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In the Blink of an Eye

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Marceline the Vampire Queen was 1000 years old when she met Princess Bonnibel Bubblegum, and she was also 18. And she was also feeling extremely vicious.

It was hot out, and she was angry, and her back was sore from the large pack she was carrying. She had dumped her jerk-faced teddy-bear-stealing boyfriend, then dumped everything she owned into a bag, and then dumped the stupid treehouse that she’d made her stupid life in, and headed out.

One nice thing about being 18 forever, Marceline had found, was that you never ran out of time to start over.

With no particular destination in mind, she wandered aimlessly through the Verdant Plains, keeping half an eye out for a suitable location to restart her life, but dedicating most of her energy to maintaining her frothy rage. She was startled out of her thoughts by the realization that around her, the forest had begun to thin out. A sweet smell filled the air, and she realized that she was on the edge of the Candy Kingdom - possibly the last place in Ooo in which she’d want to settle.

On the other hand, she was hungry. Lots of candies were brightly colored. Ruining someone else’s day would probably improve hers significantly.

Her dinner plans came to an abrupt halt when she heard a strange sniffling sound coming from a bush. Which wasn’t to say that Marceline had never seen a bush cry before, but this one didn’t seem to have a face, and it was rustling in a rather peculiar manner as well.

“Alright, come on out of there.” Marceline demanded, resigned to having her mayhem put on hold for a bit. It was generally a bad idea, in the land of Ooo, to ignore the distress of others. The place had the strangest trick of placing people exactly where they needed to be.

A tiny pink head poked out of the bushes, eyes smudged with tears.

“I’m sorry - I didn’t mean to bother you.” it said politely. “I just wanted some privacy, you see, and it’s hard to find any up at the castle.”

Marceline the Vampire Queen was both 1000 years old and 18 when she first met Princess Bonnibel Bubblegum. But Bonnibel was only 7.

**

Eleven years later, Princess Bubblegum was 18 years old, and she wasn’t called Bonnibel anymore. Marceline was slightly older than 1000 years, but she was still 18 too.

And once again, she was feeling vicious.

Why had Bubblegum even kept that stupid shirt? It wasn’t like she didn’t have plenty of pajamas in her royal wardrobe.

It made Marceline feel exposed to see it. Bubblegum wasn’t the same person she’d been when Marceline had given it to her, but Marceline was still the same person she’d been when she gave it.

She began throwing her things into her bag. She’d had enough of the Red Rock cliffs. They were nice, but everyone knew where to find her, there. She was still 18, she could always start over again, if she wanted to. She’d hang out in The Evil Forest for awhile. Nothing would bother her - she was still the evilest thing going, even if a certain pink princess did have the ability to make her look pathetic once in awhile.

It didn’t have to be forever. In fact, it would hardly be any time at all. She’d make a nice nest, give herself a little personal time. And then Bubblegum would be dead, Finn and Jake would be old, and Marceline could consider moving back into her treehouse. No time would have passed at all - she would still be 18.

**

“Why are you crying?” she asked, out of genuine curiosity rather than any kind of sympathy or concern. The bubblegum hair gave the kid away as a candy-girl. They didn’t tend toward any great depth, Marceline knew. Oh sure, they’d cry if there was something concrete to upset them, but as soon as it was removed from their sight, they’d be happy again. Running away to cry in the woods - that was an anomaly.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” the girl responded, still very polite. Despite herself, Marceline was intrigued. It was a nice change from the past few days, to see someone else looking miserable.

And yes, alright. The kid was adorable. Bubblegum hair? Really?

“You like music, kid?” she asked. The little girl’s eyes darted to the axe-base strapped across the vampire’s back, and Marceline could see that she’d caught the kid’s interest.

“It’s very mathematical.” she responded, and Marceline couldn’t help the snort of amusement that came out of her. Pink-hair looked extremely offended. “Well it is!” she insisted. “It’s all about patterns, after all.”

“Yeah, sure, but that’s not the point, y’know?” It was typical of a candy person. Obviously the girl was smarter than the average gumdrop, if she was interested in math, but she still couldn’t go deep enough to find the actual meaning of the music. It was exactly what Marceline hated about the Candy Kingdom.

Still. If the kid was being angry about math, then she wasn’t crying.

“If you come out of the bush, I’ll let you try my guitar.” she offered. The little girl gave her a suspicious glance, and then climbed out from behind the foliage, unsticking her hair in a practiced motion.

“I don’t know how to play the guitar.” But her prim words couldn’t hide the eager light in her eyes.

“C’mere, it’s easy.” Marceline promised, pulling her precious axe over her shoulder and handing it over. “Look, just place your hand at the neck, here, and put your fingers on these strings...”

The kid sucked at guitar. Which, to be fair, any 7 year old would, so maybe it wasn’t the candy in her. Anyways, she was absolutely glowing with delight, so Marceline figured she’d done her good deed for the century.

“What’s your name anyways, kid?” she asked. The little girl beamed at her, tears forgotten.

“I’m Bonnibel. Who’re you?”

“My name’s Marceline. Don’t you think you should be getting home?”

It was getting dark out. Bonnibel looked around, almost comically startled by the realization.

“Oh! They’re sure to have missed me by now! I lost track of time!” She started down the path toward the Candy Kingdom, and then abruptly whirled back and threw her arms around Marceline in an effusive hug. “Thank you, Marceline!”

“Yeah, no big.” Marceline smirked, tolerating the childish affection for a moment before giving her an encouraging shove down the path. “Get goin’, I have places to be.”

She watched until the little girl made it into her own borders, a speck of pink in the distance, and then reshouldered her bag and guitar.

It would be a long walk to the Red Rock Cliffs, but she preferred traveling by night anyways, when she didn’t have to shelter herself under an umbrella.

Still. Her bag was heavy, and the woods no longer seemed to mock her sad loveless state. With the sun going down, they were almost pleasant. A piece of Bonnibel’s hair had stuck to her waist, she noticed. She popped it into her mouth and chewed, blowing a large bubble and then sucking the pink backwards out of it. She’d never liked pink much - it tasted watered down. But the sweetness of the gum helped.

It was almost entirely dark now. With a shrug, she turned back toward the treehouse. After all, it wasn’t like she had to leave, if she didn’t want to. Maybe she wasn’t done with it yet.

**

The next time Marceline saw Bonnibel was only 4 days later.

She was wandering through the plains, picking wild strawberries, when she heard a childish scream in the distance.

It was far enough away to not be her problem, and while Marceline wasn’t as hardhearted as a vampire was supposed to be, she was hardly going to inconvenience herself for some stranger.

But - the voice sounded familiar. It shot a jolt of panic through her, so that before she’d even thought about it, she’d dropped her bundle of strawberries and gone racing toward the sound of the voice.

“Let go of me!!!”

The screaming was closer now, and the voice was easily identifiable as Bonnibel’s. Marceline sped up.

She found the girl in almost the same place they’d had their jam session the other day, on the edge of The Verdant Plains’ woods, near the border into the Candy Kingdom. Bonnibel was backed up against a tree, shrinking away from a blue old man. Her tiny hands were bound together in icy shackles.

“Oh, don’t be frightened, Princess Bubblegum!” The man was saying cheerfully. “We’re going to have fun! I’m a fun guy! You can come live with me in the ice kingdom, and learn to love me as you grow up! It’s going to be perfect!”

Marceline saw red. Almost without her permission, her body shifted into a fierce wolf state, and she leapt forward, snarling, knocking him to the ground.

“Aaaah!!” The shriek came from two places at once - the man beneath her paws, and the child. Bonnibel looked possibly even more terrified than she had a moment before, and Marceline reluctantly forced herself back into her human form.

“What do you think you’re doing, you pervert!?” She snarled angrily. The man beneath her merely whimpered in fright. “Get out of here!” She enlarged herself, pulling him off the ground as she gained height, and effortlessly tossed him into a tree.

“I - I’ll come back some other time.” the strange man announced, and then fled into the air, flapping his bizarre beard. For a moment Marceline considered going after him, but - there were priorities.

She shrank back to her normal size, and whirled toward Bonnibel. “You OK?” she demanded gruffly, uncertain what to say to a small child who had been attacked in such a manner.

“I think so. My hands are still frozen.” Bonnibel replied, sounding remarkably calm.

“Come on, then.” Marceline sighed, pulling the little girl with her. She half carried the kid to her treehouse, putting her ice-shackled hands into a bucket of warm water.

“This is where you live?” Bonnibel looked around interestedly, not appearing traumatized in the least.

“Yeah, this is my pad.” Marceline confirmed, unable to keep a certain amount of pride out of her voice. She’d built this place by herself. It was the best home she’d ever had, she was glad she hadn’t abandoned it.

“I like it.” Bonnibel admitted, casting a shy smile in Marceline’s direction. There were definite tones of hero worship to that smile. “It’s .... cool.”

“Thanks, kid.” Marceline hesitated, and then decided to push a little. It wasn’t as though Bonnibel seemed all that scared. “Did you know that guy, or what?”

“That’s the ice king.” The child explained. “He’s been trying to negotiate our betrothal with my father. Sometimes when the negotiations aren’t going well, he tries to cheat.”

“That’s .... messed up.” Marceline returned. Which was when she remembered the ice king’s earlier address to Bonnibel, and finally realized that this crazy little girl who kept showing up was the princess of Castle Kingdom.

**

After that, Princess Bonnibel just always seemed to be around. Marceline never did anything to encourage it, but once or twice a week, the girl showed up in the treehouse. When she was in a good mood, she was an absolute menace. She’d wheedle incessantly until Marceline dropped whatever she was doing and showed her another guitar chord, or set up elaborate pranks around the treehouse. Sometimes she had disgusting science projects to show off.

Other days, she showed up just to sit on the couch and cry. Marceline never asked why, and Bonnibel never volunteered the information. But regardless of the child’s mood, her company was never quite as annoying as it should have been. For one thing, her behavior was always tempered by a healthy dose of hero worship.
The pattern was established. And for a year, in which Bonnibel turned 8 and Marceline stayed 18, nothing broke it.

 

**

It was dark out as Marceline left her cave. Once again, she had all her belongings shoved into a bag, and her axe-guitar slung over her shoulder. This time, however, she also had a destination.

The fastest way to The Evil Forest was through The Candy Kingdom. If she went another route, she’d still be out in direct sunlight when dawn broke. Still, she hesitated for a moment, and then her hesitation made her angry. She had no reason to avoid Princess Bubblegum’s lair.

The adventure with the door lord hadn’t changed anything. She scoffed at the idea that the shirt was anything precious to Bubblegum. At most, it was a token of past regrets. It occurred to her, with sudden bitterness, that all their stolen items could be described that way. Finn’s lock of hair, Jake’s childhood blanket - they were only mementos of a past that could never be reclaimed. How ludicrous, that when mere symbols had been stolen they’d gone chasing after them as though they meant something.

Bonnibel had been someone who could come into the woods looking for somewhere to cry, but Princess Bubblegum wasn’t somebody who indulged in pathos. She’d probably lied about sleeping in the t-shirt, or at least meant it in the past tense.

Of course, Marceline realized, she’d be passing right through The Candy Kingdom at night, when everyone was asleep. It would hardly be difficult to check.

**

The pattern broke for the first time about a month after Bonnibel’s 8th birthday. Marceline hadn’t gotten her anything, but Bonnibel had brought her a cupcake anyways, from the celebration. A pink one. Marceline thought maybe she was going to get used to the taste of pink, over the next few years.

One day the little girl showed up in a new mood. She wasn’t sad or mischievous. She could almost be described as shy, a word that Marceline had never before thought to apply to the bizarrely self-contained little princess.

There was no mistaking it, though, when Bonnibel blushed and looked the other way as she handed a gilded envelope over. “You don’t have to.” was all she said. Curiosity aroused, Marceline chose to wordlessly rip it open, rather than reply to the strange statement.

“Coronation Celebration,” read the elaborately decorated piece of paper within. “Admit Queen Marceline the Vampire to Dinner and Ceremony.” And then in smaller print, “this invitation, which is not transferable, is to be shown at door.”

Marceline gave a surprised laugh. “Did you bring me a ticket to your party?” she asked, though obviously the girl had, and even more obviously she did not consider it a laughing matter. “Why’re you having a coronation? Your dad’s still the King, isn’t he?” She took pity, making a concerted effort to take the subject seriously.

“Oh yes, I’m not going to be ruler yet.” Bonnibel clarified. “This is just to declare me the heir apparent, so no one can contest the succession.”

“Huh.” Marceline couldn’t really picture any of the candy people getting up enough gumption to contest anything. “Why are they doing it now, then?” she asked, more to buy herself time than because she cared. There was no way she was going to some formal party with a group of people so shallow they couldn’t manage a deep thought if you shoved them 200 feet under the Squid Ink Sea.

It seemed unnecessarily cruel to tell that to Bonnibel, though, who seemed to genuinely love her people, even if she didn’t entirely fit in with them.

“My father insisted upon it.” the princess explained, her voice unnaturally tight. She curled up next to Marceline on the couch, resting her head on the older girl’s arm, and Marceline allowed it because the kid looked so sad. Not that she was gonna let it become a habit or anything.

“When I cry, you never ask me about it.” The statement seemed almost out of the blue.

“Do you want me to?” Marceline queried, a little perplexed. The kid had made it clear from day one that she just wanted to be sad in private sometimes. Marceline had never seen any reason to push. She wasn’t made of sugar, and she didn’t see why a little misery should be anything but healthy now and then.

“No.” Bonnibel returned almost sharply. There was silence for a few moments, while Marceline tried to come up with a way to subtly extract herself from all this sugary affection, and then abruptly the girl started up again. 

“He’s sick.”

She was staring straight ahead, not looking at Marceline as she said the words in a frank, almost conversational tone.

“My dad, I mean. He’s alright sometimes, but he’s sick more and more often.” Her little mouth was tightened into a thin line, and Marceline thought that maybe this was the first time she’d acknowledged any of it aloud. “The others don’t even notice. They treat him when he’s sick, and they’re happy when he gets better, and they don’t notice. They don’t see the pattern like I do.”

She’d talked about patterns a year ago, Marceline remembered. She’d assumed the kid was missing something, but maybe it was the other way around. Maybe Bonnibel saw depth in places she didn’t.

“He started talking to the Ice King right after the first time he got sick, looking for someone who could take care of me, and rule the kingdom while I was too young. And now he’s having this coronation.” the girl continued. “I think it must be because he knows that it’s going to happen soon, he’s going to - to -“

Marceline went to the coronation.

It was exactly what she’d thought it would be. Candy people danced and cheered, the Candy King made a lovely speech, and everyone was very happy. Bonnibel smiled at everyone and thanked them for coming, and said how happy she was that someday she would be able to dedicate her life to serving them, and she hoped that they enjoyed the party. Had they seen the pink cake at the back of the room, didn’t it look wonderful?

She didn’t mention that it was a celebration of her father’s impending death. But her eyes sought out Marceline’s in the crowd, and Marceline was glad she was there to meet them.

**

The Candy Kingdom wasn't typically lit at night. It hardly needed to be - candy people would never wander about in the dark. They were tucked away snugly in their beds, dreaming sweet sugar plum dreams. And if they had reason to be out of bed, the moonlight was enough. There were no villains or thieves to be frightened off by the harsh truth of a streetlamp.

Marceline was the reason streetlamps had been invented, the scary thing following you in the dark. She didn't mind their lack. Her keen vampire eyesight meant that she could see in the dark quite easily, and she didn't especially want to be spotted.

She didn't mean any harm, but sneaking into the bedroom of royalty was still rather frowned upon.

It was also extremely easy, or at least it was if you could fly. Marceline lowered her pack, and her precious guitar, to the ground beneath Bubblegum's window, and transformed effortlessly into a bat, flapping upwards to land gently on the sill.

She couldn't see Bubblegum. But, the window was cracked slightly open. Heart pounding a little, Marceline slipped silently inside.

**

 

The Candy King didn't push off as effortlessly as Bonnibel had predicted. He took 3 more years to die, a slow downward spiral that eventually even the candy people couldn't ignore. The last year of his life was spent in bed.

Princess Bonnibel was 11 when it happened. Marceline, of course, was still 18.

She came to the funeral. It was the first time she'd been back to the Candy Kingdom since the coronation, and the occasions were weirdly complementary. The candy people were in mourning, clinging to each other teary eyed. They sent sorrowful, sympathy-laden glances at the Princess, and were comforted by her gently, calming speech. It was a great tragedy, she assured them, that they had lost their king. A great personal tragedy that she had lost her father, cut down in the prime of his youth. But he had taught her how to serve the kingdom, with their help she would be the kind of ruler who honored his legacy. They should take this opportunity to remember fondly his life, rather than to mourn his death, and to that end had they seen the lovely tea service in the back?

When here eyes sought out Marceline's in the crowd, there was a desperate relief in them. Death, Marceline knew quite well, could sometimes be a blessing. And now little Bonnibel knew that too.

The princess sought her out after the ceremony, catching her before she could escape back to the comfort of her treehouse.

“Marceline, wait!” She did, letting the little girl catch up to her at the end of the street.

“Hey Bonni-boo.” She greeted casually, even a little mockingly. There’d been enough sympathy for one day. Bonnibel was probably even more sick of it than she was.

The girl confirmed Marceline’s suspicion by smiling lightly at the nickname. “Hey. Thanks for coming, it was nice to have someone around who -” she didn’t finish the sentence, but that was alright. Marceline could think of about 11 different endings for it, none of them complimentary to the new ruler’s loyal subjects.

“Yeah, well, no big.” she responded casually. Bonnibel turned sober, grasping lightly at her arm.

“I - Marceline, I have a favor to ask of you.”

That was new, for their relationship. Somehow Marceline gave more to Bonnibel, did more for her, than she had ever done for anyone else in her life. She thought that maybe it was because the little girl would never in a thousand years presume to ask for the things she needed. But here she was, asking.

“Yeah?” Marceline prodded warily.

“I -” the girl hesitated, and then blurted it out, all at once, “Willyoustayforawhile?” so that it was practically incomprehensible.

“What?”

“Could you stay here, with me? For awhile?” Bonnibel repeated. “It’s just - I’m eleven, Marceline! I have no idea how to rule a kingdom. You’ve been a queen for over a thousand years, and - “ she faltered for a moment, and then continued, “ - and you’re my best friend, and I’m scared.”

Marceline had always hated the candy kingdom. It was bright and sweet and never anything else. But now it was something else, she realized. It was Princess Bonnibel Bubblegum’s domain, and she was definitely something new.

“Yeah, OK, I can stay for awhile.” Marceline agreed. And then added something that she had only just recognized as the truth. “After all, you’re my best friend too.”

**

"You raised the dead, huh?" Bubblegum looked surprised to see her. Which Marceline supposed was fair, since she had not actually been invited to hang out in the Princess' private bedchamber, much less to use the royal bed as a couch. But she'd had a standing invitation for years, and she didn't see why it should be rescinded now.

"Yes, I did." Bubblegum agreed. She didn't ask any further questions, apparently deciding her best tactic would be to pretend that Marceline's presence was in no way out of the ordinary.

"You should have come and talked to me first." Marceline pushed, casually shifting her shoed feet up onto the bedspread, just to get a reaction. "I know some stuff about raising the dead, you know. Vampire queen and all that."

Bubblegum didn't respond, just went to her wardrobe and started rustling things about, apparently searching for something. Well, screw tact then, Marceline decided. Bubblegum didn't want to say it, but it needed to be said, and so she continued,

"I could have told you that you couldn't bring your father back." Bubblegum's back stiffened, but she didn't turn, and Marceline continued ruthlessly, "There's nothing you can do, about an illness like that. You can't cure it. He can't survive with it. There's no life left for him."

"SHUT UP!" finally Bubblegum whirled around. And then almost immediately got herself under control. "I apologize for my outburst Marceline. But that was hardly the purpose of my experiment. Candy people do not reproduce frequently, and our biology is rather unique. It simply seemed to me that many of our people's deaths were unnecessary - more like deactivation than destruction, and easily reversible."

It was a speech she'd already had prepared, Marceline realized. Something to say to the candy people if any of them stopped to wonder why their dead relatives were suddenly hanging around town again. Not that any of them would wonder.

And suddenly Marceline was very very angry at herself. Of course Princess Bubblegum was giving her a speech. This wasn't little Bonnibel, who'd needed a place to cry. Time had passed for her, even if it could never pass for Marceline. This was the fully grown princess of the candy people, the piece of chalk that was responsible for writing happy things on all of their little blank slate minds. And Marceline had no place in her bedroom.

"Goodbye, Bonnibel." she said, but she wasn't addressing Princess Bubblegum. And then she slipped out the window.

**

Princess Bubblegum’s quarters were dark and silent in a way that was completely normal for the dead of night, but still managed to be somewhat unnerving. Marceline, hovering a few inches above the ground to avoid the sound of footfall, was sharply aware of what a violation she was already committing. It felt as though disturbing the silence could only exacerbate her crime.

She had to know, before she left. This chapter of her life was ending, and she wanted to make a clean break of it. She couldn’t leave such an important question unanswered. It would become something to cling to, a remnant of the past that became a precious symbol in the present.

She was sick of the way that time kept lurching about in circles and loop-de-loops, making every moment so much more complicated than it had to be. Everyone kept growing and shrinking and keeping t-shirts and looking at her with large dark eyes framed by lovely pink hair. Marceline had successfully avoided taking part in it for 1000 years, and she wasn’t bringing any of it with her now.

Determined, she pushed open the door to the inner chamber of Bubblegum’s lair, slipping inside. The princess was covered in a luxurious looking pink blanket.

Marceline reached out, tugging gently at the edge, pulling it back just enough to see -

Bubblegum’s eyes shot open.

“AIIEEEEEEEE!”

**

“Marceline, wake up! Wake up wake up wake up!”

“Gnrbl.” The vampire replied, rolling over and pulling her red pillow over her head in the vain hope that it had spontaneously developed the magical ability to hold off a 15 year old determined candy princess.

“Marceliiiine, it is after 8 already, how long will you insist on sleeping?” Insistent hands pulled the pillow away.

“The vampire cracked one eye open, glaring blearily at the blur of pink enthusiasm that was bouncing enthusiastically on her bed. “I am a creature of the night, Bonni. Early mornings? Not really my thing.”

Bubblegum appeared contrite. “I’m sorry, Marceline. Only, today is the only free day we have before diplomatic negotiation opens up with the Duchy of Nuts, and you promised me a ride to the Shiney Isles so I could study the effects of seawater on crystalline growth patterns.”

“Oh.” Marceline sat up, the sheets falling down to reveal her red bra. “That’s right, I did.” Bonnibel had been alight with scientific inquiry for weeks, looking forward to this trip, only to be completely crushed the day before when her swan had injured its wing. In a fit of sympathy - she must have been feeling ill or something - Marceline had offered to take her in the bird’s stead. “Just - give me ten minutes, Bonnibel. And find me something red and rejuvenating.”

For some reason Bonnibel was now looking flustered, her cheeks red. “Oh! Yes, red! I can do that!” she stammered, and was off like a shot, slamming the door loudly behind her. Marceline fell backwards on the bed with a moan. Two more minutes, she promised herself, and then she’d find her hat.

Fifteen minutes later, the vampire queen met an extremely chipper pink princess in the courtyard, accepting red cherries on a bed of rose petals as a suitable breakfast offering.

It had surprised her, when Bonnibel first declared Marceline as her regent until she reached majority age, the level of luxury the candy people were willing to provide for their beloved rulers.

As she settled into the role, it became much less surprising. While regular intake of sugar was necessary for their growth, the candy people did not actually suffer if they didn’t have enough food. They had no need for extra land to farm or settle in, no need for anyone to maintain grain storage in preparation for future emergencies. Their basic biological needs went in an entirely different direction - they needed to be loved and comforted, kept away from anything that might frighten or challenge their simple minds. And when it was a ruler’s job to provide such things, didn’t it make sense that the relationship would be a far more intimate and emotional one than Marceline had expected?

Despite her youth and lack of experience, Bubblegum was the ideal ruler for the candy kingdom. She loved her people fiercely, and would give anything to protect their childish lives.

And Marceline, who was old and extremely experienced, would do anything to protect Bubblegum. So the entire system ended up working extremely well.

“Um, Marceline?” Bonnibel was looking around, a bewildered crinkle to her pink forehead. She was hunched over to accomodate an enormous backpack, no doubt stuffed to the brim with scientific equipment. “I didn’t actually ask - how exactly are you transporting me to the Shiney Isles?”

Marceline grinned wickedly. “Put your arms around my neck.” she instructed. Bonnibel looked confused for a moment, and then her eyes widened in comprehension.

“Oh, Marceline, that does not sound entirely safe...”

“Do you want to go, or don’t you?” Marceline asked reasonably. Bonnibel hesitated for another moment, and then uncertainly put her arms around the other girl’s shoulders from behind, as though she were going for a piggy back ride. Marceline waited just long enough to be sure that Bubblegum had a secure hold and then swooped into the air, reaching back and taking hold of her rider’s legs for additional security.

It ended up very much like a mid-air piggy back. Bubblegum held herself rigid at first, no doubt out of fear, but eventually she relaxed, her chest pressed warmly against Marceline’s back in a way that the vampire could not help but be extremely aware of, and her chin resting on Marceline’s shoulder.

“Oh, this is lovely!” she murmured delightedly, her mouth close enough to Marceline’s ear that she didn’t need to shout at all to be heard above the rushing wind. “Why haven’t we done this before.”

“Probably because it involves waking up before 10am.” She muttered back, more out of long habit than any actual displeasure. Bonnibel only giggled, pushing Marceline’s long hair over her head so that it would stop blowing in her face, and adjusting the large floppy hat more securely.

The ride was short, well under an hour, and Marceline was surprised at how disappointed she was to touch down on the island. Flying was one of her favorite pastimes, and it was made all the more pleasurable by the company of someone who was sharing in her happiness. Especially when that someone was Bonnibel, possibly the only other person whose happiness she actually cared about.

She thought maybe Bonni was a little disappointed too, given how slowly the princess unwound her arms and stepped back. If she was, though, she appeared to get over it very quickly.

“Well! Time for science!” She announced delightedly, pulling unlikely looking contraptions out of her bag and beginning to assemble them. “Would you like to assist, Marceline, or - ?” She left the question hanging, uncertain what other options there were for activities on the small island.

“Nah, I’m covered.” Marceline replied with a smirk, pulling a handheld gaming system out of her pocket and displaying it. She settled against one of the large prismatic crystals that jutted out of the island’s base, deliberately nonchalant in the face of their stunning beauty. Bubblegum only rolled her eyes, well used to her friend’s posturing, and set to work.

Marceline judged that it had been about 3 hours when she finally defeated the final boss on her video game. With nothing left to do, she looked around for Bubblegum, who would never think to stop and refresh herself when there was science to be done. How the girl had survived for 11 years without a constant keeper was beyond Marceline.

She found her on the northern tip of the island, holding a magnifying glass to one of the smaller crystal growths and looking extremely frustrated.

“Hey.” Marceline nudged her with a toe, causing the princess to jump up with a startled cry. “Break time. You got lunch in that sack of yours, Bonni-boo?”

“Oh! Yes, of course.” Bonnibel assured her, scrambling for her pack. She pulled out a thermos and two cups, pouring out a sweet red punch that the candy people drank more frequently than water. It was enough to satisfy both of them, since all Bonnibel needed was sugar and all Marceline needed was color.

“How goes science?” the vampire inquired casually, sitting back against a crystal and draining the color slowly from her cup with one fang.

“Poorly.” Bubblegum replied in a despondent voice, settling into a comfortable sprawl with Marceline’s raised knees as support for her back. “The crystals are very hard. My tools are not adequate to prepare a sample small enough for my specimen microscope.”

“Huh.” Marceline casually transformed one hand into her wolf-form and tested a magically sharp claw against the closest crystal, removing a slice from the top as though it were a block of cheese. “You mean like this?”

“Oh!! Yes, exactly like that!” Bonnibel swiveled, resting her arm on top of Marceline’s knees, and looked at her beseechingly. “I don’t suppose you could -”

“Yeah, fine.” she agreed, making a show of reluctance. “But only because I already beat my video game.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon working in amiable silence, Marceline collecting samples while Bonnibel catalogued them.

As they packed up the equipment, the sun started to go down, and the first rays hit the tips of the tallest crystal prisms, sending a multitude of colors across the island.

“Ohhh.” Bonnibel was staring, awestruck, and for once Marceline could not mount a facade of indifference.

“We’ll have a good view from the beach.” she suggested, abandoning any pretense that they were not going to stay.

They lay there in the sand, Bonnibel’s head comfortably pillowed on Marceline’s chest, as the light shifted, bent through one crystal and then another in a dizzying display of color.

The princess watched, mesmerized by the display, while Marceline took the opportunity to be equally mesmerized by a different view. The light and shadow shifted over her companion’s form, illustrating its gentle beauty.

The vampire could feel the start of an epiphany, something she usually tried to avoid. Bonnibel, she realized, was not a child anymore. And Marceline was not her mentor, hadn’t been for a long time. Their relationship had shifted, as the other girl had caught up with her. Somewhere along the line they had become equals, and they had become something that Marceline had never had before. They were intertwined, a unit, something that functioned as a whole better than it ever could as two separate parts.

And Marceline really, really wanted to kiss her.

So, as the last notes of color faded and Bonnibel turned, angling her face upward to look into her friend’s eyes and share the joy of the moment, Marceline did.

**

 

Marceline hated Finn, when she first heard about him. How could she not? She'd stormed out of the Candy Kingdom, and out of Bubblegum's life, and she hadn't expected anyone to chase after her, hadn't expected to see them again, or even to find any sort of real closure. But on some unconscious level, she had at least expected to be missed.

Not two weeks later, the Duke of Nuts was telling her about how Princess Bubblegum had been kidnapped by the Ice King, only to be rescued by a new hero.

Of course she didn't want that dirty old man to get his hands on Bonni, but - she'd wanted to hang on to the illusion of her own necessity. It was painful, to see herself so easily replaced as the princess' champion. Some muscled moron, no doubt, probably with shining blonde locks and a chiseled jaw and not two words to rub together. What would Bubblegum see in someone like that, anyways? And what kind of stupid hero had a dog for a sidekick? She was a vampire, and a teenager - selflessness and nobility weren’t high on her to-do list, and she had no intention of being magnanimous about the situation.

And then it had turned out that the infiltrator was living in her old treehouse. It was really too much to bear.

Before she'd even consciously come to a decision about it, she was flying into the verdant plains. What she was going to say, she didn't know. 'Stop taking over my life, just because I don't want it anymore doesn't mean you can have it.'

He had turned out to be 12. That was a bit of a shock. Not that it made him any less of a threat, of course - Marceline knew from personal experience how easily people could catch up with one another.

And then to top it all off, he proved himself brave and even intelligent. So she couldn't dislike him, not really, and she let him have the stupid treehouse, since she wasn't using it anyways. But she resented the hell out of him.

Then he saved her life, and she couldn't even resent him anymore. They were friends, and she took solace in resenting her lack of resentment. And whatever else, she drew the line very firmly at helping him ask her ex out on a date.

It wasn't as bad a year as she'd been expecting to have, but being friends with Finn and the Duke meant that she hadn't cut ties the way she’d done in the past. It seemed as though she and Bubblegum spent the time circling around one another, always in the same places, always with the same people, but never quite running into each other. It was nothing like starting over.

And then the door lord broke free, and they finally collided.

**

"Marceline, Marceline wake uup." A hand was shaking her shoulder, and Marceline rolled over to smile sleepily at its owner, too warm and content to even pretend to be disgruntled by the wake up call.

The smile faded when she saw the tense anxiety on 16 year old Bonnibel's face. "Wha? What's wrong?" she bolted up, looking around for some sort of threat, but all she saw was the dawn light peering into her bedroom through her shades.

"I spent the night here!" Bonnibel hissed at her, looking panicked. "I can't - people will be awake! The staff will be about! They know what I wore yesterday, and I don't have any other clothes here, and - "

Marceline couldn't help it - she laughed, even knowing that she would bring pink sugary wrath down upon her head. Sure enough,

"Marceline, this isn't funny!! I am their ruler, I have an image to uphold - "

"Yeah, alright, calm down." Marceline interrupted the spiel, pulling Bubblegum into her arms. Almost reluctantly, the girl relaxed into the embraced. Behold the mad power that snuggling held over residents of the candy kingdom. Marceline smirked. "Listen - it's like 5 in the morning, Bonni. Tell them we were discussing policy and you fell asleep here."

Almost immediately, Bubblegum brightened. "Oh yes, of course. I can do that." She made as if to get up, and Marceline tightened her hold.

"Hey! I didn't mean now. Sweetheart, it's barely past dawn, I have a beautiful naked girl in my arms, and I know for a fact that neither of us has a meeting to be in before 9. Go back to sleep for an hour." She shifted a little, running her fingers up the princess' arm. "Or, if you want, we could use that time for other things..."

Predictably, Bonnibel blushed, a deeper shade of pink running down her neck and continuing under the blankets. She did not, however, back away. This aspect of their relationship was new, but she was adapting to it at an impressive rate.

"Marceline, you are a terrible influence." she responded sternly, but there was laughter bubbling beneath the surface of her words, and the vampire recognized it for the permission it was.

 

"OK, now I am running late." Bonnibel announced awhile later, throwing herself out of bed without so much as a glance at her girlfriend's pout.

"Heartless. Completely heartless." Marceline informed her, curling up in the blankets in an attempt to replace the body heat that had left with Bubblegum.

"Marceline, kindly remember that we have a kingdom to ru - my dress!!"

"Uh oh." Now that Bonnibel mentioned it, she seemed to remember the sound of fabric tearing at some point in their haste the night before..

“What am I going to do!? I can’t go out like this!”

The panicked princess was holding the previous day’s pink gown in front of her. It was fine from the waist down, but the buttons along the front had been torn off, leaving ripped threads, and in one place even ripped fabric in their place.

“Well... put it on, and let’s see how bad it looks.” suggested Marceline dubiously. Bonnibel didn’t look like she was buying it, but she pulled the dress on.

The fabric sagged ridiculously, the damage even more conspicuous in relation to the curves that it was not adequately covering up.

Bonnibel gave a little moan of horror, turning pleading eyes on the vampire. “Marceline, what am I going to do? I cannot -” she broke off, conscious of the perilous territory she was approaching. Marceline was not entirely happy with her insistence on secrecy, though she never pushed the issue too far.

Now was certainly not the time, not with the princess looking as though she might swoon in fright, were a fainting couch available, though Marceline didn’t see any particular danger to the situation. It seemed as though the more comfortable Bonni became in her position as ruler, the blinder she became to her people’s failings. They weren’t going to interrogate Bubblegum - it would never occur to them that anything more scandalous than tripping down the stairs might have caused the sartorial damage.

“Hey.” She leaned out of bed, grabbing her shirt from the day before off the ground. “C’mere.” It was a grungy black t-shirt, with a rock logo on it for some band that Bonnibel would probably never listen to in a million years, even despite the influence Marceline had had on her musical taste.

“Oh.” The shirt hid the damage well. In fact, it wasn’t even obvious that it was covering the dress - it fell far enough down that Bonnibel looked as though she were simply wearing a t-shirt and skirt that didn’t match especially well.

“You look good. We should consider a wardrobe change for you.” Marceline informed her with a predatory grin, making Bubblegum giggle.

“I suppose it will get me back to my room, at least.” She smiled softly. “It smells like you.”

1000 year old vampires were not meant to blush, Marceline was fairly certain.

“I will return it to you later in good condition.” Bonnibel assured her, but she waved it off.

“Nah, keep it. I meant it, you look good.”

With a last fond smile, the princess slipped out the door, leaving Marceline to roll back over in the bed and bask in her happiness. It wasn’t hard to watch Bonnibel leave, not when she was so confident that this was only one morning in a lifetime of them. They were going to last forever.

**

“Marceline??” The princess was wide awake, confusion evident in her luminous eyes. “Wh-what are you doing in my room?”

There was no way to come out of this situation with her dignity intact. Marceline scratched at the back of her neck, trying to at least appear nonchalant. “I just wanted to see if you were telling the truth.” she muttered.

“I always tell the truth.” Bubblegum replied, some mixture of surprise and indignation evident in her tone. Marceline gave a harsh laugh.

“I’m not one of your gullible subjects, Bonniboo - don’t give me that.” It was almost a little disgusting, to hear the words directed at her in that innocent tone, when she’d been there the whole time, watching that sweet little girl grow up. Watching as she learned how to lie and manipulate and keep herself boxed off from the world so that nobody ever saw what she was really thinking.

It was what made her such a good ruler, Marceline supposed. She was so good at keeping her subjects ignorant of reality. Was it any surprise that the skill had bled over into Bubblegum’s personal life?

But then she was sitting up, throwing back the covers, and there was the t-shirt, barely visible in the dark room.

“Oh.” she muttered, in response to Bubblegum’s pointed look. “Well... thanks. I’ll let you get back to sleep.” She turned to flee, before she could actually die from embarrassment - scholars would write for centuries after her death about the similar effects of sunlight and humiliation on vampire biology, she was sure - and was halted by Bubblegum’s voice.

“I didn’t ask you to go.” Her tone was measured, quiet, but there was no mistaking the underlying anger. For just a split second Marceline thought she meant right in that moment, but of course that wasn’t it at all. There were uncountable instances when Bubblegum hadn’t asked her to go.

This was what she’d come here for, though she hadn’t realized it until it was happening. This was closure. They’d danced around the topic, settling for petty jibes and half-truths, and none of that was enough. So she whirled back around.

“You never gave me much reason to stay, either.”
**

On Bubblegum’s 18th birthday there was a second coronation, celebrating her rise to majority age and official rulership. Marceline told Bubblegum she wouldn’t be attending, but she went anyways, slipping into the back of the room to hear the speech.

It was better than her speeches at past events. Smoother, more adult, but with a kind of underlying playfulness that her people would always want from the ruler who’d become beloved as a mere child. She was honored to find herself in a position to serve them, would do everything in her power to be a kind and graceful leader, starting with a fantastic buffet and perhaps some dancing - a sly allusion was here included to a minor incident earlier that year with the Duke of Nuts and a conga line, but it was wasted on the candy people, who did not catch the subtle humor.

Though she smiled warmly throughout, her eyes stayed a professional distance above the crowd. Marceline doubted that the queen - and a queen she now was, though her people would likely always call her their princess - even knew she was there.

They hadn’t discussed whether Marceline would be staying in the Candy Kingdom now that she was no longer necessary as a regent. In fact, they had spoken relatively little over the past months, as Bubblegum made the final preparations to begin her reign, and when they had spoken they had been quick to dissolve into arguments.

It wasn’t anything Bubblegum was doing, exactly. She didn’t deserve to be so frequent a receiver of the vampire’s sharp tongue, and she knew it too, had quickly run out of patience with her girlfriend’s temper. But Marceline was so fed up with it all - she was tired of secrecy, of warm promises at night that vanished under the burn of daylight. She was exhausted from trying to keep up with Bubblegum, who seemed to be changing by the day, now. It seemed as though a stranger were looking at her through her lover’s eyes. No sooner had Marceline adjusted to some new quirk, some new sharp edge or hidden depth, than Bonnibel was coming back transformed from another meeting, another decision, and she was a stranger all over again. Change was a constant unwanted presence, so that Marceline couldn’t even manage a discussion of the weather without being pushed over the edge.

 

Watching, as the candy people threw themselves wholeheartedly into the celebration, it occured to Marceline for the first time that Bubblegum would be celebrating her 19th birthday next. She had caught up so easily that it almost seemed unfair. It was entirely possible that she would in due course start to leave Marceline behind.

After the party, for the first time in a long time, Marceline did not slip into Bubblegum’s bed after dark, and the harsh worries of the day were given no opportunity to be soothed away.

**

“I didn’t give you any reason to stay?” Bubblegum repeated, sounding stunned, and maybe just a little bit hurt. “I - I thought I was enough reason all on my own.” Her tone was shifting as she spoke, fury slowly entering her voice. “What exactly did you want, Marceline? A title? A statue in your honor? You might have asked, instead of just getting sulky for awhile and then running away in the NIGHT!”

“I wanted you. I just couldn’t have you anymore.” Marceline tried. She didn’t know how to explain it to Bonnibel, who thought she’d been the same person all along, who didn’t understand the difference between her own long lifespan the the brand of timelessness in which Marceline existed, who couldn’t see that she was only going to last for just the blink of an eye before she was replaced by tomorrow.

“Do you think we’d still be the same when you’re 30?” Maybe years were understandable, even if moments weren’t. “When you’re 60, and you want to find an heir so you can retire and devote your remaining years to writing up all your scientific discoveries? You’ll be old and the bubblegum in your hair will be starting to get stale, and you’ll have been a different person a thousand times over again, and I’ll still be a teenage kid, playing my guitar. Will you want me then?” Marceline demanded, angry at the girl in front of her for letting herself be replaced, over and over again, for never just staying still.

“Yes.” Bubblegum responded simply. And then when Marceline just stared at her, she repeated it, “yes, of course I’ll still want you. I want you next to me, living every moment between then and now. I don’t know if you’re really incapable of change, Marceline, or if you just always run away from it, but I know I want you here now. Is that really too much to ask of you?”

It was a lot to ask. Maybe too much. But she was asking, all the same, and Marceline had always given more for Bonnibel than she would for anyone else.

“Look, just -” Bubblegum gave her an almost desperate look. “Stop thinking so far ahead, alright? Have lunch with me tomorrow. Please?”

Lunch seemed wrong, as the end result of this conversation. It wasn’t a conclusion drawn, merely a continuation, one moment leading to another in a way that was bitterly reminiscent of a reality that Marceline had never existed in. She wanted to sweep the other girl up into a passionate kiss, or perhaps to flee back out the window and never be seen again. But those were the things you did if your whole life was measured in terms of moments. For Bubblegum, maybe she could become the sort of person who waited to see what tomorrow would bring.

“Lunch.” she agreed.