, she was rewarded by the sight of Marceline dozing. Ears drooping sideways, eyes shut so thick black lashes threw shadows on her cheekbones and drooling.

She was unsuccessful in suppressing her snerk of amusement and Marceline grumbled.

Bonnibel prodded her under the jaw. "Dunk."

Marceline jerked upright, grabbing ahold of Bonnibel's knee as the closest support. "Guh," she said, wiping at her chin with the back of her wrist. "Shit. Sorry."

She dove fully underwater, twisting so her hair unwound itself while rinsing. It might have been erotic if it weren't for the inevitable results.

Bonnibel shook her head slowly, reaching for the stopper to drain the tub. She wasn't going to sit in filthy water when, with a river supplying her kingdom, she had plenty more.

"When was the last time someone washed your hair?"

"Uh," Marceline rubbed water out of her ears. "Oh. Keila but that was ages ago. And Simon, of course, when I was little."

"But under different circumstances, I imagine," Bonnibel said dryly.

She remembered the other vampire, her skin the color of hazelnut chocolate, eyes golden brown when they weren't glowing red, and hair a riot of curls. She had been elegant compared to Marceline and Bonnibel wondered about their past relationship. They might have been friends or colleagues, she supposed. She also wondered about her own growing irritation that she had labeled 'nothing'.

"Well, don't get pissed. You asked."

"I'm not pissed."

Marceline looked back at her dubiously. Then she looked down, fingers thrumming nervously on exposed tub wall. "It was a long time ago," she repeated.

Bonnibel reached out to take hold of the removable showerhead and turned on the water. Without warning, she turned it on Marceline who covered her face with a yelp.

"I'm not jealous," she said, adjusting her aim to the tub walls and rinsing them as well. She put up the showerhead, turning on the faucet to refill the tub.

Marceline looked back sullenly, wiping water from her face and tucking back her hair. She threw herself back against her side of the tub, sprawled out without any modesty. She draped an arm along the edge, tapping a quiet beat on the ceramic, betraying her aggravation.

Bonnibel folded her hands primly on the knees and, because it was obvious she was meant to look, she did. She was never sure what she was intended to find physically attractive in another person. Her parents had assigned her a gender and she was surrounded by candy people who sought out partners and created children. But she never found any of them attractive. She knew the feeling was mutual and fashioned her clothing to conceal her humanoid nature, but none of that provided guidance on interspecies mating practice.

There were Lady and Jake, of course. Their children were several years old and prone to mischief, flying about and teleporting on whim. Jake would catch them if he was quick enough, and staying with Lady at the time, but it was usually their mother that rounded up the rainipups. And, because Lady Rainicorn was Bonnibel's royal steed, that meant she and her children were often milling around the Candy Castle, wreaking more havoc than an angry vampire.

Lady had told Bonnibel to try everything at least once while telling lewd jokes about shape shifters.

It wasn't exactly the most helpful advice as she tried to study Marceline without being overly rude or inviting another aggressive sexual overture. As a general rule, she avoided thinking about anyone, having learned long ago that fantasizing about someone whom she met on a regular basis led to wanting them. As Marceline was one of those people, looking would recall memories.

She was looking at her hands, moving now, always restlessly creating sounds with dexterous contortions. She had watched them to understand how to play chords, how to strum, pluck, tap and slide. She had watched her play keyboard, fingers dancing over the keys like long-legged spiders able to modulate from sudden to soft and fading. Playing those instruments required reach and precision, along with timing and grace and the patience to develop calluses.

She shivered, hot water lapping at her knees. She could well imagine Marceline playing her body like that, manipulating each sound she might make until she perfected a set. She forced herself to look away from those hands, something she had always been able to admire, and up the draped arms to the lanky body. It was never until Marceline stood that Bonnibel was reminded how tall she was, whipcord lean with shallow curves and harsh angles. Despite the roomy hot tub, her legs were folded, the soft lines of muscles shifting as she watched.

She didn't know if Marceline was attractive by human standards or not, only the way her own body came to attention leaving her nerves raw and easily aggravated when she was present.

As the only other point of relative comparison, Finn was male. His honor, courage and determination to succeed enormously attractive but his arrogance, poor education and occasional moral intolerance off-putting. As the only human she had seen up close until recently, she could not judge his physical conformity, but she often found herself studying him and the way he moved. While his juvenile crush had been a source of irritation, his adult attention left her giddy at times. So there was something, some quality that left her needy in dreams, but he was a hero, unlike Marceline.

She was flashy, arrogant with dramatic gestures, both physical and emotional. She couched a lifetime's wisdom in crude vulgarity punctuated by poignant verse. She could be fashionable one moment but slovenly the next, as if no one had ever informed her that she was a demoness. Ancient fiction depicted vampires as hideous blood-suckers, but the demoness, if not a foul hag, was a beautiful seductress tempting men to their doom. She imagined what would happen if Marceline made the effort to be elegant and remembered seeing her that morning.

Marceline splashed a hand through the rising water, flicking some at Bonnibel. "Nightosphere paging the Candy Kingdom," she said.

"My pardon," Bonnibel said reflexively. Squeezing her eyes shut, she ducked underwater before coming up in the middle of the tub. "I was thinking that you dislike the effect you have on people."

Marceline didn't move but somehow gave the impression of shrinking back upon herself, eyes flashing from calm yellow to bloody red.

"People, humans, turn to animals around you, don't they? Because you're beautiful," Bonnibel said, stretching out an arm to take hold of the tub edge beside Marceline's head, "because you tempt them, incite them and you can't control it." She cocked her head, continuing before Marceline could get a word in edgewise, "I've seen it at your concerts but I thought it was just the music and it's not. It's you."

Lower lip between her teeth, Marceline pressed her head against the ceramic. "Bonnie? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Do you understand reciprocation?"

Marceline blinked rapidly several times. "Yes?"

"Good, I thought so." She grinned. "I won't let my servants give me baths either but I don't think I would mind you doing it."

Marceline's eyes flashed bright with excitement. "I get to touch you?"

"You get to wash my hair. Touch anything else and you can go home to Yaffe."

"No problem," Marceline said gruffly.

Bonnibel turned around before her anxiety showed, kneeling and waiting, fighting back tension. She had no logical reason to be afraid. She let her eyes shut, hands floating limp in the water. This entire experiment would stop when she wanted it to stop. She still jumped when she felt calloused fingers slick with shampoo slide along her scalp. She wasn't accustomed to being touched.

She expected any number of mechanical sensations except for the way her breath hitched. Nor was she prepared for the tingles that crawled from her scalp down the back of her neck into her shoulders and spine, raising gooseflesh along the way. Her lips parted on a exhalation as she savored the unfamiliar sensations.

Marceline didn't make a peep about that soft moan she must have heard. Good to her word, she stuck to washing Bonnibel's hair, strong hands working carefully to avoid pulling and snapping any strands. She took time to detangle longer sections that had been disheveled in the day's conflict, working her fingers back and forth until the knots gave way.

Bonnibel's head was lolling when Marceline asked, "You want me to rinse it?"

She inhaled sharply, then shook her head. Squeezing her eyes shut more firmly, she dunked herself, using one hand to fluff her hair and rinse it. She came up, flipped her hair back and wiped her face clear in time to catch Marceline biting her lip, eyes wide and fiery. Bonnibel smirked in response, startled to realize she'd become comfortable with the attention.

Marceline laced her hands over her neck, looking down into the water, cheeks flushed plum. "You turned it pink."

"Yes. That's normal."

Marceline pulled a derpy face in lieu of a verbal opinion.

"At least it's not dirt," Bonnibel said, drifting closer as she built up her courage. She had a bar of soap and knew how to use it.

Marceline noticed the approach, cocking her head suspiciously and dropping her hands back into the water to rest on her thighs. Her face was still flushed though, ruddy highlights along her angular cheekbones, forehead and the tips of her ears. Her pulse was hammering away with a steady beat, too fast for the nonchalance she portrayed.

Bonnibel bit the tip of her tongue, pushing away insecurity, and decided to start at the top but maybe not with the soap quite yet.

Marceline started to grin, razor sharp, white as pure sugar but nowhere as sweet. Her gaze was blatant and appreciative as her forked tongue darted out. "What you planning?"

Bonnibel knew her breasts were bobbing at the water line, knew her nipples had tightened in response to the cooler air temperature and knew how well that would function as a distraction. According to what she had read and observed of Marceline's body language, anyway. She reached up and grasped the lobe of a pointed ear between index finger and thumb, sliding up firmly but gently. It wouldn't tickle but it might-

Marceline gasped and leaned into the touch, slitting her eyes so that red shimmered from behind her lashes. The tip of her tongue curled back on her upper lip, licking and pausing there as she held her breath.

Bonnibel discovered she was holding her own breath when her chest ached in protest. She traced the lines and ridges, wondering if the velvety texture along the back was extremely soft skin or fine down. When she switched sides, Marceline obligingly tipped her head, hair sliding free to expose the entire side of her head and neck. Bonnibel heard her sigh as if in relief as her eyes shut completely.

She felt her own heart quicken and a curling in her belly that wasn't quite lust. It was a feeling she associated best with success in the laboratory or meeting hall, the exact moment when a delicate project came together, the sharp bright exaltation that always made her want more. She realized that she had begun smiling fondly at some point, unwitting and unintentional, so that it became rueful.

"Should I expect you to begin purring?"

"I can if you want," Marceline answered laconically, letting out another sigh that became exactly that, the sub-glottal rumble filling the room.

"Not unless you want to or it comes naturally," she said past an involuntary grin.

Bonnibel had never imagined Marceline as a pesky cat, scampering around her laboratory and knocking over beakers and vials, tugging on strings because she wished to be shoved over and scratched behind the ears. Her lips twitched at the mental image and she filed away the knowledge for a later date. Then she remembered that would probably never happen again and her smile bled away.

She edged closer, tracing her fingers across Marceline's cheek bone and eyebrow. From there, she drew a line down the bridge of her nose until she reached her lips. She tweaked the forks of Marceline's tongue, left forgotten against her lip and they disappeared back into her mouth. So, Bonnibel pressed her thumb against a barely exposed canine, careful not to catch on the hypodermically sharp tip.

"Do you know, when I first learnt of your existence, I researched vampirism to determine if you were a threat to my kingdom. The available information was largely in the form of mythology, some texts dating from before the Great Mushroom War. The myths varied widely across both modern and historical cultures," she said in reflection.

She felt Marceline's tongue brush the base of her thumb, warm, wet with a slight rasp, a silent protest over the lecturing and cessation of petting. She ignored it and tapped the fang and, when Marceline failed to respond, repeated the gesture more forcibly.

Opening her eyes, Marceline took the cue belatedly and elongated her canines. They curved backward but angled forward at the base allowing for deadly reach. Not that Marceline couldn't dislocate her lower jaw like a snake meaning to devour its prey whole, but Bonnibel had only seen her do that for theatrical effect.

She grazed her nail along the inward curve of one incisor, feeling it catch on tiny serrations that would have split her skin. A small drop of venom collected at the tip in response. Marceline licked it away before Bonnibel could catch it on her fingertip.

"Is it that potent?"

"What?"

"Your venom. Snakes use theirs to immobilize, cripple or kill their prey. It's easier to eat when it's nothing running away or thrashing around. I imagine it's the same for a vampire if you need to drink blood."

"I don't need to," Marceline grumbled, but there was something evasive under her usual whining complaint.

"And yet, I've seen you do it. Or were you taking the color? Humans have red blood, don't they," she asked rhetorically before continuing. "Because the myths all agree on two points: The vampire consumes blood to survive and must be killed by a stake through the heart followed by decapitation. Some stories mention burning, but you control fire, though it's obvious the sun can harm you."

"And I can shapeshift."

"Precisely and that was my mistake. I forgot, or rather, didn't know that you are also a demon. But I've seen other demons and I believe that shape-shifting is unique to your family line. Due to the combination, you are effectively impervious to staking or beheading because," she flattened a palm over Marceline's sternum, "your heart exists and beats as a matter of will." She raised an eyebrow. "As does your head and the brain allegedly within it."

Marceline had gone still, her eyes boring into Bonnibel.

She felt the slow and steady beat of Marceline's heart then slid her palm up, continuing along the side of her neck until she hooked the base of her jaw between her thumb and fingers. "All that power, the immortality.... Logically...."

Marceline swallowed, lips turned down at the corners and so tight her receded fangs dimpled the flesh.

Bonnibel hooked her fingers into the hollow below Marceline's ear, pressingly lightly to guide her head. "I can't imagine being so terrified of my father that I would kill myself to gain a tactical advantage."

Marceline's face crumpled but she didn't resist when Bonnibel nudged her to move closer. She whispered, "I promised Simon I wouldn't leave."

"The long game often appears random and chaotic to the uninformed observer," Bonnibel murmured while brushing her lips against Marceline's.

Her lips were soft and warm, except for the grooves where her fangs rested. She heard a quiet noise but wasn't sure which of them made it. She licked at the seam of her lips and Marceline sighed in capitulation, opening and allowing entry. Though the teeth were sharp and she needed to be careful, needed to be slow for her own sake, needed....

Their teeth clicked and she gasped, breaking off the kiss. She pursed her lips in consternation. The water felt too hot owing to an increase in her body temperature. She licked her lips wondering at the way her lungs were jumping for air. She let go of Marceline's nape, unable to decide what she wanted. No, she knew what she had wanted for a split second, to haul Marceline up and against the nearest wall and pin her there until she opened wide.

She cursed, slipping into German, a trick she had learned as a child to avoid reprimand.

"Etwas, das Sie wünschen?" Marceline crooned.

"Perhaps, but not right now," she said quickly, dismayed.

"No messing up your plan, huh?"

"Something like that." Bonnibel observed Marceline's equally elevated biorhythms and smiled, reaching for the soap. "Up," she said, motioning with her chin.

Marceline stood and sat on the edge of the tub, wrinkling her nose. "It's cold."

Bonnibel smiled wryly while lathering her hands, then stood to gain the marginal height advantage. "Am I supposed to make a joke about warming you up? I've heard lines like that but don't you think that's corny? Besides, you're the one with the fire-making tricks. Warm yourself up."

Marceline scowled, bracing her arms beside her thighs and tipping her head back to meet Bonnibel's eyes. Then she slid her gaze down to the breasts level with her face. "Have you ever looked up the word 'sadist'?"

"Yes," Bonnibel said, smiling and deliberately bumping Marceline's knees apart to step in closer. "Hands to yourself," she warned, smearing suds along Marceline's shoulders before working down her arms and back up again.

She made no effort to avoid bumping or brushing into her during the process. She heard a whimper when she brushed the sides of Marceline's breasts and another when she changed direction away from them, followed by an aggrieved huff. But she was being good so Bonnibel grinned to herself, picking up Marceline's hair to reach her back. The wiry muscles there tensed and she knew exactly why.

Marceline gave a muffled curse from where her face was pressed and Bonnibel felt the hot exhalation against her stomach.

It made her laugh, a quick chuckle that did more to ease her than the hot water had.

Marceline's pressed her thighs against Bonnibel's legs. "Bonnie," she whined.

"It almost sounds as if one of the most powerful beings in Ooo is begging for something."

Marceline caught her wrists, guiding Bonnibel's hands to her breasts while maintaining eye contact.

"I warned you not to touch," Bonnibel said levelly without pulling back her hands. Splaying her fingers as she twisted her hands around, she cupped each breast easily.

Marceline sagged into the pressure before arching her back and sighing. She blinked up with blue eyes. "I know. I'm sorry." She bit her lower lip, hands curling into loose fists on her thighs. "I just wish... I want... Damn it. I suck at talking," she said, giving up with a flustered blush.

Bonnibel watched her swallow convulsively, noting the tremor visible in the tips of her pointed ears and the anxious curling of her hair. She'd expected Marceline to try and take the lead before now, to come on suave and forceful, secure in centuries of experience. A smile she felt pulling at the corners of her lips broke as she gave into it.

Moistening her lips, Marceline asked, "You ever done this?"

"I never had reason to." She waited for some mockery of her logical, pragmatic nature.

Shuddering, Marceline nodded. "You don't have to do anything you don't want. You know that, right?"

Bonnibel rolled the supple weight of the breasts in her hands. She knew that. She was also learning what it felt like to watch Marceline twitch and shake every time she touched her. Still smiling, she trapped the hardened nipples between her fingers and indulged herself in continued exploration as a soap bubble popped higher on Marceline's chest. The instant she abraded those nipples with her thumbs, Marceline arched up, mouth open as she gasped. The muscles in her arms flexed as she clung to the edge of the tub.

She was grinning when Marceline took a series of deep, gulping breaths and pressed her forehead against Bonnibel's chest so her hair draped in twin curtains. It was a fascinating sensation somewhere between heady power and tenderness and she didn't want it to end. She watched Marceline's back twist and the hands clench at the ceramic.

Then something brushed her own nipple, a fleeting electric shock that made her gasp and clenched every muscle in her stomach. She tightened her grip without meaning but Marceline simply moaned and dropped a wet kiss against her diaphragm. Bonnibel opened her eyes and looked down.

The very tip of Marceline's ear was practically touching her nipple, flushed violet against brighter coral pink. Bonnibel watched, entranced as the ear flicked again in response to near contact, believing she could refrain from overt reaction. It was just a tickle, after all.

Marceline looked up, eyes barely open but an eyebrow quirked, when she heard the second gasp. Seeing the direction of Bonnibel's gaze, she turned her head and curved a bright, toothy smile at the nipple. Her tongue darted out.

Bonnibel caught it neatly, pinching to keep a grip on the slippery surface.

"Ehy!" Marceline protested.

"Were you doing that on purpose? With your ear?"

"Doh!"

"Mm." She released Marceline's tongue.

Marceline screwed up her face in a grimace, sticking her tongue back out spitting. "Ew. Soap. Nasty," she said, punctuating each word with spit.

Bonnibel rinsed her hands which were getting itchy from drying soap, then reached up to imprison the truant ear.

"Don't pull!"

"I'm not going to pull," Bonnibel reassured Marceline, closing her lips over the edge of her ear. She licked the ridge, then drew her tongue to the tip, grazing with her teeth.

Marceline made a noise that probably started out as a word but devolved into a stuttering gasp and groan.

Bonnibel blew on the sensitive ear tip, smirking as it flicked several times. She grabbed hold of it, scratching away the tickle and drew back a couple of steps. Hooking her hands behind Marceline's knees, she tugged. "Stand up."

Marceline's lips were parted on heavy breaths and her expression was confused and frustrated, but she stood with a splash. Her eyes kept shifting colors, golden irises with red pupils, blue, green and back again with her mercurial moods and reactions. She raised her hands as if to clasp Bonnibel, then froze mid air, fingers waggling. "Aw heck. You're gonna do something else to me, aren't you?"

"Oh good, you're catching on."

Marceline narrowed her eyes, currently a more dangerous red. "I can hear how fast your heart is beating."

"Your pulse is highly elevated as well," Bonnibel stated tartly.

Holding the bar of soap in one hand, she took hold of Marceline by the ribs, sliding her hands into the hollows of her stomach, the dips of her hip bones and around her waist. Starting to kneel, she trailed a hand tantalizingly close to the triangle of black pubic hair before bypassing it to lather Marceline's hips and thighs. She heard a strangled noise that fed her steadily growing sense of power. The noise became a hiccup when her hands smoothed over and cupped her buttocks, squeezing at the tense muscles.

"You're killing me," Marceline tried to growl, but desire betrayed her and she finished on another whimper. "I'm gonna die and then all hell will break loose, the Night on Ooo."

"Don't be melodramatic," Bonnibel chided mildly, grazing a hand over Marceline's lower abdomen, catching her fingers on coarse hair and watching in fascination as her hips jerked.

She studied the rapid rise and fall of her ribs and stomach, felt the accumulated heat under her palm. Rolling her hand over, she grazed her knuckles down to catch wet hair between her fingers. She tugged lightly and Marceline swayed with the motion, shifting her stance impatiently.

"I halfway expected long flowing locks," Bonnibel teased, looking up.

Marceline grimaced. "Should I laugh or cry? Really, Bonnie, I think I might die if you don't touch me. Please, please, please, just once, please."

"But I am touching you," she said with false innocence, tugging a tiny bit harder to taunt, but the hair melted away in defiance.

"Ha," said Marceline. "Make fun of-"

"Thank you," Bonnibel said, cutting her off politely.

Tossing aside the soap to wrap a hand around Marceline's hip, she slid the second one up her thigh and right in between. The suds were completely unnecessary to facilitate the motion because her hand slipped easily along already slick folds. She explored with her fingers, never pressing or deepening the contact but lightly tracing until she felt Marceline lurch. A hand fell on Bonnibel's shoulder, not to lean but to grasp tightly as Marceline's knees buckled and her feet left the tub floor. She heard a high pitched gasp followed by a needy moan.

Wrapping her arm around Marceline's leg, pressing her cheek against her thigh, she grinned at the pubic hair that had reappeared as the vampire lost control of such details. "Did you mean like this?"

The hand on her shoulder tightened, nails digging into her skin.

"Mind your claws," she warned.

Now, if Marceline was largely humanoid, there should be.... Ah, there. She used her thumb to circle and press the hooded nerve bundle lightly, her fingers tracing the very edges of her vulva. Based on her understanding of human anatomy, there was extreme variation in physical sensitivity between women. Certainly the noises she could hear were encouraging but, truthfully, she didn't know Marceline well enough to gauge the nuances of her moans.

Then there was the effect on Bonnibel herself. The texts hadn't described this heat, turgid softness and the way she wanted to rub herself against it, to fill her hands with engorged flesh and hold from within. She could not imagine herself wanting any of that and knew from the clench and ache between her own legs that she wanted the same. She shuddered and struggled to take even breaths. But she could hear the rasp in her respiration as Marceline let out a mewl ill suited to the fearsome image she cultivated.

She winced in surprise. "Marcy! Claws," she said firmly, reminding her.

"Don't stop," Marceline begged hurriedly, curling her hand into a fist which she pressed into Bonnibel's shoulder. She rocked her hips urgently. "Please don't stop."

"I'm not sure," Bonnibel said idly, slowing her hand to stroke at the soft, wet flesh, rolling a circle around her clitoris with less clinical detachment than she presented. "What if everything I read was wrong? I mean, how do I know if I'm doing this right if I haven't had sex with dozens of people?"

"You're low-balling," Marceline gritted out, twisting her hips to try and regain pressure.

Bonnibel stopped. Using her fingers to expose Marceline's clitoris, she blew on it and waited.

Marceline sagged in misery, panting. "Aw, crud. Bonnie, you know I don't have tact. Please don't be mad."

Bonnibel tilted her head as much as her position would allow, hand cupped over Marceline's mons, pressing in to offer a modicum of pressure in response to the insistent rocking. It was true. Marceline was crude, insensitive to finer social conventions, egotistical and frequently insecure. If she were a normal person, that behavior would be unforgivable but she was no more normal than Bonnibel herself, engineered a rational genius to rule a kingdom of fools. Marceline's function was no less planned, her purpose no less defined by heritage and tradition.

"You're caked in soap," she said.

Marceline dropped like a stone, with the exception of her hair which remained aloft because it was drying. She scrubbed clean of that soap with an amusing haste, then looked hopefully at Bonnibel. "Good?"

"You know I haven't bathed yet."

Face falling, Marceline hung her head, mumbling, "I know. I was hoping you forgot."

"It can wait, if it doesn't bother you," she said, telling herself that she was taking pity on her.

"It totes doesn't," Marceline answered quickly, shaking her head. "And your definition of rank is probably my definition of clean, anyway."

"True enough. All right," she said, nodding. "Up again and this time, don't-"

"I swear I won't scratch you," Marceline finished for her, standing for a second before hovering. She worried a fang, looking down. "You want me to do anything? Because I'm really.... Uh, don't get mad again, okay? I bet I could do something you like if you let me."

"That's sweet," Bonnibel said, wrapping her arm back around her thigh to keep her in place, "but I was in the middle of something quite fascinating and I expect you to make a full range of noises, permitting me to establish a cause and effect pattern." Using two fingers, she separated Marceline's labia before giving a cautious lick, then closing her lips over her clitoris.

She heard a harsh gasp before Marceline's fist settled back on her shoulder, the other jammed into her own thigh. It seemed like mere moments before the increasingly insistent throbbing between Bonnibel's legs was keeping time with every lick, until she almost bit. She could trace a line or nibble and a desperate sound would follow, urgency woven through each response. When her neck threatened to kink, she rotated Marceline mid air until she was horizontal and at the most convenient height, a useful trick so long as she didn't go floating off like a balloon.

Marceline clutched at the air, her grounding lost, keening and shaking. Bonnibel shook as well and pushed, backing the other woman toward the edge of the tub where she could brace herself. Her composure was floundering and she had no intention of drowning. Sweat beaded on her face despite the cooling water and her lungs burned as if she couldn't catch enough oxygen. But plaintive cries and whimpers drew her into a faster rhythm. Long black hair curled around Bonnibel's shoulders, the tendrils caressing her arms and winding around as if to keep her in place.

Marceline arched, twisting and her soft cries took on a frantic, pleading tone.

Bonnibel looked up, thinking muzzily. She shouldered aside the thigh gripping her body and grinned.

Marceline whined again, panting, eyes a pale, blazing blue. She lurched urgently.

"More?" Bonnibel asked, as steadily and nonchalantly as possible, circling with her fingers.

"More, yes, more. Harder," she specified between gasps.

Bonnibel licked her lips, tasting salt and something else. Odd that she would experience trepidation now but she hadn't become an effective leader by over thinking at inappropriate times. She stood, bracing a leg against Marceline's thigh and pressing firmly against her clitoris. When she dipped two fingers shallowly into her vulva, Marceline's hips lurched in response and she took the invitation, sliding deeper. Curling upward, she pressed, searching until Marceline froze, trembling.

There, a sweet spot. She applied pressure from within and without, providing friction and telling herself it was purely a matter of mechanics. But she couldn't close her mouth for her own gasps or stop the way her hips moved in time with her hand, assisting the shallow, rapid thrusts. And for a few blessed moments, she didn't need to think about politics, dependent citizens, morality, foreign invaders or whether or not she had made a deal with the devil. All she cared about was watching Marceline come apart in her hands.

She felt the tremor and vise-like clamping around her fingers before Marceline went quiet. She bared clenched teeth, head back, twisting with the orgasm before sucking in desperate lungfuls of air, gasping and bucking her hips, legs shaking.

Bonnibel snarled in satisfaction, distantly shocked by that sound and sentiment behind it, as she picked up the new rhythm in easy, forgiving strokes. She let her come down, watching Marceline catch her breath, eyes vacant but she also noticed how her hips followed the motions of her hand. She tried incrementally gaining speed, smiling when Marceline gave her a wobbly look before dropping back and meeting her hand with renewed urgency.

A portion of the ornate tile work was cracked and broken and the water was cold by the time Bonnibel's hand cramped and she was forced to let Marceline rest. Not that she complained, limp in the air. Bonnibel dragged herself up, stomach to stomach, knees on the tiles.

"Not so bad for an inexperienced book nerd, huh?"

Marceline opened her eyes, a sleepy amber, and said groggily. "You ever consider that I might have a thing for brainlords?"

"I did. I just had trouble believing it."

She kept her attention on Marceline's gaze, spotting the exact moment when it fell on her jugular before flitting away guiltily. She knew the vampire was typically hungry after exerting herself and she hadn't fed at all since the battle in the courtyard. She leaned in closer to whisper into Marceline's ear, bringing her throat in temptingly close.

"And you don't drink blood?"

She felt the hot puffs of breath against her neck before Marceline squeezed her eyes shut and turned away from the implicit offer.

"Does crazy run in your family, Bonnie?"

"Do you-"

"Yes, okay? For the first few hundred years, until it got scarce with the humans. All the other vampires starved but I'm a demon. I figured out it was the color when I nearly choked to death on some blue blood and got desperate and started eating solid food. I scarfed some strawberries and felt better and took a wild guess."

Bonnibel leaned back, resting her chin on folded hands, using Marceline as a table. "But that doesn't explain Keila, unless...." She saw regret flicker across her face. "You were lonely?"

"Happens. Life goes on."

She ran a finger across Marceline's eyebrows, one, then the other, wondering at the tightness in her chest. "It didn't work out?"

"For a while," Marceline said tersely, shifting underneath Bonnibel, hooking a calf around the back of her knee and freeing her hands from the tiles to sink them into her hair. She nuzzled a pink hunk of it, sighing. "Your pulse is still up. You want help with that or," her expression grew troubled, anxious, "do you want me to go?"

Bonnibel stood without warning, taking hold of Marceline's wrists to avoid ripping out her hair and bring the woman with her. "What have I told you about insecurity?"

"That it'll consume me if I let it," Marceline recited in a whisper. "But Bonnie, I always feel that way about you."

Taken aback by the confession, Bonnibel released her wrists and Marceline unwound her hand from the pink hair. She wasn't sure what to say. She knew she ought to say something, some reassurance or affirmation but emotional intimacy always left her confused. It was unpredictable with strange, irrational rules governing interactions. She knew she was taking too long to respond.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I never meant to distress you or create the impression I was manipulating you. I rarely have the time or energy to deal with-"

"Another problem?" Marceline finished for her, a sad smile twisting her lips.

Bonnibel cupped her cheek, smoothing her hand over the severe brow, feeling lashes tickle her fingers as Marceline closed her eyes. "You are the worst sort of problem," she said with absolute sincerity. "Now, the water's cold. Let's retire to my bed chamber."

She pulled the plug, allowing the tub to drain as she climbed out and pulled on a fluffy cerulean robe decorated with pansies. Her hair could air dry and a maid would fix it tomorrow. She didn't look back to check on Marceline, trusting her to follow as she opened the door, letting in cool, dry air.

A covered tray had been laid on an end table beside the bed, larger than the single serving size Peppermint Butler would bring her when she took meals alone. She smiled at the courtesy, but flushed in lingering embarrassment. He had known her since she was a child, scampering from one end of the castle to the other, causing more mischief than a litter of rainipups.

She lifted the lid and immediate picked up the glass containing strawberry milkshake, stirring the straw to eliminate its happy face. Certain magics permeated this region of Ooo, giving life easily, something she had discovered in the beginning of her scientific career. She left the plate of cut finger cakes for later, more thirsty than hungry, and watched Marceline drift over to inspect the food.

Bonnibel took advantage of her proximity, tracing her fingers down Marceline's back and over the swell of buttocks, watching the twitch as she grazed a ticklish spot. She dropped her hand lax onto the folds of her robe, leaning against the edge of her bed. She crossed her legs, hooking one knee over the other so the robe parted revealing her thigh and smiled around the straw in her mouth when she spotted Marceline's avaricious gaze.

But Marceline was also hungry and her leery gaze fixed on a wine glass filled with a dark red, viscous fluid. She glanced at the closed main doors, eyebrows slanting in hostility, then picked up a bowl of raspberries and began working her way through them.

Putting down her glass, Bonnibel dipped the tip of her pinky finger into the wine glass and sucked on the small amount of sticky fluid. She licked her finger clean, retrieving her milkshake.

Marceline raised an eyebrow.

"Condensed cherry syrup," Bonnibel said. "You'll like it."

Marceline set down the half finished bowl of fruit and picked up the wine glass, sniffing at its contents. Satisfied, she tipped it back, filling her mouth and coughed around it, lips pressed tight so that her eyes watered. She set down the glass hastily, hands splayed in the air and blinking away tears. Finally, she swallowed and coughed again.

"I warned you it was condensed," Bonnibel said unsympathetically.

"Oh my grod," Marceline said emphatically. "That little turd tried to kill me!"

Bonnibel raised her eyebrows. "Can't handle your liquor?"

Eyeing the glass, Marceline picked it up and hooked a fang over the rim, tipping it back more carefully. She sipped at the syrup without graying it appreciably. Her eyes crossed and she put it back down. She looked longingly at the raspberries, then sheepishly at Bonnibel, hair winding and twisting around her body.

Bonnibel put down her glass on the tray and covered it. Her hunger was satisfied, her aches and pains eased by the bath, but she was well aware of several discomforts. His skin was so sensitive that the faint breeze coming in through the shuttered windows tickled. The terry cloth of her robe teased her nipples into hardening and her arousal had only diminished minimally. She could ignore it, but she was wet, her body making its desire clear despite her apprehension.

She stood, eyes pinning Marceline until she fidgeted, feet touching down on the floor. Walking the short distance, Bonnibel approached her until they were close enough to touch, which she then did so, stroking her shoulders. She watched her pupils dilate.

"Tell me," Bonnibel said, "why is it, having had you, having indulged such a pointless whim, I want to do it again? Why do I want to watch you struggle against my hands and hear you beg and plead again?" Sweat was forming at the back of her neck, so she untied her robe, savoring the cool air. "Why, having achieved the desired results, do I want more?"

Marceline's eyes darted to her lips, her own parting as she followed Bonnibel's motions attentively. She shuddered, her hair coiling and reaching. "Dunno," she mumbled. "It's called lust."

"Is that how you feel around me? As if you could devour me whole or tangle inside and through me?" Old, once shocking lyrics floating through her memory. "Drive me into the ground?"

Marceline took a shaking breath, licking her lips. "Yeah."

"It's a cruddy feeling," Bonnibel concluded. "I dislike it. It's distracting and unsettling. I want it to stop," she continued, cupping her palms over Marceline's shoulders, rubbing her hands down her chest, nipples catching at her fingers, then lower until her hands settled in the hollow of her waist. "And I can't imagine enduring this sensation for a continuous length of time."

"It sucks. You hope it goes away," Marceline said, head angling closer, then hesitating. "Or you go away, get away from it."

Bonnibel slid one hand back up until she held Marceline by the back of her neck, guiding her head down. Her mouth felt dry and she wanted.... Their lips fit together more easily this time, Marceline following her lead, yielding to entry. Bonnibel's hands wound more tightly around her, one sunk deep in black hair, the other kneading compulsively. She sighed into a moan when she felt hands caress her sides, skim up to her breasts and....

She gasped, breaking off the kiss and shuddering.

Marceline misunderstood, letting go and averting her gaze before looking back with desperate need. "I can do anything you want, be anything you want." Her form rippled suggestively. "I saw how you looked at me earlier today. You want that? I can be a dude, no problem."

And there was that tightness in her chest again, that spasmodic wrenching in the vicinity of her heart as if it had a mind of its own. It better not, Bonnibel thought darkly, squirming against the suffocating heat of the robe. She shrugged it off, letting it pile on the floor, forgotten.

"Is that what people do to you? Ask you to be someone else, fulfill their fantasies?"

Marceline smiled gently. "It's not like that."

"How is it not?" Bonnibel remembered how Marceline had reverted to her default form when in the throes of passion, unable to concentrate on generating an alternate form. To maintain another's fantasy, she would be forced to deny her own pleasure.

Marceline pressed her cheek against Bonnibel's temple, saying, "I've lived a long time and people don't change. They fall in love over and over again, but sometimes they fall for the wrong person. Someone too old, too young, too ugly, too weird or the wrong type of something. You name it. They can't be together without making a huge mess because everyone else gets all in their business." She sighed, a sad and hopeless sound of exhaustion. "But I can fix that for a little bit."

"But love-"

"Love doesn't conquer all. That's a big, fat, happy lie. I've watched people who loved each other their whole lives die miserable and alone, over and over, because they didn't match." She kissed her temple, tongue darting with heat and wetness before she kissed again. "You can't make yourself want what you don't want and that's okay."

"Ah," Bonnibel said, rolling her head free. "You think I'm forcing myself to do this which, strictly speaking, I am but," she said into the hollow Marceline's jaw, sucking on her pulse, "I would not be continuing if I did not feel myself responding rather intensely." She leaned back to meet intense, red eyes. "And I considered that possibility, but not with the weight it required. It seems my breasts are more sensitive than I realized or was led to believe in my own examination."

"So," Marceline stroked Bonnibel's back lightly before flattening her palm hard between her shoulder blades, "you're saying you've felt yourself up," her other hand grazed the underside of one breast, pausing there, "but it never made you feel like climbing up a wall?"

Bonnibel started to shake, pressing back against the hand supporting her back, hands curling into fists. "I'm serious, Marcy."

"I know. You're always serious," Marceline agreed, hand creeping higher in languid figure eights. "It's hot," she said in praise, her palm gently smoothing over a nipple.

Bonnibel lurched backward, fumbling with her hands and trying to struggle free of the maddening, electric sensation, all details of the room receding as her eyes lost focus. She wanted it to stop. She pressed into the touch, wanting more. She tried to speak.

"Easy, babe, I got you."

Flattening a hand on Marceline's chest, she shoved urgently.

Easing back her hand, Marceline quit but didn't unwrap the diffuse tentacle from Bonnibel's back, cradling her.

Bonnibel hung her head, processing her own reactions. Her skin ached for more contact, the very thought of it causing muscles inside to clench in anticipation. But she couldn't control her responses. The pleasure was too intense, the drive too primal and she couldn't catch her breath. She looked up, hand curled over her mouth, searching for an answer.

"You gotta let go," Marceline supplied kindly with understanding. "You gotta let go and let me hold you. It's okay."

She reached up to grasp Marceline's shoulders, at a loss. "I don't know how."

"I know," she answered, nuzzling at Bonnibel's temple.

Bonnibel mentally cursed fear, railing at the throbbing and aching that was driving her insane with a need to buck and twist, rub her entire body against... She eliminated the space between them, doing just that, distributing the raw sensation and groaned, pushing her mons against the nearest available surface. She twisted, hands clasped around the sides of Marceline's head, pulling down. She heard a rushed reassurance before had the lips and tongue she craved.

It was illogical, impossible yet she strained to deepen the kiss as if she might crawl inside Marceline by dint of will, pushing her backward and resenting the lack of resistance until they ran into the footboard of her bed. She felt Marceline grunt in surprise or pain, the involuntary inhalation that stole her breath and Bonnibel broke the kiss with a twist of her head. She licked her lips, tender. They felt swollen and she became aware that in her distraction, she'd hooked a leg around Marceline's, effectively straddling her thigh.

She couldn't slow her respiration and understood the reason for it, intellectually, but it was so irrational and senseless. She looked at Marceline as if she were a puzzle, as if a thorough examination might shed light on why both of them were flushed, skin tacky with sweat and residual water droplets. She could feel the raw heat low in her belly, a curled tension and swollen ache to match her lips. Her hips were moving slowly but surely, restrained by her awareness but engaged in their own purpose.

Taking a firm grip on Marceline's shoulder, another at the cusp of her ribs, she ground her mons hard against her thigh, once. Marceline stumbled, then steadied her footing, muscles flexing to provide more friction. Bonnibel felt the ribs under her palm shudder, smaller muscles twitching, and she ground in again, exhaling sharply at the way her own muscles jumped, her heart leaping into her throat and the spike of surreal pleasure.

Marceline swallowed audibly, catching her attention, teeth worrying her lower lip. When Bonnibel glanced up in question, Marceline held out her hands, fingers splayed, then drew them down and around onto Bonnibel's hips.

Bonnibel let her lids drop, vision unreliable as it was, as those hands continued their motion until they cupped her rear, fingers tracing small circles that didn't quite tickle. She rocked in again, pressing her forehead against Marceline's chest, counting, losing count until she could hear the rough rasp of her breath and she knew she was digging her fingers into Marceline's shoulder but couldn't stop. And when her rhythm faltered with an irregular hitch, the first loss of motor control, Marceline's hands steadied her weight, guiding and resuming the tempo. And when she tried to speak a frustrated command that came out an inarticulate, frustrated whine, Marceline understood, ratcheting the pace, hot puffs of breath against the tip of Bonnibel's ear.

It didn't make sense, the impossible tension and rigid muscles, the hands that clutched desperately until they surely broke skin. Bonnibel struggled to breath, her lungs refusing to contract or expand, throat working as her vision hazed out and how she loathed the loss of control as her body twisted of its own accord. The choked sounds she made were far from proper, polite or lady-like and she couldn't stop the gasps that followed as her lungs recalled their function. Oh, Glob, how she wanted.

She was aware that they were kneeling, that Marceline was cradling her securely, planting timid kisses along her neck and shoulder, smoothing a hand down her back. Her own hands were lax and when she willed them to move, they refused as she panted. She was hot, sweaty, sticky and on a certain level, absolutely revolted. Her hand twitched and she raised a shaking arm.

Marceline immediately backed off, sliding her arms loose until only her fingers were curled lightly against Bonnibel's thighs. Rather than any expression she expected, her brows were pinched in anxiety, eyes clear and piercing. "Okay?"

Bonnibel licked parched lips and worked her jaw as if reminding herself how it functioned. "Yes. It was different with another person involved," she mused out loud, pushing off the floor to stand.

Marceline followed, a fond smile replacing her prior concern. "It usually is."

As her thighs brushed together, she was abruptly aware of the wetness between them. She raised her brows in mild surprise and, cocking her head in thought, reached with a hand to catch some of the fluid on her fingers. She heard Marceline make a strangled noise. When she looked up, prepared to tease, she discovered that Marceline had scrunched her eyes shut, fully biting her lips, with her face averted, hands jammed into her hair.

She gave into a smile and deliberately waved her wet fingers under Marceline's nose, a warmth unfurling in her chest, some unease she hadn't recognized melting away.

Marceline's nostrils flared and she slit open her eyes. "Fuck," she groaned, then repeated the curse more emphatically as if she'd gotten it wrong the first time. She raked a hand through her hair, eyes darting to Bonnibel's inquisitively, hopefully.

She wriggled her fingers and Marceline snapped out her tongue, winding around one finger before releasing. It should have been repulsive to be licked as if by an animal, but it was warm, wet and tickled. She shifted her weight uncomfortably, impatiently, caught by the bemusing realization that she wanted to come again. She drew back her hand gradually, Marceline leaning forward to follow smoothly as a snake until her breath was hot, rapid fire in Bonnibel's palm.

Marceline leaned abruptly back until she was standing straight again, head tipped back, eyes squeezed shut.

Bonnibel studied her exposed throat, a column of rigid tendon and the ancient scars set over her artery. She traced the play of light and shadow down until her eyes fell on her breasts, nipples jutting out in arousal. Fingers against Marceline's hip, she cupped one breast, rasping her palm back and forth until she heard more swearing.

"Bonnie, I can't take that. I can't," she grunted out, hunching a shoulder, ending on a husky moan.

"Hmph. You have your very own succubus and I know you came at least three times, but you can't take this?" She gave into another urge, licking upward, tasting clean salt, tongue catching on a pebbled nipple. She felt Marceline's hands catch her head, fingers digging into her hair to hold her in place. "You've had so much practice," she continued to chide with her lips and tongue.

Marceline didn't answer immediately, breath hitching between gasps and another groan followed by a frustrated growl that mutated into a whine. "Not the same. I want you Bonnie. I really want you and I don't know wh... I don't know why I keep doing this to myself."

Bonnibel paused, trailing her lips in an arc up to the hard line of Marceline's collar bone. She sucked on the hollow, ending in a kiss before she looked back up. "Do what?"

"Picking the wrong people," Marceline confessed in a tone so grief stricken and hopeless that Bonnibel wanted to slap her. "It's like a compulsion."

"To seek out goodness, kindness, honor and compassion? Someone you believe worthy of your time and attention? No," Bonnibel said firmly, "the real question is why I'm letting you do this, why I'm allowing any of it." She indulged her growing need to touch, skimming her palms up, down and around Marceline's torso, tracing imaginary patterns on the warm, silky skin. "I was engineered female, capable of bearing offspring and, likely, the drive to protect my people instilled within me. I doubt my parents intended me to align myself with the second most evil being in all of Ooo."

"I know. I'm-"

"The thing about science-"

"Huh?"

"Hush. The thing about science, is that it's all about failure. You experiment but expect to fail, expect the undesirable result. You keep trying until you've either determined an answer or achieved the desired result." She nuzzled Marceline's neck, under her jaw with a line of kisses, taking satisfaction in the shudder that elicited.

"Relationships aren't science experiments."

"Every experience is an experiment." She slid her hands down to grasp her buttocks, squeezing firmly and Marceline canted her hips forward. She smiled in satisfaction when she didn't hear a protest. "You're not insulted?"

"Naw. You like science," Marceline answered thickly, eyes glazed in a blue glow.

She hummed. "Fascinating." She angled to face the breast she'd neglecting, nuzzling lightly to gauge the level of sensory equivalence between the two. "It seems that ruling the Nightosphere agrees with you."

"Uh?"

"In the past, you would have failed to grasp my analogy and become enraged at the comparison. As you are incapable of ma-" she quickly switched words to be diplomatic, "aging, the only significant source of change in you is the possession of the amulet and residence in the Nightosphere." Marceline listened intently, lips parted as if her words were erotic poetry rather than rational postulation. "Your office must fulfill an emotional or psychological need resulting in greater stability."

She felt Marceline's fingers tapping a chord against the back of her shoulder blade, a soundless tune as she picked apart the hypothesis.

"It feeds the monster," Marceline admitted, after some time. "Keeps it happy."

"You shouldn't speak of yourself in the third person. It's unhealthy."

Tenderness welled up in Marceline's eyes before she closed them with an involuntary smile, ducking her head. "I know. I read too."

"Books are a good way to pass time," Bonnibel agreed with mock sobriety, "but direct experience never hurts."

Marceline grinned, a small thing that became a mouthful of razors. "I'm endless variety," she crooned suggestively, an inhuman timbre underlying her voice conflicting with the hopeful delight in expression. Her body dissolved into black smoke, a haze with glowing blue eyes and amorphous bat wings that spread to cocoon Bonnibel. "So tell me what you want."

Bonnibel grinned back at the Lord of Evil and said, "Anything you can dish out, Marcy."


BACK