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Pray for the Preacher's Daughter

Chapter Text

Saturday 18th January 2014

The door was an awful green colour; lurid and streaked as though the paint had been splashed across it rather haphazardly. It was chipped along one edge – she presumed because it was grabbed there a great deal – and the knob was rusty. Two well-trimmed plants, their tops in perfect spheres, stood sentinel to either side of the entrance.

Chewing the inside of her cheek, she stepped back and peered up at the rest of the sprawling house. Made primarily of red brick and white washed wood, the building was a shambling two storey affair that seemed altogether too big for one person. It was planted firmly off-centre of the obnoxiously large block of land, wire fences ambling about across the paddocks in seemingly random patterns, a big red barn off to one side, a blue steel shed to the other; housing horses and machines respectively. A garage for the cars was nestled beside the house; it looked rather larger than it needed to be. But so far, that was just a trend.

This has got to be the wrong address, she mused, fingers drumming on the handle of her suitcase. I don’t ever recall seeing any of this before. Not that she could remember visiting the tiny town of Reich before anyway.

What kind of strange family had her mother kept sequestered about the country? Shading her eyes with one hand, she blinked up at the windows on the second floor. No, she was pretty sure this was the wrong place. One man did not need this much space.

Still, the number at the far end of the winding drive had been the one she was directed to. Which made this house the one she was looking for. Unless there were other properties on the same block. Did they do that out here?

Sighing, her suitcase clicking as its wheels crossed the wooden planks of the deck, she rang the doorbell once. It sang a much too peppy tune, preceding silence and then some loud clunking noises. Cursing followed. The door was wrenched open, revealing a short man with bright red hair, speckled white, showing his age. He blinked through his glasses and tilted his head as though thinking, before a smile burst across his face.

The little man blinked at her again. He had blue eyes, or eyes the colour of a stormy sky or maybe the ocean on a bad day. They were pensive and quiet, the kind of eyes one expects in a scholar. Which was fitting, since Bonnie had been told he was precisely that. Or rather… he was an English literature professor, spoke fluid German and had a fondness for poetic licence (which she knew from his yearly Christmas cards). He opened his mouth, and then closed it again without speaking. Then he opened it again. If he’d been the one observing this behaviour he would have made an eloquent comparison to some sort of fish… or large predator… no… he would have said something brilliant about it anyway. All Bonnie could think was that he’d make an excellent fly trap.

“Bonnibel!” he finally exclaimed, throwing his arms out and hugging her around the middle. It was like he was trying to lift her from the ground, probably something he’d done easily when she was four. “Come in, dear. Come in. My how you’ve grown. How old are you now? How was your flight? Are you hungry? I can boil the kettle if you’d like tea.” Endless questions.

Bonnie frowned at the little man, her uncle, he reminded her so much of her mother. Or what little she still had of the woman anyway. His voice was familiar, just like hers; this was going to take some getting used to.

“I’m sixteen in a few months. The flight was long,” she replied softly, eyeing the house. It was impeccably neat, but full of shelves and cabinets. There was so much storage that the space felt smaller for it. “I’m not especially hungry, I suppose because my body is still functioning on a different time zone. No tea, thank you.”

He waved his hands happily. “Of course, of course. You must want a rest though. Let me show you to your room.” The little man led her through the house to a back door. “I’m afraid I didn’t have enough time to clean up one of the bedrooms for you,” he apologised. “However I do have a granny flat out the back that your father used to use. He made sure my… things never spilled out there, it’s yours now, I suppose.” His face fell then, possibly regretting bringing up his brother-in-law. “So you can make yourself at home.”

They stopped outside of an equally red brick flat, concealed behind the house proper; it was small; a single storey cowering in the shadow of its hulking neighbour. It was connected to the garage she’d noted earlier, explaining its size. Her diminutive uncle keyed the door open and ushered her through. He was right, the space was clear of any unnecessary clutter. A kitchenette with fridge and basic cooking utilities, a connected lounge room, an island divided them, providing the only eating area she could see. A short hall led away from her down which she could see four doors, no doubt a bedroom and bathroom numbered among them. The third and fourth were probably a study room and access into the garage. Or maybe a closet.

“Uncle…” she began hesitantly, not sure if he was sticking her here to keep her out of his way or something else. He cut her off though.

“Please, Bonnibel,” he interjected swiftly, shaking his head. “Just call me Peter. Uncle is so dreary.” He then shoved a key ring at her, sliding it into her palm before she could complain. “The red bound one is for this flat, the blue one is for the house and the green one is for the garage. Nice and simple.”

Her mouth flailed at the freedom she was being handed. A fish out of water gasping for breath? A panting leopard after a long hunt? No, in the end it always came back to the fly trap. She wasn’t as eloquent as her uncle and similes, awful ones more often than not, were the best she could do at short notice. “Um… thanks? But, Unc… Peter… wouldn’t you rather… I don’t know, keep these for yourself?”

“Nonsense,” he shushed. “I work strange hours sometimes, I’d hate for you to get back from school and have to wait to be let in.” He smiled sadly now. “Besides, if you’re anything at all like your parents, you’re a responsible girl who won’t get into any trouble. You’ll be fine. The laundry is in the main house though.”

She returned his wan smile gently. “Thank you.”

“Oh you’re more than welcome, dear,” he said, some of his good cheer returning. “We’ll go get you enrolled in school in the morning, after church. Did you bring clothes? Did you ever go with your parents?”

Bonnibel chuckled at his enthusiasm. “Yes,” she murmured, fiddling with the handle of her case again. “We used to go every Sunday. I brought clothes with me, don’t worry.”

“Excellent. Oh you’re just going to love it here.” With that, Peter hustled from the flat, leaving her with her subdued thoughts.

It was hard to imagine liking this place; it was so small, so incredibly tiny that it had blown her mind in the cab drive into town. You could walk from one end to the other and not even break a sweat. Moving here, away from all her friends, all the places she knew, her old school, the park across from their apartment building with those little kids… Reich had none of that. Reich was just a small country town in the middle of nowhere, full of farms and church-going rurals she didn’t know. She didn’t even really know her uncle all that well.

Sure, he had the same red hair as her mother, the same red hair she’d inherited, the same pale skin, same small stature (admittedly he had blue eyes instead of green). Other than that though, he could be a stranger. Albeit a friendly one.

She sighed, not wanting to let negative thoughts bring her down. Bonnibel was positive she could survive her last two years of high school here. Even without her parents. Immediately, she shoved those thoughts away. No use dwelling on the past, on her parents, on any of that. She would make peace with the way things were now and move on.

Still, stifling the sobs as she unpacked in the lonely flat was harder than she’d thought it would be. Bonnibel left the picture frames she’d brought with until last, setting them on the table beside her new bed, hugging her pillow to her chest, crying softly into its ruffled pink exterior until sleep snatched her away.

Chapter Text

Sunday 26th January 2014

Sunday dawned hot; a shimmering heat haze lingered across the main street. Sitting in the church on top of the hill was sweltering. Most people had folded pieces of paper up into fans in a vain attempt to cool themselves. Ormeau had been a river city and remained a relatively cool temperature. Reich, on the other hand, made no effort to even give being cool a try.

It was with much relief that Bonnibel exited the church. She hastened from the interior, stepping outside again was blinding and she shaded her eyes with one hand, clearing the doorway and searching for somewhere less awful to stand while she waited for Peter to catch up. But the heat was pretty much relentless, the sun baking, setting her fair skin to sizzling.

There was a grassed area outside the church, trees dotting the perimeter, a white flagstone path winding across the green to the cathedral. She decided that a shady space over on the grass might offer a light breeze and wandered over to loiter beneath one such tree.

Happily, it was moderately cooler under the leafy green canopy and she exhaled heavily. Turning to watch the rest of the congregation leave, she couldn’t help but notice a few people who were obviously students at the school. Bonnie decided against speaking to them, there would be plenty of time for that tomorrow. Instead, she scanned the crowd for her uncle.

Peter was neck deep in a conversation with the reverend as he flowed with everyone else out of the church. They were chatting amicably, her uncle grinning broadly and the preacher – almost comically looming head and shoulders taller than the other man – was smiling a wide white smile with him. Peter waved when he spotted her across the lawn, said farewell to the preacher and hastened over to her.

He paused, getting distracted by another man, tall, slender with a shiny, bald egg-head and a strange rolling gait. Peter sank into that discussion too, only with less aplomb than the previous one. The bald man wore a citrus expression conveying deep dissatisfaction and a great deal of annoyance. Bonnibel decided instantly that she’d find the fellow grating.

“Oi,” a voice said at her elbow. She looked over, a young boy had materialised beside her. “You’re new here, yeah?” he asked in a strange accent. His tousled brown hair shivering in a breeze that wasn’t quite strong enough to take the sting from the heat.

She blinked at him. “Yes, that’s right.”

He beamed at her, offering a hand. Alright, maybe calling him ‘young boy’ was misleading. He was her age, easily, and broad across the shoulders. Although he wasn’t much taller than she was, he gave off an air of dominance, lending him a larger appearance than he actually had. “Cool. I’m Jake. Jake Martins. You’re Minton’s niece, right?”

Hesitantly, noticing how much larger than hers his palm was, she nodded, shaking his hand simultaneously. “Bonnibel Banner,” she replied.

“Awesome. You going to the school then?”

“Yes.” Bonnie glanced over her shoulder towards Peter. He was still frowning at the bald guy. “I enrolled last week.”

“What year are you in? I’ll give you some pointers.” The boy, Jake, shoved his hands in the pockets of his faded denim jeans, still smiling. “Everyone’s really friendly though; don’t worry about none of that.”

“Eleventh,” she informed him.

His brown eyes lit up. “Extra-awesome,” he cried. “Me too. I’ll introduce you to all my friends. It’ll be great. You’ll love it here.” Someone called Jake’s name from across the lawn. He waved then, muttering about seeing her later, and jogged off to catch up with them, casting one last grin her way.

So he was a nice enough fellow; very enthusiastic. Still, Bonnibel decided to hold onto her reservations for the minute. Best not to leap to hasty conclusions. One friendly high-schooler did not erase her misgivings or her melancholy.

She and Peter walked home in almost silence, exchanging only a few words when Peter brought up the temperature or how she was feeling about starting at the school in the morning. Bonnie was far more interested to peek at the people who hadn’t attended church. It was their prerogative; of course, she wouldn’t judge them for it. But in a small town like this – where shops were closed on Sundays and everyone knew everyone else – they stood out as anomalies.

Other people spilled down the hill from the church and disappeared into town. Most would no doubt search out a chilled building and camp there for the duration of the day. Peter was one of the many who elected to stay in town for a while. He left her side and headed off to join a few of his friends. Bonnibel though, headed home. She hadn’t felt very much like socialising since she got here, although once she turned up at school she had no doubt that she’d fall into her old patterns and routines.

Still, for one last day of solitude, she was more than content to sit in her air-conditioned flat and read. Naturally, she did that after all her things were packed and ready for the next day. There was no sense in being lazy.

 


 

The door creaked inwards softly, Marceline not fully sure this was such a good idea. Inside, the room was moderately well lit, the air conditioner whining loudly in the corner, filling the air with freezing cold making her shudder. She blinked, wondering if he was even in at all.

“Mr Petrikov?” she called into the classroom.

Under the window the drum kit rattled, a cymbal falling from where it was perched on the stool and clanging to the floor. With a cracking sound Marceline could hear across the room, Simon stood, stretching his back. His eyes widened when he saw her there and a smile burst across his face.

“Why aren’t you at church, Mr Petrikov?” she asked, stepping inside and closing the door with a gentle click.

He waved a hand. “Oh, I had some last minute things to be doing today. School starts back tomorrow you know.”

She smiled at him. “Yeah, I know. You said you wanted to see me?”

“Don’t beat around the bush do you?” he chuckled, dropping onto the piano stool behind him. It wasn’t unusual for him to be locked up in here; he was the school’s music teacher and took his job far too seriously. He loved instruments, but sometimes Marceline thought he might love them just a little too much. “I… uh… Well, in my official capacity as the head of student affairs I have to ask you a very important favour. But,” he held up a hand as she opened her mouth to argue with… whatever he was planning, “as your friend, I’m hoping you’ll just listen.”

Her teeth clicked shut. She shuffled a little further inside and slid up onto a table covered in various wind instruments, shoulders slumped. “Go for it.”

“I want you to get a tutor-”

“No,” she said before he could go any further. “I don’t want a tutor, Simon.”

He sighed. “You need better grades, Marceline. I know your dream is to get into Driscoll; but it’s a fancy college and you need better scores. You can’t get in on raw talent, Marceline. Please.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You know my dad has been begging me to get a tutor for years, Simon. I don’t want some snooty bastard telling me all the ways I fail, all the reasons I’m not good enough. I don’t need that.”

Simon just kept staring at her. He tapped one nail on the cymbal beside him and pleaded with his eyes. It was scary just how well a grown man could do the ‘puppy-dog’ look.

“No,” she maintained.

“Marceline,” he whined. “I’m not your father. I don’t want you to go off to business school or study law or any of that junk. I want you to be an amazing musician. You know that right?”

She rolled her eyes, huffing at him, arms folded. But she couldn’t control the nervous tapping of her heel against the bench. “I don’t want to be tutored by one of those high and mighty pretentious types. I promise I’ll hunt you down if I so much as hear a whisper about being given a tutor who looks down on me.”

He lifted a finger. “I have a proposition for you then. I know how much you hate studying at home, so why don’t you do it in the library after school? There are tutors there every day. Maybe one of them will meet your exceedingly high standards.” Simon was wearing his best reasonable face and Marceline knew she couldn’t argue with his logic.

She exhaled heavily, not wanting him to think she was giving in too easily. “Fine,” she grumbled. “I’ll do that. But if I don’t find one there that I like, you’re going to drop this, alright?”

Simon stuck out one hand and wiggled his fingers at her. “You have a deal,” he said brightly.

Marceline slouched off the bench to shake the hand, not with-holding another eye roll though. “Don’t make me regret this, old man.”

 

Chapter Text

Monday 27th January 2014

For a town so tiny, the school sure was loud. Kids were throwing streamers, and balls and books in some cases across heads. They jostled in the cramped halls, spilled out into the quad, screaming at each other, asking how holidays had been. Hey, heard you went away for a week, how was the coast? Did you see that movie, go to that concert? What about the party two weeks ago, how epic was that? Things Bonnie tuned out on.

Then the bell chimed and just like that the halls were deserted. Students slammed their lockers shut and vanished into rooms with practiced haste. Bonnie maintained distance from everyone else, content to go unseen.

The class was quiet, but then she was sure most students would rather not sit through history first thing on a Monday morning. Bonnibel had arrived early to class in the hopes she’d go mostly unnoticed. She really didn’t want to be introduced to the class as ‘that new girl’ and she really didn’t want everyone asking why she’d moved here. Things would be simpler if she just cruised under the high-school-social-hierarchy-of-doom radar this year. And next year.

To that end, she sat silently in the back corner by the window, studiously taking notes, answering questions and paying all the attention she could. Flying under the radar did not mean she wouldn’t get good grades. It just meant she wouldn’t be a recurring source of gossip. Bonnibel knew perfectly well how cruel and destructive gossip could be. No, she’d keep to herself.

And she managed to do that just fine until she found herself in the library for her third class; a spare, in which she was allowed to do whichever subject pleased her. Naturally, on the very first day of the semester, she didn’t have too many subjects with work, so she meandered through the tiny library perusing the books. Somewhere between ancient Greek history and WWII texts, Bonnie bumped into a young man (not a student here no matter which way she squinted at him) and a female student having a particularly venomous whispering row.

He caught her with a startled expression on her face and glared. With a vicious prod into the girl’s shoulder and a hushed string of words Bonnie was positive she didn’t want to know, he stalked off. Now, the girl turned around, bristling, her incredible length of black hair unkempt and unruly resembling the tail of an angry cat. Her eyes were a piercing electric blue as they stabbed into Bonnie’s soul, possibly attempting to flay her or something, maybe just noting her down for entry into the ‘skip the queue’ column of Hell’s finest.

The girl continued to glower, before brushing roughly past Bonnibel and storming off. So much for going unnoticed.

“Wow,” a breathy voice said behind her.

Bonnie turned (she’d been watching the dark-haired girl on her whirlwind path out of the library) and beheld a blonde girl not much older than herself, but at least an inch taller. Her shirt and ruffled skirt made her fondness for rainbows abundantly clear. Her hazel eyes were wide open, the kind of expression one wears to a magic show and has their breath stolen when they discover the assistant perfectly hale after being stabbed with swords.

“Wow, what?” Bonnie asked softly.

“She didn’t kill you,” the girl explained. “Marceline isn’t known for her merciful nature.” The girl now stuck out one hand, her wrist adorned with a bracelet sporting little decorations. Her nails coated in all different colours of paint. “I’m Penelope, by the way,” she went on. “Penelope Phillips. But everyone just calls me Pippa.”

Tentatively, Bonnie took the hand in her own rather bland one. “Bonnibel Banner,” she replied. “Is she usually trouble?” she asked, referring to the girl who’d glared at her.

Pippa shrugged. “Not usually no, she just has a bad attitude and a penchant for getting into trouble. She’s a rebel and doesn’t like being pressured. She did punch her ex-boyfriend in the parking lot once and she’s been ‘relocated’ from two other schools. She keeps mostly to herself though.”

Bonnie nodded, she’d known people like that; the kind who do things just to be different. It seemed silly to her, but what did she know really?

“Don’t talk much do you?” Pippa asked, a smile tugging at her mouth. “That’s ok, you’re new. It gets better.”

Surprised by that, Bonnie queried, “You’re not from here?”

“Nope. My parents are European, but I was born in Korea, only moved here when I was ten,” Pippa told her happily. “But it’s good, really. My parents raise race horses and there’s a lot of room out here. I get to help them, it’s fun. And the locals are so friendly once you get to know them.”

The bell buzzed through the library, announcing the start of lunch. Bonnie took that as her cue to leave and waved at Pippa. But the other girl wasn’t having any of that. She grabbed Bonnibel’s arm and dragged her off in a different direction.

“No, no. Jake told me he was going to introduce you to everyone,” she chirped. “You’re not escaping me.”

Bonnie blinked. Jake? Oh yes. “You know Jake?” she asked.

Pippa just laughed at her. “It’s a small town. I know everyone.” They didn’t stop on their way through the cafeteria, merely skirted the throng and ducked out into the courtyard, ringed by walled gardens and sheltered from the sun by pale green shade cloth.

The school was uncommonly green, Bonnie noticed, peering around. Gardens were everywhere, floral murals adorned many walls, there was a lot of stone too. Sandstone, granite, marble, all kinds. She wasn’t used to it, the whole place had a homier feel to it than the last school she’d attended, as if there was more freedom.

With a little fidgeting, Bonnibel extracted her arm from Pippa’s grip, content to follow, less so about being manhandled. Pippa halted at a wooden table in one corner, right beside a pond in which swam a trio of large golden fish. Bonnie wasn’t brushed up on her fish breeds though and aside from colouration and a vague resemblance to koi, she had no idea what they were.

Seated at the table were three people, the first of which Bonnie recognised as Jake with his tawny hair and axe handle for shoulders. Beside him was a smaller blonde boy, but with his same broad shoulders and square jaw, although lithe, more of a runner or a swimmer to Jake’s wrestler. They were sprawled across the table, heads together with a girl dressed all in purple. It clashed a little with her sandy hair, that didn’t seem to bother her though.

When Pippa collapsed down beside the girl, pulling Bonnie after her, they all ceased talking and turned eyes on them – a dark brown in the case of the girl and blue-grey for both of the boys. Jake smiled when he saw her, the blonde boy looked confused and the girl bit her bottom lip. All of them seemed a tad anxious.

“Hey everyone,” Pippa enthused. “This is Bonnibel Banner, that new girl Ellen has been prattling on about.” Slowly, Bonnie waved at them, smiling wanly. “That’s Jake, you know him, his cousin Finn and this is Eleanor Scott-Parker.”

The purple girl smiled now, friendlier, but wariness still creeping behind her eyes. “Pleasure. Just Ellen is fine, by the way.”

“Hi,” Finn said brightly, red climbing his throat and staining his cheeks. “How are you liking it here?”

Jake beamed at his cousin. “Chill, bro. She’s only been here a week.” His eyes sparkled as they watched Bonnie though. Clearly they all expected an answer, no matter what Jake said.

“It’s different,” she said slowly. “I’ve never lived in a small town before.”

“No?” Ellen put in. “Where’d you come from?”

“Ormeau.”

Pippa blinked. “That’s ages away.”

Bonnie just nodded. The conversation faltered and she supposed it was her fault. Hoping not to alienate herself from these people, she added, “I’ve no doubt I’ll get used to everyone knowing everyone else though. Might be a nice change.” She shrugged, trying to smile, but it wasn’t in her.

After that, they were content to chat about their holidays, leaving Bonnie to listen in silence. This was perfectly fine in her book. She picked up a few names too, as she listened, hoping to put faces to them as well. Some were mentioned with shudders of distaste, such as that Tiffany girl Pippa brought up. She got grimaces all round. Then there were the amused chuckles, the fond smiles, and once the hushed murmurs of people hoping not to be caught in speculation.

Pippa brought up Bonnie’s encounter with Marceline and that other fellow in the library (his name, she discovered, was Ash, a senior from the year before who had moved to Blackwater after graduating and Marceline’s ex-boyfriend). They were quick to give warnings against spending too much time with her. Apparently she was a bad influence, having been kicked out of a neighbouring school for some indeterminate (but probably violent) reason. Bonnie was more than happy to heed that advice. There would be no rebellious incidents or accidental injuries if she could help it. No thanks.

Finn walked her to her literature class when the bell rang an hour later. It was a long lunch break to her mind, but they only had one here in Reich, whereas at her old school there had been two shorter ones. Finn was still an odd pink colour and she suggested he go see the nurse about it just in case he was having a heat stroke or something. He just mumbled an answer she didn’t quite catch and hurried off.

Once again, Bonnie sat in the back corner, trying not to be noticed. As before, it didn’t really work the way she planned. A girl flopped into the chair beside her grinning broadly. This girl, Bonnie didn’t know, but she had a wild array of dark brown curls pulled back from her face in a rough pony tail.

“Hiya!” the girl said. “I’m Keila. Lovely to meet you.” She thrust a hand across the table, wrist covered in woven bangles, a silver ring on her index finger. “You’re the talk of the school, you know that?”

Gently, Bonnie took her hand. It was only polite. “I’m Bonnibel. And yes, I was aware.”

Keila tilted her head. “Kinda quiet aren’t you? That’s okay; we’ll beat it out of you.” At Bonnie’s now very wide eyes, Keila laughed. “Oh don’t worry, I’m just kidding. There will be no beatings. Not unless you tick off old Halterbutt of course.” She rolled her eyes. “He’s a jerk. Don’t mind him.”

That… was a most unusual way to refer to someone. She frowned. “Uh… Halterbutt?” Bonnie asked curiously. What a strange nickname.

“Yeah, Leonard Halte, the principal here,” Keila explained, twirling a pencil between her fingers. “He’s a big old, baldy-headed jerk. A fun-sponge, a… a… lemon-faced, cucumber-chewing, fuddy-duddy of buttmunchery and doom.” Keila leered at her notebook.

Smiling now, Bonnie wondered, “You don’t like him much, I take it?”

“Oh… not at all. I swear, if he were to walk through the airport metal detector arch thing, it’d go off, because he has a massive steel rod jammed firmly up his arse.” Keila utilised her pencil in describing that, much to Bonnie’s amusement. “The dude never smiles. Just glares at people. We haven’t had a sanctioned school function in nearly four years because of him. I swear to God, we will be the cohort to end his reign of terror.” Keila slammed her hand on the table for emphasis, drawing the teacher’s gaze.

He cleared his throat. “Keila, if you would, pay attention.”

She grinned at him, giving a mock salute when he turned his back and sticking her tongue out. “Because literature is such an important subject.”

Bonnie smiled at her, turning her gaze back to her book. “You don’t like literature?” she asked softly as the teacher began to chatter about eighteenth century playwrights.

Keila shrugged. “It’s not my favourite. I don’t like analysing things. I want to know what the writer actually meant too much and the teacher always gets mad because apparently it’s important to ‘formulate my own opinions’.” She sighed.

“Don’t you have opinions?” Bonnie chuckled.

The look Keila flashed at her might have been made of pure venom. “Of course I have my own opinions. It just so happens, however, that my opinion on why both Romeo and Juliet died is that dear old Shakespeare was a huge troll who laughed at the end when the audience got all angsty about it. Which, funnily enough, isn’t valid.” Daggers flew from her eyes as she scowled at the teacher.

Bonnie just kept smiling at her notebook.

 


 

“You know, the funny thing is I don’t care.”

Keila pouted, her brown eyes going very big, pleading. It was her puppy-dog face and only a special few people could resist it. Happily, Marceline was just such a person.

“No,” she huffed again, folding her arms stubbornly.

“Come on, Marce,” Keila pleaded, grabbing her arm and shaking. “Just give it a chance. You might change your mind.”

“Or I might decide that the pastel princess really is a pretentious, pompous and prissy poser.”

“That’s a lot of ‘p’ words,” Keila grumbled. Marceline exhaled heavily and stormed off towards home. Not that she really wanted to go home, but it was home, regardless of how much she might loathe it. Keila trailed behind her. “Please? Just once.”

“I don’t want to play nice with the new girl, Keila,” she said firmly. “End of story. I’m going to have zero to do with her for the next two years. At which point, she’ll waltz right on back out of our small town without a backwards glance.”

“You don’t know that. Why don’t you at least just say ‘hi’? I know you’re not a popsicle, but you might at least pretend like it’s the truth now and then.”

“Yeah sure, then what?” Marceline spun on her best friend. “I don’t want to talk to her, alright? Just leave off.”

Keila frowned at her, clearly taken aback by her foul mood. “Geez, fine then. Must be that time of the month. Go have a nap or something.” With that, Keila trotted off in the other direction, obviously deciding she didn’t want to deal with Marceline.

This was fine by her. A little solitude wasn’t such a bad thing. She shoved her hands in her pockets and grumbled nonsensically to herself. At the last, she changed her mind, deciding against heading home just yet. Instead she wound through town and up the hill just past the fruit market.

Collapsing underneath the tree at its crest, she watched the sun go down over the lake. It was a nice calm place here. Not many people stopped by to irritate her and her father never thought to check. Peaceful silence.

Marceline closed her eyes, ruminating over the new girl and the harsh words she’d exchanged with Keila. Those were some nice ‘p’s she used, the thought meandered lethargically through her brain and she sighed again. So the princess in pink was from out of town and walked like she resented being here in their tiny town. Not much of a first impression, if Marceline was asked. Which – of course – she never was.

Still, she supposed it wasn’t fair for her to get all snippy with her best friend over the pretty petal. She pulled out her phone, tapping it on her palm, thinking. Eventually, she sent a message to Keila, trying to convey as much of an apologetically humble tone as she could through text.

Then she smacked her head against the tree and closed her eyes. She didn’t really want to make friends with the new girl. She didn’t, it was pointless. They’d become friends, then she’d leave and maybe they’d stay in contact for a while, but eventually they’d fall out of touch and forget. Better not to put herself in that position from the start.

Her phone pinged, vibrating against her hip.

S’alright, Keila sent back. I can’t stay mad at you. Just give her a chance ok?

Once again, Marceline sighed. She didn’t want to give her a chance. It was best to just ignore her. The princess would have plenty of other people to pester. Friends she’d dig up in spades, Marceline didn’t need to throw herself in that hole just to be noticed. No, she didn’t. She wouldn’t. Pastel pink could take care of herself and Marceline would stay out of it.

She made a mental note to continue to ignore Keila’s advice.

Chapter Text

Thursday 13th February 2014

It… ruined her Thursday. No… perhaps she was being melodramatic. It didn’t ruin her Thursday. But the way the girl glared at her certainly made her feel… inadequate.

Actually, Bonnie wasn’t sure that was the right word either. She mulled that over for a moment, trying to force aside the realisation that her safe haven in the back corner of the chemistry classroom was being unceremoniously violated. She continued to mull even as the glaring violator in question sank balefully into the spot beside her.

Unworthy? The words danced through her mind, trying to put a label on the way she was feeling under that electric stare. Lowly? Pathetic? Fraudulent? Incompetent? Filthy? Yes, that last one. She settled with filthy. The girl made her feel all of those things, but the way she was scowling made Bonnie wonder whether she’d actually had a shower recently.

Doctor Welsh, their chemistry teacher, scuttled over in a manner reminiscent of rodents. “Sorry to do this to you, Bonnibel,” he said in soft, clipped tones. “Marceline was transferred and she needs a partner. I know you’re perfectly capable on your own, but rules are rules.”

Bonnie sighed, shooting her new lab partner a quick glance and… yup, still glaring. “That’s fine, really,” she exhaled heavily. Welsh smiled at her before scurrying back to his desk.

“I don’t like you.”

The words came from nowhere and Bonnie spared the agitated girl a surprised look. “Great.”

Marceline blinked. “No really. I don’t want to be your friend, princess. And I don’t want your charity.”

She snorted. “What charity?”

The other girl bristled. “Well, clearly Welsh put me with you because he thinks I suck at science right? I don’t like you.”

Bonnie had the strangest feeling that the reasons behind Marceline’s dislike were something completely unrelated to school. She didn’t say that though. Instead, the words that fell out of her mouth were, “Sure, yeah. Because what you do with an unintelligent student is pair them with one of the brightest ones. That wouldn’t result in coat-tail riding at all would it? No I don’t think so.” Bonnie chuckled. “He probably paired us together because he’s sure you’ll do your work.” She looked away as she said that last.

The insufferable idiot didn’t want charity? Fine. Bonnie wouldn’t give her so much as a kind word. She could be cold and distant if that’s how it had to be.

“And I don’t like you either,” Bonnie added. It got a strange expression to flash across Marceline’s face, as if she hadn’t anticipated that reaction. “So just do your work and we can pretend to get along in class.”

Marceline blinked again, the fingers of one hand drumming across the table. Then she smiled thinly. “Awesome. I like that plan.”

And for the most part, they were civil to each other in class. Well… if she ignored the blatant glares Marceline was constantly firing at her. If she disregarded the clipped tones, the frosty undercurrents and the way she kept at least a metre of space between them at all times… then yes, Bonnie could pretend they were being civil. What it was really like, was that Bonnie had a supremely contagious air-borne disease and Marceline had to keep her distance lest she become infected.

Chemistry was an absurdly long hour that day.

When the bell rang, Marceline scooped her books into her bags, glared once more at Bonnie, and dashed out the door without another word. Bonnibel decided then and there that it was going to be an equally long semester. After the mid-year break, she’d request another partner, a less hostile one.

 

-*…*…*-

 

“So how was your day?” Pippa pressed on their walk home. Penelope’s family lived past Peter, further outside of town, but within walking distance (even if another mode of transport might be more comfortable in this ungodly heat). They often made the trek together. Pippa often made a point of getting Bonnie to talk.

Bonnie sighed. “It was long, Pippa. What about yours?”

“Can’t complain,” her friend replied with a shrug. “You know, you’ve been here for a while now, you should open up a little. No one will hate you for having input in conversations you do realise.”

Turning her gaze to the school fence as they walked, Bonnie ignored the silent question. Part of her really did want to just… give in to these people. The other part of her knew that would be bad. So she kept her mouth shut.

“I do contribute to conversations,” she said carefully, hoping that didn’t venture too far into uncomfortable territory.

“Not a lot,” Pippa huffed. “Listen, we’re going out to the ditch after lunch on Saturday. You should come with. Jake and I will pick you up. It’ll be fun.”

“Pass.”

“Bonnibel,” Pippa pleaded, grabbing her elbow. “Come on. Please? For me? Just try to relax for me.” She smiled, trying to instil in Bonnie a desire to do this, and she tried to do it using just her eyes. “Pretty please?”

“I don’t want to make a regular habit of skipping study time,” Bonnie muttered.

“Oh pthh,” Pippa said, sticking her tongue out. “It won’t hurt your academic brilliance to take a weekend off now and then. It’s not like I’m suggesting anything silly. Just come hang out with us.”

It was a bad idea. Terrible, in fact. She should decline. She should sit in her little flat with the air conditioner humming pleasantly in the background and work on her history paper. That’s what sensible Bonnibel would’ve done back in Ormeau. New Bonnibel didn’t think like that. No. New Bonnibel wanted to make friends here, wanted to start again, to forget. Guilt snagged at her stomach at the thought of starting again… of moving on. It didn’t seem fair.

She shouldn’t go.

But she felt herself nodding anyway. Pippa squealed with delight, hugged her tightly.

“Oh good, you won’t regret it,” Penelope assured her. “I promise you’ll have a blast.” She winked. “We know how to have fun out here in the country.”

That didn’t bode well.

Chapter Text

Saturday 15th February 2014

Her history paper called her. It begged her to stay and finish it. Of course, she still had nearly four weeks to complete the assignment before it was due. Yet Bonnie had always been prompt with her work.

Between the paper sitting on her little desk and the clock ticking towards three-thirty on her bedside table, her eyes couldn’t stay still. It was a tough decision. That thought made her chuckle though. Not one of her new acquaintances would find it a hard choice. None of her past acquaintances would either.

Banging on her front door made her jump.

For a moment, Bonnibel considered ignoring it, but then Pippa knew she was home and that would serve no purpose at all. She sighed when she realised that and headed for the door. Still, she paused again before pulling it open. It didn’t matter what she told herself, there was that lingering conflict inside, that one little voice telling her not to go with.

“Hey, Bonnibel!” Jake said, grinning. “Ready to go?”

She looked around for Pippa, but it seemed her friend had elected to stay in the car with the air conditioning. Although it wasn’t really all that hot today. Still, it was pretty bright out.

Bonnibel nodded. “Just let me get a hat.” He bounced on the balls of his feet impatiently while she dashed back inside to snatch a broad hat from her room. It hadn’t taken her long to decide that headwear was very important out here. With her fair skin and the sun trying to kill everyone through angry glaring, sunburn was as simple as crossing the road.

She slapped the hat down on her red curls and raced through the evil sunlight to Jake’s car. He followed her, frowning a little bit now, as if unsure whether she was mad or something. Bonnie slid up into the back seat, smiling at Pippa as she did so, Jake clambering up into his four wheel drive a few seconds later, shooting her a curious glance.

“You alright, Bonnibel?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she replied softly. “It’s just really bright today. I don’t want to get sunburned.”

He laughed and Pippa smiled with him, tossing a tube of cream to her. “That’s the good stuff,” Pippa told her. “If you get burned wearing that, then you don’t stand a chance.”

Bonnie squirted the pale cream onto her fingers; it was nice and thick, good for keeping the sun off. “So what is the ditch anyway?” Bonnibel asked them. She hadn’t had the presence of mind to ask before and it was a little worrying.

Jake glanced at her in the rear view mirror, smirking. “You’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you,” he chuckled. “It’s awesome though. You’ll love it.”

“Just be sure to stand in the shade,” Pippa added.

The ditch was outside of town, hence the car; otherwise they would’ve just walked. It wasn’t far outside, but far enough that Bonnie was incredibly thankful for the car. Walking through the sun would’ve been torture.

After a while, the radio blathering about a storm that Bonnie couldn’t see, they hit a cattle grate, the suspension beneath them jouncing up and down, clacking her teeth together. Dust flew up and out away from the car when the last of the grate disappeared behind them, rocks now making for a bumpy drive.

“That’s the town limit,” Pippa explained. “You probably drove over it on your way in, yeah? It’s so the cows can’t run off.”

Jake lifted a finger and pointed through the windscreen over the steering wheel. The sun was just nipping at the horizon in front of them, making things blurry orange and kind of hard to distinguish. Then the car dipped suddenly down an incline. Jake didn’t slow and the nose-first plunge at speed was almost enough for Bonnie to lose her lunch.

Back tyres skidded through the dirt, scrabbling for traction that wasn’t quite there, gravel shot out behind them before the rubber found something to cling to and they bounced back to a regular drive pattern. Here, at the bottom of the hill, the ground was even bumpier than at the top, and Bonnie held onto her seat with white-knuckled fists.

Pippa peered over her shoulder at Bonnie and grinned at the look on her face. “Sorry, Bonnibel. It’s always a little rough the first time.”

“It’s fine,” she replied softly. It really wasn’t. This could hardly be safe. She looked over her shoulder and blanched. The more pressing question was how the hell they were getting back up that. “I just wasn’t ready for that drop. Hey, can you even get back up?”

Jake laughed. “Of course we can get back up. There’s another way up there, it’s shallower.”

“Why didn’t we come down that way then?” Bonnie asked, voice a little shrill.

“It’s further away,” Pippa told her, indicating a patch of tamped dirt not far away for Jake to park. “We do it like a loop, come in one way and go out the other. It prevents congestion.”

Bonnie nodded; that made sense. A little warning about that drop might’ve been nice though. Jake pulled up next to a silver tray-back with purple stripes. Finn was sitting in the back, fiddling with something metallic. He looked up and smiled as they got out. Bonnie coughed at the dirt, still settling after being disturbed by the truck.

“Hey guys,” he enthused, leaping from the tray.

Bonnie wasn’t paying him much mind though; she was busy staring at this big empty space in front of her. Turns out it wasn’t called the ditch for nothing. On three sides it was surrounded by steep embankments and on the fourth was a not-quite-so-steep embankment. She had no idea why it was here, or why it looked like a sort of lopsided trapezius. What seemed at first glance to be a race track ran in a stretched oval through the middle and a small shed, rusted and neglected was pressed up against one wall of the ditch. A trio of trestle tables had been placed beside it and most of the cars formed a wobbly circle with their rear ends towards it.

“Wow, alright then,” Bonnie muttered. She turned on the spot, getting a good look at everything. “What is this supposed to be?”

“It was supposed to become a mall,” Ellen replied, sidling up beside her. “Never happened. No funding. Also everyone was up in arms about how it would kill small town industry or something. I wouldn’t have minded a mall. Would’ve saved us the hour’s drive out to Blackwater whenever we wanted to go shopping.”

Bonnie peered at the shed and its accompanying tables, realising that a good number of students from the school were there. Some from the grade below them, some who had graduated already, it must be a tight-knit community for that. Different age groups rarely intermingled in Ormeau.

Finn’s conversation with Jake crashed back into the front of her mind then, interrupting her thoughts and curious wonderments regarding the contents of the shed. “Oh, please, Jake. I can totally do it this time. I’ve been practicing.”

“I don’t want you crashing dad’s spare tractor again,” Jake replied. “He still hasn’t forgiven me you know.”

Finn was shaking his head adamantly. “I won’t crash it again. Just… Please?”

Jake scrunched up his nose, frowning at his cousin. Pippa just smiled at them, but Jake’s gaze flitted to her and his shoulders slumped. “Oh, fine then. But if you crash it this time, you’re telling dad.”

That stipulation didn’t seem to faze Finn as he bounced off towards the shed. “What are they talking about?” Bonnie asked Ellen.

Eleanor lifted an eyebrow and gestured over her shoulder at the packed ground behind them, the area that looked like a track. “Tractor races. They’re one of the very few entertaining things to do here.”

The shed door scrolled up and the machines inside roared to life. Well that explained it then. Her suspicions from earlier were proved right as her heart sank down to her toes. This did not bode well.

 


 

Marceline regretted coming with Keila, she’d forgotten how boring these things were. The sun clipped the horizon, dipping below the rim of the ditch and Marceline was secretly grateful that nightfall was upon them. She could leave soon.

The tractors were still rumbling around the oblong track; that little blonde boy had been given reins today and watching him was amusing. But the noise was irritating, giving her a headache. The music blaring from the back of Ellen’s truck didn’t help matters there. She sighed, slouching off to the trestle tables to find a drink. Keila was bouncing around by a punch bowl, but Marceline had been suspicious of such drink dispensers since everyone threw up at the last ditch party. While Marceline had no proof, she was positive Keila had been behind that incident.

She was about to ask Keila a question, but a hand on her shoulder stopped her cold.

“Hey, babe,” said a low voice near her ear. “Miss me?” Alcohol fumes washed over her and she scrunched her nose up.

Marceline relaxed, realising it was just Ash. Albeit an almost drunk Ash. She shrugged his hand away and turned to glare at him. “I thought I broke up with you. Why aren’t you in Blackwater?” she asked him flatly.

He smiled, exposing a row of crooked teeth. “Because I missed you, babe. And I know you missed me, so I thought I’d give you a second chance.” Being drunk did not excuse his behaviour, she decided.

“Please don’t call me that,” she sighed. “And I will totally not give you any more chances, jerk.”

Ash ran one hand across her shoulder and down her arm before wrapping his fingers around her wrist. “Why don’t you come with me and we can discuss that elsewhere.” He leaned down to kiss her but she pulled back, wresting her hand from his grip, putting some distance between them.

Then she shoved him away. “No. I’m going home. I just need to see Keila.”

“You really aren’t as loose as everyone thinks you are, huh?” he growled, snatching for her wrist again. “You’re all talk. Give it your all then, babe.”

She ripped her hand free again and jabbed a finger at his face. “I’m still pretty sure I told you to leave me alone. So why don’t you do that.” With that, she stalked off.

“Wassup, eh?” Keila asked her, the words slurred slightly.

“You’re drunk,” Marceline observed with a faint smile.

“Am not,” Keila argued, scooping another ladle of the orange-pink punch into her cup. “I’m tipsy,” she corrected. “Tipsy, but just short of seeing pink elephants.”

Marceline chuckled and relieved her friend of the plastic cup, tipping its contents into the dirt. “I think you’re done for the evening.”

“You,” Keila told her bluntly, “are a spoil sport.”

Marceline just rolled her eyes.

“Hey, Keila,” said a soft voice. They both turned. Marceline frowned at the little redheaded girl who’d snuck up behind her friend. “Oh… hi…” she faltered, noticing Marceline. Her eyes were insanely green, mesmerising and off-putting. “Sorry. I was just wondering if there are bathrooms out here.” The girl turned her eyes back on Keila.

“Mmn,” Keila mused, rolling her lips under. “No. There’s not. We just use the latrine out behind the shed. Gotta be careful though, some guys camp out there and wait.” She smiled broadly at that.

The look on the girl’s face was hilarious. Marceline almost burst into a fit of cackles at how offended she seemed by that notion. Actually, Marceline could feel a smile tugging at her lips and there wasn’t anything she could do to stop it. Not even a flickering thought of Ash and how angry he’d made her earlier could erase the grin.

“Eh, Marceline,” Keila said softly, squinting at the punch bowl. “Din’t you say you’re goin’ home now? Maybe you could take Bonnibel home with you.”

Marceline blinked. “Um… no. To all of that.”

Bonnie looked over her shoulder and despite herself, Marceline’s gaze followed. The tractors had stopped, she realised, only just noticing that the grumbling noise was gone. The sun was completely set now and no one would risk their tractors in the dark. The redhead pursed her lips, peering into the dusty dark, lit now only by headlights.

“It’s alright, Keila,” Bonnie said, turning back around. “I can go home with Ellen.” From the way she said that, Marceline gathered that was the very last thing Bonnie wanted to do. “I think she’s leaving now anyway.”

Keila snorted, snatching another cup off the table. Marceline was quick to remove that from her grasp too. “Not likely. Ellen is always the last one to leave,” Keila mumbled. She turned her gaze on Marceline and frowned as hard as she could when she was this inebriated. “Marceline, take the girl home.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like her.”

Keila’s eyes shot wide open. “Dude!” she gasped, shuffling a step closer and waving at Bonnie. “She’s right there.”

“That’s alright too, Keila,” Bonnie interjected before Marceline could say something sarcastic. “I know she doesn’t like me. That’s fine.”

Keila prodded Marceline in the side. “You told her you don’t like her? That was dumb. Drive her home. Be a gentleman.”

Marceline huffed, folding her arms. “I’m not a guy so that doesn’t count.”

“Keila,” Bonnie said, passing her a cup. “It’s alright. I’ll walk.”

Before Marceline could grab that cup too, Keila twisted away and downed the whole lot. “You most certainly won’t walk home in the dark, because Marceline will take you. Ain’t that right?”

Caught between a rock and Keila, that sucked. Marceline sighed. “Fine, I’ll take her home. I’m still not going to be friends though.” She said that last for Bonnie’s benefit, but to her credit, the ginger didn’t seem to care.

“I’ll just let my friends know I’m going,” Bonnie told her, heading off to where Pippa was sitting. The blonde was swinging her legs under the tail-gate of Jake’s truck.

“Hang on, I’m coming with,” Marceline said, casting a quick glance at Keila before following. “You saw how close to done she was right?” Marceline asked Bonnie quietly. “Why did you give her another drink?”

“It was coffee,” Bonnie replied just as softly. “A bit of a wake-up call. She’ll be fine.”

She lagged back a few steps at that. It was almost like Bonnie actually cared, but… but… No that couldn’t be right. No one was nice to Marceline or her best friend. Must have been… accidental. Yeah, that’d be it. She hastened to catch up to the other girl then, trying to displace whatever those thoughts were because she didn’t like the look of where they were going.

“Marceline’s taking me home,” Bonnie was telling her friend. “I have to pee and there is no way I’m using a latrine.”

Pippa squinted suspiciously at Marceline. “You take care of her, alright? I don’t want her hurt on your death-trap.”

Marceline waved aside her concerns. “Just this one time, I’ll pretend she’s glass, ‘kay? Keep an eye on Keila for me. I know you’re not my biggest fan, but don’t let her get too drunk and pass out. Please.”

Pippa kept eyeing her but nodded anyway. “Fine. Just this one time.”

Marceline scowled, but headed off towards her ride, Bonnie trailing behind her. “Are you sure you couldn’t find someone else to take you home?” she asked quietly.

“Not someone I’d trust to drive me, no,” Bonnie said. “Keila was my last resort, but everyone’s pretty wasted.”

Marceline nearly skipped a step at the words. Not someone she’d trust? But she was letting Marceline drive her home? What did that mean? That she was trustworthy? She shook her head to dispel the stupid thoughts.

Last resort, she reminded herself. And you didn’t even make the list. She’s probably only okay with it because she’s friends with Keila. That’s weird, but whatever.

“I’m Bonnibel, by the way,” she said, stepping up beside her. “I know you probably don’t care, but I figure you should at least know my name and I don’t think we exchanged names in class.”

What was wrong with this girl? “We didn’t. Marceline Abadeer. And I know who you are, Banner. Everyone’s been talking about you since you got here. Not many new folks turn up around here.”

Marceline threw her leg over her bike and pulled the helmet off the handle. “This is…” Bonnie began slowly, stopping beside her but making no move to get on. “This is a motorbike.”

“You expected a car, didn’t you?” Marceline chuckled. “Sorry to disappoint.”

“No… I just…” She was fiddling with her hat, eyeing the machine apprehensively. “I’ve never been on a bike before. Is it safe?”

Marceline shrugged. “Safe is relative, I guess. Here.” She tossed the helmet at the short nerd (Marceline was really going to have to stop calling her ‘short’; Bonnie was probably two inches taller). “For your protection. Now get on or stay here, I don’t care which.”

With a curious glance at the black helmet, Bonnie slid it onto her head and tightened the straps, making double sure it was secure. Once again, Marceline nearly smiled before she caught herself. This was not alright. She was not allowed to smile at this girl. Nope. She wouldn’t like her. Nope, definitely not.

Then Bonnie slid a leg over the bike and perched there, very out of her depth. Marceline twisted around to get a look at her and noticed that she was holding onto the seat, her knees squeezed as tight as they would go against the sides of the bike. And again, Marceline felt a smile forming. She fought it down, but some of it oozed through anyway and curled up one corner of her mouth.

“You’re gonna fall off,” Marceline told her.

“I don’t want to intrude on your personal space,” Bonnie replied and Marceline was stunned to hear sarcasm in there. “Or make you feel uncomfortable. Since you don’t like me and we’re not friends and all that.”

Marceline blinked at her. “Sitting like that, you’re going to fall off. Never you mind my feelings. No one else does.” Then she gunned it, the engine snarling to life, the bike leaping beneath her, straining to race away.

As the bike skidded, rocks flying out from the back tyre as it gained grip, Bonnie threw her arms around Marceline’s middle. The bike groaned and rolled off, Marceline keeping the pace relatively slow on the loose ground, but that didn’t stop Bonnibel from tightening her hold and pressing her face against Marceline’s shoulder. It was funny; she’d never had someone on the back of her bike with her before. It felt… weird. She shifted awkwardly, not used to the sensation of the hands on her stomach, of someone so close to her.

“Where do you live?” Marceline asked her passenger, voice loud in her ears over the roar of the engine.

“With my uncle,” came the reply in her ear. “Don’t you know where he lives?”

“Never had any reason to visit before.”

“I’ll tell you when to turn.”

“Are you even watching where we’re going?” Marceline found herself asking in a teasing tone.

“Yes, actually, thanks for the vote of confidence there.” Her tone was dry again. Marceline hadn’t thought the princess knew how to be witty.

As promised, Bonnie whispered ‘lefts’ and ‘rights’ as they drove until Marceline pulled up outside Peter Minton’s shambling house. Even though Bonnie had protested, Marceline had gone all the way up the drive to stop outside the house, rather than just letting her get off at the road. There were no lights on in the house, but Bonnie pulled her phone out to bathe the area in white.

Clumsily (earning another smile from Marceline who was beginning to think she might be sick), Bonnie basically fell off the bike. She adjusted her skirt before unbuckling the helmet. Surprisingly, she then smooshed it down on Marceline’s head.

“Thanks for the lift,” Bonnie said quietly. “I’ll pay you back somehow. Drive safe.”

Marceline blinked at her for a long moment, mouth open like an idiot. Nobody ever told her to drive safe. She shook her head again and smirked.

“We’re not friends, princess,” she said tartly. “You don’t owe me anything.”

“How about I just don’t publically acknowledge your existence then?” Bonnie asked her in that strangely soft cynical way she had.

“That’ll do. Ciao.”

Her drive home was filled with inconsistencies and curious thoughts. They were most positively not friends. They weren’t. They couldn’t be because Marceline didn’t like her. So why, when Marceline got off her bike musing over the odd redhead, was she still smiling?

 

Chapter Text

Tuesday 18th February 2014

“So how are you this fine morning?”

Keila just groaned, screwing her eyes shut and pressing her face into the desk. Her arms were wrapped around her head in a vain attempt to keep the sunlight and sound from getting to her. Bonnie smiled and tapped her on the shoulder, sinking into the seat beside her.

“Come on, Keila, wake up.”

Another protracted groan was all she got. Keila hunched her shoulders, trying to get Bonnie to stop poking her. “Ugh, go away.”

“It’s Tuesday.”

“It’s sleep day,” Keila corrected.

“How are you feeling?”

“Like I was hit in the head with a tractor.”

Bonnie nodded, that seemed pretty apt. Keila hadn’t turned up to school on Monday, professing through email that she was sick with something. It might have been true, but Bonnie was secretly convinced it had less to do with a lazy immune system and more to do with the incredible amount of punch she’d consumed Saturday evening. Ellen had informed her that Keila was notorious for spiking the punch with hard liquor, but after the first few times, Keila was the only one to drink too much of it.

Also from Ellen, Bonnie had heard that Keila had spent most of Sunday in a comatose state. Sure, she hadn’t turned up to church in the morning, but Bonnie hadn’t thought anything of it. Although given her state on Saturday evening, a severe hangover was easy to blame for her less than chipper attitude presently.

“Well you shouldn’t have had so much to drink,” Bonnie told her gently, still prodding her in the back. “Sit up. You’ll be alright later.”

Keila opened one eye and glared half-heartedly at her. “You sound like Marceline,” Keila mumbled nearly incoherently. She did sit up though and then slouched down in her seat, eyes lidded as though the mild light trickling through the window was too much for her. At least she wasn’t still bloodshot.

“What did you even put in the punch,” Bonnie asked her, chuckling softly.

Balefully, and with no small amount of resentment, Keila eyed her. “I didn’t put anything in the punch, thank you. Who said I did?”

Bonnie shrugged, saying only, “Ellen.”

“And you believed her?”

“She said you’ve done it before.”

“Yeah,” Keila huffed. “So? I added a little bit of beer to the punch once two years ago and I can’t live it down.” She sighed. “I promise it wasn’t me. It was probably Ash. He’s just stupid enough to do it. And he’s an arsehole.”

Bonnie blinked at that, thinking, Ash… that name is familiar… “Who’s Ash?” she wondered aloud.

Keila’s face crumpled. “Ugh,” she grumbled. “He’s… he’s a first class douche is what he is. The biggest, most obnoxious and self-centred prick I’ve ever met.” She fiddled with her pen then, clearly trying to decide on the next thing to say. She sighed, “He’s also Marceline’s ex-boyfriend.”

Oh, she thought. For a long moment, Bonnie had no idea how to respond to that. Then, “Are you… um… allowed to call him an idiot like that?”

“What?” Keila asked, snorting. “It didn’t end amicably, I’ll call him what I like. She calls him all sorts of nasty names. I still think she was a right tosser for ever dating that guy, best friend or not. And she could do so much better. But she won’t, because she thinks so little of herself. The girl’s all wrong in the head. I keep my opinion to myself when she’s around though.” Keila fixed her with a penetrating stare then. “I would advise you do the same.”

“Yeah, uh… alright,” Bonnie muttered, wondering about the dynamic there. “I won’t tell her.” But maybe she needs to know, a little voice in her head argued. Maybe she needs to know she’s worth more than she thinks. And maybe she did, but Bonnie sure wouldn’t tell her. They weren’t friends after all. It wasn’t her place.

As had become her habit, Bonnie remained quiet through literature, only speaking to help Keila (or wake her up near the end there). When that class finished, she sat by herself in one corner of the library for her spare, polishing off her history assignment. She’d completed it on Sunday afternoon, but had then decided a reread and editing was probably in order.

Marceline whirled through the doors not long into the hour class (stopping only briefly to exchange a few words with the librarian), spared Bonnie little more than a flashing glare and disappeared into the aisles. That wasn’t unusual. They had their spares together as well as chemistry and maths, but outside of what limited contact they had in the shared classes, they had a mutual avoidance policy. This did not bother Bonnie in the slightest, despite Keila’s assurances that Marceline was secretly a nice person, she’d heard enough gossip and rumour in her first few weeks to make her positive that Marceline was a pricklebush worth avoiding. And she had a seriously irritating misogynist ex-boyfriend which only reinforced Bonnie’s opinion of her (she redeemed a few points for dumping him though).

She made bad choices. Bonnie was okay with not being her friend. Very okay with that in fact.

Noticing how close it was to lunch, Bonnie gathered her things and headed over to check out a book for her biology assignment. Ms Cooter was an agreeable sort, the elderly woman shuffling around with her cane, making sure her books weren’t vandalised and the volume never exceeded what she deemed to be acceptable. It was generally quiet in the library, rarely packed with students and, much to Bonnie’s delight, open on the weekends.

Ms Cooter smiled at her as she stopped at the desk. Apparently Bonnibel was one of the very few people to actually care about the books and she was more than happy to have a chat with the old woman.

That afternoon (and after a good long moment of internal debate), Bonnie muttered, “Marceline.” She paused, chewing on her words so they didn’t come out wrong. “Does she always stop to talk?”

“Why yes,” Cooter said happily. “She comes by after school too and sometimes on the weekend. Always pops in on her way to the music store to say ‘hello’. Lovely young lady.”

Bonnibel frowned. That was interesting and flew in the face of everything else she’d been told. But it did support Keila’s assertions that Marceline wasn’t such a bad person. Perhaps it was best to reserve judgement, after all – and she knew from experience – high schoolers could be unnaturally cruel and quick to label. Bonnibel thanked her and headed off to lunch.

“How was Keila?” Ellen asked at lunch, sliding down onto the bench beside Pippa. She smirked as if she already knew the answer.

“Pretty rubbish, actually,” Bonnie replied. “She looked like a vampire. Sunlight is not her best friend currently.”

“I’ll bet,” said Jake, grinning around a mouthful of food. “Did she tell you what she put in the punch?”

Bonnie shrugged, stating simply that, “Keila maintains it wasn’t her.”

Ellen snorted, “Uh-huh, sure. Who’d she lay the blame on then?”

“Ash.”

For a good long moment, no one spoke. Then Ellen shrugged. “Eh,” she said. “I can believe that.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. Then conversation drifted off on a tangent, finding other things to discuss. Things that were mostly silly; how classes were, who’d done stupid things so far, weekend plans. Things like that. At one point, Marceline was brought up; apparently Jake had chemistry with her until she threw a punch in class and got a transfer. That was news to Bonnie, but made so much sense; explaining the girl’s sudden presence in her class.

After that the rest of the day dragged on in the same way as it usually did. Maths class with Finn (and Marceline, who sat as far from Bonnie as she could manage), in which she spent a good deal of her time translating the teacher’s confusing waffle into terms that made more sense to the blonde boy. Then came history with Pippa which was always a pleasure because her bubbly friend frequently had cynical takes on what actually happened to Cleopatra. Finally biology with a still somewhat comatose-on-her-feet Keila, which wasn’t very entertaining really.

She was jabbing her friend in the shoulder for what felt like the millionth time in half an hour, trying to keep her awake, when the door creaked open slightly. A small girl stuck her head through the doorway, her most defining feature – to Bonnie’s mind at least – was her pair of clunky aqua glasses. She kept pushing them up her nose as she shuffled uncomfortably, waiting for the teacher to realise she was there.

Finally, the teacher put her out of her misery and waved her in. The girl sighed and scuttled to the desk where she dropped a piece of paper, ran a hand through tousled blonde hair, muttered a hasty string of garbled words and promptly scurried back out. The teacher picked up the paper, gave it a once over, sighed and put it back down.

Nobody was paying this whole exchange much mind though (and Keila had put her head back on her desk to sleep some more), and the class wore on. Bonnie gave up on trying to keep Keila conscious, it was too much effort and distracted her too greatly from her work. She did give her a particularly sharp jab in the ribs when class ended though.

“Wuh?” Keila spluttered, jolting upright. One hand rubbed at her side while the other scrubbed across her face, trying to erase any evidence that she might have been sleeping.

“Class is over, sleepy,” Bonnie told her, packing her things up. “Go home and have a nice long nap. And some Panadol.”

Keila groaned, bobbing her head. “Yes, mother.”

As she was about to follow her shambling friend from the room the teacher called her over. Her shoulders stiffened automatically, expecting something bad would happen. Hesitance written all over her body language, she stepped across to the desk, hitching her bag higher nervously.

“Yes, sir?” she asked politely.

He passed her the slip of paper. “Mr Gregory would like to see you this afternoon,” he said softly. “You’re not in trouble,” her shoulders slumped in relief, “he just wants to ask you a question.”

“Alright,” she said, still wary. “Thanks.”

He gave her a wan smile before turning back to his things. Assuming that was a dismissal, Bonnie left. She stopped at her locker to collect her things. Pippa was waiting for her as normal.

“I have to see Gregory,” she informed her friend. “You can go if you’d like.”

Pippa just shrugged. “Nah, I’ll wait around for you. No sense walking alone.”

Gregory’s office was quiet in the afternoon, most students avoiding him. While not as harsh and ear-splittingly screechy as the principal, Earl Gregory wasn’t an easy man to get on with. He was often considered to be the mellow side of Principal Halte (or Halterbutt as Keila called him; he had a good deal of nicknames floating around). Personally, Bonnibel liked Lemonhead. That’s what Marceline called him once and given how Halte always looked like he was sucking on a lemon, it seemed appropriate.

Pippa collapsed into a chair outside the vice-principal’s office as Bonnie tapped softly. A low mutter came from inside and she took that as her cue to go in. Pushing it open, she was met by a surprisingly well lit room. That mostly had to do with the curtains being thrown wide open, but there was a neatness in the room, a lack of clutter and pastel palette that made it feel more open than it really was.

The man behind the desk was equally neat. In his crisp white shirt and beige trousers, with his short crop of blonde hair and the frown lines worn into his forehead, he was neat too. He wore a pair of silver spectacles that he took off and placed on the table in a very precise manner.

“Hello, Bonnibel,” he said softly, a smile turning up the lines on his face. He gestured to the seat across the table from him. “Please sit.”

She did so. Not without a small amount of fidgeting though. “What did you want to see me for?” she asked quietly, uncertain.

Gregory shifted a pencil to the other side of his desk for no apparent reason. “Your teachers have all said that you help other students in class,” he stated.

“Yes,” she confirmed.

“And the results from your last school indicate that you were an exemplary student.” Another head bob from Bonnibel agreed with that one too. “And since one of our previous students is leaving for America next weekend, I was wondering if you’d be so kind as to take her place.”

Bonnie blinked at him. “Place doing what, exactly?” she asked, trying not to sound concerned.

Gregory sighed. “We run after school tutoring sessions,” he said slowly. “For two hours Monday through Thursday. It’s for some of the lower grades, to help them wrap their heads around subjects. We don’t have many from your grade in attendance, but they might stop by on occasion.” He stopped, clearly waiting for her to reply. “It’s a paying job,” he added when she didn’t speak.

“Oh,” she stuttered. “No, that’s… I…” What did she say to that? Accept his offer, her brain cried. Having a job would be great, no two ways about it. She may not need the job, strictly speaking, but it might be nice. She did like libraries. Four days a week for two hours… that wasn’t bad… and…

“You’d start on the third of next month,” Gregory went on. He was obviously hoping to sell her on this offer and worried she wouldn’t bite. She smiled at the thought that they didn’t have anyone else to ask.

“Alright,” she said, cutting him off before he could go on. “I can do that. Sounds good.”

Gregory relaxed visibly, slumping back into the padding of his chair. “Excellent. Here.” He pulled a manila folder from within a desk drawer and pushed it at her. “These are all the forms you’ll have to read over and fill out. Preferably have them here by Friday if you can, so they can be put through and we’ll have everything made official.”

Bonnie flicked through the papers, scanning headings. “Is this a general sort of tutoring?” she asked him, brain clicking over slowly as she thought about all this. “Or will I only be tutoring in some subjects?”

Gregory’s eyes narrowed somewhat as he mused on that. “You’ll be doing whatever the students ask you for. Although you can mention that there are some subjects you prefer over others, I guess.”

She waved any more words away. “No that’s fine, just asking.” Bonnie lifted an eyebrow. “Can I go?”

He smiled at her now; the crinkles around his eyes resisted the expression somewhat, clearly more used to frowns and scowls. “Of course. Have the papers back to reception on Friday.”

Bonnibel nodded and left, wondering if this was the right thing to do. Then again, they do say that opportunity only knocks once and who was she to turn down a job that dropped itself into her lap? Only an idiot would do that. She shook her head, wresting free of those thoughts.

Pippa leapt to her feet. “So what’d he want?” she asked, her eyes going straight to the folder. “Not something awful?”

“No,” Bonnie told her softly. “He gave me a job.”

“Tutoring?”

Bonnie looked up at her. Pippa’s tone had been… teasing, a little dry and very perceptive. The look on her face was one of extreme amusement. “Yes. Why is that funny?”

Penelope shook her head and looped her arm through Bonnie’s. “You’ve been here a month, Bonnibel,” she said, obviously fighting back a giggle fit. “And you’ve been given a job by the school to help teach the kids. Normal people get a job at the bookstore or at the Apple Café. Not you though. Oh no. Little miss smarty pants gets a job at the school. It’s funny.”

Bonnie didn’t really think so. She went with it though. What could it hurt?

Chapter Text

Sunday 23rd February 2014

It was long after the rest of the congregation had departed when Bonnibel finally shuffled along to the end of the pew and debated on whether to stand or not. She’d been sitting at the back for a while by this point, quietly contemplating everything that had transpired since she arrived. Which was to say, not a great deal really.

Her fingers fiddled absently with the frayed ends of the cushion in front of her. The seam was coming undone quite well, trailing red thread across the pew. Bonnie idly wondered when the last reupholstering had been done in here.

She rolled her watch over so she could see the face and sighed at the time. She’d been sitting in here for hours… well, nearly hours. Now, almost eleven in the morning, she’d been loitering in the church for two hours. Loitering. She mused on that word for a moment, amused by the image it gave when combined with ‘church’.

One of the doors creaked open, letting in a short breath of air, stirring Bonnie’s hair and causing her to look around. The preacher strolled through the doors, face adorned with a gentle frown, garbed in his usual black. He wasn’t a very bright fellow, always dressing in greyscale tones, very boring.

Bonnibel shifted unconsciously and his gaze whipped around to her, eyes widening. “Oh,” he said softly, stopping. “Are you… Why are you still here, dear?”

She shrugged. “I just… I just wanted to sit in the quiet for a little while. To think,” she murmured, not at all comfortable with telling him the whole story. That was… for another time perhaps.

Still, he smiled and nodded, sliding onto the pew beside her, his hands pressed into the red leather of the seat. “My son used to do that too,” he told her. “Some days he’d just sit in here for hours. He wasn’t sure why, at least he never gave me a proper answer. But sometimes it’s nice.” His eyes turned up then, glazing over as he disappeared into the past. “He said it was the way the light comes through the stained windows,” he went on in little more than a murmur.

Bonnie smiled, understanding exactly what his son had meant. “Yes,” she breathed.

The reverend turned back to her, eyes refocusing on the present, and cast a hand her way. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced,” he said. “A shame, given you’ve been here a month now, correct?”

Repaying his smile with one of her own, Bonnie took the offered hand. “Bonnibel Banner.”

“Hansen Abadeer,” he replied. “You live with your uncle, don’t you?”

She bobbed her head in affirmative. “Yes, that’s right.”

He eyed her strangely then, but thankfully didn’t press the matter or even enquire after her parents. Those conversations always ended badly. His blue eyes searched hers though, darting from one to the other as if convinced he could find the secrets of her soul hidden in there somewhere.

“And you’ve settled in alright?” he asked. At her curious expression Hansen chuckled. “As the reverend it’s perfectly reasonable for me to enquire of your wellbeing. The souls of everyone in town are in my care. I have to make sure they’re all happy and such.” He flashed her a toothy grin that looked… familiar… somehow.

She shared his smile, only hers was somewhat hazier than his. “I’m doing alright, I suppose,” Bonnie told him. “As well as can be.”

Hansen lifted an eyebrow. “Friends? I hope you haven’t gotten mixed up with the wrong sorts.”

Like Ash? Bonnibel very nearly asked. For reasons she couldn’t place she held that comment in. “I’ve got friends, yes,” she said instead. “I’ve never been one to maintain a particularly wide circle of friends, but half a dozen is good.”

He laughed at that. “Yes, I’m familiar with that sentiment,” he said around a grin. “I hear you’ve gotten a job at the school, also.”

“Wow, Pippa wasn’t kidding when she said things travel fast in a small town,” Bonnie replied, hoping her tone was lighter than she felt. “I start next week,” she went on. “Tutoring is something I’ve done before. Never as an actual job, but I’m familiar with the way it works. Should be fun.”

Hansen resumed chuckling at that. “Fun… Hum, yes, well. If you can enjoy your work then half the battle’s already won, wouldn’t you say?”

“I suppose that’s true,” Bonnie agreed.

Abadeer! her brain cried exultantly. His name is Abadeer. Same as that grumpy girl. Bonnie blinked as the realisation hit her. Then she had to bite back a bout of what would no doubt have proven to be uncontrollable laughter.

Marceline Abadeer, world-class sour grape and glacial, socially inept rebel-child, was the preacher’s daughter. It was every bad movie trope all wrapped up in one person. And for inexplicable reasons, Bonnibel found the whole notion utterly hilarious.

Oh that was priceless.

Bonnie caught herself then, internal chuckles dying away instantly. She knew all about labels. Sucking in a deep breath, Bonnibel refused to get wrapped up in typecasts. That wouldn’t do at all.

Instead, she stood, excusing herself quietly with mutterings of having something she had to do. She didn’t, of course, it was just an excuse, but that was alright. Bonnie hastened from the church and stood on the grass, staring vacantly down the slope into town. Reich was small, pitifully small, consisting of a few shops (a café, a bookstore, a music shop, a few places for clothes, two restaurants, a pub complete with rooms for rent) and that was basically it. Outside of town were farms; lots of them, and the town had been set up on rolling grasslands. It was quite a nice place.

Bonnie headed down the slope from the church, aiming for the fringes of town. A hill there was capped in a single tree, spreading branches casting most of the hill’s crown in shade no matter the hour. It was a nice place, overlooking the lake (not the ditch, thankfully). The area out by the lake was sparsely forested, but on the town side of the shimmering water a swathe had been cut through the trees for fields.

Yes, it was nice to sit under the tree. Even in the late summer heat it wasn’t unpleasant. A light breeze coiled through the leaves, warm to be sure, but refreshing just the same.

Letting her legs fold beneath her, Bonnibel rested her head against the bark and exhaled. This was a good place to sit and just… not think. A good place to pretend everything was different.

She sat there until her stomach made her get up to eat. And if it hadn’t, she probably wouldn’t have moved all day.

Chapter Text

Tuesday 4th March 2014

Lord, it had been such a long Tuesday. Something about it had just dragged out unbearably. She was uncharacteristically relieved when the final bell of the day rang out through the halls. Even Keila arched an eyebrow when Bonnie sighed heavily, shoving her things back into her bag haphazardly.

“Got a hot date, have you?” Keila teased. The other girl made an emphatic point of putting her books away slowly and carefully, every movement deliberate. “I’ve never seen you in a hurry to get somewhere before. He must be damn fine.”

Bonnie faltered for one moment, every muscle in her body freezing up in the same instant. Just as quickly, she thawed, recovering from her shock. “Um, no,” she said flatly. “I was just really… bored?”

Keila laughed as her statement turned into a question at the end. “I get the feeling you’re not too sure about your answer,” she joked as they left the room. “It’s okay; keep him to yourself for now. Once Eleanor finds out all bets are off, though. Know that.”

Nodding absently, Bonnie went along with her theory. The advice, at least, was sound. Ellen was terrible at keeping things to herself. The rest of her speculation couldn’t have been more wrong. And the longer Bonnibel pondered on the issue, the closer she got to deciding unequivocally that she’d been bored in biology this afternoon. Maybe she was just tired, or unwell or something.

Concluding that it was simply a strange warm-weather flu, she’d take some Panadol when she got home and call it an early night. No sense in being neglectful. Keila flashed her another glance, concerned this time, Bonnie thought.

“Are you sure you’re alright, Bonnibel?” her friend asked. Yes, concern.

“Of course,” she assured her. “I’m just tired.”

Keila snorted, slamming her locker closed, but made no more of it. She rolled her eyes at Bonnibel and walked off, leaving her mostly alone in the corridor. Bonnie lingered a while, letting the students wash past her in chattering waves.

Slowly, Bonnie set off down the corridor towards the library. She didn’t have to be there until three-thirty for the after school study sessions, so she didn’t make any attempts at haste. Best to give the students time to get there anyway.

“Hey, Bonnibel!”

Surprised by the call, she turned around to see a red-faced Finn racing down the hallway. His hair was even messier than usual, eyes wide, a grin that didn’t seem to know whether it actually wanted to be there gracing his features. Skidding to a stop beside her he doubled over to catch his breath.

“Did you run all the way from chemistry?” she asked him, a little bit awed by the possibility.

He nodded, gulping down air. “Yeah… I did. Who knew… it was so… far from here.” He straightened again, still looking a little winded, cracked his back and his smile widened.

“You alright?” Bonnie laughed. “Maybe you should sit down.”

He just shook his head vehemently and hitched his bag higher. The zip was part way undone, his chemistry text book protruding from the space, confirmation of his alacrity in leaving class. Finn ran a hand through his blonde locks which only contributed to its disarray.

“Can we walk?” Bonnie asked, pointing along the corridor. “I have to go to the library.”

“Oh yeah,” he said brightly. “Tutor. Right, sorry. Are you late?”

“No,” she told him, smiling. “You can walk with me though, if you want.”

“Cool,” he muttered. His face was less red now than before. It was quite a run from the chemistry rooms to the library; it must’ve taken a lot out of him. “Yeah, and I wanted to ask you something too.”

“Go for it.”

As they walked, he fidgeted with the buckle on his backpack, mulling over his words. He tapped his fingers on the strap across his shoulder, stealing glances at her out of the corner of his eye. Clearly he was nervous and Bonnibel had no idea what about.

Finally, he opened his mouth. “Look, I wasn’t going to ask, but I was talking to Jake and he said to just do it. So… Um… Will you go out with me this weekend?” Red once again stained his neck and cheeks; he couldn’t meet her eyes either. Funny, for such an outgoing guy, he was being very timid.

Bonnie went rigid at the question. So still, she was pretty sure she wasn’t even breathing. Part of her brain, the part that was still lucid and capable of coherent thought, wondered if she was going to hyperventilate.

What do I say to that, she asked herself, panicked. It took a massive amount of self-control to calm herself and breathe naturally. She clasped her hands around the strap on her book bag so Finn wouldn’t see them shaking. She had no good answer.

Bonnie sucked in a deep breath. “No,” she exhaled. “I… uh… Thanks, Finn. But no.”

He nodded, rocking back onto his heels. “Busy?”

She nodded, hoping that the pathetic excuse would be alright. Her brain, on the other hand, just kept screaming ‘no’ at him. Can’t tell you, but no. That’s all there is. Just no. No, no, no, no, no. Sorry, Finn.

“Kay,” he said. His smile wobbled, but didn’t slide. She was impressed by that. “Just thought I’d ask. See you tomorrow.”

Feeling like utter rubbish, she pushed the door of the library in. A cool blast of air conditioning smacked her in the face, relief from the uncomfortable warm outside, but it didn’t make her feel better about letting Finn down. Actually… she hadn’t been very precise in her wording. She should’ve made it clearer that she wasn’t interested at all. She sighed.

So wrapped up in her head she was that Bonnie nearly walked past the sign-in sheet. Hastily, she scrawled her name down to make sure her presence was registered, then she dropped her bag and strode into the library. One wall was mostly hidden behind shelving and freestanding shelves filled a good portion of the space. The rest was filled with desks and computers. One corner had a smattering of sofas sprawled out under a window. Almost nobody ever sat there. It was hard to get work done.

“Hey,” called a low voice over by the end of the room. A pair of girls and a boy were sitting huddled together over a desk, probably doing maths homework. They always were. Smiling, Bonnie headed towards them, pulling up a chair to inspect their work.

Two of them, a girl and the boy, were spitting images of each other, twins called Laurel and Arden, both with curly brown hair and hazel eyes. The other, Bianca, was blonde and blue eyed with big teal glasses. All three were three years younger than she was and easily as enthusiastic as Finn about most things. They had commandeered her attentions yesterday, digging for answers to all of their woes. Sadly, Bonnibel didn’t have all the answers. She could help them with their maths though. And in the end, that’s what mattered.

Today it wasn’t maths they had stretched out in front of them, but physics. “Need help, I take it?” she asked them teasingly.

Arden sighed, running a hand through his curls, explaining the way it stuck out everywhere. “Yeah,” he moaned, stabbing his pen angrily at the page. “It’s like it just doesn’t want to make sense.”

Bonnie chuckled at him. “Luckily, science makes more sense to me than people do. Let’s see what we have here.”

 


 

Marceline strode through into the library chewing on her lip, very much in a mood to break something. Her lamp had better watch itself later. Not that she really knew why she was feeling so… destructive. Ok no, that was a lie. She’d argued with her dad. What a shocker.

Why he couldn’t just be happy with how she was, Marceline didn’t know. But he was always on her about being a nicer person, a more social person. ‘You can’t make it through life without friends,’ he said. ‘It wouldn’t kill you to be civil,’ he said. So she was grumpy. Big deal.

Scowling furiously at the carpet, Marceline stalked across the library and sank into one of the sofas. Everybody avoided her over here, and she was free to study in peace. Despite what everyone else (uh… Eleanor) said about her, she really did care about her education. Get good grades, finish high school with a flourish, leave home, move somewhere far away from her dad, never speak to him again, be awesome. A flawless plan if she did say so herself. But all of that hinged on her actually getting those good grades. And for that, she had to study.

She stuffed ear buds in and cranked up the volume of her device, hoping to drown out the inane babble of the others in the library with her. It worked for the most part and she fixed her attention to her chemistry paper. The biggest problem with it was that chemistry didn’t make sense to her.

After staring at it for a while, chewing on the end of her pen, she looked up and around. Sometimes Welsh would come to these things and if she needed help right now, the chemistry teacher was the exact person to talk to. What day was it? Tuesday? Yeah, Welsh came in on Tuesdays a lot of the time. She threw a hand over the back of the chair to prop herself up and scanned the room.

Welsh was nowhere to be seen. However, her little redheaded chemistry partner was sitting with a few younger kids… staring at her. Marceline blinked, before affixing a glare to her face. The girl looked away. Marceline continued to look around, music thudding in her ears, drowning out even her own thoughts.

She decided she could work it out on her own. It couldn’t be that hard, surely… Marceline flicked back a few pages in her text book, searching for something enlightening.

The couch dipped beside her.

“Need a hand?” a soft voice enquired.

Not even bothering with niceties, she ripped her ear buds out and levelled a glower at Bonnibel. “No. Go away.”

“I am here to help, you know,” the princess told her tartly.

“I don’t want your help.”

Bonnibel sighed. “Seriously? You’re going to be childish? You’ve been staring at the same page for twenty minutes.”

Marceline’s eyes narrowed. So now the girl was stalking her. Great. “I said, go away.”

“Why are you even here if you don’t want help?”

This was getting silly. Marceline snapped her book closed and tucked it into her bag, standing. “None of your business, princess. Leave me alone.”

With that, and Bonnibel’s eyes still on her back, Marceline stormed from the library. It grated that she was being forced from the only safe place she knew of. She wouldn’t go home. She’d sit on her hill. Yeah.

She was in such a foul mood, that she didn’t even realise she’d left her music player behind.

 

Chapter Text

Friday 7th March 2014

It was a dead weight in her pocket, pulling her down, dragging at her hip and threatening to tip her over. It burned through her jeans, an ember just waiting to scald her, set her on fire, let the whole world know it was there. It sat there, distracting her with thoughts of guilt and barely contained curiosity. It. Just. Sat there.

Unconsciously, Bonnie slipped a finger into her pocket to tap one nail against the hard surface. Click. Click. Click. It didn’t appear to be going anywhere, it wasn’t making life easy for her and it certainly wasn’t doing anything to help her concentrate.

She’d been sitting in the library for most of her spare now, staring out the window. Tumultuous thoughts tumbled around in her brain, keeping her from doing anything constructive. Her pen had been bobbing loosely in her fingers for the better part of twenty minutes and she just couldn’t stop her stomach from clenching again. Anxiety battled with a full-on, desperate desire to know.

To know everything she could about it.

Her fingers itched to pull it from her pocket and turn it over in her fingers like she had yesterday, the day before as well and the day before that even. She longed to just look at it. To stare at the socket on one end and wonder how bad it could possibly be to plug it in and just… just have a quick look.

She pulled her hand away from her pocket and resumed her nervous twitching on top of her desk. It, on the other hand, just kept burning through her jeans. This was insane.

Bonnibel made a decision right then and there that she’d just look. She’d just plug it in and have a look. That would make her feel so much better. Yes. Feeling better about the resolution, she bent back over her book, intent on getting something done this hour.

Only she didn’t. Because the bell rang, signalling the end of the day.

Bonnie sighed, watching the other students in the library stream from the building, relieved. Most of them were gone by the time she headed for the door and once she’d sorted out what to take home with her, nearly no one was left on the campus. It emptied pretty quickly on a Friday afternoon. Nobody, not even the staff, wanted to linger.

Slinging her bag across her shoulders, Bonnibel headed for the hill on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t far, and had become one of her favourite places to sit when she needed to think. Sometimes she’d sit up there to study on the weekends. It wasn’t her usual practice when she lived in Ormeau to study outside, but there was something refreshing about the breeze that flowed beneath the branches. Something soothing about leaning against the tree; it didn’t judge her, or make hasty leaps about her personality; it just stood there, watching, listening, patient. It was nice.

Sliding down to sit between two massive, gnarled roots, Bonnie pulled the little black object from her pocket. For about five minutes, she sat there, just regarding it wonderingly. She’d kept it charged for three days, hoping that she’d either be brave enough to listen to what it could tell her, or return it to the owner.

She rotated it in her fingers. It was warm (from being in her pocket, not for some other mysterious reason), it was worn too, smooth on one side, the little symbols on the buttons long erased by continued use. Bonnie sucked in a deep breath and bit the bullet.

Her headphones clicked as they plugged into the device. Her finger paused then, hovering just above the menu button, hesitant, wary of invading privacy, of finding something she wouldn’t like. She pressed the button.

The song last played, crooned softly into her ear and her eyes widened. She hadn’t thought to find something so soft and gentle on here. She scrolled through the songs, not knowing most of them, but the longer she sat there, scouring the list, the more songs played into her head. The bass that reverberated off the inside of her skull, the melodies that threatened to put her to sleep, the riffs that stirred something in her chest she hadn’t felt before. All of these songs – every last one of them – contained an abundance of emotion. Not a limited spectrum either, but the full range. From melancholy to rage, from heartbreak to purest devotion, all the way from soul-tearing, gut-wrenching tear jerkers, to peppy, upbeat, ‘let’s dance the night away’ songs. Bonnie’s mind was blown.

Slowly, she unplugged the headphones, letting the device’s inbuilt speakers continue to cover her with sounds. It sat there, balanced on one of her knees, an enigma she’d never expected. And it played music.

“Hey.”

The softness of the voice interrupting her internal dissection of the songs was unexpected to say the least. Bonnibel sat up straight. The device wobbled, nearly falling, but her hand shot out to keep it in place while her eyes searched for whoever had spoken.

Just rounding the last of the tree’s impressive girth now, was Marceline. With her hands in her pockets and a gentle frown arching over her eyes, black hair pulled messily into a tail, shirt unbuttoned and slipping on one shoulder, exposing the top beneath. She was the very picture of laid back and uncaring. But her eyes, those blue, blue eyes, were boring into Bonnie’s soul and tearing her apart.

“Where did you get that?” Marceline asked, nodding at the music player.

Oh carp, Bonnie’s brain mumbled. She had no idea what to say to that. She floundered for an answer, finally deciding that it was probably a bad idea to let Marceline know she’d had it a while.

“I found it in the library today in my spare,” she lied, trying not to sound uncertain. “I was just checking to see if any of the playlists might tell me whose it was.” She paused, brow crinkling in false thought. Then, “Is it yours?”

Marceline nodded silently. Bonnibel got the impression that words weren’t her strong suit. Which was odd given how expressive every last song she had here was. Carefully, uncertain, she patted the spot beside her, something even Marceline couldn’t fail to interpret.

With a soft huffing, Marceline crumpled, legs folding underneath her as she basically fell to the ground. Legs crossed in front of her, arms folded, Marceline was a perfect picture of defensive and cold. She didn’t even look Bonnie in the eye, didn’t so much as reach out for her device, probably so she didn’t risk contact with her.

Bonnibel pursed her lips, her frown deepening in thought, real now. Questions, statements, and vague general wonderings all crashed around in her mind, vying for dominance, to be the one that was spoken. She knew, though, that making assumptions was wrong. She wouldn’t do that. “There’re a lot of good songs on here,” Bonnie put forth carefully; wary of shattering whatever strained truce existed between them at the moment.

Marceline’s eyes flicked her way, curious, intrigued. “You listen to music?”

Bonnie smiled. “Duh, who doesn’t? I’m not as widely versed as you, but I know enough.”

The other girl looked away again, nodding slowly. She still made no attempt to retrieve her music though. Idly, Bonnie wondered why. Actually, there were a lot of things she wanted to know about Marceline. But… it was probably rude to. Given the dislike hanging in the air between them.

“Can I ask you a question?” she eventually blurted, giving up her internal debate on the subject.

Once again, those electric blue eyes shot her way. Marceline shrugged, but she looked wary, a caged animal that knew it was about to be prodded with the shock-rod and couldn’t do anything about it. It… hurt, to be looked at like that.

“Why wouldn’t you let me help you with your chemistry?”

Marceline blinked at her. “That’s your question?”

“Yes.”

Surprisingly, Marceline’s mouth curled up into a sort of… smile. Well, it wanted to be a smile, Bonnie thought, but it wasn’t quite. It was that animal realising there was no jolt of electricity today, but perhaps there was something else. What that ‘something else’ might be, Bonnibel wasn’t sure.

But she wanted to find out.

“I… uh… I don’t know,” Marceline confessed. She didn’t sound sheepish, but there was a tinge of pink in her cheeks that hadn’t been there earlier. “I just don’t see the point of being friendly with you.”

“I wasn’t asking to be your friend,” Bonnie pointed out. “I was doing my job.”

Marceline bobbed her head. “True. Maybe… Maybe I don’t want to be associated with you.”

“Why?”

“My turn to ask a question,” Marceline said sharply. But it wasn’t quite as sharp as usual and that ghostly smile hadn’t disappeared yet. “Why do you want to help me?”

“Because I can help,” Bonnie told her simply.

Her mouth didn’t quite close. “Seriously?”

Bonnibel just shrugged half-heartedly. “I can help people, so why shouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s silly and selfless and saintlike,” Marceline told her wryly.

“Can I ask another question?”

“Shoot.”

“Why do you come to the after school sessions anyway?”

Marceline hunched her shoulders. “I don’t like studying at home. I like the quiet of the library.”

“Okay.”

Marceline’s eyes widened a good deal then. “No questions on why I don’t like being at home?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“You won’t tell me,” Bonnie replied, leaning her head back against the bark and staring up at the leaves. “So there’s no point in asking.” She rolled her head to the side to look at Marceline. “I’m right, aren’t I?”

Marceline just sighed. She was hiding things, it was really quite easy to tell, Bonnibel decided. For all that Marceline tried to be difficult and mysterious; she wasn’t so hard to read. Bonnie didn’t press her though; she stood and held out her hand with the music player in it. Marceline regarded it for a moment as she might look at a poisonous creature. Or a shock-rod. Then she took the device and slipped it into her pocket.

“Does your dad ever lock up the church?” Bonnie asked quietly, eyes fixed on the building in question.

Marceline bit back a sound suspiciously like a gasp and shook her head. “No,” she said a little hoarsely. “Never. He believes that the house of God should be open always.”

“Thanks,” Bonnie replied sincerely.

She started to head towards the church, but froze when Marceline called, “Wait.” Bonnibel turned, confused. The other girl was standing there, staring at her, although when Bonnie stared right back she ripped her eyes away and fixed them on the ground between them, shuffling her feet. “You uh… You know my dad’s the preacher?”

“Yes,” Bonnie said, still pretty confused. “So?”

Marceline’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. “Why… Why wasn’t your question about me being a ‘proper’ preacher’s daughter?”

Bonnibel smiled at her gently, heart going out to the girl. “Because you’re more than just your association with your father, Marceline,” Bonnie informed her. “Being the ‘preacher’s daughter’ is nothing but a label and I know all about labels. Nothing good can come of them. There’s no such thing as a ‘proper’ preacher’s daughter. You’re just you.”

With that she left. Marceline watched her go with a slack jaw and wide eyes, stunned.

Chapter Text

Sunday 23rd March 2014

Marceline sighed heavily, plucking absently at the strings on the banjo she was tuning. Simon was staring at her again and she wanted to wipe the look of triumph off his face. He was doing a pretty good job of hiding it though so she did her best to ignore it.

“See?” he said, unable to maintain his silence any longer. “I knew library time would help.”

She rolled her eyes. “Look, so it’s nice and quiet in there, dad can’t come barging in to tell me I’m doing something wrong. It’s nice. But I don’t want a tutor.”

He bobbed his head. “Sure, sure. Oh, did you find your music?”

Now Marceline smiled, pulling it from her hip pocket. “Sure did.” She waved it as proof before stuffing it back in. “That new girl found it and gave it back to me.”

“Is she a nice girl? I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her yet. Not officially anyway.”

Marceline shrugged, looking away from him. “Eh, she’s alright. At the very least she respects personal boundaries and doesn’t make mountains out of mole hills.”

“Good. She’s your friend then, yes?”

“No, Simon,” she sighed. “I told you, I don’t want to be her friend. She’s just going to leave next year anyway. There’s no sense getting attached or anything.”

“But you don’t mind her?”

Marceline frowned. “Should I be worried about where this conversation is going, Simon?”

He lifted his hands in submission. “I don’t get a great deal out of the other students, Marceline,” he said. “I don’t know much about her. I’m just curious.”

“Oh,” Marceline said, deflating. “Well… I guess she’s alright. She’s one of those people who likes to help, which I guess isn’t so bad. She’s pretty good at explaining things and she’s nice enough I suppose. No gossip, no prying questions, it’s different.”

Simon’s smile widened. “Coming from you that’s some serious praise.”

She hunched her shoulders. “Hey, calm down. All I’m saying is that if it was just me and one other person left at the end of the world, there are worse people to be stuck with than Bonnibel. That’s it. I still don’t want to be her friend.”

“That’s good then.” She could hear it in his tone. But more friends wouldn’t hurt you know.

“I don’t need more friends,” she very nearly snapped. Normally, she’d ignore the little unspoken comments, but she was thoroughly sick of people telling her she needed to be kindlier. “And if I was going to invest in another random person to talk to, it wouldn’t be her.”

“I never said a thing,” Simon chuckled, going back to tuning the piano. “How are your studies coming then?”

She sank backwards onto a bench, still strumming the banjo. “Eh… whatever, right? I’ll pass.”

“I know you’ve always been of the opinion that passing is good enough…” he paused, shaggy white head engulfed by the top of the piano. “Can you pass me the pliers?” Marceline scooped them up and deposited them in his waiting hand before he went on. “But flunking high school isn’t such a good way to being awesome.”

“Lots of famous people didn’t finish school,” Marceline pointed out, opting to sit on the floor this time, leaning against a cupboard. “I wouldn’t be the first or last.”

“But,” he groaned, straightening to close the piano. “But what happens when you leave home before you hit the jackpot? Huh? You need a day job to at least get you started.”

“Why do I even hang out with you?” Marceline grumbled. “I thought we were going to talk about something other than my education. Because, you know, if I wanted someone on my case about not passing my subjects sufficiently and getting a safe, steady, practical job when I graduate, I’d just go talk to my dad.”

“Alright, well what about your boyfriend-?”

“Ex,” Marceline corrected hastily.

“Sorry,” he replied dryly. “Is he still bothering you and Keila?”

“He’s around,” she said with a shrug. “I’ll have to punch him harder next time.”

“Perhaps punching him is why he doesn’t understand,” Simon told her sagely, tapping his forehead. “You’re killing what few brain cells he was born with.”

And the conversation wasn’t so strained after that. Mostly they talked about music and how silly the students could be at times. Marceline was only too happy to discuss the idiocy of her peers and Simon danced carefully around subjects she didn’t like. It wasn’t the best of friendships, but he understood that her father was overbearing and that was enough.

Although, the longer they talked, the later the afternoon became, the more Marceline wondered about motives. She never had before. She’d always trusted Simon. But lately… lately he’d been a little off. Putting more pressure on her to do well was one, and his recently acquired fascination with Bonnibel Banner was another.

She bit her lip, but held her peace. Unfounded accusations would just make her life harder. She could keep her silence. For now.

 


 

“We only have a month,” Ellen said firmly, pounding her fist into the table and interrupting Bonnie’s attempts to study once again. “That’s not long you know.”

“I still don’t know how you found out,” Bonnibel grumbled at her. “I make a point of not sharing that information.” And, the little voice in her head lamented, if it’s that easy to find information on me, what else can you find out?

Pippa just looked sheepish. “That… might be my fault.”

Bonnie arched an eyebrow but displayed no other evidence of hearing her. She really did have to get her maths finished. Weekend or not, maths was important.

“I… get some extra credit points for helping out in the administration office,” Pippa sighed. “Normally it’s just sorting, filing, messages and that kind of stuff. But they let me put records away sometimes and I just… I just peeked. I swear I didn’t read it.”

“You read enough to get my birthday,” Bonnie muttered, still staring at her book. Although it was somewhat difficult to focus on the sums when a conversation was going on around her. “Anyway, Ellen, I don’t want a party.”

Ellen waved a hand in exasperation. “Bah, don’t lie to me, Banner. Everyone wants a party on their sixteenth birthday. Let me make a big deal out of it. It’s even strategically placed during the mid-semester break. It’s practically a sign. Unfortunate that it falls on Easter Monday though.”

She exhaled heavily, putting her pen down. “I don’t want to celebrate,” she told Ellen. “Please… please don’t do anything, alright? We could… I don’t know, watch a movie and eat junk food if you like, but no parties. You could throw an Easter party if you wanted. Just not one for me.”

Ellen pouted. “You are such a spoil sport. You know that?” Then, in a movement so quick Bonnie didn’t even register it straight away, Ellen commandeered her diary. “At the very least, let me write all our birthdays in here for you so you can wish us a good day.” She flipped through the pages and her eyes widened. “Your birthday isn’t even marked in here!” she exclaimed. “What is wrong with you?”

No answer. Bonnie had nothing to say to that. Or well… nothing she wanted to tell them anyway. What did she say? That she didn’t feel like celebrating her birthday without the rest of her family? That it just wouldn’t be the same? No, she couldn’t tell them that. It would lead to so many other things that she was positive she wouldn’t answer. A shrug was the best she could offer.

Well, a shrug and a half-heartedly muttered, “I just don’t celebrate it.”

“Then you are incredibly weird,” Ellen maintained, her cursive writing dancing across Bonnie’s diary with such flair that it was sort of hard to read. Everybody had their birthday noted in a different colour, funnily enough. Ellen decorated her birthday (done in purple, of course) with an abundance of hearts and flowers. Naturally.

“Oh leave her be, Ellen,” Pippa sighed, tapping her pen on her kitchen table. Pippa’s house was their current choice of study location since Jake and Finn were easy to get rid of out here. “We all have our quirks.”

Ellen just huffed and slid the diary back to Bonnie. “Don’t you ever get sick of studying?” she asked Bonnie, looking genuinely curious. “You know there are other things in life besides being smart, right?”

“Like what?” Bonnie asked quietly. “Do enlighten me.”

“You could come out with us,” Ellen pleaded. “Come on, just one time? You went to the ditch, but we could always drive out to Blackwater and go shopping or see a movie. We could go to the lake. There’s tons of stuff we could do.”

“Normally I wouldn’t,” Pippa said gently, now scrawling down answers to her homework. “But maybe Ellen’s right, Bonnibel. We could go shopping or see a movie. It might be nice.”

“There’s only three weeks left before the mid-semester break,” Bonnie mumbled slowly. “How about we do something on the first Saturday of the break? Then I wouldn’t feel so guilty about not studying.”

“Deal!” Ellen shouted, almost falling across the table with excitement. “Deal. You’re on, Banner. We can go shopping, maybe see a movie and have dinner down there.”

Pippa laughed at that. “You might be pushing it,” she said around her fit of giggles. “Look at Bonnibel’s face. Stop pouting.”

Bonnie sighed. “We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Monday 24th March 2014

The door wasn’t going anywhere, more’s the pity. She mostly hoped it would dissolve or something. But no. It just stood there, staring back at her without so much as the grace to look abashed about her growing sense of anxiety. Her fingers tapped nervously on the handle and she had to take two deep breaths before unearthing the courage to press it down and go in.

The room was warm, all wood panels and mahogany furniture. It had a pleasant, bookish feel to it, yellow lamps providing most of the light, heavy drapes drawn almost closed behind the desk. Sitting in a leather swivel chair was an older man, all tousled white hair and wrinkled features, parchment skin and frosted eyes, half-moon glasses perched on the end of his hooked beak of a nose as he read a document.

Bonnie found it highly unusual to see the music teacher in a room that wasn’t his classroom, but she supposed his dual roles in the school meant it probably should’ve been obvious that he had his own office. She slid into the room slowly, not wanting to interrupt his reading. Although, fidgeting by the door full of apprehension wasn’t so grand either. For a moment she considered waving or saying something, but then he looked up.

He smiled, eyes shining through his blue-tinted glasses. Bonnie blinked at that, she wondered if it was just because he felt so much cooler wearing coloured lenses or if he suffered from Meares-Irlen syndrome. Her dad had that. She promptly left that train of thought and boarded another one.

“Hello, Bonnibel,” he said not unkindly, but in that way teachers have when they’re trying to be reassuring even though they know you may not like what they’re going to say. He shuffled the papers around on his desk and steepled his fingers, watching her carefully over them. “Please sit.”

So he seemed nice enough outwardly, she was still a little worried about why she was in the student councillor’s office before class on a Monday. Sinking tensely into the chair, Bonnie couldn’t shake the worry in her gut. “Is something wrong, Mr Petrikov?” she asked, not really sure she wanted the answer.

“No, actually, everything is fine,” he said, his smile crinkling around the corners of his mouth. “Your teachers say you’re doing wonderfully in your classes and I hear you’ve made plenty of friends. It’d say everything is grand.”

Then why am I here? Bonnie wanted to ask him. Instead she just sat still and waited. Teachers thought they were clever, putting pauses in their conversations to try and engage students. That wasn’t what they wanted; they wanted to be asked things. There was a twisted sort of power in keeping people on the wrong foot and teachers were good at it. They waited until the student was uncomfortable with the lack of information and a fear of punishment for unknown wrong doings and that was what they wanted: uncertainty.

Bonnie knew how to play this game, though. So she sat. And she waited. Eventually, Petrikov would break because if she was anything it was stubborn. A seemingly endless supply of patience and a younger brother had taught her that a long time ago.

“I want to change something in how you tutor,” he said after a long pause. See? She outlasted him. It was the small rebellions that meant the most. “I’d like you to do one-on-one sessions instead of your usual. Before you ask, yes, we do it for some struggling students who just need more face time with someone who can help them.”

Which student?

Petrikov’s finger absently toyed with a pencil, lining it up against the edge of a stack of papers. It was needlessly finicky, the kind act one performs when thinking too hard or trying to instil that sense of discomfort Bonnie kept noticing. He blinked at her through his blue glasses, attempting to get her off balance, or whatever. It occurred to her then that these thoughts were somewhat more cynical than her usual. She sighed inwardly.

“Do you know Marceline Abadeer?” he asked.

“I do. She’s in three of my classes,” Bonnie told him. He seemed surprised by her response.

He huffed. “Yes, well. I’d like you to tutor her in the afternoons.” Oh how many words he didn’t speak then. So many; the air was weighted exceedingly heavily with them.

“Does she know about this?”

Again, this didn’t appear to be the reaction he’d been anticipating. “No. I believe you have maths with her in your second period. You can tell her then. Or you may tell her this afternoon. The choice is yours.”

And that was a splendid way of getting her unbalanced; she could feel the ground tipping beneath her. Instead of displaying the strange roiling her gut was currently experiencing, all she said was, “Yes, sir.” Oh, Marceline is going to love this, she chuckled to herself.

“Thank you, that’s all.” He pushed a piece of paper across the table excusing her lateness to class and then went back to his work.

She left. What a strange encounter with the man. She was positive her afternoon would be eventful.

 

-*…*…*-

 

The library was hushed. Uncannily so. Bonnibel was almost hesitant to go in, as if the whole building knew exactly what was going to happen and was bracing itself.

As expected, Marceline was sitting on her sofa in the corner, one end of a pen in her mouth, fingers tapping on the arm of the chair to the beat of whatever music was pumping in her ears. For a moment, Bonnie considered ignoring her as she had been doing for weeks now. Considered it. Then discarded the idea. Sighing, she headed over to the sofas.

She didn’t sit though, just stood there for a moment watching Marceline stare holes through her biology text book. Every now and then the pen would be removed from her mouth in order to write something in her book, then it would be promptly replaced between her teeth. The tapping never let up once.

“I can feel you staring at me,” Marceline mumbled around her pen without averting her gaze. “What do you want, princess?”

Bonnie sank into the chair beside Marceline, fascinated by how her fingers moved as they drummed on the sofa. Slowly, those electrifying blue eyes turned her way; there was no frown on Marceline’s face, just… acceptance. Bonnibel had a feeling she’d be frowning in a minute.

“I… I have some bad news,” Bonnie began quietly. Marceline pulled one bud from her ear so she could hear. “I was called into Mr Petrikov’s office this morning.” Marceline went rigid at just those words, eyes narrowing in confusion. “He wants me to tutor you.”

Her mouth curled down in distaste and sure enough, a line creased her brow. “Of course he did,” she growled under her breath. “And naturally he picked you. I don’t want a tutor, you know.”

Bonnie nodded. “I got that impression,” she said sarcastically. “If you’re a real bitch about it, I imagine I could get him to change his mind.”

The look she got for that was unbelievably flat. “Thanks. You’re not going to talk me into it? I’m sure you have all sorts of reasons that this is a good idea rattling around in your head.”

“Well…” she began, “since we’re not friends and you have no interest in changing that anytime soon, it might be a good idea. I mean, would you rather have endless arguments and a slow build-up of resentment for… say… Keila or a person you don’t like?”

Marceline rolled that around for a moment and then nodded shortly. “Much as I hate to say it, you do raise a good point. And since you’re not terrified of me like all the other tutors here, you have that going for you as well.” She rolled her lip under then and glared at Bonnie. “I still don’t like this idea though. And I still don’t like you. That won’t change, alright?”

“I wouldn’t have expected otherwise,” Bonnie assured her. “Just so long as you don’t make it hard, I’ll be okay with that.”

Marceline smirked. “Define hard.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday 2nd April 2014

“Oh my god, no.”

Bonnie lifted an eyebrow. “Suck it up, Abadeer.”

Marceline dropped her head into her hands. “I had three classes with you already today. I think I’m all princessed out. Can’t you just… forget to do this?”

“No.”

She exhaled, rubbing her fingers through her hair, feeling drained. Bonnibel hadn’t met any of Marceline’s somewhat cynical and pessimistic expectations. In fact, the only thing she ever spoke about was work. And, contrary to what Marceline would have thought, she was getting utterly sick of it.

“We have a chemistry exam next week, Marceline,” Bonnie reminded her for probably the five thousandth time that minute. “I’m not going to let you fail it.”

Marceline dug her fingertips into her cheeks and scowled. “Are you serious right now?”

Bonnibel closed her text book and folded her arms across it, staring at Marceline over the table. “Well what do you want to do then? Maths? Biology?”

“Twenty questions.” Wait, what? The words were out of her mouth before Marceline even processed them. She closed her eyes and looked away, trying to figure out why she’d said that.

Bonnie smiled at her. “I thought you didn’t want to know anything? Is this a change of heart or are you really that desperate to stop studying?”

Well… what was the answer? Marceline didn’t know. Probably the latter. She shrugged her response and dropped her head to the table. “Ugh, never mind,” she grumbled.

Bonnibel kept smiling that slow smile and shrugged again. “If you want to ask a question, go ahead. I was just under the impression that you liked to be ignorant. I mean honestly, what if I was a serial killer?”

Marceline’s eyebrows disappeared into her fringe. “Are you a serial killer?”

“Well no,” Bonnie admitted. “But you’d never know that because you don’t ask things. Are you a serial killer?”

She snorted. “No. Do I look like a serial killer?”

“Do you want me to answer that,” the nerd replied wryly.

“Not really,” Marceline said, chuckling softly. When she realised she was sort of laughing she stopped doing so immediately. Then she mentally slapped herself. “Why did you even move here, princess?” she asked softly.

And Bonnibel didn’t speak. For a whole forty-eight seconds.

After nearly a minute Marceline decided she wasn’t going to answer and looked up from her book. The look on Bonnie’s face was familiar. Marceline saw it in the mirror all the time. It was as though she’d forgotten how to use her facial muscles, frozen.

“Hey, sorry, princess,” Marceline said hastily, waving a hand. “You don’t have to answer that. Geez. Don’t look so freaked out.”

Bonnie’s face relaxed a little, some of the steel oozing out of her posture, but she was still wary, that was clear. It hardly looked like she was breathing, as if she were trying to turn invisible by remaining as still as possible. Marceline knew that feeling well and although she didn’t want to know Bonnibel at all, she felt a little sympathy crawl into her chest cavity and set up shop.

“Sorry,” Marceline whispered. “One more question.” Again, Bonnie stiffened, braced for something that would dredge up memories she’d rather not dwell on. “Does your wardrobe consist of nothing but pink?”

The other girl slumped in her chair, stress gone, her relief was sketched across her pretty face, trying to hide and failing. “No,” she mumbled. “It’s my favourite colour, but I wear other things too. You just don’t pay attention.”

Ah, good. There was a sarcastic tone Bonnie used sometimes, this biting tang in her words that Marceline would never have expected from her. She never used it in class with Finn (who had maths with them, much to Marceline’s disgruntlement), she didn’t use it on teachers, not on her friends that Marceline knew of. It was an indication (to Marceline’s mind anyway), that all was well.

“Sure I do,” Marceline argued. “You wore jeans yesterday.” Really tight ones. Oh God. Marceline had to slap that thought away too before it evolved into something horrifying. She felt her face heat and glanced down at her book again. Never comment on her clothing ever again.

“Good observation skills,” Bonnie said flatly. “Does your wardrobe contain colours other than black?”

Marceline found herself chortling again and had to roll her eyes to make it stop. “Why yes, in fact,” she fired back, a little too brightly to be considered normal. “My wardrobe runs the gamut all along the greyscale. Plus a few reds… and some blue.”

“Wow, shock me with your knowledge of the colour wheel.”

“Shut up.”

There was a long moment of silence between them then, a silence that Marceline would have expected to be awkward. But… Bonnie was full of surprises and when Marceline offered no other contributions to their conversation, she went back to her chemistry.

“Did you leave many friends behind?” Marceline spoke softly.

“Not really.” And Marceline could honestly say she was surprised at the answer. “I used to have a whole bunch of friends… But not when I left.”

She spun her pen through her fingers before jabbing it at Bonnie. “You said you’re from Ormeau right?”

Bonnie smiled slyly. “You know, I don’t think we’ve spoken enough that I would’ve told you that.”

“Uh, yeah… Keila might’ve told me,” Marceline said sheepishly. “I just… would’ve expected you to have left a whole crowd of friends behind.”

Bonnibel shook her head. “Sorry to disappoint. Although to be honest, there weren’t a lot of people at my last school worth calling my friend there right before I left. Too much drama at single gender schools.”

“I can relate. Private schools are the worst,” Marceline commiserated. It earned a stunned look from Bonnibel, but she didn’t make anything of it. Clearly, the princess knew the concept behind ‘boundaries’ very well.

“Other than Keila,” Bonnie said instead of asking the more obvious question. “Do you have any friends?”

“Nope. I guess Ash is sort of my friend.”

“As someone who isn’t your friend and therefore doesn’t have to worry about violent reactions,” Bonnie began bluntly. “Ash is a dickhead and you could do so much better than him. Seriously. What did you ever see in him? I’ve known a lot of jerks in my time, but he is honestly the biggest jackarse I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting.”

And Marceline smiled. A proper toothy smile and everything. “Tell me how you really feel, princess,” she said around her growing amusement. “You know it took me two years to work that out myself? Where were you then? I could’ve used some ‘in your face’ honesty.”

Bonnie gave a mocking half-bow from her seat. “You’re welcome.”

She said you can do better… That was a hard concept to grasp. “So I take it there’s no hunky boyfriend moaning over you back in Ormeau?” Must distract my brain.

At that, Bonnibel actually laughed. “Dear Lord, no.” The words were nearly lost in her giggle fit. “Oh goodness, no.” Marceline didn’t understand why that was funny.

“Why not?”

With obvious effort, Bonnie contained her mirth. “I’ve never dated,” she said with a smirk. A smirk. Bonnibel. Smirking. It was gasp-worthy.

Marceline blinked, mouth open in what was probably a very unattractive fashion. “Yeah… but why? I mean…” She waved a hand in Bonnie’s general direction. “Why? Is there something wrong with guys in Ormeau or did you just turn a lot of them down?”

“Eventually they stopped asking altogether,” Bonnie whispered, her smirk flickering, dying. Her expression once more that impenetrable blankness that Marceline knew so well. “They had a good reason not to bother.”

The conversation was essentially shut down then, Bonnibel closing herself off in a way Marceline didn’t think any of her other friends had seen. It was weird. Bonnibel Banner was a very strange person. Almost – almost – Marceline was tempted to work out why.

And it scared her how hard she had to convince herself that she didn’t care.

Chapter Text

Saturday 12th April 2014

There was banging on her door. Banging of the very loud and obnoxious kind. She checked the clock and groaned. There should be a law against banging that noisily at eight fifteen in the morning.

For a moment Bonnie just ignored it. But the pounding didn’t go away, in fact it sounded now as if two fists were slamming on the wood. Whoever it was, they were determined. Sighing, she snapped her book closed and levered herself off the lounge chair to get it.

“About time!” Ellen cried when the door opened. “Come on, Bonnibel, you promised. Let’s go already.”

Bonnie blinked. Promised what? Oh… right. Shopping. The thought was sour and from the way Ellen was frowning at her suddenly, her expression had turned equally bitter.

Ellen snagged her wrist and dragged her out the door. “Come on, right now. We’re leaving.”

Bonnie gasped at her, pulling free. “At least let me lock up first.” And get my things together. “Sorry, I forgot.” Ellen clucked in exasperation, but let Bonnibel race inside to grab her things.

Her friend was tapping one foot impatiently when Bonnie skidded back outside and locked the door. “Geez, Bonnibel,” Ellen sighed. “How could you have forgotten this? You promised.”

“I know,” she huffed, following her bossy friend to Jake’s truck. “I was just catching up on some reading that I’d neglected during the term.”

Ellen snorted. “Of course. Well we’re going to have fun today, maybe see a movie this afternoon too. You should enjoy yourself.”

It was an hour’s drive in to Blackwater, a much larger city (larger being a comparative term, really) and Bonnie spent most of it staring out the window. Jake had the radio cranked up, Pippa sang along with him sometimes. Ellen made a few comments about people she knew in Blackwater and scandals they may or may not have been involved in, but no one paid that much mind.

Near their destination though, Ellen engaged her in a (somewhat one-sided) discussion about the shops at the Blackwater mall. The town was bigger than Reich, although that wasn’t overly hard, to be honest. There were no skyscrapers like in Ormeau, but there weren’t any buildings less than three storeys either. Unhappily, Bonnie realised there wasn’t much green here either. Sure there were parks scattered around, but it wasn’t like Reich where growing things stuck up everywhere. It was more urban and although Bonnie had been missing the big city, she found the lack of green upsetting.

“We’re here!” Ellen enthused, already half way out the car before Jake put the hand-break on. She bounced in the parking lot with obvious excitement (and no small amount of impatience) as she waited for them to join her.

“Am I going to regret saying ‘yes’ to a shopping trip with Ellen?” Bonnie asked Pippa softly as they rounded the car.

Her friend laughed, eyeing the way Ellen bounded across the parking lot. “It’s been known to happen,” she murmured. This was not reassuring in the slightest.

They wasted no time following her into the gaping maw of shopaholic heaven though. Winter might be closing in, but the sun still packed a punch on clear days such as this. A blast of cold assaulted her when the doors swished open. Bonnibel was of the strong opinion that the weather was currently mild enough not to need such intense air conditioning. But what did she know?

“Okay,” Ellen said, spinning on them as she clasped her hands together. “Where are we going first? I need a new dress, just so we can factor that in. Does anyone else have a stop they want to make?”

Bonnie’s eyebrows shot up into the stratosphere. “You’re planning where we go? You have… like, a shopping system?”

Eleanor rolled her eyes. “Of course I do. Shopping might be soothing and therapeutic, but it should also be economical. Otherwise you just end up wandering around… Or stuck in the same shop for hours on end.”

She blinked. “I would not have thought you’d be that way about your shopping, Ellen,” Bonnie admitted. “I had you pegged as that one person who just moseys about until something catches her eye.”

Jake snorted. “Boy were you ever wrong. Brace yourself for the shopping whirlwind that is Eleanor Scott-Parker.” Ellen beamed at that. “I need to stop at the sports store,” he said, pointing at his shoes, wiggling his toes. “These guys desperately need replacing. I can do that while you ladies go do your dress thing.”

Pippa sighed. “You don’t want to help me pick a dress, Jake?” she asked in a low, teasing voice. He blinked.

“Nope,” he replied, shaking his head. “Nope. I’m good, thanks.” With that (and some soft mutterings that Bonnie couldn’t make out) he spun and headed off.

“It’s probably for the best anyway,” Ellen told Pippa sadly. “The last time he came with was a nightmare. Bonnibel, is there anywhere you want to go?”

She pondered that for a moment. “Not really. But if you disappear into a shop by the book store I might pop in while you do that.” She’d never been one to plan her trips to the mall.

Ellen pursed her lips, clearly unhappy with the vagueness of Bonnie’s reply, but Pippa didn’t let her think on it too long. Instead she looped one arm through Ellen’s and one arm through Bonnie’s, dragging them both further into the mall. It was a long, meandering building, three floors high (not counting the top, fourth, floor which was taken up by a rather extensive cinema) and packed on the first day of holidays. Bonnie would be the first to admit she wasn’t such a huge fan of crowds.

Per Ellen’s preference for shopping, they started at one end of the mall and rambled along the first floor. They popped into shops (mostly pertaining to clothes or jewellery) as they passed them. Bonnie – naïvely at first – thought it was at random. Pippa informed her – when she asked about how this aimless wandering had anything to do with Ellen’s ‘system’ – that they followed the same path every time. Bonnie was confused by this; didn’t it get… boring? Repetitive? Wasn’t a bit of spontaneity a good thing?

Apparently not.

Jake re-joined them not long before lunch (somewhere on the second floor) with a new pair of shoes and a few friends in tow. Bonnie couldn’t remember their names, but they were from Blackwater, both young men seemed nice enough, although they kept staring at her like she was some malformed anomaly. She ignored them.

She supposed it was nice that those two guys joined them really; it gave Jake someone to talk to at any rate. He must’ve appreciated having people to talk to who weren’t interested in clothes or other feminine things. The boys accompanied them to lunch as well, Ellen not seeming to mind this at all. It caused a few raised eyebrows and wryly amused expressions to be exchanged between Bonnie and Pippa though. Eleanor’s boyfriend would not approve of her blatant flirting.

Over lunch, plans for the rest of the afternoon were discussed loudly. Jake’s two friends were absolutely set on going to the ditch with them, maybe after they saw a movie. Bonnie didn’t pay them much attention, all of their ideas sounded draining. Having been out since the morning already, what she really wanted was to go home and pick her book back up.

Ellen, impatient as ever, leapt to her feet. “I like this plan,” she proclaimed. “We’ll finish this floor while you guys go pick a movie. We’ll meet you up there and go out to the ditch afterwards.”

The boys smiled, happy for an excuse not to go shopping with them. “Do you mind what movie we pick?” one of the other boys asked.

Pippa glanced at Ellen who was already dumping her disposable plates in a bin and getting ready to march off again. “I don’t think so,” she told him. “None of us are really picky about it.”

He beamed, standing. The other boy and Jake were quick to rush off with him, no doubt worried that Ellen would change her mind. Pippa just smiled after them. Bonnie had to admit that is was amusing, the lengths boys would go to in order to escape shopping with girls.

It didn’t take Ellen long to find another shop to investigate, she grabbed Pippa and dragged her inside with an excited string of words. Bonnie paused. She really didn’t want to go into another one. Her gaze flickered across the fronts of the nearby stores and landed happily on a place selling books.

Smiling now, she headed in. Pippa would know where she’d gone when she saw the place. Bonnie was only too pleased to lose herself in the aisles, perusing titles. She even found a section for classic novels and inspected every last spine for one she didn’t have yet. The section was longer than she’d expected and as she rounded the corner to start on the next shelf she bumped into someone.

“Oh, God, I’m so sorry,” she said, throwing an arm out, hoping she hadn’t knocked them over. Her eyes flashed up, meeting electric blue and anything else she’d been planning to say died on her tongue. “Hi,” was all she could manage.

The other woman blinked. “Hey,” Marceline said softly. “Are you stalking me?” The question was almost… friendly, if teasing. Bonnie was taken aback by it.

“Uh… no,” she muttered. “I’m here with some friends.”

Marceline smirked. “Shocker.”

“What are you even doing in a bookstore?” Bonnie blurted as Marceline stepped around her.

“I can read, you know.” The reply was defensive. “Am I not allowed to?”

“You just didn’t strike me as the type to like books.” Carefully, she followed Marceline around the shelving towards the fantasy fiction section.

“Now you’re following me,” Marceline observed, eyes fixed on the books.

“I’m thinking.”

“About what?”

“Maths.”

Marceline started laughing, rolled her eyes, turned to face Bonnie now. “You’re on holidays, princess,” she pointed out. “You shouldn’t be thinking about school. Geez.”

“No,” she hastened to assure her. “Not that. I was just thinking that Jake’s car has only five seats.”

“So?”

“There are six of us.”

Marceline lifted an eyebrow. “How did you all get here if there’s five seats to share between six people? You sat on someone’s lap, didn’t you?”

For some reason Bonnie couldn’t quite place, her stomach was bubbling and her face went red. “N-No. No, we met two of them here.” She frowned, thinking. “But they’re going to the ditch later and I really don’t want to go.” She sighed. “I’m going to be stuck here.” Bonnie thought that last was grumbled softly enough that Marceline wouldn’t hear it.

She was wrong.

“Call someone to pick you up,” Marceline suggested, shrugging.

“I can’t,” she realised. “Peter’s at work today grading papers, Finn doesn’t have his own car and Keila’s gone to a party.”

Marceline exhaled heavily then and said the most unexpected thing ever. “I’ll drive you,” she griped. “I was planning on leaving after this anyway.” She snatched a book off the shelf and stalked to the counter. “Come on,” she called to Bonnie.

Blinking in confusion, Bonnie hastened after her. “You really don’t have to. I’ll catch a cab.”

“The hell you will,” Marceline snorted. “I wouldn’t trust a cab driver in this town with a face like yours. Blackwater looks really nice on the surface, but underneath is another story.” She dropped the book on the counter and pinged for attention.

“I’ll risk it,” Bonnie said as the attendant came out to check Marceline’s purchase. “I’ve probably dealt with worse than a seedy cab driver.”

Marceline shot her a glance from the corner of her eye. “You know something, princess? I don’t think you have. Why are you even trying to talk me out of it? I thought you secretly wanted to be my best friend.”

“You already have a best friend. I’m just the bitch who helps with your science homework,” Bonnie replied a little tartly. The girl behind the counter had trouble stifling a laugh at that. Even Marceline was smiling.

“Please,” Marceline said around her smile (which she appeared to be trying to get rid of). “Everyone knows you’re a saint. Even my dad loves you.”

“He doesn’t.”

“No, it’s true,” Marceline told her, thanking the lady for her book and heading out. “I think if he’d been given the option of choosing which of us was his daughter, he’d pick you.”

“Well then he’s a bit of an idiot,” Bonnibel grumbled. “They say you never know you’ve got a good thing until it’s gone.”

The look on Marceline’s face at that was pure astonishment. “You don’t mean that.” And she sounded absolutely convinced of it.

“Believe what you like.”

There you are!” Eleanor practically screamed as they stepped out of the shop. “What have you been… Oh.” Her words cut off in a strangled croak when she saw Marceline. “Abadeer.”

“Scott-Parker.” Marceline’s smile was a little scary. “Hey, Pippa.”

Ellen huffed. “Why does she get a friendly greeting? Never mind. Come on, Bonnibel, we’re going to the movie now. Jake just texted with their pick and it’s going to be great.”

“I uh…” Bonnie began. “I don’t really want to go to the movies… or the ditch for that matter. And with Jake’s two friends the car’s full anyway. I’m just going to head home now.”

Pippa nodded, she didn’t take more than five seconds to work out what Bonnie meant. Ellen though, narrowed her eyes. “What are you talking about? Cabs here aren’t safe,” Eleanor said flatly.

“See?” Marceline blurted. “Told you.” Her voice trailed off as if just realising she was participating in a conversation with people she didn’t like.

“Marceline offered to drive me home,” Bonnie provided before Ellen could say something mean. “I’ll be fine.”

Ellen’s brow knitted together. Pippa just smiled and waved. “See you later then, Bonnibel,” Penelope called, tugging Ellen away.

“Bye guys,” she responded. “Enjoy the movie.”

Marceline was glaring after them ferociously. “How do you even stand her?” she asked, one hand motioning vaguely at Ellen. “Don’t you find her irritating?”

“Extremely,” Bonnie said honestly. “But I’m of the opinion that keeping her close is better than being nasty to her. She’s a post office, Marceline, all information goes through her. I don’t want to be on her bad side.”

“Makes sense. Let’s go.”

Unlike Jake, Marceline had parked under the mall (much to Bonnie’s relief, the car would be cool). What seriously surprised her though was that it was a car Marceline led her to. For a moment, she just stood there staring at the faded red vehicle. Marceline pressed the button on her key ring and the alarm beeped unlocked softly. When Marceline settled into the driver’s seat, Bonnie was still standing beside it questioningly.

She opened the door and sat, still confused. “Did you steal this?” she finally asked, clicking her buckle in place.

“No,” Marceline said, biting back a laugh. “It’s my brother’s old sixty-nine Camaro. He left it for me to use when I’m going to Blackwater or if it’s raining or to drive to school because I’m lazy. It can’t get back up the slope out at the ditch though so I never take it. Nice though, right?”

“Oh. Fair enough.”

 


 

It was a long way back to Reich from Blackwater and with Bonnibel sitting shotgun, Marceline assumed it would be painful. She could feel the churning in her gut from just being this close to the geek. Something about her was all wrong. Marceline… smiled too easily with her and that just wouldn’t do. No. It wouldn’t. She had to press away all the niggling doubts and flickering feelings and just ignore her.

Although, that wouldn’t ever happen; seeing as how the school had thrown them together. She’d visited Simon after finding out that Bonnibel was going to tutor her and given him a rather shrill piece of her mind. The princess was not to blame, she was doing her job (although Marceline sure wished she could lay blame on the pastel pink brainiac), but Simon was not exempt from her fury.

And yet here they were. Despite her vehement denials of friendship, overt kindliness seemed to happen accidentally. She gripped the steering wheel tighter. The silence of the car pounded on her ear drums.

“Do you mind if I turn the radio on?” Marceline asked her companion softly, trying not to grind her teeth.

Bonnie turned from staring out the window. “Sure, whatever. It’s your car.”

Relieved, Marceline’s long fingers fiddled with the knob, too late realising that the antenna had broken and was now unable to pick up signals of any kind. Grumbling then, she checked to see if a disc was in. Luckily there was. Not that she knew what was on it. She hit play.

Bonnibel blinked those incredibly green eyes and snapped her gaze to the speakers. Her mouth fell open and Marceline – upon realising what was playing – hastily tried to skip the song. Bonnie slapped her hand away.

“I love this song,” she said. “Just leave it. Although I haven’t heard this cover before. Who’s singing?”

Marceline’s fingers clenched on the wheel again as she debated answering. Finally she spat out, “Me.” She risked a glance out of the corner of her eye and caught Bonnibel staring at her incredulous. “What?”

“This is you singing? And the instruments?”

“All me.”

“Wow. That’s cool. Is this whole disc you?”

Marceline rolled her eyes, staring intently at the road in front of them. “Yes,” she ground out.

“That’s awesome. You’re talented.” And with that, Bonnibel proceeded to sing along softly.

Her jaw lolled open and for a moment she forgot to pay attention to where she was driving and stared openly at her passenger. Her gaze snapped back to the road immediately, there was no sense crashing because she was gobsmacked. There was no interrogation, no suspicious comments, nothing. Just an observation accepted and neatly tucked away.

When that song finished and flowed into the next, Bonnie simply bobbed her head and began to mutter along with it too. “I thought you said you weren’t widely versed in music?” Marceline whispered.

“I’m not. But I know these songs.” So she did. Bonnibel sang along to every song on the way back to Reich. It took a while, but Marceline joined in too. And Bonnie smiled at her.

Her stomach did a backflip.

Chapter Text

Monday 21st April 2014

“Isn’t it your birthday today, dork?”

Marceline was especially pleased with the way Bonnibel leapt out of her skin as her voice echoed down the aisle. She clutched at her heart and glared pure venom Marceline’s way. It was kind of funny. She’d been standing in the doorway watching the redhead for a while, debating whether or not to say something (whether or not to even go in too). Stupidity won out, it seemed.

“Sorry,” she said, grinning, slouching towards where Bonnibel sat. “Did I scare you, princess?”

“Yes.” Bonnie eyed her quizzically. “You know, I can’t remember ever seeing you in the church before.”

Marceline hunched her shoulders. “I avoid it for the most part,” she grumbled, stopping at the end of Bonnibel’s pew.

Bonnie shrugged. “Yes, by the way. It is my birthday. How you remembered that I’ll never know, considering you don’t like me. But whatever.”

She knew the nerd was waiting for a compromising reaction to that, so she took a deep breath and held in all the shock and panic just trying to get out. Marceline blew all the air out heavily. “Psh,” was the only accompanying acknowledgement that Bonnie had even spoken. She rolled her eyes when Bonnie smiled up at her. “So what are you doing in the church on your birthday, huh? Or Easter for that matter. I know Reich doesn’t do anything exciting on Easter Monday… except the egg hunt for the kids, but I thought for sure you’d have something amazing planned.” So many words. Why did so many words fall out when she spoke to Bonnibel?

“Hiding from Ellen.”

Okay… Marceline had not expected that answer. She shuffled her feet. “Alright. I’m… um, just here to get something. Then I’m going. So, uh… yeah.” She turned away and hurried for the back room. Her dad never locked it; he never locked any of the doors. Marceline was of the opinion that he was too trusting.

Somewhere in here was a box… Marceline flicked the light on, hoping it hadn’t been moved. It would be just like her dad to move it. Or hide it. Or send it somewhere else, or set it on fire. She sighed. For a moment, absolute terror gripped her spine when she couldn’t immediately locate it. Then her knees nearly buckled when she remembered sliding it behind the piano.

She heaved it out from underneath a roll of curtain that she had not remembered draping over the top and coughed at the dust rising from the fabric. Did no one ever clean back here? With not a little effort, she hefted it up into her arms and staggered back to the door, nudging the light off again with her elbow.

Bonnibel was still sitting in the pew when she emerged, paying Marceline only a fleeting glance. Marceline (although she’d deny ever having thought this) found it incredibly weird and relieving and freaking awesome that Bonnie didn’t bug her about everything. It was nice to be allowed to do whatever she liked without feeling judged. She probably was being judged, but it wasn’t ever acknowledged. It was refreshing.

This moronic feeling was probably behind her unconscious decision to stop beside Bonnie’s pew with the box balanced precariously on one hip. “Do you wanna do something this week?” Marceline found herself asking.

Bonnie’s eyes should’ve been rolling around on the floor they went so big, she probably got a little bit of whiplash too looking around as fast as she did. It was comical. Marceline smiled.

“Are you serious right now?” Bonnie asked her, sputtering a little, incredulous.

Marceline offered a little half-shrug; it would’ve been a proper one only moving was hard with the box and all that. “I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t being serious.”

Bonnibel peered at her suspiciously. “I don’t believe you. Why are you being nice and friend-like? What do you want?”

The hand that wasn’t holding up her box began to fiddle with (holy crap was that nerves, why was she nervous?) the hem of her shirt. Yeah, no, that was definitely anxiety bubbling around in her stomach. What even was that? Oh, God.

“I just thought maybe I could pay you back for tutoring me,” she muttered, unable to make eye contact since this was ridiculous and stupid on so many levels.

Bonnie’s expression softened. “You know it’s a job right? No thanks on your part required.”

“Just thought I’d ask.”

Before Bonnibel could speak again, the door of the church burst open. Marceline could only say she was glad for it. Eleanor exploded inside, Penelope (why her nickname wasn’t Penny, Marceline would never understand) following at a more sedate pace.

Eleanor spared Marceline a rather vicious glare before focusing her attention on Bonnie. This was good, because that way she didn’t see the polite smile Pippa shared with Marceline or the way Marceline then rolled her eyes at the lot of them. “What are you doing here? Get up, let’s go. We have a party to throw.”

Even though Marceline couldn’t stand Eleanor, that spontaneous rhyme was pretty funny. “Bye,” she said quietly as Bonnie was hauled to her feet with some rather squeaky protests. “Have fun.” She gave Pippa a short wave before making good her escape.

Marceline hated the church. She promised herself she wouldn’t go back for a while. Not even to ‘accidentally’ bump into Bonnibel again.

 


 

“I don’t think…” Bonnie began to word her protest again. Once again, Ellen waved her to silence with a shushing sound and Pippa smiled sympathetically. At least she’d been able to free herself from Ellen’s vice grip. “Really, I don’t want–”

“Nonsense,” Ellen fired back over the top of her. “This is your sixteenth birthday, Bonnibel. We’re going to celebrate. It’s important. Everyone does it. We’ll order pizza and drink hot chocolate from red cups and blast the music far too loud and play silly party games. It’s a must. Besides, it’s Easter themed, so it’s not all about you and you can’t complain because we have to celebrate Easter as well anyway. It’s a combo party.”

Bonnie’s shoulders sagged. There really was no way to argue with her. She was… indomitable. Frustratingly so. It was really bothersome and she spent the whole walk to Ellen’s house (which was more of a three storey mansion on the outskirts of town than a normal house, to be honest) muttering about how unnecessary and unwanted this whole thing was. None of it mattered.

“We are going to throw you a party you won’t forget,” Ellen was saying as they reached her home. The whole building was an extravagance, truly. It was the sort of house one really shouldn’t find in a tiny backwater church town like Reich. It shouldn’t happen. This was a Malibu house, it defied all things.

Bonnie stopped at the street end of the paved path to the house prompting Ellen to turn and regard her curiously. She should have all kinds of reasons why she didn’t want to be here, to celebrate like this. Bonnie picked up her abruptly (and shockingly) empty brainpan and shook it furiously, trying her darndest to find an argument that might sway her doughty friend. None came to mind. She sighed.

“Come on,” Ellen prodded, waving a hand at her house. “This party won’t have itself.”

Apologetically, Pippa nudged her in the shoulder. “Just get it over with, Bonnibel,” she whispered. “The sooner you get in there and blow out those candles, the sooner you can become an anti-social hobgoblin. Once the bits with compulsory birthday-girl attendance are done with, I guarantee Ellen will forget you exist and drown in a sea of all things chocolate.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes, but followed Pippa up the path. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “Because I’m not in the mood.”

The look Pippa gave her was full of curiosity. She wanted to know why Bonnie didn’t celebrate, that was obvious, they probably all did. Thankfully, her friend didn’t ask. And she truly was thankful for it. She didn’t want to discuss it.

Inside was surprisingly lacking in decorations. Bonnie had expected Ellen to have dressed up the whole place to the nines, but no. Apparently some of her anti-birthday-celebration message got through. Also to her silent joy, there wasn’t a single present to be seen. She’d been very clear (she thought anyway) about having no birthday-esque anything.

“See, Bonnibel,” Ellen huffed, waving a hand in the air above her head. “Not a party. Just… well, okay, it is a party, but there’s nothing to make it look like a party. Pippa made sure of it.”

“Thank you,” she muttered.

Finn bounded over to them then, a cup in each hand. He thrust one at Bonnie. “It’s just chocolate milk,” he told her, grinning. “Come on. We’re gonna play ‘Who Am I’.” He seemed so genuinely excited by this that Bonnie found herself smiling with him.

And it wasn’t so bad. Considering how resistant she’d been to the whole thing, having a not-quite-birthday-slash-Easter-party was nice. Especially when Ellen threw a bowl of caramel popcorn at Jake when he gave her Leonard Halte to guess and she couldn’t figure it out. She recovered quickly though, possibly because the pizza had arrived and in the extra delivery instructions box she’d typed ‘send your hottest delivery boy’. Ellen was very enthusiastic about this and seemed not to be let down.

Bonnie held her judgement. Rating the attractiveness of guys on a scale of one to ten was not something she was qualified to do.

Sometime after pizza but before Pippa sprung the surprise cake on her (except it wasn’t a surprise because she’d seen it in the fridge when getting herself another drink), her phone beeped unexpectedly. Very unexpectedly, since all her new friends were here sans Keila (who was in Blackwater with friends of her own), Peter (who knew where she was and when she’d be home) and Marceline didn’t count. So she had no idea who it might be.

She smiled when she read the sender’s name. Cherry Wilde it said. Bonnie clicked it happily.

Happy birthday, Bonnibel, the text read. And happy Easter too. I hope your birthday wasn’t overshadowed by the awesome power that is all things chocolate. How are you? Is it nice there? When can we visit? Norman and I miss you heaps, by the way. What’s with the radio silence? I hope you’re okay, you know. I bet you’ve made tons of new friends that I should be jealous of, right? Heh. I would’ve messaged earlier but I’ve been on containment, Maggie and Georgia are running a high school mafia now and it’s pretty hectic. Call me. xoxo

And Bonnie smiled. No, that wasn’t really the right word, she beamed. Cherry was arguably the best friend she’d left in Ormeau and Norman Bunting was her other best friend (they had a few things in common and kept each other’s secrets thanks to mutual understanding). Bonnie hadn’t minded the ‘radio silence’, figuring a clean cut would be better; it’d give her a better chance of making new friends and leaving the past behind her. Distance was good. It was healthy.

I’m good, she replied slowly, still smiling gently. Yeah, made some new friends, they’re really nice. Everyone is. And yes you should be jealous. It’s hotter than I’m used to though. Whose life are they ruining now? Say ‘hi’ to Norman for me. No calls yet, gotta keep my grades up, you know. I am a nerd. Ha. Visit at Christmas. I’ll be all settled in then, I’m sure. Miss you both.

Then there was cake. Chocolate sponge-cake with strawberry topping. Jake, the fitness nut, made sure some actual real strawberries adorned the top as well. Pippa gave her a curious look, having noticed her texting. As usual, Pippa didn’t say anything, she’d ask later when there weren’t any witnesses.

Sure enough, when Bonnie excused herself twenty minutes later Pippa followed.

“What’s up, Bonnibel?” she asked quietly as they stood on the front porch. The sun was set, its last tenacious rays tinting the underside of some (rather promising looking) clouds orange. “Do you have a hot date or something?” Pippa was smiling when she asked.

Bonnie shook her head. “A friend from Ormeau texted me.”

“Homesick?”

She shrugged. “Not really, actually. Other than a few friends, I didn’t leave much behind.”

Pippa raised an eyebrow but didn’t ask any of the obvious questions thinly veiled in that statement. “You just miss your friends then?”

“Sometimes, yeah. It’s a long way to Ormeau though,” she muttered, turning to face Pippa now. “I figured it was best to just let the distance cut us off. It might hurt less then. We’ll lose touch eventually.”

“I don’t believe that,” Penelope told her vehemently. “If they’re really your friends they’ll make the effort to stay in contact. They texted right? Just keep the dialogue open.”

Bonnie sighed. “You’re probably right. Thanks.”

Pippa grinned and bumped her shoulder. “Any time. That’s what friends are for you know?”

A smile crept across Bonnie’s face at that. She and Pippa were friends. She had friends here and it was comforting to know. Only… she wondered if they’d stay that way. Keeping her worlds separate seemed like a good idea and she sincerely hoped her past world would never meet her new world. The pyrotechnics would be glorious and terrifying to behold.

Bonnibel jerked a finger over the railing. “I’m going to head home now, Pip,” she said quietly. “I told Peter I’d be back before seven and I’m pushing it.”

“Alright. I’ll tell the others,” she said cheerfully. “See you around. I’ll call if we decide to make plans of some epic proportions, alright?”

Bonnie nodded. “Okay. Bye.”

It was probably silly to worry. Everyone in Reich was exceptionally nice – bordering on the saintlike kind of nice, actually – so it was almost ridiculous to think things would change just because of something that happened in Ormeau. But she was cautious and had learned to be that way from experience.

Her phone beeped again. Cherry once more, it told her.

That’s awesome. See? I knew you’d fit in, you big dork. Oh… you know, it’s Maggie and George, it’s mostly just hot air. And Maggie has grown up a lot since you left, she’s almost the girl we knew when we were ten. It’s funny, she misses you too only she won’t admit it. Christmas is ages away and Norman is having Bonnibel-withdrawals. I don’t think he’ll make it that long. Bet your brainy butt that we’ll visit though.

Seriously, Cherry always knew how to cheer her up. Bonnie found herself smiling again as she wandered home. Maybe Pippa was right, staying in contact wouldn’t be that bad, surely. It might be nice to hear about Maggie and Georgia (who made it their mission to spread nasty stories about people – they hadn’t always been like that and Bonnie missed the old them) without having to worry about being on the receiving end. And she did miss them.

Try new things, she thought. That was your New Years’ resolution. Expand your circle of friends, Banner. And stop worrying about the past.

Still grinning, Bonnie sent another reply back.

Only time would tell.

Chapter Text

Wednesday 23rd April 2014

Over the sound of music oozing quietly from her speakers, Bonnie nearly didn’t hear her phone ring. The fact that it must’ve been ringing for at least a minute before she finally registered the beeping as a song ended was startling and her fingers would probably be bruised from scrabbling so frantically at the table. She cursed as her pen hit the floor.

“Hello,” she gasped without looking at the caller ID, too busy retrieving her pen.

“Uh…” the voice on the other end said. “Bonnie?”

“Hmm…? Wait… who?”

“Is this Bonnibel or did Keila give me the wrong number again?”

“That’s me. Didn’t know I had a new stalker though.”

There was a long moment of silence. Then, “Please tell me that was a joke.”

“Marceline?” she guessed, smiling.

“Yes?”

Bonnie laughed at her. “It was a joke. Why are you calling?”

A rustling noise shivered down the line, like fabric shifting. “Um, well… I asked if you wanted to do something the other day… Only you never got back to me. So I thought I’d call and ask… Never mind, it’s stupid.”

“No wait,” Bonnie blurted, worried she’d hang up. “What did you have in mind?” Why was she even bothering with this? Marceline had made it so clear that… No. Stop. She shook her head. Try new things. Be nice.

“Really?” Marceline asked; her voice much higher than usual. “Uh… alright, um…”

Bonnie found herself smiling again for no apparent reason. “You didn’t have anything in mind when you called did you?”

“I thought you’d say ‘no’,” Marceline admitted, sighing. “Actually…” Something crashed on the other end of the line. “Can I come over?”

“If you want.”

“I won’t be interrupting?”

“I was rereading the literature stimulus for this semester and going over the physics information,” she said dryly. “So no, you’re not interrupting.”

“You’re such a nerd. I’ll be right there.”

The call disconnected without any more warning, leaving Bonnie with a funny feeling in her stomach. She just sat there at the table for a moment with the phone in her hand, staring at the novel she’d been invested in, frowning. What the hell was going on here? Why was Marceline even being nice all of a sudden? It must have been Keila… Yes, that made so much more sense than anything else.

Five minutes later there was knocking on her door. With perhaps a smidge more enthusiasm than she should’ve felt, Bonnie hurried over to pull it open. Marceline was fidgeting on the stoop, clearly uncertain about something, staring at her feet. Her eyes snapped up when the door opened though, as if she’d been expecting nothing to happen.

“Uh… hi,” she said quietly.

Bonnie just smiled at her. “Come in then.” Marceline twisted and Bonnie only just noticed then the cardboard box on the ground by the door. “Um… Do you need a hand with that?”

“No it’s fine. Can I put it on the table?”

She nodded slowly as Marceline passed her, placing the box on her table with a quick look and a smirk at the books. “I should’ve known you weren’t joking, huh?” Marceline chortled, motioning at the work.

“What’s… the box for?” Bonnie asked, deciding not to rise to that bait. “Please tell me this isn’t a crafty thing is it? With ribbons and glue and the like?”

Marceline laughed at her. “Not creative huh? No, it’s not that. I got this last week and I’ve been hiding it from my dad so I can’t open it at home.”

“He doesn’t approve of mystery boxes?”

“This is my hobby, actually. Do you have a knife?”

“Can you be trusted with one?”

“I’m sure I’ll manage.”

It was with fewer reservations than she would’ve expected that Bonnie handed a kitchen knife to Marceline. It wasn’t even a butter knife; this was a full on, pointy, could-kill-someone-if-used-without-care type knife. Marceline arched an eyebrow at it, but all she did was slide it under the tape and slice the box open.

Inside was an awful lot of packing foam and bubble wrap. As Marceline removed all that safety stuff though, a few things were revealed that made her frown. The first of which was very obviously a ukulele made of gorgeous red mahogany wood and decorated with gold paintwork. The second was also an instrument, but of such a bizarre making that Bonnie wasn’t sure what to call it. It was a strange board that looked sort of like half an acoustic guitar and half like a crashing wave (albeit a wave painted bright red) adorned with more strings than Bonnie could count. It had nothing on the third instrument Marceline retrieved though, which looked (at first glance) just like a mouse trap with strings. It too was red and was accompanied by a bow similar to the ones used by violinists but with a stronger curve.

Bonnie blinked and waved vaguely at them. “What… What’s all this then?”

“I collect string instruments,” Marceline told her as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Dad doesn’t appreciate how much I love them though. I’ve been waiting for these two for ages. Probably a year.” She motioned at the ones that weren’t the ukulele.

Bonnie leaned over the table and prodded the mouse trap one curiously. “Can you play them?”

Marceline shrugged. “I suppose so. It’ll take practice before I’m really good, but the basics for most string instruments are the same… more or less.” She picked up the mouse trap and its bow, a strip of padded leather hung from one of the sides. “This is a crwth,” she said, sliding up onto the table and propping it between her knees. “I’ve wanted one for years. They’re Welsh in origin and super cool.” She drew the bow across the strings so it sung a funny note. Even to Bonnie’s unmusical ears it sounded wrong. “They shouldn’t have shipped with the strings in place. I’ll have to replace them.”

“What’s that one?” Bonnie asked, genuinely curious, as she pointed to the crashing wave one.

Marceline set the crwth down in the box and hefted it, running a nail across the multitude of strings. “This is a zither. They’re found in a lot of places, but this design is from Germany.” She pointed to the end. “No frets. That makes playing it fun, but tuning it is a real bitch sometimes. I’ve got one with frets, but I’ve always wanted to try without them.” The pads of her fingers pressed into the strings, pulling a noise from them that was surprisingly pleasant.

Bonnie slithered up beside her. “So you like music I take it?”

“Yup. Been playing music since I was tiny.”

“And you collect instruments?”

“Just string ones. The piano was my first.”

Bonnie frowned. “Pianos are string instruments?” she asked, disbelieving. “But… they’re so clunky.”

Marceline laughed at her. “Have you never seen the inside of a piano? Not even in a science video or something?” She let out a scandalised gasp when Bonnie shook her head. “Dear, Bonnibel. What is this? Something you don’t know? I’m shocked.”

“Shut up. I’m sure I know tons of things you don’t. Just because you’re a musical prodigy or something. How many instruments do you have?”

She shrugged. “Dunno, I’ve stopped counting. Probably a few dozen.”

“Which one’s your favourite?”

Marceline’s eyes went wide. “Wow, bringing out the big guns huh? That’s a tough question. Um… well I love my baby grand piano. She’s lovely, but doesn’t match the rest of my collection. For sheer amusement value, probably my banjo, they’re so much fun to play. But… I guess in the end, my bass guitar. I know, I’m boring.”

Bonnie smiled, lifting an eyebrow. “Why doesn’t the piano match?”

“It’s not red,” Marceline stated. “Everything else is painted red.”

“Not black?” Bonnie asked with mock horror.

“Shut up,” Marceline replied, grinning. “No. Red is my favourite colour. Plus it’s kind of cool to see the red hanging on my white walls.”

Bonnibel bumped her shoulder against Marceline’s. “Thank you,” she said.

“What for?”

“For sharing. For coming to visit. I’d tell you what I do in my spare time but it’s not nearly as interesting,” she chuckled.

Marceline’s face crinkled up. “It’s sciency isn’t it?”

“Yes. Would you like to see?”

“You know what?” Marceline asked, hopping off the table and packing the trio of instruments back in their box. “Why not? Let’s see just how weird you are.”

 


 

Bonnibel had this funny little room she used as a study. The room beside it was a closet that connected to the garage and Marceline stuck her head in there too, just to scope the place out. It was pretty much empty. This surprised her a little; she’d had the redhead pegged as somewhat of a hoarder. Her uncle was.

The study though; that was impressive. Marceline stopped in the doorway and couldn’t help but smirk. Its walls had been covered over with papers and articles in the spaces between shelving. A desk was pushed up against the far wall, looking out through the window, strewn with books and papers pinned down by miscellaneous stationary. Marceline was actually a little let down that there wasn’t a map of the world with pins in it denoting locations Bonnibel wanted to visit.

“You said it was boring…” Marceline muttered. She finally entered the room to inspect the articles on the walls. Some were newspaper clippings and others were images with captions underneath. Some were sticky notes in Bonnibel’s pedantic handwriting, and others were whole sheets of paper torn from notebooks covered in messy shorthand. Marceline had her nose almost pressed against one picture; but it was hard to understand so she backed away and moved on.

Bonnibel huffed. “Well, it’s not as impressive as being proficient in a dozen instruments,” she grumbled, collapsing onto the only chair in the room. “I’ve stopped taking offense when people say I’m boring.”

“I never said you were boring, princess,” Marceline reminded her, squinting now at what appeared to be an article on gene splicing or… something. “You said that. It’s like reading another language… Like walking into a library in Germany where I can’t understand what’s being said.”

Bonnibel murmured something then that Marceline didn’t quite get. When she lifted an eyebrow at the other girl, Bonnie just sighed. “I speak German,” she repeated.

“Of course you do. Well that’s not boring. I don’t speak any other languages.”

“You speak music.”

“And you speak science.” Marceline’s attention was snagged by a clipping that seemed to be discussing how diseases were created. “Wasn’t this a research question for our last essay?”

“Yes. I looked into that as well. It was fascinating.”

Marceline chuckled. “Only you would write two essays.” Bonnibel stared at her flatly but she couldn’t seem to stop smiling. “Do you have some sort of plan for university then? A science related plan?”

“Well,” she said slowly. “Not really. I mean, I’m definitely intending on doing something in that general field. What though, is still a bit unclear.” She shrugged. “I’ve got two years to figure it out. And you? Are you going to be the next David Guetta? Mick Jagger?”

“The simple fact that you know those names scares me,” Marceline replied, still grinning. She decided her inability to stop smiling had something to do with the strange twisting feeling in her stomach. Possibly. “I think I’d prefer Gwen Stefani than either of them to be honest. Back when she was in No Doubt, obviously. I’d love to be in a band. A proper band.” She mused on that for a moment. “Maybe like Bon Jovi or Garbage, even. Eighties rock was awesome.”

“Well when you can play more string instruments than I know even exist, I’m sure you don’t have much to worry about,” Bonnibel informed her bluntly. “I mean, I didn’t even know pianos were string instruments until today. The things you learn.”

The funny feeling in Marceline’s stomach ballooned, filling her chest cavity with helium. Or so it seemed. For some reason, she found that both curious and fantastic. And utterly terrifying. Her smile faltered.

“Uh… yeah so…” she began, rubbing at the back of her neck. “I’ll um… just go now?” Marceline wasn’t sure why she’d phrased that last as a question, but… “Yeah, I’ll go.” That’s better.

“If you want.” For some reason, the dead tone to Bonnie’s voice and the fact that she didn’t even try to convince Marceline to stay hurt. It… It hurt. “Do you want help packing away the instruments?” Bonnibel went on, standing, heading for the door, not even acknowledging the dumbstruck expression Marceline was wearing.

“No… thanks,” she whispered. It didn’t take her long to have the instruments away, but with Bonnie’s big green eyes watching her the whole time, it felt like years. It took too long and not long enough.

“See you next week then,” Bonnie said with just the hints of a smile playing around her mouth. “Enjoy the rest of your holiday.” Then the door was closed and Marceline was standing alone on the pavement with a box in her hands.

She ran the events of the day through her head again, wondering why she’d even called in the first place. This was so weird. Marceline shook her head, sluggish feet carrying her away from the house and back to her car. She’d thought maybe visiting Bonnibel would remind her why they weren’t friends.

It had done the opposite.

Chapter Text

Monday 28th April 2014

Keila was uncharacteristically peppy in literature. Bonnibel was highly concerned. She was actually taking notes on what the teacher was saying. Oh yes, Bonnie was worried.

“Are you alright?” she asked her friend quietly, stealing a glance at the teacher. “You’re awfully… cheerful today.”

At that, Keila actually frowned. It didn’t wipe away her grin though. “Is that illegal? I’m happy all the time.”

“Not this happy,” Bonnie noted. “Spill.”

For a moment, Keila stilled over her book, pen tapping a few times against the paper. Then she sat up and twisted around in her seat to smile at Bonnie. “I had a really good holiday,” she said, beaming. “I went to the mall and met this guy. He’s so nice. Really sweet. We went to a couple of local gigs together. He’s great.”

Bonnie rolled her lip under to stop the smile that threatened to break through. “That’s lovely,” she said. “Boyfriend? Or just some guy who makes you… like this?”

“Boyfriend,” Keila clarified. “His name’s Gary. And he’s a proper gentleman.”

“That’s nice to know, Keila,” Bonnie said, still fighting the laughter. It was amusing to picture her being courted for some reason. Perhaps because she was so independent. The idea of her needing a guy… was foreign. Still, she was being utterly adorable just talking about him.

Keila became something of torrent after that, as though having opened up the first little bit, she couldn’t stop the words from pouring out.         Bonnie zoned her out, concentrating mostly on the teacher, only half an ear paying attention to Keila. And that was just in case there was a pop quiz later.

Or at least, she wasn’t paying much attention until Keila asked, “Did you see Marceline much over the break?” She was caught completely off-guard by the enquiry.

“No,” Bonnie said, shaking her head. “Just once. Why would I see much of her?”

She shrugged. “We didn’t talk much. I was worried she was mad. She didn’t talk to me at lunch either.”

“Because of Gary?” Bonnie asked, cutting straight to the point.

Keila pouted. Which also caught Bonnie off-guard because that’s not something she’d ever think to see Keila do. “Maybe,” she hedged. “Alright, yeah. So I spent a lot of time with him. He’s a good guy.”

“And you’re Marceline’s only friend.”

“Seriously,” Keila said flatly. “You’re her friend too. Whether she admits it or not.”

Again, Bonnibel had to stifle laughter. “Please. She only ever glares when she looks at me. I think we’ll stick with being tolerant of each other and forget the rest.”

Keila’s smile turned devious. “Oh, I don’t know about that. You probably have nothing to worry about.”

Almost, Bonnie wanted to ask about that expression and the words that went with it. Almost. She decided in this instance (just this one instance, mind) that ignorance was probably healthier. Most definitely.

The bell rang then anyway, saving her from making that choice. Music passed her by in a bit of a daze, partly because she kept wondering what Keila had meant (and probably got far too worked up over it) but mostly because she found the class boring. Jake did his best to liven it up, he really did, and eventually the peppy jingles he played on his viola when he thought the teacher wasn’t watching got to her. Something about his manner was infectious. Besides, there was no sense in worrying about Marceline.

She did it anyway.

 


 

Chemistry totally sucked. There was so much suckery going on that Marceline was disgusted. How could a single, one hour class, be this lame? Bonnibel was sitting beside her tapping her pen against the desk. The beat was nice, distracting. Of course, Bonnie would glare over at her periodically (hehe, during chemistry) and gesture angrily at her notebook. Notes are stupid.

She tried to take notes (sometimes), but mostly they were just doodles. So long as she had her pen moving against her book, Bonnie didn’t seem to care what she was doing. And chemistry sucked. Like she was ever going to need it. She should’ve done an IT class; at least she was good at those. Being in control would be much easier that way.

Stupid hindsight.

“You’re not doing anything,” Bonnie muttered.

“Sure I am.”

“You’re drawing a drum kit.”

“I’m pondering the molecular make-up of the drum kit.”

“You’re full of shit.”

“Do you speak to your mother with that mouth?”

Bonnie fell quiet. Marceline glanced over at her. There was a tightness around Bonnibel’s mouth now, a narrowing of her eyes that Marceline recognised. She felt instantly awful about putting it there. Not that she knew how she’d put it there, just that she must have done.

“Sorry,” Marceline whispered before she could stop it.

Bonnibel nodded tersely. “Just do your work, would you. And talk to Keila. She thinks you hate her.”

“Friendly advice?” she queried, hoping a little teasing would lighten the suddenly morbid atmosphere surrounding them.

“I’m Keila’s friend,” she replied shortly. “And she had a bit of a panic attack in literature because she said you haven’t spoken in a while.”

“We haven’t,” Marceline concurred, wondering why this conversation was a thing that existed. “I don’t know why. Did she tell you why?”

“She has a boyfriend now apparently,” Bonnie muttered. “He’s allegedly a gentleman and she spends a lot of time with him.”

Marceline couldn’t fight back the bite of jealousy and bitterness that ripped into her stomach. This guy was more important than her? She didn’t deserve to hear this from Keila? She felt inadequate. She took it out on her notebook.

Her swirls became a little angrier, the pen nib cutting deeper into the page than usual. She didn’t even notice the anger bubbling up in her chest until Bonnie rested a hand across her fist. The sudden contact snapped her awake, eyes shooting up to meet Bonnie’s. She wasn’t sure why, but Marceline was positive the little nerd looked concerned.

“Are you okay?” Bonnibel asked. “You look like someone kicked a puppy.”

“Fine,” she ground out, wrenching her hand free. Just miffed.

“Don’t lie. You’re upset about Keila, aren’t you?”

Honestly, Marceline had no intention of answering that. Nope. She was just going to glare until Bonnie looked away. So when, “She could’ve called, or texted just once,” slipped out, she was pretty darn surprised.

Bonnie nodded. “Yeah, she probably should have.”

The resentment in her chest flickered, becoming something else, something she couldn’t place. Something she didn’t really like, but it felt… nice. She blinked.

Silence fell around them then. Bonnibel tapped Marceline’s notebook again, offering nothing but a smile and a replacement pen (Marceline hadn’t noticed that she’d pushed the nib into the shaft like a real professional pen abuser). When class ended, she fled so fast she didn’t even realise she still had Bonnie’s pen.

Chapter Text

Friday 2nd May 2014

Her phone beeped startlingly loud. Marceline rolled off the bed in an attempt to silence it. Her knees hit the carpet and her hand reached up, scuffling about across the top of her desk for her phone. Finally her fingers bumped into its hard case and she angrily tapped at its face to shut it up.

The device glared at her, the clock flashing in the top corner told her it was five past seven. She sighed, her alarm hadn’t gone off yet, she still had another five minutes before that. Grumbling about having her sleep cut short, she staggered upright, threw her pyjamas into a corner and pulled some clothes on, not paying much attention to it. On her way down the hall to the kitchen she swiped at her phone to read the stupid text that had woken her.

I’m in Blackwater today, it read. Be home around five. Left the car keys on the table. She blinked at it, confused, then had the presence of mind to check the sender. Ah, it was from her dad. That made sense then. She shoved the phone in her pocket and contemplated breakfast.

It didn’t feel right to be eating yet… She was five minutes early. Which, to be fair, wasn’t much, but there was absolutely no way she was going to turn up to school a minute before she had to. Nuh-uh, no way.

A moderately bright idea clubbed her over the head. If she hurried, she could go to the music store before class. Excellent plan.

Hastily, she cooked a couple of slices of toast, simple and edible while driving. Marceline stuck the bread between her teeth, locked the door and trotted over to her car, blinking in the quiet light of the morning. The neighbourhood was still, trapped in the last few moments of lingering slumber and she kept her car to a hush as well, it would be a crime to disturb the peace here. As always, she drove past Bonnibel’s place on her way into town. It was funny; she hadn’t paid that particular house any more mind than the rest of the dwellings in the area. Not until she met one of its occupants. Now it held personality, a little bit of a disapproving frown as she passed. It was silly, but she stuck her tongue out at it, resenting the imagined judgements it contained.

For just about a month now, she’d been forced to sit with Bonnibel in… they shared three classes? Yeah, and she had to sit with her in all of them. Chemistry sucked because it was chemistry and their spares were unbearable because she had no buffer, but maths… now that was a fun class. Marceline was moderately good at the subject so she paid a little less attention and instead expended her energy in bugging Finn.

At first she’d been fastidiously ignoring him and his white-knight ‘you stay away from Bonnie and don’t you dare hurt her, foul demon’ temperament. Was fastidiously the right word there? She didn’t really care. The point was she’d been ignoring him. He was almost over-protective of Bonnibel, like he thought if Marceline so much as touched her she’d explode or contract a violent and fatal disease.

Bonnie seemed to find him adorable, Marceline just wanted to slap him. Maybe he’d explode. Instead of being… well… herself (she had to contain her urge to hide his calculator), she drew things in his notebook when he wasn’t looking. Sharks, aliens sometimes, once a bear, and she’d often tease him in ways neither he nor Bonnie really understood. That was alright by her. It was amusing. And heaps more fun than just ignoring him.

In all honesty though, his weird chivalry thing got on her goat. Didn’t he know he was being ridiculous? No… She supposed he didn’t. One day she’d have to educate him.

She pulled into a space in the upper car park today, as far from the school as she could, and headed for the music store. It was just across the street from the library, one block away from the school, so it wasn’t far. Just to be sure, Marceline checked her phone. No, it was good; she still had twenty minutes before class started. Maybe she’d be just a trifle late. That would give Bonnie a heart attack (but only if she found out, and Marceline wouldn’t tell her).

For some reason, the idea that the science geek would be disappointed gave her a twang low in her stomach. A very ‘you stop being a twat and get to class right now, how dare you hurt her’ type twang. This worried her immensely. Marceline shook the feeling as hard as she could, throttling it until it withdrew from sight, cowering in a dark corner where she didn’t have to look at it.

A few students were walking down the street now, meandering towards school. Marceline ignored them and ducked into the store, the bell chiming above her head. Todd looked up from behind the counter and beamed at her.

“You’re here early, lass,” he said in his Scottish smoker’s voice. “Don’chu got school or summit this morning?”

“Yeah, Todd,” she said, tapping her watch. “I’m early, thought I’d pop in. Got anything new for me?”

He shrugged, moving around the counter. “Nah, not really. Nothin’ you’d be into anyhow. Mostly just pop stuff.”

“You know I’ll listen to anything.”

They wandered through the aisles together for a minute; Todd would pick up an album and flash her the cover to which she’d invariably shake her head. At the back of the shop, one wall was covered with instruments of all kinds. She’d always pause there, just to stare at them happily. She could never afford one, god no, and she had her own collection of worn but loved instruments at home. Her red bass guitar was irreplaceable, but she could use a new acoustic one. If only she had the funds. A beautiful specimen hung on the wall by one corner, a matching shade of crimson to the bass she already had. Wouldn’t they make a great duo?

Marceline glanced down at her watch and sighed, then headed back to the front of the shop. “I gotta go, Todd,” she said, hand on the door. “Might be back later, yeah?”

He chuckled, heading to the store room at the back. “Sure thing, lass,” he called over his shoulder. “Don’chu be skipping class or nothin’ though.”

“Course not,” she told him cheerily, opening the door. “Got a tutor now anyway. She won’t let me fail even if I try.”

She pushed the door all the way open and stepped out with one last wave to Todd. Then she froze in her tracks, her heart picking up speed and her feet absolutely itching to tear off down the sidewalk.

“Why good morning, Marceline,” said the most horrid person she’d ever known in an equally irritating croon. “Did I hear you say you have a tutor now?”

“Shut up, Ash,” she growled back at him, trying her best not to let her voice shake. “Get out of my way. I have school.”

He stepped across in front of her as she tried to weave past. Ash threw one arm out to block her; the other was in the pocket of his jeans. A sneer split his face, stupid bleached Mohawk flopping a little at the top. “Naw, come on now,” he purred. “What’s wrong? Don’t want to catch up?”

“Not really. Get out of my way.” She wanted to add a few choice epithets to that, but stopped herself. The last time she’d called him a horrible – albeit ingenious – name he’d escalated the situation rather faster than she could cope with and he’d ended up with a busted nose.

“You got a tutor now, eh? Is she cute? Can I meet her?”

“No. Back off. For real.”

“Aw… I just want to meet her.” His eyebrows cocked up and his sneer became more of a smirk. The kind of knowing, jerky smirk that she just wanted to wipe right off his face. “You can’t really think you’ll be any better off with someone in your ear can you? Seriously? You never were very smart.”

“Piss off, Ash.” She could feel her anger churning just below boiling point.

He kept leering. “Face it, babe, you’re nothing. No one. I don’t know why you even went back this year. Could just quit now. Either way waitressing is probably the best you can hope for.”

Almost Marceline was tempted to drive a knee into his gut, but then she caught sight of the two guys loitering across the street. He’d known she was here, he’d waited for her. Her teeth ground together painfully as she fought to maintain her temper.

“Get. Out. Of. My. Way,” she said darkly.

“Or what?” He threw his hands up and took half a step back as if to prove she was no threat. “You’re gonna do something amazing? Oh, I know. You’ll use your newfound intelligence to think your way out.” He chuckled at his joke. “You’ve got nothing.” Ash shifted his weight and used one hand to push her back into the side of the shop. He leaned in, elbow pinning her against the wall by the shoulder. “You’re nothing, Abadeer. Useless, worthless.”

“You didn’t used to think that,” she whispered back. “You used to follow me around like a little lost puppy.”

He laughed in her face. “That was before I realised how pathetic you are. You wouldn’t even put out. Not once. What kind of lame excuse for a girlfriend does that? Eh? You can’t pass your subjects, you can’t cook worth a damn and you won’t go all the way for anything. You’re a waste of space.”

“Then why do you talk to me still?”

Ash blinked at her, his grey eyes confused. Then a slow smile curled cruelly across his lips and he pressed them to her ear, breathing, “Because one day you’ll have nowhere to go. You won’t have a job, a home, no food and no one to crawl to but me. And I’ll be there. And I’ll remind you of everything you don’t have. But I’ll take you in, and you can pay for my kindness in the only way you can afford.” The fingers of his other hand left his pocket now and touched her hip. She shied away from the touch, trying to melt into the bricks behind her.

Her fingers balled into fists, jaw clenching again. She wanted to punch him, to break him, to leave him bleeding on the pavement. She wanted to scream in his stupid, ugly face, to see him torn and useless, writhing in pain. Marceline wanted to hurt him, in every way she knew he feared. Her rage finally hit that point and bubbled over the top.

But she didn’t hit him.

Because there was that little voice in the back of her head chanting, he’s right, he’s right, you know he’s right. And her walls of resolute confidence crumbled – her furious words and adrenaline gushing from the cracks – leaving her bereft. She closed her eyes, fists unfurling by her sides.

Still laughing, Ash stepped away, the backs of his knuckles grazing her cheek roughly, making her flinch in disgust. He crossed the street to his goons; they too were jesters, broad grins smeared all over their dumb faces. With one last glance he left her trembling on the sidewalk.

Marceline slid down the wall, sitting huddled on the filthy concrete, knees up under her chin, arms around them. She shook ferociously, but flat out refused to let herself cry. There would be no tears. None. She berated herself for a few minutes, hoping the anger would chase away the doubt, the fear, the horrible knowledge that she was exactly the deplorable wretch Ash had described.

She had never passed a class as more than a slightly below average student. Ever. Not once in her life. Those three words summed her up perfectly. Slightly below average.

That niggling self-doubt clung to her for several moments and she chased it down, swatting at it with bats and pipes made of anger and hate. Once she was sure the beast had been scared off and the shudders still wracking her body stemmed solely from wrath and odium only, she forced herself to her feet.

“Calm yourself down, Marceline,” she said slowly, taking a deep breath. You can hide the fear; you’ve been doing it for years. Don’t let him get to you. Breathe.

Unhurriedly, she made her way back to the school parking lot and collapsed into the seat of her car. Her hands kneaded the wheel, hoping to release the last of the tension in her shoulders. Figuring it would help, she turned on the radio and closed her eyes. About an hour later she decided she’d calmed down. Not completely, of course. She could try all she liked, that uncertainty, those qualms about herself would never really be banished. Never. Admittedly, they were mostly of her own making, but that didn’t mean it felt fine when people pointed them out. It was one thing being able to see her own demons, quite another thing when everyone else knew they were there.

Deciding resignedly that she couldn’t face a day of school after that, she keyed the car to life and plodded home. It took her shaking hand a lot longer than she would have liked to get her front door open and markedly more concentration than usual to not trip over something she’d left on the floor. Her heart was lead in her chest, a big ball of it, swirling and hot, molten, dragging her down. As she stumbled to her bedroom, she could feel wool rasping in her throat, the back of her eyes burning too; doubt lifted its head again and began to nibble on her pitiful supply of confidence, reducing it to something not even worth having.

Overwhelmed she sagged onto her bed, flopping face down onto the mattress, holding her pillows tight. She still refused to cry, refused for even a moment to succumb to this crappy feeling eating her from the inside out. Her body shut down, not wanting to face another moment. But despite her silent vow, when she woke, her pillows were tearstained.

Chapter Text

Monday 5th May 2014

Sitting on the edge of her bed, Marceline stared at her phone, confused. She hadn’t checked it all weekend, but she’d expected more to be honest. Instead, all she had was two messages and a missed call. Where were all the rest? Why wasn’t she swamped in them?

The first text said, Where are you? You’re late. It had been sent after first period on Friday.

The second one, though, was sent after school that day and had shocked her. It asked in what her brain interpreted as a very temperate tone, Are you alright?

She blinked at it again. Nobody ever asked her if she was alright. What was this? Then there was the call she’d received around midday on Saturday. Like the messages, it was from Bonnibel. Those were the only indications that someone had tried to contact her and it… it bothered her.

Sighing, knowing she couldn’t put off going to school, she headed out the door. It hadn’t occurred to her to check the phone until after she was ready and it had wasted a few minutes. Now she was going to be late. For some reason, that didn’t sit well with her either. Marceline wasn’t sure why it made her stomach roil, but it did, so she may have clipped just slightly above the speed limit that morning in her haste to get to school. It was a fine line to… travel, keeping her car quiet in the early morning while trying not to be late.

As it happened, she was overdue by nearly three minutes when she stopped in the outside parking lot. Bonnibel was just stepping onto the grounds and paused when she saw Marceline’s car. She didn’t walk over, but she did wait until Marceline got out. For a moment, they just stared at each other, then Marceline sighed and fell in beside her.

Bonnie glanced at her sideways as if thinking Marceline wouldn’t see. “How was your weekend?” Her voice was soft, almost hesitant; probably worried she’d get a vehement reaction.

“Boring. Just slept mostly.” Several things flashed through her mind then. The first of which was the possibility that she could ask how Bonnie’s weekend was, that was the polite thing to do after all. Her next thought was that Bonnie hadn’t tried to contact her incessantly and she really wanted to know why. And the third was that the first words out of the nosey redhead’s mouth hadn’t been ‘why did you skip on Friday?’ They bounced off the insides of her skull like those horrid elastic rubber balls that just won’t sit still. At length she sighed, “How was your weekend?” in the most resentful way she could manage.

The only immediate response she got for that was a startled expression and a pair of big blinking green eyes. Oh, there were all kinds of things written in them, all over her pretty face things were glaring at Marceline in massive neon letters. They might as well have been in a foreign language for all she understood though. “Uh…” Bonnie ventured finally. “Yeah… it was ok. I went out for lunch with friends on Sunday. Also, I studied. So mine was boring too.” Bonnie turned her face back to the front, staring unnecessarily hard at the façade of the school admin building. “I… I can’t imagine you’d care overly much though.”

Marceline exhaled heavily. “Sounds like fun,” she muttered. When they ducked inside, Bonnibel began to head off to her first class before Marceline had even decided to ask her question. Her fingers stopped tapping on her bag strap as she blurted, “Why didn’t you ask?”

Bonnie froze in the act of walking away and glanced back at her. “Ask what?”

She hunched her shoulders slightly, all of a sudden convinced she didn’t really want to know. But she had to now she supposed. “Ask me where I was on Friday…”

Surprisingly, Bonnie just smiled. “If you were going to tell me, you would. You would have replied to my texts, answered my call. I can’t imagine you’ll tell me, so I won’t ask. Simple.” Then she shut the door and walked off, leaving Marceline feeling empty.

After a few minutes, knowing she’d have to go to class sooner or later, she hauled herself out of her spiralling thoughts and turned down another corridor. Before she even got close to her room, she heard her name called out over the loud speakers.

Of course, she grumbled silently, heels sliding on the waxed floor as she changed directions mid-stride. Yeah, that’s what happens when you skip. Should’ve sent in a doctor’s note. Idiot.

Shoulders slumped in resignation, she tapped sharply on the door to Gregory’s office with her knuckles, hitching her bag higher, feeling the judgemental eyes of passing students on her back. “Come in,” his voice called, muffled behind the thick doors. Carefully, she pushed it in.

The curtains were thrown open today, letting in a stream of obnoxious light from the courtyard. This was the second floor, but she could still see students rushing around down on the pavement. Gregory wasn’t looking at her; he was busy peering at a document over the tops of his glasses.

Then he pushed the paper across his desk, and glanced up. “Well, Miss Abadeer,” he said in that condescending tone all teachers seem to know from birth. “You skipped class.”

Oh how very observant of you, she thought dryly. Once she’d been just brave enough to say one of her so-called ‘smart arse’ remarks to his face. That hadn’t ended well. Now she kept them to herself.

“None of your teachers claim to have seen you and not even Miss Banner could confirm your presence on Friday.” He shifted a pencil on his desk; clearly it had stepped out of line and needed to be prodded back in place. “Why is it that no one remembers you being here?”

“Because I wasn’t,” she ground out.

“Ah.” Gregory steepled his fingers and did that ‘look at how wise I am’ thing where he stares placidly at you through his glasses. “And why was that? We didn’t get a call from a doctor to explain your absence.”

What could she say to him that bordered the truth but didn’t quite make her sound like a loser? Not a great deal, she realised after a moment’s thought. Huh… so what could she say that might excuse her absence?

“My… uh, car,” she said, rubbing her neck. “Got a flat. I took it home to fix it.”

Gregory lifted an eyebrow. “You could’ve walked to school, you know. It’s not that far.”

Marceline hunched her shoulders. “Yeah… I just…”

He sighed. “You just didn’t come in. I know, you do this a lot, Marceline.” All of a sudden the old man looked at least twenty years more ancient than he really was, very much worn down by time and no longer capable of withstanding it. “I vowed I’d get your marks up when you came here,” he said. “I recall that much. Now you have a tutor, by rights such a bright young woman should have laughed at Simon when he suggested she help you. Don’t be skipping any more days, Marceline.” He picked up the paper again. “And you have a detention this afternoon. Let Miss Banner know, she might stay back to give you some extra help since you missed last Friday.” He waved a hand, dismissing her.

She glared at him, performed a mocking half-bow and left before he could extend her detention to all week. Jerk. Marceline shuffled through the school towards her physics class, thinking up belated excuses that might have been more convincing. Things like her dad doing… something or her friends kidnapping her, probable things. Women’s troubles… she could’ve used that as an excuse. Guys never wanted to know about them. She filed it away for next time. Then mentally slapped herself for assuming so cavalierly that there would be a next time.

Hesitating only a moment, Marceline eased the door open and slipped into her physics room. The teacher barely even glanced at her; he was used to her tardy entrances by now. As such, she felt it appropriate to ignore him and crumple into her chair at the back as usual. Eleanor gave her a funny look, but her perma-scowl deterred anyone from actually speaking to her. When that class ended, she dawdled a little longer than normal on her way to maths, not wanting to face Bonnibel again.

So it was with much reluctance that she slumped into a chair beside Bonnie in the back corner. Finn glared at Marceline from Bonnie’s other side, hand tapping the end of his pen against his book incessantly. She wasn’t quite late, but close. The teacher had already started speaking and (like her physics teacher) paid her no real mind for being overdue.

“You haven’t missed much,” Bonnibel said softly. “Just a recap on Pythagorean theorems.” Again, she didn’t ask where Marceline was, why she was late, nothing, just accepted it. Her tolerance was… was… Marceline wanted to call it irritating, but it just made her ache.

“I got detention,” Marceline whispered to her, staring at the notes on Bonnie’s page. “This afternoon, for skipping.”

“Alright. And?”

Marceline sighed, eyes now roving up to the board. “Will…” She thought better of her question. “Never mind.” She didn’t want to be spending time with this girl; it felt wrong that she needed to remind herself of that though. Why did she need to repeat it in her head all the time? Why couldn’t she just… just not want to do something? Why did – deep down – she feel like being tutored wasn’t such a bad idea? It was a terrible idea. Terrible.

“Do you want me to stay this afternoon?” Bonnibel asked her, ripping her from her thoughts. That was unexpected.

Say ‘no’, please, her brain pleaded, knowing what was logical. Instead, her mouth disregarded everything else and said, “Please?” Marceline couldn’t meet Bonnie’s eyes, her mind screaming, overturning furniture at her stupidity, while her heart was silently smiling; obviously delighted by her response. You’re an idiot.

For a long moment, there was quiet between them. Then, in such a soft voice Marceline had to lean closer to hear, Bonnibel murmured, “Alright. I’ll stay. On one condition.”

Great, here we go. Gonna make me give something up, like music or my life. “What’s that?” she asked feeling calm wash over her. Honestly, she should have been panicking, should have cursed and raged and asked who the hell Bonnie thought she was, putting stipulations on something she was probably being paid for.

“Study sessions after school, every day,” Bonnie said flatly. “You can keep your weekends and Friday’s to yourself, but I want work every other day.” She paused then, but her tone left things hanging, clearly something was unsaid. Bonnibel munched on that something for a good half minute before exhaling, “And for goodness’ sake, bring a notebook to class.”

Her brain stopped breaking the metaphorical furnishings of her mind and blinked, very confused. Of course, Marceline was currently anthropomorphising her brain, so she was probably crazy. That didn’t stop her from conjuring an image of a tiny version of herself about to smash a lamp in a rather dishevelled living room looking stunned. What did she just say? the Mini-Marceline asked her.

Again, worry oozed from her shoulders and she slumped back against the chair. Mini-Marceline was torn between being furious at having her afternoons encroached upon, and being relieved that Bonnie hadn’t demanded more. Logically, she should be ok with what was requested of her, and… and she was.

Smiling, setting her emotionally confused internal battle aside for now, Marceline reached into her bag and pulled out a notepad and pen. “Gotcha covered,” she said, still without looking at Bonnibel. “Where are we going for these sessions,” she inquired. “Library?”

In her peripheral vision, Marceline saw Bonnie shake her head. “No, my place. I would suggest the library, but I like controlled environments and since the library isn’t mine to control, it’s not viable.”

Marceline rolled her eyes. Of course, yes, that made perfect sense. “Well, you’ll have to be flexible on Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” she informed her companion, absently drawing little Mayan things in the borders of her book. “I work those days in the afternoon, so you can tag along with me to the café. And no, you can’t suggest I have those afternoons off and study on the weekends cause I work then too.”

“What about Friday afternoon then?”

“No dice, brainiac,” Marceline chortled, feeling her mood lighten inexplicably. “I have band practice. Take what you can get yeah? I used to have band on Thursday as well, though, just for you, I’ll cancel. I can compromise.”

“Touching. Now stop doodling and pay attention.”

 

-*…*…*-

 

As usual, Finn was irritating and amusing to rile up. His hero-complex made that far too easy. All through maths he looked like he wanted to throw himself between them and save Bonnibel from some hideous fate. Even though it was kind of frustrating, the way he would try to prove she was wrong about things, Bonnie didn’t mind. She’d just smile at the far too zealous boy and he’d go bright red and the whole thing made Marceline feel sick. She was of the very firm opinion that Bonnie and Finn should get a room and spare her their squishiness.

He even tried to follow them in their spare (until Bonnie reminded him of his own lesson anyway). Marceline still went to extreme lengths to make sure he was thoroughly ditched and even then she wasn’t sure if she’d been successful. Almost, she was convinced Bonnie had told him where they’d be and spent the first fifteen minutes of the class peeking round the corner of the music building apprehensively. Bonnibel had been exceedingly stunned the first time Marceline told her she sat behind that building instead of the library for spares because it was a nicer environment. He never appeared; Bonnie smiled at her the whole time as though she found the situation hilarious. She probably did, at that.

“He’s not going to materialise, you know,” Bonnibel eventually informed her.

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t tell him where you go for your free periods.”

Marceline frowned, finding the expression on Bonnie’s face immensely frustrating. Again she queried, “Why not?”

Bonnie sighed. “This is your thing. You sit here and listen to the music kids while you work. I figured you didn’t want people knowing.”

Her frown creased deeper. “So what? You’re just going to keep all my dirty little secrets now?”

Bonnibel’s smile took on a sarcastic tilt. “I hardly think sitting behind the music building to study counts as a secret,” she said dryly.

Still, Marceline felt her suspicious glare melt away, erased, only to be replaced by a smile of her own. A warm, stuttering one that made her heart lurch.

At lunch, they avoided each other as always. Marceline wouldn’t be caught dead with Bonnie and her peppy friends; she had her suspicions that Bonnie felt the same, no matter how often she smiled. Sitting on her wall with her current book, she realised precisely how boring she found school. With its cliques and its judgemental students and its inconsolably disappointed staff, she wondered why she even bothered turning up. Wasn’t Ash right on that point at least? She hated school, hated how hard she tried to be normal, positively loathed herself for her carefully cultivated ‘slightly below average’ numbers. Why bother?

She sighed repeatedly at lunch, not actually absorbing any of the words in her novel. When the bell rang for class, it was with dejected resignation that she slouched to literature. Maybe she would drop out. That would solve all her problems. Staring at the board, listening to the teacher drone on about Shakespearean writing tropes that influenced countless modern works, she realised how much she didn’t care.

But then Bonnie would smile at her, noticing that she’d absently answered a question correctly on her book and a shiver would run across Marceline’s shoulders. Bonnibel superficially cared how she did in school. Whether it was because she was being paid or whatever, she still smiled every time Marceline did something ‘proper’. Seeing that chased away all the thoughts about dropping out she’d been entertaining.

As the afternoon wore on – classes wrapped up and Marceline wandered, hands deep in her pockets, to the library for her detention – she questioned herself. Questioned it like she hadn’t in a long time. Bonnie was already at a desk, books spilled across the wood, buried in some research task. When she realised Marceline was walking towards her, she glanced up, smiling that bright and cheery smile she always wore trying to replace the sun as the primary source of warmth.

“What?” Marceline asked waspishly, sliding down across from her. “Didn’t you think I’d turn up?” She flashed a smile, hoping it looked at least a tad arrogant.

“I will admit to being sceptical that you’d show,” Bonnie confessed carefully. “I assumed you’d be a little miffed that I asked for most of your afternoons…”

Marceline waved her concerns away with good-cheer she wasn’t quite feeling. Clearly, her confrontation with Ash was still bothering her. She would be vigilant and avoid him in future. He was acid in her stomach, bubbling, dissolving until nothing was left but her insecurities. “I don’t mind,” she said around that same pseudo-obnoxious smile. “Not like I have much to do anyway.”

Bonnie scooted her chair around the table, closer, then, visibly relaxing. “You said you have a job.” It was a prompt even Oblivious Marceline could see.

She swallowed before responding, “Yeah, at the café out by the highway. You know? The one just before the highway turnoff to Blackwater.”

The other girl’s brow furrowed in that gentle way it had when she was thinking, cogs behind her green eyes firing up as though extra brain power was required to locate something hidden in her mind. “Oh,” she said after a long pause. Marceline imagined a light bulb flickering to life and her processors whirring down to an idle state now that an answer had been found. “Yeah, I know the one. They have that big billboard out the front that looks like a pie.”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” she agreed. “The Apple Café. The owner, Ivy, makes the best apple pies for miles. And she gave me a job even though I’ve had no training. She’s nice, you know. It’s good.” She ducked her head, suddenly feeling self-conscious and exposed.

“Cool.”

And that was it, all she had to say. Marceline blinked. How could she possibly not want to bug her about her whereabouts on Friday? Why was the controlling know-it-all not tearing her hair out because of this? Marceline frowned at her brain’s ramblings. Wait, hold the phone. Why did Bonnibel’s lack of curiosity bother her so much? Shouldn’t she be dancing around just glad that no prying into her personal life was being done? Yes. Hell yes, that’s what she should be doing. She shook her head. Stupid brain.

Two hours passed in which they sat mostly in silence and studied. Bonnie was certain to make sure Marceline was caught up on all her subjects and well on track to becoming an overachiever, same as her perfect tutor. Every time Marceline asked a particularly insightful question, or completed a sentence for her, or got an answer right without asking first, Bonnibel would beam at her, face positively lighting up. Marceline was reminded of before, how Bonnie had seemed to actually care about how she did, how she legitimately wanted Marceline to do well. With every smile, every little sparkle – even without words – that Bonnie gave her, Marceline could feel her anxiety and doubt crack just a little, giving way beneath too much pressure.

When she was at last released from the library (detention concluded), her feet dragged, her mind telling her she should pick up her feet and skip home, but something deep in her chest dug its heels in and prevented her from leaving.

After a somewhat lengthy internal struggle, Marceline sighed, hitched her bag up and turned slightly to peek out of the corner of her eyes at Bonnibel. “Hey… um… do you want a lift home?” she asked, one finger raised to half-heartedly point out the window. “It’s kinda late and getting dark.”

Bonnie glanced over her shoulder and stared almost uncomprehendingly at the darkening sky. For a moment, Marceline thought she wouldn’t answer, should just go quietly before anything happened. Then her cowardly contemplations were interrupted, “Yeah, sure, why not? Maybe you can drive in the afternoons and I’ll walk in the morning.”

It sounded like she was thinking aloud more than making a suggestion. Marceline nodded anyway, accepting that. “Makes sense. I guess.” Bonnie smiled at her again, hurriedly stuffing books back into her bag and hastening across the carpet.

“Come on then, let’s get home,” Bonnie declared, strolling right on past Marceline and out the door. “Where are you parked today?”

She let go. All the junk cluttering up her head, making her feel gross and anxious eased away, sloughed off. Just gone. It was so easy to smile, to feel… lighter, when she had cheerful company. She flashed a grin, trotting to catch up to her vivacious companion; that was something to file away for later. Bonnibel Banner was Ash’s antithesis, and she had faith.

If for no other reason than to prove her jerk of an ex-boyfriend wrong, she would pass all her subjects. She would get good grades all year. Consequences be damned. And she wouldn’t be alone. Marceline left the last of her reservations lying in the corridor of the school, feeling much better than she had in a long time.

Chapter Text

Thursday 15th May 2014

Bonnie couldn’t stop smiling. It was utterly illogical and she knew that, but Marceline manning the counter at Ivy’s Apple Café was… unexpectedly delightful. She was actually presentably dressed in a white shirt and jeans that weren’t torn or scuffed. Even her hair was pulled back much tidier than usual. She was still wearing her earrings though, even the demonic spike in her left lobe.

She stirred her tea slowly, eyes fixed on Marceline as she wiped down another table top, sweeping hair out of her face. Bonnibel had brought a stack of homework with her to do while waiting for Marceline to get some downtime, but she’d been neglecting it for a solid twenty minutes now. Every so often Marceline would have nothing to do and she’d sink down opposite Bonnie in the booth and scrawl out homework or ask a bunch of questions pertaining to one assignment or another. Then she’d go back to mopping or cooking or a customer would come in or something and Bonnie would forget about her work and just watch her. She didn’t know why, but it was fascinating.

There was a bonus though: free drinks. Whenever her cup grew close to empty, Ivy would have a replacement waiting. Bonnie kept trying to pay for them, but Ivy wasn’t having any of it. Apparently she would give her free drinks for tutoring Marceline and that was the end of the conversation.

She shook her head, ripping her gaze away from Marceline before she got caught staring. Again. Her history paper wasn’t going to write itself after all and watching Marceline work wasn’t going to help her pass.

No matter how much you might – she cut that thought off pronto. That was not something she was going to think about. Nope.

Mayan burial rites. That’s what she was going to think about. She’d write her paper this afternoon, proof it tomorrow and then she could relax for a few days before her physics demanded her undivided attention.

For a while, this tactic was flawless. She spent probably the next fifteen minutes swiping through her notebook for relevant details and typing them up in orderly bullet-points. Finding other pertinent data by way of the glorious internet amounted for roughly another ten minutes. Then a further few minutes – five, maybe if she was lucky – were spent beginning the first draft of her assignment.

Bonnie might’ve made it through the whole draft too, if Marceline hadn’t muttered, “You know you’re cute when you concentrate,” from the booth behind her. She went rigid, positive the words had been imagined – generated by some cruel fantasy that she wasn’t even privy to. Bonnie didn’t react.

Pretending she hadn’t heard would be best. That was the only viable conclusion she could come to anyway. Marceline had spoken quietly, obviously the comment wasn’t meant to be heard (or even spoken aloud). Yes, she’d ignore it.

Then Marceline sat down. Her elbows sprawled across the table as she stuck her nose into Bonnie’s book, successfully interrupting her process. Marceline watched her. That was pretty much all she did. Her electric eyes fixed on Bonnie’s hands (now still on the keys because she was a little put off by the attention), one fingernail tapping a wayward beat on the table top.

“So,” Marceline finally drawled. “What are you up to, brainiac?”

“The history paper,” she replied absently, grabbing the waver in her voice and strangling it into submission. “How much research have you done?”

Marceline smiled (or it looked sort of like a smile, she may have just been baring her teeth). “I haven’t picked a topic yet,” she confessed happily. “Why? When’s it due?”

Never in her life had Bonnibel wanted to drop her head to a desk so much. “Next Friday,” she ground out. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

“Of course I’m joking,” Marceline laughed. “I have a first draft done… mostly.”

Her shoulders sagged in relief (although why she’d been worried remained a mystery, Marceline’s education really wasn’t her priority). Sure they still had a week to finish it, but Bonnie figured Marceline was the type of person to leave it to the last minute. As her tutor, she did feel a little bit responsible… But only a little.

“Do you want me to proofread it for you?” Bonnie asked emotionlessly.

“How about I give it to you tomorrow?” Marceline enquired, her smile was more genuine now. “We have classes together, yeah?”

Bonnie’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Not until the end of the day. Why don’t you take me to your place and I’ll get it off you now. Then I can read it tonight.”

Marceline’s smile took on a devilish cast. “If you wanted to come home with me, you could’ve just asked. Although it’s still a bit early in our relationship for that, don’t you think?” Her eyes glittered and Bonnie hoped it was with mischief and not something else.

She maintained her distrustful glare, lowering her brows. “Or I could not read it at all,” she threatened.

“Whoa there,” Marceline said swiftly, throwing her hands up. “I was joking.” Her smile faltered as if she thought Bonnie might take her seriously and retract her offer of help. “Are you ready to go? I’m off now.”

“Oh.” Bonnie blinked, glancing around at her things. “Yes, just let me gather my stuff.”

“Cool,” Marceline replied, sliding off the chair. “I gotta get my bag anyway. Don’t go anywhere.”

Bonnibel rolled her eyes and packed her things away. She might have been a little too focused on the task – menial as it was – but it was only to keep her mind preoccupied. It had been on a few too many tangents today.

“Ready?” Marceline asked, materialising at her elbow.

She hoisted her satchel over one shoulder and nodded, waving for Marceline to go first. “Sure. Lead on, McDuff.”

It was a twenty minute drive back into Reich from the café (located out near the highway) and it passed mostly in quiet. The radio singing softly filled the space between them, kept the awkwardness at bay, but only just. Bonnie found her gaze drifted to Marceline all too often, watching the way her lips moved as she sang quietly along with the radio.

Something made her pause when Marceline parked in the drive of her home; she regarded it through almost glazed eyes. Two storey but small, the house was, quaint and simple; exactly the sort of house Bonnie would expect Hansen to live in. It wasn’t the house that made her hesitate though; it was the way Marceline fiddled in the driver’s seat beside her. Those bright blue eyes kept cutting her way as though worried she would regret coming here.

With a deep breath, Marceline burst from the car, clearly unable to sit there any longer. “Come on, princess,” she called, heading for the door. “You’ll be late home.”

Bonnibel glanced down at her watch and realised she was right. Peter didn’t put many rules (if any at all, truth be told) on her, but being home by seven seemed prudent to say the least. Given it was about a ten minute walk from Marceline’s house to her own, she was going to be well and truly tardy.

She hauled herself up and out, whipping her phone from her pocket to text Peter and let him know where she was, that she was going to be late and why. Of course, he replied mere moments later with a smiley face and an ‘alright’. He didn’t seem to mind what she did. She could probably stay out all night or go on a killing spree (or both) and he wouldn’t so much as frown. He was so weird.

Marceline pushed the door in, motioning for Bonnie to go first and muttering that she should kick off her shoes at the door (her dad didn’t like people trekking mud through his house apparently). The smell of cooking wafted from further inside and Bonnibel decided dinner was a most appealing prospect. Consequently she was more than happy to follow Marceline up the stairs to retrieve her assignment.

Of all the things Bonnie might have expected from Marceline’s room, what she found didn’t even make the top ten most likely scenarios. The walls were painted white for starters and were adorned with musical instruments in the most violent shades of red ever conceived by the human mind. It was pristine, nothing at all the like the dark squalor she’d been anticipating. The back of her door was covered in posters though, the concession to stereotypes Marceline had allowed, evidently. And (recalling the conversation they’d had over the holidays) Bonnie realised that the red on white did look pretty classy. Even her bed spread was red and white. Most unexpected.

Marceline snatched a thin bundle of papers off her desk, coupled together with a staple in one corner, and shoved it at Bonnie. “Uh… yeah, this is it.” She shuffled awkwardly as Bonnie read the cover sheet and slipped it into her bag, inside the front of her notebook.

“I’ll just go then,” Bonnie said, turning for the door with one more lingering look at the instruments hung on the walls. She smiled to herself and headed down the stairs. She didn’t make it outside though.

“Oh hello, Miss Banner,” Hansen called cheerily as she walked past. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

Patting her bag, she told him, “I’m just picking up Marceline’s assignment so I can proof it.”

He beamed at her. Honestly, Bonnibel didn’t know why Marceline didn’t get on with him, he seemed so lovely. “Why don’t you stay for dinner, hm? I’m sure you’re hungry.”

“No, I couldn’t,” she replied, hoping he’d let her leave. “I’d hate to intrude.”

Hansen clucked his tongue. “Nonsense. Stay and eat,” he pressed. “I’m sure your uncle won’t mind. I’ll let him know where you are. Please. It’s the least I can do to thank you for tutoring Marceline.”

And there it was. Why was everyone using that against her? As if she needed to be compensated for doing this? It baffled her. She sighed inwardly. “Alright then.” It seemed she wasn’t to escape.

Hansen had already laid out two places at the table and hastened to add a third, muttering that she should just sit and let him finish the preparations. He was pretty stubborn about it too. Bonnie supposed that must be where Marceline got it from.

When Marceline stepped downstairs for dinner, Bonnibel was convinced that the last thing she’d expected was to see her still there. And seated at the dining table no less. So her stopping in the doorway like a deer caught in headlights wasn’t really a surprise.

“I thought you left,” Marceline mumbled, slumping into the space beside her slowly.

“Your dad corralled me into dinner,” she whispered back. “Against my wishes.”

“Sure.”

“Oh good, you’ve decided to join us, Marceline,” Hansen said. He wandered into the dining room with a big pot, holding it carefully. “Dinner is self-serve,” he told Bonnibel, placing the dish in the middle of the table. “You’re not vegetarian, are you?”

“No, sir. Thank you,” she muttered back, allowing them to ladle lasagne onto their plates before serving herself. “It smells wonderful.”

“I agree,” he said. “Props to the chef.” When he nodded towards Marceline, Bonnie frowned.

“You cooked this?” she asked, only a little flabbergasted.

Marceline replied with a noncommittal grunt.

“It’s one of her few skills,” Hansen said flatly. “Good manners do not also feature on the list.”

Bonnie nearly dropped her fork. That… had sounded derogatory. She tried not to let her shock show, keeping her gaze fixed on her plate.

“It’s wonderful, Marceline,” Bonnibel said quietly.

A muttered, “Thanks,” was the only indication Marceline gave that she even acknowledged Bonnie’s presence. She, too, was staring intently at her meal. Perhaps hoping it would consume her instead simply to get away from this situation.

“And how is she doing, Miss Banner?” Hansen went on as if not even noticing the tension in the room. “With her studies, I mean. It must be difficult to relay things you find so simple to…” His eyes darted to his daughter then, lips pursed, letting the sentence fade.

Truthfully, Bonnibel had absolutely no idea how to respond to that. But some sort of effort seemed necessary. She was starting to understand the fissure in Marceline’s relationship with her father.

“Yes,” she said slowly, thinking. “I’m sure she’ll do great.” It was pathetic, she knew, but couldn’t come up with anything better.

He bobbed his head and Bonnie was glad for the silence pervading the room for the rest of the meal. Marceline did her absolute best to be as small as possible, holding her arms close to her sides, using the tiniest movements available and never once looking anywhere but at her plate. Bonnibel wondered if Hansen had been jesting before when he spoke, but she had a feeling that his words were definitely contributing to Marceline’s behaviour. Which meant they were common – normal even.

As soon as all three plates were cleared, Hansen stood. “I’ll get the dishes, girls. Marceline, drive Miss Banner home, if you would. I won’t have her wandering the streets at night.”

“It’s alright,” Bonnie murmured once Hansen was out of the room. “I can walk.” She pushed her chair out, wanting to be gone as soon as possible.

“He’ll kick up a shit if I don’t do it,” Marceline replied lowly. “So let’s just go.” She basically stormed to the door, pausing only long enough to put her shoes on before stumping outside.

“Thank you for dinner, Father,” Bonnie called, knowing it was polite.

Hansen stuck his head into the dining room again. “Oh, it was nothing. Enjoy the rest of your evening, dear. I’ll see you on Sunday.”

She headed straight for the door, not replying. Marceline was already in the car waiting for her. It was silent the whole way home. The awkwardness from dinner carrying through into the short drive (she really could’ve just walked). A couple of times she thought Marceline would speak, but she always clenched her jaw shut and glared fixedly out the window.

“Thanks,” Bonnie said, as they pulled into her drive. “For dinner and everything. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Bonnibel was out of the car and walking towards the house when Marceline called out. “Hey. Why do you never ask?” She turned to find Marceline hanging out the window, frowning at her.

“If,” she began carefully, “I asked you, would you give me a straight and honest answer?”

“No,” Marceline replied, shaking her head. “I wouldn’t.”

“Then why would I bother?” She smiled (albeit a little sadly). “It’s your business, not mine. Bye. Drive safe.” Bonnie didn’t look back after that, but despite her understanding of Marceline’s privacy, she couldn’t help but wonder about the strain between her and her father.

Chapter Text

Sunday 1st June 2014

To say it was surprising would have been an understatement. Yet, to say she wasn’t secretly pleased about it would have been a massive lie. Still, when her phone rang that morning a little bit after nine (she’d just returned from church, so the timing was pretty much on cue) and the caller ID read ‘Marceline the Grouch’ she wasn’t really shocked.

“I’m bored,” Marceline complained when she answered. She had stopped bothering with a proper greeting about a week ago. Now she cut straight to the point. Not that she’d ever been particularly tactful. “I’m coming over. You can help me with my maths revision.”

Bonnibel sighed. “Despite what you try to convince people, Marceline, you’re actually very good at maths. I’m sure you don’t need any help from me.”

“Bonnie,” she whined (Marceline had ceased calling her by her full name a while back – the exact date was indeterminate – but she still used ‘princess’ or ‘brainiac’ on occasion). “What about physics then? There’s a physics exam next week that I haven’t even started to study for. I’ll bring my books and you can tell me how stupid I am for leaving it until the last minute. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Bring your literature essay too. I’m going to proof it before you hand it in.” Although she probably wouldn’t need to, Marceline had made several rather ridiculous mistakes in her last one and Bonnie was starting to think it was on purpose.

“Gotcha, be over in a bit.”

When the call disconnected Bonnie let her head collapse backwards onto the sofa. Since returning from the Easter break (which hadn’t been very festive in hindsight) Marceline had been making an awful lot of excuses to visit. Even though Bonnibel had told her not to worry about being tutored on the weekends, she managed to find the time anyway. It was really weird.

And Bonnie blamed Keila.

Ever since she’d met that guy over the holidays she’d had marginally (a large margin) less time for Marceline. Since Marceline was already being ‘forced’ to spend time with Bonnie, it would seem she’d just increased the dosage. Bonnibel didn’t mind. It’s not like it was an inconvenience or anything, she was still studying. It was just incredibly weird. And awkward a lot of the time too.

She had her books out on the table, reading, when Marceline knocked. And she knocked loudly as if she didn’t think Bonnie would hear it. Which… was fair enough. She hadn’t heard last week. Not the point.

“Sup?” Marceline beamed when Bonnie opened the door.

Bonnibel frowned. “You’re in a good mood. Why? Who did you kill?”

“Nobody. I’m just happy. Got a problem with that?” Marceline dumped her bag down on the table and pulled out her literature, pushing it across the polished surface.

“No, it’s just unusual,” Bonnie responded, reaching for the essay. “You’re usually so… grumpy.”

Marceline blinked at her and sniffed haughtily. “I’m not grumpy. I’m just mean.”

“Oh good, glad you know that. And have you made anyone cry today?”

Her question was met with a momentarily confused expression and then a flash of teeth. “Sadly no, but it’s not even afternoon yet. I’ve still got plenty of time.”

Bonnibel clucked her tongue. “I don’t know about that.” She glanced down at her watch. “Look, it’s nine-thirty in the morning and nobody’s cried yet? You’re losing your touch.”

Then Marceline leaned conspiratorially across the table, arms folded over her unopened physics text book. “Well then, I guess you get to be my target audience,” she chuckled.

“Only if you want to be kicked out,” she responded tartly. “Help you with your physics revision I can do. But I don’t have to put up with your crap, so don’t bother.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Marceline grumbled. “Be nice to the tutor, I get it. So let me ask you a thing instead.”

“Go for it.”

“String theory. What the hell even is that rubbish?”

Bonnie just smiled quietly.

 

-*…*…*-

 

“Why do you have cake in your fridge?” Marceline asked, her voice muffled due to having her head stuffed in the refrigerator. She backed out after a moment with a plate bearing a rather hefty swedge of cream-filled sponge-cake in one hand and an apple in the other. Marceline had been mildly respectful about taking her food to begin with, but not anymore. At first Bonnibel had been put out by her temerity, unusually her ire had faded.

“It was Pippa’s birthday on the twentieth,” she replied absently.

“Huh. And you still have the cake?” Her tone was horrified.

“I just never got around to eating it.”

There was a clattering sound – no doubt Marceline digging around in the cutlery drawer – and then the plate was slammed down on the table in front of her. Bonnie snapped to attention as a spoon was waved under her nose.

“This is unacceptable,” Marceline declared, tapping Bonnie on the nose with the spoon then. “We’re going to eat it right now because cake shouldn’t go to waste. I’m disgusted.”

“Geez,” Bonnibel sighed, snatching at the spoon. “Chill out. It’s just cake.”

Marceline’s eyes went wide. “It’s just… cake? Just cake? What sort of unnatural being are you?”

Bonnie shook her head. “I’m not eating cake for lunch. That’s unhealthy.”

“Screw healthy,” Marceline snapped. “You have a giant slab of perfectly good cake here and it must be eaten. I’ll buy you a fruit basket sometime if you feel so strongly about it. But this cake will be consumed. Right now.”

Bonnibel folded her arms and glared at Marceline. “And what if I say I don’t want to?”

“I’ll deliberately fail my physics exam,” Marceline fired back without hesitation.

The statement gave Bonnie pause though. She thought about it for a moment and sighed in defeat. “Fine. But I’ll hold you to that fruit basket.”

“Yeah whatever, nerd.”

For a long time they ate in silence, occasionally clashing spoons in mock sword fights. Bonnie could honestly say it was nice to see Marceline so happy. And they chatted too. This was a recent development but Bonnibel enjoyed that as well. Once past her cantankerous exterior, Marceline wasn’t such a bad person. She was only steel on the outside; underneath her carefully welded shell, Marceline was a marshmallow. Not that Bonnie would ever tell anyone that; who would believe her?

She wasn’t brave enough to call Marceline a friend. Not yet. But maybe it was something she could work towards. Shockingly, despite her silent resolutions to continue abhorring the girl, Bonnie rather liked having her around.

But of course her mouth spoke before her brain had a chance to catch up and words sort of fell out sans her permission. “Have you spoken to Keila lately?” It was the wrong question. Bonnie knew that.

From the way Marceline’s spoon slowed and that little line appeared between her brows, she wished the question could be retracted too. “Not much,” she said slowly. “In class mostly. She calls occasionally, but we haven’t had plans together in a while. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she met the guy, but… I dunno, I feel… forgotten I guess…”

“You’re babbling,” Bonnie noted gently.

Marceline hunched her shoulders. “Sorry. You don’t have to put up with me, you know?” She chuckled bitterly. “I bet you think you’re some sort of replacement, huh?”

Bonnibel shrugged. “It’s okay, really.” She smiled, trying desperately to prove the truth of her words. “You’re not such bad company. Everyone needs a friend.”

“Your friends probably hate me for monopolising you,” she grumbled.

“I see them plenty, thank you. And study is important.”

“Did Pippa do anything fancy for her birthday?” Marceline asked, latching onto the offered tangent.

“Not really. We all went to her place and just hung out. It was good though. I prefer simple to extravagant.”

Marceline snorted a laugh. “Good luck with that when Eleanor’s birthday rolls around. I don’t think she knows how to throw anything other than an extravagant party.”

“Why do you never just call her Ellen?”

“Because it irritates her,” Marceline replied, shrugging. “She can be really annoying so I find satisfaction in the little victories.” Her spoon clicked down onto the empty plate. Bonnie knew Marceline was watching her, but she just stared at her physics book. “Hey, um,” Marceline began. “Thanks for… putting up with me, I suppose.” She rubbed at the back of her neck. “I’m just, uh… just gonna head off now.”

Bonnibel smiled at her. “Yeah, no worries. Don’t forget your literature. Hey, Marceline?”

The other girl paused in the act of stuffing her books back into their bag and glanced warily up at Bonnie. “Hum?”

She sucked in a deep breath, positive she’d regret these words too. “If you… ever need a friend… Just give me a call, okay?”

Marceline frowned a little, chewing her lower lip, but her confusion (or whatever that expression was) faded. It took Bonnie completely by surprise when the strange look was replaced by a quiet smile. “Yeah. Thanks.” She hitched her bag onto her shoulder and disappeared out the door.

Bonnie decided that she didn’t really like watching Marceline walk away.

Chapter Text

Wednesday 4th June 2014

"So it occurred to me the other day," Bonnie mused as they walked to their lockers. "You all drive."

Pippa lifted an eyebrow, smiling. "And?"

"It's not legal to get a license until you're sixteen. And… most of us aren't."

"You still haven't actually asked me a question there, Bonnibel," Pippa replied around her grin.

Bonnibel sighed. "Why do you all seem to be qualified drivers if you're underage?"

"Oh, sweetie," Pippa laughed. "This is the country. We've been driving cars and bikes and quads and… tractors in most cases, since we were ten. There's actually a picture of Jake riding his dad's ATV through a paddock when he was six." She pursed her lips then, eyes rolling up. "Admittedly, he did drive it into the creek. But he got better."

Bonnie blinked. "Oh."

"You've never been behind a wheel have you?"

"No."

Pippa ribbed her with an elbow. "Maybe, it's high time you found someone to teach you. Out here in the backwoods it's not something that has much weight to it. We all sort of just pick it up as we go."

She cut a quick look at Pippa. "Any chance you'd be up for that?"

Penelope's eyes went wide. "Oh god no. Not only do I not want to get in a car with a new driver in charge, but there's actually a reason Jake never lets me drive anywhere." Pippa winked at that, but all Bonnie had was a sinking feeling. She slammed her locker shut and smiled at Bonnie. “See you at lunch!”

Bonnie blinked after her, hefting her books absently into her bag. “Oh sure,” she muttered, closing her locker with mildly more force than she needed to. “That’s… unhelpful.” Sighing, she headed off to her spare, only remembering as she was about to walk into the library that she didn’t have spares there anymore. Then she had to walk past the admin building and around the art rooms to get to the music building. She always had to hunch her shoulders going around there, fearful of being caught going someplace that wasn’t the designated area for spare study.

As expected, Marceline was sprawled out on the grass near the music building, lying on her stomach, feet waving in the air as she scrawled across her notebook. There was presently no sound coming from inside, but Bonnie smiled at the way Marceline’s head bobbed to an imagined beat just the same. She watched for a while, head to one side, not sure why the idea of catching Marceline unguarded was so… pleasant.

Naturally, Marceline’s ‘Spidey Senses’ started tingling and as if she came pre-packaged with a Bonnibel-radar, she looked over. Her trademark smirk danced across her face, but it was just a distraction. Misdirection even, because Bonnie had been ready and she saw the walls go up, saw it on her face and in her eyes. Those walls were her greatest source of ire.

“What up, Bonnie?” Marceline patted the grass next to her. “Pull up some green.”

Bonnie folded herself beside Marceline with an eye roll. Her smile didn’t waver though. “Do you have work today?” she asked, laying some books out in front of her. No way she’d spread out like Marceline though. Not in a skirt.

“Hmm,” she replied around the end of her pen, peering up at Bonnie. “Only for an hour today. Why, brainlord? Do you need me for something?” Her infuriating grin tilted up slightly, the pen wobbled as she spoke, the result more than a little comedic.

The gears in Bonnibel’s mind cranked over as she thought through the pros and cons of this mad scheme she was currently devising. “I just had a conversation with Pippa,” she mused, rolling her lip under.

Marceline’s expression shifted almost instantly to bemused, her smile remained though. “Is there a station coming up where I can board your meandering train of thought?”

“Oh,” Bonnie said, still thinking in over-drive. “Well, I was just thinking about how to go about getting my driver’s license. Since all you lot have been doing it since you were three, I figured I’d ask Peter about it. So I won’t tag along with you this afternoon.”

She clicked her pen, happy with the decision she’d reached, and started in on her biology paper. Marceline tilted her head to one side, pen bobbing up and down as she chewed it. “You’re ditching me,” she accused happily.

Bonnie lifted an eyebrow. “I hardly think that’s the right word for it. But sure.”

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle all this freedom,” Marceline lamented melodramatically. “How will I ever motivate myself? Who will stop me from getting side-tracked? Oh god, no.”

Bonnibel rolled her eyes. “Would you rather I went with you? I thought a study-free afternoon would be right up your alley.”

Marceline’s eyebrows fell down into a squint as she peered at Bonnie. “You do realise it’s a Wednesday, right, Bon? Not exactly the best day to have an afternoon to myself, what with my job and all. Friday would’ve been better.”

“I don’t make you suffer the horror of my company on Friday,” she reminded Marceline flatly. “So I don’t know what you’re whining about.”

She huffed. “‘Horror’ is a harsh word anyway,” Marceline grumbled, finally removing the pen from her mouth to write something with it. “Why don’t you just… You know, never mind. Forget I spoke.”

Bonnie blinked over at Marceline with the funniest feeling that she’d been about to say something nice. She’d been doing a lot of that lately. Sometimes, niceties fell out, obviously without her consent because she never said nice things about Bonnie. She decided to ignore it. Ignoring Marceline’s accidental kindness was much easier than bringing it up and suffering through some sort of torrid rant about how all-encompassing their mutual dislike was.

Although, from the way Marceline was behaving, Bonnie was beginning to wonder how much of that was Marceline being genuinely mad and how much was her trying to convince herself that they weren’t friends. Still… Ignoring it. Right.

She turned back to her paper and sighed. Some things just weren’t meant to be done. Right now, her biology assignment was attempting to be one of those things. Bonnie dropped her pen and ran a hand through her hair, staring up at the sky. Clouds scudded near the horizon and a chill hung in the air.

Coats had been pulled out about a week ago and Bonnie had swiftly decided that they were simply another window into the owner’s mind. Pippa’s sweater of choice had been a homespun type creation, each thread looking to be a different colour. Jake’s was a sports coat with big pockets. Finn’s was waterproof. Marceline was never without a hood anymore in the change of season, always with sleeves that were a little too long.

It was funny how much attention Bonnie paid to them really. Details like that had fascinated her since she got here. These people were so far removed from the ones she’d known in Ormeau and every little nuance about them was engrossing in a strangely pedantic way. Like she was trying to memorise them; make up for all the time she hadn’t known them.

She wondered if they did the same to her.

“So you’re really not going to come with me today?” Marceline mumbled.

Bonnie glanced back up at her. “Nope. I’m really not.”

Marceline spun her pen through her fingers and harrumphed. “Alright then.” She didn’t speak again for the rest of the hour. Her face spoke plenty without verbal additions. And when the bell rang out to signal the end of the class, Marceline was gone before Bonnie even realised it.

Somehow, she thought maybe something was wrong. She thought perhaps something in their conversation had been hurtful or whatever. But no matter how hard she thought (and it did distract her in literature) Bonnie couldn’t come up with what it might be.

She sighed again. Marceline was infinitely complicated. At least this afternoon she wouldn’t have to wonder what would set her off. Thinking about it put a bit of spring in her step.

 

-*…*…*-

 

“So you’re really going to just ask him?” Pippa enquired as they walked home.

“Well it’s probably for the best,” Bonnie told her. “I’m going to need my licence aren’t I? Sooner rather than later seems a decent outlook to have.”

Penelope bobbed her head in concession. “Seems fair, I suppose.” Her tone left something unsaid, but Bonnibel didn’t particularly want to press it.

“Hey, isn’t Finn’s birthday soon?” Bonnie realised, whipping her watch up to check the date.

“Yup, the nineteenth. Poor kid missed out on having a holiday-birthday so many years running. I think next year he’ll get one.” Pippa laughed. “Why? Did he say something?”

“No, I was just wondering if we had plans?”

Pippa shook her head. “Not for on his birthday, no. Ellen’s bringing a cake in to surprise him, but we’re going to celebrate on the Saturday. I can’t wait to see his face.”

“He does have really strong reactions to things,” Bonnie agreed.

They rounded the corner onto Bonnie’s street. Peter’s car squatted morosely in the driveway indicating his presence at home. That was a good start. Honestly, she couldn’t really imagine herself driving that car. It wasn’t old and ratty, but there was this air of… Bonnie didn’t know how to describe it. Not without sounding crazy, anyway. It just looked sort of… malicious. What a weird way of describing a vehicle with no sentience. She hoped it wasn’t sentient at least.

“Good luck,” Pippa called as Bonnie stepped onto the path. She waved when Bonnie looked back, smiling.

“Yeah, thanks. See you tomorrow.”

She dropped her bag off in her flat before heading in the back door of the house. Cooking smells came from the kitchen but Peter wasn’t with them. Bonnie poked her head into the living room and found him sprawled out on the couch. She shook her head at him, turning the stove down to a simmer before it burned.

“Hey, Peter,” she said softly, sinking down onto the armrest. “Are you awake?”

“Yes,” he muttered in reply. “It was just a long day.” Slowly he pushed himself into a sitting position, blinking absently at her. “How was yours?”

“Pleasant,” she informed him. “I do have something I’d like to ask you about though.”

“Hum? Let’s hear it then.”

Bonnie took a deep breath. “I’d like to get my driver’s license,” she said, not at all sure how that would be received.

Peter merely blinked again; clearly still a little out of it, off in another sleep-addled dimension perhaps. Maybe he had a little voice in the back of his head distracting him all the time; it would explain the way he frequently looked as if he were listening to something. Perhaps not too, Bonnie was sometimes sure she was the only person in the world who had a little voice in her head. Besides, this particular instance was probably due solely to the fact that he had just woken up. Even if he did profess to not being asleep. He looked tired anyway.

“I suppose that’s fine,” he said quietly. “Do we have to go to Blackwater for that?”

Bonnie shrugged. “I’m really not sure. That’s why I’m asking you.”

After another long pause, Peter opened his mouth. As always, Bonnie pictured him as a fly trap when it took him a good thirty seconds to answer. She was sure there were other analogies she could use, but they never came to mind when she needed them.

“I’ll ask Hansen later,” Peter finally sighed. “You should probably ask around too. Have you ever driven before?”

“No. I’ve never been sixteen before.”

A wry smile tilted his lips. “Touché. Well, I don’t condone breaking the law, but you might as well get started. One of your friends might let you have a go if you ask nicely.”

It was Bonnie’s turn to blink now. “I can do that?”

“Sure,” Peter said, lurching to his feet. “Everyone around here has been driving since they could walk. You might as well join them.” He pottered off towards the kitchen. “Dinner should be ready in a few hours. And they do say there’s no time like the present.” His funny little smile became a proper one then and he winked.

Baffled and feeling no small amount like a fly trap herself, Bonnie headed for the front door. “I’ll be studying,” she yelled at the kitchen.

Muffled garbles were all she got in return. Figuring that was good enough, she opened the door, intending on doing just that until dinner.

She stopped in her tracks when she found Marceline’s car sitting in the drive alongside that baleful creation her uncle drove. Its owner was not inside, however. Bonnie had barely recovered from seeing it there when Marceline herself came around the side of the garage shaking her head and muttering under her breath.

“Hey,” she croaked, feeling her throat constrict for no reason she could discern. Marceline leapt at least a foot in the air before whirling on Bonnie, her car keys held out like a weapon.

She exhaled heavily then, sagging against the faded red of her car. “Geez, princess,” she huffed. “You scared the freaking crap out of me.”

“Sorry. What brings you around?”

Marceline rolled her eyes skyward, feet shuffling in that anxious way she had. “Oh, um… no, nothing. Just–”

“Spit it out, please,” Bonnie sighed.

Marceline stared at her for a moment, then turned to blinking at the pavement. Bonnibel was unsure if she was breathing. Finally, the air escaped her lungs in a great whoosh and she held out her car keys. “Do you want to practice?” she asked in a small voice.

The implications of that took a while to register, but when they did, Bonnie couldn’t help but smile. She took a slow step forward, peering at Marceline curiously. “Are you sure? I might break it.”

Marceline’s electric eyes lifted to meet hers, a strange look flashing across her face. Then she grinned. And it wasn’t a smirk, or a teasing smile, it was a proper one. Bonnie was sure she saw Marceline’s walls waver in lieu of this. Her whole face shifted and Bonnie had to stave off the thoughts that went with it for fear of saying something stupid.

“I’m sure, princess,” Marceline chuckled. “The highway out to the Café is straight. How much damage can you possibly do?”

Bonnibel snatched the keys off her. “Challenge accepted, Abadeer.”

Chapter Text

Saturday 21st June 2014

Finn’s hood whipped away from his head in the stiff breeze, flopping down his back. His hair was an absolute mess as he raced inside. He ran a hand through his already tousled blonde locks before beaming widely at them and slumping down into the booth beside Jake.

“You know, Bonnie,” he said, reaching for a packet of fries. “You’re pretty wicked at that.”

“For a camper,” Jake added sourly around his straw.

She shrugged her reply.

“No he’s right,” Ellen concurred, her look pointed. “Of all the things you’re good at, laser tag was not something I anticipated.”

Finn drummed his knuckles along the table. “Come on,” he pleaded. “What’s your secret? Teach me, oh masterful one.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. “My brother and I used to play a lot of Call of Duty. That’s really…” she trailed off as she noticed their expressions. “What?”

“You have a brother?” Pippa enquired gently.

Oh shit.

She chewed on that for a while, face going utterly blank as she tried to work out how to get around this. See, going out and socialising always lead to talking which in turn always lead to her slipping up and this was not a topic she wanted to dwell on.

In the end she sighed, knowing there wasn’t a way to wriggle out this time. “Yes,” she breathed. “Robert, five years younger than me, he likes video games, cooking and being far too studious for his own good. So I’m accidentally good at laser tag, I have good hand-eye coordination.” Her eyes lifted from the tabletop to glance at Finn. Insert topic change, “Would you like another round? I’ll sit out if you feel inadequate.”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ellen’s gobsmacked face. She supposed there would be some sort of interrogation later that she’d have to weasel out of. But for now, the look on Finn’s face as he recovered from his shock was distraction enough.

“Hells yeah,” he enthused. “I’m coming with you.” Finn bounded from his chair and followed her back outside into the brisk wind.

They wandered silently down the footpath back to the laser tag building, a large structure, three storeys high with a basement below and lots of black-lights. It hunched on the corner, a big sign outside declaring with a strip of flashing neon red tubing the purpose of the building. Finn kept looking at her as they walked, but Bonnie did her utmost to ignore him and the way his expression shifted between curiosity and confusion.

At last, as they were about to enter, he said, “Hey, Bonnie. Um, since we’re on holidays now…” He frowned, reaching for the door, holding it open for her. “Would you maybe like to go out with me sometime?”

As with the previous time, Bonnie wasn’t expecting it. She froze, shaking herself hurriedly to conceal her flustered shock. Hastily, she summoned her best approximation of a smile and turned as he stepped in beside her.

“Finn…” she began, not really knowing what to say to him. Bonnie sighed, shaking her head. “Thanks, but no. I just…” She rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. “No.”

And just like last time, Finn simply smiled, the rejection rolling off his waterproof shoulders. “Alright,” he said. “Some other time. Let’s go.”

Bonnie opened her mouth to tell him that there wouldn’t be another time, that her answer was a blanket ‘no’ to cover all possible scenarios, but he’d already scampered off. Perhaps he’d been afraid that she’d say just that and didn’t want to hear it. He could profess ignorance that way. Maybe she should tell him.

Biting back a cynical laugh, Bonnie followed him across the foyer to the counter. Tell him… What a laugh.

Finn was having a bright conversation with the receptionist as Bonnie strolled over. From the way the woman was looking at him, the only person in the whole world who didn’t find him endearing was Bonnie.

She shoved his wallet away. “No paying for you,” Bonnibel said firmly. “It’s your birthday after all. What kind of present would it be if you bought it?”

He turned his massive grin her way. “Exactly the same,” he quipped. “Only my hip pocket would be somewhat lighter.”

The receptionist giggled and Bonnie had to suppress an eye roll. Then she had to do an internal double take because that was not something she’d normally do.

“How many this time?” the woman asked, her fingers tapping on her keyboard.

“Four,” Bonnie told her. “I’m sitting out,” she explained when Finn gave her a questioning look. “It’s even that way.”

More typing rattled away before the woman printed out a receipt and pushed four playing cards across the desk. Finn snatched them up while Bonnie pocketed the receipt. “Have a good day,” the receptionist chirped.

There was a strained silence as they strode back to the little café where they’d had lunch. Or maybe Bonnie only interpreted it that way, Finn seemed just fine with it. Through the window they could see Ellen hunched across the table, whispering in that way she had whenever she believed there was some awesome gossip up her sleeve. Neither Pippa nor Jake seemed to be paying her much mind, but listening to her was really all it took. A flash of panic streaked through Bonnie’s chest at the idea they could be talking about her.

All three of them looked up when Finn pulled the door in and bounced back into his seat. “What are we talking about?” he asked, slapping the new cards on the table. “And when do we want to go play another round?”

Pippa stared at the cards. “There’s only four,” she noted astutely. “Who isn’t playing?”

“Me,” Bonnie said quietly, sinking into her chair as well. “I figured I’d give Finn a chance at a birthday win since this is for him.”

He frowned, sticking his bottom lip out. “It’s hardly a proper win if you don’t even play,” Finn pointed out.

“Yeah, but if I play and let you win, that doesn’t really count either,” Bonnie countered. “At least this way you know you’ve won fair and square.”

He inspected that thought for a bit before nodding. “Alright.” Finn levelled a finger at her. “But I’m going to practice and one day I’m going to kick your butt.”

Bonnie sipped from her drink. “You’re going to try,” she corrected softly.

“Can we go now?” he asked, obviously electing to ignore Bonnie’s last statement.

Jake looked down at the plates on the table. “Sure. Why not?”

Finn pumped a fist in the air, leaping back up again. “Awesome.” He was heading for the door when he stopped and glanced back at them. “Hey guys? This was the best birthday ever. Just so you know.”

Ellen tilted her head, smiling pensively after him. “Sometimes I think he never grew after he hit six. Where does all his energy come from?”

Jake laughed at her, standing too. “I’m pretty sure he’s solar powered.”

“So you don’t plug him into the wall every evening?” Ellen asked, her brow furrowing slightly. “That seems more likely to me.”

“Sorry to let you down, Elle,” he replied with a shrug. “Unless he gets it from some sort of Finnegeon… something in the air… or the water perhaps?”

“Did you just make a chemistry joke?” Ellen deadpanned, stepping outside.

“I might’ve.”

Bonnie and Pippa followed at a slight distance, perfectly content to listen to the other pair discuss wildly crazy ideas on Finn’s seemingly boundless supply of enthusiasm. He really was like a kid at times. Well, Bonnie was happy to do that, but she could tell that something was bothering Penelope.

“So,” Pippa finally breathed. “Brother, huh? How come you never told us before?”

There it was. Bonnibel shrugged her shoulders, trying her hardest not to look at her friend. “I don’t like talking about him.”

Pippa was quiet for a few steps, her face decidedly curious. An expression Bonnie was not pleased to see. “You never talk about Ormeau,” she stated. “You’ve mentioned a few friends but never anything specific. Why?”

“Because I don’t like to,” Bonnie replied a little more tartly than she’d meant to. She sucked in a deep breath. “I just… I don’t like to think about it. Okay?”

She glanced at her friend then, noting the soft smile and tilt to Pippa’s head. There was no demand to know written in her expression, no frustration at being kept at arm’s length, none of that. Only a barely restrained curiosity and perhaps a little bit of hurt that Bonnie clearly didn’t trust her. Not even after six months as friends.

“Alright,” Pippa murmured. “I’ll drop it.” She bumped her shoulder against Bonnie’s. “But you can bet your last dime that I’ll find out eventually. I’m persistent like that. And so loveable that you’ll have to tell me all your dirty secrets, Banner.”

It was a threat, Bonnie realised, blinking. A promise. And a worrying one at that. But she couldn’t find it in her to be overly concerned, just… expectant. Some part of her was absolutely terrified of trusting her new friends. But there was another part, bound and gagged deep down in the darkness of her consciousness, which wanted nothing more than for these wonderful people to unravel her.

So she smiled with Pippa. But she didn’t worry about it. There was only anticipation; tinged with apprehension and excitement.

And wonderment.

Chapter Text

Tuesday 24th June 2014

Cherry: Mum says we can’t visit and I’m devastated. How will I cope without you for two years? How did your first semester go?

 

Bonnie: I’m crushed. Not even over Christmas? It was good. You know, I didn’t think it’d be easy to adjust, but I’ve made some good friends. I’ll miss you though. And it’s only one and a half years.

 

Cherry: Oh, sorry, little miss specific. No; not even for Christmas. She’s being difficult. But we’re moving house at the end of the year so I suppose she wants me around to help with the boxes and stuff. See! I told you making new friends would be easy. Are they excellent?

 

Bonnie: You’re moving? Where to? They are pretty awesome. It’s been good to have them around to help me fit in, you know? They’re pretty solid.

 

Cherry: Across town. Mum doesn’t want to live in a flood-zone anymore. I’ll send you photos to document our moving in. You trust them right? Please tell me you’re being straight with them.

 

Norman: Cherry won’t let me in on her texting. She’s being mean. Bonnie, tell her to stop being mean.

 

Bonnie (Cherry): That’s fair enough. I look forward to the photos. I… I don’t know yet. Six months isn’t long.

 

Bonnie (Norman): Just steal her phone later and check the history. Miss you Norm.

 

Norman: Argh! That’s so mean of you too. I’m at training to I can’t just snatch it. I’ll have to wait for ages.

 

Marceline: Hey, can I stop by later? I need a place to hide my lute. Dad’s being a douche again.

 

Bonnie (Marceline): Sure. Then I’ll finally have something to put in my storage closet.

 

Bonnie (Norman): Oh, hush, you big baby. How is your training going? Did you make the team?

 

Cherry: It’s hardly fair to keep them in the dark on all that, Bonnie. You’ve got a little bit of baggage they might like to know about. Plus, I’m sure you’re thoroughly sick of being asked out. Am I right?

 

Bonnie (Cherry): Ouch, you land all the low blows. Norman wants you to fill him in on this conversation by the way. He says you’re being mean.

 

Cherry: Don’t change the subject. And I will, but he’s at training. Did he tell you he made the team? His mum was so proud. Anyway, you should tell them. Tell some of them at least. You never know, it might go over well.

 

Norman: Yeah, I made the team. Mum made me a cake and everything. It was mostly inedible, but the thought was there. She’s worried though. I mean, boxing is a tough sport, but she’s been really supportive.

 

Marceline: I can’t tell if that was sarcasm or not. I’m on my way.

 

Bonnie (Norman): That’s great! I knew you could do it. Kick all of their butts for me. Say ‘hi’ to your mum for me.

 

Bonnie (Marceline): I’m sorry, but practically the only things in my storage closet are instruments of yours that need ‘hiding’.

 

Marceline: If you’re going to be sarcastic. Do it to my face, please and thank you.

 

Bonnie (Marceline): You would need to be here for that. Stop texting while you’re driving.

 

Marceline: I’m touched by your concern for my safety.

 

Bonnie (Marceline): You’re an idiot.

 

Marceline: Whip-shh! Comeback of the century award goes to Bonnie B!

 

Norman: Oh I will. Maggie’s boyfriend is on the team too. I have lots of fun punching his lights out. I think I’ve finally hit pole position on her ‘most hated’ list.

 

Cherry: Stop ignoring me. You know I’m right.

 

Bonnie (Norman): Haha! I would love to see that. How is she? Cherry said she was picking up her act but I find it hard to believe.

 

Norman: She’s… better. Georgia has been the driving force in their Combined Bitchiness Endeavours since you left. I think the novelty is wearing off and the reality of everyone hating them has finally kicked in.

 

Bonnie (Norman): I’m almost touched to know that I was their main target. Feels good to know I left a lasting impact on them.

 

Norman: And what about Reich? Have you inspired a similar reaction in anyone there?

 

Bonnie (Norman): I haven’t told anyone yet. I’m currently ignoring Cherry’s attempts to convince me I’m being childish. But I have a feeling they’d dig up pitchforks from somewhere. I mean, it is a church town.

 

Cherry: Seriously, Bonnie. You’re being stupid.

 

Norman: Ouch. I’m sorry for you. Well, graduation is only fifteen months away or something. Then you can stop worrying so much.

 

Bonnie (Cherry): I’m being practical.

 

Cherry: You are the dumbest smart person I know.

 

Bonnie (Norman): Yeah, I can hope. And tell Cherry to stop being so naggy. It’s no wonder she doesn’t have a boyfriend.

 

Norman: I… take it you don’t know then?

 

Bonnie (Norman): Know what? Are you keeping secrets from me, Bunting?

 

Bonnie (Cherry): Do you have a boyfriend I don’t know about?

 

Cherry: What? Bloody Norman. Did he tell you something?

 

Bonnie (Cherry): Alluded to it, is more like. Is he right?

 

Cherry: No… well… not technically. We’re not dating. He just sort of… hangs around.

 

Bonnie (Cherry): Scandalous. And you didn’t tell me? I will expect details you know.

 

Cherry: You can have details as soon as you man up and tell your new friends everything they need to know.

 

Bonnie (Cherry): They don’t need to know anything. I can always just ask Norman…

 

Bonnie (Norman): What’s his name? This guy she’s spending time with? Is he nice?

 

Cherry: You wouldn’t.

 

Norman: He’s nice, alright to look at too. His name’s Stanley. His parents run that fruit juice conglomerate thing. Can’t think of what it’s called.

 

Bonnie (Norman): Oh, I know the one. The store, not the guy. That’s good though. I hope he’s not an idiot.

 

Norman: No, not an idiot. He treats her good. If only he’d actually ask her out then they could stop dancing around each other and do stuff together. I don’t know about couple-y things.

 

Cherry: Bonnibel Banner. You answer your texts right now and stop gabbing about me to Norman.

 

Bonnie (Cherry): Why don’t you just ask Stanley out? Solve all your problems.

 

Cherry: Why don’t you ever ask someone out?

 

Bonnie (Cherry): That was pathetic.

 

Cherry: You’d know all about pathetic. I have to go now. Phone must be off at the movies. Let Norman know that I’m coming for his head.

 

Bonnie (Cherry): Will do. You kids have fun now.

 

Bonnie (Norman): Cherry’s at the movies, presumably with Stanley. She wants you to keep watch over your shoulder because she’s coming for you.

 

Norman: I’m quaking in my boots.

 

Marceline: Lemme in. Also your doorbell is broken.

 

Bonnie (Norman): Haha! I’ll bet. She’s a four-ten whirlwind of pure fury. Got to go now, I have a guest over. Talk to you later.

 

Norman: Amen to that. I almost want details on your guest. I’ll grill you about it later. Have fun!~

Chapter Text

Monday 30th June 2014

It was… poisonous. Yes, that was a word she liked. Apt to some extent. Not that the envelope actually had venomous fangs or anything. Marceline was just being melodramatic again.

Acknowledging her exaggerated anxiety regarding this lump of paper didn’t change the fact that it was pretty much her fate sealed in cardboard. To some extent. She heaved a deep breath, fingers dancing over the glued strip binding it closed. Yeah… she wasn’t sure if she wanted to open it.

Her head bobbed to one side; she was unable to tear her gaze away from it. Sitting cross-legged on her bedspread, glaring at it balefully was hardly the sign of a sound mind. But she’d never claimed to be sane.

One hand reached out and touched it. Yep, it was real alright. Fingers fiddling with one corner, bending it, she wondered if she’d need to go to hospital after this. One way or another, the words inside the envelope were going to send her into a panic attack of the most extreme proportions.

Her hand sprang away from the now dog-eared paper and plucked her phone from the dresser. Without even looking she punched in a number and sent a message. Short and sweet.

How’d you do?

Honestly, Marceline didn’t expect an answer any time soon. Certainly she didn’t anticipate a response inside five minutes. So when her phone buzzed against her knee it nearly went flying off as she jumped.

Pretty good, Keila replied. Mostly Bs. I got ninety-four percent in literature though. Can you believe that? What about you?

Marceline spun her phone between her fingers, tapping the corner against her knee to help propel it in its lopsided oblong arc. I haven’t opened it yet.

Why the hell not? She could just imagine Keila shrieking that at her. I’m sure you did great. Besides, if you didn’t do so well, you get to hang out with Bonnie next semester too. And don’t tell me you wouldn’t enjoy that.

She grimaced. Doing well on her grades was precisely what she was worried about. No. Marceline decided she wouldn’t be able to open her envelope here. Not by herself.

Are you busy, she sent to Keila.

It was at least six minutes before a response came through. Yeah. I’m in Blackwater with Gary. What’s up?

Marceline snorted. Of course she was out with her boyfriend. Typical. Nothing. Just curious. Have fun.

All she got was a smiley face. Sighing heavily, Marceline collapsed backwards onto her bed; the mattress bouncing as her head hit the pillow. There was something to be said about having a best friend who wasn’t available when she needed her. Maybe she should invest in a new one.

Gathering up all her flimsy courage, Marceline nailed it to the sticking post and stood, yanking on her shoes. She had to do something or she’d go stir crazy. She had to open her envelope or it would drive her nuts.

And she needed someone to talk to.

Someone who wasn’t her father.

Or Keila.

Or Simon.

Her list of available buddies was thin. For a moment she contemplated calling her brother. Then she discarded it in favour of snatching up her envelope and storming outside. She ripped her keys from their hook on the wall and left, allowing all her simmering frustration to ooze out her feet as she stalked to her car.

Tentatively, she mentally added a new name to this list of friends and mused on the possibility she was over-stepping a boundary. She’d find out soon if she was being presumptuous. Part of her silently hoped she was being thoroughly idiotic. But another part, softly muttering and rode over or ignored for the most part, was desperately wishing otherwise.

As she was about to open her car door, she thought better of it. It would be easier to walk and it might help clear her head a little. Still grumbling quietly to herself, she tucked the envelope under one arm and tromped down the footpath.

The area was subdued considering it was technically the holidays. Some people still worked, sure, but Marceline had kind of expected there to be more kids running around. She supposed it wasn’t a bad silence, it was simply unexpected. This lack of sound meant her brain felt empty and subsequently attempted to fill the void with thoughts.

Marceline shook her head. It was definitely best not to dwell too much on where she was going or why. If she thought about it, she might change her mind. The realisation that she didn’t want to change her mind shocked her.

Before she had a chance to examine that though, she found herself standing at the end of the drive up to Minton’s house. She shuffled her feet unconsciously. Sighing, she pushed the gate in and let herself onto the property. He wouldn’t care that her visit was unannounced. And neither would Bonnibel. Which of those two things was weirder she had yet to decide.

So she didn’t think too hard on the matter, when Marceline reached the door, she extended a fist and rapped sharply a few times and stepped back. Staring at the scuffed toes of her black sneakers wasn’t entertaining, shuffling them across the lacquered wood wasn’t anything to rave about either. Both were better than gazing blankly at the door waiting for it to open. And Marceline wasn’t really sure who she’d rather pulled it in.

It was Peter.

“Marceline,” he blurted, surprised. His eyes narrowed in the barest of increments. Yeah, Peter Minton knew that people often said nasty things about her and no matter what his friendly relationship with her father might be termed; he wasn’t a fan of hers.

She smiled at him anyway. “Hi.”

Then they stood there for a moment in complete silence. Peter regarded her uncertainly and Marceline kept grinning. This wasn’t awkward at all.

Eventually he sighed. “Here to see Bonnibel are you?”

“Yup.”

Peter lifted one orange eyebrow. His hair was the same brilliant red as Bonnie’s, just streaked liberally with white, showing his age. Marceline arched a dark brow right back at him. He stepped aside after a pause.

“She’s around the back.”

“Cheers.” She kept smiling until she was past him and then let her face relax. Marceline crossed the living room, headed through the kitchen and laundry and stuck her head out the back door. A large roofed patio was attached to the house, wooden blinds hung from white supports and wicker furniture sprawled across the tiles. Curled up on one of the cushioned seats with her nose buried in a book was Bonnie.

Marceline had to bite back chuckles at the sight. It was to be expected, she supposed. Bonnibel was never without a book of some sort or other. She was garbed in a much worn pair of purple track pants and an oversized jumper, the sleeves pulled down over her hands, chin tucked into the collar, hood pushed up around the back of her neck. In other words, she looked like a right dork.

“Sup, nerd?” Marceline called softly.

Bonnie’s eyes widened, her book snapping shut (one finger marking the page, naturally). “Marceline?” she asked as if she weren’t quite sure it really was her. “What are you doing here?”

Marceline jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “I take it you want me to go?”

Bonnibel’s expression flattened. “Seriously?” she deadpanned. “It’s… nine in the morning and you’re already being difficult? I’m surprised you’re out of bed.”

She shrugged noncommittally. “The postman woke me. Speaking of which…” Marceline flourished her envelope causing Bonnie to jerk upright.

“Have you opened it?” she asked in a much too excited tone given the situation.

“Nope.” She sank down beside the suddenly peppy redhead. “I figured you’d want to see firsthand the results of your labour.”

“You make it sound so menial,” Bonnie grumbled, shifting so she was cross-legged on the seat facing Marceline. “Let’s see it then.”

“Care for a wager?” Marceline joked.

“Hardy ha,” the other girl droned. “Just open the damn letter.”

Marceline rolled her eyes. “Since you asked so nicely.” She slid a nail under the lip of the envelope and ripped it across. Slowly, she drew out the fancy folder, flipping it open. She ignored the cover letter, which was just full of stupid platitudes meant to make her feel special. Everyone got the same thing.

Under that though were her grades. As she scanned the comments and figures her eyes grew progressively wider and her eyebrows soared until they vanished into the clouds. She could feel Bonnie’s impossibly green eyes boring into her and when she got to the bottom of the second page she looked up to meet them.

The redhead’s face was expectant, curious, patient. Wordlessly, Marceline passed her the packet. Unlike Marceline, not a single line of confusion or surprise wavered across her face. Her reaction was to smile and as she read, more teeth joined in until she was positively beaming.

“This is awesome, Marceline,” she declared, handing the paper back. “Nothing less than eighty-eight percent in all your subjects! That’s excellent.”

Eighty-eight percent was her lowest mark for that semester and it was – no shocker – for physics. And even that was still an A grade result. Her highest mark (which got a wry grin from Bonnie) was maths. She’d never hear the end of it.

“See? I knew you were smart,” Bonnibel stated, earning an eye roll from Marceline.

“Only because I had a studious dictator glaring over my shoulder who wouldn’t let me fail,” Marceline grouched good-naturedly. But Bonnie was still smiling and that was probably worth more than the paper she was holding.

Bonnibel glanced at her. “You don’t think you could’ve done that without my help?”

She hesitated and that was all the ammunition Bonnie needed.

“Either way it’s great.” The redhead bumped their shoulders together. “And everyone said you couldn’t do it.”

Marceline blinked. “Everyone said that?”

“Most everyone, yes.”

She fiddled with the corner of her folder, in real danger of creasing it. “Did you ever think I couldn’t do it?”

Bonnie didn’t even hesitate before saying, “Not once. I think you actually try harder to be stupid than most people do to be intelligent.” She stood then. “Would you like a coffee or something? You look tired.”

“Um… sure. Do you want a hand?”

“Nah,” Bonnibel said, waving away the offer. “It won’t take long.”

She disappeared inside leaving Marceline on the patio with her worries. What would happen now was anyone’s guess really. But Marceline figured she’d have to be careful not to let her father find the packet. To that end, she spent the next few minutes trying to come up with a place she could hide the documents that Hansen wouldn’t think to look. It was the same conclusion no matter how she dissected the problem.

“Here.” Bonnie reappeared on the seat beside her, proffering a cup of coffee. Carefully she took a sip and blinked. Marceline glanced at her companion but didn’t ask how Bonnie knew how she liked her coffee.

“Thanks. Can I um… Can I get my banjo off you?”

Bonnie’s smile had an edge to it that could cut steel. “You’re not just using me for my closet are you?”

Marceline’s brain heard that wrong somehow. “Uh… n-no. I promise?”

“Come on,” Bonnibel laughed. “No need to look so horrified.”

Marceline set her coffee cup down before trailing after Bonnie around to her little flat. When Bonnie let her in, she didn’t follow; instead the redhead sat on the step outside and resumed her reading. Marceline stared at her for a short moment then shook herself free of that weird trance and stepped inside.

She opened the closet door and – despite what Bonnibel claimed a lot of the time – her instruments didn’t take up a great deal of space. They were laid out neatly on the shelf closest to the door with care they didn’t get damaged accidentally. The fact that Bonnibel put in any effort whatsoever to keep them clean was incredible. She plucked a string on the lute and winced at the noise it made, but then, Bonnie didn’t know how to tune them.

Only four were currently stored with her because they didn’t presently have a space to call their own at her house. Her ukulele and lute, zither and banjo all temporarily resided in this little room. The zither and ukulele were both still in the box she’d gotten them in a few months ago. The crwth was sitting on her bookshelf in her bedroom because she’d been practicing with it a lot lately.

Still, the cardboard box provided an excellent location to stash her grade packet. Marceline pulled the top flaps up and slipped the folder down the side, arranging the packing foam so it wasn’t visible. Then she pressed the edges back down, grabbed her banjo with one hand and tucked the now empty envelope back under her arm. Bonnibel wasn’t an idiot. She’d notice if Marceline left without her marks.

“Thanks,” Marceline muttered, pulling the door closed behind her as she stepped onto the porch. When she turned around, Bonnie was on her feet, fingers tapping along the back cover of her book. A strange expression clouded her face.

Marceline didn’t have long to ponder the reason for her countenance before Bonnie threw her arms around her. So surprised she was, Marceline took a stunned step backwards.

“Oomph… Bonnie,” she said, her arms out to the sides, not sure what to do in this situation. “What are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you,” she replied, voice muffled because she was speaking into Marceline’s collar. “Are you familiar with the concept?”

“Vaguely,” Marceline conceded, feeling a smile creep across her face. “Doesn’t happen to me much though.” Awkwardly, Marceline leaned her banjo against the door and gradually let one arm wrap around Bonnie.

“I guess that explains why you suck at it,” Bonnie chuckled, pulling away.

“Uh, why are you hugging me?”

“Because you did really well on your assessment and I’m super proud of you and I think that deserves a hug,” Bonnibel said tartly. She stepped back then, eyeing Marceline strangely. “Unless you’d rather something else instead?”

She blinked, mind racing for something. Then Marceline stretched out a fist and bumped it against Bonnie’s shoulder. “How’s that?”

Bonnie burst out laughing. “You really suck at emotions and stuff, don’t you?”

Marceline shrugged. “I don’t have many friends, Bon. I’m scary; people don’t want to touch me in case I break their fingers.”

“We should fix that,” Bonnie said with a snort of derision. “You’re not scary anyway. Come on, I’ll buy you a strawberry thick shake at the Café.”

“You don’t have a car,” Marceline pointed out.

“Yeah,” Bonnibel sang, stepping backwards across the lawn. “But you do.”

“You don’t have to buy me anything, really,” she continued to protest even as she followed the indomitable redhead across the yard and around to the front of the house.

“What are friends for if not to celebrate the little victories?”

Marceline smiled.

Chapter Text

Wednesday 2nd July 2014

I already have plans with Gary. Sorry, Marce.

She kept staring at the text wondering why the twisting anger in her stomach hadn’t bubbled up in the form of anxious vomiting yet. That seemed like something that should happen. Marceline had been staring at the text for the last five minutes and it refused to change. She wished it said something else, but it was fairly resolute in filling her with resentment.

There was a really big part of her that absolutely loathed this Gary fellow. It was upsettingly offset by her delight that he made Keila happy. But no, mostly she just wished he’d vanish or something.

Her fingers tapped against the edge of her phone, deliberating. She could just chill in her room again today. She could go and sit under the tree on the hill – although it was pretty darn cold now and that might be a little too extreme. Marceline sent a text instead.

Whatcha doing?

As per usual, she didn’t really expect a reply. Instead she flopped backwards onto her bed, pulling her banjo up off the floor and onto her stomach. A few notes leapt from the strings as she plucked absently. Her phone beeped and she snatched it up.

Not much, Bonnie had sent back. Hanging out with Ellen and Pippa. Why? Do you need something?

Marceline sighed. Nah, just bored.

Why don’t you come over then?

They don’t like me.

Because you’re a grump. They’d like you if you were nice for a change.

You calling me a bitch, Banner?

No. I’m calling you a grump. Do you want to visit? We’re just watching movies and Ellen’s trying to engage us in a discussion on boys.

Marceline rolled her eyes. Sounds like a bad teen drama.

You have no idea.

She smiled. If I swing by, am I allowed to mock Eleanor?

There was a pause between texts then. Possibly Bonnie was working towards an answer, or it might have been to mimic a hesitation in conversation. It was a little on the dramatic side, but given the response, it was enough to make Marceline laugh.

Only if you do it quietly and with lots of subtlety, Bonnie replied.

I think I can manage that.

Should I expect your imminent appearance then?

She rubbed at her neck, thinking about it. What could it hurt, right? Sure. Is there a dress code?

Warm. My air conditioner doesn’t know what ‘reverse cycle’ means and is stuck on cool.

Sounds painful. Be over in a bit.

I wait with baited breath.

That also made her chuckle. She had no idea why, but Bonnibel was really good at dry banter and it was always so unexpected coming from her. She whipped a jumper over her head, running fingers through her hair in a vain effort to tame it and then headed out.

Given the biting cold of the day, she figured it might not be the best idea to try and get her car to start. Besides, the walk would warm her up nicely. Rolling her fingers into fists, she tucked her hands into the pockets of her coat, hunching her shoulders up around her ears in a vain attempt to keep them from freezing off.

In Minton’s drive, Pippa’s yellow punch buggy sat happily beside his grey thing. Marceline wasn’t sure what brand of car it was; possibly it was some Frankensteinian monstrosity that had long ago ceased being one specific type of car. If that was the case, Marceline supposed she could understand why it always looked upset about something: it was having some sort of identity crisis.

“I feel you,” she muttered, patting the bonnet as she walked past. She didn’t bother knocking on the main house; Bonnie would be in her flat. Marceline tugged her sleeves down over her knuckles before rapping on the door. In the cold, it hurt to knock on the wood so her hand was stuffed swiftly back into her pocket.

The door opened to reveal Bonnibel grinning at her. “Hurry up, you’re letting the warm out,” she said cheerily, stepping aside. It was much warmer inside, Marceline was pleased to note. “Do you want a drink?”

“No thanks,” Marceline whispered. “I was just bored.” She shrugged. “Figured I could do with some company.”

Bonnie’s smile was knowing. “Sure, sure. What you mean by that is Keila ditched you again and you’re feeling a little unloved because it’s her birthday today and you had something planned. Am I right?”

Marceline sighed in concession. “As always. Hey, Pippa.”

Penelope threw an arm across the back of the lounge to peer over at them. “Oh, hi, Marceline. What brings you around?”

“Got nothing to do,” she mumbled. “Bonnie said she didn’t mind if I crashed your little party.”

“Yeah that’s cool,” Pippa said, patting the cushion next to her. “Pull up a seat. We’re just watching movies anyway. Enjoying a day without boys.” She winked.

“What about Kendall,” Eleanor’s voice called from down the hall. It was followed not a moment later by the woman herself. “He’s easy on the eyes. And he has this amazing – oh. Abadeer.”

Marceline exposed her teeth in what she hoped was a wicked grin. “Scott-Parker. What a pleasure it is to see you.”

Eleanor clucked her tongue. “If you say so. What are you doing here?”

“Obviously I’m here to bask in the joyous radiance that is your company,” Marceline said dryly.

Her phone beeped quietly in her pocket and she used it as an excuse to look away from Eleanor’s indignant face. What the newly received text said was almost enough to make her laugh.

I told you to be subtle about the mocking.

So sorry. I’ll tone it down.

Thank you kindly.

Bonnie was very good at covert texting, Marceline discovered, courtesy of that little exchange. The redhead had her feet tucked up beneath her on the single seat sofa beside the one Marceline shared with Pippa. And Marceline hadn’t seen her move her hands. It was as if the text magically appeared in her phone.

“Who was that?” Eleanor asked, unable to mask her satisfaction. “A new beau? Some mysterious friend nobody knows about?”

It took a lot of effort for Marceline to not look over at Bonnie. “The latter,” she said quietly. Out of the corner of her eye, Bonnibel smiled delicately.

“How’s Keila?” Pippa chimed in, clearly hoping to change the topic to one less dangerous. “I figured you’d be in Blackwater together raising some metaphorical form of hell. Have you mellowed, Abadeer?”

Penelope’s tone was teasing, but Marceline couldn’t suppress the spike of ire in her gut. “She’s in Blackwater with her boyfriend,” she said sourly. “Possibly doing exactly as you said.”

Pippa’s expression crumpled. “Sorry. Allow us to be your not-as-exciting surrogates for today.” She smiled to show she meant it, which was completely unnecessary because Pippa was never anything but genuine.

“You’re too kind,” Marceline said softly. “So what were you guys doing before I so inconsiderately interrupted?”

“Bonnie and I were watching a movie,” Penelope supplied; evidently glad a less morose topic had been selected. “And I think Ellen was trying to come up with an eligible bachelor for dear Bonnibel.”

“I don’t need a guy,” Bonnie asserted, clearly not for the first time.

“There’s nothing wrong with being single,” Marceline concurred.

“See?” Bonnie piped, jerking a thumb at Marceline. “I have back-up.”

“Kendall,” Eleanor repeated, returning to what she’d been saying earlier. “He’s a nice guy, Bonnibel. You’d like him.”

“Have you dated him?” Marceline asked, lifting an eyebrow.

Eleanor was quiet, one long fingernail pattering on the arm of the sofa. “I might’ve gone out with him a few times,” she acceded grudgingly.

Marceline turned an apologetic expression towards Bonnibel. “You can’t date him then. Isn’t it in the Girl Handbook that you’re not allowed to date guys your friends have been out with?”

Bonnie’s smile in reply to that split her face in two. “I think you might be right, actually. Alas I left my Handbook in Ormeau so I can’t look it up.”

“You can borrow mine,” Marceline consoled; glad she was going along with it.

Pippa cackled at that. “Oh you’re good,” she chortled. “Why don’t you visit more often?”

“I heard girls’ nights were invite only,” Marceline informed her gravely, shrugging one shoulder. “And the IGCA lost my address.”

Finally, Eleanor joined in their silly conversation. “IGCA?”

“International Girls Consolidated Association,” Marceline clarified. “The union, I mean. I don’t get any pamphlets or anything.”

Pippa bumped their shoulders together. “Yeah, you should come to these things more often. Bonnibel will give you all the dates on her IGCA calendar, won’t you?” She leaned around Marceline then to direct the tail end of her question at Bonnie.

“Oh sure, definitely.”

“On a more serious note,” Penelope went on solemnly. “You do realise that by invoking Rule 43 in the Handbook wherein ‘no girl may date a guy who went out with a friend’ there are very few guys left in the county for Bonnie to date. She could be single for a while.”

“I would stop worrying if I were you,” Bonnie cut in. “Being single doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. I don’t want to date so the lack of viable prospects doesn’t bother me.”

“Crisis averted,” Marceline proclaimed. “Whew, all military personnel may stand down now so we can watch a movie.”

“All in favour of withdrawing our forces and watching some trashy chick flick say ‘aye’,” Pippa demanded.

Bonnie and Marceline were in quick with their affirmatives. Eleanor took a little bit longer to give in, but when she did Pippa declared their status no longer required a Defcon 1 alert. She stuffed a movie in the player before collapsing back onto the seat next to Marceline, flashing her another grin as she did so.

In her pocket, Marceline’s phone beeped.

“Phones must be on silent during the movie,” Eleanor informed her tartly.

“Sorry,” she muttered, trying not to roll her eyes. A text had come through that made a smile tug at her lips.

Thank you.

Covert Bonnie strikes again. She looked up but the redhead’s attention was fixed on the screen, a gentle smile curving her mouth up. Marceline switched her phone to silent mode and relaxed.

It turns out they weren’t such bad company after all.

Chapter Text

Tuesday 8th July 2014

“So…” Ellen drawled in that worrisome way she had. “You and Marceline are besties now, huh?”

Bonnibel scowled over her hot chocolate. “No,” she grumbled. “On… friendly terms, I suppose. Why? Does it ruffle feathers?”

Ellen’s smile had an edge to it that mirrored the anxiety-inducing tone to her voice. “Not so much. I just wouldn’t have expected you to hang out with her as much as you do. She’s trouble, you know.”

“So people keep telling me,” Bonnie replied unhappily.

“She’s not as bad as folks say,” Pippa provided, sliding into the seat beside Bonnie with her latte. “Jake said she helps him with his maths sometimes. He says she could be a closet maths genius.”

Ellen frowned. “That doesn’t sound right. She fails maths. It’s no secret that her grades in everything are awful.” Then Eleanor turned her piercing hazelnut gaze on Bonnie. “How did she do last semester?”

“Uh…” Bonnie hedged. “She didn’t tell me. Marceline doesn’t like to share things.” And that was a totally believable excuse. She felt bad lying to her friends, but she had promised Marceline not to divulge just how well she’d done. Not that Bonnibel knew why it had to be a secret. But she was good at keeping them and if Marceline didn’t want people to know, it wasn’t Bonnie’s place to tell them. Simple as that.

“She’s weird,” Ellen opined.

“Everyone is a little bit weird, Ellen,” Pippa muttered sagely.

“Then Marceline is weirder than most.”

“Hey girls!” Jake enthused, flopping onto a chair beside Pippa, supplying a kiss to her cheek at the same time. “How are we doing?” Finn sank down beside Ellen, braving her wrath to steal a few of her chips.

Ellen twisted in her seat to stare Jake down. He shrank back a little under her pointed gaze. “Does Marceline help you with your maths homework?” she asked (well, it was more of a demand, really).

His mouth worked, eyes wide. “Uh… she has given me pointers on occasion. Why?”

Eleanor’s eyes narrowed to slits. “I don’t believe you. Everyone knows she’s a layabout with no future. Were the questions right?”

“She never actually gave me the answers, Ellen,” Jake replied hastily, shaking his head. “Just… pointed things out to me that I hadn’t seen or told me my formula was wrong. Simple baby things that anyone should be able to see.”

“Why didn’t you see them then?” Pippa queried blithely, sipping from her cup, a sweet smile playing around her mouth.

He hunched his shoulders. “Because I wasn’t paying attention,” he grumbled. “Are we ready to go home yet? Not that I don’t love hanging around this shopping centre all day, but I want to be home before midnight.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Jake,” Ellen scolded. “We have one shop left to visit. Can you hold onto your horses for that long at least?”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. But I’m coming with you this time to make sure you don’t get distracted.”

Jake and Pippa stood, following Ellen out of the food court. “I’m going to sit this one out,” Bonnie called. “I’ll be here when you’re done.”

“Yeah,” Finn whined. “I don’t need to go into a stupid dress shop either.”

Penelope laughed at them, waving that she’d heard. “Won’t be long,” she sang.

Finn pulled the plate bearing the last of Ellen’s chips towards him and polished them off. Boys. It didn’t matter how much else they’d eaten in the day, they could always stuff a little bit more in.

“So,” he began, licking the last of the salt off his fingers. “Did you know that Thursdays are movie preview night at the cinema upstairs?”

“I’ve seen the signs around,” she admitted slowly. “Midnight screenings or something like that, am I right?”

“Yeah, usually the movie comes out the next day or that weekend,” Finn went on, perking up now. “This week is that movie about those surfer people…” he frowned. “I can’t remember what it’s called. The Beach House maybe? I wanted to know if you’d like to go with me.”

Bonnie sighed. “Like a date, Finn?” she asked with no emotion.

He smiled wanly. “Well… yeah. I mean…”

“Wait,” she said before he could organise his thoughts and conjure a proper argument. “I’m not going to date you, Finn,” Bonnie told him. “Ever.” She took a deep breath and looked away.

This time, Finn’s smile didn’t just waver, it evaporated. She could practically see it wafting away, being sucked into the centre’s ventilation and cast outside. He licked his lips, brow creasing again, mouth a thin line as his brain cranked up into overtime trying to figure out whether she was being serious.

Finally, he uttered a ghostly, “Why?” His blue eyes searching her face as if he thought he’d be able to detect a lie if she told one.

That breath she’d sucked in before finally billowed out. She felt… so small, so fragile. Translucent even, almost see-through and it was a rather vulnerable state of mind.

“You have to promise me, Finn,” she told him, wrapping her hands around her cup so he wouldn’t see the insecurities shaking through her fingers. “That you won’t tell a soul. When people found out at Ormeau it didn’t go down very well. Alright?”

Finn blinked, absorbing the intensity of her words. Then he crossed his heart. “I swear. Nobody will hear it from me.”

Tiredly, she bobbed her head, taking another calming breath. “I’m gay,” she said simply.

He looked confused for a moment, as if waiting for something more. Then he just smiled. “Alright. Well you could’ve told me that sooner. I feel really stupid now.”

This time Bonnie was the one blinking confusedly. “That’s it? You’re not…” she waved a hand, searching for the right term. “Disgusted?”

He snorted. “No, why would I be? Wait. Why didn’t it go over well in Ormeau? Are they narrow-minded simpletons?”

She thought about that for a moment. “It was an all girls’ Christian school,” she muttered eventually. “Homosexuality is a sin, apparently.”

“Well they’re idiots,” he opined bluntly. “I’m sure there’re probably people here who won’t take kindly to that,” he conceded then. “There always are, right? But I don’t think you have much to worry about, Bonnie.”

“Just don’t tell anyone, alright?” she pressed.

“Sure,” Finn agreed, holding his hands up in surrender. “I hear it’s impolite to out people anyway. Don’t worry. I’m just saying; at the very least no one our age will care. I mean… Halte’s gay, did you know that?”

Bonnie could feel her expression change, becoming thoroughly incredulous. “He’s not? Seriously?”

“Yep,” Finn replied, smiling proudly. “Gay as rainbows. On a scale of one to ten, how gay are you?”

She laughed then, genuinely delighted that he was taking it with such aplomb. “About ten thousand,” she confessed. “Don’t take offence, but guys just don’t float my boat.”

He leaned across the table, lowering his voice to a whisper. “You might have a minor disagreement with Ellen on that one,” he imparted. “She thinks they’re the shit.”

Bonnie had to contain another bout of chuckles. “I’d noticed.”

“I wish you’d have told me sooner,” he lamented. “It’s not an easy thing to hear, you know, but at least if you’d said something sooner I wouldn’t have entertained any delusions.”

“Sorry,” she muttered. “But it’s kind of hard to believe anyone in a church town would be alright with it when my church school really wasn’t.”

“We are a lot more awesome though,” he admitted, proudly. “So that makes sense.” His grin turned up then, becoming huge. “Got your eyes on anyone though?”

Bonnie rolled her eyes, throat catching. “Hardly. Why? Got any pointers?”

“Yeah. Don’t go to Ellen for help. She sucks at match-making.” He rolled his lips under, thinking things through. “But,” he added. “If you decide there is a particular someone you fancy, just let me know and I’ll do some reconnaissance.” Finn patted his chest for emphasis. He seemed absolutely serious about the offer, only there was a twinkle in his eyes that suggested he might already have developed a few theories on the topic.

“Well thanks,” she replied dryly. “I’m sure that wouldn’t be awkward at all.”

Finn opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by Jake who dropped his hands onto his cousin’s shoulders and shook him. “We’re back,” Jake buzzed. “You two ready to go?”

“Hell yes,” Finn cried, shrugging away from Jake’s grasp and leaping to his feet. “Let’s blow this joint.”

Bonnie had barely taken two steps before Pippa looped their arms together. “Did you have a nice chat with Finn?” she chirped. “I bet it was more exciting than that last shop with Ellen. Jake wouldn’t stop glaring at her.”

“Sounds like a riot,” Bonnie replied wryly. “Finn’s… really determined. He doesn’t like to be told he can’t do something.”

“You get used to it.”

And she was. Bonnie was used to all of them and their quirks. Now if only she could be brave enough to share hers.

Chapter Text

Monday 21st July 2014

“Hey, nerd alert!”

Bonnie glanced over her shoulder to see Marceline pressing through the throng of students crammed into the hall. It was rather raucous for the first day back, but Bonnibel was pretty much used to this place being different than Ormeau by now. Marceline shot an exceptionally venomous death-glare at one student in the year below them and he scuttled out of her way.

“What’s wrong?” Bonnie asked when Marceline reached her side.

“Petrikov called me in to see him this morning like a real charmer,” the other girl said around her usual smirk. “He said he’s going to have you tutor me again to see if I can repeat last semester’s results. Are you up for that?”

Bonnibel sighed heavily. “Oh gee, I don’t know, Marceline. That’s such a huge ask. You might persuade me if you’re lucky.” She couldn’t stop from smiling then. “Same deal as last semester?”

Marceline’s smirk morphed into that wonderful grin she wore only rarely. “You’re the best. Tell you what, this weekend you can come out to the Café with me because Ivy finally agreed to let me perform.”

She really wanted to say ‘yes’ to that, but her face crumpled. “I can’t,” she groaned. “I promised Pippa I’d help her with Ellen’s surprise party preparation rubbish. I’m on cake duty. But I promise I’ll come out another weekend to watch, alright?”

“I’ll hold you to that, dork,” Marceline said, still beaming.

“Count on it.”

“See you in second.”

Marceline dashed off into the crowd again, heading for her physics classroom. Penelope was nowhere to be seen but there wasn’t long until the bell rang for classes to start and Bonnie didn’t want to be late. She slithered around the outside of the horde of students, hugging the wall until she reached the corridor she was after and ducked into her history room. Several of her classmates were already there, waiting, perched on top of desks, chatting about their holidays. Pippa was still missing.

Bonnibel collapsed into her usual seat right near the back of the classroom against the window. This particular class was held on the second floor and sat along the edge of the school grounds so the view was of the green patchwork farmlands on the outskirts of Reich. On a clear winter’s day like this one, it was a pretty impressive sight. As if thinking about the season were a cue, she shivered, pulling her sleeves down over her fingers, legs bouncing as she waited.

“Hey.” Pippa’s enthusiastic greeting sounded at her elbow and she jumped, spinning in her seat.

“Holy shit, Pip,” she gasped. “You scared me.”

Her friend laughed. “You have definitely been hanging out with Marceline too much. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you curse before.” And as Pippa slouched into the space beside her, Bonnie noticed another person.

She leaned forward to facilitate her curious staring. “Uh… hi,” Bonnie said to the other girl. A girl with orange hair in a pixie cut reminding Bonnie of a carrot, big amber eyes, freckled ivory skin and a double breasted almost militarian jacket with a stiff collar. The coat was a deep shade of red with brilliant crimson piping and cuffs. Bonnie’s head fell to one side as she took all of this in.

“Oh right,” Pippa blurted, waking up from whatever place she’d been in. “This is Hayden McKenna. She moved here last week with her dad.” She turned in her spot to face Hayden. “This is Bonnibel Banner, one of my good friends. She’s new here too… sort of.”

Hayden smiled, adorable little dimples appearing in her cheeks. “Hey,” she said, throwing a hand out in front of Pippa. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, likewise,” Bonnie muttered. “Cool jacket.”

“Thanks. My dad got it for me; he’s pretty strict and likes to think that a formal-ish dress code will imprint his totalitarian view point on me.” She rolled her eyes to show what she thought of that. “He’s a fireman.”

Bonnie’s mouth made an ‘o’ shape. “Right yeah, because we’re under Blackwater regulations yes?” Her eyes glanced to Pippa for a conformation nod. “So we have our own fire department now?”

“No,” Hayden laughed. “Now you have my dad and his one truck. I suppose he’ll get underlings to boss around at some point.” She shrugged. “He’d like that.”

“He sounds like a great guy,” Bonnie murmured wryly.

“He’s harsh, but he’s my dad, you know?”

“Yeah,” she agreed in a whisper. “Family is important.”

“What about your family?” Hayden asked, pulling books from her bag. “Did you move here with them? I can’t really imagine why anyone would want to move here, but that’s coming from me so what do I know?”

Bonnie could only offer a pallid smile. “I moved in six months ago with my uncle who already lived here.”

Unlike other people who had gone on to ask who or what she’d left behind, Hayden took one look at her face and nodded. The topic wasn’t revisited. Bonnie could only say she was glad for it.

The teacher swept in then, cutting off further conversation and Bonnibel was glad for that too.

 


 

Marceline blinked at the second redhead. Two. There were two of them now. They were multiplying or something and Marceline had no idea how that had happened. Sure, this new ginger had much shorter hair of a colour slightly more closely related to blonde than Bonnibel’s vibrant rust. Also the new one was a good two or three inches taller than Bonnibel (so she was just a little bit shorter than Finn). That… Yeah that didn’t alleviate her confusion any though.

She watched as Bonnie and Finn spoke to the girl quickly, trying to fit in some hugely lengthy conversation between classes. Then Finn and the girl headed off down the corridor (Finn’s face lighting up like a stop signal). Bonnie spun back – grinning widely – bumping her shoulder into Marceline’s before wandering off down the hall in the other direction.

It took her a moment to realise that Marceline wasn’t following her. She was still staring after the new ginger, jaw slack.

“You think she’s fine, hey, Abadeer,” Bonnie teased, prodding her ribs. “Are you going to ask her out or what?”

That brought reality crashing back down around her. “What? No. Why would I ask her out?” There was a funny little expression that danced across Bonnibel’s face then. It looked like… disappointment or… resignation. Maybe an unhappy marriage of them both. “If I was going to ask a girl out, I’d like to know her a little bit better, thank you very much. I’m not a tart.”

The expression vaporised and Bonnie started laughing. “That’s not what Ellen says,” she wheedled.

Marceline snorted. “Like Ellen would know. She’s never spent enough time with me.”

“She does know all about being a tart though,” Bonnibel said innocently.

It made Marceline stop and turn, peering up at her friend. “Did you seriously just say that? Really?”

Bonnie sucked her lips between her teeth and shrugged. “What?”

Marceline laughed. “You’re good value for money, Banner. What’s the new girl like?”

“Oh yeah, we have a new girl!” Bonnie exclaimed as though Marceline didn’t already know. “She’s alright. I think you’d probably like her. She doesn’t pry and she’s funny. It’s dark humour, so you’d probably get a kick out of it. A little bit stand-offish, but that could just be because she’s new.”

“She sounds delightful. Have you and your motley crew adopted her then?”

“It seems that way. Between us she won’t be alone in any of her classes at least, so I imagine we’ll just…” she mimed pulling something towards her chest and hugging it. “Absorb her or whatever. You have art with her.”

Marceline’s eyebrows shot up as she settled onto the grass behind the music building. It was really cold outside in winter, but the block of rooms cut the wind so it wasn’t as bad. “How the hell do you know that? Are you stalking me?”

Bonnibel winked, grinning, pulling her maths homework out. “She’s in Pip’s class. Since you and Pippa have art together…”

“Yeah, yeah. You used the power of deduction,” Marceline grumbled, waving her hand. “Put your triumphant face away would you.”

“At risk of sounding like someone you loathe,” Bonnie muttered a few minutes later. “At least speak to her once.”

Surprising herself, Marceline grinned wickedly and said, “You know what? I just might do that.”

 

-*…*…*-

 

Marceline didn’t have art until last period on Tuesday. She did, however, find herself walking into the new girl on her way to her usual spot at lunch. Literally bumping into her, too, not just figuratively.

“Sorry,” the girl spluttered, throwing a hand out to help Marceline keep her balance. “Totally my bad, I wasn’t paying attention.”

“No worries,” Marceline told her, smiling a little in a vain attempt to be less prickly. “It’s a blind corner. You lack a babysitter,” she noted then. “Didn’t you just have a class with Finn?”

The girl’s tawny eyes went wide. Then narrowed suspiciously. “You’re not following me weirdly are you?” she asked in a strangely scary voice.

“My god, no,” Marceline laughed. “Um… It’s a small town? Also I’m friends with Bonnibel. The other redhead.”

“Oh! Sorry, yes I remember seeing you with her before,” she said, face going a shade to match her hair. “I’m Hayden.”

“Marceline,” she replied.

Hayden nodded. “Finn mentioned you. He said you have a reputation for getting into trouble, not doing your homework and generally being a bad influence on people. I think he secretly likes you though.”

Marceline’s smile was genuine then. “All of that is true… Except maybe for Finn liking me. Pretty sure he can’t stand how much time I spend with Bonnie.”

“Does he like her or something?” Hayden asked conspiratorially.

“No idea. He’s impossible to pin down. Bonnie has shown a whole zero interest in him though so… who even knows? I don’t want to get involved. But if you’ll let me impart a little advice of my own?”

“Shoot.”

“Be very nice to Eleanor,” she stage whispered. “I don’t know if you’ll have classes with her, but she hangs out with Bonnie, Finn and Co all the time. But if you’re nice to her, you won’t have to worry about her spreading nasty rumours. Take it from someone who knows.”

Hayden nodded sagely. “Got it. High school gossips are dangerous.”

“Amen.”

“Anyone else I should watch out for?”

“Nah, I think you’re good.”

Hayden winked. “Thanks. I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah. Apparently we have art together, so I’ll see you tomorrow for sure.”

The new girl chuckled lowly. “Are you sure you’re not a stalker?”

Marceline clapped her hands to her sternum. “Oh alright, you caught me. No, Bonnie’s the stalker. I heard from her.”

Hayden waved. “See you around.”

After a moment of thinking about that, Marceline turned and headed for her spot on the wall in the courtyard. She leaned against the bricks behind her, pulling out her lunch and some reading material. Keila would normally sit with her, but she wasn’t at school today. According to the text Marceline had received the previous night, she’d finally caught the seasonal flu and was holed up in bed with lots of blankets.

And – Marceline had to admit, grudgingly – Bonnie had been right. As usual. Hayden wasn’t so bad.

Chapter Text

Saturday 2nd August 2014

The hollow emptiness of the church seemed sort of threatening. Bonnie did not like this feeling even a little bit. It was kind of like an invasion of something sacred and peaceful. She wished she could identify why this particular inanition bothered her so much but she couldn’t put a finger on it. Like an itch in that spot between her shoulder blades that she couldn’t quite reach no matter how she twisted.

Her footsteps sounded funny in the quiet… too big. Hesitantly, Bonnie stuck her head in the side room, wondering if maybe someone was here. It was Marceline she was searching for, but Hansen would probably be able to point her in the right direction.

The storage room was empty. The bathrooms around the side were silent and nobody was lurking under the stained glass windows behind the pillars. There was not a soul to be seen. She supposed that wasn’t such a surprise, Marceline avoided the church like the plague, but her house was dark and she wasn’t answering her phone so where else was she meant to look?

Something clattered loudly behind the altar.

Bonnibel whirled on one heel so fast she should probably be worried about whiplash. And she blinked. A candle was the offending object and it was currently being replaced on the table pressed against the back wall by a tall man dressed all in black. An inexplicable shiver tingled across her shoulders and raced down her spine.

He turned, deep green eyes peering at her from sunken sockets, rimmed in shadows that stood out on his pale complexion. His face was gaunt, with high cheekbones that didn’t help his eye sockets look anything other than cavernous. Thin lips and an angular nose, slender and hooked, made him look like some subterranean creature that preyed on small furred mammals and the innocent dreams of children.

This time, Bonnie knew precisely why she trembled. He blinked at her, the fabric of his tailored black suit whispering as he rotated somewhat stiffly to regard her front on. The drawn, narrow shape to his face was carried through the rest of his body, she noted. The man was painfully skinny, the kind of lanky that almost seemed emaciated. Bonnibel probably would’ve been worried for his health if he didn’t give off a rather pungent creepy vibe.

“Hello,” he rasped in a scratchy voice, reminisce of a snake slithering through dry grass. Literally everything about this guy screamed crazy weird. She should probably leave but found her feet were rooted to the spot. “I don’t mean to sound impolite,” he went on. “But who are you?”

Her brain didn’t want to answer. “Bonnibel,” slipped out huskily anyway. “Banner.”

His slit of a mouth tilted upwards in the vague semblance of a smile. It didn’t touch his eyes. “Mortimer Wight,” he introduced himself. “I’m a deacon from Blackwater. I have business with the preacher here, do you know his whereabouts?”

She shook her head slightly, afraid to speak. Afraid she wouldn’t be able to.

He sighed, a gloved hand shifting at his side, fiddling with a pocket in his pants. “And what are you doing in the church on a Saturday?” he asked her. “Shouldn’t you be out with your friends? Or studying?”

Bonnie’s throat worked, trying to force moisture into her mouth. “I… I was looking for the preacher’s daughter.” She couldn’t say any more, she wanted to lie to him. But she didn’t think he’d believe her.

Mortimer did not appear to be blinking. She added that to the things about him that made her anxious. They stood there for a very long and very awkward two minutes. He did not appear to move, or fidget, every last motion was controlled and eerie. He simply stared at her and she stared back; he with an impassive face and a seemingly infinite supply of patience, she with a growing sense of uncontrollable unease and a mad desire to run as far away from him as she could get.

The door opened behind her.

His deep eyes flicked up and – finally – he blinked. That wispy not-really-a-smile curved his pitiful excuse for lips once more. As if by looking away, Bonnie was released from a spell, she slumped, relaxing somewhat (but still burning with the strangeness Mortimer exuded). She turned to see who had opened the door and was unbelievably happy to see Marceline framed by the doors.

“Hey,” she said quietly, sizing Mortimer up, brows furrowed. “I got your text. Do you want to go now?”

Before Bonnie could reply with a relieved affirmative, Mortimer whispered into the silence. “Where is your father?” The words carried across the massive room even though he’d put little effort into projecting himself.

Marceline’s frown intensified. “He’s in town,” she replied waspishly. “He’ll be along in about half an hour.” Her fingers twitched and Bonnie knew what she meant, hastening towards her friend. With one last glare at the emotionless deacon, Marceline pulled the doors closed again, looking Bonnie up and down as if expecting to find her injured. “I see you met the deacon. Such a pleasant fellow.” Her mouth twisted into a wry parody of her usual smirk.

“He’s kind of creepy,” Bonnie murmured. “Does he visit often?”

“Thankfully, no,” Marceline replied, smiling at her properly now. “He comes by to give sermons occasionally and scare the general populace into following the Bible’s strict regulations. You know; the usual stuff. Love thy neighbour, don’t kill folks, do your homework. Pretty boring. He is really weird though. He’s got all these funny little nit-picks that he makes sure to remind us of. He hates alcohol and lies and gays and people who are famous for doing nothing and politics. He’s hard to please. You alright?”

Obviously Marceline had noticed the way Bonnie collapsed into herself when she started listing all the things Mortimer took offence to. “Yeah,” she breathed, forcing a grin. “I’m good. How much of an influence does he have on the town?”

She shrugged. “None when he isn’t here. People only pay attention to him while he’s around because they’re afraid he’ll excommunicate them or condemn their eternal souls to fiery oblivion. Dad buys into a lot of his gibberish though.”

Bonnibel rolled her eyes. “But you don’t?”

Marceline scoffed. “Please, no. The man is freakishly strange. Like I’d listen to a word he says. I don’t put stock in the words of weirdoes.”

“You listen to me.”

“You’re a good weird. He’s a creep.” She paused. Then, “Do you really want me to come to Eleanor’s birthday shindig. It’ll piss her off, you know.”

Bonnie just smiled brighter, hoping to banish the lingering shadows Mortimer had cast over her life. “She’ll have to deal with it. I’m going to watch you perform tonight and this is much more convenient. Besides,” she added, taking a bold leap and linking her arm through Marceline’s. “You should get out more.”

Marceline burst out laughing. But she didn’t pull away.

 


 

Seriously. Eleanor’s house was massive and it was with apprehension and a little bit of vicious anticipation that Marceline stood on her impossibly green lawn staring up at all three storeys of it. The exterior was completely undecorated, but Bonnibel had assured her that the inside was dressed to the nines. She’d said something about how everyone needed to have an overly extreme sixteenth birthday and that Eleanor’s words would bite her on the butt one day. Marceline didn’t understand a word of it, but the look on Bonnie’s face was funny.

“We’re late,” Marceline noted, eyeing the cars in the drive.

“It’s a surprise party, Marceline,” Bonnibel told her primly. “It doesn’t matter when we show up.” Then Bonnie dragged her by her arm (still linked together) up the yard. “Plus I don’t think Ellen will mind.”

Marceline pouted. She tried to come up with a more dignified term for the expression, but ‘pout’ was the only thing that fit. “I didn’t get her a present,” she complained.

“Is the pleasure of your scathing company not enough?” her friend asked sweetly.

“I doubt it will be for Eleanor,” Marceline remarked dryly. “No matter what you might think to the contrary.”

“You’re so self-depreciating,” Bonnie grumbled, hauling her inside the house. “One day you’re going to realise that you’re not an idiot with no hopes or prospects and I’m going to be there when it happens. No. Better. I’m going to be the one who convinces you of it.”

Before Marceline had a chance to say something witty in response to that, she was assaulted by the whole… party… thing. Eleanor’s house was that kind of chic modern type style that’s seen in home decoration magazines. With all the pastel things and the square-ish furniture and those funny little metal things hanging from the wall that are meant to look like art but really just make her head spin. It was surprisingly minimalistic in the living area (although there was nothing Spartan about the gigantic flat-screen hanging from one wall), but Marceline suspected the word Eleanor would prefer was ‘refined’.

“Bonnie!” Eleanor stuck her head into the entrance hall, her hair strung with purple streamers and glitter. “What took you so long?” Her eyes glazed slightly then when she noticed Marceline. “And why did you bring her with?”

Bonnibel laughed. “My birthday present to you, Ellen,” she proclaimed. “Marceline will be civil with you.”

Marceline squawked. “Hey!”

Eleanor on the other hand, looked positively tickled by the notion. “I’d like to see that,” she chuckled. “Get in here, anyway. There’s food in the kitchen and Pippa’s making me open all my presents.”

Bonnie finally slipped her arm out of Marceline’s and beamed at her. “Since you’re so anti-social, I won’t make you participate. But try not to be too intimidating, for me?”

“Sure,” she replied with a smirk and a calculated eye roll. “Do you want a drink or something?”

“Look at you being all nice and things,” Bonnibel laughed. “Sure, so long as you’re offering. I’ll save you some cake.” Then she winked and vanished into the living room. Marceline was left staring after her in complete bafflement.

She stepped slowly past the wide open arch leading to the living room, watching silently as the people interacted loudly. Since the house was open plan, there wasn’t much chance she could hide with any amount of success, more’s the pity. She lamented this as she headed for the kitchen.

“Marceline,” Penelope cried, delight obvious in her tone. “I didn’t know you were coming. How are you?”

She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes again. “Bonnie dragged me with,” she mumbled. “And I’m fine, I guess. I like Saturdays.”

Pippa bumped her fist against Marceline’s shoulder on the way out of the kitchen. “You better stay for the cake at least,” she chided happily. “It’s got strawberry filling if that means anything to you.” She was gone then, but Marceline could only blink after her. These people were so weird.

Grumbling about it, she stuck her head in the fridge to dig up a drink. It was stocked with cans of soft drink and nothing else. Oh wait, there were some water bottles hiding in the back. Bonnie being Bonnie, she wouldn’t drink anything but that so she grabbed one around the neck and a can with an unfamiliar but promising mauve label for herself.

Tentatively she headed back towards the living room. Cheering erupted as she froze in the doorway, worried that they were screaming excitedly at her. They weren’t. When she peeked around so she could see the whole room, it was Eleanor they were clapping. She had just opened a box that had exploded in her face, confetti in the shape of some rather nasty things floating down around her and settling in her hair. She threw the box – and its remaining wisps of paper – at Melissa who only laughed harder.

Bonnibel was seated on a cushion by the door; Pippa sprawled out on the floor beside her with Jake. Marceline couldn’t see Finn, but the new girl – Hayden – was hunched awkwardly on Bonnie’s other side, trying not to look like this whole thing didn’t overwhelm her. Marceline could relate. Eleanor was pretty over the top.

“Pst,” she hissed at Bonnie. Her friend looked up and grinned, smile taking up her whole face and then some. “Catch,” she muttered, tossing the water bottle at her underarm. Surprisingly, Bonnibel was pretty well coordinated and snatched the bottle one handed out of the air just before it hit Pippa in the side of the head. ‘Sorry,’ Marceline mouthed, retreating back into the kitchen.

She slid up onto the counter, popping the ring pull on her can. The sooner this was over, the better. That was her assessment, and she wasn’t wrong.

True to her word, Bonnie didn’t force her to get involved in any way. But Pippa did. The persistent blonde simply waltzed into the kitchen, grabbed her sleeve and tugged her off the bench and back into the lounge. Whereupon, she placed hands on Marceline’s shoulders and shoved her into a rather uncomfortable seated position beside Bonnie.

Marceline weathered the whole incident with wide eyes and a stunned expression. Pippa – now without a spot since Marceline had hers – flopped onto Jake’s lap and acted as if nothing had happened. Marceline turned her eyes up at Bonnibel, spluttering wordlessly in an attempt to ask what had just happened.

Bonnie smiled apologetically at her, patting her shoulder. She sighed; feeling like this was going horribly wrong. Marceline resolved to stay out of any more similar situations and remained glued to Bonnie for the duration. She figured there was less chance of being shanghaied into something that way.

Over the years, Marceline had perfected the art of glowering. It was a skill she wielded expertly as people attempted to speak to her. It took another hour before the cake was pulled out and she was of the impatient opinion that she should leave now.

“Bonnie,” she whined for the thousandth time, plucking at her friend’s sleeve. “Can we go now? Please? I can’t put up with Eleanor for another minute.”

Bonnibel snorted. “Cool your jets. We’ll go in a little bit.”

Marceline huffed right back at her, folding her arms petulantly. She wondered if there was some sort of conspiracy going on here. Perhaps… Perhaps she jinxed herself.

“Marceline,” Eleanor cried in a much too delighted tone to be real. “Enjoying yourself?”

She pulled a dusty smile from her pocket and slipped it on, hoping it fooled the incorrigible gossip. “Of course, it’s great,” Marceline told her. She kept her eyes wide, praying she looked at least innocent enough to be believed. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks. Did you get cake?”

Naturally Eleanor would want to push the conversation. “No, but Bonnie said she’d wrap a slice for me. I’m not really hungry and if my dad knows I ate before dinner he’ll be in a grouch for the rest of the day.” Not that she needed to know any of that.

“Sure, yeah. We’re going to play Bullshit,” Eleanor chittered. “Are you going to join in?”

Marceline cast a pleading look over Eleanor’s shoulder at Bonnie who just smiled her adorable smile and blinked at her. “Much as I’d love to,” she said as pleasantly as she could manage. “I’m not sure it would be fair to play against amateurs.” That probably decimated her ‘be nice’ thing.

Bonnibel finally intervened. “Yeah,” she said, sliding in beside Marceline. “And I have to go, so… We’re just going to head on out.” She snatched Marceline’s wrist and flashed a grin at Eleanor. Bonnie dragged her (still caught somewhere between bewildered and grumpy) through the house. “Enjoy the rest of your party.”

Once they made it outside, Marceline heaved a deep sigh of relief. “That sucked,” she exhaled. “You owe me big time, Banner.”

She got a sly smile for that. “Sure,” Bonnie said wryly. “You let me know when you want to call in that favour. In the meant time, let’s go, huh?”

Marceline exhaled, almost happy. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.”

 


 

It was unnaturally quiet in the car and Bonnie didn’t like it. She was used to there being some sort of rock music blaring from the speakers, or some eclectic mixed collection of songs pumping through her auxiliary cable. But not today.

“Is there an album I can put in?” Bonnie wondered aloud, rummaging through the glove compartment.

Marceline nodded. “Should be one in there. I don’t know what it is though, Keila was the last person to drive anywhere with me and she has this habit of putting a ‘mystery’ disc in before she leaves. Keeps me on my toes.”

“Sure,” Bonnie muttered. She could see Keila doing exactly that. She pulled her hands out of their sleeves (because even with the heater on it was cold in the old car) and fiddled with the buttons. It took her a moment – it always did – before she got sounds to sputter alive. And when they did, she had to bite down on a smile. “Avril Lavigne?” she asked, eyebrows shooting into her hairline. “Really? I would not have picked you as a fan.”

Marceline hunched over the wheel. “She’s pretty good,” she grumbled. “Lots of emotion in some of her stuff and lots of rock. Gotta appreciate the girl’s ability to rock, yeah?”

Bonnie smiled. “Fair enough.” And she really could only agree and hum along softly to the songs. Out of the corner of her eye, Marceline had this little quirk to the corner of her mouth; an almost-smile.

As was the norm, the rest of the drive out to the Café will filled mostly with quiet conversation and the occasional string of lyrics. Also as usual, Marceline always seemed surprised when Bonnibel knew the words to one song or another. But it was generally a pleasant – seeming – surprise and typically earned a crooked smile.

“Have you and Keila spent much time together lately,” Bonnie whispered into the car as they turned off the highway towards the café. It probably was no good to ask, but Marceline’s earlier comment had gotten her wondering.

Marceline’s hands wrung the steering wheel, carefully bottled emotion evident in her posture. “Not as much as we used to,” she reluctantly confided. “I mean, I know I should be the supportive best friend and all with this boyfriend thing, but I just…” She glared out the windscreen.

Bonnie glanced over. “You miss her. I get that. I was just wondering if she was going to be here this afternoon.” She paused, then added, “And I wouldn’t suggest it, but you’re really mopey about it so I’ll give you just one word: sabotage.”

And with that, Marceline beamed, shooting her a roguish look. “Oh, yes, you’re a lot more devious than you let on, hey, Banner? You want me to meddle in my friend’s relationship with the intention of breaking them up? That’s cruel. Not even I could do that.”

“Just a thought, what you take from my Word of the Day is entirely up to you,” Bonnibel shrugged, doing her best to look innocent. “Keila’s car’s not here,” she noted as they pulled into the lot. “So she’s not coming?”

Marceline shook her head, the smile frozen, turning melancholy. “No. She said she had to study today to make up for how much time she’d lost or something. Then I think she said she was going to the movies.”

“Her loss. So is dinner on you tonight then?” Bonnie stared at her, wondering what Marceline would take from that. She often had the weirdest reactions to Bonnie’s comments.

This time it was pink creeping across her face that was the only outward response. “I-If you want… I guess?”

She laughed. “I’m kidding. Since you’re being so generous and opening up with the sharing of things, I think I’ll buy you dinner.”

Marceline made a strangled sound. “It’s no big deal,” she rasped, the pink in her face darkening. “I’ll eat when I get home.”

Bonnie clucked her tongue as the car ground to a halt. “Nonsense.” Marceline took a little longer to get out than usual, but once she’d joined Bonnie and they were heading for the Café, she relaxed. Just a little. “It’ll be nice.”

Marceline blew out a big gust of air, holding the door open for Bonnie, lips pressed tightly together as if she thought that would prevent words from falling out. Obviously, keeping her mouth shut was preventing her from speaking, but Marceline often suffered from the worst cases of word salad known to man. This time she resisted the urge to barf whatever she was trying so desperately to keep trapped behind her teeth.

“Marceline!” Ivy cried, shuffling over to them. “And Bonnibel. This is wonderful; it’s good to see you, dear. I didn’t expect Marceline to bring someone with her.”

“She’s a pest,” Marceline grouched between gritted teeth. “She made me bring her.”

“Don’t be such a sour-puss, Marceline,” Bonnie said, allowing Ivy to envelope her in a warm hug. “You’re always on about how music is your life and it’s high time I got to witness it firsthand.”

When Ivy released Bonnie to greet Marceline in a similar fashion, the older lady did the most surprising thing. She slapped Marceline on the shoulder and glared. “Do you see that?” she asked, eyebrows arched, demanding. “She thinks you’re good at music too. Let her be nice.”

Bonnie was going to say something about how she wasn’t entirely convinced Marceline was good at music just yet, but when she saw the look on her friend’s face she closed her mouth. It was the strangest play of emotions she’d ever seen; part confusion, part doubt, part wonder. Then Marceline scowled and the moment was over.

She brushed past Ivy with a brusque, “We’ll see about that. Nobody really believes it’s a worthwhile investment you know?”

Ivy glanced at Bonnie as if expecting some sort of back-up. Bonnibel could only splay her hands and shrug, a ‘what can I do’ gesture if ever there was one. The woman sighed and headed back to the counter with Bonnie trailing silently, casting worried glances at Marceline.

“Are you staying for dinner, dear?” Ivy enquired in a much more temperate tone.

“Yes, we’ll be eating here tonight, Ivy,” she replied, sliding up onto a stool. “Can I ask why you’ve never let her perform before? You say she’s good, right?”

Ivy bobbed her grey head absently. “Oh yes, she and Keila have been practicing their music for years. They use Louis’s garage and I live next door. I’ve been hearing music pouring from the Amsel’s household since they were anklebiters.”

Bonnibel blinked, taking a moment to place the name. Louis… Amsel…? Oh yes, Keila’s mother. “Then why not let them play before?” she pressed.

“Rock music isn’t something I’d generally like in my café, dear,” she said with a chuckle and an eye roll. “I agreed to let Marceline play on the condition that she didn’t blow anyone’s ears out. Mellow is what I stressed.”

“I bet that was grudging compliance,” Bonnie muttered, swinging her chair around to watch as Marceline settled herself at the piano in the corner. “Where’s the piano from?”

Ivy waved a hand in the air. “My late husband played. I could never throw it away.”

One of the few other people in the café stood from his table and wandered over, ordering something from Ivy. Bonnie slid a menu over the countertop and mused through the offerings even though she knew they’d both get the same thing they always did. Her concentration focused maybe seventy percent on that, while the rest of her watched Marceline. All one hundred percent of her snapped to attention when Marceline put her fingers to the keys, however.

Her jaw dropped.

She’d heard the other girl pluck chords on one of her assorted guitars on numerous occasions, but she’d never actually heard her play. It was mesmerising the way the room filled with the soft notes. The menu whispered to the bench, forgotten. Marceline didn’t sing along with it, simply allowed her fingers to dance across the ivory, a string of sounds echoing forth in possibly the most beautiful melody Bonnibel had ever heard. It almost sounded classical… but… this was Marceline.

Her whole body swayed as she played, eyes closed. She didn’t have any sheet music, Bonnie realised. Ivy appeared beside her then but she didn’t notice until the lady spoke.

“She’s good, yes?”

Bonnie nodded. “Wow. Who knew?”

Ivy let a secret smile flicker across her face and pushed a glass of water at Bonnibel. The question didn’t need an answer. Not many people were aware of this particular side of Marceline, evidently.

It was so easy to get lost in watching Marceline perform. She faded in and out of songs, some Bonnie knew and some she didn’t, but her fingers rarely stilled. Not once did she sing along to what she was playing, but on the odd occasion, the lyrics filled Bonnibel’s mind without so much as a thought. So thoroughly engrossed she became that she didn’t realise the time until her watch beeped at her.

She glanced down. Four-forty-five, it read. It was set at the same time every day so they had a fifteen minute warning during the week before Marceline’s compulsory two hour study sessions were done. As if she’d been waiting for that exact signal, the final notes trilled, wobbled, faded and Marceline closed the piano.

With a tiny little smile, Marceline strode over and slumped onto the stool beside Bonnie. It was uncertainty that was etched into the line of her shoulders and the way her face kept trying to frown. She glanced once at Bonnie, the hesitance loud and clear, and then snatched the glass of water Ivy set down as if glad to have something to do with her hands.

“That’s was awesome,” Bonnie breathed. “I am definitely coming to watch more often.”

Marceline’s face exploded into a grin. “Yeah?”

“Definitely. You do the unexpected so well that I can’t begin to imagine how mind-blowing it must be when you play something rock and roll.” Bonnie’s comment was carefully offhand, but elicited the desired response.

Marceline went red again and Ivy started laughing. “Seems like you made quite the impression. Next Saturday is Trivia Night,” Ivy told her around her cackles. “We often have karaoke too, it’s necessary on the evening before our dear deacon gives his sermon.”

“Yeah,” Marceline growled. “And then we all spend Sunday thinking on our sins and generally feeling lousy about ourselves.”

“Isn’t there a pub in town,” Bonnie wondered. “Why do you have it out here?”

Ivy smiled again. “We don’t have a liquor license here at the Café,” she said. “So all the underage kids come out here to enjoy themselves. My point was, if you want to watch Marceline rock then next week is probably your best bet.”

Marceline muttered something then but Bonnie didn’t catch it. Ivy clearly did and it made her smile widen. Bonnibel just blinked.

“So you’re going to let her do something… louder?” she asked, just to make sure.

“Of course,” Ivy concurred. “But only on Trivia Night.”

At that, Marceline beamed. “Sweet. Can we eat now?”

“I took the liberty of making your usual,” Ivy replied happily. She pottered off to get their plates. She muttered to herself the whole way.

Marceline twitched, fingers playing with the corner of a napkin. Her mouth opened a few times but nothing came out. Eventually, Bonnie grabbed her hand (mostly to stop her fidgeting). “You’re really good, Marceline,” she said. “And I swear I’m not just saying that.”

As if those words were what she’d been waiting for, Marceline slumped, relief now plain on her face. “Seriously though?”

Bonnie could only smile at her. “Seriously.” She nudged Marceline’s shoulder with hers. “We should do this more often. I don’t mind letting you off some afternoons early if you promise to play for me.”

“Uh…” Marceline slurred ever so eloquently. “Are you for real right now?”

“Absolutely. I’d never have expected you to be able to pull off classical…ish as well as you do. You never know, if academia turns out not to be for you, showbiz seems like the logical alternative.” She nodded, lidding her eyes, trying her best to look serious. When a smile crawled across her face though Bonnie knew it hadn’t worked.

Although Marceline smiled so brightly she could’ve outshined the sun. “You’re not so bad, Banner. For a nerd.”

She laughed. “And for someone so irritating, you’re not so bad yourself.”

When Ivy chased them out an hour later they were both still grinning. As they sang their way back home Bonnie found herself hoping this became a weekly thing.

Chapter Text

Friday 8th August 2014

When Marceline stopped overthinking stuff, it was sort of amusing how easily things came to her. Mathematics for instance. Usually, she was so very stubborn in her idiocy and blatant mistakes. But then on this particular day, Bonnie ended up trying – mostly in vain, it should be noted – to explain a concept to Finn. And when she looked over to check that Marceline wasn’t having too hard a time, discovered that not only was she just about finished with the work, she’d gotten pretty much all of the questions right.

It no longer surprised her, not truly, that Marceline was so secretly smart. But she couldn’t help the smile every time the other girl did something no one else would’ve anticipated. Sometimes it was nice to be proven wrong.

She pointed to one of the sums Marceline had gone wrong with, waiting to see if she realised her mistake. Marceline blinked at the page for a minute, frowning at the lines of numbers, then she sighed, grinning. Her pen skittered across the page as she corrected it.

“That was stupid,” she chuckled. “Cheers.”

“Better?” Finn asked, prompting her to look back over at him. The sum in question had been rewritten twice and Bonnie really hoped he’d gotten it this time. He stared at her hopefully.

“Yep,” she said slowly. “Looks like you fixed it. You just multiplied this number out in the wrong way. Brackets go first.”

He twisted his mouth into a funny shape and sighed. “Yeah. Maths is definitely not my strongest suit.” Finn leaned forward, peering around Bonnie then, frowning at Marceline’s book. “She’s not working,” he whispered.

“She’s finished,” Bonnie replied in the same conspiracy-esque tone. She smiled.

His mouth made an ‘o’ shape and he brightened. “That’s alright then.” Finn didn’t lean back out straight away; in fact, it looked like he was going to say something more. He didn’t. She watched him for a moment just in case he did decide to add whatever was going through his mind, but Finn maintained his silence.

“Hey,” Marceline said softly, jabbing her in the shoulder. Bonnie turned to fix her with a glare and rubbed pointedly at her arm. “Can I come over to your place today? To study, I mean. Dad has a meeting of some sort pencilled onto our kitchen calendar and I don’t like being there when people come over. They look at me funny.”

At the pained look on Marceline’s face, Bonnibel couldn’t help but grin. “Sure. If you want. Driving?”

Marceline shook her head. “Nope, I walked this morning. The car has decided it’s too cold to be running around everywhere and won’t start. Bastard.”

“Fair enough.”

There was quiet for a long time after that. Finn didn’t let it last until the end of the lesson, however. He shuffled his chair a little closer to Bonnie. “It’s Hayden’s birthday tomorrow,” he whispered.

“And?” Bonnie murmured back. “How do we know this? Did Pippa stalk her records too?”

His face flushed slightly. “I don’t think so. It’s in her diary.”

She smiled darkly at him. “Why were you reading her diary, Finn?”

Finn’s flush turned such a brilliant shade of red it almost didn’t look real. “It’s not… I didn’t… she was… writing down her homework and I just… oh my god.” He had to look away then, trying to calm down.

Bonnie laughed at his flustered expression. “Relax. Why are you telling me this?”

He shrugged, the colour draining slowly from his cheeks. “I found out yesterday and I figured we should do something to celebrate. It would make Ellen happy.”

“Would it make you happy, too, Finn?” Marceline chimed in, still staring at her book.

Finn’s blush reappeared. “Everyone should do something on their birthday,” he grumbled.

“Why don’t we just go to Blackwater and see a movie then,” Bonnibel suggested. “Nice and simple.”

He sighed heavily. “Alright. Should I get her a present?”

“If you want.”

“Are you getting her a present?”

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Will it be weird?”

“Depends what you get her.”

Finn dropped his head to the desk. “I give up. Girls are really hard. Can’t you help me out?”

She smiled sadly at him. “Goes a little against Girl Code, I’m afraid,” she consoled.

He arched an eyebrow. “Even for you?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “Even for me. Just because my position in the ranks is a little different, doesn’t mean I’m allowed to impart the secrets of the Order.”

He exhaled again. “Sounds just like the Bro Code. Terrible. Isn’t that cheating though? For you, I mean.”

“Not really. You forget that I’m on a level playing field with others of my… persuasion.” Her gaze flicked to Marceline momentarily; worried she might overhear their coded conversation. The other girl had her earphones on now though, head bobbing to the beat.

“True, I guess. You won’t give me any pointers, though? Come on, just a little one?”

“I haven’t known her long enough,” she told him. “You’ll have to blunder through this one on your own.”

“That stinks.”

“Sorry.”

The bell rang then and Bonnie had to jab Marceline in the ribs because she didn’t hear it over her music. She blinked, orienting herself slowly. Then she smiled. They trailed Finn out into the corridor to find Hayden waiting for him.

His face exploded into a smile and her grin wasn’t anything shy of brilliant either. “Hey,” she exclaimed perhaps louder than was necessary. “Pippa picked a movie to see tomorrow. She said it’ll be good.” Hayden’s gaze drifted past Finn to take in Bonnie and Marceline. “Will you come too, Marceline?”

She shrugged. “After living through Eleanor’s party, I don’t think I can do birthdays ever again.”

“Think about it,” Hayden commanded, dragging Finn off to whatever class they had next.

Marceline lifted a hand to gesture after her absently. “It’s like… she’s another you. Far too determined for my liking. Is it a redhead thing?”

Bonnie laughed. “No, she’s just happy. She wasn’t in that good of a mood this morning.”

“It is last period,” Marceline reminded her as they set off for the library. It was way too cold to be studying outside today. “And it is Friday.”

“And her birthday is tomorrow,” Bonnie added. “I know. How about we make it through last period and I’ll let you eat dinner with us tonight.”

Marceline’s face scrunched up. “How about no?”

She lifted an eyebrow. “Peter bought a pizza oven and he’s been dying to use it, so that’s what we’re doing for dinner. But if you don’t want to…”

“Maybe I can stay for dinner,” Marceline blurted hurriedly. “I’ll get dad to pick me up after.”

“Are you sure? I’d hate to pressure you.”

Marceline bumped her shoulder. “Shut up, Banner,” she said, laughing. “Being pressured into dinner isn’t so bad. Just no tomatoes.”

 

-*…*…*-

 

“That is pretty cool,” Marceline grudgingly admitted, staring at the pizza oven on their lawn.

“Not for long,” Peter said, delighted. “Soon it’ll be really quite warm.” He set about trying to get the oven working but obviously had no idea what he was doing. If he got it started, it would be a miracle.

“Come inside and help me with the bases,” Bonnie chuckled. It was probably for the best if Peter was left to his own devices. That way if it blew up he wouldn’t catch them in the explosion. She felt bad for thinking it, but Bonnibel doubted his ability to work the oven just a little bit.

“Will he be alright?” Marceline asked, jerking her thumb back outside. “Is it… I dunno, a humanitarian crime to leave him unsupervised?”

Bonnie grinned at her, pulling the pizza bases from the cupboard. “He’ll be fine. I don’t think he’ll hurt himself. And if he does… then it’s his own fault for not reading the instruction manual.”

“Men,” Marceline muttered. She fired what she obviously hoped was a covert glance at Bonnibel then. “Are you really alright with not studying?”

“Yep. Very okay with it.” She eyed Marceline crosswise. “Are you alright with not studying?”

“Duh.” Marceline rolled her eyes. “I was just checking, dork.”

“Sure, sure.” Bonnie slid the cheese across the bench-top with a smile.

“It’s hot, girls,” Peter called. “Get your pizzas ready for the fire!”

“Your uncle is so weird,” Marceline muttered. “Do we have to eat with him?”

Bonnie chuckled. “Not if you don’t want to. We can go watch a movie in the flat if you’d like. Peter will put the news on and I never want to watch that.”

“It is depressing,” Marceline concurred. “I vote for movie on your couch.”

She nodded, sliding her now laden pizza base onto a stone slab so it could be put into the oven. “Movie it is then.” Bonnibel pulled Marceline’s onto the back of the long stone and shrugged vaguely at her bags. “Take your stuff over now and pick one for me.”

“You’d trust me to pick a movie?” Marceline asked with a sly smile and a raised eyebrow.

“Sure. And if I don’t like it, I’ll eat your pizza.”

“Touché. I’ll get a good one. Promise.” With a less obnoxious smirk and more of a pleasant grin, Marceline disappeared to collect her things and take them around to the flat.

The plate was heavy now with both pizzas on it, but Peter was kind enough to pull the back door open so she could get outside. “Where’d she go?” he asked, helping her to slip the stone into the now very hot front of the oven.

“To pick a movie,” Bonnibel explained. “She doesn’t want to watch the news.”

He flashed his teeth. “You mean she doesn’t want to eat with me, right?” Peter wiggled his eyebrows. “Bet she just would rather I wasn’t interrupting whatever bonding session you’re going to have.” He winked.

Bonnibel felt her cheeks heat. “We’re not… That’s not… No. Oh my god, Peter, no. Don’t… Just don’t.”

“Alright,” he said, smiling, holding his hands up as she closed the door. “Sheesh. You let me know when she’s ready to leave and I’ll drive her. No sense her walking through the cold at night.”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks, Peter.”

It didn’t take the oven long to cook their food but Bonnie spent that time sitting in a chair she’d dragged over. The fires inside were incredibly hot and in the chill of the evening they warmed her to her marrow quite nicely. Marceline appeared again, smiling quietly, just before they finished cooking. She had plates with her and a big round pizza slicer to cut them with.

“Ready?” she asked.

“Seems like it. Help me get them out.”

Marceline swore when the heated edge of the stone caught the side of her hand, almost dropping the mitt and subsequently, the pizzas. Bonnie tried so very hard not to, but she smiled as her friend stuck the burned skin in her mouth, eyes wide, startled. She kept swearing around her hand, Bonnibel was glad it was too muffled for her to understand.

“Can you carry the slicer?” she asked around her smile. “I have a first aid kit in my flat I can patch you up with.”

She nodded, balancing the big knife on the plates and carrying them all in one hand. Bonnibel hoped she didn’t drop them because she was liable to lose a toe. The first thing Marceline did when they got inside the flat was stick her hand under the cold tap in the kitchenette.

“Holy shit,” Marceline cried again. “That thing is freaking hot.”

“Hang on, you big baby,” Bonnie chortled. “I’ll get the antiseptic.”

Marceline glared at her. “I’m not a baby. You touch it.”

Bonnibel laid the kit out on the bench-top; she pulled Marceline’s hand from the water to look at it. The burn wasn’t so bad, sure it’d hurt, but it wasn’t as though she was going to need an amputation. There probably wouldn’t even be a scar.

“I… I don’t think I need the antiseptic, Bon,” Marceline said quietly.

“I’d rather you didn’t get an infection, thank you,” she replied tartly, drying the skin. “And the cold will help it.” She mixed some of the antiseptic with burn cream and smoothed it gently over the red.

Marceline hissed, sucking air through her teeth. “Will my thumb still work?” she asked.

“It should. If not, I suppose you can sue the stone plate people.”

“Don’t joke. I need that thumb to play music.”

“And I would be absolutely devastated if you couldn’t play anymore so stop twitching and let me put a bandage on it.”

Marceline pouted.

The burn seared above her metacarpal bone, thankfully it was away from tendons, nerves and didn’t stretch far enough along her thumb to have burned through the webbing there. The back of the hand is more durable than the palm anyway, so Marceline wouldn’t have anything to worry about. Bonnie placed a square of bandage over the area before sticking it down with medical tape. Experimentally, Marceline flexed her fingers, pulling the material taut but not peeling it free.

“Thanks, Bon,” she muttered. “What kind of care instructions do I need?”

“Try not to get it wet for about a day, after that you can take it off and run cold water on it periodically,” Bonnibel explained, packing the kit away. “Ice works too.”

“Sweet. Can I cut the pizzas or what?”

“Sure,” she called, putting the kit back in the bathroom. “Peter wants you to let him know when you’re leaving so he can drive you. He doesn’t want you walking.”

“How considerate. But I already sent my dad a text telling him I’ll call when I want him to get me. Pete doesn’t have to trouble himself.” Marceline was frowning at the slicer, pressing it into the pizza with her tongue between her teeth.

Bonnie fought back the urge to call her adorable and instead pulled glasses from the cupboard and drink from the fridge. She swallowed her desire to find out what movie Marceline had picked. It was probably something with shock factor and she didn’t want to ruin that.

When Marceline carried their plates in, Bonnie put to her, “So what are we watching?”

The other girl smiled worryingly. “Hang on and find out.”

“Did you pick something you know I’ll hate, because I am feeding you and that seems wrong to me.”

“Just wait, alright?”

“Alright.”

The movie started, opening credits rolling in. An older movie then, most new ones didn’t have opening credits. Space dust. A… oh God. A Ridley Scott film? Tom Skerritt?

Bonnie turned her eyes on Marceline. “Alien?” she deadpanned.

Marceline grinned. “You got that before the title came up. You’re good.”

“I’ve seen it before,” Bonnie replied. “It’s a classic. Definitely my favourite sci-fi horror movie.”

“You watch horror movies?” Marceline’s jaw dropped.

“Are you kidding? The genre offers so much room for creative license, science fiction is awesome. No hating, but at least Alien has some real meat to the story. ‘In space, no one can hear you scream’… Come on, that’s the best tagline. Besides, HR Giger is a genius and the cinematics in this movie are fantastic. I mean, they still had CRT displays on all their computer monitors even though it’s set sometime in the far future. And the lived-in feel? No,” Bonnie said, shaking her head as she lifted a slice of pizza. “The imagery in this is excellent. Also, who doesn’t love aliens?”

“You’re the best person in the whole world,” Marceline breathed. “I would never have picked you as a science fiction junky.”

“Believe it, sister. The first movie I ever watched was Star Wars: A New Hope. I love sci-fi.”

“And Harrison Ford, no doubt,” Marceline teased. “At least I know what kinds of movies to watch with you now. Here I was thinking you’d be a big Lake House fan.”

Bonnie rolled that over for a moment. “I’ll make an exception for that one. It’s a dumb romance movie superfluously, but it does involve a time travelling letter box. That’s pretty cool.”

“Wow. I had no idea you were a closet geek, Banner.”

“I’m in the closet about a lot of things,” she mumbled around her food.

“Oh, do tell.”

She snorted. “You wish. Are you really not going to come with us tomorrow?” Bonnie was very blatant about her subject change, figuring that if it was obvious Marceline would take the hint and drop the other topic.

Her friend eyed her questioningly and then shrugged. “Nah, probably not. I mean, much as I enjoy riling Eleanor up, it’s probably not worth the trauma.”

“If you change your mind…” Bonnie left the offer open.

“Just watch the movie.”

It was surprisingly enjoyable to watch the film with Marceline. She had insight on so many things – clearly she was a movie buff in her down time – and the dissection of the events wasn’t as irritating as it was with other people. Weirdly enough, Marceline had intelligent things to say about it.

Her pointed question when the eggs were discovered, “Okay, who in their right mind touches some strange biological matter on an alien planet without at least thinking that it might eat them?” had been so well timed that Bonnie actually laughed. Her queries on how realistic a cyborg could possibly be was next and she noted the paradox of a robot eating human food and how that could even fly. Honestly, Bonnie had never enjoyed a horror movie more than that one in that moment.

“I can feel my skin crawl in this scene,” Bonnie told her when Ripley ended up in the escape pod with the Alien. “I don’t think I could’ve handled this if it were me.”

“You’re not as badarse as Sigourney Weaver though,” Marceline commented, texting her dad to pick her up.

She chose to ignore that. “In spite of the fact that sucking the Alien out into space in this one was really cool, I think they overdid that particular solution in the franchise.”

“The first one is the best. I mean, a cow-dog-Alien whatever the hell that was? No.”

“It was that grotesque human one in the fourth movie that got me, to be perfectly honest. His nose cavity just… grossed me out.”

Marceline laughed. “The new one… the prequel was pretty good though.”

“It went back to the original formula though, see?” Bonnie pointed out. “It was a plane full of people going to an alien planet to investigate some beacon thing and facing off against a creature outside what they were prepared for. It was brilliant. Turning it into a movie about how humanity was created was clever, but the fact that the original Alien franchise wasn’t actually confirmed as being connected until the movie was released was the best part. I remember sitting in the theatre and noting all the details that reminded me of the first one and my dad got really frustrated.”

“Only you would pick up on something like the murals carved into the walls though,” Marceline said dryly.

“Not just that, but the opening scene where they come out of cyber-sleep, that was so similar to the original. And the Weyland Company? As if that wasn’t a gimme. And then the control room was basically replicated… although if that’s the planet from Alien, I’m kind of confused as to how the pilot got back in his seat…”

“Different ship,” Marceline told her. “The robot said there was more than one ship.”

“I just have a feeling the Alien would’ve gone back to its birthplace…” Bonnie mused. “Like a turtle returning to the same beach to nest.”

Marceline smiled, lifting an eyebrow. “Have I told you you’re a weirdo yet today?”

“Probably.”

“You’re a weirdo.”

“Thanks.”

“Good to know this about you though,” Marceline lamented. “Now I know what not to bring up in conversation or you’ll geek out on me.”

Bonnibel could only smile back at her. “I love theories on movies and things like that. It’s fun to see what fans come up with and then compare them to what the canon actually reveals.”

“You’re scaring me.”

“Sorry.”

Marceline opened her mouth – undoubtedly to say ‘no you’re not’ – but there was a knock at the door. Bonnie bounced up to get it, Marceline standing to get her bag, assuming it was her father. It was.

“Good evening, Father,” Bonnibel said, beaming. “How was your day?”

He offered her a translucent smile in return. “Hello, Bonnibel. It wasn’t so bad. And yours? Productive, I hope.”

“Of course. Come in while you wait for her, she’s probably going to dawdle.”

Hansen sighed, stepping inside to perch on a stool in the kitchen. “No doubt.”

She slid up onto the bench beside him. “Marceline said you had a meeting.”

“I did, yes, with Simon from the school,” Hansen muttered. “Getting him on-side was a good idea, if I do say so myself.” He turned his eyes up at her then, his smile flickering. “Thank you, by the way, for helping Marceline with her grades. I’m so glad Simon hired you.”

Bonnie beamed at him. “It was nothing. My pleasure.”

“I highly doubt that,” he said wryly. “Nonetheless, when I employed Simon to help get Marceline to try harder at school, I honestly doubted his ‘get her a tutor’ solution would work. Thank you for proving me wrong.”

“I make it a habit to defy expectations.” She winked. “Being predictable is boring.”

Hansen chuckled lowly. “Still, I do hope you’ll continue to work with her this semester.”

“Mr Petrikov has already given me the go ahead,” she confirmed.

“What?”

They both turned to see Marceline standing at the entrance to the kitchen, bag slung over her shoulder, a look of horror on her face. Bonnie tried to smile at her, but judging from Marceline’s expression, something was wrong.

“You’re working for him?” Marceline asked quietly, eyes flicking to her dad, indicating who she meant.

“I work for the school, Marceline,” Bonnibel replied, frowning. Her stomach clenched uncomfortably at the accusation in Marceline’s gaze. Misplaced guilt and anxiety pooling together, sitting heavily in her middle. Hansen stood, heading for the door.

Marceline shook her head. “I heard what you said. I thought you were on my side. I trusted you and you’re no better than him.” Her voice was soft – angry and quiet – which was worse than yelling; the venom made Bonnie sick.

Her mouth opened, unsure what to say because she had no idea what she’d done wrong, but Marceline waved a hand, cutting her off. Her friend stormed past, radiating cold. An anchor forged from her disquiet sat in the pit of Bonnie’s stomach, weighing off to one side, falling to her feet. She turned, eyes wide and confused, fixed on Marceline, trying to make sense of what was going on right now.

“I…” Marceline began, voice catching, pausing in the doorway. “I thought you were different.” She stepped out into the cold night following her father and Bonnie wanted so badly to go after her. But the anchor settled in her feet, intent on keeping her where she was. A word reverberated in her head, peeling off the inside of her skull acting nothing so much like a giant bell. The word was supplied by her subconscious to fill in blanks created by this situation but that didn’t mean it made any more sense to her.

Betrayal.

Slowly, she broached the doorway, watching Marceline leave, shrugging her father away, stalking down the drive to walk home alone. Bonnie’s whole body froze, in shock, that anchor down in her ankles creaked in protestation, feeling the strain against its moorings. She should go after her, should sit her down and demand an explanation; offer one of her own even. But then the icy look in Marceline’s eyes filled her mind, the distaste, the bitterness, and she couldn’t. She felt this unfounded need to give Marceline space and hope to God she cooled down enough to have some sort of coherent conversation.

Her phone beeped then and she snatched it up. A flash of hope surged through her when she read Marceline’s name. When she took in the message, however, the optimism dissipated as fast as it had come.

We’re done. I’m filing a timetable change when I get home. Don’t talk to me again.

Her heart gave out and sank, rolling about somewhere down near her toes with the anchor. She could feel the chains on the anchor stretch, strain and finally snap. Everything lurched around her. This was happening. How was this happening?

What just happened?

Chapter Text

Saturday 9th August 2014

“You look absolutely wretched,” Hayden said cheerily as Bonnie climbed into the back of Jake’s car, filling the last spot. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Happy birthday, Hayden,” Bonnie muttered, trying – and failing – to seem a little happier on the outside than she felt on the inside. Rusted through and hollow was the best way she could think to describe it and even that didn’t quite encompass the acidic sensation bubbling in her stomach.

“Thanks,” she replied brightly, evidently deciding to ignore Bonnie’s mood. It was a relief. “Are you staying with us all afternoon or do you have other plans?”

Clicking her buckle into place, Bonnibel gave her a confused look. “Why would I have other plans?”

Hayden shrugged. “Just thought maybe you might’ve had something else on. Curious is all.”

“Nope. You’re stuck with me all afternoon.”

Finn leaned forward to look at her from the other side of the backseat. “Nothing involving Marceline?” he asked.

Bonnie felt her shoulders slump and the melancholy creep across her face again. “No,” she told him softly, unable to muster more than that. She was still really confused. Her plethora of text messages had – as promised – gone unanswered. Not even Keila seemed to know what the problem was.

Pippa, riding shotgun, twisted in her chair to fix Bonnibel with a pointed stare. “What’s with that tone? What happened? Do I have to kill her?”

“Sheesh,” Bonnie huffed, rolling her eyes, attempting to look relaxed. “It’s not like we were best friends or anything. Take a chill pill.”

Penelope’s eyes narrowed. “Past tense?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she affirmed. “Let’s just enjoy Hayden’s birthday and you can grill me on nothing when the day doesn’t belong to someone else.”

“It’s not technically my day,” Hayden pointed out. “But thanks. Movies!”

“Are you sure this is really all you want for your birthday?” Jake asked, merging onto the highway. “We could do something a little more exciting if you wanted.”

She shook her head vehemently. “Nope. I’ve been waiting for this movie for two years. Not paying for it is just a bonus. Besides, dinner’s on you guys too right?”

Finn laughed. “Sure.”

It was rather harder than Bonnie had anticipated to maintain a smiling façade for her friends. Participating in their conversation drained her so she stared out the window, sitting in stolid silence the whole way.

Unlike Hayden and Finn – who both bounded enthusiastically from the car – Bonnie, upon arriving at the Blackwater mall, kept to a more sedate pace. Pippa, as always, noticed; her blonde friend lagged a little to fall into step beside her.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Pippa enquired gently. “What happened?”

Bonnie shook her head. “Not today, Pip,” she said. “Not on Hayden’s birthday. I’m sure there’s a social etiquette thing or something that says it’s bad manners.”

“We will be having this conversation, Bonnibel,” she commented sternly. “Don’t delude yourself into thinking otherwise. And if she’s done something awful, I’ll break her.”

Bonnibel sighed. “There’s no need to be breaking anybody,” she muttered, picking up her feet to catch up to the others. Hopefully, she could evade the conversation until much later. She didn’t want to talk about it. Mostly because she was sure she’d get facts wrong… And that was mostly because she had no idea what the facts were.

Despite vociferous protestations against it, Finn was standing in the queue proclaiming that all their tickets were on him today. Jake was asking how he would pay for it since he didn’t have a job and Hayden was smiling fondly at both of them. Finn ignored them and bought the tickets. He would probably regret it later, but Bonnie could at least understand why he would do it. Grand gestures were pretty good when it came to girls.

Bonnie made sure to keep the rest of them between her and Pippa when they seated themselves. Knowing her friend, she’d be persistent enough on this one thing to bring it up during the movie. This was not alright and avoidance was the best policy. She would not jump to conclusions and she would not talk about this. It was silly.

The movie Hayden had been waiting for was not science fiction, much to Bonnie’s slight disgruntlement. On the bright side though, it wasn’t a romance either. Well, okay, there was a romantic side plot involving some love-triangle nonsense between the main character, his rather unrealistically attractive female side-kick and the anti-hero slash wannabe-villain plucky comic relief. It was a very, very odd story set against a somewhat medieval English backdrop with non-specific magic thrown in and a dash of mythology for good measure. And naturally they were saving the world. It wasn’t boring. Neither was it particularly exciting. It was firmly planted in that middle ground where most films go these days.

“Was it everything you hoped?” Bonnibel asked Hayden afterwards on their way back to Jake’s car.

She shrugged. “It’s entirely possible that I had my expectations set a little too high,” she conceded. “But it was good. Definitely worth buying when it comes out.”

“Food!” Finn cried plaintively. “Where are we going for food?”

“What about Ivy’s?” Pippa suggested. “It’s Trivia Night. That could be fun.”

“Oh I’m all in for that,” Jake agreed, cranking the car to life. “With Bonnie at our table we’ll win, no trouble.”

Hayden lifted an eyebrow, amused. “Are you just using her for her smarts?”

He shrugged. “If you’ve got it, use it, right?”

“Fair enough.”

Penelope glanced over at Bonnie. “You alright with Trivia Night?”

For a moment Bonnibel was at war with herself. On the one hand, she really wanted to go and on the other, she knew Marceline would be there. She sighed. “Sounds good to me.”

Idle chatter filled the cab on the way to Ivy’s, mostly in regards to the movie. Without Ellen (who was on a date with… someone), the conversation didn’t revolve around how amazing the male lead’s six pack was. Although that did come up at one point; it was probably obligatory.

That didn’t mean Bonnie wasn’t thoroughly relieved to be spared involvement in that conversation when they pulled into Ivy’s parking lot. As usual, Finn led the way in, although Jake wasn’t far behind him.

“Must be hungry,” Hayden chuckled.

“They’re boys,” Pippa reminded her. “They’re always hungry.”

It was quite crowded inside, packed mostly with students from the high school. Finn was chatting with Ivy while Jake sprawled across a booth. He looked like an idiot splayed out like that, but it was effective. Pippa joined Finn while Bonnie and Hayden helped Jake claim the booth, grabbing menus on their way.

“What’s good here?” Hayden asked over the babble.

“Oh,” Jake gasped, leaning across the table. “Right, you’ve never eaten here before, have you? Poor thing.”

Hayden levelled a glare at his laughing face. “Seriously though.”

“You could probably get anything you wanted,” Bonnie told her. “Ivy separates the menu based on content. So people with allergies don’t have to ask what’s in stuff.”

“Clever. Gluten free? I’ve never been to a restaurant with a gluten free section,” Hayden mumbled.

“Ivy prefers ‘café’ to ‘restaurant’,” Jake informed her. “She doesn’t like to feel restricted by the expectations placed on such ‘grand establishments’.”

“If you’re going to mock me, Mister Martins, you can leave.” Ivy flicked his ear for emphasis.

“Sorry. Please feed me,” he whined.

“Your usual orders have been placed,” she told him curtly. “Except for you, dear,” Ivy added, turning her gaze – soft now – on Hayden. “What would you like?”

Lips pursed, Hayden scanned the foods quickly and sighed. “It all sounds good. Can I be difficult and say surprise me?”

Ivy laughed. “Of course you may be difficult. I’ll be back in about fifteen.” The little old lady pottered off then, smiling to people as she passed.

“Happy birthday, Hayden!”

All three of them twisted to see Keila leaning across the back of their booth, grinning. She had a guy with her, probably a bit older. He seemed nice enough, with a shock of brown hair and crystal eyes. At least (from his face) he didn’t look like a homicidal maniac, although faces aren’t much to go by.

“Hello, Keila,” Hayden said politely. “Thanks. Are you here for the trivia?”

She bobbed her head. “Partly. And partly because Marceline is playing tonight and she begged me to be here.” Her eyes drifted to Bonnie. “Good to see you’re here. Maybe we can clear up her bad mood, huh?” Keila winked. “Oh, and this is Gary,” she pointed to the brunette guy. “My boyfriend. Gary, these are my friends.”

“I thought you didn’t have any friends,” he teased. Or… Bonnie hoped he was teasing.

“Course I do. I’ve got plenty of friends.”

“When does Marceline start?” Bonnie asked her softly, hoping it didn’t sound broken.

Keila looked at her watch. “Mmm… in about twenty. Why?”

“Just wondering.” Bonnibel figured she should probably not be in attendance when Marceline began. It might be weird after yesterday.

Finn and Pippa appeared then with glasses and jugs of water. One of Ivy’s extra-helpers followed with plates. It hadn’t been fifteen minutes yet, Bonnie realised, blinking. The kitchen must be on a roll.

“I shotgun leftovers,” Finn declared, one hand shooting up. “I’m so hungry I could eat an antelope.”

“We’re fresh out of antelope,” the waiter said with a boyish smile. “We don’t even have a zebra lying around. The only grub I can offer is this.”

Finn looked perplexed by that, but Hayden got the joke and shared a smile with Bonnie. Conversation faltered then as everyone was too busy eating to be bothered with such trivialities as talking. Once finished, however, it picked back up again (Finn didn’t get any leftovers) and the trivia competition was the main topic. They all seemed convinced that Bonnibel would know the answer to any question asked of them. She could only roll her eyes.

Guitar strings whined and Bonnie went stiff. She knew that sound.

So much for my happy ending,” Marceline sang quietly. “Hello, everyone. Ivy has kindly given me the floor before Trivia Night starts. My apologies, but all complaints must be directed at her.” She cleared her throat.

And she sang.

Let’s talk this over,

It’s not like we’re dead.

Was it something I did?

Was it something you said?

Don’t leave me hanging

In a city so dead.

Held up so high

On such a breakable thread.”

Nope. Bonnie was not going to sit through this. She stood – glad to be sitting on the end of the seat – and headed straight for the door.

You were all the things I thought I knew,

And I thought we could be.

You were everything, everything that I wanted.

We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it.

All of the memories, so close to me, just fade away.

All this time you were pretending.

So much for my happy ending.”

There was a hitch in the music then, played so flawlessly up to that point, and it was out of place. Bonnie knew – she knew – that Marceline didn’t make mistakes when it came to music. So she turned. And Marceline’s incredible blue eyes were fixed on her, full of ice and loathing.

You’ve got your dumb friends,

I know what they say.

They tell you I’m difficult,

But so are they.

But they don’t know me.

Do they even know you?

All the things you hide from me,

All the shit that you do.”

Her gaze was so cold, so accusing, so terrifyingly angry that Bonnie shivered. The chill ran across her shoulders and sank to the depths of her soul. There would be no forgiveness here. Not tonight.

You were all the things I thought I knew,

And I thought we could be.

You were everything, everything that I wanted.

We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it.

And all of the memories, so close to me, just fade away.

All this time you were pretending.

So much for my happy ending.”

She couldn’t possibly think there wouldn’t ever be forgiveness. Bonnibel was an optimist at heart and she had to believe that she could do something to fix… whatever had gone wrong. She backed towards the door again. Not tonight.

It’s nice to know that you were there.

Thanks for acting like you cared,

And making me feel like I was the only one.

It’s nice to know we had it all.

Thanks for watching as I fall,

And letting me know we were done.”

Cold air slammed into her. It was equally as frigid as Marceline’s gaze, but at least it wasn’t trying to kill her. Bonnie rounded the corner, arms hugging her chest against the brisk evening. She could still hear the sound of Marceline’s voice, feel the thrumming of the guitar in her ribs, but was no longer pinned by her eyes. And escaping their cerulean captivity was the hard part.

She slumped against the side of the building, sliding down the bricks until she hit the pavement. Then, bringing her knees up to her chin, stuffing her hands into the opposite sleeves, she tried very hard not to cry. Exhausted didn’t even begin to describe it. She hadn’t slept last night because her brain wouldn’t stop trying to figure out why Marceline had done a complete one-eighty on her and now she just wanted to sleep. To break down and then sleep.

“Hey.”

Bonnie glanced up to see Pippa rounding the side of the building. “Hey.”

“You okay?”

She nodded as she said, “I don’t think so.”

Penelope sank down beside her. “She looked mad at you. What happened?” It was asked gently, but Bonnie knew she expected an answer this time.

“I… I don’t even know, Pip,” she breathed. “One minute everything was fine, then her dad came to pick her up and she just…” She scrunched her eyes shut, feeling all the tiredness trying to escape as tears. “She won’t speak to me, won’t even look at me except to glare. I don’t know what happened.”

“Did her dad say something? Did you?”

She shook her head this time. “We were just talking about how my job’s been going and how…” Marceline had asked her not to tell people that her grades had picked up. Even if she hated Bonnie now, she could still keep that promise.

“How what?” Pippa wheedled.

“I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

“I’m sworn to secrecy. This conversation never happened.”

Bonnibel wanted so desperately to trust Pippa, to share this one thing. It tore her in half. “She did really well on her assessment in first semester. Really well.”

Pippa frowned. “I don’t understand how any of this is relevant to her hating your guts.”

“Me neither! I don’t get it. I wish I understood her.” Bonnie rested her head back against the wall, staring at the stars. “Hansen seemed pleased she did well. I’m so proud of her and the look on her face when she saw the numbers…” She sighed again.

Penelope moved closer, it was nice to be near someone warm. “Give her some space,” Pippa murmured. “You got through to her once.”

“I don’t know how.”

“Nobody does, Bonnie,” Pippa chuckled. “You’re just magic when it comes to Marceline.”

“Space, huh?”

Pippa nodded.

Looks like she was back to square one.

Chapter Text

Sunday 10th August 2014

She avoided the church usually. It wasn’t a place she liked to be. She liked the deacon even less than she liked her father (which was saying something). So steering clear of it was a no brainer.

Today, Bonnibel would be at church. This was a really good reason for her not to be there.

Still, Marceline found herself lingering at the back of the church by the door anyway. Mortimer’s speeches were always compulsory because the man had a very high opinion of himself, so every spot on every pew was taken. It provided Marceline with a good excuse not to try and find a seat.

She slumped against the wall, head resting back against the wood panels, and just listened to his nasal rasp. Honestly, in regular conversation the man spoke like a proper human being, but as soon as he started addressing a congregation he got all… preachy. Sure, that’s probably to be expected, but in ‘preachy’ mode, his voice was super irritating. Not that anyone was brave enough to tell Mortimer Wight he had an irritating voice. That would be stupid.

Marceline did not pay any attention at all to what he was saying; just let the words wash over her. It would be the same as always anyway. If someone was dedicated enough to transcribe his addresses and keep them for reference against future ones, they’d probably be nearly identical.

He said the same things every few months, harped on about the same wrongs. She didn’t need to pay attention to know that he’d be droning on subjects that he saw as pertaining to the good health of their immortal souls. All moral obligations, generally. Actually, a lot of the things Wight rambled on were petty; things like smoking and alcohol and eating a balanced array of food were basics. It was the other stuff that often made her bristle.

Even as she thought about it, his sermon veered into territory that probably would be better left alone. Oh, science was no good, politics was terrible, being curious about those around you was offensive. The man was psychotic.

Wight had a very particular idea of what was good and right. The problem being that his ‘Bible Approved’ lifestyle was kind of ridiculous when applied practically. Wight was one of those people who believed certain uncontrollable facets of life were just choices that people made.

He didn’t like Marceline because, wow, rock and roll is just so terrible for the eternal soul. Musical talents should be suppressed because who even needs that rubbish? Honestly. Wight was the most judgemental person around and would loathe a person irrevocably for something stupid.

Something like… say, how Eleanor likes to gossip. Damned. Principle Halte is gay. Damned. Keila swears; so she’s damned too. Finn is damned for driving his uncle’s car underage and Joshua was damned for letting him. Jake is damned for flirting while in a relationship and Pippa’s damned for PDA. Everyone is damned. It’s the small things.

Marceline changed her mind. She levered herself to her feet and left, not needing to listen to his self-righteous bullshit anymore. Oops, now she’s damned too. What a shame.

She headed down the hill, wondering what she could do with herself today while everyone was at church. Probably not a great deal, all things considered. Simon wasn’t a regular attendee of church and Marceline paused on one corner, wondering if he’d be around.

Spinning, she wandered towards the school with her hands jammed into her pockets, shoulders hunched against the chill. Not that the cold really bothered her, but it would be nice when it didn’t try to snap her ears off all the time.

Summer lasted too long to be good, but spring and autumn were both pleasant mediums. If only they stuck around for more than a few weeks. And those weeks were mostly bi-polar weather too.

Humming to herself, Marceline shuffled through the empty school grounds. There was no love harboured for the school, but there was a hollow ache in her chest and she needed to talk to someone about it or she’d explode. And no matter what her father had said, she didn’t really believe Simon would betray her trust like that. They’d known each other for too long.

His room was vacant; the lights were all off and there was no low thrumming from the air conditioner. Marceline pressed her face against the glass, trying to see if he might be in there anyway. She was mostly convinced he lived there.

Nope, he wasn’t there. Weird. She walked slowly back across the campus until she reached the admin building where Simon’s office was. But this too, was without any signs of life. She frowned. Simon existed in three places: the music room, his office and his house. Naturally she knew he went other places too, but she could generally count on him to be in one of those locations.

Almost, she went to his house. A note taped to the glass of his office door stopped her. It said that he was at Blackwater for a teacher’s conference or some nonsense. With a sigh of defeat, she rested her head against the glass briefly, then dug her phone out of her pocket and headed for her tree on the hill.

Collapsing beneath its boughs bouncing the phone on her palm, she thought. Marceline deliberated her problem for a long time. Longer than she normally would but then again, this had escalated out of control a lot faster than she’d expected.

She dialled her brother. He picked up on the fourth ring.

“Sup, sis?” Marshall’s voice stuttered with static and bass thrummed in the background. “Hang on, let me go outside.” There was a pause, a muffled shout and then a slamming door. “A’ight, wassup?”

“I made a friend,” she said straight away.

Marshall chuckled. “Good for you. Why do I care?”

With her free hand, she picked up a stone and threw it off the hill, watching it tumble down the grass. “She lied to me.”

“Was it a big deal?”

“It is to me.”

“So you’re hating on her now, I take it? The poor girl. Does she even know what happened?”

Marceline scowled into her the knees of her jeans. “If she doesn’t she’s dumber than I thought.”

He sighed. “Listen, Marce. If she doesn’t know how big a deal it is for you… whatever it is she lied about, then tell her. If you’re going to give her your extremely potent version of loathing, at least do her the courtesy of explaining why.” There was a moment of silence as Marshall mused on what to say. “How much of a friend is she to you? Like, on a scale of one to ten, how much do you like her?”

Forgetting he couldn’t see, she shrugged. “I dunno, like… twelve… ish. She’s pretty cool.”

“So maybe tell her things. I know communication is something you disdain, but other people enjoy its convenience. Much as you might wish otherwise, talking does help sometimes.”

Marceline hated when he was right. Six years age difference should not account for the wisdom he spouted randomly. Especially considering he still acted fifteen.

“Can I hate her for a little while?” she asked softly. “It might make me feel better.”

“Sure,” he laughed. “Cling to your grudge. Hey, is she a good person? Would she normally lie?”

“Bonnie? Lie?” Marceline realised how utterly stupid that sounded when put like that. “No,” she exhaled, reluctantly. “She’s usually ridiculously straight with people. Which is funny because I think she’s really good at keeping secrets.”

“She doesn’t hold back, huh?”

“Nope. She’s not afraid to tell me I’m being an idiot.”

“Me neither,” he chuckled. “And Marceline, you’re being an idiot. You really suck at making friends, so try not to let this one slip through your fingers. If she’s not a liar, maybe find out if your facts are all lined up.”

Marceline let out a great whoosh of air, leaning back into the tree. “Yeah.” She really did hate it when her brother was right about stuff. It would go to his head. “Say ‘hello’ to Fionna for me.”

“Will do. Play nice with the other children.”

“Jerk.”

“Moron.”

She hung up, smacking her head against the bark. Marceline was not brave. She was not one to forgive easily. She wouldn’t forget a slight and she didn’t like being wrong. Stubborn was the nice way of putting it.

Marceline absolutely did not want to forgive Bonnibel for lying to her, for being a bitch and generally stuffing around. Completely ignoring her brother’s advice (because really, what did he know) she decided to give hating Bonnie a shot before leaping to any unnecessary conclusions. Hating people she could do. She was good at it.

She could hate Bonnie.

Surely it wouldn’t be hard.

Famous last words.

Chapter Text

Wednesday 27th August 2014

Marceline knew very well how to hold a grudge. She was excellent at it. She’d been practicing her grudge-holding skills for years with her dad. That one had been on-going for… maybe eight years? Pretty good run if she did say so herself.

But that didn’t change the fact that classes without Bonnibel were boring. And lonely.

Her shift out of the maths class had been easy, there was another lesson held in the same period and it was a simple switch. In her spares she just picked a new building to hide behind. But chemistry hadn’t been viable (she’d already burned that bridge) so she was stuck in the same room as Bonnie for an hour, but the redhead just ignored her.

And it hurt.

Bonnibel did not once acknowledge her existence. She didn’t glance Marceline’s way, never mentioned her name, no longer sent text messages in that covert way she had. All contact simply ceased after Trivia Night.

Her conversation with Marshall two weeks earlier kept bouncing around in her head, reminding her that she should try and work out why this had happened. But Marceline wasn’t a brave person. And the idea of finding out anything that could make the situation worse (if that was possible) was really scary. This was broken and she didn’t want to make it irreparable by meddling in something.

At least, that’s how she justified it to herself.

Really, she was just a whole lot more comfortable in hating people and being stand-offish than in trying to make friends. Marshall often called her socially awkward and he wasn’t too far wrong.

Besides, every single time she looked at Bonnie, Marceline was reminded of what she’d done and it made her so angry. This was why she didn’t make friends, why she avoided people, why she had such low expectations from society. Trusting people only gave them leverage to break you. She didn’t like it.

Marceline added that to the reasons for why she should keep hating Bonnibel. And, from the way she was acting, it’s not like the nerdy redhead was having too much trouble without her presence. It was like she didn’t even notice Marceline’s absence.

And – for reasons she couldn’t explain – that hurt too.

She resolved to skip a few days of school.

 


 

“Still no contact from the grouch?” Jake asked as he slid into the chair beside her in physics.

“Hm?” Bonnie asked, looking up from her workbook. She knew she looked tired, but with exams looming she felt justified in forgoing sleep in favour of studying. “Who?”

Jake rolled his eyes. “Marceline,” he clarified. “Is she still ignoring you?”

“She sure is,” Bonnibel told him, forcing a smile.

“And she still hasn’t told you why?” Finn queried. His eyes were full of worry. Bonnie had a sneaking suspicion that he thought something more was going on than she was telling them. And for all she knew there might be. But she wouldn’t know because Marceline was still giving her the cold shoulder.

“Nope. She is maintaining radio silence.”

“Is it starting to bug you yet?” Jake needled, grinning.

She blinked. “Why would it bother me?”

He just shrugged. “You two were pretty good friends.”

“Hardly,” she snorted.

Finn shook his head. “No, Bonnie, see, I don’t think you understand. Marceline doesn’t make friends. She doesn’t talk to people, or play fair and she never does anything but glare. The only person who has ever been the exception to that rule is Keila. And we’ve known them both since they were…” He looked to Jake.

“Keila was nine when she moved here,” he provided. “Marceline was born here, but went to school in Blackwater. And even though she’s local, she never socialised with us. As far as Marceline was concerned, we didn’t exist.”

“Yeah,” Finn agreed with an emphatic nod. “She made another exception for you.”

“Which is weird.”

“She’s nice to Pippa,” Bonnie countered.

“Please,” Finn scoffed. “Everyone is nice to Pippa. It’s like an unwritten rule or something.”

Bonnibel folded her arms across her book and stared at the board where formulae had been scrawled down in the teacher’s messy hand. “It doesn’t matter anyway. If she’s not going to talk to me, then that’s how it is.”

Thankfully, they dropped the subject. But Pippa had been probing her for insight every day since Trivia Night. Bonnie would have no questions to answer for the rest of this lesson, but there would be another round of interrogation at lunch. God only knows Ellen was full of questions too. Bonnie wished they’d just leave it alone. She wasn’t going to chase after Marceline’s friendship when she was being a bi-polar bitch.

And she almost regretted that thought. Almost.

True to form, as soon as she was seated at lunch, Pippa gave her that funny look. She did her best to keep her gaze averted, but it seemed as if the entire table was going to gang up on her this time. Even Hayden; and she didn’t know a great deal about Marceline or the reasons most people regarded her warily and avoided her like the plague.

“What?” Bonnie finally asked. Having them all stare at her was weirdly off-putting.

Pippa exhaled. “Don’t you dare tell me you’re not upset that she won’t talk to you,” she said flatly.

Bonnibel elected a shrug. That was suitably noncommittal.

“Now,” Eleanor began, her gaze its usual piercing and terrifying. “I don’t like dear Marceline, that’s no secret. But you do, for whatever unfathomable reason. And when someone is a right dick to my friend, I’m going to snoop until I find out what happened. So why don’t you tell me instead?”

That was a goddamn threat. A veiled one, sure, but still. Ellen was pulling out the big guns and Bonnie felt it deserved a bit of gaping.

“Come on, Bonnie,” Hayden pleaded. “I haven’t been here long but even I can tell you’ve been… off… lately. What did she do?”

Bonnibel floundered. “I don’t… nothing. As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing happened.”

“So why the silent treatment?” Ellen pressed.

Bonnie threw her hands up. “I don’t know, okay? She won’t talk to me so I can’t find out.”

Jake tilted his head. “Keila?”

“No,” she replied. “Keila hasn’t got a clue either. Apparently Marceline has been doing her best to shut her out too. Which is quite weird… I blame Gary for that, but still…”

“Is she even at school today?” Penelope asked softly.

Bonnie hunched her shoulders. “She’s been at school every day. I don’t get it.” She sighed. “I just wish she’d talk to me.”

She could feel the ache start to build again. It was the same biting pain she’d felt when she moved here… only different because the two things were totally unalike. That had been crippling, this… this was… not quite as paralysing. Having experienced it before, she knew what it was and she was irritated that she damn well missed seeing Marceline every day. It didn’t seem right, but there it was.

Every day for the last two weeks she’d gone over that night in her head trying to work out what had changed. It played out like a bad video and kept her up some nights because her brain did this annoying thing where it wouldn’t stop thinking. But no matter how she rewound, fast-forwarded or paused her recollection, nothing stood out. It was banal and lacked anything at all that might provoke this sort of emotional reversal.

Bonnie was sure her initial statement – so simple in its construction – remained valid two weeks later. She was confused. Instead of being just confused and hurt though, now she was slightly frustrated and a little bit sad.

Missing friends who lived nearly four hours away by plane was totally logical. Missing someone who sat two rows away from her in chemistry was baffling. Her friends didn’t get it. They didn’t really trust Marceline as a decent human being; they couldn’t see her soft side. So she was trapped in a circle of exasperation and ire, all by herself.

In short; it sucked.

“It is Marceline,” Jake was saying. “She has communication issues.”

“At what point do I give up?” Bonnie whispered. “I mean… I don’t know what I mean.”

“I have no idea what prompted you to befriend that Grinch,” Ellen grumbled. “But you did. And I think that should be a Life Achievement Award or something because it takes someone special to do it. If you give up on Marceline I don’t think there’s hope for anyone to be friends with her.”

“Sheesh,” Bonnibel sighed. “No pressure or anything.”

“Friends argue, Bonnie,” Finn said. “Jake and I fight all the time. The fact that you’re worrying about her even though she glares at you like she thinks you’re going to pull the trigger of the gun that kills her says something.”

She smiled sadly. “So, still with the space thing, huh?”

Pippa laughed. “Run with that one. Otherwise you can use your forceful and blinding personality to stun her into submission.”

“Yeah… Let’s not do that,” Bonnie mumbled. A thought occurred to her and before she had a chance to screen it, the words fell out. “Wait, if you guys don’t like her, why are you so convinced I should stay friends with her?” So much for her finely tuned brain-mouth filtering system.

Looks were exchanged between the four locals. Hayden simply waited for the answer with Bonnie, looking curious. It seemed they silently elected Jake to speak for them. He sighed.

“Do you remember how I said we’ve known her a while?” He paused for her nod before going on. “Well… she’s always been outwardly nasty –”

“We assume it’s some sort of defence mechanism,” Ellen interrupted. “Because that’s the only logical assumption to make. No idea why though.”

Jake glared at her. “I’m telling the story. Anyway, she’s always been pretty mean to keep folks at arm’s length. But, and you can call me crazy any time you want, she hasn’t been as waspish since you decided she needed another buddy to pal around with.”

“You’re crazy,” Bonnie said decisively.

Pippa raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to tell me that you don’t think she’s mellowed since you first met her? Seriously? What was the first thing she said to you?”

Bonnibel had to think about that a moment. “She said ‘I don’t like you’,” was her eventual answer.

“And I distinctly recall her saying you were her friend at one point,” Penelope went on pointedly. “You don’t think she’s chilled out a little?”

Okay, so maybe Marceline had mellowed a little. “Fine, what’s your point?”

“We like this new, kinder version of Marceline,” Ellen informed her. “Even I will grudgingly admit that she’s not as abrasive as she used to be. I’m alright with this as a development. But if it doesn’t stay this way I might be a tiny bit upset.”

Bonnie’s mouth fell open (she was a fly trap again, damn it). “You’re using me?” she nearly screeched. “That is not fair.”

Pippa shrugged as if it was nothing. “You’re our buffer.”

“Like an airbag,” Finn chimed in, happily. His face fell when five amused gazes turned his way. “That sounded terrible didn’t it?”

“A little,” Jake laughed. “But apt, all the same.”

“Wow,” Bonnie breathed. “I thought better of you lot until just now.”

The bell rang for fourth period and they all stood before Bonnibel could voice more arguments. Eleanor winked at her, patting her shoulder as she passed.

“Don’t stuff this up, Banner,” the gossip stage whispered. “Go make friends with the devil-spawn.”

She huffed, realising that if everything went to pot, at least she’d have their support in this insane endeavour. Even if it was for selfish purposes. Chemistry being her next class seemed like an omen.

But when she walked into the classroom and was greeted by Marceline’s frigid stare all her miniscule resolve dissolved and deserted her. This whole situation was not on her, after all. Whatever was going on was completely up to Marceline (it was probably in her head anyway). Bonnie didn’t know what had happened – or why – but she did care. It was just not her place to push Marceline into something she obviously detested.

She decided to be patient. This funk Marceline was in couldn’t last (surely not). And Bonnibel could be stubborn when she wanted to.

So help her, she would wait this out.

Her friends could think what they liked about that.

Chapter Text

Tuesday 9th September 2014

Tumultuous.

The word stared back at her from the novel they were reading for literature. Marceline blinked at it quietly, the ink speaking to her on a level probably not intended by the author when pressed out on the printer. It was being used to describe the sensation felt by the main character as they moved towns. The guy in the story, Clement, was packing up his things, boxing his stuff and moving out of home. His deadbeat mother was in rehab and his dad was being transferred to a new city sometime during his high school years. Clement was not happy with the move, he was unhappy with leaving his friends, his home, his whole goddamn town. Clement was socially competent and quite likeable. But he still didn’t enjoy the whole hectic atmosphere of moving somewhere unfamiliar.

Tumultuous.

Marceline had never moved house before – although she had boarded at a Blackwater school for a while – so she really had no idea what it was like. She couldn’t grasp the nuances being thrown her way. But the narrator kept providing little thoughts as they passed through Clement’s head, hoping to provide that exact insight for people like her. He was currently on about the ‘silver lining’ of moving. Something about the possibilities afforded by meeting new people and that expanding his social circles was probably beneficial.

Marceline thought that sounded nice on paper, but wasn’t it highly likely that Clement would fall out of touch with the people he was leaving behind? It seemed absurd.

But none of that really mattered because it would come later in the novel. She was stuck on page twenty-three; staring at that one word. It wasn’t especially enlightening nor was it really all that helpful as far as words go. It wasn’t long, or short, or hard to pronounce. It didn’t have a double meaning and couldn’t be mistaken easily for another word – not without trying really hard. It was pretty unremarkable for a word. Very plain.

But there had been a churning in her gut of late. Something that wasn’t too happy with how she was… well… existing for lack of a better term. Honestly, it was like two medieval armies were having a grand battle down there and it was making her sick. Worry ate at her stomach lining; confusion made it hard to think; frustration and anger simmered constantly, threatening to burst forth in a barrage of curses and violence (probably aimed at some inanimate object). She was tense all the time; her shoulders hadn’t relaxed in days, more than a week easily. She was tired. She was so very tired, mentally and physical drained.

Tumultuous.

For whatever reason, that word described her state of mind perfectly. It encompassed everything that had happened lately. It embodied her relationship with Bonnibel best of all and was the only word she could think to use whenever that ache in the hollow of her heart surfaced.

Like it was doing now.

She sighed, closing the book.

Marceline hadn’t been to school in… nearly seven days (not counting the weekend). It was a roll even for her. Her dad had no idea, unless he was gossiping with Simon behind her back some more.

That thought made her anger bubble over and her fingers clenched around the spine of her book. Almost she threw it off the hill, wanting to see it tumble down through the grass and settle among the twisted wires of the fence at the bottom. Almost, but not quite. She wasn’t so stupid as to disrespect a book. Marceline tried not to dwell on the thought that Bonnie would probably smile at her for showing something akin to ‘kindness’. Even if it was just to a book.

She rolled her shoulders, shaking all thoughts of Bonnibel from her mind. She wanted so desperately to keep hating the dorky redhead. Marceline wanted to loathe her until there was nothing left of the world bust dust. She wanted to rage and rile against the other girl for lying and pretending and being a two-faced bitch.

But she couldn’t. Not for much longer anyway. It was just too damn hard to hate someone so innately nice.

Even though Marceline did nothing but scowl at her these days, Bonnie merely responded with a small smile and ignored her. It was everything Marceline could’ve wished for from someone who had wronged her. Cutting them free of her life without any remorse whatsoever. No second thoughts. Nothing.

Only she was second guessing herself.

Distantly, she heard the shrill tolling of the school bell announcing the end of the day. Before she could think on it any more, Marceline lurched to her feet and shuffled through town towards the campus. She tried very hard not to be seen and hopefully, as she slinked through the tight alleyway between the sports block and the back of the local grocer’s, she’d been successful.

She lingered silently in the far corner of the gym as the locker room emptied. Once everyone had gone, she padded down the hall towards the music room. She hoped he was here. Marceline had mostly been avoiding Simon for… what, a month now? So she wasn’t really sure what she was doing, but her brother’s words still bounced off her skull from time to time and she needed to know if he was right.

Were her facts straight? Because Bonnie was not the kind of girl to lie. Not habitually anyway. Maybe she’d just made an exception for Marceline.

She had to shake her head again as she stopped outside the music room. This time, the lights were on and the air conditioner was humming quietly as it tried to decide what sort of weather it was dealing with. Spring hadn’t really warmed up yet, but it was getting into the whole ‘on our way to summer’ thing.

Inhaling deeply in a futile attempt to steel her resolve, Marceline knocked on the door. Simon’s head of fluffy white hair shifted inside as he looked around, clearly surprised that someone would come to see him after school. His face did a funny contortionist routine when he saw her there, landing somewhere in the wary range.

He waved a hand for her to come in and she gently pushed the door open, stepping inside. It was less muggy in the room. She hadn’t noticed how much like rain it was starting to feel.

“Marceline,” Simon said slowly, uncertain.

“Hi,” she replied, rocking on the balls of her feet.

He blinked at her, mouth pursing into a thin line, but his eyes softened. “You’ve skipped a lot of school lately,” he noted.

“Haven’t been feeling well.”

“But you came to see me today? What for?”

The breath whooshed out of her and her eyes closed. “I have to ask you something that’s been bugging me. Do you work for my dad?”

“I work for the school,” he said, echoing Bonnie’s words from a month ago. That did nothing to relieve her anxiety. But unlike Bonnie (who’d been confused when she clarified), Simon answered much too fast.

Marceline levelled her best ‘come on now’ glare at him and he deflated too. “Do you also work for dad?” she tried again.

Simon shrugged one shoulder. “Sort of.”

“Explain.”

His hands fiddled with the cuffs of his sleeves. “Hansen… pulled a lot of strings to get me this job. We’ve been friends a long time and when he found out that I’m unemployable for… health reasons, he made this happen for me. On the condition that I do everything in my power to get your grades up. I… I never wanted to break your trust, Marceline, but I need this job.”

“He blackmailed you,” she deduced tonelessly.

“It was… No, it wasn’t blackmail. It was me paying off my debt to him.”

She lifted an accusatory finger at him. “You know why I don’t trust him,” she said angrily. “You know what he’s like. And you still agreed to this? I thought you believed that I could be a musician.”

“I do,” Simon assured her hastily. “But I can also see where Hansen is coming from.”

“Unbelievable,” she cried. “You tricked me. Why didn’t you just tell me what was going on? Why did you have to be so underhanded about it? Why does everyone I trust have to be so… deceitful?”

He quirked an eyebrow. “If I had told you the situation would you have cooperated for my sake?”

“I would’ve told dad to back off,” she grumbled.

“As if that would work.”

Almost, Marceline wasn’t brave enough to ask her next question. “And Bonnie?” The words were so quiet – so fragile – she wondered how they didn’t break when let loose in the world.

“What about her?” he enquired, frowning.

“Why did she have to lie to me too? Why did she have to be in on it?” She sounded plaintive, pleading and she didn’t care. It hurt.

Simon shook his head. “Still not following. What did she do?”

“She was in on all this, right?” Marceline demanded, swallowing her emotion. “She was hired because you and dad knew she’d get me to pick up my act. That’s right, isn’t it?”

It was Simon’s soft smile that threw her. “No.”

She blinked. “Huh?”

“Bonnibel didn’t know anything,” Simon told her gently. “I hired her because she’d tutored kids before. She has excellent grades and a reputation for being understanding and very good at explaining concepts. Your dad tried to talk me out of picking her, he wanted someone more qualified, but I figured you’d be more likely to listen to someone your own age. Bonnibel doesn’t know anything about this… complicated relationship you have with Hansen. She didn’t even want to be paid for it.”

Marceline’s knees wobbled and she didn’t fight it. She just sank to the floor, staring at the far wall, numb. Bonnie didn’t know? Then… Then what?

“So… I overreacted?” she whispered to the blue carpet. “She… She didn’t know and I overreacted?”

Simon crouched down to look her in the eye, forcing her to focus on him. “What did you do, Marceline? What do you mean by ‘overreact’?”

She took a deep breath and exhaled. “I… I accused her of betraying me, of being a liar. I might’ve called her a bitch, I don’t remember. We haven’t spoken in a month.”

He actually laughed at that. “You’re an idiot. I have a strong feeling that if she’d known I was using her like I did, she’d have slapped me.”

Marceline’s return smile was weak, forced. “Can… Can I fix it?” She couldn’t voice the rest of the thoughts ricocheting around in her head.

I miss her. I hurt her, she was my friend and I hurt her. I’m awful. What if she really doesn’t care as much as she led me to believe? What if I can’t fix it? What happens?

Simon rested a hand on her shoulder. “You’re a lot like your mother, you know that? She always shut people out because she was afraid to hurt them and afraid to be hurt by them. But when she let people in… it was really something to behold. Something beautiful and magic. You’re the same. Did you know that?”

She nodded. She’d once punched a guy for calling Keila names. Nobody was allowed to hurt the people Marceline considered her friends. She wouldn’t stand for it. But she couldn’t really beat herself up for being the one to put all this on Bonnie. Maybe she could iron her hands…

“But can I fix this mess?” she asked around a lump of something rather potent and slightly reminisce of tears. “What do I do to fix it?”

His words made her blood run cold. “You have to tell her the truth. The whole truth.”

Tumultuous.

Tumultuous.

Chapter Text

Saturday 27th September 2014

The day had a bite of cold to it. It was the kind of weather that definitely required coats and long pants and maybe even a scarf. Even though spring was in full tilt and the sun was starting to burn through the middle of the day, mornings and evenings had enough chill that Bonnie was more than glad to stay inside wrapped up in a blanket.

On the first day of the two week mid-semester break, this was especially true. Her friends had all gone out to the ditch, but Bonnie had decided it wasn’t a place she particularly liked. She would much prefer to sit on her couch and read with some music playing from the speakers of her dock. This was precisely the way she wished to spend her evening; it was relaxing after the stress of exam block.

It didn’t last long.

With a slightly exasperated sigh and a shiver, she stood to answer the knock on her front door. Almost, she didn’t bother, she could just ignore it. But if it was Peter or Pippa, she should probably not just leave them out there. Reluctantly, she pulled the door in.

“Hi,” Marceline muttered.

Bonnibel could only blink at her and move aside, letting her in out of the cold. Marceline seemed startled by the offer but hesitantly stepped over the threshold, hands stuffed in her pockets. She looked… cagey, the fearful animal from earlier in the year resurfacing.

For a moment, they stood there – Bonnie watching her face, Marceline watching the floor – and it was a strained silence that filled the spaces.

“Do you want a drink?” Bonnibel eventually asked her.

Marceline tensed, shaking her head. “No,” she whispered. “Thanks.”

Bonnie nearly grabbed her elbow to lead her away, but then remembered that they weren’t friends. Instead, she nodded her head toward the living room. “Come and sit down. I have blankets.”

She looked confused by that, but shuffled after Bonnie just the same, perching awkwardly on the edge of the sofa. Bonnie made sure she left most of the cushion between them when she sat on the other end. Then she picked her book back up, offered one end of the blanket to Marceline and resumed reading.

Ignoring Marceline was the only way she could communicate what she wanted to. She would not push this. It had to start with Marceline.

Or it had to end with Marceline.

“Simon said you didn’t want to be paid for tutoring me,” Marceline finally murmured.

Bonnie closed her book, setting it down on the table beside her. “I didn’t. But he insisted.”

“Why?”

She shrugged. “A couple of reasons. The one I gave him was that I simply didn’t want to be compensated for something that you’re entitled to. Everyone should be given the opportunity for a decent education. I didn’t need to be paid for that.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Maybe.” Bonnie smiled at her, wondering where this was going.

Marceline drew a deep breath in through her teeth. “I’m sorry,” she said as she exhaled. “I was unfair to you before. I… I was wrong.” Her blue eyes finally lifted from the floor to look at Bonnie’s face, searching it for… something. “I shouldn’t have assumed anything based on what dad said.” An unspoken plea hung in the air around them.

For answer, Bonnie gathered the blanket and scooted closer, throwing it across them both and wrapping her arms around Marceline’s neck. “I guess I can forgive you,” she laughed. “You are an idiot though, right? I don’t know what you think I did, but I promise I didn’t do it.”

In a shocking first, Marceline wound her arms around Bonnie too, resting her forehead on her shoulder. A laugh shivered through her. “I know. Simon told me. I’m still not sure who to trust anymore, but I guess his story makes sense. And you’re not a liar.”

Bonnie let go, sliding back, tucking her feet underneath her. This was a very strange conversation. She really kind of hoped Marceline would tell her what was going on, but she didn’t expect it. “Gee, so glad you have at least that much faith in me,” she said wryly.

Marceline tilted her head. “You’re not going to ask… are you?”

“Pretty sure it should be obvious by this point that I make it a habit not to ask you anything,” Bonnibel replied softly. “You don’t like to talk about anything, so I don’t ask. Simple.”

The expression on Marceline’s face confused Bonnie just a little. But then she smiled and it was beautiful. “You’re such a dork.” Just as quickly as it appeared, the smile vanished, replaced by something sombre. “Can I tell you anyway?”

Bonnie bumped her shoulder. “Sure. If you want.”

Marceline nodded and took another deep breath. “My mum was sick. Dad doesn’t like to talk about it, but Marshall told me once it was an immune deficiency or something like that. She got ill easily and it was more severe, lasted longer. Sometimes it got really bad. But dad loved her so much… When she had me, her immune response didn’t pick up. I don’t know details, it’s science jargon and makes my head spin. But she just kept getting worse until three months after I was born, she passed away.

“Dad blamed me. He figured that if I’d never been born, she’d still be alive. So from then on, I’d never be good enough. I could never meet his expectations, never be smart enough, talented enough, I’d never be her. He tried so hard to hide it… but I could see it in his eyes when he looked at me. I just didn’t know what it was.

“He wanted me to be something great; something like a final dedication to mum’s memory. As if I was living my life to make up for the fact that hers was cut short. He wanted me to be a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, a business woman, someone important. And I was smart. I wanted him to be proud of me and I tried so hard to live up to what he wanted. But it was a bar I couldn’t reach. It didn’t stop him from draping all his hopes across my miniature shoulders and the burden was hard to carry around every day.”

She paused, staring vacantly at the television screen, memories playing across her face. Bonnie could feel her heart breaking for her.

“He sent me to board at a private school in Blackwater,” Marceline continued slowly. “I was so young that I didn’t have much understanding of what was going on, but I knew he sent me there to try my best. So I did. I picked up music while I was there, fell in love with it and he paid for lessons, giving in to one thing in the hopes that it would encourage me to try hard at everything. He was humouring me. I learned to play all kinds of instruments and by the time he realised it wasn’t a phase it was too late.

“My teachers declared me a prodigy. They wanted him to send me to a specialised school because my talent was being wasted. He didn’t listen and pulled me from the school half way through fifth grade, hoping to discourage the spread of my musical ‘problem’.

“I realised at this point that he could never let me be who I wanted it. I had to fit this mould he’d created for me but I didn’t want to be that person. So I picked up another coping technique: failing. By sixth grade I was competent on most string instruments handed to me, but in academia I was never better than average. Transposing skill from instrument to instrument in baffling ways I could do. Science and business didn’t interest me.

“But I was smart enough to work out exactly how to manipulate my grades to make sure that I didn’t seem too intelligent. I figured dad would lose interest in me. So I let my grades slip and fell in with some… questionable kids. Ash among them.”

Marceline shifted uncomfortably, her gaze flicking to Bonnie, probably expecting to find something judgemental in there. All Bonnie could feel was pain. What a terrible environment to be raised in. It hurt her that a father would be so pushy and demanding. It hurt that her friend was so conflicted. And they were friends. She would not be convinced otherwise.

“I stopped playing music, got my first tattoo, a piercing that I regretted and let close over. I started drinking and staying out late at night. I did some horrible things. I had a foul mouth too. I got the bare minimum needed to pass my subjects and turned into a degenerate, the kind of kid that nobody wants to talk to. That’s around the time I picked up my penchant for dark make-up and I garnered a reputation for violence. My anger was normally taken out on furniture, but sometimes a person would ask for it and end with a black eye. Even though I wasn’t a very nice person, Keila stuck with me and she will always be my best friend. She saw redemption when all I could see was darkness.

“And it worked. Dad gave up. He stopped paying for tutors that I’d just scare off with a bad attitude; he pulled me from the school and seventh grade was my first year at Reich High. He stopped caring.

“For two years I went to parties on the dark side of life and drank too much alcohol. I never did drugs,” she spat hastily as if worried Bonnie would think less of her. “God, even then I wasn’t that dumb. But passive smoking happened a lot.

“Ash was a jerk, a right dick, so I don’t know why we ever dated. But there was something in him that echoed how I felt and it was a glorious match. Like sparks to gasoline. It was a terrible decision, but it started out innocent enough. We’d prank people, participate in some mild bullying, start a few fights. But it got out of hand.

“He’s… not a nice fellow when he stops pretending to be charming. To him, I’d never be anything, good for nothing but making him food and… generally fulfilling all the roles of a typical trophy. I was his shiny bragging rights.”

Her jaw clenched and her hand fisted in the blanket. All Bonnie could do was keep listening and wonder if those were tears shining in her eyes. She rested a hand tentatively over Marceline’s fist. The fingers unwound slowly, winding between Bonnie’s and holding on tight.

“I never gave him the satisfaction of… um… you know… and it always peeved him most that I wouldn’t put out. It gave me the only modicum of control I could find and it felt good, to some degree. But when everyone puts you down, and tells you ‘no, you can’t’ you start to believe them. I was never going to amount to anything worthwhile. I was well on my way to being a deadbeat and totally disgracing my mother’s memory.

“I didn’t care about rumours by this point, and when I broke up with Ash in the parking lot of the school in his last year, I didn’t hold back. I kicked him where it counts and maybe it was my fault he broke his arm.

“When Simon got a job there, I was so happy. He’d always said he believed I could become a musician; he’s been a friend of mine since I was tiny. I used to call him my uncle because that’s what he was like. And he was so nice to me that I thought maybe I was worth something after all.

“But I was a little worried when he pushed you on me as a tutor,” she admitted. “I thought maybe he wasn’t my friend at all. Maybe he was just like my dad. So I resolved to hate your guts. I hated him and dad and myself, everyone, but mostly, I just wanted to hate you.

“With your smarts and your impeccable presentation, it was a move on Simon’s part to get me to aspire to something, to want more for myself. You were the role model he thought I needed. But really, when everyone thinks you’re so great, and the teachers love you and you’re so immaculate and pretty and goddamn perfect all the time… That’s not what you were. You were a reflection of all the things I could have been. I the things I wished I was. And so I hated you.”

Marceline stared at her, waiting for some sort of accusation, but it didn’t come. Bonnie simply squeezed her hand and smiled. That’s all she could offer. After all, Bonnie had tried to hate her too. If for different reasons.

“So… I haven’t trusted my dad in a long time,” she went on. “Because he’s always been trying to make me someone I’m not. And then you… you just accepted how I was. And you let me play music, and you listened and you were patient and I accused you of working for my dad. And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have listened to him.” Marceline sighed.

“Alright,” Bonnie muttered.

“Alright?” Marceline asked, eyebrows shooting up. “Alright what?”

She shrugged. “You’ve had some lousy people tell you how pathetic you are, that sucks. But alright. Thank you for telling me. I do think you can be spectacular, you know that?”

Marceline barked a laugh. “Yeah, I know. And you told me how proud you were when I passed last semester. Okay. So… um… Are we good?”

Bonnibel beamed at her. “Yeah, we’re good. Can we go back to being friends now?”

“Absolutely.”

“Can I give you a hug?”

“Mmm,” Marceline wavered. “That might be too – oomph.”

Bonnie ignored her. “You need a hug, don’t argue with me.”

Marceline chuckled, her hands settling tentatively on the small of Bonnie’s back. “You’re pretty pushy, you know that?”

“I am not,” Bonnibel snorted into her collar. “I’m the exact opposite of that.”

“Sometimes you are. You seem to be fairly stubborn on the topic of hugs.”

“You’re just not used to it.”

“This is true.” For such a short moment, Bonnie almost thought she’d imagined it, Marceline’s arms contracted. Then she let go. It might have been illusion, but she didn’t think so. “So… now what?”

“What do you mean?” Bonnie asked her, wriggling around beneath the blanket in an effort to find a more comfortable spot. “Now…” She looked at her watch. “It’s nearly six. I think that’s time for food. Don’t you?”

Marceline beamed at her. “Pizza and a movie?”

“Sounds delightful. What are we watching?”

“How about Aliens? We could finish the series…” Marceline suggested, sounding unsure.

“That sounds excellent.” Bonnibel crawled off the sofa to kneel in front of her DVD stand. “You can order the pizzas while I get it set up.”

That gorgeous smirk spread lazily across Marceline’s face. “You’d trust me to order your food?”

“Yes. Otherwise this whole afternoon would probably have been wasted.”

“Good point.” She paused in dialling the number to stare at Bonnie in kind of a weird way. “Hey, Bon?”

“Hum?”

“Thank you.”

Bonnie grinned, forcing down those funny electric butterflies in her stomach. “Any time.”

Chapter Text

Monday 29th September 2014

According to Ellen, Bonnie didn’t do holidays the right way. Maybe she was right. Maybe sitting in the church was kind of… morbid? Maybe not morbid, but her friends certainly figured it was odd. She didn’t mind what they thought of it; there would be more comments if she were sitting in the cemetery all the time. That would be morbid. Although that would be no less appropriate.

She shifted, her knees resting on the cushions beginning to hurt, but by now she was pretty good at ignoring the discomfort. Bonnie sighed, resting her head on the wooden pew in front of her. Maybe it was time to let go of it all.

“I don’t know if I can do that, though,” she whispered to the floor. “How can I possibly let everything slide away like that?” She clenched her jaw, looking back up at the stained windows on the far wall. “What would you do?”

It was stupid; she knew the answer to that question. Her mother – so whimsical on the outside – had always held a slightly more worldly part of herself a lot closer to her chest. So much that when she spouted wisdom no one could ever truly be ready for it. Bonnie had certainly never been able to predict it.

And so she sighed again. “Yeah, yeah,” she mumbled. “I guess I know what you’d say. I’ve got to find the ‘bright side’ right? The silver lining? Sure.” She rolled her eyes upwards. “And what if it’s only bright from where I’m sitting?”

For that one, she didn’t have a reply. Her parents had never once doubted her, never once voiced some sort of depreciation or negative comment. But that had never stopped her from feeling them in her bones. They were little niggling suspicions that maybe things wouldn’t turn out alright in the end. When events corroborated her fears, she had nowhere to turn anymore.

“Don’t you bring them up,” she grumbled, eyeing the ceiling balefully. “I don’t want to put that on them. And no, that’s not what they’re there for.”

“Bonnie?”

For a moment she thought she was going crazy. Then she twisted to see Marceline standing in the side doorway. Her friend had a shadowy smirk ghosting around her lips and one eyebrow arched curiously.

“Talking to yourself makes you seem insane,” Marceline went on. “What are you doing here?”

Bonnibel straightened, sliding back onto the pew behind her. She patted the spot beside her. “Sit with me for a minute?”

Marceline shuffled her feet just outside the doorway, obviously warring with her innate desire to avoid the church. Then, with a little sigh, she stepped inside and slouched onto the red leather next to Bonnie. Her fingers fidgeted anxiously in her lap.

They sat in silence; Marceline evidently not going to repeat her question and Bonnie not sure how to answer it. Not sure whether she wanted to. In the end though (and given Marceline’s own heartfelt outpouring of a few nights ago) she felt compelled to.

“I wasn’t talking to myself,” she whispered, causing Marceline to look around. Bonnibel chuckled quietly. “I was speaking to my mother. Well… both my parents really, but it’s mum’s voice I hear most often.”

Marceline’s brows dipped into a gentle frown. “You don’t talk about them,” she commented.

“I don’t really like to,” Bonnie affirmed. “It… It hurts.”

In a strange role-reversal way, this time it was Marceline not asking the questions she wanted to and Bonnie having trouble finding words. In any other circumstance it might’ve been funny. But not in this one.

“They died,” Bonnibel eventually murmured. The words were so quiet, a final verbal acknowledgement of the truth that made her soul ache. “Last year at the end of November. There was an explosion in our apartment building that killed everyone above the fourth floor. There were only three survivors; me, a guy on the bottom floor who lost his wife and their three month old daughter and one other boy. Some idiot kid had been lighting home-made fireworks and they combusted. The building was old, it still had gas lines and they went up. My brother died too. He was ten.”

She could feel the tears leaking down her cheeks, but it took her a moment to realise Marceline had put a hand on her knee. “I’m sorry,” Marceline whispered.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Bonnie said hastily. “Peter is the only family I have left but it was hard to leave Ormeau.” She fiddled with the necklace she always wore – her mother’s. “I’ve never been especially devout, but they were. Going to church on Sundays was a family affair and it was… it was nice. And when I moved here, I didn’t have their headstones to visit, so I come here instead. Somehow… Somehow I find the idea of an afterlife where they can be happy really nice and… I choose to believe that they can hear me, that they’re watching. It’s… it’s so much better than any alternative.”

Marceline bobbed her head, staring at the place where her hand met Bonnie’s jeans, her fingers tightened and she pulled away. “What were they like?” she asked, shoulders hunched as though finding this whole thing awkward. And maybe she did. Bonnie couldn’t blame her.

“They were the best,” she replied softly. “My dad ran a business but he was just a big dork at heart. He was a real softie and he loved children. I think in another life he might’ve been a kindergarten teacher or something, he was really artistic and just wanted to paint stuff. My mother helped him with the business because she was better with numbers than him and he probably would’ve been broke without her. In her spare time she wrote novels and articles for local papers and magazines. I don’t think she ever published a book but she had a horde of manuscripts that I used to read when I was little. My brother was a prodigy in every aspect of life but all he really wanted was to bake.”

Marceline snorted at the last. “I bet he got a lot of shit from other kids for that,” she grumbled. “Poor guy.”

“Actually he got a lot more nasty comments for being my brother than for the cooking thing,” Bonnie whispered.

“Why?” Marceline asked shrilly, eyebrows shooting up. “You’re a freaking saint.”

“I went to an all girls’ Christian school,” Bonnibel replied with a shrug. “And even though I never actually confirmed it, they all pretty much figured the rumours about me being gay were true.”

“Wait, back up,” Marceline said, waving a hand. “Your brother got bullied because you’re gay? Don’t people in Ormeau know it’s not contagious or anything?”

Bonnie’s mouth fell open and her heart stopped beating. When the organ finally decided it had better keep going or she’d die, it overcompensated. “It wasn’t really bullying,” she responded slowly. “I got that from lots of people, he just ended up getting a ton of hate about me said to him. Rob was lucky he was so mild mannered or he would’ve been in hundreds of fights.” Her voice trailed off at the end, finishing so quietly she didn’t expect Marceline to hear it.

“That’s crap,” Marceline opined. “But then again… religion can be like that. Hey, if your folks were all about church how did they take it?”

“You don’t care?” Bonnibel found herself asking.

“Why should I? You’re still you, just now all those jokes about closets and that one time you asked if I thought Hayden was cute make sense. Same Bonnibel, new filter.”

And she smiled. Marceline smiled with her and it didn’t hurt as much. Nerves still sizzled in her chest and that menacing sense of impending doom didn’t stop hovering about her lungs, but she felt… better.

“When I came out to my parents my dad said ‘that’s nice, what would you like for desert, we’re out of ice cream’ and my brother wondered if it meant he’d get to meet cute girls after that,” Bonnie laughed. “There was no change, not really. I mean, mum stopped commenting on how attractive she thought guys were and asking me to weigh in, but it was countered by dad picking up on that particular thing. Watching movies was… entertaining.”

“Oh man,” Marceline chuckled. “I feel like movies with you will never be the same again.”

Bonnie shrugged again. “After years of keeping it secret I’m pretty good at pretending, you know.”

Then Marceline’s smile faded slightly. “How many people here know?” she asked, warily.

“Peter, obviously, you and Finn.”

“What… Why Finn?”

“He kept asking me out and I didn’t want him to have hopes or whatever.”

“Fair enough. Just us though? Why not all your other friends?” And Marceline seemed genuinely confused.

Bonnibel’s shoulders hunched up around her ears. “I just… I don’t know. I’m not used to people knowing, I guess. Plus, I think if I told the others, within the same day everyone in town would’ve found out. Ellen can’t keep that kind of secret.”

“Very true. And um… it’s kind of selfish, but don’t tell my dad. He’d forbid me to ever speak with you again,” Marceline mumbled. “And that’d be rubbish.”

Her smile kicked in again. “Promise,” Bonnie agreed.

Marceline’s expression melted into something sly and conniving then. “So…” she began, tauntingly. “Do you fancy anyone, eh? Is that why you kept asking if I secretly thought Hayden was nice to look at?”

Bonnie went bright red. “Oh my god, no. I kept asking you that because you seemed confused by her or something. I definitely don’t fancy her. Wow.”

“What about someone else?” Marceline wiggled her eyebrows. “Come on, you can tell me.”

“Nope. You’re being horrible.” She left unspoken that of all the people in Reich, the absolute last person she could talk to about that was Marceline. That conversation would be incredibly uncomfortable.

“Well you let me know, alright? I’ll find out if they swing your way.”

“Funny, Finn said the same thing,” Bonnie told her wryly.

Marceline smiled again, that beautiful genuine one that lit up her whole face. “You just take me up on the offer instead of the dweeb, okay? Because it would be less weird if I asked.”

“Sure, yeah,” Bonnie said, frowning. “Because an easy conversation starts with the terrifying Marceline Abadeer and her famous scowl stalking up to an unsuspecting person to ask after their sexuality. That’s not strange at all.”

“At least I’d be able to ask,” Marceline protested. “Finn probably wouldn’t even get the words out.”

And Bonnibel had to agree with her, bursting out laughing. After Marceline’s offended expression dissipated, she joined in. Even after the laughter subsided, their relative silence wasn’t weird in the least. It was like all the doors had been opened in an old, musty house and winds had blown through, blasting away all the cobwebs and leaving it clean. Or maybe it wasn’t like that at all and Bonnie was just glad to her toenails that Marceline had taken all of this so well.

“Hey, Marceline?” she whispered.

Her friend arched an eyebrow, smirk flickering about the corners of her mouth in a way that made Bonnie’s heart tremble. “Yeah, nerd?”

“Thank you.”

When Marceline’s face exploded into a smile that wasn’t even a distant relative of a smirk, Bonnie realised that this really was just the opposite of the way things usually were between them. “Yeah, alright, dork,” she huffed, standing. “What are friends for? Now get out of the church, okay?”

Hesitantly, Bonnie followed her up, nodding. “Alright. I’ve got reading material waiting for me any…”

In the most awkward way imaginable, Marceline hugged her. It was real, physical contact initiated by Marceline. Bonnie almost stopped breathing.

“Thank you,” Marceline muttered into her collar.

Before Bonnie could reply to that, Marceline let her go and stepped back, sparing her one last glance before leaving through the same door she’d arrived. Bonnie blinked after her for a moment, wondering at the significance of what had just happened. Part of her expected it was pretty monumental and the rest of her was scolding that first bit for having such high hopes.

With trembling fingers, she pulled her phone from her pocket and hit speed dial.

“Bonnibel,” was screeched down the line by way of greeting after just two rings. “How are you? There’s been silence from you for weeks.”

“Sorry, Cherry,” she said, sincerely.

“You better invest in some sort of video chat thing,” her friend went on. “Because I need a little face-to-face, yeah?”

“I’ll work on that.”

In her mind, Cherry’s rusty eyebrows were drawn together in a frown that didn’t in any way suit her petite face. “You seem a little spaced out there. What’s going on?”

“I told someone,” she mumbled.

There was a pause. Then, “How much and who?”

“A friend,” Bonnibel replied, not really sure she wanted Cherry to know a great deal about Marceline. Cherry was shrewd, as soon as Bonnie started describing Marceline, she’d read so much into it that it just wasn’t worth the trauma. “She’s cool and I have to start somewhere, right?”

The image of Cherry in her head rolled her lip under, thinking. “And how much did you tell her?” The tone to the words was enough to inform Bonnie that her friend was already reading into it. Goddamn.

“I told her about my family, about them passing away…” She paused, but Cherry knew her well enough to know the blank would be filled. “I told her I’m gay.”

“I guess that’s a start. You missed one, but I would totally keep that one secret in your shoes so no judging. Anyway, how did she take it?”

Bonnibel sank back onto the red cushion because she wasn’t sure her legs would keep her up much longer. “She didn’t… She took it really well. She just… accepted it. All of it.”

“See?” Cherry crowed. “I told you so. Damn, I promised myself I wouldn’t say that. Oh well. All that worrying for nothing, huh?”

“We’ll see. Telling her wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be, but everyone else… I don’t know, Cherry.”

“Baby steps, I suppose,” Cherry sighed. “This person… she means something to you… doesn’t she?”

Forgetting that her friend couldn’t see, Bonnie shook her head. “I’m not sure. She’s my friend.”

“Alright,” Cherry said slowly. “Well, if you need to talk about it, I’m always just right here. One phone call away.”

“I know. Say ‘hello’ to Norman and his family for me.”

“What about my family?”

“I figured that was implied.”

“You’re a real weirdo, did you know that?”

Bonnie smiled. “I’ve actually found someone here who reminds me of that as much as you used to. She has a broader selection of words to choose from.”

“Am I being replaced?”

“No one could ever replace you, Cherry.” But to herself, Bonnie had to admit that Marceline certainly had wheedled herself into a very strange position. No, Cherry was not being replaced, but Marceline was writing her own job description.

“Good to hear. Video chat, get on it. I need to see your face.”

“I miss you too,” Bonnie laughed.

“I’m definitely going to have to visit. Then I can meet all these new people finding spots in your heart too. You can introduce me to the girl you spilled your guts too.” Had the conversation been in person, Cherry would’ve winked.

“Not likely. Talk to you later.”

“Bye, Bonnie. Don’t forget to call me.”

“I could never.”

Chapter Text

Thursday 9th October 2014

Pick up your phone, Banner. It’s after lunch; I know you’re awake.

Bonnie threw her phone back on the couch beside her. Pippa had been texting her all damn day and it would seem ignoring her wasn’t sending the proper message. She paused a moment to smile at her accidental joke.

It beeped again and reflexively she picked it up. Answer me. I want you to see the lake. You’ll love it.

With an unhappy sigh, she sent, I don’t really want to. Maybe over Christmas. Tired after spending a few nights studying into the wee hours meant Bonnie was feeling a little lazy when it came to going places.

Aw, she got back a moment later. Pippa was obviously holding the phone, waiting. All the trees are flowering and it’s really pretty. Come on, it’ll be fun. We’re all going. There will be a camp fire and marshmallows…

She decided to go back to ignoring her friend. It’s not that she didn’t want to spend time with them, but sometimes a little solitude was needed. And few people could ever change her mind about that once she’d made her decision. Besides, there was reading to be done before school went back. And she’d spent plenty of time last week hanging out with her friends, these next few days needed to be put towards her education. At least, that’s how she justified it to herself.

And then, naturally, there was knocking at the door.

Bonnie’s eyes cut to her phone, expecting a text from Pippa to accompany the door knocking. But nothing happened; the screen stayed dark. She looked up, waiting. If it was Peter he’d call out, if it was any of her friends there would probably be some sort of racket any time now (Ellen’s obnoxious voice perhaps). There was nothing.

Heaving a great breath, she hauled herself to her feet and slouched to the door. She pulled the door in, not bothering to check who it might be. She knew if it was Pippa there to argue her case in person, Bonnie would cave. Penelope was very persuasive when she wanted to be.

“Hi,” Marceline said with a hesitant smile. “Whatcha doing?”

“Reading,” Bonnie replied, smiling without meaning to. “I’ve got–”

Marceline waved her words away. “Study to do, probably,” she said with a snort. “No dice. Let’s go. Put some shoes on.”

Rolling her eyes, Bonnie went back inside. “Where to? I don’t like being kidnapped.”

“It’s not kidnapping if you go willingly,” Marceline pointed out, lingering in the doorway. “And we both know you’ll go willingly, so don’t worry.”

“If you drag me to some hovel out in the countryside and kill me there will be trouble.”

“Oh yeah? Who’s going to stop me?”

“I’ll haunt you for the rest of your miserable life.”

Marceline grinned. “I think I’d be okay with that.”

Bonnie narrowed her eyes, tugging on sandshoes because no one in Reich cared much for fancy dress and she certainly didn’t (well, maybe Ellen did, but that’s just Ellen). “You say that now,” she warned, darkly. “But I have a mean streak.”

Marceline scoffed. “I’ve never seen it.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if everyone knew, would it,” she asked sweetly. No matter what Marceline said (and no matter that she was – indeed – going willingly), Bonnie suspected she’d need a book. She always needed a book. So on the pretence of grabbing a tube of sunscreen, she tucked a novel into her bag and snatched her keys up before heading out.

“You take forever,” Marceline observed.

“I like to be prepared. And since you haven’t told me where you’re taking me, count yourself lucky that I didn’t pack a suitcase for all weather conditions.”

“I will,” her friend chuckled. “In the meantime, how about you tell me what you had planned for today before I arrived to liven your schedule up?”

So she did, and Marceline laughed at her. Apparently her plans weren’t good enough and she should be thankful Marceline came along when she did. On the other hand, her friend hadn’t had a day anywhere along the ‘exciting’ scale. She seemed positively bored by the notion of how her day had been up to this point and simply sighed, pulling into the service station.

“One sec, Bon, kay?” Marceline exhaled, sliding out to grab the pump. “If I try to drive out and back on a third a tank of petrol we’ll break down out of mobile service.”

Bonnie nodded and stepped out, heading towards the shop. “Do you want snacks or something while we’re here?” she asked, backpedalling.

Marceline’s face scrunched up. “Yeah…” she drew out slowly. “You know what I like. Surprise me with your skills.”

Laughing, Bonnie ducked inside, rolling her shoulders uncomfortably when the blast from the heater smacked her in the face. Keeping one eye on Marceline, she roved up and down the aisle, gathering junk food and a few bottles of drink (water among the assorted beverages because it’s healthy and tastier anyway) before heading to the counter. The young man smiled at her. She didn’t know him so he probably lived on one of the rural farmsteads out this way. Maybe the servo was a family thing. It didn’t matter; his smile rolled off her like oil.

“That all?” he asked pleasantly.

“And the tab for bowser four please,” she replied, depositing her haul on the counter. “And yes to bags, thanks.”

He squinted at the screen, calling up the damage from the bowser just as Marceline slid the nozzle back into its little hole. The fellow was surprisingly efficient given the way he couldn’t take his eyes off her. So much so that she was flashing him a farewell wave and heading out the door before Marceline had made it halfway across the lot.

“I paid,” Bonnie told her, happily, linking their arms together. “Let’s go.”

Marceline blinked. “For the petrol? You paid for the fuel too?”

“Yep.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Marceline spluttered. “I brought money for that. Let me pay you back.”

“No thanks, I’m good. Come on,” Bonnie pressed.

Grumbling, Marceline collapsed into the driver’s seat. “You always pay,” she whined. “I feel like I’m taking advantage of your generosity or whatever. I can pay you back.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Marceline continued to prattle on about it though. “You bought me lunch the other day too. And you always pay for pizza when we watch movies. And you always–”

“Just shut up and drive, Marceline,” Bonnie nearly barked.

Her friend glanced at her, worried, wondering. Bonnie could see the thoughts – the questions – dancing around in her mind. Could see them play out like a black and white film from the twenties. She could see the words, the hurt, the accusation – ‘this is your charity’ – and it bit tightly in her chest.

“Sorry I snapped,” Bonnibel muttered.

“It’s okay,” Marceline replied, equally soft. “I just sometimes feel like a loser when you pay for stuff all the time. Like… I’m not broke you know? I have a job. So unless you’re filthy stinking rich, I don’t really understand why you do it.” Marceline’s face broke into a cheeky grin. “Unless you’re trying to buy me. In which case, go right ahead. My Christmas wish list is that bright red acoustic guitar on the back wall of Todd’s.”

Bonnie levelled a flat glare at her. “You’re hilarious.”

“So what did you buy, nerd?” she asked, smiling still.

“The usual. Chips, chocolate, drinks of various varieties and a bag of those Candy Kingdom marshmallow things you like so much,” she mumbled, rifling through the bags to make sure she got it all. “Sound good?”

“You know me too well.”

“So where are we going?”

“Wait and see.”

Bonnibel didn’t have to tell Marceline that she wasn’t real big on surprises – from the look on her friend’s face, the infuriating woman already knew. But, as usual, Bonnie’s carefully constructed glare was ignored and Marceline defused the situation by teasing her and turning the radio on. Honestly, if Marceline was a superhero, her power would be making Bonnie smile.

Although, when they turned down a dusty side-road and Bonnie noticed Jake’s four wheel drive parked in the dirt off to one side, she frowned again. Pippa was leaning against the side of the vehicle while Jake rummaged around inside the back. Bonnie turned her suspicious gaze on Marceline.

“I smell a conspiracy,” she grumbled.

Marceline rolled her eyes. Bonnie couldn’t see her do it, but she could feel it. She levelled a glare at the other girl but it sloughed off Marceline as though she was glare-proof. Which made sense since so many people gave her heated looks.

“You’re so boring, Bonnie,” Marceline said, clambering out of the car. “It’s the holidays and all you want to do is sit around reading. Be exciting just this once.” She opened the boot to slide her phone into her bag before hauling it out. Bonnie just kept glaring at her through the seats.

“Reading is educational, thanks very much. Also I much prefer indoor recreation to the outdoor variety.”

Marceline laughed. “Well you can sit there, or you can come with,” she chuckled, backing away from the car. “You might enjoy yourself.”

Bonnie scrunched up her face in response to that; it too had no effect on her obnoxious friend. She sighed when Marceline dropped her bag under a tree and stared at her through the windshield, arms folded resolutely. This was an argument she couldn’t win.

With exaggerated slowness, Bonnie stepped out of the car. Marceline let out a cheer. “She’s out of the car, folks. Look out.”

Bonnie scowled darkly. “You won’t get me in the water,” she called back.

Marceline offered no reply except to grin hugely as she headed for the lake. Unexpectedly, Pippa looped an arm through Bonnie’s and dragged her over to the tree line. Jake and Finn weren’t far behind, whooping like small children. Hayden was there too, lagging behind, head together with Ellen.

“So you’ll come out when Marceline asks you,” Penelope muttered. “But not when I beg so desperately. What’s up with that?”

Bonnibel’s heart thudded uncomfortably with the question. “She uh… she’s a lot more persistent. And she threatens to fail her exams because she knows she’ll get her way then.”

Pippa laughed. “She blackmails you? Wow, she’s a class act. I’m going to remember that one the next time I want something from you.”

“That’s mean.”

A shrug was Pippa’s reply to that. A shrug and a smile. She tugged Bonnie down to sit on a… log…? It looked like it might have once been a fallen log, only now it had been worn or carved (or both) into more of a bench. There were big tractor tyres too and a stump (possibly the one from which the log-seat came), all gathered around a fire-pit hollowed out in the dirt.

“We’re gonna make a bonfire!” Finn hollered, his voice reverberating off the trees and the cliff. He had his feet in a tyre-swing, arcing up and out over the lake, jumping to cannonball into the water. He burst from the water moments later, sweeping hair out of his eyes.

“He’s not going to make a bonfire from the lake,” Bonnibel grumbled, rummaging through her bag for the sunscreen. There was a big floppy-brimmed hat on top of Marceline’s bag that she appropriated and dropped on her head.

Hayden appeared then, pulling a small bundle of things from her pocket. “That’s my job, apparently, Bonnie,” she said, unwrapping the plastic. “I’m the fire starter tonight.”

“Twisted fire starter,” Pippa chortled as Hayden knelt in the dirt.

It took Hayden all of thirty seconds to have a blaze going and she did it without matches or lighter. Bonnie was impressed, but mostly she was just terrified of her pyromaniac friend. Twisted was right.

“So you’re not planning on going swimming, I take it, Bonnie?” Hayden asked quietly, feeding sticks into the fire, coaxing it up.

“What?” Jake exclaimed, shuffling up with an Esky under one arm and a trio of cloth bags dangling from his other fist. “You’re not going swimming? What the hell is wrong with you?”

Bonnie rolled her eyes at him. “I’m prepared for the possibility of being forced into the water,” she said. “But the chances of me voluntarily getting in are pretty low. It’ll wash off all the sunscreen.”

“Lame,” Finn sang as he hurried up, grabbing a packet of chips from Jake’s bag. “Come on, Bonnibel, go for a dip.”

“I think I’ll just sit here, thank you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with not swimming,” Hayden said. “I don’t like the water much either. Large bodies of it make me… unhappy.” She frowned, concentrating a glare at the fire-pit.

“See?” Bonnie replied, smiling now. “I’ll keep Hayden company.”

“Psh,” Finn huffed, trotting back to the water’s edge. “You’re boring.”

“That’s what I keep telling her,” Marceline yelled at him from up in a tree. “She won’t believe me.”

Jake plucked at Pippa’s sleeve, whining about joining Finn in the water. With one last look at Bonnie, she followed her boyfriend over and he crash tackled her into the lake. Bonnie smiled as Jake heaved Pippa up onto his shoulders, swatting away Finn’s attempts to dunk him.

“It’s a bit warm in the day for a fire already,” Bonnie muttered, cutting a glance over at Hayden. “Why light it now?”

She shrugged. “It’s easier to just light it now and bank it when it dies down. Then half my job is done when I have to light it again.”

Bonnie smiled wryly. “Should I be scared by how much you know about fires?”

“At the very least know that I can put one out just as easily as I can start it,” Hayden laughed. “Fire safety is important.”

Bonnibel smiled with her, returning her attention to those down at the water. Honestly, watching them was pretty entertaining and Hayden was fun to chat with too. So it really shouldn’t have been surprising that the book she’d sequestered away in her bag wasn’t touched for a long time. When the fire was just embers, Hayden scattered a thick layer of soil over the top and warned Bonnie not to touch it.

“The fire is still alive under there,” she said, pulling her shirt off so she was in just her bikini. “It’s only sleeping. Keep folks away from it. Burnt soles aren’t fun at all.”

Bonnie nodded. “I thought you don’t like to swim,” she called as Hayden trotted off.

“I’m going to stand down there and in the event I get dragged in I want dry clothes later,” she responded, smiling widely. “Don’t touch the fire.”

For a while she kept her eyes on the others, but when Hayden got thrown in the drink (she laughed first) she pulled out her book, leaning against the trunk of the tree to read. Marceline would not approve. Bonnie didn’t care.

“Hey!”

Her eyes snapped up about half an hour later to see a very angry Pippa glowering down at her. Finn and Jake were rooting around in the bags for food and drink but didn’t spare her much of a glance before hastening back to the water.

“If you’re going to be just sitting here reading, you can come in for a swim,” Pippa told her.

Hurriedly, Bonnie folded her book closed and stuffed it back in her bag. “Nope. I’m good. No reading, no swimming.”

Pippa jabbed a finger at the water. “In. Now.”

“That won’t work,” Marceline said happily, walking up with her hair wringing wet across her shoulders. “But if I fail something she’ll go swimming. Isn’t that right, Bon?”

Bonnie glared. “You know what, Abadeer? Go ahead. Fail something.”

Marceline blinked. “Oh.”

Pippa only sighed.

“Okay,” Marceline said, raising her hands. “How about we go for a walk instead? No water involved.”

Bonnibel narrowed her eyes, brow furrowing. “I’m not sure I trust you.”

“We’ll go that way,” she said, lifting a finger and pointing off into the trees. “Away from the water. How does that sound?”

She weighed up her options. They were going to keep pestering her until she did something vaguely social. It might as well be this (comparatively) safe option. “Fine. Let’s go.” She levered herself up and waved Marceline ahead.

Pippa’s mouth fell open. “I am in awe,” she breathed, watching them go.

They walked in silence for a time, Marceline navigating like she’d been born between these trees. She kept stealing glances at Bonnie though as if expecting not to be noticed.

Finally she spoke. “Why don’t you want to go swimming? Just on principle or is there more to it?”

Bonnie shrugged. “Honestly?”

“Duh.”

“Sometimes I just like to be stubborn about things. There’s no sense in giving in to every single whim.”

Marceline grinned at her. “I like it.”

“Besides, if I make a big fuss out of some things, when they get me to do it they feel superior. Then the next time they’ll cave because they feel bad pushing me into doing so much. It’s like a pre-emptive guilt trip.”

“Wow. That’s amazing.”

“Don’t judge me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Where are we even going?” Bonnie asked as Marceline helped her over a fallen tree.

Marceline lifted a finger and pointed up a little bit. “There’s a path that leads up onto the cliff. It has a nice view.”

Bonnie arched an eyebrow. “Of the lake?”

“What else is there to have a nice view of?” Marceline shot back with a shrug. “But you can see over the trees in the other direction too. At night you can see Blackwater.”

“Are we planning on being here at night?”

“Maybe. I dunno. You’re the one who hangs out with these guys; I’m just along for the ride.”

Bonnibel cut a glance over at her friend. “I think you like them more than you let on.”

Marceline snorted, wending between trees up the side of the cliff. “I think you’re delusional.”

“Then why spend time with us?” Bonnie pressed. “You don’t have to. I know Finn’s warmed up to you and all that, but if you don’t like them why bother?”

She didn’t get an answer for that, but Bonnibel was positive she saw Marceline’s face go pink.

Trying a new approach she asked, “And what’s with this tag team business? You’re in cahoots with Pippa aren’t you? Ganging up to get me out of the house.”

This time Marceline smiled wolfishly. “You’ve been pretty resistant to socialising these last few days and Pippa said she was worried.”

“She called you?” Bonnie asked, incredulous.

“Texted, but same principle, I guess,” Marceline replied as if it were nothing. “She asked if I’d seen you lately because you wouldn’t come out of your – and I quote – ‘dungeon’. When I said I had she asked me what black magic I was using and could I put it towards getting you out to the lake.”

“And naturally you agreed,” Bonnibel said wryly.

Marceline smiled gently (weirdly, actually). “Tell me this is horrible and I’ll take you home.”

As if on cue, they reached the top of the slope, breaching the tree line so they were standing on the side of the cliff overlooking the lake. The world was obviously conspiring with her friends because the view was really nice. She stepped up to the edge, wondering how such a gentle incline could’ve put this much space between her and… down there. Bonnie peered over the edge, noting with relief that the ground wasn’t really too far away and directly below them was the lake so if she fell, it would only hurt a little. If she hit the earth and not the water though, she’d break bones. Bonnie backed away from the precipice.

Marceline was still watching her expectantly, that funny little smile tilted across her face. “Okay,” Bonnibel relented. “This isn’t so bad.”

“Were you resisting as a part of your premature guilt-tripping thing?” Marceline asked shrewdly.

“Possibly,” she hedged. “Yeah, okay. I figured I’d be roped into all sorts of things near the end of the year and didn’t want to give them too much satisfaction.” She slid up onto a rocky ledge (the hill continued up further but was too steep to climb, the surface made a few nice seats though). “This is good. I’ve been wanting to see the lake since after winter.”

“Why didn’t you say something? I would’ve brought you out here.”

Bonnie looked at her flatly, smiling slightly. “You’re forgetting how little we spoke for a month in there.”

“Ah,” Marceline mumbled sheepishly. “True. Have I told you I’m sorry about that?”

“All the time.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Go for it.”

Marceline hesitated, shuffling her feet. “Were you like this in Ormeau?” She paused, thinking about what she’d said and then blurted out more words. “I mean, you say you don’t like to do what people say all the time because you don’t want to feel like people are making you do stuff. I get that. And I know that you don’t like to talk about… things… but were you… like… I dunno, the same before you came here?”

Bonnie slipped off her rock again and bumped Marceline in the shoulder. “I suppose so,” she said when her friend stopped staring at her toes. “I never liked giving them everything they wanted either, if that’s what you mean.”

Marceline frowned. “So… when they asked you to go… I dunno, what’s a cool place to go in Ormeau?”

“The mall?” Bonnie laughed.

“Right, so you’d tell them you didn’t want to go to the mall sometimes?”

“Sure. I’ve always been really big on studying, you know,” Bonnie told her. “Also, I’ve had things I didn’t want people to know for a long time. Hanging out with folks gives them the opportunity to learn who I am and figure out that I’m hiding something and then it gives them licence to dig until they find it. I guess that idea scares me.”

I know your secrets, Bon,” Marceline pointed out.

“You have a point. But the others don’t yet,” Bonnie mused. “Pippa is a really good friend and she’s working up to that point where she’ll figure it out and it terrifies me. The last time I shared it with someone… someone I trusted even… they spilled it to the whole school and I got a lot of hate for it. And if Ellen found out… the consequences are really quite horrible, as projected by my imagination.”

“If you tell them you’ll find out how they’d react and you could stop worrying.”

“I’ve spent years over thinking that kind of thing. I’d rather just be difficult and keep denying them the option of getting me into overly social situations. Besides, not going to lie, sometimes being deliberately contrary is fun.”

Marceline’s smile turned odd, dark and full of promises. It made Bonnie’s heart skip. “So I take it there’s absolutely no way Pippa could convince you to go swimming, huh?” The question had the makings of a topic change, but if that’s what it was, Bonnie could only be grateful.

“Nope.”

“What about me? Could I convince you?”

“Probably not. I’m not wearing swimmers.”

“What if I said I have a change of clothes you could wear,” Marceline pressed. “Would you get in then?”

Bonnie hesitated and that – it would seem – was the only answer Marceline needed. She wrapped her arms around Bonnie’s middle and propelled them off the cliff. If she hadn’t been so damn well surprised, she probably would’ve screamed. But the drop wasn’t far and they hit the water before she could gather her wits and do it.

“You!” she spluttered, bursting free of the water and shoving away from Marceline. “Are by far the most horrid person I know.”

“You don’t mean that.” She sounded sure when she said it, but there was a crease around her eyes that turned it into a question.

Bonnie splashed water at her. “Just because I don’t mean it doesn’t make it a little bit true right now. That was mean.”

The tightness in Marceline’s face vanished and she grinned. “I do actually have a change of clothes, by the way.”

“That only makes it slightly less awful.”

Marceline flicked a stream of water at her and patted her head. “Come on then, grumpy. We’ll go get you dried off. How’s that?”

“It’ll be cold soon,” Bonnie protested as Marceline dragged her out of the lake. “And I’m soaking.”

“So dry clothes and a Hayden-patented bonfire should do the trick,” Marceline said far too reasonably for Bonnie’s liking. “You’ll be fine. Don’t forget there’re marshmallows.”

She sighed, unable to stop a smile from flickering to life. “Fine. But where am I going to get changed?”

Marceline looked at her like she was stupid. “Behind the car? Don’t worry yourself, I’ll keep watch.”

“You’re a terrible person,” Bonnie reiterated. This time, Marceline didn’t look worried about it. She just smiled and led the way back to the car through the trees.

They circled around so they arrived at the car without bumping into anyone. The sun was starting to set over the lake and Bonnie just stared at it while Marceline retrieved her spare clothes. It was beautiful and would probably have been a good bit more spectacular from the hill, but none of the impact was lost down here. The light danced across the lake, shimmering in a tropical rainbow, reminding her of fruit. That – she decided – was rather a weird analogy to apply to a sunset.

“Here,” Marceline muttered, breaking her free of her thoughts. “Clothes and a towel for your drying needs. I promise I won’t look.”

Bonnie smiled sardonically, snatching the clothes free and hurrying to the other side of the car. She dried herself off and changed as fast as she possibly could and then threw the sopping towel at the back of Marceline’s head. “Thanks,” she said sweetly.

“Ah,” Marceline gasped, peeling the towel off her head. “Yeah, no worries. Next time I’ll let you freeze.”

“Oh there won’t be a next time. You’re on probation.”

“What does that even mean?” she asked, beaming, as they walked back to where Hayden had rekindled the bonfire.

“Whatever I want it to mean,” Bonnie told her seriously.

“What are you wearing?” Pippa queried before Marceline could reply. “I swear you weren’t wearing that before.”

“Marceline dunked me in the river,” she explained. “Hence the change of clothes.”

“Yeah,” Ellen chuckled. “Hence.”

Jake looked impressed. “You got her in the water?” he asked Marceline.

“I might’ve pushed her off the ridge,” she said slowly.

An explosion of applause and laughter ripped through them. “Classy,” Finn called. Bonnie scowled at him.

“Well sit down,” Pippa said past her fading chortles. “Hayden is teaching us how to cook sausage rolls on an open flame. It’s a lot more complex than marshmallows.”

“We brought those,” Marceline provided quietly, sitting warily on the log beside Bonnie.

“I think we all did,” Hayden muttered. “We have like… five thousand bags.”

“I think that’s a challenge,” Jake decided solemnly.

“I’ll take you on,” Finn declared. “I’m going to trounce you in a marshmallow eating contest.”

“Later,” Hayden interrupted. “Rolls first.”

“Amen.”

Hayden was – as expected really – quite good at cooking over an open flame and once she was done, they mostly ended up too busy stuffing their faces to engage in conversation. The promise of roasted marshmallows was interrupted when Marceline nicked all the bags and raced off with them. Hayden laughed as Finn and Jake tore after her, but apparently she had more in her car. Then Eleanor’s phone rang and naturally she couldn’t ignore it. And that left just Bonnie and Pippa sitting in a somewhat strained silence at the fire. Bonnie’s earlier conversation with Marceline wasn’t forgotten when Pippa smiled at her. It made her worry.

“So,” Pippa eventually began. “Nice to see you out of the house.”

“Mmhmm,” Bonnie said, eyes narrowing. “Marceline said you called to get me out here.”

“Well you wouldn’t listen to me,” Penelope sang. “But you did for her and it got me wondering…” Bonnie braced herself. “She was a right bitch to you for a few months and then what? She apologises and everything’s hunky dory again?”

“She had a good reason,” Bonnibel muttered warily.

“Sure, but if… I dunno, Ellen, say. If she was that nasty to me it would definitely take a little more than a simple ‘sorry, Pip, I was cray for a while there’ to get me to forgive her.” Pippa’s head fell to one side. “I’d ask you how much you like Marceline on a scale of one to ten, but I have a feeling you’d break my gauge.”

Bonnie – not wanting to encourage this particular line of conversation – remained quiet. And as much as she might like to, she was unsure how to change it without being obvious. Any recognizable detours in the dialogue would be identified as such instantly and raise Pippa’s suspicions. That would end badly.

“I need a simple, straight forward answer to this next question, Bonnie,” Pippa said carefully. “Okay? Good. Assuming that the scale from one to ten is the ‘friend zone' how high does Marceline sit on the next part of that gauge? The scale from eleven to twenty where someone is when you fancy them as more than a friend, I mean.”

Bonnibel’s throat closed over. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she rasped hoarsely.

“Oh, come on, Bonnie,” Penelope sighed, exasperated. “It’s really freaking obvious that you like her. Like… really obvious. If Ellen wasn’t so utterly convinced that you’re some sort of runaway nun, she’d back me up.”

She shook her head. “Nope.”

“Do you want me to list all the reasons I know you like her?” Pippa asked softly. “I can, you know. There’re a lot of them. Like how you smile when you see her. The fact that her number is second on your speed dial list and she’s above Peter, even. The way you talk about her, the way you let her into your flat without even asking, no matter the time. Heck, whenever I ask you to do something, or go somewhere with us, you always put up a bit of resistance. But not when Marceline asks you.”

Bonnie’s jaw dropped. “Wait, you asked her to get me out here to back-up your theory that I’m… what… attracted to her?”

Pippa didn’t even have the good grace to look abashed by the accusation. She just said, “Of course I did. I’m pretty observant, you know. I just needed to figure you out. You didn’t make it easy, but I’m right. Aren’t I?”

It was like her mentioning the fear that someone would work it out was a jinx. With a reluctant sigh, Bonnie nodded. “Yeah,” she exhaled. “I suppose you are right.”

Unexpectedly, Pippa didn’t do a little victory dance, she just blinked and asked, “So is Marceline an exception to the rule, or are you gay?”

“The latter.”

“And you didn’t tell us… why?”

Bonnie hunched her shoulders. “Previous experience has taught me better than to trust folks straight up with it. Plus Reich is a church town. It didn’t seem well advised.”

“Fair enough,” Pippa said, bobbing her head. “Does she know?”

“Does who know what?”

Pippa rolled her eyes. “Does Marceline know you bat for the other team?”

“Yes. And so does Finn.”

“What?” Pippa nearly screeched. “Why does…? You told him and not me?”

“You didn’t keep asking me out,” Bonnie informed her dryly. “I figured I should discourage him.”

Penelope still seemed indignant, but she nodded. “And the others? Will you tell them?”

“Not Ellen,” Bonnie said, horrified. “Not yet. She’ll tell everyone. Maybe Jake and Hayden though.”

“Maybe Jake and Hayden what?” Finn asked, dropping down in front of the fire with a bag of marshmallows. Jake and Marceline weren’t far behind; he looked a little disgruntled because he hadn’t managed to get a packet off her. Marceline just looked smug.

“Yeah,” Hayden piped up, throwing a spare bag from her car at Jake. “What are we talking about?”

Pippa just stared at Bonnie expectantly. She sighed, twisting in her seat to find Eleanor waving her hands animatedly while she spoke on the phone. God knows who was on the other end. Probably her sometimes-best-friend, Melissa.

“If I don’t tell them will you do it?” Bonnie asked Pippa quietly.

“Most likely. You do realise that it’s actually the minority who is out of the loop here, right?”

Bonnibel nodded, face scrunching up. “Ugh, you’re horrible. And pushy and demanding and this is why I don’t like hanging out with people.”

“Wait,” Finn said around a mouth full of marshmallows. “There’s a reason for that?”

“Yeah,” Marceline told him. “She doesn’t like talking to people.”

“I thought that was your problem,” he fired back.

“Shut up,” Pippa groaned before Marceline could speak again. “Let Bonnie talk.”

All eyes swivelled her way and that sure didn’t help. She took a deep breath. “Alright. Well, I don’t…” she sighed. “I’m gay.”

Marceline rolled her eyes and Finn just shrugged. Hayden blinked at her, the marshmallow she was toasting going crispy and Jake burst out laughing. Bonnie did not feel relieved to have told them at all. If anything, the tenseness in her shoulder coiled tighter.

“Oh, that explains so much,” Jake hooted. He ribbed his cousin in the side. “I bet that hurts, mate, doesn’t it?”

Finn hunched his shoulders again. “I already knew,” he mumbled.

“You what?” Jake all but hollered. “What?”

“She told me ages ago so I’d stop asking her out.”

Jake’s mouth worked. He was a fly trap this time. “I get Pippa knowing since they’re besties. But… oh man. Did you know?” he pointed a finger at Hayden.

She shook her head. “News to me. I guess I haven’t known you long enough to know why this explains so much, but I get it’s a big deal,” Hayden went on, directing her words at Bonnie. “I knew a gay guy at my last town. He said coming out to everyone was nerve-wracking.”

“And you?” Jake’s finger turned on Marceline.

“I knew,” she admitted with a half-shrug. “No biggie.”

Jake deflated. “I feel so left out.”

“If it’s any consolation, Jake,” Bonnie muttered, feeling a little better. “Ellen doesn’t know. And I’m not telling her until she can learn to keep a secret.”

“So… never,” he deduced. “Okay, cool. I can live with that. Got any other revelations for us?”

“How about why you moved here,” Pippa suggested innocently. “You’ve been here for nearly a whole year and no one knows why.”

“Yeah,” Finn and Jake chorused, backing her up.

“My parents… died,” Bonnie told them, figuring the abridged version would hurt less. “Peter’s the only family I have left. Since I wasn’t sixteen, I had to move here. And two moves in a year didn’t sound healthy, plus I didn’t really want to go back to the school I left anyway. So I stayed.”

Finn’s eyes almost fell out of his head while Jake and Pippa both lost control of their lower jaws and Hayden eyed her sadly. The only one who didn’t show any real shock was Marceline (obviously). Well, it was obvious to Bonnie; Pippa took it the wrong way.

“I’m so sorry,” Pippa whispered.

“Yeah, that’s rough,” Jake commiserated. Finn seemed pretty lost for words.

“You,” Penelope said, levelling a finger at a now surprised Marceline.

“What about me?”

That’s how you react when a friend says her parents passed away?”

Marceline floundered, eyes going straight to Bonnie. “But… I… I already knew. Should I be shocked a second time?”

“What?” Pippa screeched. “How long have you known that?”

“Um…” Marceline’s eyes rolled skyward as she thought. “About two weeks?”

“And I think that’s my cue to go,” Bonnie said, standing. She figured she’d better cut Pippa off before she exploded. “It’s getting late and I didn’t tell Pete where I was going.”

“Yeah,” Hayden chuckled. “Drop a couple of bombshells and scamper. Good plan.”

“This gives you the opportunity to talk about me while I’m gone,” Bonnie told her wryly. “Have fun.”

It took Marceline five seconds before remembering that she was Bonnie’s ride. “Hey,” she called, darting after her. “I didn’t eat enough food things yet.”

“So we’ll stop for pizza on the way,” Bonnie muttered. “I just need to go now. I can’t… I need space.”

“From me too? Because it’ll be hard to give you space in the car,” Marceline said lightly.

“No,” Bonnibel said, smiling wanly. “You’re good. Pizza and maybe a movie?”

“Sounds good to me. On one condition.” She held up a warning finger to make her point.

“God, what?”

I’m buying the pizza. Not you.”

She laughed, properly this time; considering how drained she felt, that was a feat. “Sure thing.” Of course, then she had the whole drive home to think about her talk with Pippa. Sitting next to Marceline wasn’t helping the squirming in her stomach at all and then there was the possibility that her friend really did fall on the ‘eleven to twenty’ scale. She didn’t want to think about it.

And in her psychic way, Marceline knew it. Utilising her super powers, Marceline told her a story that somehow made her worries go away. Bonnie even smiled.

This was not good.

Chapter Text

Monday 13th October 2014

Why on God’s green Earth did her birthday have to be on a Monday? Why? That seemed unreasonably cruel, honestly. And it wasn’t even a regular Monday. It was the first freaking Monday back at school for the term. What a horrible, nasty, God-awful day to have a birthday fall.

Everything seemed so very hard. Getting out of bed was hard, exchanging pyjamas for regular clothes on was hard, she stumbled and nearly fell down the stairs getting to the kitchen and then eating breakfast was terribly hard. Almost she was tempted to fall asleep on her toast and just not go in to school. She shouldn’t have to. Nobody should be expected to go anywhere on their birthday; let alone to school.

Still, she persevered, managing to make it – without incident – back up to her room to grab her stuff for the day. Even as she threw things into her bag, her phone, sitting on the edge of her bed, beeped. She almost didn’t pick it up, but she was glad she did.

Happy birthday, dork.

Without any prior permission, no forms filed to be rendered in triplicate, no applications, no warning of any kind, a smile exploded across her face. It was surprisingly satisfying to know that at… seven-twenty-six in the morning, Bonnibel had sent her a message (there were none from Keila, which would’ve made anger boil in her stomach, but the text from Bonnie made up for it). Actually, it was shocking to think Bonnie even remembered her birthday. It made little sparklers fizzle in her chest.

And then – just like that – just exactly that easily – her day didn’t seem nearly so bad as she’d foreseen. There was the tiniest little bounce in her step as she tromped down the stairs (sans the falling thing this time). What made it even better was that her dad was going to be busy until seven that evening so she probably wouldn’t have to interact with him too much. And to make things even more spectacular (and Marceline hadn’t thought it was possible), her car started the first go. Amazing. The stars must’ve been aligned or something.

Thanks, nerd, she sent back to Bonnie while the car psyched itself up. Do you need a lift?

The reply came not a minute later. Nah, thanks though. Pip wanted help this morning so she dragged me in early.

Oh the trauma.

Stop texting while you’re driving.

Marceline was still smiling. All the way through town, down the side street to the back entrance to the school parking lot, even as she ducked into the admin building to have her attendance taken, she couldn’t stop smiling. The woman at the desk always seemed surprised when Marceline turned up to school and today her eyes widened a good bit more than usual.

Rolling her eyes, Marceline headed along the corridor. Where you at? she sent to Bonnie as she walked.

She could feel the laughter in the words when Bonnie replied, Stalker much? In the hall.

More like a theatre, the hall was where students were meant to accumulate for announcements or compulsory assemblies. The drama students used it for whatever reason and the band practiced on the stage because it gave a better idea of acoustics and sound. Why Bonnie and Pippa were in there was a mystery.

Marceline poked her head in the side door, wondering if this was a bad idea. It didn’t look any different to usual, but she couldn’t see either of them. Warily, she stepped inside. She circled around to the first row of always-in-place seating and blinked.

“Oh hey,” Bonnibel called cheerfully from on stage. “Happy birthday.”

“What… are you doing?” Marceline asked her, smiling.

Bonnie rocked on the step ladder as she twisted to pick something up off the table beside her. “Gregory sent the seniors an email yesterday about having the hall set up pre-emptively for their graduation. The seniors are lazy though and don’t care, so Pippa and the other aspiring student council members for next year offered to help.”

“And naturally you joined them,” Marceline observed wryly. “The graduation isn’t for another two months, you know.”

“Yeah, we know. But Pippa wants to make a good impression, so we’re starting on the basics now.” The ladder wobbled again and Marceline unconsciously took a step forward, worried it would tip over. “Ellen is working on the aesthetics thing with Melissa and Pippa in the back.”

“Do you need a hand?” she enquired, pointing at the ladder.

“Couldn’t hurt.”

Marceline climbed up the front of the stage so if Bonnie looked like she was about to fall she’d have a cushion at least. The thought of catching her friend was completely harmless until her mind pointed out that that sort of thing happened in romantic stories all the time and might be misconstrued. She had to shake the notion free.

Friends, she stressed to herself.

“… pass me that one?” Bonnie was pointing to a screwdriver with one hand while the other held a decorative light fixture in place. Marceline handed it up to her, knuckles tight on the handle of the ladder. One leg was significantly shorter than the others and she didn’t think it was safe.

“What is that?” she asked, taking in the light… thing… for the first time.

“Pippa said these chandeliers would work as side lighting,” Bonnie explained, grunting as she tightened the screw she was working with. “There’s going to be another one up high over the centre of the stage. I suppose it’s a presentation thing.”

“And you’re qualified to install a light fitting?” Marceline teased.

“I just had to run the power cable off-stage to the power point and make sure the bracket was secure,” Bonnie replied as she attacked another screw. “So long as it doesn’t fall it should be fine. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.”

“Does it work?”

Bonnie leaned away from the light – it was in the shape of a sort of mushroom thing, with little globes dangling from it, it kind of looked like an atom really – and dropped the screwdriver to the table. “Help me down?”

Marceline rolled her eyes, but offered a hand anyway. “You didn’t answer my question,” she noted once Bonnibel was a safe distance away and her heart had resumed a normal pace. “It looks like it should work, but does it?”

Bonnie grinned. “Do you want to flip the switch?”

“Nah, you put it up. You do it.”

So she headed off stage for a minute to turn the light on. Marceline had to scrunch her eyes shut it was so bright. “Yeah, you got it,” she called to Bonnie. “It’s working, turn it off now.”

The world beyond her eyelids darkened considerably and she deemed it safe to open her eyes again. Bonnie reappeared, smiling tentatively but all Marceline could see was a big green blotch across her vision. If she didn’t quite look at her friend, she could see, but when her gaze was fixed straight on Bonnie turned into a strangely warped blob of translucence.

“Did it work?”

“Hell yeah it did,” Marceline grouched. “Everyone on stage is going to be blinded by them.”

“Oh I haven’t attached the shades yet,” Bonnie told her sheepishly. “They have covers.”

“Might want to add those.”

Bonnie shrugged. “Later, the bell’s about to ring.” On cue the signal for first lesson to begin rang out through the school. Firing her a departing grin, Bonnie headed for the exit. “See you in maths.”

Marceline scrubbed her hands across her face, trying to shift the green shape burned into her retinas. “Mm, yep,” she replied vaguely. She forced the olive colour aside, tracing Bonnie’s movements through the chairs and out of the hall.

It took her a moment to gather her wits together and follow. Although, as she moseyed through the corridors towards her first lesson; Marceline debated whether or not she really wanted to be in attendance for her physics class. First thing on a Monday, she sincerely hoped everyone questioned going. They probably didn’t.

When she sat in her usual corner (without her books, turning up was one thing, doing work something completely different) and Eleanor fixed her with an unreadable expression, she decided showing was worth it. The look sent her way by the nosey gossip was somewhere between unbelievably gobsmacked, bemused and… wait… was that… pride? Marceline shook her head, knowing that couldn’t be right, and cast it from her mind.

Still, Eleanor’s smile worried her through the whole class. And when the bell rang (to blissfully release them from the torture), Eleanor’s whispered ‘happy birthday’ was equally confounding. Perhaps the whole world had flipped its lid.

Marceline was convinced that nothing else could shock her more than Eleanor’s words. So that when she walked into her maths class and found Finn bouncing in his seat with a party hat perched on his head, she stopped dead in her tracks and re-evaluated everything in her life. Bonnie was beside him wearing a quiet smile, studiously attempting to ignore her friend’s antics.

“Happy birthday, Marceline,” Finn crowed as she sat down on Bonnie’s other side. It didn’t save her from him reaching over to slam a pointy orange hat on her head. “Sorry it’s a Monday.”

She blinked at him, dumbfounded. When she turned her gaze on Bonnibel the smile on the redhead’s face arced higher. “Did you plan this?” Marceline asked her, the accusation not quite hidden in her words.

“Nope.”

“How does everyone know it’s my birthday then?”

“I told them,” Bonnie admitted. “But I didn’t plan a party or a cake or anything. I just got you a present.” Now Bonnibel looked across at her. “Which I assume, from your lack of books, that you haven’t found in your locker.”

“How did you get it in my locker?” Marceline asked a little shrilly.

“I guess you’ll never know. Do your work.”

With that, Bonnie went back to her maths textbook and prodded Finn to do the same. Birthday related nonsense wasn’t discussed for the rest of the class. And when Marceline finally realised she was wearing a party hat (as the bell rang, unfortunately) and she ripped it off, Bonnie didn’t even comment.

This was now bordering on the crazy levels of weird. And uncomfortable. As they left the classroom for their spare, though, it got worse (or stranger anyway, Marceline wasn’t sure if it was a bad strange just yet).

Bonnie grabbed her hand and dragged her down the corridor heading in the complete other direction to anywhere they might do study in their spare. Marceline was kept so thoroughly off-balance as they headed through the halls. She was concerned enough by this behaviour that she didn’t even notice when Bonnie wound their fingers together.

Not until they stopped beside her locker anyway. Then she looked down and ripped her hand free, going bright red. She didn’t want to acknowledge the thudding in her chest, but she also didn’t have much choice. It kind of hurt. And the way Bonnibel smiled at her so brightly sure wasn’t helping.

Marceline swallowed, working moisture into her suddenly dry throat. Speaking seemed inexplicably hard right then. “What… Why are we here?” she asked hoarsely, looking around, down the hall – anywhere but directly at Bonnie.

Her friend nodded at the locker. “Get your present. You can unwrap it in our spare.”

Frowning, Marceline twirled the knob on her padlock and opened the door. As promised, a small package rested on the top shelf of her locker. It was wreathed in black and white checked paper and bound with a red bow. Her frown vanished, replaced with a soft smile.

The paper crinkled as she picked it up, squeezing it. It was about the size of a textbook and squishy. Honestly, from holding the gift alone, Marceline didn’t have a clue what it might be.

“What is it?” fell out of her mouth before she could stop it.

Bonnibel slammed the door shut and snapped the padlock closed before taking Marceline’s hand again and leading her towards the music building. “You’ll just have to open it and find out.”

Deprived of one hand, however, Marceline couldn’t do that as they walked and instead kept squeezing it between her fingers, trying to work out what it could be. It… kind of felt like a lumpy pillow. But if Bonnie had gotten her one of those for her birthday she’d be a little upset about all this suspense she was being put through.

Bonnie crumpled to the grass, yanking her down too. Then the redhead stared at her expectantly. “Come on, Marceline,” she whined. “I want to know if you like it.”

Marceline arched an eyebrow. “It doesn’t look like a guitar…” she mused. “I said you could buy me with a guitar. Weren’t you listening?”

“I decided to start small. Ease you into it.”

Laughing at that, Marceline slipped the bow off and prised the flap free of sticky tape, not wanting to rip the paper Bonnie had so meticulously folded. The present inside the paper slid free, tipping out one end with a little bit of prodding. It slumped into her lap and Marceline laughed all the harder.

“Food, huh?” she asked, inspecting the packet. “Maybe you know me better than I thought. Candy Kingdom marshmallows are my favourite.”

“Now read the label,” Bonnie prompted.

Her eyes widened as she did as instructed. “What?” she exclaimed, flipping the bag over, doing a double check. “What is this? I’ve never seen this flavour before.”

“That’s because it doesn’t exist,” Bonnibel told her.

Marceline glanced up at her, then back down at the plastic. ‘Strawberry Centred’ was the heading underneath the bubblegum text reading ‘Candy Kingdom Marshmallows’ and Marceline had never seen it before. She stared at the packet for a moment longer.

“If I open this to see if they really are as advertised,” Marceline began slowly. “I think I’ll regret ruining the integrity of the packaging and opening something that doesn’t exist. Is there more of these? Will they be released sometime in the future?”

Bonnie shook her head. “I might be able to get my hands on another bag if you ask nicely, but they’re not going to be stocked at a supermarket near you. Or any supermarket really. This is a once-off.”

“And when you say you ‘might’ be able to…” Marceline pressed. “Does that mean you can or that you have no way of doing that?”

Bonnibel laughed. “It means I have two other bags – the only other bags – at home in my cupboard. Why?”

“Because I kinda wanna eat them to make sure they’re real,” she muttered, squeezing the bag again in her hands. “It’s two of my favourite things in one convenient wrapping. But what if it’s lying to me?”

“You raise a valid point.”

“Should I eat them?”

“What’s the point of marshmallows if not to eat them?” Bonnie countered.

Grinning widely, Marceline split the packet with a crisp snap and pulled out one dusted white marshmallow. She frowned at it, inspecting it closely. Then she bit through half of it and squealed when a gooey strawberry centre was revealed. It was perfect. Strawberry goo and marshmallow in one bite-sized portion.

She stuck out a hand and punched Bonnie gently in the shoulder. “These are awesome,” she cried. “How did you get your paws on these if they don’t exist?”

Bonnibel winked. “That’s a trade secret. Just enjoy them. Maybe one day I’ll tell you.”

“You know, you’re pretty magical when it comes to lollies, Bon,” Marceline told her. “There’s never a shortage of it when you’re around. I like it. You can stay.”

“Glad I have your blessing,” she replied drolly.

“Can I have one of the other packets?” Marceline asked around another marshmallow. “One to never open? I’ll just admire it.”

“Sure. You can take it home this afternoon.”

She felt her heart sink, the elation of the lollies wheezing out her ears. “Study? On my birthday?”

“No study,” Bonnie said, shaking her head. “But since your dad’s not going to be home, I figured you could have dinner with us tonight. Whatever you want.”

Marceline’s smile bloomed slowly and without permission. “You’re pretty great, you know that?”

Her friend just shrugged. “I have my moments, just like anyone.”

“I happen to think you have ten thousand more awesome moments than anyone else ever,” Marceline mumbled. “You could out-awesome anyone you wanted to.”

“Thanks, you’re sweet.”

Marceline’s heart fluttered at the comment, innocent though it was. “Well,” she rasped around the lump in her throat. “Not everyone would know how amazing a packet of marshmallows is, would they? No. Only you thought of that. And it’s – hands down – the best birthday present I’ve had in years.”

“I’ll really have to step up next year then, won’t I,” Bonnie chuckled.

And given how perfect her birthday was that year, Marceline couldn’t help but look forward to it.

Chapter Text

Saturday 18th October 2014

At some point inside the last two months, Keila’s room had been tidied to the point Marceline didn’t even recognise it anymore. Sitting on the floor fiddling with the strings of her newly gifted mandolin and staring at the walls, the bare carpet, the made bed and even the closet that wasn’t dripping with paraphernalia was a disconcerting experience. She was used to Keila’s room looking like a war zone, a place where people dropped bombs with fabric shrapnel and explosions of books. This… this clean room was most unsettling.

“I’m so sorry,” Keila whined again, swinging back and forth on her desk chair. “I can’t believe I forgot. I was so positive that it was this weekend.”

“Evidently,” Marceline replied flatly, not taking her eyes off a point on the wall where a tattered band poster had once hung. “Which is why we’re celebrating today and not on Monday.”

“I know. I’m a terrible best friend. Better late than never?”

“Sure. So long as there’s going to be cake.”

“Naturally. Cake and roast dinner. I made the cake, but mum wouldn’t let me use the big knife to do the vegetables.”

“I’m not surprised. Is the cake safe to eat?”

“Very funny.” Keila turned her big brown eyes on Marceline and pleaded with her face. “Did you have a good day, even though I forgot?”

She plucked a particularly hopeful note on the mandolin. “Yeah. I did. You know, my best friend forgot my birthday, but Eleanor remembered. She wished me a happy birthday. So did Finn and Jake; they even gave me a present. Blank computer disks and a new hard drive.”

Keila’s face crumpled. “I really am sorry, Marceline.”

“I know. You said.”

She slid out of the chair and crumpled to the carpet across from Marceline. “I’ll make it up to you next year,” she promised. “We’ll do something spectacular for your birthday. Maybe go to a concert.”

A tentative smile crawled across her face. “I think that sounds like a plan,” Marceline murmured, tugging on another – cheerier – string. “And on your birthday, we can do something together.”

Again, Keila’s smile wobbled. “We did something for my birthday,” she pointed out.

“Not on your birthday, though.” Deep down, Marceline wanted to yell at Keila, to be bitter and upset, to remind her that they’d been best friends their whole lives and this Gary fellow shouldn’t get priority. But there was this other part – newer and scared – that kept noting how stupid and childish this all was. Keila had a boyfriend; it was only natural that she didn’t have as much time for Marceline anymore. That knowledge, however, did little to sooth the burn of her best friend fobbing her off all the time.

“Yeah,” Keila sighed, her shoulders slumping. “That too. I’ll make up for it all. I’m so sorry.”

“Can I ask you something?” Marceline queried suddenly, pulling a rather ominous tone from the mandolin.

“Shoot.”

“When’s Gary’s birthday?”

“December twelve,” Keila mumbled. “Why?”

“Just wondering.”

“What did Bonnibel do for your birthday?” Keila asked, steering the conversation clumsily away from dangerous waters. “You two are pretty good friends now. I’m sure she did something.”

“Yep,” Marceline sang. “She got me a bag of marshmallows and I had dinner at her place. We watched movies; all my pick. It’s very hard to find a flick she doesn’t like on some level.”

“Marshmallows?” Keila asked drolly. “That’s pathetic.”

“Not really. They had strawberry centres and even though I Googled the crap out of them when I got home, they don’t exist. They don’t stock anywhere and they’re not listed on the Candy Kingdom website as something they’re even contemplating releasing to the public.”

“What?” Keila nearly screeched. “But that’s… How?”

“How did she do it? No idea. She won’t tell me.”

“Maybe she’s in the mafia or something.”

Marceline snorted. “Please. I’m more likely to be in the mafia than Bonnibel.”

“Must’ve been black magic then. That’s not such a bad present then. Did you eat them?”

“Duh. What else are you supposed to do with marshmallows?”

“Um, with marshmallows that don’t exist? Excuse me, you keep them forever and tell everyone that your high school tutor was magical. Candy Kingdom marshmallows are your favourite and anything that can be strawberry flavoured, you’ll have that way. It’s… it’s the best present ever. Wow. She outclassed me.”

Marceline laughed, but didn’t disagree.

Her laughter cut off when Keila continued. “If only she was gay,” she exhaled.

“Um, what?” Marceline gasped. “Why?”

Keila rolled her eyes. “Hello! Earth to Marceline? She’s been here for less than a year and already knows exactly what to get for your birthday.” She lifted a finger. Oh good, they were making a check list. “She’s completely immune to your bad moods and can cheer you up with no effort whatsoever.” Another finger. “She adores listening to you play music, never makes a big deal out of things, and gives you all this space that you don’t need.” Three more fingers; moving onto the next hand. “She respects you in ways even I don’t understand. She smiles when she sees you and will always make time to hang out. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her question your right to visit and she answers your calls or messages within seven seconds.” Keila ran out of fingers.

Marceline just sat there, staring – mouth open – at her friend. “Are you a psycho?”

Keila’s head tilted to one side, a tiny little triumphant smile tugging at her lips. “No. Why? Are you that blind that you don’t think she’d be excellent dating material?”

The only response Marceline could even deign that with, was spluttering. Then, “But… I’m not gay!”

“Oh please. You won’t go to the Blackwater theatre with me on any day but a Thursday after lunch because you know that cute blonde girl works the concession stand then,” Keila told her drolly. “You may not ever ask her out, but you sure do like looking. You’re not straight, Marceline.”

Cue more spluttering. It was indignant and defensive and there was this little voice in the back of her head telling her that of course Keila noticed her staring at the girl. Naturally. The voice told her it was stupid to be so incensed by it. Her shoulders slumped, splutters fading out to garbled strings of sound and then to nothing.

“Pretty sure I’m the one who’s supposed to realise it first, Keila,” she grumbled. “I’m still not gay.”

“Whatever. You keep lying to yourself.”

“Even if I was gay – and I’m not – Bonnie would never date me,” Marceline muttered, knowing it sounded a lot like babble. “So there’d be no point. It’d end in disaster.”

“Yeah, but it’d be one hot mess.” Keila cackled at her joke.

“I hate you.”

Before Keila could respond to that, Louis bellowed from downstairs, “Girls! Dinner!”

Keila launched herself toward the door. “Better keep up, Abadeer. Before I eat all the cake.”

“I will end you.”

Chapter Text

Saturday 1st November 2014

“Not that one!”

Crack.

“Ouch.”

Shit.”

“You were warned.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. Finn nursed his head where he’d banged it on a branch with one hand and rubbed his knee with the other. He was smiling though, which could only be a good thing. With a twist to his smile – pulling it up into more of a smirk – Finn lifted the apple from his lap and waved it, taunting.

“Got the apple though,” he crowed.

Jake just laughed. “You could have a concussion, mate. Don’t be stupid again. If you fall out of a tree doing something dumb and die, dad will beat you to death with your own corpse.”

“I don’t think that’s possible,” Pippa informed him bluntly. “Chuck that apple, Finn.”

He did so, lobbing it right at Penelope’s head. “Oops,” Finn called down, sheepishly.

“Hands, Finn,” Pippa reminded him as she ducked. She lifted one and gestured with it. “I have them. I do not catch flying fruit with my mouth.”

“Got it.”

“How many have we got, Bonnibel?” Jake asked, picking up the apple Finn had used in his decapitation attempt. “I want to be done.”

“Um…” Hastily, Bonnie shoved her phone into her back pocket and tallied the fruit that had been added since her last count. “Fourteen. How many do we need?”

“More than that,” Jake groaned. “And Ellen bailed on us again. Cause… you know, we could’ve used the help.”

Pippa snorted. “And how much help would she have been, Jake, dear? She likes outdoor activities about as much as you like wash outs at sports events.”

Jake’s face contorted at the very thought. “You have a point.” His eyes cut across to Bonnie and smiled dangerously when he caught her on her phone again. “Hey, Bonnie. What’s that text say that it’s got you smiling so big, huh?”

In an attempt to deny the way her heart skipped a beat and a flush crept up her throat; she stuffed her phone away again. “Nothing. No one. What are you talking about?”

“Secret boyfriend?” Jake teased.

“Girlfriend,” Finn corrected.

“Oh right. What he said.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes again. Sheesh, what was going on with her life? She was getting as bad as… as bad as… as Marceline. She sighed. “No secret anythings,” Bonnibel told them, resigned to the fact that they’d stand there and stare at her until she gave them an ‘acceptable’ answer.

Jake simply wiggled his eyebrows at her, but turned back to the tree. He hauled himself up as Finn flopped down and headed towards the house. “I’m just… ice,” he grouched, waving a hand at his head. “It kinda hurts.”

And when he was gone and Pippa went back to staring up into the tree to direct Jake at apples, Bonnie pulled her phone out again. Just in time for the screen to flash with a new message.

Lunch then?

Bonnie tilted her head, thinking that through. Since they were all gathered in the orchard off the highway right before where the turn-off for Ivy’s branched out, lunch would not be easy. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth as she mulled it over.

Sure. I’m at the orchard. You could pick me up on your way home and we could have lunch at mine?

There was a long pause while she waited on a response.

Sounds good. I’ll be by in ten.

See you then.

“Hey,” Bonnie called after that, prompting Pippa to turn around mid-instruction. “What are we doing for lunch?”

“Ivy said she left some food in her fridge for us,” Jake hollered down. “Incoming, Pip.” She looked back up at him just as he dropped the apple. With surprisingly good reflexes, Penelope wrapped one hand around the apple and deposited it in the bucket with the rest. “Why’s that, Bonnie?”

“Oh. I was just thinking I might not stick around,” she replied, waving a hand vaguely back towards Reich.

“You’re gonna bail too?” Jake whined.

She laughed at him. “You guys hardly need me to stand around counting apples,” Bonnie told him drolly. “This is more of a two person job. You’ll be fine.”

“Lameness.”

Pippa checked her watch. “You could stay for lunch,” she suggested. “If we go back to the house now, we could eat and then you could go.”

Jake’s eyes flicked from Pippa back to Bonnie. If he’d been a puppy he would’ve been wearing the most adorable little expression with his head on one side and his ears pricked up. Bonnibel glanced between them.

“Maybe,” she conceded.

“Wait. Why only maybe?” Jake asked, swinging down from the branch he’d been perched on.

“It depends what my ride wants to do,” she hedged.

“Oh, right,” Jake exclaimed. “So you were texting someone to take you home, huh? We’re not good enough?”

“That’s not…” Bonnie began. “You’re great. Standing in the sun is just not how I prefer to spend my Saturdays.” There. That was a perfectly legitimate excuse.

Only… “Yeah, sure we are,” Jake huffed. “That’s exactly why you’ve spent all morning texting someone else. It’s not Ellen is it?”

Bonnie snorted. “No, she’s with Brad. Why would she reply to any message I send her? I’m not more interesting than her sometimes-boyfriend.”

“She has a point,” Penelope noted.

“Alright,” Jake began, rolling his shoulders and cracking his knuckles. “Let me guess who it was then. Can’t be too many options.”

“It was Marceline,” Pippa decided before Jake could get another word out. “She’s the only person who gets a smile like that out of Bonnie with a simple text.”

Jake probably got whiplash looking from Pippa to Bonnie then. “Was it Marceline?” he asked lowly.

Bonnie could only nod slowly.

Pippa arched an eyebrow, her smile darkening into something disturbingly malicious and Bonnibel did not like the look of it one bit. Nope. “Hot date?” she taunted.

“Oh my god,” Bonnie breathed, feeling her face go so incredibly warm it must’ve been bright red. “No. She’s heading home from work and I suggested lunch so she’s picking me up.”

Jake let out a whoop. “Bonnie has a hot date!” he cried, wrapping her up in a massive hug that lifted her from the ground. “Although…” he amended, setting her on her feet again. “With Marceline… I’m not sure if ‘hot’ is the right word to use.” He fiddled with one earlobe. “I mean… too much metal.”

“It’s not a date,” Bonnie exhaled. “We do lunch all the time. Dinner sometimes too if she’s studying and stayed late.” She jabbed Jake in the chest. “If I was forced to tutor you it wouldn’t be a date.”

He rubbed the spot, puppy dog face back in action. “I’m not a girl though,” he mumbled. “Besides, it’s Saturday.”

“Yeah,” Pippa agreed, backing him up. “You don’t study on a Saturday. Ergo: a date.”

Giving up on convincing them otherwise, Bonnie threw her hands up, sighed again for good measure and headed for the house. Jake hollered something after her that might have been an apology but she waved it off with one hand and kept walking. Marceline would park at the house and if she wasn’t there a clean getaway wasn’t guaranteed. Clean was best.

Being greeted as she walked through the back door by Finn’s rear end waving in the air while his head was shoved in the freezer (situated rather low to the ground) was not what she’d expected. She wasn’t entirely sure, but she thought maybe – just maybe – he was singing something incredibly poppy. With a delighted caw, Finn backed out of the appliance with one hand wrapped around an ice cream and the other pressing a bag of beans to the side of his head. When he turned and saw her his face lit up like a stop sign.

“Oh… uh, hi.”

Bonnie pressed her lips together to prevent herself from laughing. “Hi. Having fun?”

“Um… sure.” His gaze flitted all around the room, refusing to meet her eyes. “I think I heard a car pull up,” he grumbled, now staring at the floor. “Not sure though. It was hard to hear through all the insulation.”

“Mmhmm,” Bonnie hummed, still holding in her giggles. Finn tucked his top lip between his teeth and slid up onto the counter in the kitchen. She left him there to recover and meandered through the house to the front door.

Pulling it in, she was just in time to see Marceline lift a hand to knock. Both of them smiled at exactly the same time and it prompted a fit of chuckles from Bonnie (that she’d swear had nothing to do with her lingering amusement over Finn’s freezer dance). She opened the door wider, an invitation for her to come in.

Marceline shook her head, massive grin wavering for one fleeting second. “No thanks,” she said quietly. “I’d rather not get sucked into whatever drama they’re having today. Or be roped into staying.”

“Not even for a little bit?” Finn called from the kitchen. “You can help us pick apples.”

With a casual eye roll, Marceline huffed out a laugh. “No, not even for that, Finn,” she bellowed back. “I’ll save my tree climbing quotient for mangoes later in the season.” The last was added softly at the end, evidently just for Bonnie’s benefit.

“You want to go then?” Bonnibel queried, already expecting the answer.

Marceline’s easily anticipated ‘Yeah’ was accompanied with a half-shrug and a weird vacant look. Bonnie frowned at it but Marceline would neither meet her eyes nor comment further.

So Bonnie pressed one hand into Marceline’s hip and pushed her backwards out the door. It was enough to snap her back to reality and prompt her into moving on her own. Bonnibel pulled the door closed on her way out, realising only at the last second that she should probably yell at Finn to let Pippa and Jake know that she was going. She got only a muffled reply in return.

“So how was work?” she asked, sliding into the passenger seat of Marceline’s car.

Her friend was now not even trying to conceal her sour expression, simply scrunching up her face and shaking her head. “Rubbish,” she grouched.

“Aw, what happened?”

Marceline gave her the strangest look then, part painful sadness that actually made Bonnie’s heart tremble in its housing and part pleading pout. And since Marceline didn’t pout ever, that meant it must be pretty serious.

Bonnibel rested her hand on Marceline’s knee and squeezed. “That bad, huh? Well I’ll make pancakes when we get home and you can pick whichever horrible movie you like. How’s that sound?”

A slow exhalation of breath was all Bonnie thought she’d get. Until Marceline flashed her a grateful smile (even if it wavered, it was still obviously better than nothing). “Thanks, Bon. You are the best person on the planet.”

“I try,” she replied, tossing her hair flippantly. It elicited an amused chuckle from Marceline, which made it well worth the degradation of indulging in such an act. “But other than ‘rubbish’ for whatever mysterious reason that I won’t ask about again – how was your morning?”

Another half-shrug. “I guess it was alright. I saw Keila and her boyfriend in there this morning. It was nice to have a chat.”

Bonnie beamed at her; glad Marceline could at least find some sort of bonus even if she said her day sucked. “See? That’s good. Did she have anything exciting to say?”

“Not since I saw her yesterday at school,” Marceline responded flatly. “I’m starting to think I need a new best friend.”

“While I still refuse to adopt Keila’s currently under-loved title,” Bonnibel told her in what she hoped was a diplomatic way. “You do have me. I won’t be your best friend. But I will be whatever else you want to call me.”

“How about Dork?”

“That’s quite a step down from Replacement Bestie,” Bonnie mused. “But sure, why not?”

Marceline sighed. “Part of me really wants to be super petty and get a significant other to place in a higher position than Keila,” she very nearly whispered. “But that seems like a dumb reason.”

“It is,” Bonnibel opined. And then a loaded statement fell out before she could check it: “I certainly wouldn’t date you just to tick off Keila. I think I’d probably start singing she will be loved at you and then slam the door in your face.”

“Maroon Five?” Marceline asked, face crumpling. “Whatever. I don’t think your opinion counts anyway.”

“Why not?” Bonnie harrumphed. “I’m sure my opinion is at least as valid as any guys. More valid if the guy is Ash.”

Marceline glanced at her sideways. “But you’re a friend,” she argued. “I think you’re probably a little bit biased. You do seem pretty intent on hanging out with me.”

“Ah, no!” Bonnie declared, lifting a finger and an eyebrow at the same time. “Even before I decided you’re not so bad, I’m pretty sure I remember telling you that you could do better.”

“Than Ash,” Marceline pointed out as if being specific made a difference. And… yeah, okay, to be fair it kind of did. Ash was in his own class of scum. Good point.

Bonnie ignored that, waving it away. “My point is: you can do better. You’re not as horrid as you think you are. Besides, I didn’t mean that I wouldn’t date you, I just meant that literally anyone could say that and I’d still slam the door on them. It’s not a good enough reason to ask someone out.”

Marceline’s normally pale face was suddenly very pink. “I’m going to choose to ignore all of that and move on.”

Bonnie grinned. “Sure. How is dear Ash these days?” she enquired, facilitating Marceline’s topic change.

Apparently that was not a wise move. Her friend’s hands tightened on the wheel, knuckles going white. “He was at the diner this morning,” Marceline ground out.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, slumping back into her seat. “He’s still a wad, huh?”

“A total wad,” Marceline concurred. “He likes to assume that I’m going to fail school, end up with no prospects and go crawling back to him.”

“I solemnly swear that in the unlikely event you do fail school and end up with nowhere to go, you can move in with me,” Bonnie told her. “Of course, if you fail then I’ll probably be very upset with you and life might be tough until you get used to my very upfront disapproval.”

“It’d still be better than him,” she noted softly. “So thank you. But I won’t fail. I’d hate to let you down.” And finally, another pallid smile flickered to life. “At least you like me. He just wants things I won’t give him.”

Bonnie cleared her throat to draw Marceline’s attention. “And what makes you think I don’t want stuff from you?” she asked darkly, smile quirking dangerously. When Marceline’s pink flared into bright red Bonnibel cackled. “Oh, you’re too easy. Relax. I was joking.”

Marceline coughed. “Good,” she rasped.

“In all seriousness though, am I allowed to ask what you think he wants?”

When Marceline sucked in a massive breath and let it ooze out through her nose (the tension very obviously leaving her hands at the same time), Bonnie was ready to hastily assure her that no answer was actually required. But then she spoke. And it broke Bonnibel’s heart all over again.

“He wants me to be his plaything,” Marceline muttered. “He wants me to… service him or whichever of his lousy thugs happened to be shy a two-bit whore. He wants to be the one to claim that he stole my innocence. He wants to be the one who defiled the preacher’s daughter. In his perfect world, I’m little more than his slave. A decoration to make food and keep him happy in every way his dirty little mind can think of.”

Bonnie patted her knee again. “I think I’m going to break his nose,” she decided. “If he ever says something like that within my hearing, his nose is fair game. You alright with that?”

Marceline barked a sour laugh. “Sure thing, feisty pants.” Even though she’d just put the car into park outside Bonnie’s house, she didn’t get out. She simply sat there with her palms splayed out on her thighs.

“Hey.” She didn’t speak again until Marceline looked up. “He doesn’t deserve you, alright? You’re not his trophy, not his winnings, not his property. And you need to know that. You also need to know that you’re freaking awesome and you’re my friend and if he so much as touches you, I will break him. One day you can have a prince charming or whatever and until then, you’re stuck with me.”

Marceline’s face fell apart into something gentle. She didn’t speak though; instead she got out strolled around to Bonnie’s side of the car, opened the door and pulled her up into a bone-crushing hug. She pressed her face into Bonnie’s shoulder and stood there, holding on for dear life.

“Being stuck with you is fine with me,” she garbled into Bonnie’s collar. One Mississippi. “You’re a better friend than I deserve.” Two Mississippi.

“No. Stop. There will be no self-pity,” Bonnie reprimanded even as she returned the hug. Three Mississippi. “You’re an amazing person and you forget that all the time. What you deserve is to be happy.” Four Mississippi. “You deserve someone who makes you happy. Someone who believes you can be in a massively famous rock band. Are we clear?” Five Mississippi.

Marceline exhaled, it sounded funny. It sounded as strange as the way Marceline’s fingers playing with the fabric at the hem of her shirt felt, the way she felt pressed up against Bonnie. Six Mississippi. “Yeah, Bon. We’re clear. Do you have a plan to help me find someone like that?”

“No,” Bonnie admitted. Seven Mississippi. “But I’m going to hang around until you do find that person. I promise. And if Ash gets in the way… well… let’s just say I might know a guy.”

Just as she began to count out the eighth Mississippi, Marceline pulled away, stuffing her hands in her pockets awkwardly. “Why do you believe I can do something with music?” she asked softly, as if afraid of the answer. Or maybe the question.

Bonnie bumped their shoulders together, getting Marceline to look up from the pavement. Then she did something brave (read: stupid) and wound her fingers into Marceline’s. “Because I’ve seen you play all kinds of instruments,” she explained as if it should be glaringly apparent. And really, it should be. “I’ve heard you sing; I’ve been privy to all of your musical rants and suffered through all your remixing attempts. I know you’re talented, Marceline. And I’m going to help you show the world.” She started up the drive to the house, dragging Marceline with her by virtue of their still joined hands. “Because honestly, it’d be kind of a crime against humanity to deprive them.”

“Bonnibel Banner,” Marceline breathed. “You’re one strangely excellent person.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday 19th November 2014

“Do you know what the worst thing about having a birthday at the end of the year is?” Jake stage whispered across the table at her.

“No, Jake. What?”

“The fact that everyone ends up so caught up in revising for their finals that they forget it’s there!” This time, his whisper was less ‘drama’ and more ‘quiet screaming’.

Marceline sighed, tilting her head to look at him. “When was your birthday?”

“The fifth.”

“Happy birthday. I’ll buy you a cupcake.”

He squinted at her. “I have no idea what Bonnie sees in you,” he grumbled.

“Me neither.”

He snorted. “At least you’re honest about that. We will continue to be baffled.”

Marceline lifted an eyebrow at him. “You could always just ask her, you know,” she pointed out.

“So could you,” he countered.

“What makes you think I haven’t?”

“Did she give you an answer?”

She blew air out in a heavy stream and shook her head. “Only a vague little smile.”

Jake huffed. “Yeah, we got the same. Pippa got something very philosophical out of her once. Can’t remember, but it might’ve had something to do with diamonds. Who knows?”

“She is very odd.”

“Definitely.”

They fell into silence then, focusing on revising for their maths exam. One thing Marceline would admit she did like about the end of the year was the block leading up to and including exams. Having no classes to attend was awesome. Admittedly, sitting in the library was not something she enjoyed overly much, but Jake wasn’t so bad. And if she didn’t do any revision (which she normally wouldn’t), she’d probably fail her exams and the imagined look on Bonnie’s face wasn’t worth it.

Besides, Jake was worse at maths than anyone else she knew (bar Finn, who should be banned from using a calculator) and it was nice to feel smarter than someone. Especially when that someone kept asking her questions she actually knew the answers to. Sure, hanging out with Jake and his pals wasn’t what she saw herself doing this year when she rolled into school on the first day; but it could’ve been so much worse.

“Hey,” Marceline began softly. “Why do you guys even let me hang with you?”

Jake tilted his head, scribbling something out in his book before he looked up at her. “What do you mean?”

She shrugged. “Before this year, none of you had ever spoken to me. Not more than enough words to excuse you anyway. You seem pretty chill with it though. Like… why?”

He frowned. “I guess it’s Bonnie’s fault?” It sounded like a question and Marceline couldn’t help but smile. “She likes you… for whatever reason. And you haven’t killed her yet, so maybe her assumption back in April that you’re not as bad as you want people to think was right.”

“Hang on,” Marceline cut in, lifting a hand to wave him back. “She said that in April?”

“Yeah. We all told her to steer clear of you. She didn’t listen to us, but I mean, she didn’t go out of her way to spend time with you,” he rambled. “She wasn’t scared to talk to you. We all thought she was just ignorant and taking uninformed risks because of it. But, hey; she’s still alive.”

Marceline blinked. “April though?” she pressed, deadpan.

Jake hunched his shoulders. “More or less. She took an inexplicable shine to you. Weirder things have happened.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

His face broke into a massive grin. “Like Pippa agreed to go out with me. Ain’t nothing weirder than that.”

“That’s a double negative,” Marceline grumbled, unable to fight back her smile though.

“Whatever.” He raised a finger to point at her. “Bonnie’s rubbing off on you, don’t deny it. You and your death glares and your bad attitude. Look at you, correcting my grammar.”

“Shut up.”

Jake’s tone took on a sing-song quality. “You like her! Marceline Abadeer made a new friend. And she’s so opposite to the other grungy freaks you spend time with.”

Her smile died. “Do not,” she warned in a soft voice. “Ever bring up those people. That’s in the past.”

“Yeah,” he sang in spite of what would once have been a serious threat. “Because you’re a marshmallow on the inside and somehow Bonnie saw it. Now you’re a nice person.”

“If you don’t stop being ridiculous I’ll disembowel you with my pen,” Marceline vowed.

Jake’s eyes popped open very wide. “And she’s back.” Marceline bared her teeth at him. “So you don’t talk to those… folks you used to be real chummy with anymore, huh?”

“I talk to Keila.”

“She hardly counts. I’m talking about Dane and Ash and his louts.”

Marceline shook her head. “I talk to Keila and Todd at the music store. Everyone else… I’ve fallen out of touch with.”

“You’ve made worse decisions.”

“Thanks,” she said dryly. “You make me feel special.”

He rolled his eyes. “You don’t need me to feel special. You’ve got Bonnie.”

Marceline lifted her pen and clicked it open. “Second warning.”

To his credit, Jake tried really hard not to grin at her, but it just made his face look contorted. He went back to his maths after that, evidently deciding it might be best not to press her again.

“Sorry nobody did anything for your birthday, Jake,” Marceline whispered after a moment.

“Eh. Pippa got me a cake and Finn did all my chores,” he replied with a half-shrug. “It wasn’t so bad. The worst part was that it was a Wednesday.”

“Dude, my birthday was a Monday. You’ve got nothing to complain about.”

“And yet,” he sighed melodramatically, “I still manage to find things.”

“How do you have a girlfriend?” she chuckled.

“Just lucky, I guess.”

Marceline was not the best person in the world when it came to reading people, but even she could tell Jake wanted to add something. He wanted to, but obviously didn’t want to at the same time. She had this niggling feeling whatever it was would not be something she wanted to hear.

He shuffled his books, glancing up at her and then back at his work, leaning a little further over the table. “Do…” Jake scrunched his mouth into an acrid twist. “Never mind.” And he leaned back out again, pen blurring between his fingers.

“Wise move,” she mumbled.

“You don’t know what I was going to ask,” he argued.

“I know I wouldn’t like it. So just keep it to yourself.”

His head fell to one side, thinking. Obviously he realised that keeping quiet was best for his health so he just nodded. Although, he did still look as if he were about to blurt it out… whatever it was. Better judgement be damned.

Thankfully, Pippa and Bonnie whirled into the library then. Pippa dropped herself into Jake’s lap, disrupting all his loose paper and sending his text book crashing to the floor as he flailed. She didn’t follow the book down, throwing one arm around her boyfriend’s neck. Bonnie – meanwhile – rounded the table and Marceline rocked her chair back onto two legs, holding her pen out warningly.

“If you try and sit on my lap, Banner, I swear to god I’ll hurt you,” she rasped, trying not to let the idea of Bonnie in her lap affect her in any way. Well, in any obvious outward way, at any rate. The thudding in her ribcage was kind of hard to control.

“Psh, you wish,” Bonnibel laughed, pulling a chair over to collapse into.

“How was the history exam?” Jake choked out, prying Pippa’s arm free and settling her into a better spot. “Where’s Hayden?”

“Hayden went to the little girls’ room and will more than likely wait for Finn,” Bonnie told him. Naturally, the moment she’d sat down her eyes had snapped to Marceline’s revision, scanning the page for any mistakes. She smiled when there were none to find.

“She wants to know if we’re having lunch before or after we get called in for that stupid preparation meeting,” Penelope said to no one in particular. “And I would like to add a secondary question and ask if Marceline will be coming with to lunch?”

“Only if Ellen’s not present,” Marceline responded with just the correct amount of bite.

“Ellen will not be there,” Pippa confirmed. “She’s so thrilled to have finished her modern history exam that she’s decided to visit Brad.”

“Which we all know is just the polite way of saying she’s going to mess up her bed sheets,” Jake supplied.

“I did not need to know that,” Marceline complained, eyes opening wider than she would normally let them. “What she does is her business and I don’t care.”

“Aw,” Pippa teased. “Marceline doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“Marceline actually just does not need to know,” Marceline informed her, tone bordering on shrill. “And if you keep talking about it my over active imagination will kick in and I’ll be forced to kill you all.”

“With your pen?” Jake asked her drolly.

“Yes, Martins. With my pen.” For emphasis, she waved the implement around in what she sincerely hoped looked like a dangerous way.

“Leave her alone,” Bonnie chimed in (thank God). “I don’t want to know what Ellen gets up to either.”

Jake snickered and twisted to whisper something in Pippa’s ear. Whatever it was made her bark a laugh and clamp one hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. Marceline – figuring it wasn’t wise to ask – chose to ignore them.

“I am not going to the prep meeting,” she said instead, folding her arms. “Halte can screech at an empty room if he wants, I’m not gonna be there.”

“The rebel returns,” Pippa tormented.

“Do you seriously want to go?” Jake groaned.

“What I want has nothing to do with it,” Penelope reminded him. “It is important that we’re there. What if something useful happens?”

“Halte is going to hand out stupid sheets of paper we’re never going to use and that’s pretty much it,” Jake continued, pouting. “Can it be my birthday present?”

She smiled at him darkly. “You got your present from me, Martins. Don’t forget.”

“Bonnie’s not going.”

“Yes I am.”

“You suck.” He sighed, slumping over the back of his chair. “I really hate this time of year.”

“This time next year you’ll be singing a different tune,” Marceline muttered.

He huffed again, then put his hands to either side of Pippa’s hips and slid her off his lap. “Let’s go find food then. I’m starved and I need some kind of sustenance if I’m going to pretend to pay attention this afternoon.”

Pippa tugged him up by his hand. “Leave your books. No one will steal them.” With a big smile she dragged him from the library, leaving his things strewn across the table. “Hurry up you two,” she called behind her, ignoring the librarian’s pointed look.

“Are you really going to that meeting today?” Marceline grumbled once they were gone, stuffing her books in her bag. She said it so quietly almost she didn’t think Bonnie would’ve heard her.

“Of course. It might be boring, but I’m still going.” Bonnibel propped her chin in the hollow of her palm, elbow on the table. Her eyes followed Marceline’s fingers as she folded her books together. “You sure you don’t want to go? I’m positive I can keep you entertained.”

“For two hours?” Marceline snorted. “Fat chance.”

Then – duh – Bonnie did that stupidly unfair thing with her eyes where they go really big and her bottom lip sticks out in the saddest expression on the planet. “Not even for me?” she asked in what could quite very possibly be termed a whimper. She leaned right across the desk, scooting closer so the expression had more impact.

Marceline rolled her eyes skyward and exhaled. “Ugh, fine. You don’t play nice, Banner.”

“I’ll make you a smoothie this afternoon. Peter found a machine in the cupboard because he’s pedantic about ‘spring cleaning’,” Bonnie said brightly. And it sort of did manage to make the pending bore-fest kind of worth it.

“You’re the worst.”

“You love me.”

And the most terrible thing about that was that Marceline wasn’t sure she didn’t.

Chapter Text

Monday 1st December 2014

Normally (and she used that word in the loosest of ways), Bonnibel’s study room was where the explosions of paper and books happened. Her bedroom was more or less quite tidy… for the most part. Apparently that didn’t hold true during her crunch session right before a physics exam.

After a frazzled, “It’s open!” Marceline had pushed the door of her flat open to find what pretty much amounted to a papery war zone. There were sticky notes everywhere. And no, she was not over-exaggerating. They were on the fridge, stuffed between the sofa cushions, in strings all over the walls and down the corridor, pressed up against picture frames and wrapped around the handles of doors. With her mouth hanging slightly open because wow, hey, it’s not every day she witnessed Attack of the Sticky Notes, she pushed aside a few full sized sheets of paper in one doorway and peered around.

Finding Bonnibel in the sea of multi-coloured paper scraps would not be easy. A teetering pile of text books leaned precariously across the opening to the hall leading away from the living room and to the bedroom. So many books were stacked on the chairs and tables that they almost hid the paper they were on top of. Almost.

“Um… where are you?” Marceline called. So maybe there wasn’t so much paper that it was possible to lose an entire person, but it was fairly overwhelming.

“My room. Mind the beakers.”

Marceline couldn’t help but finger the lines of neon notes tacked to the wall as she headed for the bedroom. She didn’t look at any of them. That would probably blow her mind. But it was safe to be boggled by it. Where the hell did she even get this many sticky notes? She must’ve bought an entire Officeworks to get them all.

There wasn’t quite a curtain of paper hanging from the top of the doorframe, but it came close. Bonnie was wrapped up on her bed, bags beneath her bloodshot eyes, three empty coffee mugs on the side table. Dressed in sweat pants and a baggy shirt, her hair in utterly uncharacteristic disarray, she had her nose buried in a text book of some kind.

Carefully (so she didn’t scare the wired wildlife), Marceline perched on the edge of the bed and pushed the top of the book down so she could see Bonnibel’s face properly. Her eyes – way more red than green in that moment – darted around fitfully before finally settling on Marceline, her hands reaching up to shove pathetically against Marceline’s hand.

“I’m reading,” she protested.

“I can see that. Have you slept?”

Bonnie made a funny sound in the back of her throat. “Not in nearly sixty hours.”

“How much coffee have you had?”

Her eyes flickered, unseeing, across at the mugs. “Mmm…. Maybe a litre?”

Marceline chuckled. “That’s no good for you, Bon,” she said gently, prying her friend’s stiff fingers off the text book. She placed it as gently as she could on the table with the cups. “You need to sleep if you want–”

“If I want to pass, I have to revise.”

“I think you’ve got that covered.” She stood, hauling a complaining Bonnie up with her. “Come on. You need to have a shower.”

“Are you saying I smell?” Despite how little sleep she’d had, Bonnibel still managed to sound offended.

“I’m saying that the better part of three days without showering is unhygienic and you’ll turn into a caveman.”

“Cavewoman.”

“Whatever. Just have a shower. I’ll make dinner.”

Bonnie blinked as if the information wasn’t actually being processed. “Shower…” she mumbled. Her hands groped around behind her for clothes.

“Get in the shower,” Marceline chuckled. “I’ll leave some clothes on the sink for you.”

All Bonnie gave her in reply was a vague hum as she meandered across her unkempt floor towards the bathroom, the blanket she’d been smothered in trailing behind her. Marceline snagged a corner and it slipped free. She looked like a zombie, not even noticing the sheet as it fell to the floor.

Once she heard the tap in the bathroom start running, Marceline began rummaging through her drawers. It took her a moment (how the freaking heck had she managed to get sticky notes in her drawers?) but she eventually decided that pyjamas was probably fine. And it would be an improvement on what Bonnie’d been wearing. Anything would be.

She knocked on the door before stepping inside, waiting for a muffled sound – that she took for confirmation that she could come in, but could’ve been anything – to push the door in. Marceline set the folded clothes on the edge of the sink, trying not to let the colour flooding her cheeks mean anything. Trying to forget that her friend was wearing nothing and hidden only by the cloud of steam fogging the glass door of her shower.

“You didn’t suggest I get in and you bring me clothes so you could perve did you?” Bonnie asked, her voice ringing off the tiles. Now that she’d been doused in hot water she was sounding much more lucid.

“In your dreams, Banner,” she laughed. It sounded forced to her, but hopefully Bonnie would think it was just the acoustics of the room.

She had to back out hastily then because there was burning in her veins and thinking was so very difficult in the closed room. Marceline sucked in a massive breath when she reached the kitchen, hands fisting, knuckles going white on the counter top. For a slow count of ten, she focused entirely on keeping her breathing level and not… that. It… well, it almost worked. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Sticking her head into the cold of the refrigerator seemed like a good idea, too. It sure sent waves of cool streaming through her. That was so much better than the other. So. Much. Better.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a great deal of food in the kitchen and most of it was buried under drifts of lurid orange Post-Its anyway. She called for take-out. Neither of them would be in the mood to clean the kitchen after eating, so this was best all around.

While she waited for the food she busied herself peeling notes off the appliances and furniture. And – because she’s just that good of a friend – she kept them in stacks based on which class they were revision for. In a way that could only be explained with ‘it’s Bonnibel’, it didn’t take her long to realise that the classes were colour coded. Typical.

Maths notes were on purple, chemistry on the horrible red, biology was written on a fluoro green and physics had been taken on a blue so vibrant it hurt to look at. Because Bonnie was meticulous about everything, Marceline didn’t simply throw out the notes for classes she’d already sat the exams for. Instead, she stuck them to the tops of the appropriate text books. Which she also attempted to stack in a more economical way.

By the time Bonnibel shuffled out of the bathroom, hair still in disorder (but now because she’d just washed it) and eyes still looking a little vacant, Marceline had all her books in piles based on subject with sticky notes on top. Alas, she hadn’t quite managed to tidy all of it because it seemed that Bonnie collected text books and between her living room, the study, kitchen and her bedroom, there were more books than Marceline could ever remember seeing in her house before.

Still, when Bonnibel realised the room had been cleaned she blinked. “You neatened everything out,” she whispered, fiddling with the hem of her shirt.

“I neatened some of it out,” Marceline replied, looking at the mountains of text. “There was too much to…” She trailed off as Bonnie slowly (very, very slowly) wrapped her arms around Marceline’s waist.

“Thank you.”

“Yeah…” she hummed, scratching the back of her neck. “No worries. Come and sit down, you look wrecked.” Carefully, she guided Bonnie to a chair and let her slump into it.

“You said you’d cook?” Somehow it was both a demand to be fed and a question at the same time.

“I changed my mind, ordered out,” she wavered. “There was too much mess. Um, why did you have a sheet of notes in your cutlery drawer?”

“Reminders,” Bonnie sighed.

The door pinged.

“You put something on the television and I’ll bring you food,” Marceline decided. “And some paracetamol. You look like you need it.”

Bonnie just nodded dumbly and reached for the remote. It took her a whole five minutes to pay the delivery guy, grab bottles of water from the fridge, some drugs from the cupboard above the stove and return to the lounge. In that time, it didn’t appear Bonnibel had moved a great deal. The television mumbled something about the creation of the universe and whirled through incredible images of space that Marceline was one hundred percent convinced were computer generated.

“Here you go,” she muttered, slouching onto the chair beside Bonnie. “Honey chicken and rice, water and pills for your sleep deprivation.”

Bonnie made a sound that seemed vaguely appreciative and mechanically began to eat. For a moment, Marceline kept an eye on her, worried that she might’ve forgotten basic human functions. Eventually, her flesh memories kicked in and even though the motions were wooden, at least she was eating.

“God, Bonnie,” Marceline whispered. “Why would you put yourself through that kind of revision? That’s like an extreme sport for nerds.”

“Gotta pass my classes,” she mumbled around a mouth full of rice.

“Three days of straight revision can’t be good for you. You’ll… blow a gasket or something in your big brain,” Marceline joked. “That’d suck.”

“I just have to do good at school.”

Marceline’s smile faltered. Bonnibel always had good diction, good grammar (well, ninety-nine percent of the time) and as much as she’d like to put that one down to sleep deprivation, it might be something else and that was concerning. She set her nearly empty bowl of fried rice on the table and bumped her shoulder against her friend’s.

“Are you alright, Bon?” she asked quietly.

She nodded. Then shook her head straight after. “No,” she exhaled, letting all this… this… emotion out with it. “I’m not.”

“Hey,” Marceline said, placing her hand on Bonnie’s knee. “You can talk to me, you know that, right? Instead of trying to kill yourself by not sleeping?”

When Bonnie turned to look at her, the absolute last thing she’d expected was the barely contained tears. “It’s been a year,” Bonnibel whispered. “The twenty-ninth of November marks one year since my family died.”

“Oh, Bonnie,” Marceline sighed. Honestly, what the hell was she supposed to say to that? “I’m sorry. Why didn’t you call me?”

She shrugged. “Just wanted to be alone, I guess.”

“No, that’s rubbish,” Marceline decided. “You should’ve called. That’s a shitty thing to live through alone and I was wo–” She didn’t finish the sentence but Bonnie knew. Goddamn.

“You were worried?” Bonnibel asked, a watery smile flickering to life.

“Of course I was, nerd attack,” Marceline admitted. “Nobody has heard from you since Friday. I was going to come over sooner but Pippa said you like to revise by yourself sometimes. But then you didn’t turn up to our little study session today in the library and I… Yeah. I was worried.”

Bonnie leaned forward to put her bowl beside Marceline’s. “You’re a softy.”

Marceline rolled her eyes. “Shut up. Are you okay now, though?”

Bonnibel shrugged, bobbed her head, rolled her eyes and then sighed, shaking her head. “I thought… I don’t know… I just, I figured some time alone would… Maybe? You know?”

“Not really, honestly. I never knew my mother,” Marceline reminded her. “I’ve got absolutely no idea what this is like. But you didn’t need to be alone.”

Gaze flickering around the room, uncertain, chewing her bottom lip, Bonnie mulled whatever was going through her head over. It must’ve been sluggish due to her tiredness because normally a decision would’ve been reached after five seconds. Finally, she let her eyes meet Marceline’s. “Will you… Will you stay the night?”

A gentle smile bloomed on Marceline’s face before she even realised it was pending. “Duh,” she teased. “Do you need a hug?”

“Maybe.”

Marceline held one arm out and let Bonnie climb into her side. “Put something geeky on television and go to sleep,” she instructed.

“Will you be here when I wake up?” Bonnibel asked in a surprisingly vulnerable voice.

“You’re pretty much on top of me,” Marceline observed. “I dare say I’ll still be here in the morning.”

Bonnie sighed. “Good.”

With the television turned down to little more than a murmur, they watched it play through all sorts of documentaries. And when Bonnibel began to cry softly into Marceline’s shoulder, she tried extra hard not to let it get to her. But she’d be callous to admit that it didn’t twinge a little deep down or make her heart quiver with all the tears she refused to shed.

Rubbing circles onto Bonnie’s back wasn’t something she gave conscious thought to. Neither was the quiet tune she began to hum. But it made Bonnibel pull her closer, arms latched around her neck. Admittedly, this is not what she’d expected from her day. Not how she ever thought she’d drift off to sleep either.

But in the scheme of things, falling asleep with her arms around Bonnibel wasn’t so bad.

Especially when Bonnie cried herself dry around midnight but didn’t let her go.

Chapter Text

Friday 12th December 2014

“The school feels empty,” Finn muttered, fidgeting in his seat. “The hall has, like, no one in it. It’s so weird.”

“Well,” Ellen said wryly. “Since the seniors have been gone a week, I think you should’ve noticed before now.”

“It was only about thirty kids anyway,” Pippa added. “It’s not that much emptier.”

Finn rolled his shoulders. “Just feels that way. Now I feel exposed.”

“Halte is looking at us,” Keila grumbled under her breath. “And I think I’ve just about used up all my free passes out of his office. End of the year or no.”

That was all it took to get them to stop whispering, Bonnie noticed with a smile. Halte had that kind of reputation with his pupils. Of course, being able to instil fear into his subjects didn’t make listening to him speak any less mind-numbing.

Or headache inducing. Depending on his mood.

Halte had two settings; low monotone and shrill ear-splitting shriek. During assemblies such as this one, thankfully, he used the monotone. According to Pippa though, he’d been known to shriek at them during assembly too. Just depended on what side of the bed he’d rolled out of.

“To next year’s seniors,” Halte was intoning. “Do not let yourselves slip over the break. Your last year will be more gruelling than you can possibly imagine. All students must also be reminded that your end of year results will be mailed out to you nearer the end of the month. Don’t miss them.”

“So motivational,” Marceline sighed. “As always.”

“I’m going to come back after Christmas so pumped,” Jake agreed in tones dripping with sarcasm.

“He is our glorious leader and were we his medieval troops, we’d be so ready for a war,” Finn concurred.

“You guys are so dramatic,” Pippa chortled.

On stage, Halte surrendered his spot at the podium to his deputy. Gregory smiled at him in a way really only he could ever muster, before turning back to face the gathered students.

“Well, kids,” he laughed. “Another year is done. Thank God. Enjoy your Christmas, don’t forget to have your class selections back in and fill out the study group forms you’ve all been sent in emails. Have those back before the twentieth if can manage that. And now, school’s out for summer.”

The last words were met with a collective whoop from the student body and many of them flew from their chairs. Gregory always had a much nicer way of ending the year than Halte, so the stampede for the exit wasn’t at all surprising. He really was more of a ‘people person’ than the principal.

“What do you guys think about a pit party this afternoon?” Ellen called over the shouting students. “To celebrate the fact that we’re the seniors of the school and all that.”

“I don’t think we’re technically seniors for another two months, Eleanor,” Marceline said bluntly. “But count me out either way.”

“Yeah,” Bonnie whined. “No, I’m out too. I don’t like the ditch.”

Ellen rolled her eyes. “I thought you were all into the drinking scene, Abadeer,” she accused. “Bonnie is boring, we all know that. But I figured you’d be all over a party.”

Marceline hunched her shoulders. “I guess you don’t know me very well then, huh, Scott-Parker?”

“Oh dear,” Ellen sighed, deflating. “If only I could muster up the energy to care.”

“I’m all for a ditch party,” Jake leapt in before Marceline could provoke the other girl some more. “If you get the drinks, I’ll get the food. Finn, you in?”

“What’s a pit party?” Hayden asked Bonnie softly, sidling up.

“There’s a big hole in the ground outside of town,” she replied. “They race tractors, spike the punch bowl and generally act like idiotic teenagers.”

“It’s a real hoot,” Marceline added.

“There’s alcohol?” Hayden actually sounded surprised by the notion.

Laughing, Marceline told her, “No advertised alcohol. But some of the ex-students from a few years ago will turn up and add it to the juice or whatever. Sometimes Ellen or Keila will magically get their hands on some.” She shrugged. “It happens.”

“If you go with them,” Bonnie warned. “Maybe take your own drink.”

“You’re not going to tell me not to go?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Nope. Do what you like.” Marceline stuffed her hands in her pockets and glared at the sky. “I’m going to eat pizza tonight and play my music too loud just to piss my dad off.”

“If you did that at my place you wouldn’t have to listen to his lectures,” Bonnie pointed out as casually as she could manage.

Marceline made a funny face, rolled her eyes and heaved her shoulders in a great big shrug. “Not tonight, Banner. I don’t think. I guess it depends on what kind of mood dad’s in. I’m sort of vaguely hoping I’ll get a chat with my brother in though.”

“Sure you’re not coming with, Bonnie?” Finn hollered, walking backwards alongside Jake. “Last chance.”

“I’m good. See you next week sometime.”

He waved and raced off to keep up with his cousin. With one final glance at Bonnie and Marceline, Hayden bid them both a quiet farewell and hastened after them. Marceline’s brilliant eyes followed them for a moment before slipping back to Bonnibel. The pensive expression that had been there moments ago was swapped out for something soft, a smile and… maybe a little bit of another thing too. Bonnie didn’t know what it was, but it made her heart flutter.

“Sounds like a good plan. Maybe I’ll chat with some long-distance friends too,” Bonnibel muttered. “Find out if Keila’s going to the ditch,” she suggested. “You never know, she might stop by.”

With her thumb and pinkie extended, all other fingers folded, Marceline held up a mock phone to her ear, backpedalling carefully. “I’ll be on call as the sober sister tonight,” she laughed. “The one who picks her up when she’s hammered. You feel free to text me though.”

And Bonnie beamed at her. “Duh.”

 

-*…*…*-

 

Honestly, the simple fact that her chest was still thrumming with some unidentified energy three hours later was the most confusing thing. For the last few months, she and Marceline had maintained a sort of semi-regular text communications thing. It was like having a little music aficionado in her pocket. The point of that thought was that it wasn’t the nearly instantaneous responses she always got that made her ribcage vibrate like it was. It was definitely something else.

Probably the exact same something that kept causing her focus to slip.

Snapping sounds brought her back to reality.

“Oh, Bonnibel,” sang her friend, clicking her fingers at the screen. “Where’d you disappear off to there?”

“Hum? Oh, no idea. Maybe I’m tired.”

Cherry chuckled, russet curls waving as she tilted her head. The image was slightly grainy, but not enough to distort the image unbearably. And wasn’t it so nice to see her friend’s face.

“You do have a tendency to run yourself ragged during exam block,” Cherry noted wryly. “Did you sleep at all last week?”

“Yes, in fact. One of my delightful new friends burst in and told me I had to sleep or bad things would happen,” Bonnie retorted, somewhat more sharply than she would normally let herself. “She would’ve done you so proud.”

“How does it feel to have only one year to go,” Cherry enquired, knowing Bonnie well enough to sense when a topic change might be necessary.

Bonnibel arched one shoulder lethargically. “Eh,” was her eloquent reply. “I guess it’s alright. It’ll be much the same as this year was, I suppose.”

“So fervent, aren’t you? Do you think you’ll move back to Ormeau after?” She sounded very nearly like she was begging the answer to be an affirmative.

“Probably. You know I’ve been set on Driscoll for a very long time,” Bonnie said. “I’ll try to get an on campus apartment, most likely. Failing that I’ll move in with you.”

Cherry laughed again, a proper ringing sound this time. “Not even going to ask?”

“Nah, I figure I’ll turn up on your doorstep with my luggage and you’ll let me stay. As if your mother could resist.”

With one finger raised and then dropped again, Cherry sighed. “The worst part is you’re right.”

“Ouch,” Bonnie whined, clapping hands to her chest. “You really wouldn’t want to live with me? But I’m a delight.”

“Con someone who doesn’t know better.” Cherry’s face took on a dark cast then. “Unless you’ve managed to convince someone you’re an angel?”

Thankfully, before Bonnie could do more than flounder for a response that wasn’t condemning, there was a ruckus behind the camera on Cherry’s end. A massive bang that was probably a door slamming crackled down the line. It was followed by a flurry of movement and something shaking the camera.

Cherry Wilde!” a booming voice exclaimed. “How dare you video call Bonnibel and not invite me.”

After that, Norman’s stocky frame entered the picture. He squished himself onto the chair beside Cherry and waved at the web cam, smiling so brilliantly there should’ve been lens flare. Being deliberately nasty, he shuffled around on the cushions until he got an eye roll out of his companion.

“How are you, Bonnie?” he screeched, elbowing Cherry in the ribs. “One year down, one to go?”

Completely unable to help herself, Bonnibel smiled back at him. “Sounds about right. You guys really aren’t going to visit over Christmas?”

Another person moved in the background, stepped closer, ducked down until they were at eye level and smiled, waving one hand. “Hello, Bonnie,” Bernadine Wilde chirped. “No, we’re not coming to visit, I’m sorry. The travel arrangements would be a nightmare and I don’t have anyone to watch the dog.”

“Hey, Mrs Wilde,” Bonnie replied in kind. “That’s okay. I guess I can live without them for another twelve months. Unless you’d be alright with me moving in?”

Bernadine giggled (which wasn’t particularly unusual). “By all means move in, dear. You know I’d love to have you.”

Cherry tched. “We don’t have room, mum,” she sighed.

“I’ll buy a fold out sofa.”

“That’s hardly a nice way to live for twelve months,” Cherry argued. “Or… you know, indefinitely.”

Norman jerked a thumb at them. “While they’re arguing about you, I just want to say that you can always move in with me. Or Uncle Eric.”

“I think Eric might be a little too far outside the city to be convenient,” Bernadine put in. “But that’s a valid solution.”

Mum,” Cherry scolded. “Let her spend another year in Woop Woop and then she can move back to Ormeau. Maybe she’ll bring a few of her new friends with. Maybe she’ll even bring someone special.”

“Now you’re just being ridiculous,” Bonnie said flatly. “She is right though. I’m not moving again so soon, that’s stupid. And I’d hate to inconvenience any of you and,” she added before Norman could interrupt, “I’d hate to go back to Saint Anne’s.”

Bernadine’s face fell. “She’s got a point,” she muttered to Norman. “They weren’t exactly nice to her.”

Norman wasn’t listening to Bernadine’s observation however. He appeared to have stalled on Cherry’s ‘someone special’ comment. His face ran through a couple of strange expressions before settling on confused.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” he asked quietly, brows furrowed in that adorable way he had. Honestly, why he didn’t have a significant other was still a mystery. “Or did someone catch your eye?”

“No,” Bonnie snorted. “I don’t. Where would I get one of those?”

“Oh… I don’t know,” Cherry sang in a tone that conveyed the exact opposite sentiment. “I’m sure there’re some cute girls out in the middle of nowhere. No self-respecting guy would ever think to look there.”

Bonnibel gave her the very best ‘are you serious’ expression she could muster. “Then by your logic, there would naturally be some cute boys out here too that no one would think to look for. And therefore they’d all be perfectly matched up.”

“Like that Pippa girl and her boyfriend you told us about,” Norman added, smiling. His face fell when he was smacked by one of Cherry’s ‘not helping’ looks. Those things could cut through a two-by-four.

“Exactly like them. Besides,” Bonnie went on. “Church town. I’d have to be stupid.” She couldn’t help the smile that burst to life then though. “How about Stanley, Cherry? Is he doing okay?”

Norman’s brown eyes lit up at the very suggestion. “Oh, please tell her.” He was practically bouncing in his seat, hands clasped in his lap. “Please?”

Cherry sighed. “He asked me out,” she grumbled. “We’re been dating for about a month now.”

Bonnie adopted her scarily precise mock-indignant expression and gasped. “I’m hurt, Cherry. Why didn’t I get an elated text message?”

“Because it’s not a big deal.”

“And yet…” Bonnibel mused. “If I said I’d been seeing someone for a month and hadn’t told you, I’d get the serrated edge of your tongue. Oh the injustice.”

“It’s the rough edge,” she corrected tartly. “And that’s different. You never even show a vague interest in anybody. I at least flirt. I have options, you might as well swear yourself celibate now and save us the trauma.”

A sour note ran thick through Cherry’s words and it gave Bonnie pause. “Are you alright,” she asked her friend quietly. Not wanting to push because Bonnibel had a strong grasp on the significance of personal space, but Cherry rarely sounded so… so irritated.

“Yeah,” she exhaled. “I just worry about you, Bonnie,” she lamented.

Offering her best (although tinted somewhat tentative) smile, Bonnie could only huff out a strangled laugh. “Please just let me live vicariously through you. There’s no need to bust out the big guns and cut me deep.”

Cherry nodded. “I kind of wish you were the same trusting Bonnibel I used to know. You don’t open up easily anymore and I hate Georgia for that. Can you honestly say you’re making friends?”

“Duh, Cherry,” Bonnie laughed; properly this time. “I have friends. I’m probably hitting doubles figures now.”

“Wait, wait,” Norman cried enthusiastically. “Can I do a headcount?”

“Go for it.”

Lifting one finger for each person, he rattled off the names of all the people Bonnie had mentioned meeting (and not disliking) in Reich. “That’s seven, right?” he checked. “Plus us is nine. Not quite double figures.”

She waved him off. “Whatever. Close enough. It’s not like I get a life achievement for having ten friends.”

“See,” Bernadine burbled, passing through the room and patting Cherry on the head. “She’s a fully functioning human bean. So you can stop worrying now.”

“God, mother,” Cherry groaned. “Just go away. Do some reading.”

“Good idea.”

Once Bernadine had pottered out of the room, Cherry rolled her eyes. “And you’ve told them about… stuff… right?” she pressed.

“With the exception of the local gossip mill,” Bonnie told them drily. “They all know which team I bat for and that my family… passed away. I only told one of them about the drama with Saint Anne’s. And then only the abridged version.”

“And what about…” Norman hedged, gesturing vaguely. “You know… the other thing with your parents?”

Bonnibel lifted an eyebrow. “You really think I’d tell them that? Oh, hell no. Although,” she realised, hesitating. “I may have abused the powers they left me with just the once in October. And… it might’ve had something to do with a bag of non-existent marshmallows.”

Norman’s jaw dangled. “You… Really?” he asked, a little breathless. “Wow. Why?”

“Birthday present for a chronically self-deprecating friend,” she replied flatly. “I figured she needed a bit of good cheer in her otherwise really depressing life. And no,” she added, eyes cutting to Cherry who’s mouth had quirked up in a conspiratorial smile. “There’s no romantic sub-plot going on. Promise.”

Cherry threw her hands in the air. “There freaking should be.”

“Well there’s not.”

“Okay, fine. How about a compromise?”

Bonnie narrowed her eyes. “Depends. What sort of compromise?”

“I’ll promise not to pester you about getting a significant other until you decide to tell me you’re seeing someone,” Cherry began blithely. “If you tell me right now if you’ve ever been attracted to someone. And I mean in the kind of sense where you’d actually date them. Not a passing fancy.”

But it is just a fleeting infatuation, Bonnibel reminded herself. A silly thing that won’t go anywhere. Something that would have to start with her or… No. It’s stupid.

She considered the question, wondering if she could work herself a way out of it. “I will admit that I’ve found someone attractive in the sense that I’d date them,” she responded cautiously. “But I won’t admit that it’s more than a passing fancy, because that’s what it is. Nothing more. Any attraction to a straight girl can only ever be that and I’ll get over it.”

I hope I’ll get over it, she silently amended. Besides, she couldn’t live in a downward spiral where everything revolved around Marceline starting (or ending) something. That wasn’t healthy.

Cherry released an almost unearthly groan at that. “But that’s mean, Bonnibel,” she whined. “Now that I know you’re not a robot incapable of experiencing emotion I need to know who is behind this.” She threw herself into the back of the sofa. “So unfair.”

“We had a deal,” Bonnie warned. “Don’t you forget it.”

Norman patted Cherry’s knee. “I’m sure we can work it out through a process of elimination,” he consoled. “She’s never had that many friends.”

“Yeah,” she complained. “But she’s had tons of acquaintances. This is a disaster. How dare you find someone attractive in any way.”

Bonnie could only shrug again and fight back her growing grin. “Why don’t you tell me about Stanley now? Is he amazing or only mediocre?”

It took a moment of wheedling to get that topic to loosen Cherry up, but once she started, she positively gushed about the poor boy. It was like listening to Ellen discuss Brad (while they were dating, she usually ranted vehemently when they weren’t). Stanley was a romantic at heart, the kind of guy who tries not to let on and has all these friends who play soccer with him and there’s some form of video game tournament involved. But once you look past his fairly typical male exterior, he’s a genuine pearl beneath. And Cherry was smitten.

Bonnie tried not to let the dialogue affect her too much, and pressed away the little voice telling her that there was more to the hollow ache left lingering in her heart whenever she thought about Marceline. The little voice pointing out that the other night when Marceline had stayed over while she cried was just her being a good friend. The voice telling her that this wonderful relationship Cherry had with Stanley was the kind of thing she wouldn’t get. Not how she was beginning to think she wanted to, at least. She supposed that’s what the burning in her gut was. What else could it be?

And when she signed off, flopping onto her bed a few hours later, that weird compressing pain still hovered about her lungs, taunting her with reminders that she was in well over her head. Apparently simply promising herself she wouldn’t develop some form of emotional attachment to a straight girl didn’t quite work. Being friends with her sure didn’t help that any, either. At least she had enough self-control to keep the warm and fuzzies to herself.

Maybe she could even fool herself into believing it was a passing fancy.

Sleep was a long time coming that night.

Chapter Text

Saturday 20th December 2014

Sitting on the barstool, legs swinging between the props, listening to the music blaring from the stage with Keila bobbing along beside her, it almost felt like the monster argument she’d had with her father earlier was worth it. The band was good; a nice treat – having a group actually in Reich for a change – especially on the first week of the holidays. She was away from the death glares of her father, out from under his judgemental and unsatisfied gaze, so that was a plus.

It was the whole ‘best friend’ thing that put a damper on everything.

For the umpteenth time since they’d arrived, Keila slid her phone from her pocket, smiling broadly at the screen before pattering away at a reply. Marceline tried so hard not to care. She did, really. It was nice that this guy was making Keila so happy (she supposed), but that childish ire kept resurfacing and it wasn’t fun.

At all.

Keila tapped her shoulder, mouth working excitedly, but Marceline couldn’t hear her over the din of the pub. She waved a hand at her ear, trying to mime the trouble she was having. When her friend gestured at the exit though, Marceline had a sinking feeling the night was going to end just as badly as she’d expected.

‘Outside,’ Keila mouthed. ‘Talk. Go.’

With a lingering glance at the band and a resigned shuffle to her step, Marceline followed her bouncing companion pressing through the throngs. The proprietor (their good friend and the only reason they were allowed in underage) watched them go, but he didn’t say anything about them leaving early. Slowly, they made their way through the crowded room and stepped outside into the warm summer evening. They stopped at the top of the stairs, doors swinging closed behind them, shutting out the music.

“Are you going?” Marceline asked her, not having to strain to be heard now.

“Yeah,” her friend replied, waving her phone in one hand. “I’m just gonna head home and change. You don’t mind do you?”

For a moment, Marceline was tempted to say she wanted Keila’s company this evening. Just once. But in the end, she shook her head. She was plenty good at entertaining herself after all.

“Fine, yeah, cool,” Marceline said, sticking her hands in her pockets and staring up at the sky. A few dribbles of orange light still resisted gravity at the horizon, but it was mostly dark now, street lamps providing most of the illumination. “Have fun with what’s-his-face.”

Keila beamed. “Hey thanks, Marceline. I’ll see you later.” With that, she ran down the stairs and off towards her place leaving Marceline by herself. Again.

She didn’t really want to hang out alone in town; that would be boring. There was no way she was going home yet… Maybe she could give Bonnie a call.

She didn’t get the chance.

“Hey, babe!”

Hunching her shoulders, feeling all the remaining cheer drain away through her toes, Marceline turned to glower at Ash. He was just leaving the pub, smirk smeared across his face, followed by half a dozen of his so-called friends. Lackeys and thugs more like. All in leather jackets and black jeans. Because matching is so cool.

“What?” she snapped, not even pretending at civility with him.

He clapped a hand to his breast bone. “Ouch,” he grumbled, bearing teeth in a parody of a smile (he probably thought he looked awesome). “That’s a harsh greeting. Are you not even a little pleased to see me?”

“Piss off.”

“Aw, come on now,” he chortled, sliding up beside her. “We can go get a drink, yeah?”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” she informed him flatly, arms folded now, defensive. “So just leave.”

Ash tilted his head back, looking at her down his nose. “What? Are you too good for me, huh? Too good to have a drink? Going liquor free?” He sneered. And she made to turn away. “You think I’m going to let you just walk away from me?”

“I dumped your worthless arse ages ago,” Marceline reminded him. “Pretty sure I’ve already walked away. And there’s no way I’m going to take you back.”

He shuffled a few half-steps closer and leaned in, the smell of whiskey burning off his tongue. “Uh-uh,” he purred darkly. “You don’t get to dump me, bitch. I bet you’ve got another guy lying around somewhere yeah? Does he know you won’t put out?” His lips peeled back, exposing teeth in a terrible grin.

“You wish you knew, huh, Ash?” Marceline taunted him, knowing it was stupid. Her eyes darted to the side, noting one of his friends taking a step towards them. Heart thudding painfully in her chest, Marceline took a step towards the stairs, wishing she could find a little courage. Wishing she was stronger than him. “You’re just a jerk who treats others like they’re worthless to cover how pathetic you know you are. It’s not good for building relationships.” Ok… that might have been too far. Maybe a little less courage. Less snark.

Ash’s face darkened, his knuckles cracking as they fisted at his sides. “I’m gonna find this guy and I’m gonna stick him like a pig, you cow. I’m gonna hurt everyone you care about.”

For some reason she couldn’t quite explain, that threat made Marceline very angry. The possibility that Ash would hurt someone; that he’d hurt Keila or Bonnie to get to her… That was too much.

He didn’t see her fist coming.

His nose made a satisfying crunch as her blow landed, the burning in Marceline’s heart now throbbed an echo through her knuckles. Ash’s hand flew up reflexively to cover his nose (the gesture was accompanied by a rather girlish squawk that she’d probably laugh about later) and came away bloody. His other hand jabbed out, a defensive movement, which hit her square on the sternum and sent her stumbling back a step. She almost lost her balance and tumbled down the stairs, but one arm cast out rocked her back just enough to stay upright. Her free hand clamped down on the spot where Ash had hit her, the pain there aching along with her hand and heart.

Her gaze finally returned to her ex-boyfriend after probably too long distracted. He was prodding a tooth experimentally and her wolfish grin as it wobbled was definitely not good for her immediate well-being, but it was satisfying to know she’d loosened one of his pearly whites.

Ash hacked a gob of blood out of his mouth. “Get her,” he spat around more blood.

So… being outnumbered was a bad thing, but she lowered her centre of gravity anyway, bracing for the first punch. She missed it, something looming up at her from the side. The world tilted, spun and went black.

A god almighty cracking sound was the last thing she heard.

 


 

When her phone beeped, Ellen let out a rather unnecessary squeal and snatched the remote up to pause the movie. It didn’t bother Bonnie; she just kept her attention focused on her book. Reading might completely defeat the purpose of a movie night, and yes, the writing was awful, all clichés, bad characterisation and confusing analogies, but it was better than the film she was being forced to sit through. All she could think was that Marceline would never have suggested a movie as trite as this one.

“Ten bucks it’s her boyfriend,” Hayden called from the couch she was curled up on.

“I’ll take that,” Jake replied. “I reckon it’s Melissa calling about her breakup.”

“Don’t waste your money, Jake,” Pippa requested from her spot beside him. She arched an eyebrow at Ellen who was now beaming massively.

“It’s Brad,” she gushed (the only way she had when speaking about her sometimes-boyfriend). “He wants to go out tomorrow. After church. He won’t say where, apparently it’s a surprise.” Her fingers tapped away at the screen, spelling out a response.

“See? You would’ve lost your money,” Pippa consoled, patting Jake’s arm. “Oh, hope you guys don’t mind, but I took our study group form into reception today.”

Finn’s brow knitted. “Gregory mentioned that. I wasn’t paying attention though. What’s it about?”

Hayden rolled her eyes. “Compulsory study groups for everyone next year,” she explained. “The form was basically a list of the people in your group.”

“It means I’m out of a job, Finn,” Bonnie added. “They’ve implemented this so they don’t have to pay tutors.”

“I didn’t know you were being paid,” Ellen commented quietly.

Bonnibel didn’t answer the unspoken question. She hadn’t been paid, but the other tutors were. Her reasons were not among the things she needed to tell her friends though.

Jake sighed. “So they decide to change things and don’t give us all of the information? Typical. Alright, so what was the go? Who didn’t get included?”

“Groups of six to eight people, Jake,” Pippa said. “Do a head count for me, sweetie.”

He lifted an indignant finger to do as she said and then dropped it. “Oh,” he grumbled. “Shut up.”

Pippa laughed at him, kissing his cheek. “It’s alright. Hit play for me, Finn. Ellen’s not paying the movie a single iota of attention anyway.”

“Hey, no wait,” Ellen burbled. “Listen to this.” Her gaze was strangely serious and that uncomfortable glint she often wore when she found juicy gossip sparked in her eyes, a shiver of excitement lacing her words. “There’s been a brawl in town, at the pub. Ash lost a tooth. That’s so good.”

“Cool,” Finn cried. “Who else was involved? Did any of his goons get a drubbing?”

“Hang on,” Ellen snapped as she scrolled through the rest of the message. “Aha! Excellent. Someone pushed Marceline down the stairs. She’s been hospitalised. Awesome. Apparently she’s got some broken bones.”

Bonnie’s heart stopped.

“That’s the hospital above the police station, yes?” Bonnibel asked her softly.

“Yeah, that’s the one. Hey, where are you going?”

But Bonnie had already bounded to her feet and out the door. “The clinic!” she called behind her anyway, panic surging through her. She fumbled her phone from her pocket, lighting up the sidewalk so she wouldn’t trip, trying to ignore the way her blood seemed to run cold through her veins.

“Wait! Hey, Bonnie, wait!” someone yelled behind her. “I’ll drive you.”

She whirled to see Jake climbing into his truck, motioning for her to join him. Bonnie hastened over, stumbling on a join in the pavement and clambered up into the passenger seat, buckling herself in. Jake glanced at her, concern written sharply on his face, even in the low light. Thankfully, he didn’t speak, and he didn’t dawdle, inching a little over the speed limit as he drove across town. The trip still took far too long for Bonnie’s liking. It gave her too much time to imagine all the possible scenarios, all the things that could’ve gone wrong, all the ways Marceline could be hurt and it twisted her insides into painful knots.

The medical clinic (fondly called the hospital by locals) consisted of the second and third floors of the police station (although the third floor was mostly storage and office space). Two big signs hung out the front with lights shining up at the words to inform people of the dual nature of the building. Inside, the place was lit up, not the sterile white of a hospital in Ormeau, but bright enough to hurt her eyes if she stared too long.

“Do you want me to come in with you?” he asked gently, pulling on the handbrake in the lot in front of the station. She was so glad he asked that and not one of the other questions hanging in the air between them.

“No, thanks,” she muttered, sliding out of her seat. “Go back and watch the movie. I’ll be fine.”

He still looked concerned, but bobbed his head just the same. “Be safe, alright?”

She offered a wan smile, too tight with worry for Marceline to look right. “I will. Thanks for driving me.”

He gave her an equally pallid grin. “No worries.” Jake looked as if he wanted to say something more, maybe ask one of those questions still lingering around. He didn’t though, holding in his curiosity and pulling away.

Not wanting to waste any more time, Bonnie darted inside, the light momentarily blinding her after the dark outside. Finding the reception desk, she hastened over, trying to remain calm. That was no easy task.

An older lady sat at the table, typing away on her keyboard. Noticing Bonnie, she stopped and looked up, smiling. Bonnibel couldn’t stop fidgeting.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked pleasantly.

“Um, yes… I’m looking for Marceline Abadeer?” Bonnie queried softly.

The woman clicked at something on her screen and pursed her lips, scanning the document. “Mmn,” she said. “Oh yes, she’s upstairs in room two-oh-eight. Can I mark you down in the visitor’s log?”

“Bonnibel Banner,” she replied, feeling a little anxious. “Thank you.”

It didn’t take her long after hurrying up the stairs to find Marceline’s room. It was the one with people outside talking in hushed voices. A nurse was conversing with Father Hansen and a police officer. That visual did absolutely nothing to stop her dread from circulating. Despite being worried beyond belief by what they might have to say, Bonnie stepped cautiously over to them.

“Bonnibel, dear,” Hansen said, solemnly, the first to notice her.

“Is she alright?” Bonnie asked, her voice creaking with worry. Her eyes flicked between all three faces, eventually settling on the nurse.

“She’s going to be fine,” the nurse told her reassuringly. Only it wasn’t quite reassuring to Bonnie. It sounded like a false platitude. “She has a concussion, a sprained wrist and ankle, a broken radius and three cracked ribs. It’s nothing too serious; she’ll be fine after a few months.”

That absolutely did not sound like ‘nothing serious’ to Bonnibel. No it did not. She felt sick. “Can I see her?” she asked, trying not to think about throwing up.

“I’d like to speak to her first, if you don’t mind,” the officer said. Bonnie rocked forward to read his name tag. Ah, it was Deputy Gunter then. Finn had told her about him. Weird fellow.

“Why?”

“She was in a fight with Ash Kelly,” he explained. “Do you know him?”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to get her side of the story,” he told her, calmly. “That’s all. Ash wasn’t there when we arrived and given his history, I doubt we’ll find him for a while. But I would like to know what happened from her rather than from other witnesses.”

“It might be good for her to see a friendly face first,” the nurse chimed in. “She does have a concussion.”

The door to Marceline’s room opened and Bonnie spun so fast to see who it was she nearly fell over. From the white coat and the clipboard under his arm, she assumed it was the attending doctor. He meandered slowly over to them, clearly not in any hurry.

“She’s awake,” he said softly to them all. “A little dazed, but conscious. Her recollection of events might be a little hazy, deputy, given her concussion. I’d advise you to return in the morning after she’s rested. I know you’re probably anxious to get her account now, but I promise you’ll have better luck in the morning anyway.” He passed the clipboard to the nurse who wandered off to… do something with it.

“Can I see her?” Hansen asked.

The doctor nodded. “Keep your voices down, if you would.”

If only because he was her father, Bonnie let Hansen in first, despite the itch in her feet demanding that she run inside. Of course, there was a part of her (deep down) so utterly terrified of what she might find, that she was more than happy to let him go in ahead. It was a little cramped with them all in the room, but the doctor didn’t stay. He just muttered again about keeping a low volume and being gentle moving around her cast, then left.

Hansen stood with his hands in his pockets at the end of the bed, staring down at his daughter. Her face was swollen and purple in places, her bottom lip had a cut and she was covered in white plaster casts from elbow to wrist on her right arm. Her right ankle was wrapped in bandages too, no doubt to help the sprain settle. In short, she looked awful and it made Bonnie’s trembling heart crack.

“Hey, dad,” she croaked, not seeing Bonnie still lingering in the doorway. “Wassup?”

He frowned. “I thought I told you not to hang around with those low-lives. What did you do?”

Her face scrunched up. “You know… I don’t remember. Unlucky.”

Hansen half turned away from her, brow still furrowed. “You should’ve known better. Spending time with those… those people… This was bound to happen.” He sighed as if he’d predicted this and Marceline had simply not listened to his warnings. “Get some sleep. We’ll discuss this later.” With that he left. Just like that. Bonnie was speechless.

Marceline exhaled, shuddering with the pain of it, all of this stress visibly leaving her body. Closing her eyes, she mumbled, “Jerk.”

As silently as she could manage, Bonnie sat in the chair on the left of the bed. For a while she just stared at her friend, even paler than usual, lying there. If it weren’t for the crease on her forehead and the inconsistent way she was breathing she could’ve been asleep.

“Hey,” Bonnie whispered, reaching for her wrist.

At the touch Marceline’s eyes flew open, her head whipped around and she gasped from pain. “Bonnie? What are you doing here?”

“Ellen got a text saying you were in hospital,” Bonnie told her gently. “So I came to see you. Are you okay?”

Marceline laughed quietly and then regretted it, evident in the way she closed her eyes and sucked in a short breath. “Um… no. I have a lot of broken bones, Bon. I’m the very definition of not okay.”

“Sorry,” Bonnie sighed. “Where’s Keila? Didn’t she go with you tonight?”

“She went on a date instead,” Marceline said flatly, trying to conceal the hurt.

“You could’ve called me.”

Marceline shook her head slightly. “Tonight’s movie night, yeah? Didn’t want to interrupt your nerding.”

“You’re an idiot, Marceline,” Bonnie told her bluntly, squeezing her hand. “You should’ve called me.” She waited a moment, but Marceline didn’t have anything else to say it seemed. So she asked, “What did he do?”

“Huh?”

“Ash. What did he do to set you off?”

Marceline blinked at her. “You… You don’t think it was my fault?”

Bonnie tilted her head, smiling softly. “Of course not. Why would I think you started it? He’s a right dick.”

A slow smile flickered to life then on Marceline’s face. “He uh… might’ve threatened some people I kinda like. So I punched him. Then I got pushed down the stairs. Now here we are.”

“You know, I really don’t like him,” Bonnie murmured. “Scoot over.” She waved her free hand.

“What?”

“Shift your butt over a bit so I can sit on the bed,” Bonnie explained, chuckling.

Frowning, Marceline did not even attempt to move. Bonnibel sighed, sliding onto the bed beside her, wriggling beneath the sheet. She lifted Marceline’s arm, draping the appendage across her shoulder as she settled.

“You’re useless,” she told her friend.

“This is… why?” Marceline stammered.

“Because it’s late and I want to sleep. Plus you need a hug and I don’t really want to touch your ribs,” Bonnie replied, turning her head into Marceline’s shoulder. “And you’re cold. Why are you cold?”

“Because it’s cold in here,” Marceline whispered tremulously.

Bonnie just hummed, trying very hard to ignore the way her heart was stuttering. “Your heart is going really fast,” she muttered.

“It’s probably the painkillers,” Marceline spluttered. “Or a belated adrenaline rush or something.”

That was most likely the case, but it didn’t stop Bonnie from wishing it was something else.

“Can I ask you something?” Marceline asked after a moment.

“Anything you like.”

There was a beat of silence before the question. “You’re not… Are you going back to Ormeau after you graduate?”

“Almost definitely,” Bonnie whispered, opening her eyes again. “I’ve been set on going to Driscoll since I knew what a tertiary education was. Plus I’d like to visit my parents, see my friends… Why?”

Marceline turned her head, staring at the ceiling. “Just wondering. I figured you wouldn’t stay. You’ve got no reason to.” She blinked, then looked back down. “Did you say Driscoll?”

“Hum… yes,” she mumbled, winding her fingers into the fabric of Marceline’s shirt across her stomach. “I’m going to put in my application in January, most likely, so I can make plans.”

The arm around Bonnie’s shoulder tightened and Marceline sighed, looking away again. “That’s funny,” she mused.

“What is?”

“Driscoll has the best music facilities in the country,” she breathed. “Ever since my piano teacher told me about their courses, I’ve been dying to go. Even if just to see it. Kinda lame, really. More of a pipe dream. They’d never let me in.”

“They’d be stupid to turn you away,” Bonnie yawned. “Just put in a competency application. It’s like sending them a portfolio of stuff and if they like what they see or hear they’ll accept you. That way, you’ll know what you’re doing before Easter.”

“They do that?” Marceline asked in a much higher pitch than usual.

“Mmhmm. I’m sending in all my extra research papers, plus a few experimental theories I drafted.”

“How do you know this stuff?”

“I Googled it.”

“Huh.” Marceline was quiet for a while, so Bonnie closed her eyes again. Then, “I could move out of this place,” she whispered. “I could stop living with dad; stop listening to him harping on about how useless my skills are. I could live with Marshall.”

“Or me,” Bonnie added. “I’d need a roommate. Plus it might be awkward, you living with your brother and his girlfriend.”

Up to that point, Marceline’s heart had been pretty steady – a tad too fast for her liking – but at least it was consistently so. It skipped a little bit then though and she opened her eyes, almost saying something about it. The look on Marceline’s face stopped her.

“What?” she asked instead.

“You’d live with me?” Marceline asked in a strangled voice.

“Sure. You’re not so bad.”

“Will… Will you help me put together a portfolio to send them, then?”

“Definitely. Do you have recording equipment?”

“Yes.”

“No problem then. Now go to sleep.”

Marceline chuckled, the vibrations shivering through Bonnie. Of course, it faded into a wince and a sharp intake of breath, but at least she’d laughed. Bonnie smiled.

“Sure, dork.”

Chapter Text

Thursday 25th December 2014

Incidentally, Christmas was just as boring in Reich as Easter was. Sure, the morning was all about going to church, and their dear deacon from Blackwater even paid a visit. That said, though, Wight was banal in his delivery so Bonnie didn’t pay him any mind. She actually slumped backwards in her spot and wished Marceline had turned up. Hansen was his usual charming self, but all in all, she was truly relieved when it ended.

“Bonnie!” Jake prefaced throwing an arm around her shoulders and leaning quite heavily on her by screaming her name from two metres away.

“Get off me, Jake,” she sighed. “It’s too early for that.”

He just laughed. “Merry Christmas.”

“You too. What’s up?”

“Wow, don’t sound so cheery,” Pippa chuckled drolly as she wandered up with Hayden and Ellen. “Get your spirit of Christmas face out and put the damn thing on.”

Bonnie arched an eyebrow, but couldn’t hide the smile creeping across her face when she realised Penelope was wearing a Santa hat. The fluffy white bauble chimed softly as it swayed. Ellen was wearing one too… only hers was purple. Naturally.

“We’re going to Ellen’s to open presents,” Hayden told her brightly.

“After lunch,” Eleanor added. “My parents are being stubborn on this whole ‘family Christmas meal’ thing.”

“But we’re totally going to party it up this afternoon,” Finn exclaimed, sliding up on Bonnie’s other side.

“Sounds like fun,” Bonnibel said blithely. “But what makes you think I got you guys presents?”

Pippa gasped melodramatically at that. “I’m scandalised at the thought. I got you a present.”

“Yay me,” she laughed. “Fine, alright. I’ll be over after lunch. Is anybody else invited?”

“Melissa and Brad will be there too,” Ellen informed her. “I think that’s it, though.”

“Cool, sounds like a plan.”

“Invite Marceline,” Pippa called over her shoulder as Jake dragged her away. “She might like a little time away from her dad today.”

Bonnie waved as they disappeared in different directions but didn’t give a reply. There was no way she’d promise anything when Marceline was so… mercurial. Still, with an invitation up her sleeve, she might as well text her.

Do you want to come to Ellen’s this afternoon for a Christmasy present opening party?

There was a slightly longer wait than usual before a text came through, but with Marceline’s broken arm, it wasn’t surprising.

Not at all, she received. I don’t do self-torture.

Aw, but I got you a gift.

You definitely didn’t have to do that. And still no to sitting at Ellen’s. Her birthday was enough for me.

How about you come over to my place this evening then?

Mmm… Okay. That sounds harmless. Are you feeding me?

Of course.

Excellent. See you then.

She’d barely set foot inside her flat before her phone beeped again. It wasn’t Marceline this time though.

Merry Christmas from Ormeau! It was from Cherry. What’s doing today?

Christmas things, I guess. Lunch with Peter, the afternoon with friends and this evening with another friend. You?

You know the drill. Gotta visit all the relatives.

Have fun with that.

Haha, you too, nerd.

If it wasn’t fun, at the very least she could expect it to be entertaining.

 

-*…*…*-

 

“Bonnie!”

The door slammed behind her as Ellen wrapped her up in a hug. Weird. Ellen’s face pressed into her throat as she was dragged slowly down the hall.

“Eleanor,” she whispered croakily. “Please let me go.” Bonnie tried to slip Ellen’s hands away, but she was very persistent. “Help. Please.”

Jake snorted whatever he was drinking out of his nose when they stepped into the room. He made an unhappy sound straight away. “Ow,” he grumbled, rubbing his nose. Then he looked up and chortled some more.

“Oh,” Pippa giggled. “Hang on. She’s a little bit tipsy.”

“I did not need to learn firsthand that Ellen is a touchy-feely drunk,” Bonnibel grouched as Pippa pried Ellen free. “A verbal warning would have been sufficient.”

“What’s the fun in that?” Jake asked around some more laughter.

“Where’s Marceline?” Pippa enquired, slithering out of Ellen’s grasp to sit on the floor beside Jake. “Did you invite her?”

“I asked if she wanted to come over and she said ‘no’. I don’t blame her,” Bonnie explained. “What about Brad and Melissa?”

Jake and Pippa exchanged a sour glance. “They’re out… together,” Penelope sighed. “Which is why Ellen is attempting to drink herself into oblivion.”

“Ah,” Bonnie exhaled, the explanation making so much more sense than anything else.

“Popcorn!” Hayden sang as she and Finn wandered into the living room bearing bowls of buttered food. “Oh, hey Bonnie. Just in time.”

“No Marceline?” Finn whined, collapsing onto a lounge.

“Nope. So what are we doing?” Bonnie queried, sinking onto the single seat sofa.

“Presents,” Jake declared.

“Ooh! Can I be Santa this year?” Finn asked, bouncing in his chair. “Please?”

“Sure, buddy, go for it.”

“Yes,” Finn hissed, sliding to the tree filling one corner of the room. It wasn’t a large tree by any standards, but it was quite laden with shimmering baubles. Beneath it was a tiny stack of presents that Finn promptly began rummaging through. “Let’s start with this one,” he chortled, snatching a box up and lobbing it at Jake. “It’s for you, from Ellen.”

Jake’s face crumpled. “She gives the worst gifts. Even when she’s sober.” With dread oozing from every movement, Jake peeled the gaudy paper off the present and rolled his eyes when he was greeted with a set of bread knives. “She knows me so well,” he drawled. “Who’s next?”

“Hayden, this is from me and Jake,” Finn said, tossing her a bundle. “And this one is from Ellen. She likes joke gifts so don’t feel too bad about it.”

Frowning, Hayden ripped the paper free and smiled massively when Finn and Jake’s present was a chemistry set for ‘do it yourself fireworks’. Ellen’s present though was a fire blanket and Hayden’s reaction to that was much the same as Jake’s had been.

“Bonnie, this is from Pippa,” Finn called, passing her a box in yellow paper. He winked. “There’s an envelope in there with it from the rest of us.”

“I’m not sure I want to know,” Bonnibel mumbled as she unwrapped it. The envelope at least was harmless; it contained a voucher for a book store at the Blackwater mall. The box though… was a magic eight ball. “Ha ha,” she said drolly. “What am I supposed to take from this?”

“That sometimes you need to take some stupid advice and a leap of faith,” Pippa chirped.

“I feel so much better about my present to you now,” Bonnie told her drily, passing Finn a bag. “For your distribution, Santa.”

Finn obviously rummaged through the bag for Pippa’s present first and handed it off to her with a cheeky grin. Penelope rolled her eyes too when she pulled the book from the paper. “‘How to read social cues’,” she read. “The art of not being invasive in conversation. Thanks, Bonnie. I needed that.”

“You’re welcome.”

The rest of the afternoon faded into bad presents, bad jokes, too much junk food and Finn and Jake covering Ellen in silly string after she passed out on the couch. Still, at four-thirty when Bonnie decided it was time she left them to their own devices, she was honestly more excited to get home than she had been to hang out with them. Something in the way Pippa looked at her as she made her farewells told her she wasn’t being subtle enough with the anticipation vibrating through her. Nothing she could do about it, however. Bonnie could lie to others if she wanted, but she’d always sucked at lying to herself. And Pippa was very good at reading her. Hence the book.

As always, her coping mechanism was to ignore the pointed look and hasten home. She didn’t bother checking in on Peter, he was probably out with his friends. Marceline was waiting for her, sitting on the step outside the flat staring at the package in her lap, fiddling with the edge of the cast wrapped around her arm. Bonnie couldn’t press back the smile.

“Hey,” she said softly, stepping over.

Marceline jerked her gaze up, a grin of her own blooming. “Hey yourself. How was the party?”

Bonnibel shrugged, sticking her key in the lock. “It went about as well as I expected. Ellen passed out on the couch because Brad bailed; everyone gave joke presents, ate lots of food and generally mucked up. Just how I thought it would go.”

“Sounds boring. I ordered pizza.”

“You’re perfect,” Bonnie sighed, kicking her shoes off as she pushed inside.

Marceline coughed. “I dunno about that,” she mumbled, her voice sounding a little raspy. “But thanks.”

“So what’s in the box?” Bonnie asked, sinking down onto the sofa. Her friend collapsed carefully beside her.

“What this?” she asked, lifting the present. “Oh nothing. Trash.”

“Sure. Well I got you a present,” Bonnibel said flatly. “Nothing fancy though.”

“That’s fine. After the marshmallow incident I wasn’t expecting anything other than a place to hang out away from dad.”

“Psh, you should know me better by now.”

Marceline shrugged, smirking in the lazy way that made Bonnie’s stomach do backflips. “You’d think,” she muttered.

Bonnie just kept smiling and pulled out a small envelope from her pocket. She turned it over once in her fingers before passing it to her friend. Marceline looked at it for a moment, brow furrowing gently, then she flipped the tab out and opened it up.

From inside she removed the small piece of card and read the instructions. Then her eyes lifted to Bonnibel, a little crease still marring her face. Her mouth didn’t seem to remember how to form words.

“Is this what I think it is?” she questioned in the same croaky voice she’d used earlier.

“Probably.”

“It’s a voucher to any three concerts sponsored by some weird conglomerate in Ormeau,” Marceline deadpanned. “Is that right?”

“Yep.”

Marceline’s eyes narrowed. “Do I want to ask who you killed to get this? It seems pretty valuable.”

Bonnie could only laugh. “It’s not. Think of it like a coupon for a grocery store. Or a gift voucher for some electronics place. You can redeem three purchases with it. Only these particular purchases are concerts. Although I’m pretty sure it covers the playhouse too. I didn’t read the fine print.”

“Bonnie, how much is this worth?”

“It’s a present, Marceline,” she said instead of answering the question. “Just take it. You can cash them in if you move to Ormeau next year.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then you can bring it with when you visit me and we’ll go together.”

Marceline’s fingers drummed anxiously on the little box she had in her lap. “I’m not sure I want to give you yours now. I feel upstaged.”

Bonnie swayed across the couch to bump into her shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. The point isn’t what the gift is. The point is it’s a present from you. That’s what matters.”

“How altruistic,” she grumbled sourly. “Merry Christmas,” she sighed a moment later, handing Bonnie the little package.

It wouldn’t have been bigger than both her hands side-by-side, but still, she was pretty excited as she pried the wrapping loose. She tried to keep it inside, but she wasn’t sure how successful she was. Once the paper was unravelled, a clear green case fell free. Inside was a CD. Marceline’s hand writing skittered across the face of it.

For Bonnie, was all that was written on the shiny surface, but a scrap of paper was clipped in with it. The note was folded in two and as Bonnibel reached for it, Marceline’s hand wrapped around hers.

“You can’t read that until you’ve listened to it,” she whispered. “Promise?”

“Sure,” Bonnie murmured, bobbing her head. “I promise.”

“Good.”

“Marceline, is this a mixed CD?” she enquired, trying not to let the laughter bubble free.

“Maybe. But you say that and it sounds really cheesy.”

“It is a little bit. But that’s okay. Thank you.”

“Yeah…”

Thankfully, Marceline was saved from having to come up with something eloquent to say by a knocking on the door. She bolted off the chair to get the door grumbling under her breath something about ‘being the one to pay this time’. Bonnie just kept smiling at her, and trying (in vain) not to acknowledge how nice she looked. How nice she always looked.

Bad, Bonnibel, she scolded herself. Stop it.

“Do you ever think we eat too much pizza?” Marceline asked, jolting Bonnie from her reverie as she flopped back onto the couch.

“Too much… pizza?” she fired back. “What is that?”

Marceline laughed; a twinkle in her eyes that Bonnie almost couldn’t ignore.

And in that moment – on the sofa eating pizza on Christmas day – not leaning over to kiss Marceline was the hardest thing Bonnie had ever done.

And in the moment after; that realisation scared the shit out of her.

Chapter Text

Thursday 1st January 2015

She wasn’t sure where she heard it, probably from her brother. But as far as old wives’ tales go, New Years’ ones are pretty well recognised by everyone. But if what you do on New Years’ is what you do all year after that, then Marceline was probably not in a good place.

Sitting up late to listen to the fireworks in Blackwater echo crackly through the television downstairs was one thing. But realising as her clock ticked over and struck midnight that she’d just been lying in bed thinking probably wasn’t such a grand plan. Especially not when all the thoughts had to do with Bonnibel.

Then again, there are worse things to keep her up at night. There are much more terrible things she could be contemplating than her tutor and how much her heart hurt. She could be thinking about her dad, or Ash, or the fact that these thoughts had pretty severe implications. No, in the long run, that was fairly harmless.

Still, she hadn’t slept well. Not with her head so busy doing God only knows what. So waking up at quarter to eleven with grainy eyes and a massive headache was definitely not much of a shock. Considering how unbelievably hot it was in a house without air conditioning, it only made sense that sleep was tough. She felt as though her shirt had melted into her back.

“You look like a zombie,” her father commented as she all but fell down the stairs.

“Thanks dad,” she grumbled.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Not at all.”

Hansen eyed her for a moment as if contemplating asking her why. But as she shuffled around the kitchen trying to decide whether eating breakfast was even worth the effort, he simply shrugged and went back to whatever he was reading. Sighing, Marceline rubbed her good hand across her face and through her hair.

“Do you have any plans with Keila for today?” Hansen asked abruptly.

“No,” Marceline exhaled. “She sent me a message yesterday saying she was staying in Blackwater overnight with Gary.”

One dark eyebrow arched higher; the only outward sign that Hansen found that interesting. “I take it you don’t like him,” he guessed.

“I haven’t liked him all year,” she pointed out irritably. “Why would I start now?”

“So you don’t have anything on today?” he pressed ignoring that question.

“I’m probably going to bum around like I always do, dad,” she breathed. “Why?”

Finally he folded his book closed and looked up at her. “I’m going into Blackwater today to see Mortimer. I was hoping you’d come with.”

Suspicion lanced through her, fear latching onto her windpipe, feet itching to run away. “Why?” she asked again.

Hansen hunched one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. “He mentioned that he was worried about you when he was here the other day. He wanted you to go to this meeting at his church.”

“No, dad, I’m not going with you.”

Hansen just blinked. “It might help with your attitude problem and your disregard for your future.”

Marceline slammed her good hand down on the bench top. “I’m not going with you. I don’t need another religious lecture. If that’s what I needed, surely living with you for sixteen years would’ve fixed me. It didn’t, so lay off.”

She began to storm from the kitchen but he stood, blocking her path. “I will not let my daughter become a delinquent,” he said softly. Obviously he hoped it sounded reassuring, but all it did was reinforce his disdain.

“Then broaden your mind for me,” she ground out.

Bristling, she brushed past him and hurried upstairs, the door to her room banging shut an awful lot louder than was strictly necessary. For a few minutes, furious pacing was the only non-destructive method she could think of to work out her frustration with her father. However, once all her restless, angry energy had seeped out her feet, she just felt drained. Slumping down onto the edge of her bed, shoulders sagging, she wondered why she even fought it sometimes. Maybe she would go with her dad.

Nope. Marceline shook that stupid thought free and struggled out of her pyjamas and into something suitably casual to while away the day in. Of course, the next question pertained to what exactly she planned on doing.

And as always when stumped for ideas (and Keila is doing her new ‘not around’ routine), Marceline stumped back downstairs and out the door, heading for Bonnie’s place. Summer in full swing outside made her instantly regret not dropping a hat on her head. Grumbling about that (and swearing she could feel her skin sizzle) she trudged the two blocks to Bonnie’s and prayed to God that she was home. It’d suck to have to walk back through that sunlight.

The door to Bonnie’s little flat was unlocked and ajar, which was at least a little bit unusual. Normally the door stayed closed. Carefully, Marceline swung the door inwards and stepped inside. It was instant relief from the sweltering heat. Since the air conditioner was pumping the place with lower (less volcanic) temperatures, Marceline clicked the door closed behind her before going looking for Bonnibel.

Although that wasn’t much of a challenge, really, given that there are three places she’s likely to be. The first was the living room, so once that was crossed off she headed down the hall. Her study door was open at the end of the hall, so Marceline could tell she wasn’t in there, which just left her bedroom. Marceline stuck her head around the doorframe warily.

Bonnie was lying on the floor, head on a pillow, feet propped up on her bed with her ankles crossed. Naturally she was reading a book, earphones in. Consequently Marceline was honestly so very glad that Bonnibel was preoccupied because otherwise the red creeping up her neck would be embarrassing. That said, it wasn’t exactly uncalled for, given that Bonnie was wearing shorter shorts than Marceline even knew she owned and they made it effortlessly clear how disastrously perfect her legs were. It just wasn’t conducive to clear thought.

She leaned against the doorframe, closing her eyes with the belief that it might help as she sucked in a few long, slow breaths. It didn’t really. Not at all. But it was good enough for her to calm herself somewhat.

So put another dime in the jukebox, baby. I love rock and roll. So come and take your time and dance with me.”

Marceline’s eyes snapped open, fixing on Bonnie, her face still mostly hidden behind the book she was so engrossed in. But the lyrics she was singing quietly were not hindered at all by this fact. Some parts, she only hummed along with, but Marceline knew what the song was.

Take your time and dance with me.”

Bonnie fell quiet for a minute and it was then that Marceline realised she’d just been standing there staring. When she began the next song though, singing along in little more than a murmur, that’s when Marceline knew what she was listening to.

I know, I know, I know, I know, what you’d say. I know, I know, I know, I know, all the games you play,” she muttered. And Marceline must have moved then, or made some sort of sound, because Bonnie’s eyes flicked up and landed on her face. Then she smiled. “Letting yourself in now, I see,” she chuckled.

“Um… The door was open,” Marceline mumbled hoarsely, hooking a thumb behind her. “Figured it was an invitation.”

Bonnibel laughed, pulling the earphones out and sitting up. The movement didn’t help the warm oozing back into Marceline’s cheeks. All it did was remind her of exactly how much leg she could see. “Only for you,” her friend was saying. “So what’s up?”

Marceline shrugged away from the door, stepping into the bedroom cautiously. “Just thought I’d come around and hang out. Wondered if maybe you’d want to entertain me.”

“Sure. I was just going to power through this book today anyway,” she admitted. “The disc you gave me,” Bonnie went on slowly. “You sang all those songs, didn’t you?”

“I might’ve,” she grumbled, hunching her shoulders as she sank onto the edge of Bonnie’s bed. “I did the instruments too. You have no idea how hard it was to organise the backing track without the use of drums.”

Bonnie’s eyes went wide and she jammed one of the buds back in her ear. “There’re no drums in any of these?” she asked, stunned.

“Nope.”

“I didn’t even notice that. I do appreciate the mix though. I can kind of see you as a young Joan Jett.”

Marceline rolled her eyes. “She’s pretty cool.”

“Would not have pegged you as an ABBA fan though,” Bonnie giggled. “I’m nothing special,” she sang, rising up onto her knees. “In fact, I’m a bit of a bore. If I tell a joke, you’ve probably heard it before.”

“Don’t mock me, Banner. That’s a good song,” she grouched back.

“Oh, I’m not going to argue with you. It’s fitting. Since you’re basically this tiny little person made up entirely of limitless amounts of music. You’re… a pocket Mozart,” Bonnie informed her with a perfectly straight face.

“Do not insult my height, thank you.” Marceline tried to glare at her, but Bonnie only smiled. Folding her arms, elbows on Marceline’s knees, she just smiled. “Pocket Mozart, huh?” she asked in a strangled voice, trying not to notice too acutely the contact between them.

“Absolutely. Are you going to send any of these songs to Driscoll with your application?”

“I thought I might…” she said uncertainly. “The Joan Jett one definitely. I’m pretty happy with how it came out.”

“They’re all awesome.”

“You’re biased.”

Bonnie scoffed. “Even if I wasn’t, I’d have to be deaf not to know how good they are.” She collapsed backwards onto the floor again, legs crossed, and Marceline couldn’t help the little pang in her chest as she instantly missed the proximity. “So what did you want to do today?”

“Anything is good,” Marceline replied with a shrug.

“You know,” Bonnie began as she uncurled and stood. “They say that whoever you spend New Years’ with is who you’re with for the rest of the year. Are you sure you want to hang out with me today and risk being inflicted with another three hundred and sixty-four days of my company?”

“I’ll be fine, thanks,” she grumbled. “You’re not so bad. I’ll survive.”

Bonnibel beamed at her. “Awesome.” She snatched her book off the floor and skipped into the living room. “You can put a movie on if you want. I’ll keep you company, but I do want to finish this book before Pippa decides to stop by and drag me somewhere.”

“That’s fine. Maybe I’ll borrow a book too,” she mused, running her eyes along the spines on Bonnie’s bookshelf. “Is this one any good?” she asked, pulling a tome half-way from its home.

“Oh yes, that one’s excellent. Plus it’s a stand alone,” Bonnie told her enthusiastically. “So there’s no pressure to read a sequel.”

“What’s it about?” Marceline wondered as she read the blurb.

“That’d spoil the surprise.”

Of course it would, she thought wryly. But she looked over at Bonnie on the couch with her knees up under her chin. With one hand she had her page marked in the book and with the other she was channel surfing. Marceline (her own novel in hand) sank onto the sofa beside her and was immensely surprised when Bonnibel unfolded her legs and rested them across her lap. She blinked, but couldn’t bring herself to complain. Why would she?

“Leave the television off,” Marceline muttered. “Just plug that thing in and we’ll be set.” She pointed to Bonnie’s earphones, but the implication was that she wanted the music.

Still smiling in that delightful way she has, Bonnibel twisted at the waist to grab the dock off the table and plug her music into it. She kept the volume down to a murmur, but that was fine, preferable even.

The book proved to be immediately interesting, so the fact that she didn’t even notice herself idly drawing patterns on Bonnie’s leg with her right hand (since it wasn’t much use in reading, being broken and all – good thing she’s left handed) could be put down to that. To that alone and nothing else. Nope. There wasn’t a single other contributing factor.

Nor was there any particular reason for her falling asleep on Bonnie’s couch at three-thirty in the afternoon, head on her friend’s shoulder. This was the best way to spend her summer afternoons. She’d remember that and make sure to do it more frequently.

And Marceline didn’t even care how deep she was. Or that pressing a kiss to Bonnie’s cheek (or her lips, or her jawline, or… she cut that tangent off quick smart) crossed her mind more than once. She didn’t care, because it felt so easy, so comfortable.

Bonnie’s hands threading through her hair was nice too.

Much too nice, in fact.

Marceline just sighed and tucked her face into Bonnie’s shoulder, one arm around her waist. She decided it was best not to think about it and just enjoy whatever this was. So she slept. And she smiled.

Chapter Text

Friday 23rd January 2015

Marceline blinked at her, a smug smile creeping across her face. Bonnie could tell she was trying to hold it in, to not look overly satisfied with herself, but it didn’t work.

“That was one time,” Marceline muttered, still fighting her smile. “I promise I won’t do it again.” She lifted her arm, wrapped in a plaster cast. “I couldn’t if I wanted to.”

Bonnibel narrowed her eyes. “Do you want to?”

“And risk you telling me you hate me again? No thanks.” Her expression shifted, forming something a little closer to hope. “Please? School goes back in three days.”

She sighed. “Fine. But I’m wearing swimmers this time.” With that she stalked away to get changed. Honestly, giving Marceline the gratification of winning an argument really peeved her. But… maybe it wouldn’t be as bad this time. She did have an awfully hard time telling the other girl ‘no’. Which probably wasn’t healthy, but Bonnie couldn’t give less of a damn.

When she stepped outside ten minutes later (bag over one shoulder and togs under her clothes) she found Marceline leaning against her car. With her left hand, Marceline jangled the keys at her. “You get to drive,” she informed her. “Since you’re so worried I’ll crash and kill us both.”

Bonnie snatched them off her. “Well you do suck at multitasking.”

“I’m getting better.”

“Whatever you say.”

At least Bonnie knew where they were headed this time; she wasn’t being kept in the dark. Either way, Marceline’s sudden sing-along to the radio was a lot better than tension might have been. Tension was bad. It would make her think of all the things she wanted, things she wanted out of her head. Like… Like how gorgeous Marceline was in a flannel button down. Nope. Not thinking about that.

“So are the others going to be there?” she asked, fingers clenching around the wheel. Bonnibel wasn’t sure whether she wanted the answer to be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ more. Probably an affirmative would be healthier in the long run.

“Yep,” Marceline sang, popping her ‘p’. “It was Jake’s idea. Keila said she might come out as well with her boyfriend. Be nice to see her these holidays.”

Bonnie cut a glance across the car. “I take it you haven’t spoken much, then.”

“Nope.” It was as poppy and sing-song as the last reply. “Not for… Oh, Lord. I don’t think we’ve spoken since Christmas.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. Before it would’ve sucked massively because she was my only friend…” Marceline paused, eyes flicking up to Bonnie’s face. Her next words were gentle. “I’ve got other friends now.”

Blindly – keeping her eyes on the road – Bonnie reached out a hand and punched at Marceline’s shoulder. “Yeah you do.”

Marceline laughed at her. “Maybe if she comes, we can make plans.”

“You’re going to see her on Monday,” Bonnie reminded her with an eye roll. “Make plans then.”

“I hate it when you’re all logical and stuff.”

“Nah,” Bonnie hummed. “You love me.”

Marceline’s gaze flashed to Bonnie and out of the corner of her eye she saw her friend’s face break into a warm smile. “I guess I do,” Marceline mumbled.

And then – in a completely illogical fashion – Bonnie’s heart sighed. It was stupid for that to make her as happy as it did. It was also really scary how frequently she had to remind herself of the strictly platonic nature of their friendship. Really. Freaking. Terrifying.

Parked alongside Jake’s four wheel drive was Finn’s new car. Slightly smaller and less beat up, it was bright blue and far too shiny to be sitting in the dirt out here. Bonnie knew the gleam to the paint wouldn’t last, but Finn loved it, so there should have been no amount of surprise anywhere that he’d driven it today.

Bonnie pulled in next to it as Hayden bounded from the passenger side. “Where’s Ellen?” she asked the other redhead as the ignition died.

“Not coming,” Hayden told her. “She’s going out with Brad tonight.”

“I guess that means she and Melissa are back on speaking terms,” Marceline grumbled, as she all but fell from the car. “Oh goody.”

Bonnibel rolled her eyes again. “One day those two are going to have a proper falling out,” she opined, retrieving her bag from the boot. “Ellen will realise that Brad and Melissa were obviously meant to be together and she’ll have to find a new sometimes-best-friend.”

“It all seems like too much effort,” Marceline agreed, taking a bag with her one good hand. “I mean… why would you expend energy pining after someone who just doesn’t want you back?”

Inwardly, Bonnie cringed, wondering if that’s what she was doing. Outwardly, she just sighed. “Masochism,” she offered. “Let me have one of those bags.”

“I’m fine,” Marceline grouched, pouting. “I have a broken arm. I’m not an invalid.”

“Well then.” Bonnie slammed the boot closed and headed for the tree line. “Sorry to offend your sensibilities.”

“I’m carrying two bags, Bon,” she commented dryly. “Two whole bags. Look out.”

“The doctor said not to strain yourself.”

“And I repeat: two whole bags. This isn’t straining myself. Straining myself would be walking to the ditch and back.”

“Well, what did the doctor say about going swimming with a cast on? I’m sure that’s no good for it.”

“Sheesh, Bon, you’re a science whiz. Doc said it was fine. He said I could go swimming if I wanted. It’s summer. Like he could stop me.”

“Would you two stop bickering like an old married couple and just relax,” Jake interjected. “Amusing as it is, it’s still draining.”

“Yeah,” Marceline agreed. “Listen to Jake.”

Bonnie glared at her. “Shut up.”

“Oh my god,” Hayden gasped melodramatically as she dropped onto the log. “You are an old married couple. Lay off each other before you put a hip out.”

In spite of the teasing (which made her bristle), the analogy made Bonnie’s insides stutter. She had to focus very hard to make the sensation subside. And even then, it didn’t quite go away.

“Why don’t you go for a walk,” Jake suggested. “Clear your heads and all that.”

“Together?” Hayden questioned. “Gee, I don’t know. Do you think they’ll both come back alive?”

Jake hummed in agreement. “Maybe it’s too dangerous.”

“I’m leaving,” Marceline announced, raising a hand to jab a finger at the ridge. “I’m going that way.” Her eyes landed on Bonnie, a silent query being put forth.

She thought on it for a moment, wondering if it was sane. But when Jake opened his mouth she rode over him. “Yeah, I’m coming.” She hastened after Marceline who had already traipsed off through the trees. “We’re not climbing the hill though.”

“Why?”

“Because that definitely counts as straining yourself.”

Marceline chuckled. “Nice to know you care.”

“Of course I care. I’m not a robot.”

“Where are we walking to then?” Marceline asked her, looping her good arm through Bonnie’s. It was always a surprise when Marceline initiated some form of contact, but that didn’t mean Bonnie didn’t enjoy it.

After taking a good twenty seconds to compose herself, Bonnie murmured, “What if we sat at the bottom of the ridge? There’s river there, right?”

“Right. Sounds good to me.”

For most of the way they walked in silence after that. It was punctuated once by Marceline, who tripped on a root and nearly fell head first into an ant nest. Her string of curses rang through the trees but Bonnie just found it funny.

“Hey,” Marceline shoved her in the shoulder. “That would’ve been incredibly painful.”

“Sorry.” Bonnie bit down on her laughter, rolling her lip under. “It would’ve been. A friend of mine in Ormeau was allergic. I’ve seen how bad it can be.”

“Then why were you laughing?”

Bonnie wound their arms together again. “You’re not normally clumsy. The tripping was funny, the ant nest wouldn’t have been.”

Marceline stepped out onto the rocks along the river bank and collapsed on the edge, pulling Bonnie down with her. “Are you allergic to anything?” Marceline asked, kicking her feet in the water.

“Wool… I think,” she mused. “When I was little I used to get really bad rashes if I wore woollen clothing. Ever since then my paranoia makes sure I only ever buy things that are some kind of blend.”

“That’s really weird,” Marceline muttered.

“What about you?”

“Tomatoes. My brother and I are both deathly allergic to tomatoes.”

“When you say ‘deathly’ are you exaggerating?”

Marceline rolled her eyes. “A little… Not much. I remember my brother eating a burger once and he’d specifically asked for no tomatoes but they put them on anyway and his throat closed over. I spent the night in the emergency ward with my dad. I had a run in once with diced tomatoes in spaghetti and it sucked. I had an epi-pen though which stopped me from having as bad a reaction as Marshall. I dunno if it’s classed as a fatal allergy or whatever, but it really stinks.”

Bonnie could feel all the blood drain from her face. “Oh… kay. No tomatoes for you.”

When Marceline looked back at her she started smiling. “You’ve gone white. Are you alright?”

“That’s just… a really intense allergy,” Bonnibel murmured.

“Yep.”

“I’m sorry.”

Marceline glanced at her, tore away again as if she’d been burned. “Why?”

“About before. Trying to take the bags off you, I mean.”

“It’s fine,” she responded, shrugging. “Nice that someone bothers me about stuff like that, you know? Dad doesn’t.”

“I just…”

“It’s really okay, Bonnie. Promise.”

She nodded, sincerely hoping it was alright. Marceline bumped their shoulders together and Bonnie looked over at her. Her friend just smiled.

“You’ve got something on your face,” Bonnie told her, deadpan.

Marceline blinked, her smile wavering.

“Just here.” Bonnie ran a thumb over the corner of her grin. “What’s with the smile, doofus?”

“You look worried.”

“I suppose I’m worried about your arm. I just don’t want to seem pushy about it. Why does that make you smile?”

“People don’t normally worry about me. It’s nice. Do you want a hug?”

At that, Bonnie couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re so weird.” Still, she wrapped one arm around Marceline’s neck and squeezed.

“I said ‘hug’,” Marceline rasped. “Not ‘strangle hold’.”

Bonnibel kept laughing and slithered sideways off the rock into the water, pulling Marceline after her. She tried not to dwell on how nice it felt when Marceline threw an arm around her waist to keep what passed for balance in freefall. Or when Marceline pressed her face to Bonnie’s shoulder, eyes squeezed shut against the water.

When they surfaced, Bonnibel was still chuckling and Marceline’s fist was still clenched in Bonnie’s shirt. “That was mean,” Marceline grumbled, spitting water out.

“Payback’s a bitch.”

They froze then, inches from each other (and only just realising it). Bonnie felt her heart gallop away, battering her diaphragm, vibrations forcing her throat closed. Her vision – so full of electric blue – felt funny. She imagined this is what horses with blinkers could see; aware there was more of the world, but fixated on one tiny little detail.

Marceline’s gaze flicked down and then back up immediately after, red tinting her cheeks, teeth worrying her bottom lip in a way that turned Bonnie’s intestines to goo. Her blue, blue eyes darted down again, then away this time, as if meeting Bonnie’s scrutiny was embarrassing. Marceline’s fingers in the fabric on Bonnie’s shoulder shifted, tensing, and when she looked back there was resolve in her eyes.

Resolve that failed to mask the dilation in her pupils.

“Go out with me,” Marceline blurted.

Then went as red as the tomatoes she was allergic to. Bonnie blinked as Marceline withdrew, pulling away, her hand vanishing. She muttered a quiet ‘sorry’ and took another step back, keeping her eyes averted.

“Like… on a date?” Bonnie enquired softly.

Marceline’s gaze whipped back to her. “Uh… yeah.”

Bonnie’s lips tugged upwards in a ghostly smile, her heart beating twice as much as usual. “Alright. Sure, let’s do that.”

“What?” The word sort of… fell from her mouth rather than being given permission to leave.

“A date. I’m good with that.” Actually she was a huge deal better than just ‘good’. That was too bland. She was excellent.

Marceline’s eyes flicked away and then back. “Do you know what that means?” Her eyes were wide, as if she’d asked without thinking about it and was now utterly terrified.

Bonnie shrugged. “I believe it can be anything, often dinner or movies. Picnics are common, too, I’m told. Some dates are accompanied by some sort of romantic declaration.”

A little of Marceline’s normal sarcasm crept back in then when she asked, “Was that the dictionary definition?” The shock seemed to be wearing off. Not that Bonnie knew why she was shocked. She’d been the one asking.

“No,” Bonnie replied, equally level. “If you wanted that it would be something along the lines of… verb; colloquial; a social engagement with someone in whom one has a romantic interest. As in: to date such-and-such. How’s that?”

Marceline shook her head. “You are such a nerd.”

“Thanks.”

She shuffled her feet through the water, kicking up mud between the rocks. “So…” she began, scratching the back of her neck. “You’d go on a date? With me?” Marceline asked again, obviously making sure she’d heard right.

“Definitely.” Bonnie closed the space between them and elbowed her gently.

Marceline frowned. “You know I’ll be there, right?”

Bonnie tried and failed to stop the smile from breaking across her face. “Of course I know you’ll be there. That’s kind of the point.” Marceline’s brow creased, her bottom lip sticking out in a strange mix of confusion and disbelief. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“What?”

“I’m just lame. Don’t worry.”

“I’m going to worry until you tell me.”

“I swear it’s fine. It’s more of a third date kind of admission.”

She’d wanted to say she was wearing the biggest grin she could manage, but at that, Bonnie was kind of forced to admit it got wider. “There’s going to be a third date? Wait. You’ve thought about a third date? You only just asked me out right now.”

“Hey,” Marceline growled, her face going a shade of red that Bonnie decided she quite liked. At least she didn’t sound so strangely strangled anymore. “In my defence, you’re the most amazing person in the universe. I didn’t actually think you’d say ‘yes’ to going on a date with me. Calm down.”

“You thought about it though,” Bonnie sang, winding her fingers into Marceline’s. “You imagined a date with me. Wow, you’re so cheesy.”

“I’m going to change my mind any second now,” her friend warned.

“Sorry.”

“No you’re not.”

“No. I’m not. You’re adorable.” She paused, smiling at the way Marceline pouted at the adjective. Then, in a moment of boldness (read: brazen idiocy), she pressed a soft kiss to Marceline’s shoulder. “I’m glad you asked.”

Marceline’s eyebrows shot up. “For serious?”

“Duh,” she chuckled. “I’ve been secretly hoping for it for a while.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

Bonnie scoffed. “I didn’t know you liked girls. If I did, you can be damn sure I would’ve thrown my name into that ring post-haste.”

Marceline blinked slowly, at a loss for words. But she couldn’t exactly argue. The fact that she swung both ways had never been advertised. At least, Bonnie didn’t think it had. If she’d just missed a ton of signs then she was going to feel monumentally stupid.

“Come on,” Bonnibel whispered, tugging on the hand still trapped in her fingers. “Let’s head back.”

“Wait,” Marceline burst out. Bonnie turned back to look at her, brows drawn together in askance. “Please don’t tell anyone just yet.” She heaved a deep breath (winced as she irritated her ribs) and exhaled heavily. “I only just asked you out today and if someone told my dad he’d kill me and we’d never be allowed within screaming distance again. I don’t… I can’t…”

“Hey,” Bonnie murmured. “It’s alright. I wasn’t going to tell anyone before you’re ready.” She tilted her head to one side, smiling softly. “You did only just ask me out, like I was going to ruin that by blabbing.” She punctuated that by squeezing Marceline’s hand. Thankfully, she got a slight compression in return.

“You’re the best, Bon,” Marceline whispered, letting Bonnibel help her out of the river.

“I try.”

 

-*…*…*-

 

“Oh good, you didn’t kill each other,” Jake sighed when they collapsed at the fire, wringing wet from the creek. “We were starting to wonder if we’d have to send a search team after you.”

“Maybe dig up the forest for your remains,” Finn added.

“Sadly no, we’re both fine,” Marceline retorted drolly. “Guess you’re stuck with us.”

Better than fine, Bonnie decided happily, trying her best not to smile too widely in case Pippa suspected something. Not looking at Marceline and grinning like an absolute fool was also hard. But no harder than pretending she didn’t care.

“You guys are soaked,” Hayden noted, lips twisting with amusement. “Did you push her in again, Marceline?”

“No, actually,” she replied tonelessly. “She pulled me in this time. Something about payback.”

That time, Bonnie allowed the smug smirk to flash. “Can’t let something like that go unpunished, can I?”

Pippa rolled her eyes. Bonnibel very nearly sighed in relief when no more was said about it though and easy conversation picked up. Laughter at Jake for burning his sausage and backhanded compliments for Finn for managing to follow Hayden’s absurdly simple instructions echoed loudly into the sinking sunlight. Pippa gasped, scandalised, when Hayden pulled the box of do-it-yourself-fireworks she’d been gifted for Christmas out of her bag. Finn just hollered, racing to his car and retrieving the fire blanket.

It wasn’t needed as Hayden let off a series of crackers. Most of them fizzled around the ground in little waterfalls. One launched a little higher than Hayden had meant for it, and exploded in a shower of orange and red sparkles with a ringing whiplash sound that reverberated off the cliff face. There was a moment of prolonged silence after the last of the echoes faded and then boisterous cackles broke out all the way around the fire.

As the sun finally dipped below the horizon and a chill crept over the campfire, a shivering Marceline grabbed a couple of blankets from her car and draped one around Bonnie’s shoulders. The other she wrapped around herself and even though they might’ve been sitting a little closer than usual, no one commented. They simply pulled out marshmallows to roast and Hayden picked up the frayed tubes of her crackers.

It wasn’t until Pippa received what they all interpreted was a rather frazzled text from Ellen, that they even realised someone else might’ve seen the lone firework. When it dawned on them that the cops could be coming up the highway any second now, they scrambled to clear the space. Fireworks are illegal after all. Hayden trampled out the fire as they gathered their stuff, joking quietly about what might happen if they were caught and how it was obviously because Marceline was such a bad influence on them all (which got a single exasperated eye roll from her).

Then they were all piling into their vehicles and taking off. Somewhere along the highway, Bonnie lost sight of Finn’s car, and the headlights of Jake’s truck behind her faded from sight. It felt somewhat surreal (and a tad lonely) to be driving through the pitch black of the night on an empty stretch of road. The only sound in the car the quiet murmurs from the radio.

More than once she caught Marceline staring at her with this strange little smile on her face. It was some mix of wonderment and amazed happiness that made Bonnie tingle all over knowing it was directed at her. In whatever illogical way, it warmed her even better than the towel she was still tangled in.

Well you done, done me and you bet I felt it,” Marceline sang softly as Bonnie pulled the car into her street. “I tried to be chill, but you’re so hot that I melted. I fell right through the cracks, now I’m trying to get back. Before the cool dawn run out, I’ll be giving it my bestest. And nothing’s gonna stop me but divine intervention.”

“You’re a dork,” Bonnie whispered when she stopped singing. “Come in and get changed out of those clothes. Your dad will have a fit if you go home looking like a drowned cat.”

Marceline’s whole face lit up mischievously. “You sure that’s allowed? I think that’s a bit too fast, yeah?”

Bonnie gave her a playful shove. “It might be warm, but that doesn’t mean I want you to test your luck. Get into some dry clothes so I don’t worry about you catching pneumonia.”

“Yes, dear,” Marceline chortled, sliding from the car.

“You’re insufferable,” she grumbled under her breath as she followed.

As soon as she stepped inside, Bonnibel felt this inexplicable tiredness sink into her bones, draping across her shoulders and she had to stifle a yawn. Marceline just grinned at her and headed for her bedroom to scrounge up some clothes. She was back so fast Bonnie wondered whether she might not have dozed off briefly. What an unfortunate time to feel so drained.

“Dry clothes,” Marceline announced, waving her left hand at herself. “To stave off pneumonia. Does it satisfy?”

“Please don’t patronise me, Marceline,” she said tersely. Instantly she regretted the tone and tugged gently on the hem of Marceline’s borrowed shirt. “Sorry. I just don’t want you getting sick.”

Marceline cocked her head to one side. “I know. But I was going to have a shower when I got home. And it’s just… right around the corner.” She looped her fingers through Bonnie’s and smiled that wonderful smile. “I’ll be fine.”

Bonnie just pouted.

“When…” Marceline faltered then, red flushing her face. “Uh… I mean… Do you want to go out on Sunday?” Bonnibel opened her mouth to point out that, hey, it’s the last day of the holidays, and they should probably not be planning anything right before school started, but Marceline spoke over the top of her. “I know,” she murmured. “But I don’t want school to get in the way, you know? I won’t keep you up late. Promise.”

A grin quirked at Bonnie’s mouth. “You already have a plan?”

Marceline huffed and shrugged. “Nah, I was just gonna wing it.” Bonnie slapped her arm. “Okay, I’m kidding. Yes, I have an idea already. Sheesh. Be pretty stupid not to.”

Bonnibel harrumphed, but gave herself away by letting the smile slip back through. “Alright then. Sunday it is. Midnight curfew, though. I’m not going to sleep through the first day back.”

With a fond eye roll, Marceline beamed at her. “I’d much prefer you didn’t sleep through our first date. School be damned. But sure, I’ll have you back for bedtime.”

“No mocking,” Bonnie scolded around her grin (the damn thing just would not go away). “But that otherwise sounds excellent.”

Marceline squeezed her hand once and hesitated. A look Bonnie couldn’t place flashed across her face as she rocked gently on the balls of her feet. Then she snapped out of it, offered her a massive grin as she backed to the door. “I’ll see you then,” she said with a wink. Then she was gone.

In spite of the tiredness thrumming through her veins, Bonnie honestly couldn’t suppress the spring in her step. Marceline asked her out. On a date. This was the best day ever. She was practically vibrating with excitement. Right through the warm shower and donning her pyjamas and pulling the single light sheet up to her chin as she collapsed onto her bed, she wore a goofy grin and her heart jounced around stupidly in her chest.

With the elated smile still curving her lips she felt the weariness wash over her and sweep her into slumber.

Chapter Text

Sunday 25th January 2015

Sunday morning (as with all of the sluggish Saturday immediately before it) passed painfully slowly. It was like the universe knew exactly what she was looking forward to doing and was punishing her for it. Seconds ticked by like hours and the goddamn hours took freaking lifetimes.

As always, she’d skipped church attendance. Nothing killed a good feeling like listening to her father harp on about the spiritual saviour, their Lord in Heaven, hallowed be His name. Erk. Pass.

However, pacing her bedroom (a whopping four paces) from the corner of her closet to the edge of her desk (which she unfailing tapped twice on her way past) was boring as batshit. Honestly. Why people in movies and whatnot were ever depicted passing their time by pacing was beyond her. Watching paint dry would probably be more stimulating than this. Marceline made a mental note to invest in a few tins of paint in case a similar waiting game arose in the future.

Upon realising that white paint wouldn’t show up so well on her already white walls, she made a secondary note to get a few different colours.

Her phone rang.

With super human speed, she snatched it off the wood of her desk (and reducing the four steps to half of one in the process). It was not from Bonnie. Her heart sank.

Still, she answered it anyway.

“Sup, jerk,” she asked, forcing a little joviality into her voice. There probably wasn’t any concealing her disappointment though. No matter how well she and her brother got on, he wasn’t Bonnibel. Alas. (Or maybe that was fortunate given recent developments.)

“Hey, loser. How’s life?”

Marceline sucked in a long breath that she knew he’d hear and let it all out in a slow whoosh accompanied by a drawn out, “Eh. I guess it could be better. I’m still stuck in this hole in the wall.”

“That bad, huh? Tell me, did you make up with your new friend? You never told me.”

“Didn’t think you’d care.”

Marshall laughed. “I don’t really. But I told Fionna about your significant personal growth spurt and she was elated. Now I must find out more details for her.”

“Yeah,” she huffed. “Turns out I was over reacting. She seemed to find the whole idea hilarious.”

“But she forgave you for being a jerk, right?”

“Yep. Water under the bridge.”

“Well that is good to hear. So have you added her to your tiny list of friends permanently?”

Marceline rolled her eyes, chewing her lip. “I… guess I have.”

“Uh-oh,” he cackled. “That doesn’t sound good. What did you do?”

She felt her face flush massively and was immensely relieved that he couldn’t see her. “I… what? No. I didn’t do anything.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. Absolutely.” Her stomach roiled. Normally, she and Marshall would share things. After all, she was the first person to learn that he’d bitten the bullet and asked Fionna out. But somehow it felt wrong to tell him. Like it’d jinx her or something. “Friends,” she muttered instead.

“Alright, squirt, whatever. Cool your jets.”

She exhaled heavily down the line at him. “So did you just call to make fun of me, or what?”

“Oh, right,” he cried, tone brightening instantly. “I called to tell you that we’re dropping around for Easter. I was going to call dad, but he’s still a little iffy about my life choices, I think.”

“You did take all the money out of your tertiary education fund and spend it buying a bar,” she pointed out wryly. “I don’t think he’ll ever get over that.”

“True. Guess you have a lot to make up for.”

“Oh, yeah no,” she chortled sarcastically, waving a hand he couldn’t see. “No. I’m going to let him down too, don’t you worry. I’m a big, fat disappointment waiting to happen.”

“Waiting…” Marshall mused carefully, the implications heavy in his tone. “Wait, fat? Did you put on weight?”

“Shut up, jackarse.”

“Just kidding. Well, that was my informative phone call for the year. Just make sure to fill dad in on those little details and we’ll be set.”

“Coward. When are you arriving?”

He hummed softly in thought. “We’ll probably show up the day before Good Friday. Might hang around for a few days.”

“A few days is very non-specific.”

“Give it a week, tops. Why? Do you have a hot date pencilled in sometime there and I’m not allowed to know about it?”

Marceline resisted the urge to say something waspish. That would probably just confirm exactly what Marshall was suggesting. Besides, she couldn’t say either way when she didn’t know. “Dad doesn’t like indefinite, undefined things,” she said instead. “You know that.”

“I do. Maybe I won’t give you an end date for our visit just to piss him off.”

“I have to live with him,” she said flatly.

“Exactly.”

“Bye, Marshall,” Marceline breathed.

“Bye.”

The call clicked disconnected. For a moment, Marceline stood there staring at her phone, then remembered that she didn’t actually have anything to do and resumed pacing. Perhaps wearing a hole in her floor could be her aim for the day.

 

-*…*…*-

 

“Dad, can I borrow your ute?” she asked as casually as she could manage as she stepped into the kitchen.

Hansen barely spared her a glance from pencilling something into his planner. “You have a car,” he reminded her unnecessarily. “And a motorbike.” Oh yes, because she didn’t know that.

“Yes,” she acknowledged knowing how to play his game.

“Why can’t you drive it then?” And now he looked up. “Did you break it?”

Marceline sighed. “No, dad.”

An eyebrow inched upwards, expectant. “Then why can’t you use yours?”

Ah… the crux of the matter. Marceline hadn’t quite thought up an answer to that yet and was just hoping he’d let it go. The expression on Hansen’s face told her that maybe she should’ve had a back-up plan. “Um… because…?”

Yeah, go Marceline. What an excellent reason. Great plan.

“You have a car,” he repeated just in case she’d missed it the first time. “Use it.”

“So that’s a ‘no’ to borrowing your car, right?” she pressed with a cheeky smirk. Best to be sure.

“Correct. Use the one you’ve got.” With that he resumed ignoring her and returned to whatever he’d been doing before. Just. Swell.

With the kind of sigh designed to make her dad understand just how upset she was with his… dadness, she flounced back up the stairs to change into something a tiny bit nicer than the torn shorts and faded shirt she’d been wearing all day. As she passed the bathroom she contemplated having a shower, but no. That could come later. For now, some nice clean clothes would suffice and she could do the other when she got home.

Honestly, Marceline had never considered that she might be one of those girls who did a little panicked dance around her bedroom wondering what on Earth she could wear on a date. Jeans would be too hot, so denim shorts it was. Still, she somehow managed to find herself wearing a plaid shirt with elbow length sleeves. Fine, whatever.

It’s just Bonnie.

Except, no. It’s not just Bonnie. There is no way Bonnie could ever be just anything. Unless she was being just amazing and fantastic and crazy intelligent. Yeah, no pressure or anything.

Marceline sucked in a long, slow breath and calmed herself as best she could. Once she was sure she wasn’t going to stress vomit about the fact that she was going on a freaking date with Bonnibel, she headed back down the stairs. Okay, so she more or less fell down the stairs because her knees had somehow that science couldn’t explain turned into jelly. But that’s beside the point.

“Be careful driving with your arm,” her father reminded her as she banged the door shut.

“Yeah,” she grumbled, sliding into her car. “Because I’d forgotten it was broken. Thanks for the tip, dad.” Simply because her arm was broken though, didn’t stop her from speeding just the tiniest bit on her way out to Ivy’s. Good thing the road was straight, she supposed.

The parking lot at the café was nearly empty; Ivy’s little green bug sat beside a single Chevy covered in so much mud it was impossible to tell what colour was underneath. But closing time was just around the corner so Marceline figured it was to be expected. The door tinkled when she pushed it in and Ivy popped up from behind the counter with a big smile in place.

“Marceline,” she sang. “I’d almost forgotten you were coming in.”

“Only almost, I hope,” she joked.

Ivy waved a hand. “Of course. How could I forget you, dear? Do you still need my kitchen?”

She shuffled her feet. “If it’s not too much trouble. I can get the other stuff off you first if that’s better?” she suggested, hooking a thumb behind her.

Instantly, Ivy’s face exploded into one of realisation. “Oh yes, right. That I had forgotten. Give me a moment to find it. There’re chairs over there for you.” The elderly proprietor pointed hastily at a pair of folding camping chairs leaning against the wall by the door that Marceline had completely overlooked. “I’ll be back.”

To fill in time while Ivy went to get the projector, Marceline hauled the chairs up into the boot of her car. Good thing there was a lot of space otherwise this whole enterprise would be a waste of time. It would’ve been better if she’d had her dad’s car, but that’s whatever. Honestly. The man couldn’t make her life easier just this once, could he? No. Evidently.

A very large fellow was moving a piece of machinery around a table towards the exit under Ivy’s pointed scrutiny when she stepped back inside. Her jaw dropped. That’s not… Surely…

“Is that the projector?” she asked, in little better than a whisper.

“Oh yes,” Ivy told her, delighted, with a funny little bob of her head. “It’s a bit large, isn’t it? Will you have room?”

For a moment Marceline’s mouth just worked quietly. “Um… yeah. I think it should be fine.”

I hope, she amended in her head. If not tonight was going to be one big old fail. It’d be impressive really.

Thankfully, the man didn’t even scratch the car as he hefted the thing inside. The whole time he was being directed, Marceline watched, a little vacantly, with her head on one side.

“Am I going to be able to move that myself?” she asked.

The man eyed her up and down. “Probably not with your arm in a cast,” he chuckled. “Why?”

Her shoulders slumped. “Well if I can’t move it then my life is so much harder,” she grouched.

He smiled. “What’s your plan?”

Marceline regarded him warily. “You know that old barn out in the field near Mount Marrow?” He nodded. “I want to set the projector up so it shows on the side.”

“Ah, okay. Do you want me to set it up then?”

She frowned at him. “Why would you do that?”

“Cause you’re tiny,” he laughed. “And broken. You’ll never shift it.”

“Really? You’d do that?”

“Sure,” he said with a shrug. “Which side do you want it set up on?”

“Um… So Marrow is between me and the sun.”

“Gotcha.” The guy hefted the projector back out of Marceline’s car and hoisted it into the tray of his. “See you round, Ivy.” He smiled at the old lady, winked at Marceline and clambered up into his car to drive off. As he disappeared down the road, Marceline wondered if trusting him was a good idea.

“Who was he?” she asked Ivy as they went back inside.

“He’s a friend of my son’s,” Ivy told her. “He comes by sometimes to help out or bring me produce from Blackwater. Nice boy.”

Marceline only nodded, stepping into the kitchen. Ivy didn’t talk about her son or her husband and Marceline knew better than to ask. Instead of dwelling on things that weren’t her business, she started rummaging around for the right pots.

“Might I ask what all this is for?” Ivy enquired; a funny lilt to her voice.

She looked over her shoulder at the other woman standing in the doorway. “What do you mean?”

Ivy waved a hand in a general ‘towards Marceline’s car’ direction. “The chairs, the projector, the cooking in my kitchen that you apparently can’t do at home. What’s happening here?”

Oh. Shit. “I’m doing something nice for a friend,” she mumbled.

“Uh huh. Sure.”

“I know how to be nice,” she grouched, filling the pot with water. “I’m not all mean.”

Ivy smiled in a terribly devious way that Marceline just did not like. “I know you’re a good person, Marceline. I meant the ‘friend’ bit. You only have two friends.”

She hunched her shoulders and refused to look at the infuriating woman. “I’m expanding my circle, thank you very much. And what do you mean two?”

“You’ve got Keila and that nice Bonnibel girl.”

Right. Keila. “Yeah, well. Keila’s been dropping the ball in the friend department lately,” Marceline muttered, trying not to sound bitter about it. “I figured Bonnie deserves a little bit of recompense for putting up with me.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t mind. She likes you; I don’t think she wants anything in return for hanging out.”

The spoon Marceline was using to stir the sauce clanged against the metal edge. “Just let me cook in peace, woman,” she grumbled.

Ivy left the room in a gale of laughter. The silence was much appreciated.

 

-*…*…*-

 

For some reason (and it didn’t make a lick of sense), she couldn’t bring herself to get out of the car. Consequently, she’d been sitting with her knuckles fastened tightly around the steering wheel bouncing her knees with anxiety for the last ten minutes. Why did this feel so damn hard?

“It’s just Bonnie,” she whispered to herself. “Get out. Come on. She’s not that scary.”

She sucked in a massive breath and all but kicked open her door. Still muttering a stupid pep talk under her breath, she stumbled to the door to Bonnie’s flat. For a moment, she stared at the door to the house proper, then she shook her head. Peter’s opinion didn’t matter. Well, okay, so it kind of did, but not right now.

Wondering if her knees would continue to support her weight, she knocked lightly on the wood. It took all of five seconds for the door to be pulled in to reveal a beaming Bonnibel.

“Hi,” she burbled, gaze flicking over Marceline before returning to her face. “You look nice.”

“What?” she blurted. “Oh. Um… thanks? You look good too.” She did, in her little white sundress. But that was to be expected really.

“Alright,” Bonnie laughed. “Enough with the awkward. It’s just me.”

“Yeah. Just you. Sure.” She paused worriedly. “Let’s um… go then.”

“Excellent.” With that Bonnie bounced over to her car. She stopped just before getting in. “It smells nice. Why does your car smell?”

Marceline rolled her eyes. “Just get in,” she chuckled, sliding into the driver’s seat.

Slowly, Bonnie sank into the passenger side, eyes locked onto Marceline’s face, a quirky little smile in place. “Are you going to tell me what the smell is?”

“Nope.”

“What about where we’re going?”

“Not a chance.”

“You don’t want to give me any spoilers at all?”

“No, I don’t.”

Bonnie did that thing with her eyes that Marceline can never say ‘no’ to. She shook her head, keeping her attention on the road. “Come on, Marcy,” she whined. “Tell me something.”

“You sound like a six year old.” She didn’t mention the nickname thing. It did something funny to the lining of her stomach. “I’m not going to tell you anything. It’s a surprise. Pick another subject.”

Bonnibel sighed. “Alright. How about you tell me if you actually handed that application in to Driscoll. You had me help with the letter and give my opinion on song choices, but you sort of dropped it after that.”

Marceline lifted an eyebrow, deeming it safe now to glance over at her friend. “Of course I handed it in. On Wednesday actually. Why?”

“Submissions close at the end of the month,” Bonnie explained. “I didn’t want you to miss it if you were serious about going.”

She cut another fleeting look across the cab. “Of course I was serious. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Just making sure.” Bonnie hesitated. Then, “I kind of expected you to come over when grades were released too.”

“I uh… I didn’t know if…”

“It’s fine,” Bonnie put in quickly.

“I did really well, Bon,” she muttered. “I was going to visit with the folder, but I wasn’t sure if…”

Bonnie smiled gently. “How many times do I have to tell you that you don’t have to say things you don’t want to?”

Marceline sighed. “Thanks.”

“So,” she tried in a bit of a sing-song voice. “Why are we out here? Are you going to kill me this time?”

She laughed. “No. But bear with me, this old car wasn’t really meant for off-road driving.”

Bonnie’s eyes shot wide open as she veered off the highway and onto the very bumpy dirt road. Yeah, the suspension in the Camaro? Not the greatest. But it gave her a laugh to see the look on Bonnie’s face. The chairs in the boot clunked loudly and Bonnibel latched onto the seat.

“Is this even safe?” she asked in a high-pitched squeak.

“Yes, don’t worry. We’re nearly there.”

Bonnie peered through the windscreen. “That’s Mount Marrow, right?”

“Yep.”

“Please tell me we’re not going hiking? It’s nearly dark.”

“Don’t worry,” she repeated. “No hiking, promise.”

The barn more or less just rose up out of the ground as they hit the top of the rise and the ground levelled out. In a blinding stroke of good fortune, the projector was set up just how she’d wanted it. The sun would go down behind the mountain (which was more of a glorified hump than anything else, and weirdly out of place in the rolling grasslands), sending the area into premature darkness. Perfect.

Marceline pulled up beside the projector and checked the time. Nearly six. Good. Already the inky light bleeding out from behind the silhouette of Marrow was fading, behind them the first stars were starting to freckle the velvet sky. Bonnie got out warily, obviously wondering what they were doing in the middle of nowhere.

She patted the bonnet of her car. “Park yourself.” With narrowed eyes, Bonnibel slid up onto the red and black paint and watched as Marceline wandered around to the boot. As she popped it open she changed her mind about the chairs, opting to retrieve the blankets and pillows she’d stashed instead.

“Do I get an explanation yet?” Bonnie questioned when Marceline dropped the linen on the hood. “Because I’m confused.”

“All in good time. Here, let me put this down.” She spread the fluffiest blanket out across the car and handed Bonnie the pillows. “Just make yourself comfortable while I get the rest of it ready.”

Bonnie’s mouth dropped open. “Marceline Abadeer!”

She shot Bonnibel a cheeky smile. “Just be patient.”

Grumbling, Bonnie tucked a cushion behind her against the windshield and glared after Marceline. Thankfully, the projector didn’t take much convincing to accept the old tape. And it started! Oh yeah, today was her day. It rattled as it wound up, the light flickering fitfully as it shone across the still darkening area at the barn. It showed up on the wall quite nicely. Brilliant.

She bounced back over to the car to pull out a pair of dishes, a bottle of water and some faux-glass cups because she didn’t entirely trust herself not to break the real ones. Marceline passed one to Bonnie and hoisted herself up onto the bonnet next to her. Then she poured water into the cups and grinned.

Warily, Bonnie peeled the lid off the container and finally allowed a smile the filter through. “Spaghetti,” she sighed happily. “Wait,” she added sharply, looking up as Marceline opened her own dish of spaghetti. “Aren’t you allergic to tomatoes?”

“Yes. This is actually garlic sauce,” Marceline replied, pointing to her plate with a fork. “Yours is garlic too.”

She grinned. “Alright. So no tomatoes in mine either?”

“Nope.”

“Excellent. I was planning on giving them up anyway. What’s with the light on the barn?”

“Give it a minute to warm up.” Marceline knew her face had ‘why stop eating tomatoes?’ written all over it. She held it in though, knowing from the way Bonnie’s eyes crinkled in the middle that she didn’t want to talk about it. And maybe Marceline wouldn’t want to know. But there was also this weird squirming feeling in her stomach telling her she should probably know the significance of it. Not having ever claimed to be good with social cues, Marceline decided to let it slide.

For now.

It took a moment of silent eating before the projector was comfortable with actually starting its job. But there was no static or distortion in the image either way so she was fine with it taking a bit longer than it should. Then the images began to play and Bonnie made the most adorable little sound Marceline had ever heard. The look on her face was beautiful.

The Passion of Joan of Arc,” she squealed. “Oh my God, the original silent version.” She turned her big green eyes Marceline’s way and even in the dying light she could see them glitter. “Where did you get this?”

Marceline shrugged one shoulder, smiling at the reaction she’d elicited. “My mum was a silent film junky. She had a whole collection of them. Marshall took most of them when he left, but I found a few in a box at the church a while back. I figured we could watch the others later, but you mentioned this one once and I thought you might like it on a big screen.”

Bonnie smiled so big her face should probably have split in two. “This is perfect,” she exhaled. “What other ones did she have?”

“Um… Metropolis and Nosferatu I remember being there. Pretty sure the nineteen-twenty-five version of Phantom of the Opera was with them.”

“Oh yeah,” Bonnie told her. “We are definitely having a movie night with them at some point.”

“Date two, maybe?” Marceline suggested with a tentative smile.

If possible (and Marceline wasn’t sure it was) Bonnie’s smile expanded. “I’d like that.”

There was silence after that. And not even in a figurative way because the movie was silent. It was as if the entire land had fallen quiet for them. Admittedly, Marceline spent a good deal of her time watching Bonnibel and hoping not to get caught, but she was sure she paid attention to the movie too. Mostly. No, not at all really.

Especially not when the dishes were emptied and set on top of the car. When that happened Bonnie rested her head on Marceline’s shoulder and wound their fingers together. It was hard to concentrate with Bonnie’s finger tracing delicate little patterns on the side of her thumb. Concentrating was hard because of the whole proximity thing too. Wow. Her heart hammered staccato in her ribcage, pulse flaring in her neck much too painfully.

When the movie clicked finished, the projector whirring down to join them in silence, neither of them moved. Now that it was completely dark, the stars stood out much better against the indigo firmament. She could feel Bonnibel breathing beside her, could feel her watching.

“Star gazing?” Bonnie asked her softly.

“I’ve always wanted to know constellations,” Marceline admitted.

Bonnibel huffed a gentle laugh. “You just want me for my brain.”

Marceline tiled her head to look at her friend. “Amaze me,” she murmured.

Still smiling in a way that spoke of barely withheld laughter, Bonnie turned back to the sky and pointed to the north. “Perseus,” she whispered. “Directly below him is Taurus and then Orion. Cetus is there with them, kind of in the middle.” She paused, eyes searching the sky. “To be honest, astrology isn’t my favourite science. Plus,” she added, gaze returning to Marceline. “You’re not even looking at the stars.”

“It’s not my fault you’re prettier than the stars,” Marceline breathed.

“That was really sappy.”

“You deserve a little sappy in your life.”

Kiss her, the little voice in the back of her head prodded. She ignored it.

“I didn’t think you knew how to be sappy,” Bonnie murmured.

Marceline grinned. “Neither did I.”

“Is that my fault too?”

“It just might be.” She checked her watch then, and silently swore at the universe that it was freaking eight-thirty already. “We should get going. It’ll be nearly ten when I drop you off and I did promise to get you back early.”

Bonnibel nodded, sliding off the bonnet to fold up the blankets. Briefly (and Marceline couldn’t be sure it had even happened) she looked a little disappointed. Something panged in Marceline’s chest at the possibility that she’d let Bonnie down. God but she could think of nothing worse.

Marceline tossed the now empty spaghetti dishes into the boot and waited for Bonnie to drop the blankets in with them. She paused though, that odd ghostly smile tugging at her lips as she deposited the pillows with much more care than required. She didn’t say anything at first, so Marceline disregarded it. It was probably nothing.

Once they were sitting in the car, however, Bonnibel muttered. “You brought chairs.”

Warm flooded Marceline’s cheeks. “Uh… yeah?”

“Can I ask why we didn’t sit on those? It might have been more comfortable than the hood of the car.”

“Maybe,” she acceded, hunching closer to the steering wheel. “But sitting on the bonnet gave me an excuse to be closer to you…” she trailed off, acutely aware of how Bonnie was smiling at her. “What?”

“You’re a sweetheart,” she sang.

Marceline huffed. There was nothing to say to that. So she ignored it. Somehow (despite the way Marceline still felt incredibly awkward and nervous), the car ride back into town wasn’t either of those things. Instead, they just talked about the movie. And no, Marceline hadn’t being paying as much attention to the film as she’d thought. Luckily, Bonnie simply called her sweet again and moved on.

It was actually really nice. Honestly, it didn’t feel like a date at this point. This was just… normal.

And then of course she pulled up outside Bonnie’s house and it stopped being normal and she started to panic because oh God what is she supposed to do now? There’s like… end of date etiquette, right? Shit. Marceline didn’t watch cheesy romance movies because she’s above them, but they’d probably be helping her out in this moment.

Okay, now all she’s doing is chewing her lip and panicking while Bonnie gets out. Oh. Follow her. Hastily, Marceline unbuckled her belt and did as her little voice instructed. Luckily, Bonnie hadn’t made it far so it didn’t appear as awkward as it felt. Whew.

“Hey,” Bonnibel began slowly, pushing the door of her flat in. “I know it’s totally cliché to say it, but I did have a really good time. That was easily the best first date in the history of the world.”

“Yeah?” Marceline just wanted to make sure. The embarrassingly hopeful tint to her voice probably didn’t help though.

“Absolutely.”

“So a second date is alright?”

Bonnie beamed. “Definitely. Hint: the rest of those movies will net you lots of brownie points.”

Marceline couldn’t stop from laughing then. “Are you sure? That’s… easy.”

“I don’t want crazy fancy things that involve too much hassle. Just some chill time is good. Tell you what, you pick a time and day and supply the movies, I’ll cook dinner. Sound fair?”

“Sounds perfect,” she exhaled. “Although I think planning the second date together is a little bit unusual.”

Bonnibel shrugged. “Stereotypical is boring. Dare to be different.” She kept smiling that gorgeous smile and Marceline didn’t know if her heart could take it. She might even go into cardiac arrest or something equally serious if Bonnie didn’t stop being the most beautiful person in the world.

Just damn well kiss her already, the little voice snapped.

But what if she didn’t want…

Kiss her, you idiot.

Before the other little voice telling her to be careful could intervene, Marceline found herself very, very close to Bonnibel. She swallowed; the gap narrowing until she could feel Bonnie’s breath against her lips. Her heart just about gave up on the whole beating thing when their noses bumped.

“Is it okay if I kiss you?” Marceline asked quietly.

Bonnibel only hummed.

Marceline wasn’t sure if Bonnie leaned into her or the other way around, but somehow she ended up with her lips pressed to Bonnie’s and honestly, it was the best decision she’d ever made. Hollywood’s fireworks didn’t go off – not even metaphorical ones – but hypersensitivity is totally a thing. It was as though the world disappeared and the only thing she could feel was Bonnie. Just her fingers fiddling with Marceline’s shirt, just her mouth moving slowly against her own, her eyelashes whispering across her cheek, and the warmth from pressing together; just the heat sizzling along her nerves, crackling through every cell in her body. Just the way she sighed. Which was arguably (read: totally) more amazing anyway. It only got better when she felt Bonnibel’s fingers wind into the hem of her shirt and tug her closer. Yeah, that was her heart failing. Cool.

Sadly, it couldn’t last, but they stayed probably a little bit too close together. All Marceline was aware of was the way Bonnie tasted like garlic and how her fingers were toying with her shirt and wow, how her pupils were blown. Bonnibel made a funny little whine when she tried to pull back further so she stayed where she was, nose ghosting against Bonnie’s cheek.

All Marceline wanted to do was kiss her again.

“Hum,” Bonnibel purred, pressing her face into the crook of Marceline’s neck, hands folding around her waist. “That was way better than I’d imagined.”

A soft chuckle vibrated through Marceline’s chest. “Yeah? We can agree on that then.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Anything.”

“Does this mean I can be your girlfriend?” The words were barely audible, but they echoed through Marceline’s veins like lightning.

Her hands fisted in Bonnie’s dress. “Do you want to be?”

Bonnibel swayed back out to meet her eyes. “Hell yes.” And she grinned her dimpled smile and Marceline just… yeah, in keeping with tradition, she melted. Sappy indeed.

“I can be alright with that,” she rasped, not quite sure where her ability to speak properly had gone. “It actually sounds pretty fantastic.” And it did. Bonnibel was her girlfriend. Her nerve endings were frazzled at the idea alone.

“Good. Then I need to ask my girlfriend a favour.” There was a mischievous glint to her eyes that had Marceline’s brow furrowed in point-zero-one of a second. The words that came next though… that was something else. “Kiss me again.”

It took her brain a moment to realise what she was being asked, but when it did, she grinned. “Yeah, that I can do.”

Kissing Bonnibel was something she could do forever.

It took her a long time to say goodnight.

Chapter Text

Monday 2nd February 2015

“You know… I gave it leeway last week,” Pippa mumbled during their history lesson first thing in the morning. “Because I figured you’re really strange, to the point where maybe you were just happy to be back at school. But that was last week. You haven’t stopped smiling at all yet today. What’s wrong with you?”

Oh. Shit, Bonnie thought sourly. Apparently, pretending she wasn’t in a really good mood was a lot harder than she’d thought it’d be. Actually, not blurting everything to Pippa was a lot harder than she’d expected too. Weird.

She shrugged. “I’m not sure,” she lied. “It is nice to have work to do again though.”

Pippa snorted but didn’t say any more on the subject. Good thing too because lying to her was not something Bonnie wanted to make a habit of. Hayden, sitting on Penelope’s other side, rolled her eyes. Apparently a year in Reich was really all it took before they were pretty much used to her strange love of education. Cool.

“Sure nothing good happened last week?” the other red head mused. Her tone was almost teasing. “Some hot chick ask you out or something?”

Bonnibel felt her face go red so she fixed her attention back on her work and grumbled, “Or something.” She huffed.

“Hey, are you tutoring Marceline again this year?” Pippa asked with what Bonnie knew – she knew – was carefully calculated nonchalance.

She narrowed her eyes at her friend. “Yes. Petrikov asked me last week if I’d continue. Why?”

Penelope shrugged. “Just wondering, since… you know, we didn’t put her on our list for study groups.”

Bonnie sighed. “I’m sure given the situation that he’ll let her join us,” she noted. “Since apparently I did too good a job last year to replace with someone else.”

“That would be because you’re a magical freak and Marceline actually listens to you,” Pippa breathed as loudly and as incredulously as she could without drawing the teacher’s attention. “No other tutor in the entire world could get Marceline to focus.”

“Maybe no other tutor in the world tried hard enough,” Bonnibel retorted.

“Whatever.” Pippa returned her attention to the board and the lecture on Zoroastrianism that was going on up there, but her pen flashed between her fingers in that way she had when there was more to be said. Of course, Penelope was just stubborn enough not to speak unless asked. And Bonnie was just masochistic enough to do that.

“Spit it out,” she exhaled. “What are you not saying?”

Pippa glanced at her but remained facing the board. “It’s nothing.”

Almost Bonnibel was tempted to press her for more. She decided against it though. More than likely it would have something to do with her ‘girl crush’ on Marceline. She should never have told Pippa she thought Marceline was attractive. Bad decision.

It was good then that Hayden made an awkward comment strange enough to change the topic accidentally. “Speaking of asking people out,” she murmured. “What do you reckon the chances are that we’ll get an end of year dance type deal?”

Bonnie blinked. Because – and really – those two things only went together obliquely. The sort of obliquely that would require Hayden to want someone to ask her to a ‘dance type deal’.

Pippa giggled. “Got your eye on someone?” she sang.

In the space of a millisecond, Hayden’s whole face turned a colour to match her hair. “No,” she grumbled. “Why would you think that?”

“Because it sounded like you wanted a dance so that someone could ask you to go with them,” Bonnibel explained. It was just logic, truly.

“No.” Hayden shook her head, focusing unusually hard on her work. “Not even.”

Pippa and Bonnie exchanged a look and somehow the past twelve months were magically enough to translate it into some form of actual communication. They swivelled in unison to stare at the other girl who remained stoically oblivious to their scrutiny.

“Halte won’t let us have school functions like that,” Pippa began carefully. “So… no dance. I guess Finn will have to ask you out without that excuse.”

It was a stab in the dark, Bonnie supposed. But given the way Hayden’s already crimson face darkened considerably in colour, she guessed they might’ve hit close to the mark. Bonnie smiled.

“W… What?” Hayden spluttered. “Why would I…? Why would you think…? Shut up.”

Bonnie and Pippa had to laugh then; the look on Hayden’s face demanded it. “It’s okay, Hayden,” Bonnibel told her around the fading giggles. “Finn’s a nice guy.”

Some of the red ebbed from her face. “Yeah, he is. But I don’t…”

“Relax,” Pippa reassured her around her lingering chortles. “We won’t tell. Will we, Bonnibel?”

“I won’t,” she agreed. “Nope.”

“What we should do,” Penelope gasped, twisting to look at Bonnie. “Is recruit Ellen and Melissa to petition the school for a senior formal. Wouldn’t that be awesome?”

Bonnie lifted one eyebrow, smiling wryly. “You’re on your own with that one. I’m out.”

“Aw, Bonnie,” she whined. “You’re such a fun sponge.”

She just kept shaking her head. “Nope. After the fiasco that was Ellen’s birthday party, I’m staying as far from this kind of thing as I can get.”

“Smart move,” Hayden mumbled.

Before Pippa could argue the point more the bell rang. The teacher hollered homework after them but he was mostly ignored. Honestly, Bonnie had never been happier to head to maths.

Only… Marceline wasn’t in attendance.

She frowned. When Finn beamed at her and waved her over she sank into her usual spot trying so very hard to dispel the strange sense of worry washing over her.

“Morning, Bonnie,” he all but cried, bouncing in his seat. Which – for Finn – was far too much energy for a maths class. “Good weekend?”

She shrugged. “About the same as usual.” Honestly, she tried so hard to hold it in. But… it fell out all the same. “Have you seen Marceline this morning?”

His brow furrowed. “Um… no? Her car’s outside though. Why…?” Her reason for asking must have dawned on him then because his eyes widened. “She’s not here.”

Bonnibel bobbed her head. “I’m sure it’s nothing.” She hoped it was. Fixating all her attention on her work was the only thing that got her through the lesson.

 

-*…*…*-

 

“Hey.”

Bonnie whipped her gaze around as Marceline sank to the grass beside her wearing a sheepish smile. “Hey yourself,” she replied happily.

“Sorry I wasn’t in maths,” Marceline grumbled. “Petrikov called me in to see him and it took forever. He just rambled and rambled.”

“What did he want?”

When Marceline began fidgeting with the leather band around her wrist Bonnie might’ve started worrying just a little bit. “Well… see… I wasn’t put into a group at the end of last year for study sessions. Keila was absorbed by some other kids but I figured I could keep working with you so I didn’t bother. But apparently that’s not good enough so I asked if I could join you guys and Petrikov said I’d have to ask and–”

Bonnibel laid a hand on Marceline’s knee. “You can be in our group. That’s fine.”

“Really?” Marceline honestly looked doubtful. “Cause I don’t want to be an incon–”

“It’s fine, Marceline,” Bonnie chuckled. “Promise.” She leaned in to press a kiss to the corner of Marceline’s mouth. Partly, her subconscious told her it was to prove her point. The rest of her knew it was just because she wanted to.

She felt Marceline go rigid, eyes snapping wide. “Um…”

“Hey,” Bonnie murmured. “You okay? You look worried.”

Marceline coughed shortly, averting her gaze. “Yeah, totally fine.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Try telling the truth for me.”

“I just…” she hunched her shoulders. “It’s stupid.”

“If it’s got you all weird like this, then it’s not nothing. And it’s not stupid.” She wound their fingers together. “You can tell me dumb things, you know. I won’t like you any less.”

She shrugged half-heartedly. “Pretty sure it’s a fifth or… fiftieth date kind of confession.”

For a moment Bonnie wasn’t sure how to tactfully reply to that. Might as well go with the direct route. “If… this is something that might stop us from ever making it to that date, I’d like to know at least some of it… I know I promised I wouldn’t ask you anything if you didn’t want to answer, and that stands now. But… if you don’t want me…” Quick put something on the end of that! “If you don’t want me to kiss you, maybe tell me?”

Marceline’s head snapped round to fix her with a confused expression. “God no. Why wouldn’t I want you to kiss me? I like…” Her sentence disappeared into her face tinting pink and a strangled sound in her throat.

Bonnie smiled, squeezing her hand. “You like what, huh?”

She mumbled something but obviously knew Bonnibel wouldn’t have heard it. So she sucked in a deep breath and exhaled, “I like kissing you.”

“Good. I quite enjoy it too,” she laughed. “So what’s up?”

The hand trapped between Bonnie’s fingers twitched. “I just…” Marceline sighed. “Okay, so I don’t want to… push things here. Ash was a smooth, charming guy, but still a douche, right? And he’s literally all I have to go on when it comes to… dating. I know I didn’t like some of the… liberties he took, the way he never asked me my opinion for anything.” She shrugged one shoulder. “I never liked how he’d do things unannounced. I guess I’ve got a… reflex to be wary of that now. But I do like you. And I want to date you. More than I ever wanted to be with him. And I just… I don’t want to make any assumptions…” She looked up at Bonnie carefully. “Does that make sense?”

She smiled – a little sadly, but hopeful too – holding more tightly to Marceline’s hand. “Yes. It does. Treat others as you wish to be treated?”

A breathy laugh eddied between Marceline’s teeth. “Yeah, exactly.” She inhaled dramatically. “That… I’m sorry to just lay that out there, Bon.”

“No,” she cut Marceline off before she could go on. “That’s good. Communication is good. I needed to know that. Slow then?”

Marceline smiled at her, soft and wan, but genuine. “Okay.” She nodded.

“Am I allowed to kiss you?”

“Whenever you like,” she chuckled.

Bonnie bumped their shoulders together. “Good to know. Same goes for you.”

She lifted their hands. “Are you going to make a habit of this?”

“More than likely,” Bonnie teased. “Why?”

“Just want to make sure.”

“Also, the next time we have a movie night,” she said, grinning. “Cuddling will most definitely be mandatory.”

“I can be alright with that,” Marceline decided after a moment of thought. Her eyes darted away briefly before settling on Bonnie’s face again. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “For making this… weird.”

“It’s really alright,” Bonnibel reassured her. “Promise.”

The anxiety in her smile faded, leaving nothing but relief behind. “Cool. Um… Do you want me to bring those movies around next weekend?”

“Not this weekend?”

She shook her head. “Can’t, I’m working all this weekend. And Ivy offered to let me play on Saturday night and… I mean I could say no–”

“No, you can’t,” Bonnie told her firmly. “You have to play whenever you can. I won’t ask anything else from you. Next weekend is perfect.”

Marceline’s smile widened. “Sure? I can cancel?”

“No. Don’t you dare.”

“Alright. Geez.”

“I’ll try and come out to watch, but it’s highly likely I’ll end up hanging out with Pippa,” she lamented. “But I’ll do my best.”

“It’s fine if you don’t,” Marceline muttered.

“It’s really not,” Bonnie gasped. “I am a supportive girlfriend and I’ll be there when you play if I can manage it. There is no excuse. Honestly.”

Marceline hummed. “Girlfriend…” she mumbled, smiling gently. “So you’re not going to ditch me because I’m insecure and crazy?”

Bonnie snorted. “No. I’m not heartless. Plus I knew you were insecure and crazy when I agreed to go out with you.” She returned Marceline’s smile. “I knew what I was getting into. I’m good with it.”

“Whew. Because frankly, I’m surprised you’ve stuck with me for a week,” she admitted.

“Really?” Bonnie asked her flatly.

“Yeah. Because you’re amazing and I’m… pretty lame.”

Bonnibel laughed. “Pretty, yes. Lame, no. I happen to think you’re awesome. Besides, you promised me a minimum of three dates.”

“You’re literally the only person who thinks I’m awesome,” Marceline grumbled. “And if you’re only going to go on three dates with me then we’ll never have a third one.”

“I said ‘minimum’. Today you mentioned a fiftieth date,” she mused. “I can get behind that.”

That – finally – got a laugh out of Marceline. “Alright. I get it, I’m stuck with you.”

“For the foreseeable future at any rate,” Bonnibel agreed, beaming. “Is that a problem?”

“Hell no.”

“Good.” Once again, she leaned in to kiss Marceline; on her cheek this time.

And this time, Marceline didn’t look surprised or anxious. Just tilted her head so it landed on her lips instead. And she smiled.

Chapter Text

Saturday 14th February 2015

“Are you sure?” Pippa whined. “You can come with if you want.”

Bonnie waved away her concern. “And be the third wheel on your Valentine’s date? No thank you.”

“But you’ll be all alone,” Penelope pressed, her voice dragging out all the syllables like being alone on Valentine’s was the worst thing she could imagine. “Nobody should be by themselves. Not today.”

“I think you’ll find – statistically speaking – that quite a significant portion of the population spends Valentine’s all by their lonesome,” Bonnie told her drolly. “It’s fine. A common occurrence. Besides, I’ve spent every Valentine’s so far by myself. This one shouldn’t be any different.” Only damn right it was going to be different.

Pippa made another keening sound, her face doing a contortionist routine trying to convey how distasteful she found this situation. “But… that’s pathetic. And lonely.”

“How about,” Bonnie sighed patiently. “You go on your romantic evening thing with Jake and I’ll call Marceline and we’ll eat ice cream and wallow in our single status while mocking everyone who puts stock in the holiday. Maybe – just maybe – we’ll even watch the fireworks from the porch.” Her eyes lit up. “And we can hate-watch rom-coms.”

Pippa’s face went flat. “You know that sounds like exactly something Marceline would enjoy,” she grumbled. “Promise me you’re not suggesting that because you still think she’s some hot stuff and you’re going to overlay some silly fantasy across the evening?”

Bonnibel whipped out her best scandalised expression but not laughing was proving troublesome. “Why, Pippa! I resent that whole insinuation. I was positive you thought more of me.”

The dead look she got for that spoke volumes. But since they weren’t compulsory reading material for the year, Bonnie elected to overlook them. Pippa rolled her eyes.

“Yeah sure, whatever, Banner,” she scoffed. There was a moment before she spoke again where her gaze softened. “You try to have an alright evening for me, yes?”

Bonnie smiled. “Naturally. You have a good date.” She winked. “I expect details.”

Pippa snorted and headed down the drive. “You’ll get nothing from me,” she called.

“That’s what you think!”

She stayed where she was until Penelope had hopped back up into Jake’s car, waved, and driven off. For extra safety, she waited a moment, listening to the sound of his engine fading away. Then she let out a long breath she hadn’t even realised she was holding.

Bonnie had honestly completely forgotten Valentine’s Day was a thing. To be fair, she forgot it pretty much every year – until someone reminded her anyway. Might’ve been nice to have a bit more warning than simply turning up to lunch at school the day before and have Ellen jump down her throat.

What is she doing? Does she have a date? Is there some kind of Singles Anonymous meeting she’s going to attend for psychiatric treatment? Because surely spending Valentine’s alone is traumatic.

Then had been the realisation that she and Marceline had a date scheduled for that exact day and with that came a question: had Marceline planned it that way? While she ate a sparing lunch – multitasking by preparing dinner as well – that was the only question she pondered. In the end, Bonnie concluded it didn’t really matter one way or the other. So she stopped pondering.

Just as there was a knock on her door.

Frowning curiously – because she wasn’t expecting Marceline for another two hours – she turned the stovetop down and went to get the door. Bonnibel didn’t know why there was a thrill of excitement tingling through her veins, braided with trace amounts of confusion and a little bit of nervousness, but there was. So she rolled with it. (Well… the excitement she understood. It was just the rest that confused her a little.)

“Hey,” Marceline said softly, feet shuffling on the stoop.

Stepping aside to let her in, Bonnie noted, “You’re early.” Once the door was closed she latched onto the hem of Marceline’s shirt, pulling her in for a quick kiss. That’d never get boring. Ever. No way.

“Yeah… I got sick of waiting around.” She held out her arm (probably trying to distract Bonnie from the pink now tinting her cheeks); still wrapped in a cast, offering Bonnibel the bag dangling from it. “Here. This is for you. And so are these.” With a tentative grin, she flourished a bouquet of flowers; carnations in a flurry of different colours (red, orange, yellow, pink, white). It was very impressive.

“You didn’t have to get me anything,” Bonnie told her. But there was probably too much fondness in her tone as she took the gifts. The bag had a box of chocolates in it. Cliché, sure, but thoughtful. She quirked an eyebrow. “Did you know carnations are my favourite flowers or was it just a guess?”

Marceline grinned. “It was an educated guess. And I don’t have enough money to be buying you roses. Maybe one day when I’m rich. But it is Valentine’s Day and you deserve the best. So.”

“You can continue with carnations,” Bonnie muttered, rummaging around in the cupboard to find a jar or something she could put them in. “I got you something too.” So she pulled open the fridge and handed Marceline the little container.

“A punnet of strawberries,” she laughed. “I guess you do know how to buy me after all.”

“You can eat them now, or you can save them for desert.”

“You baked desert?”

“I might’ve.”

“You are too good for me,” Marceline exhaled wistfully. “How can I help?”

Bonnibel waved her away, pressing her out of the kitchen gently. “Just sit on that stool right there and look pretty. Once it’s done we can watch a movie.”

Marceline’s expression crumpled doubtfully. “I’m not sure I know how to look pretty, Bon,” she grumbled.

“Just your usual face is fine, thanks.”

“Oh, good.” She perked up immediately. “And speaking of movies; I brought the rest of those silent films around.”

Bonnie leaned across the counter, smile flickering. “I was wondering if there was a chance we could hate-watch some romance movies,” she murmured, unable to keep her gaze fixed solely on Marceline’s eyes. “If not, that’s fine. But… it was a thought. Since the whole reasoning behind today is a load of crap.”

Marceline was obviously doing her best not to grin as she said, “Are you the Valentine’s Grinch, then? Hating on the love and good feels.”

“It’s not that I hate the idea, but the notion that you need a set day to be nice to people bothers me.”

“Like… if you love someone you should tell them every day, right? Not just once a year?”

“Exactly.”

The grin slipped through then, Marceline’s face lighting up. “I didn’t expect you to be so practical about it. I figured you’d be really into the whole thing.”

Bonnie shrugged. “While normally I’d love to regale you with how commercial and materialistic the holiday is on principle, I kind of don’t want to. Maybe when I’m thirty and cynical.”

“Fair enough. Do you own any romance movies we can hate-watch? I can get them sorted while you finish in the kitchen, if you’d like?”

“You’re the best.” She waved her spoon in the general direction of the television cabinet. “They’re hidden in the bottom drawer so I don’t have to look at them. The fact that they’re even there is a travesty.”

Marceline slipped off the stool and headed for the lounge, laughing the whole way. Bonnie watched her cross the living room and sink to her knees in front of the cabinet; it took her longer than it should’ve before she remembered the food on the stove. Good thing it hadn’t burned – that would’ve been embarrassing.

Deciding it was most likely done judging by how thick the sauce was, she slid it off the heat and left it to cool. She flicked the knobs on the oven off as well on her way past. No sense burning the house down.

Marceline had a disc in; the screen paused on black so Bonnie wouldn’t know what it was. Typical. She sank into the spot beside Marceline, eyeing her worriedly.

“Should I be concerned?”

“No. But I’m going to keep trying to surprise you with movies until I get you,” Marceline told her, beaming. “One day, Banner.”

“In your dreams maybe. Play the movie.”

Surprisingly it was Marceline who pulled Bonnie towards her letting her head fall against her shoulder. Bonnibel glanced at her curiously but all she got was a sneaky smile so she wound her arm around Marceline’s middle and focused on the movie. As the opening scenes faded in she felt Marceline’s fingers wind into the fabric of her shirt. Bonnie couldn’t fight the smile creeping onto her face. This was simultaneously awkward and really, really nice.

“If I talk through the movie will you be upset?” Marceline mumbled.

“No. Why?”

“Because I hate these types of movies and wanted to know if conversation was okay.”

“Yeah, go for it.”

She didn’t speak straight away, just let the film play; which was fine by Bonnie too. Ten minutes in though she sighed.

“No, I can’t watch this rubbish. Let’s do something else instead,” Marceline groaned, turning the volume down. “Twenty questions?”

Bonnie laughed. “The proper version or the one we played in the library last year?”

“Obviously the latter.” Marceline rolled her eyes. “First kiss?”

Once again she laughed, sliding her fingers between Marceline’s, tilting her head back. “Norman,” she replied.

Marceline’s face crumpled in thought. “Isn’t Norman a boy’s name?” she asked carefully.

“Norman is a boy,” Bonnie explained, positive she was failing at keeping the amusement off her face. “When we were eleven all our friends were beginning to do that dating thing, but we’d both been pretty disinterested in it. I knew I was gay and he… well I don’t know. He was battling with a little bit of homosexuality too and he just wanted to know what it was like to kiss a girl, since he’d never done it. I argued with him at first, I was like… ew, gross. But he convinced me that at the very least he wouldn’t be expecting anything and there are worse people to have a first kiss with than your gay best friend.” She shrugged. “It was easily as ‘ew, gross’ as I’d anticipated.”

Marceline cackled. “Did he decide whether he liked girls?”

“Not straight away, it took him a few more months before he decided that sexuality doesn’t need labels,” Bonnie told her. “He came to the conclusion that he’d date anyone if he liked them enough.”

“Fair enough. Mine was a boy in fifth grade. It was a birthday party Keila had insisted I accompany her to and we played the cliché but apparently necessary game of spin the bottle.” She hunched a shoulder. “I didn’t like the kid and I’m pretty sure he was just as thrilled about it as I was. But my life has been a series of disappointments so I really don’t know why that should’ve been different.”

“Lame,” Bonnibel opined. “How disappointing is this?” She waved around the room, hoping the implication got across.

Marceline only grinned and leaned down to press her lips to Bonnie’s. “Not at all,” she mumbled. “Not in the slightest.”

Bonnie hummed, brain shorting out. “First crush?” she eventually whispered.

“Ugh,” Marceline offered, rolling her eyes. “That’s actually a tough one. It’d either be the guy who played the saxophone at my second school… I was twelve. Or his fourteen year old cellist sister. He was so dorky it was cute and she was always really nice to me. She’d always say ‘hi’ and smile and he’d always look at me like he wanted to say something and wasn’t brave enough. I wasn’t at the school long enough to find out. You?”

“A girl in my geography class,” Bonnie mused. “We’d been partners in the class for three years and in sixth grade I realised I was the tiniest bit attracted to her. Her name was Candice. She was this petite girl who knew everything about geography and was never without a pair of headphones…” She sucked her bottom lip between her teeth, turning her eyes to Marceline’s. “Maybe I’ve had a thing for short musicians for a lot longer than I thought.”

“Very funny,” Marceline deadpanned. “Just because she listened to music doesn’t mean she’s a musician, anyway. First person you ever turned down when they asked you out?”

She huffed. “It was… eighth grade… pretty sure. Most of the boys in my primary school knew of my apathy towards dating because we’d been in classes together for years. But when I got to high school it was apparently fair game. So this one boy from Saint Joseph’s with a sister in some of my classes comes up to me in the library after school… I think his name was Mike? Doesn’t matter, but he was this real suave kind of kid, for a thirteen year old there was a lot of swagger to his step. He knew he was good looking – with perfect hair and a killer smile; he knew any of the girls would die to go on a date with him – the kind of guy who grows up to be a heartbreaker.

“He slides up onto the desk and taps his finger on top of my notebook and seems totally confused when I glare at him. But he hides it behind this cocky smile. So he asks me to the party what’s-her-face was throwing while her parents were out of town. And I keep glaring at him. When I tell him that well, no I don’t want to go to her party, and I especially don’t want to go with him he looks absolutely stunned. I told him there was a reason no one asks me out and it’s because I always decline. Then I gathered my books and walked out.”

Marceline exploded with laughter. “I can just imagine the look on his face. He was gobsmacked, right? Like… how dare you turn him down?”

“Yeah,” Bonnie agreed, smiling with her. “That’s exactly what it was like.”

“I bet it’d suck to be knocked back by you. Wow.”

She sighed, squeezing Marceline’s hand. “You’ll never know.” There was a beat of silence before Bonnie prompted Marceline, “And you?”

It took a moment for her to answer and (even though she didn’t look up) Bonnie thought it was because Marceline was staring at her. “Um… would you believe it was Ash?”

“No,” Bonnibel chuckled. “I bet that’s a good story though.”

“Oh it is. The first time he asked me out was near the end of grade six. Like me, he ended up at Reich High as a last resort because of bad behaviour. His parents live in Blackwater and he was visiting them one weekend. Since I was a boarder, I stayed at the school in Blackwater all year, only coming home for holidays. His mother worked at the school I attended so he stole her keys and went around the campus with a bunch of friends breaking windows and spray painting buildings.

“I was in one of the courtyards with Keila – who lived there at the time – and we were practising on our guitars. Ash and his thugs come wandering in, lobbing rocks at the windows of the boarders’ tower. They were so loud. And they saw us sitting there, quiet by then, really worried. Or Keila was. I’m pretty sure I was expressionless.

“I can remember him swaggering up to us, asking our names, wanting to know if we’d join in. He asked if maybe there was a teacher we particularly disliked. They sniggered and offered to deface their car; whoever they were.

“When it clicked in his mind that my dad was the preacher in Reich, something about him changed. He became really nice, polite, snapping at the guys who made lewd comments. Suddenly he was a gentleman, a knight in somewhat sullied armour offering to take me away from – literally – the tower I lived in.”

Marceline paused, playing with Bonnie’s fingers, eyes unfocused – lost in the memory. “Keila warned me against him,” she muttered. “It was good advice, and at the time, I wasn’t too far gone that I didn’t realise that. So I told him to leave us alone. I grabbed Keila’s hand, picked up my bass and hastened away. I always deny it was running, but it was close.

“Two years later and I’d been at Reich for a year – give or take – and he’d been making crass advances the whole time. The school basically assumed we were together and no other guy would dare to ask me out in case Ash brained him against a brick wall. The longer I held out, the nicer he seemed to get.

“Then one day, I’d gotten another detention, and he was coming out of the sports’ shed with a baseball bat. I stood and watched as he beat the crap out of Gregory’s car. Ash had failed some class or other and Gregory refused to let him sit the test again because he didn’t deserve a second chance.

“Ash came up to me and asked if I thought people deserved a second chance. Thinking about how rubbish everyone treated me I said of course they do. He asked me who’d given me the detention and I explained that Gregory had because I’d missed my first two classes. He handed me the bat and told me I’d feel better.

“So I broke his windscreen. And I did feel better. Ash asked me out, really politely. I agreed. At first it was just as nice as he’d made it seem. We went to the movies, hung out at the skate park, he’d buy me food. Pretty typical dating stuff, I guess.

“The longer we were together, the worse he got. After maybe… eight months? He was exactly the monster Keila had originally warned me about. I don’t know why it took me another year to break up with him, but I’m glad I did. Should’ve done it sooner.”

Marceline looked like she was going to keep talking, as if maybe she’d forgotten where she was and all she could do was continue speaking. Bonnibel reached up to slide her fingers behind Marceline’s ear, turning her gaze. “Stop,” she murmured. “It’s done, past. You lived through it. You’re fine, okay? No more Ash. Just me.”

“He got me into drinking,” Marceline said hoarsely, the arm around Bonnie’s waist tightening. “A lot. To the point where I needed it. I don’t know at what point someone qualifies as an alcoholic, but I was pushing it.”

“Marceline,” Bonnie muttered, shifting her weight, twisting so she could look more easily in her eyes. “Look at me.”

At last, Marceline’s gaze returned to their current plane of existence. She made a strange noise in her throat but didn’t speak.

“He’s gone, alright? In your past. I’m sorry for all of it. But I don’t care what happened then, you’re not that person, you just have her problems.” She ran her thumb across Marceline’s cheek. “I am still here, okay? And I’m not going anywhere just because your dickhead ex-boyfriend encouraged you to drink underage.”

Marceline exhaled, eyes fluttering closed. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, turning her face into Bonnie’s palm, placing a kiss on the skin. “I feel like every time we talk some stupid issues from my past pop up. It’s lame and I hate how it makes me feel and how the conversation feels and I suck. I’m sorry.”

Bonnie straightened, tightening her fingers in Marceline’s hair and forcing eye contact. “You do not suck,” she said vehemently. “You are not lame and your issues aren’t stupid. I care, okay, Abadeer? Get that through your thick skull. And if you ever need to vent or rant or talk to me about less than heart-warming things that happened before you met me, go right ahead. Because I want to know about it.” She sighed, pulling Marceline toward her so she could rest their foreheads together. “Don’t you dare ever think this stuff isn’t important. Just know that it’s in the past and it doesn’t matter to me. Well it does, because it makes you upset and I hate that. But it doesn’t change how I feel about you now, alright? You with me?”

Marceline nodded her head into Bonnie’s collar. Her hands were warm on Bonnibel’s back, her grip in the fabric of her shirt tight. She felt Marceline suck in a deep breath and let it all out slowly, calming down. She didn’t let go though.

“If you want,” Bonnie mumbled into Marceline’s cheek. “I can tell you about the first person I ever agreed to go out with. That’s a fun story. Might make you feel better.”

She got an affirmative sounding grumble and another nod but Marceline didn’t let go of her either.

“Well see,” Bonnie began quietly. “There was this girl no one liked. They called her nasty things and spread awful rumours about her. Most of them weren’t true, but nobody knew that. She was really mean to people because she didn’t want friends.

“She did something stupid and got transferred into my class and I ended up tutoring her.” Bonnie could feel Marceline smiling into her shirt then. “We sort of became friends after that because she’s secretly a sweetheart and I’m pretty endearing when I want to be. She did call me a liar and stop talking to me at one point, but I forgave her because her dad’s a bit of a nut job.

“As it turns out, I kind of started liking her more than was probably healthy,” Bonnie went on, rubbing circles into Marceline’s shoulder blades. “I didn’t think it would amount to anything, but one day she sort of asked me out. It was awkward; she looked terrified. It still took a lot of self-restraint not to kiss her though.”

She leaned out, Marceline’s hold contracting in an attempt to keep her close. “I’m glad she asked me out,” Bonnie whispered, pushing hair out of Marceline’s face. “I quite like her.”

“She sounds pathetic,” Marceline murmured. “Probably doesn’t deserve you.”

“Too bad.”

In spite of herself, Marceline smiled. Her head fell forward, bumping into Bonnie’s. “Is that true? Or did you just say it to make me feel better?”

“Porque no los dos?” Bonnie grinned.

Marceline did not look impressed. “What?”

“How about both,” she translated, laughing. “It’s true and it made you feel better.”

“You’re a dork.”

“Mmhmm.” Bonnie rocked towards her, kissing her slowly. “Do you mind?” she asked against Marceline’s mouth.

“Not even a little bit,” was the mumbled reply.

“Good. How about you put on a silent film then? Turn off this rubbish and when it’s done we can eat dinner and watch the fireworks.”

Marceline sighed. “That sounds perfect apart from the part where I’d have to let you go and get up. That bit sounds awful.”

“I’ll be here when you get back.”

With a reluctant groan, Marceline disentangled herself and rolled to her feet, hastily stuffing the other movie in the tray before flopping back down. Bonnie was quick to drag the blanket off the back of the chair and wrap herself around Marceline again, pulling the cloth with her. Listening to Marceline’s quiet breathing and feeling the steady thrumming of her heart through her ribs would probably be enough to lull her to sleep. The only thing keeping her awake was the knowledge that if she slept, there would be no more kissing. That just would not do.

Every time Marceline muttered something after that it was deliberately light-hearted, as if she were afraid to break the comfortable quiet around them. The funny thing about a silent film is that talking through it doesn’t hinder what’s going on. So the way Marceline would insert lines where people would talk in a modern movie was really quite hilarious.

It wasn’t until the credits began to roll and Bonnie craned her neck to check the clock on the wall that she even realised what time it was.

“How long was that movie?” she asked quietly.

“Mmm,” Marceline hummed. “Long. I’m so hungry.”

“Food then?”

“Definitely. What did you cook? It smells great, which probably isn’t helping my stomach,” Marceline grumbled, prodding her belly.

“Garlic prawns and basmati rice,” Bonnibel laughed, sitting up so they could stand.

“Garlic and prawns?” Marceline’s mouth fell open as she rocked unsteadily to her feet.

Bonnie paused in the act of circling the island into the kitchen. “No good?” she asked worriedly.

“No. That sounds amazing. Both of those things are great on their own, together they must be great squared.”

“Nice to know,” she chuckled. She didn’t mention that it would be doubled, not squared. That wasn’t the point. “Do you want to watch the fireworks?”

Marceline checked her watch. “When are they? Six?”

“I think so.”

She rolled her eyes up at the ceiling. “Only if you want to.”

“Let’s do that while we eat. It’s nearly six now, yes?”

“Mmm… Yes.”

Bonnie nodded decisively. “Fireworks and then another movie.”

“Alright. Do you want the blanket?”

Marceline didn’t wait for an answer, just snapped the blanket they’d been using on the couch over her shoulder and grabbed cutlery from the drawer on her way to the door. She even held it for Bonnie as she stepped out with their plates. How sweet.

There were wicker chairs in the yard that Marceline hauled together so they could sit close and share the blanket. It was starting to cool down, the pinpricks of the stars beginning to wink in the navy sky. Off towards the lake in an empty paddock, flashlights blinked between trees and the waving grass as the local police set up the fireworks.

Marceline draped the blanket across their knees as Bonnie offered her the food. They didn’t wait for the show to start, honestly if Marceline was half as hungry as Bonnibel was she’d be shocked if the food wasn’t inhaled. Somehow it felt like years since she’d last eaten.

“God, Bon,” Marceline mumbled. “You’re the best cook in the world. What’s your secret?”

She grinned impishly. “I don’t use a recipe.”

“No.” She dropped her fork, staring open-mouthed at Bonnibel. “For real?”

“Yep. I just throw stuff together and see what happens. That’s how my dad taught me to cook.”

Marceline shook her head, eyeing her plate again. “You’re a wonder.”

She smiled quietly as the first of the fireworks leapt into the sky, showering the area in yellow and red light.

“Do they do this every year?” Bonnie asked quietly, stacking the now empty dinner dishes together. She shuffled around so she could rest her head on Marceline’s shoulder.

“No,” she replied. “I think this year we’ve got fireworks because Hayden’s dad has a licence. With luck we’ll get fireworks for all the holidays this year.”

“There’s always a pretty display in Ormeau,” she muttered.

Marceline shifted in her seat, glancing over at her. “Do you miss it?”

The first of the fireworks shot into the sky before Bonnibel answered. Yellow and red fizzled above them, fading into the night again as the next whistled up to shower down in an array of greens. She sighed.

“Yes,” Bonnie whispered. “And no. I miss the city and the people in it. I miss my friends, my family, our little apartment and the view of the park.” She turned her face into Marceline’s shoulder. “But some of those things aren’t there anymore. And I do like it here. The trees, the quiet… you.”

Marceline exhaled. “Yeah.” Pink and orange flared in a sea of sparks. A series of white followed swiftly, twinkling like so many extra stars.

“Don’t sound so glum,” Bonnie told her, smiling. “I do like it here. It’s much less stressful than the big city is.”

“I can’t wait to get out of here,” Marceline huffed. “Don’t worry.” Purples danced next, filling the sky with a faded gradient.

They were quiet after that. Fireworks illuminating the trees, Bonnie smiled when Marceline began fiddling with her fingers. She turned her gaze away from the lights to stare at Marceline’s profile.

A smile curved Marceline’s lips. “You’re missing the fireworks.”

“I’m okay with that.”

“Do you want to go watch another movie?”

Bonnie pretended to think about that. “Only if you promise to keep doing that to my fingers.”

Marceline laughed softly. “Yeah, okay.” As they collected the dinner things together and headed back into the flat, fireworks continued to flash in the sky. Once again, Marceline held the door for her, smiling in a strange way. “Didn’t you say something about dessert too?”

“Oh right. Would you like some?”

“Of course. What is it?”

Bonnie dumped the dishes in the sink and yanked the fridge door open happily declaring, “Chocolate cake!” Carefully, she slid the plate off the shelf and onto the counter. “With handmade icing and everything. Can you grab the strawberries from the top shelf please?”

“You really are amazing, you know that?” Marceline breathed, doing as asked. “Do you need a hand?”

“Nope. You could put the movie in though.”

“Oh… duh,” she said, shaking her head before going off to do that.

When Bonnie wandered into the lounge a few moments later with two plates, she found Marceline all ready and waiting; movie paused, remote in hand. She bounced down onto the chair beside her, relinquishing one plate. And once they were done with the cake (‘Oh my god, Bonnie this is heaven in my mouth,’ was Marceline’s astounded compliment) it was with a great deal of satisfaction that Bonnie curled into Marceline’s side, fingers wound into her shirt.

She pretty much fell asleep, actually.

Her brain was fairly foggy when Marceline tilted her head to place a gentle kiss to Bonnie’s cheek. “Happy Valentine’s, Bon,” she mumbled against her skin. “I should go.”

Unconsciously, Bonnibel’s grip on Marceline tightened. “You should stay,” she corrected sleepily.

She felt the chuckles vibrate through Marceline’s ribs, amusement evident. “That’s a bit forward, don’t you think?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time we’ve slept together…” She trailed off, going red when she realised what that had sounded like. “I mean…”

“I know. But I told you I didn’t want to push things.” Marceline’s voice wavered, a tremor of uncertainty creeping back in.

The doubt lacing her words caused Bonnie to twist so she could see Marceline’s face. There was a pinch to her brow, no doubt brought on by anxiety. “Am I complaining?” Bonnie asked her softly.

Marceline blinked. “No…”

“Then just be my pillow, okay? Please?”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. You said you didn’t want to do anything that might make me uncomfortable. Moving right now would make me uncomfortable. So… stay?”

And that time, Marceline smiled. “Alright.”

Bonnibel offered her a quiet smile in return, tipping forward to plant a lingering kiss on her lips. “Happy Valentine’s, Marcy.” Then she rested her head on Marceline’s shoulder, wrapped one arm around her waist and sighed; pretty content with this whole thing.

Tentatively, Marceline’s hand wound around her middle; she was obviously being very careful not to take some kind of horribly inappropriate liberty. Bonnie couldn’t have cared less. So it was with the same curve to the corners of her mouth as before that she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Wednesday 25th February 2015

Keila and Hayden had their heads together in literature when Bonnie walked in. Their hushed whispers were drowned out by the rest of the class’s raucous chatter, but from the way their hands were waving around animatedly, she gathered it was about something exciting. Bonnie dropped into her usual spot beside Hayden and pulled out her books before trying to decide whether interrupting them was a good idea.

In the end she didn’t even have to ask. Hayden twisted to look at Bonnie, a silly little smile on her face. “You know how I got a mystery gift on Valentine’s right?” she began, not waiting for an affirmative before going on. “I got another one this morning. Well… not a gift. But there was this note in my locker.”

She held out a folded piece of paper and waited for Bonnie to read the words. It made her smile.

She rolled in from the west in a summer sun dress. Hotter than the heat in July.

“Cute, isn’t it,” Hayden exclaimed, bouncing in her seat. “Not sure why July though, since that’s winter. But other than that it’s adorable.”

“It’s a song,” Bonnibel told her, laughing. “That’s why it’s July. But yes, it is super cute. Do you know who gave it to you?”

“I think the point of having a secret admirer is that he’s a secret,” Keila put in flatly. “How do you know it’s a song?”

“I spend a lot of time with Marceline?” Admittedly her answer sounded like a question, but seriously. How hard was it to make that connection? “Doesn’t it feel weird to know there’s someone at school – or not at school, which is probably worse – kind of stalking you?”

Hayden sighed. “Only you would think of that. It’s not stalking. It’s admiring, and it’s quite nice, thank you.”

“Plus asking a girl out is apparently a nerve-wracking experience,” Keila giggled, rolling her eyes.

“Wait, what do you mean?” Bonnie pressed.

“Yeah,” Hayden added, drawing out her word. “Have you ever asked a girl out?”

Keila scoffed. “No. I don’t swing that way. But I’ve heard… From sources.”

“How vague and unhelpful,” Hayden sighed. “Whatever. I’m kind of excited. You do know that it means someone might ask me to the senior formal, right?”

“We don’t have a senior formal,” Keila told her sadly. “Halte’s a fun sponge and refuses to let us do it.”

Hayden waved away her concerns. “I know that. But Melissa and Ellen only took like five seconds to convince and they’ve started a petition. If those two can’t drum up enough support for it then I’d say it’s a conspiracy on behalf of the whole town to deny us.”

Keila blinked. “They’ve seriously done that?”

“Yep. They even employed Pippa’s art skills in making posters to pin up.” She frowned. “Haven’t you seen them?”

“Can’t say I pay school drama much attention,” Keila dismissed with a nonchalant half-shrug. “I’m backing them though. Halte is pretty grumpy and set in his ways, sure, but Melissa plus Ellen working towards something? That’s an unstoppable force right there.”

Bonnie quirked an eyebrow. “Does that mean we should all start thinking about dates and dresses now then?”

Keila bobbed her head in a sort of indecisive way. “I guess if you want. At worst what happens? You have a dress and a guy in a nice suit without a dance to go to. I can think of worse things.”

“True.” Bonnie sighed, making a mental note to call Cherry later. Dresses were her forte.

 

-*…*…*-

 

Lunches with the friends Bonnie had made early last year were frequently loud affairs. And they’d only gotten more so since their little table had allowed Marceline and Keila to osmose over and join them. Weirdly, everyone got on better than anticipated. That didn’t stop Marceline from arguing with them though.

And lunches weren’t the best place to corner someone about word use anyway.

Too many witnesses.

So it wasn’t until her second last period of the day that Bonnie managed to get Keila alone. And that thought sounded much more harmless in her head. Honestly.

“So. Keila.” Is how Bonnie prefaced sliding herself into the spot beside her friend.

Keila – bless her – instantly looked wary. “So. Bonnie.” Props for a good response though.

“I need to know, strictly between us though,” she began. “Who exactly is your source on how scary it is to ask girls out?” Her eyes narrowed. “Is it Gary?”

“No.” And she let out this huge sigh like she was relieved. “The way you started that made me think I’d done something horrible and was about to get ripped a new one. Whew.”

Bonnie laced her fingers together, eyes still squinting. “Seriously, Keila. This is important.”

“Why?”

“Because I need to know who is spreading these nasty lies about girls,” she replied drolly. “For science.”

“I have a feeling you’re lying to me.”

“It’s a good feeling. Answer me anyway. Please?”

Keila tilted her head and Bonnie could see the cogs clicking in her brain as she thought. “Just between us, right?”

“I solemnly swear.”

“Marceline.”

Bonnibel blinked, feeling – for the first time in a while – absolutely stupid. “What?” she asked politely.

“Marceline’s my source,” Keila repeated slowly. “You’re not… like, freaking out because of… that… are you?”

“Um. No. I just… you know Marceline is… not completely straight?”

Keila’s jaw swung open limply. “You know?” She made an honest attempt to keep her voice down but it still sounded kind of shrill.

“She told me… more or less,” Bonnie confirmed.

“She hasn’t officially told me yet,” Keila grumbled.

“What’s the story?”

“Hum?”

“The story… behind her telling you girls are scary to ask out,” Bonnibel prompted.

“Oh right, well…” Keila’s voice fell away. “Are you sure you can keep this a secret?”

“I absolutely can. I’m very good at keeping secrets.”

“Really? Whose secrets?”

Bonnie winked. “If I told you, I’d ruin my reputation.”

“Good point. Well it’s not much of a story really,” she exhaled. “There’s just this blonde girl who works at the Blackwater Mall’s movie theatre. We don’t know her shifts or anything; she’s just always working on Thursday afternoons. Always. That’s her day.” Keila shrugged. “Marceline thinks she’s cute, but every time I catch her staring and tease that she should ask the blonde out she gets all weird and defensive. One time she said she couldn’t because girls are scary.”

“That’s the story?” Bonnie pushed when she stopped talking. “That’s it?”

“Yep. You expected more?”

She leaned back in her chair. “I don’t know. I didn’t expect that… I guess.”

Keila blew out air, fidgeting nervously now. “God, I shouldn’t have told you that,” she muttered. “She’ll kill me for spilling stuff.”

Bonnie gave her a flat look. “Sure.”

Her shoulders hunched up around her ears. “You really okay with knowing that about her? For real?” Keila leaned a little closer as if that would help get across how serious she found this. “Like… you guys hang out a lot and she’s…”

“I’m fine with it, Keila,” Bonnie laughed.

“Whew,” she exhaled, slumping into her chair. “Because let me tell you, if you were like… grossed out by it or something and stopped talking to her… Wow. No. Not good.”

“Only the worst kind of people judge based on sexuality,” Bonnibel murmured, turning her attention down towards her notebook.

Keila eyed her dubiously but didn’t say anything. Not for a long moment anyway. And even then her only comment was, “Gotta live with them though.”

And the sentiment echoed Marceline’s assurances so closely it was mildly scary.

 

-*…*…*-

 

I need you to take my measurements to Zara’s.

“Hey, nerd. Want a lift home?” Marceline sidled up beside her after school just as she sent the text to Cherry.

“Sure,” Bonnie replied. “That sounds nice. Are you going to hang around?”

“I always do.”

Her phone beeped as she was dumping her bags in the back of Marceline’s car. She didn’t pull it out until she was seated though and it still earned her a look from Marceline. That she ignored until after she’d read the message.

Oh, and hello to you too. Yeah, I’m good, glad to hear you’re doing alright starting your last year of high school. That’s nice. Yes, Stanley and I had a wonderful Valentine’s. Of course I still have your measurements, thanks for asking. Why does Zara need them?

She rolled her eyes at the sarcasm.

“Secret girlfriend?” Marceline teased. But as always, there was an undercurrent of uncertainty.

“You’ve got that covered,” Bonnibel jabbed back. “No, just talking to Cherry.”

“The best friend from Ormeau?”

“That’s her. She’s being mean.”

“How dare she.”

“I know. Do you mind if I reply?”

Marceline snorted. “Of course not. She’s your best friend right? And she lives a bazillion miles from here. Text away.”

Bonnie grinned. “Thanks. I promise you’ll have my undivided attention later.”

The red flushing Marceline’s face at that made the wording worth it.

I text you all the time, Cherry. And you sent me an essay about the Valentine’s date.

Right. But you didn’t reply.

What did you want me to say? It sounded like you had a nice time. I smiled.

Imagine I’m rolling my eyes at you. Now about these measurements?

It was such a good thing she and Cherry were friends. Otherwise this conversation might sound like they hated each other. Bonnibel just smiled at her phone. Do you remember that dress I said I liked in ninth grade when we went dress shopping?

… Vaguely. It was blue. You said you’d get something like it for your senior formal. But you told me Reich doesn’t do a formal.

We don’t, Bonnie confirmed. But some of the students are protesting and since I really want Zara to make it I figured I’d get in early.

And if you end up not needing it?

I’ll come out of this with a pretty dress.

Fine. I’ll let her know.

You’re the best, Cherry.

Yeah, yeah. Video chat this weekend?

It’s a date.

Nuh-uh. I don’t bat for your team. And I’m taken.

Very funny, Cherry. I’ll talk to you then.

She slipped her phone back into her pocket just as they pulled into her drive. Excellent timing.

“Can I pry?” Marceline asked carefully.

“Sure. But no details. I might want it to be a surprise later in the year.” She winked as she slung her bag over one shoulder. “I just wanted to get some preparation done on the off chance Melissa and Ellen get the formal petition through.”

Marceline arched an eyebrow. “Dress stuff I’m guessing?”

“Correct.”

She rolled her eyes, letting her own things flop to the floor of Bonnie’s lounge. “I doubt Halte will let us have a function like that.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Bonnie assured her with a shrug. “Just planning. And speaking of planning…” She sucked her bottom lip between her teeth trying not to smile at the way Marceline’s face contorted when she shuffled a step closer. “I know what I want to do for date three.”

That drew a smile from her. “Yeah? What?”

“We’re going to see a movie.”

Her brow crumpled together again. “Do you think maybe we do movies too much? Especially given that this is… dating…”

“Movies are like pizza; you can’t have too much,” Bonnibel ascertained. “Plus, we can always go out for lunch or dinner as well.”

“That’s true,” she sighed. “Alright. When?”

“Has to be after exam block,” Bonnie decided.

“Has to be before the Easter break,” Marceline countered.

“Why?”

“My brother’s coming down and I really don’t want to give him any kind of ammunition. He knows me well enough to guess if I’m seeing someone.” She shuffled her feet awkwardly. “He’d give me a lot of crap.”

“Aw,” Bonnie sang, threading her fingers through Marceline’s. “What about the last Thursday of term? My last exam is Wednesday.”

“Mine’s art, Thursday morning,” Marceline mused. “I suppose that would work.”

She tilted her head. “Date?” And then she bit her bottom lip for good measure.

“Yeah alright. I’ll pencil it in.”

“Yes.” She pulled Marceline closer, facilitating her unending desire to kiss the other girl. Bonnie smiled into it, not only for having a third date, but also for the cunningness of her plan.

With luck it wouldn’t run sour.

Chapter Text

Thursday 26th March 2015

“Bonnibel Banner!”

She jumped out of her skin when her name was shrieked at such an ungodly pitch across the hallway. Fingers wound into the fabric of her shirt over her heart, she spun – shaking – to see who had aged her ten years. Penelope… And a particularly intense frown.

“What?” she gasped, sinking back against the wall, attempting to slow her racing heart. “Oh my god. And don’t scream at me like that.”

“What are you doing here?” Pippa demanded, stopping in front of her, hands on her hips. “You finished exam block yesterday. So there is no need for you to be at school. Are you that desperate to educate yourself?”

“No,” she sighed. “I’m waiting for Marceline. Sheesh. Cool your jets.”

Pippa’s face did that thing where it didn’t really change, but some subtle shift indicated she was entertaining ideas Bonnie wouldn’t like. Usually that she and Marceline were dating. Or that they should be. Either way.

“Why?”

Bonnibel rolled her eyes (and silently thanked her propensity for preplanning that she already had an excuse worked out). “Because we’re going to see a movie to kick start the holidays. And the reason I’m going with Marceline is because it’s a horror movie and Finn and Jake have that physiology exam tomorrow so they can’t come.” She shook her head. “Why, what did you think we were going to do?”

The smile that crept onto Pippa’s face then just confirmed her suspicions about the devious plotting happening in her pretty blonde head. “Oh… I don’t know. Maybe you were going to stare at her wistfully for a while.”

“Who are we staring at?” Marceline picked that moment – naturally – to arrive. She blinked innocently but the little smirk quirking her mouth said she knew exactly what they were talking about.

Penelope narrowed her eyes at Marceline. “Talking about you, as a matter of fact.” Her gaze returned to Bonnibel after those somewhat melodramatic words. “You’re lucky I believe you.”

“Sure. You know, for someone who claims to be one of my best friends,” Bonnie teased. “You’re awfully suspicious of everything I do.”

She sighed, grabbing Bonnie’s hand. “Just looking out for you,” she murmured. “Be safe in Blackwater.” Letting go, Pippa vanished around the corner, already calling out to someone else. Probably Ellen since she’d scamper now that exams were done.

“What was that about?” Marceline asked as they headed for her car. “Also, hey and why did you walk? I would’ve picked you up on my way past.”

“Figured I’d save you the hassle. Plus I was bored so I went for a walk,” Bonnie explained with a shrug. “And Pippa’s just concerned that I’m hanging out with you for unhealthy reasons so she tends to over analyse anything we do together. Like going to the movies.”

Marceline snorted. “It is a date.”

“Pippa doesn’t know that.”

“And why is she so suspicious of me anyway?” Her arched eyebrow was almost mocking.

Bonnie offered a faded glare in reply. “I did tell her I find you attractive, you know. She probably thinks I spend time with you to satisfy some sick self-delusion or whatever.”

“Yeah,” Marceline sighed, sinking into the divers’ seat. “It’s probably not healthy.”

“Luckily for me,” she pointed out. “You asked me out. So it’s totally fine.”

“I dunno about totally…” Marceline sang. “You are dating me. Nothing will ever be fine.”

Bonnie clucked her tongue. “That’s not very nice. You’re fine.”

Marceline cast a funny look over at her. “Sometimes you say nice things and I have to wonder if you even know who I am,” she grumbled. “Like… you know why people avoid me… right?”

“Yes, you’ve told me stories,” Bonnie affirmed. “I maintain that stuff you did before doesn’t matter. What’s that saying… you’ve got to put your past behind you?”

“Thanks, Timon,” Marceline chuckled, rolling her eyes.

“Everyone deserves a second chance, Marceline,” she asserted. “So stop worrying.”

“You’re quite unusual.”

“Thank you.”

Marceline didn’t continue with that line of conversation. Despite anything Bonnibel might say it was obvious she’d harbour some form of uncertainty for a long while yet. But that’s okay; Bonnie would beat it out of her… Well, not beat because that’s just wrong. But she’d be there to help.

And in the meantime, she was perfectly happy to talk about all the things Ellen would get up to now that they’re officially on holiday. Or just sing along to whatever tunes Marceline had playing. Actually, Marceline seemed pretty enthused about whatever reaction Pippa would have when she finally found out about the whole dating thing. Admittedly, Penelope’s response would be pretty exciting, for sure.

“So are we having lunch or dinner?” Marceline asked her as they headed into the Blackwater Mall.

“I haven’t eaten yet,” Bonnie told her. “You?”

“Nope. Lunch it is.”

“We can always stop and get something on the way home,” she muttered. “We could go to Ivy’s for dinner?”

Marceline waved a hand dismissively. “Dinner is hours away. We’ll think about that when it gets here. What would you like for lunch?”

 

-*…*…*-

 

“You’re so weird though,” Marceline opined, scrunching her nose up.

“Says you.”

She gestured at the ‘evidence’ at hand. “You mix and match your frozen drinks,” Marceline accused, looking horrified. “How can you not be perfectly happy with just the raspberry flavour?”

“Because,” Bonnie explained, holding her cup away from her friend. “The more the merrier.” She grabbed Marceline’s wrist and tugged her towards the counter. “Come on, let’s get tickets now.”

“Are we really going to see that horror movie? You don’t want something… not that?”

“If it gets too much then you’ll just have to deal with me holding your hand,” Bonnie laughed. “Maybe ending up in your lap.” She blinked innocently. “Problem?”

Marceline’s face was suddenly extremely impassive. “Nope,” she whispered. “Nothing wrong with that. I’m fine. Horror it is.”

As Bonnibel had been told, there was a pretty blonde girl working at the register. “Hey, Marceline,” she said in a much too bright tone. It took a lot of effort for Bonnie not to frown at her. “Not with Keila today?”

“Um… no. Not today, Tori. Two tickets to see Remedy, if you would.” She was doing her utmost to keep a straight face still. It was kind of funny.

Bonnie tuned her out as she chatted with Marceline, meandering over to the concessions stand to pay for their drinks and buy a bucket of popcorn. She was back in time to hear the tail end of their conversation though and it made her giggle. Marceline was now fighting to keep her face from going bright red. Only she wasn’t really succeeding.

She said something quietly to Tori and hastened away, mouth pressed into a tight line as she shook her head. “If I didn’t know better,” she grumbled under her breath when she reached Bonnie’s side.

“If you didn’t know what better?” Bonnie laughed. “Who is she? Ex-girlfriend?”

“Oh my god, no,” Marceline exhaled, the red in her cheeks flushing deeper, spreading down her neck. “Keila and I come to the movies a lot while she’s working.”

Bonnie bobbed her head. “You think she’s cute.”

Marceline’s head shook so fast it should’ve fallen off. “Nope.”

“Yeah you do,” Bonnibel sang, skipping up the aisle of the theatre to pick seats. “You totally do.”

Wary now, Marceline sank into the chair beside Bonnie. “I don’t,” she repeated. “But if I did…?”

Bonnie snorted. “You’re still here with me. Hell, she is cute. But she’s also very straight.”

Marceline’s jaw fell open. “I feel like this was some sort of test,” she breathed. “Did you set me up, Banner?”

She just smiled.

“God, you did. Why would you do that?”

She shrugged, still smiling softly. “I guess I just wanted proof that I’m not the only girl you find attractive,” she admitted, leaning over to kiss Marceline’s cheek. “Relax. There’s nothing sinister going on. I just didn’t want to be the only reason you consider yourself to be not straight.”

Marceline just blinked at her, uncomprehending. “Excuse me? Why?”

“Paranoia? It would absolutely suck if you thought you liked girls and then you realise you don’t and we break up and…” she sighed. “That’d hurt.”

Marceline’s face collapsed into something gentle. “You could’ve just asked me that you know.”

“I like to see things with my own eyes. It’s the curse of being scientifically minded.”

“You’re not the only girl I’ve ever found attractive,” Marceline murmured. “You’re just the only one I’ve ever asked out.”

Bonnie exhaled. “And what was it you said about our conversations always ending up deep and meaningful?”

Marceline laughed. “I think it’s a good thing, right? Means we’re communicating?”

“This is true. Thank you.”

“No worries.”

The only conversation after that was about the movie (and the ads preceding it). Which was good in its own way. Once the movie got underway though – just as Bonnie had promised – she ended up with her fingers clamped so hard around Marceline’s wrist she was surprised she couldn’t hear the bones breaking.

But Marceline just pushed the arm rest up and pulled Bonnie into a hug. And that was the best thing that had happened all day.

Chapter Text

Sunday 29th March 2015

“You didn’t have to stay, Miss Banner. I was perfectly capable on my own.”

She glanced up from laying out place settings at the dining table. “Oh, it’s really alright, Father,” she said absently. “This gives me an excuse to meet Marshall. Since I’ve heard so much about him and all that.”

He arched an eyebrow as he pulled the roast from the oven (that Marceline had put on to cook before she left with strict instructions that her father not be allowed to touch it except to remove it). “Have you really? I didn’t think she’d talk about him.”

Bonnie shrugged. “I get the impression they’re fairly close.”

Hansen hummed, focused on not burning himself on the hot metal. Bonnibel couldn’t help but read into his silence. Marceline should be back from the airport any minute now. If not soon, the meal would go cold.

The front door banged open and both Bonnie and Hansen stuck their heads around the frame to see who it was. Peter shook water from his hair, kicking his shoes off in the entrance. “Sorry I’m late,” he hollered. He shuffled into the kitchen a moment later to fix them with a confused expression. “Where is everyone?”

“Not here yet,” Hansen replied, still glowering at the lamb. “Should be here in a minute though.”

On cue, the door opened again, only this time it was supplemented by loud voices.

“You don’t have any friends! That’s the only reason you come home.” The words – while heated – were accompanied by a smiling Marceline barging into the kitchen. She was trailed by a tall blonde woman (also grinning) and a man who looked freakishly like Marceline except with much shorter hair and an extra foot of height. Oh yes, they were very obviously related.

His eyes flashed up, glancing around the room, sparkling with mischief. “I have friends, sis; promise. Because I’m a nice person and I don’t tend to glare as much as you do.” Those eyes – just as piercingly blue as Marceline’s – finally found Bonnie. Then a grin easily as cheeky and teasing as the light in his eyes exploded across his face. “There’s someone in our house I don’t know,” he observed.

Marceline scowled at him. “Why, thank you, Captain Obvious. This is Bonnie.” She punched his arm before turning a soft smile Bonnibel’s way. “This is my idiot brother, Marshall and his exceedingly tolerant girlfriend, Fionna.”

Marshall thrust a hand out, wiggling his fingers. “It is a pleasure to meet you,” he enthused. When she took it, he pulled her closer to whisper, “Are you the friend she argued with last year?”

“That’s me,” she laughed.

“Ah. Well, congratulations on being able to survive Marceline’s temper.” He offered a mock salute. “Not many people can claim as much.”

“She’s not so bad,” Bonnie opined, shooting a smile back at Marceline.

“Right,” Hansen interrupted, hooking a thumb into the kitchen. “The food is ready so you can eat now, if you’d like. Peter and I will be back for dinner.” He eyed Marshall flatly. “Don’t burn the house down.”

“You got it, father, sir,” Marshall deadpanned. Although there was a lilt to most of what he said, implying he found pretty much everything funny. So it wasn’t really deadpan; just mocking. Once his father and Peter were out the front door (discussing something), he threw his hands up. “Alright. Party at our place.”

“How about lunch first?” Fionna suggested, rolling her eyes.

“There won’t be any partying anyway,” Marceline grouched, folding her arms. “Not unless you’re cleaning up the mess you make.”

He snorted. “Whatever. What’d you cook?”

“Food.” She continued to glare at him. “Sit down.”

“Wow, you’re so grumpy,” he exhaled dramatically. “How do you deal with her?” The last bit was directed at Bonnie. For her part, Marceline simply sighed at him and stalked into the kitchen to dish up the food, Fionna followed on her heels to help.

Her lips quirked. “I don’t deal with her,” she replied. “I quite enjoy her company.”

Marshall blinked, uncomprehending. “But…” he waved a hand at the kitchen. “She’s so abrasive.”

“I can still hear you,” Marceline called.

“You’re meant to.” Then he returned to looking at Bonnibel expectantly.

She could only shrug. What else was there to say to that? “She’s not always grumpy. Was there bad traffic?”

“Um… a little? Not much once we got out of town…” He paused. “Wait, are you trying to blame her bad mood on traffic?”

“Sure. There’s got to be an explanation.” Bonnie twisted in her seat to peer into the kitchen. “Hey, Marceline. What happened to your good mood?”

“Depends on who I’m talking to,” came the reply. “Marshall’s a jerk. He always gets a bad mood.”

“There,” Bonnie said happily. “Resolved.”

“But I’m your brother!” Marshall shouted at her.

“So you get the worst of all my moods. Come and get your food.”

Bonnie bounced from her seat much faster than Marshall. Her hand found a spot on Marceline’s lower back as she leaned over her shoulder to peer at the food. The reaction was funny – a cross between a startled squawk and a shiver that betrayed how she really felt about Bonnie being that close.

“Smells good, chef,” she laughed.

“Thank you, apprentice chef,” Marceline replied, recovering quickly.

“Apprentice chef? Excuse you.” Bonnie tried to sound indignant but it didn’t really work.

“That’s right, apprentice,” she repeated with finality. “Once you graduate to using recipes you can level up.”

Bonnibel heaped steamed vegetables onto a plate so she could brandish the spoon at Marceline. “How come you have a higher level when you’re handicapped by the rigidity of a recipe? Shouldn’t I be ranked above you because I don’t have to rely on someone else telling me how to do it?”

“Ah,” Marceline expounded, waving the tongs. “But I’m not going to make mistakes am I? While you burn things half the time, I’ll get it right in one go.”

She stuck her tongue out. That’s an excellent counter argument. “I’m positive that once I’ve got it right I don’t muck it up again. You’re demoted.” With that she hefted her plate and Marshall’s (since he hadn’t bothered to get up from his spot at the dining table) and whooshed from the kitchen. ‘Whooshed’ sounded so much less antagonistic than ‘stalked’ and that’s not what she did. She whooshed.

“I am not demoted,” Marceline retorted sharply, following with her plate. Fionna trailed behind her carrying gravy in her spare hand, looking mightily amused by the whole conversation. “You can’t demote me. I’m senior.”

Bonnie scoffed. “Actually I’m six months older than you. Cool your jets.”

Not what I meant.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ve got seniority. Plus, if I was your apprentice chef, why would you leave me in charge?” She raised both eyebrows pointedly as she sank down beside Marceline at the table. She got nothing but silence and some muted splutters in reply. “That’s what I thought. Point to me.”

Marshall stared at her, mouth hanging open, looking to have forgotten all about lunch. “Did you just… like… bicker?” he blurted. “That was… What? What is this? You’re actually friends, aren’t you?”

Marceline rolled her eyes at him. “Duh. Don’t you listen when I speak?”

“Not usually,” he confessed. “And it doesn’t matter; I didn’t think you were serious. I was positive you were exaggerating, but you just… that was… Wow.” He threw a hand across the table. “Shake my hand; I need to be certain you’re real.”

Bonnie laughed, but did it anyway. “As real as I was last time you shook my hand.”

“I don’t know what you did to my sister, but I’m glad you did it,” he sighed. “That was incredible.”

The look Marceline gave her at that was so incredibly loaded that Bonnie decided it was best to just ignore it. That would be much safer.

“I didn’t do anything,” she muttered instead before focusing on her food.

Other than banalities addressed to Marshall and Fionna (‘how was the flight’, ‘when do you go back’, ‘how’s business going’) or at Marceline (‘how’s school’, ‘how many days have you skipped this year’, ‘what black magic voodoo did you work to get Bonnie to be your friend’) the meal was silent. Which was perfectly reasonable to Bonnibel’s mind as Marceline was an excellent chef. It deserved all the attention that could be spared.

Of course, near the tail end of the conversation, it collapsed into Marceline and her brother arguing about upcoming video game releases. Neither Bonnie nor Fionna had a clue what they were talking about, so when their heated ‘discussion’ fired up too much they were unceremoniously kicked out of the kitchen. Whereupon Marshall turned on their gaming console and declared that if he won two out of three in something-or-other, Marceline would have to concede he was right on whatever subject they were talking about. To her credit, Marceline did offer to help Bonnie clean up but she was shoed away with a gentle ‘you cooked, I’ll clean’.

Fionna did stick around to help though. It seemed like something she was resigned to doing actually. The look she wore said Marshall required coercing to do house work.

“I haven’t seen her this happy in a while,” Fionna told her softly.

Bonnie cut a quick glance her way while the sink filled. “She missed her brother,” she agreed. “Talks about him all the time. She wouldn’t ever say it, but she’s been looking forward to you guys visiting.”

The blonde smiled. “He misses her too, but that’s not what I meant.”

Her heart lurched in her chest, panicking hard enough to crack a few ribs in its haste to hide. “What did you mean?”

She shrugged. “For as long as I’ve known her Marceline’s only ever had Keila. Even though they’re close and have so much in common… I think she was unsatisfied…? I’m not sure if that’s the right word. I’ve just never, ever, seen her so excited to introduce us to someone.” Bonnie kept her gaze fixed on the soapy water, but she could see Fionna studying her out of the corner of her eyes. “She’s smiled more in the last two hours than I’ve seen in a long time. Thank you. For… whatever you’ve done.”

“It was nothing,” Bonnie mumbled, hunching her shoulders. “My pleasure.” And wasn’t it just that.

Fionna bobbed her head. “So what plans do you have for next year?”

“Oh. I sent in an application to Driscoll.” There was no lie in saying she was immensely relieved for the change in topic. “I love it here, but it’ll be nice to go home.”

“Marceline mentioned you’re from Ormeau.”

A sly smirk oozed across Bonnie’s face. “Did she? What nasty things did she tell you?”

Fionna laughed. “Nothing nasty; I swear. Just that you’re from there, you live with your uncle because your parents passed away and we shouldn’t talk about it also that you’re a – and I quote – ‘science nerd’.”

“That’s about all there is to say,” she exhaled.

The other woman huffed. “Not really. She said you’ve been tutoring her. And that you haven’t told Hansen that she’s studying art and music instead of accounting and business principles.”

“God,” Bonnie muttered. “Can you see Marceline doing either of those classes? Her attendance would suck.”

“Right you are.” A pause filled with implications of things unsaid hung about them for all of five seconds. Then, “Why are you tutoring her? Aside from the pay and all that. I heard you two argued about it last year.”

“She thought I was working for Hansen,” Bonnie granted. “But she can’t get into Driscoll like she wants with bad grades. If she wants to study music in college than I’m going to help her get the marks she needs. Everyone deserves an education.”

Fionna let out a long breath. “You’re just as awesome as she said, aren’t you?”

“I do my best.”

That was met with laughter. “As do we all. Marshall assures me he tries so very hard to do his best. When he falls short he buys me jewellery.”

“Does that work?” Bonnie asked, astounded by the possibility. “Seriously?”

Fionna held out her left wrist to show her the braided silver bracelet clasped around it. “I like shiny things,” she disclosed. “He knows he can dispel my wrath with pretty things. I have a necklace somewhere that matches. Next time he screws up my money is on a pair of earrings to round out the set.”

Admittedly, Bonnie was paying a little more attention to the ring tan on Fionna’s finger than her words but she got the gist of it. When she turned back to the sink, Bonnibel murmured, “When are you going to tell them?”

Fionna’s shoulders visibly tensed. “Tell them what?”

“Marshall proposed, didn’t he?”

She spun around slowly, regarding Bonnibel warily. “What makes you say that?’

“The tan line on your ring finger,” she explained, waving a hand vaguely to point it out. “You’ve worn something there long enough that your skin has tanned around it, but you took it off recently. Possibly because you didn’t want someone to see it. Since you’re here, I’d guess you don’t want Marceline or Hansen to know just yet and the only thing I can think of that you’d want to keep quiet and requires a ring is an engagement.”

Fionna did her best to imitate Marshall’s earlier jaw-on-the-floor expression. “Are you secretly Sherlock Holmes or something? Who pays that much attention to details like that?”

Bonnie chuckled. “I guess I do? You don’t want them to know, I take it?”

“Not really,” Fionna concurred, deflating. “Marshall said that since Marceline is graduating this year there could be some drama involving what she’s doing next year. We just wanted to wait and see what happens.”

“Fair enough.”

“You won’t tell?”

“I’ve had lots of practice at keeping secrets,” Bonnibel assured her. “Don’t you worry.”

But there was something creeping around the fringes of Fionna’s face saying she’d do just that.

 


 

“No! You can’t do that.” Marshall threw the controller down on the couch beside him, fuming. Marceline would be lying if she said it didn’t entertain her to see him throw a fit like that.

“Can. Did. Suck it up. Next match, if you would.” She gestured at the screen with her own controller. “You have one chance to redeem yourself.”

“I’ve already lost two,” he growled. “I won’t make it three.”

She batted her eyelashes at him. “Why… Are you conceding defeat, brother dearest? To me?”

“You’ve been practicing without me,” he accused.

“Bonnie is surprisingly coordinated when it comes to video games,” she allowed, grinning. He hauled a cushion at her.

“Your girlfriend plays video games, huh?” he teased, reclaiming his controller.

Marceline could feel her face going bright red. She had to take a deep breath to keep her cool. He was just being a dick. He didn’t know. It’s fine. “Not really,” she finally muttered. “She asks what I’m playing, I give her the other controller and tell her which buttons do what and she’s magically very good at it. I’ve had my arse handed to me more times than I’d like to admit.”

Marshall smirked, chortling softly. “So you have to play more to keep up with her, yeah?”

“More or less. She watches me a lot, I think. Also, hi, you’re dead.” Her character on the screen whipped a sword through Marshall’s avatar, giving him a little blinking death notice.

“Creepy stalker,” he opined.

“No. The console basically lives at her place now,” she told him. “I play and she reads. Then she gets distracted…” She trailed off because usually when Bonnie gave up on her book to join her in video-game-land it would devolve into one of them being teased and then more than likely there would be kissing. Which is really nice, but Marshall doesn’t need to know about it.

And there was red flushing her face again. Wonderful.

“By schoolwork?” he pressed. “You said she likes homework more than life. What’s she doing playing video games?”

“Relaxing. Since the epic Study Disaster of last November she tries not to be too focused on it.” She stuck her tongue between her teeth as her character notched an arrow and loosed it at Marshall. “Speaking of focus, are you paying attention at all to this?”

He grumbled as the arrow lanced through his face. “Yes. What are you doing? This isn’t how you normally play.”

“It’s effective isn’t it,” she laughed.

“What happened to your blind rage mode?”

“Bonnie.”

He eyed her while he waited to respawn. “You’re different,” he murmured.

She hunched her shoulders defensively. “Gee, I’m sorry.”

“No,” Marshall added hastily. “It’s good. You’re happy.”

Marceline turned to look at him and for a moment they just sat there watching each other warily. Then she sighed, looking away just in time for his character to respawn five feet from her. She put an arrow through him again.

“That was mean,” he blurted. “I was distracted.”

“Whatever. Get your head in the game.”

He shook his head, ducking into a structure so she couldn’t hit him with more ranged projectiles. “I know dad is pretty oblivious to things,” he began, confusing her with the weird topic change. “But you should probably try to keep your massive thing for Bonnibel toned down. He might work it out.”

She was so shocked by his words that she didn’t even notice when he came up on her flank and dropped an axe on her head. “What now?” she spluttered, eyes wide.

“Oh good,” he laughed. “I wasn’t sure I was reading you properly, nice to know. Does Bonnie know you’ve got the hots for her?”

Marceline was in real trouble of hyperventilating now. “What… Why would you say that? Oh my god. What?”

“Come on, Marceline,” he chuckled. “She’s all up in your space and you don’t care, you argue like you’ve been married fifty years and you look at her like she’s everything to you. You seriously thought I wouldn’t see it?”

She sucked in a deep breath, trying ever so hard to find words. Any words would be nice. Just something to say. But she was coming up blank. So she kept staring at him incredulously.

“Wow, you really thought I wouldn’t pick up on it, huh.” He sank back against the sofa. “Come on. Spit it out. Does she know?”

Marceline’s throat closed over, her heart pretty much stopped beating and she knew she was the colour of her car. “She’s gay,” were the only words she could manage to rasp past the lump. Why those words? God. Anything else would’ve been better.

And then Marshall was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Oh that’s even better,” he cackled. “You’ve got the hots for your gay bestie. Perfect.”

Marceline decided that was just the right time for her to run her brother’s character through again. “Shut up,” she grouched at him. “I do not.”

Does she know?” he pressed.

“Yes, okay,” she snapped. “Fine. She knows.”

“How is that not awkward?” he gasped theatrically.

“Because we’ve been dating for two months,” she ground at him, glaring.

Marshall hooted. “Wow. That’s awesome. Wait. Dad doesn’t know does he? Who knows? Does her uncle?”

“No one knows,” she grumbled.

“Who are we talking about?” Bonnie – of course – picked that moment to sink beside Marceline on the couch. And yes, she squished right up into her personal space because it was really only meant to seat one person. Marceline didn’t care, honestly, but Marshall’s knowing smirk was infuriating.

“You,” he basically giggled. “And how you’re dating my sister.”

Bonnibel went white, her hand clamping around Marceline’s wrist. “Excuse me?”

“I told him,” Marceline whispered, eyes following Fionna as she perched on the edge of Marshall’s chair. She looked curious, but not enough to ask any prying questions. “I was right. He knows me too well.”

Marshall twisted to beam up at Fionna. “Marceline’s dating,” he crowed happily, bouncing on the spot.

Fionna’s eyes lit up and she smiled at Marceline so brightly it was actually sort of disorienting. “Oh my god, who? Do we know them?”

Marceline was too busy trying not to implode to answer. Bonnie lifted a hand – sheepish expression in place – and wiggled her fingers. “Me.”

A funny combination of reactions danced across Fionna’s face. But they settled on pleased… she guessed that’s what it was anyway. “That’s great. How long?”

“Two months,” Bonnibel told her. The grip she had on Marceline’s wrist loosened, but instead of pulling away she simply slipped their fingers together.

“Details please,” Marshall demanded.

Bonnie opened her mouth (probably to comply) but Marceline beat her to it. “No,” she said firmly. “Leave it alone.”

Marshall stuck his lower lip out. “Please? At least tell me who made the first move?”

Marceline continued to glare at him, but Bonnie lifted a finger and levelled it at her. She swatted the hand away but it was much too late for that. Her brother’s face was lighting up again.

“Aw, you asked her out? That’s adorable,” he sang.

She smacked his arm. “Shut up. I’m serious.”

“What happens if dad finds out?” he asked, still grinning. “Do I have to keep this a secret?”

“Yes, you have to keep it a secret,” she huffed, rolling her eyes. “Dad can’t find out until… until I’m not living with him anymore.”

“Oof,” he wheezed, clapping his hands to her chest. “That could be a while.”

Marceline hit him again.

“And what do I get for not telling him?” he mused.

“You get my silence,” Bonnie put in before Marceline could curse him for threatening her.

All of them swivelled to look at her curiously.

“You keep it to yourself, and I won’t tell Hansen your secret.” And she smiled that too-good-to-be-true smile. So sweet and innocent it could only mean something horrible. “Sound fair?”

Marceline’s brow pinched in confusion, her eyes whipping from Bonnie to her brother’s now stunned expression. “What secret? And how does Bonnie know it before me?” Her gaze flicked up to Fionna before landing back on Marshall.

“She’s very observant,” Fionna muttered when his terrified face turned up to her. “I have a tan.” And she waved her left hand under his nose, smiling sadly. Then suddenly it clicked in Marceline’s head,

“You’re getting married?” she basically shrieked. “That’s so amazing.” Her grumpiness gone (because the focus of the conversation had moved off her, thank god) she launched off the chair to wrap her brother in a hug. “I’m so proud of you.”

He laughed but returned the gesture. “Thanks, Marce.”

“I don’t know how you’re going to put up with him, Fi,” she said over his shoulder. “But good luck.”

“We’ll be fine,” Fionna laughed. “If I’m not sick of him after seven years I won’t be in another twenty.”

“You’re a brave, brave woman,” Marceline sighed, letting go to give Fionna a hug too. “But congratulations anyway.”

“Don’t tell dad,” Marshall warned her as Marceline collapsed back down next to Bonnie. “Do. Not. Tell. Dad.”

“Why?”

He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Because I don’t want him to be too worked up this year. With you graduating and going off to do whatever, he’ll probably flip a shit about that. Plus he’s still not happy with me for moving out and doing what I’m doing. He just needs to cool down. So we’ll tell him later. Maybe once you don’t have to deal with him.”

“So considerate of you,” she said drolly.

“Don’t get used to it. This is just because Fionna feels bad for you.”

“That makes sense since she’s the nicer of you both.”

“I hate you.”

“I hate you too, bro.”

All things considered, Marceline was glad her brother was home. And it was a nice afternoon. In spite of the ribbing she copped.

Chapter Text

Friday 10th April 2015

“Bowling?”

Marceline blinked, just a little bit baffled by the confusion lacing Bonnibel’s words… Word. A frown was in order. “Bowling,” she concurred. “Do you have a problem with it?”

“No. Absolutely not,” Bonnie hastily assured her. “I just… I haven’t been bowling since…” She sighed. “Not for years, I don’t think.”

For a brief moment Marceline was confused by the downward slant to Bonnie’s lips, the waver in her voice. Then she realised that if it had been years, then the last time she’d been bowling was with her family. Marceline wound their fingers together.

“We can go somewhere else?”

“No.” Bonnibel shook her head, expression suddenly determined. “Let’s go bowling.” And she squeezed Marceline’s hand for emphasis.

The doors of the Blackwater Bowling Alley swooshed open, expelling a gust of cool air. With it came the raucous sounds of local students enjoying one of the last days of the break. Considering the volume of chatter inside, it was comparatively empty. That’s probably just because no one in Blackwater goes bowling. It’s not a ‘cool’ pastime. They have vandalism for that.

“Hey, how can I help you?” Given the unruly customers already down the far end, the blonde at the reception desk was overly chipper. Marceline didn’t know how to take that.

“Alley three, if you have it open,” Marceline requested. “Shoes too, please.”

“Just you two?” she asked punching in the information.

“Yep.”

She beamed at them. “One second.” Then she flounced away to a trolley filled with (hopefully) clean shoes. Of the scuffed variety. “Here you are. Lane three will be programmed for you in just a minute.”

Marceline smiled as politely as she could, adding, “Thanks so much,” before tugging Bonnie in the right direction. Lane three was arguably her favourite of the nine ones available. The tenth had been wallowing under a maintenance sign for as long as she could remember. But three… It was close enough to the exit that in the (somewhat likely) event a fight broke out during a competition beating a hasty retreat was as easy as pie. But it was also far enough away from the entrance that it didn’t draw undue attention from anyone.

Blackwater was not the nicest of places, no two ways about it. All shine on the surface (and at the mall which was a well-presented tourist trap so it hardly counted). Good thing the bowling alley was just right down the street. Otherwise she might have been worried about the basic decency of the patrons.

As it was, other than a small group of high school boys down in lane nine (who appeared to be accounting for eighty percent of the noise in the building), there were only two other parties in attendance this evening. One of which were usual customers. They came in every Friday night to bitch about their week. Two women and their gay male friend. The third group looked to be more high schoolers. Unlike the boys in nine though, these ones weren’t dressed in tattered denim. They were the kind of well put together people that looked a lot like nerds.

She cut a glance at Bonnie as she tugged on her shoes. Then back to the five dorks in blouses and/or ties. Then back to Bonnie. Yeah, okay. They were probably cut from the same cloth. More or less.

“You’re the only person I know who looks adorable in bowling shoes,” Marceline told her, flopping onto the hard plastic seat beside her.

Bonnibel grinned at her. “I think I’ll take that as a compliment.” She watched with a quiet smirk as Marceline yanked her borrowed shoes on by the tags on the heel. “You don’t exactly look ridiculous in them, you know.”

“Everyone looks stupid in these shoes. Except you.”

“Shucks,” she chuckled, squeezing Marceline’s knee softly. Then she bounced to her feet and over to the computer screen. “You first?”

“Sure.” It actually surprised Marceline that she no longer felt a spear of shock (or fear) whenever Bonnie so much as touched her. Just tingles. And bubbling in the space below her diaphragm which she tried not to dwell on. She was glad for it. So she smiled and bounded over to her girlfriend. “I’ll go easy on you.”

Bonnie just snorted. “Don’t you dare, Abadeer. I’ll crush you.”

“You wish.”

Taking a long, thoughtful moment, Marceline selected a lovely orange ball. The shininess of its red-flecked surface – with luck – indicated that it had recently been cleaned. She had no desire to catch some stupid disease from the sticky residue of whatever grubby child had last laid its paws on the ball. She rubbed her hand along the surface, hefting it, making sure it was the right one for her before slipping her fingers into the holes.

Bobbing on the balls of her feet, she stepped to the end of the lane, watching the machine finish lining the pins up at the other end. Squinting (and ignoring the feel of Bonnie’s eyes on her back) she strode forward, the ball in her hands swinging in a long, slow arc. She let go well before the peak of the curve and subsequently leaned to the right with the hopes the ball would follow her silent directions.

It didn’t.

But it did knock down seven of the pins. When she spun, smiling, she found Bonnibel giving her a sympathetic look. “I’ve got another go yet,” she pointed out. “What’s with the face?”

“No perfect game for you,” Bonnie breathed morosely.

Marceline arched one brow. “Oh? And I suppose you’ve had a perfect game, have you?”

“Please. Last time I played I was eleven. I didn’t have the coordination for that.” Bonnie rolled her eyes. “One day I’ll do it.” The last was added wistfully. Marceline just rolled her eyes and snatched the ball back up as it popped out of the dispenser.

Luckily the three remaining pins were all on the same side. Unluckily, she wobbled at the last second and knew in her bones that the throw was bad. So naturally she softly cursed the way her cast unbalanced her, spinning angrily on her way back to the seats. Bonnibel patted her thigh reassuringly.

“You hit two of them,” she consoled. It didn’t sound particularly repentant though. Especially not when she grinned so brightly and hopped up excitedly to have her turn.

Bonnibel stood at the end of the lane with her head on one side as she watched the machine work, her chosen ball clasped to her chest. She looked a right idiot in Marceline’s opinion. Good thing she was an unfairly cute idiot then.

Gently, Bonnie scuffed the toe of her shoe on the polished wood and shuffled half a step to the left. Her delicate throw looked too pathetic for the ball to even get to the end, but all it did was curve at the last second to knock down nine of the pins. Marceline’s mouth fell open.

On the other hand, Bonnibel actually looked upset.

“It didn’t get the last one,” she whined, waiting for the dispenser to pop her ball of choice (a nice green colour) back out their end. “I thought for sure I had that right.”

“Are you trying to use maths to win?” Marceline gasped, frowning at her.

To her credit, Bonnie did look a tad sheepish about that. “Kind of? Okay, yes. It’s just physics, really.”

She snatched her ball up and promptly knocked the tenth pin down.

Marceline could only shake her head.

While she didn’t manage to get a spare until her fourth turn, Bonnie managed to get nothing but. Except on her fifth frame. In which she naturally got a strike. For a moment Marceline was kind of miffed about that. But Bonnie was so excited about it she nearly bowled her over in her rush to get in a celebratory hug.

See what she did there? Pun intended.

Marceline kind of felt like that was a pun too. Never mind.

Okay, maybe Bonnie getting strikes wasn’t so bad. She did get a hug every time it happened. So there was that. Losing had never felt that good.

“I’m going to get a drink,” Bonnibel told her, beaming once she’d satisfyingly kicked Marceline’s butt in their first match. “Want one?”

“Yes please. Do you want me to set up another game?”

“Absolutely. You can try to redeem yourself.”

“Very funny,” she laughed. Because it wasn’t losing when she was playing with Bonnie.

Oh god, that was… What was happening to her? So sappy.

And that was the moment she realised she didn’t even care. Not one bit.

Once the computer was ready for their second match, she slumped into one of the chairs, watching Bonnibel order at the counter. In a paradoxical moment of clarity, her heart ached. But in a wonderful way. In a way telling her she was lucky. So very, very lucky.

“Hey, Marce.”

Her gaze snapped away, aforementioned organ lurching in panic before calming down. “Hey, Larry. What’s doing?”

The older man smiled, nodding. “Just bowling with the girls. Haven’t seen you here for a while so I thought I’d pop over and say ‘hi’. How’re you doing?”

“Yeah, good,” she admitted. “Graduating at the end of the year.”

“Sounds exciting. Got big plans?”

Her eyes drifted back to Bonnie. “Hopefully,” she murmured. “Getting out of this hole would be nice. What about you? Did you ask that guy in the copy department out yet?”

Larry’s face went red; he coughed, trying to cover it. “No,” he wheezed. “How do you remember these things?”

“I pay more attention than people think.”

He smiled his devastatingly charming smile. “And what about the nice girl at the movies? You asked her out yet?”

“Nope,” she told him, popping her ‘p’.

“Then you can’t judge me.”

“Actually I can.” She glanced back at Bonnie, catching her with this funny smile on her face as she stared at Marceline. Bonnibel grinned at her when their eyes met. “Because I asked her out instead.”

Larry followed her gaze over to the counter and smiled. “She’s cute.”

“Yep.”

“Good for you, kid.”

“Thanks, Larry. Now, if I can find the courage to ask a pretty girl out, you can damn well get a date with Hunk the copy boy.”

Larry went red again. “And I’m out.”

“Bye, Larry.”

Bonnibel plonked back down as he clambered over the back of the plastic chairs to rejoin his friends. She passed Marceline a cup with a straw. Taking an experimental sip, Marceline was pleased to discover it was raspberry flavour. Because there really aren’t that many strawberry drinks – alas – but raspberry is a good substitute.

“Who was that?” Bonnie asked around her straw. The question was nothing but curiosity.

“Larry,” she explained. “He comes here every week with his sister and their best friend. Something about bowling being therapeutic or whatever.”

She arched an eyebrow. “You know him well?”

“Nope. Just well enough that we stop to chat now and then. Gotta complain about life’s little irritations to someone. Who better than a perfect stranger?”

“How about me?”

Marceline gave her the best ‘oh really’ look she could summon. “Why? I hate bringing conversations down. Especially when I’m with you. Makes me feel awful.”

Bonnie shuffled in her seat, placing the cup on the chair beside her. “And I hate it when you feel awful. But if I can’t handle your complaining then I don’t deserve the best of you. I’m always here to talk, Marceline. Even if it is just bitching about…” she waved a hand as she searched for an example. “The price of guitar strings,” is what she settled on. “Always.” And she leaned over to smack a kiss to the corner of Marceline’s mouth before leaping up to snatch her ball from the rack. “My go first this time,” she decided with a wink.

“Yeah, okay,” Marceline sighed happily.

She lost again. She’d lost by the seventh frame. But with Bonnie bouncing into her arms wearing the biggest smile on the planet she couldn’t find the energy to be even the tiniest bit miffed about it.

It was with the most immense sense of relief that Marceline kicked off those awful shoes and dumped them in the returns bin by the desk. She cast a lazy wave at the receptionist (who didn’t even look up from her computer) and headed back to the car with Bonnie’s fingers wrapped up in hers. Honestly, it was the nicest feeling.

Although she did revise that thought about forty minutes later (after speeding and singing along loudly to the radio on the way home) when Bonnie grabbed her by the collar and kissed her. Long and slow and with enough force that she had to wrap her arms around Bonnibel’s waist to keep her balance. Kissed her – right there on the stoop to her flat, fingers finding their way into Marceline’s hair – in a way that made Marceline’s knees feel kind of useless all of a sudden.

“Stay for a bit?” Bonnie breathed when she pulled back a few millimetres.

She hummed. “Yeah… Sounds good.”

Still with one hand bunched in the collar of her shirt, Bonnie backed through the door, dragging Marceline after her. The door banged shut when she kicked at it blindly. Her ankle kind of hurt, but Bonnie’s mouth was back on hers so she also didn’t really care. And when she sighed, hands settling perhaps a little lower than she normally let them, Bonnibel took advantage.

It was almost tentative, the way her tongue traced Marceline’s bottom lip. But it did something to her brain so when she leaned in to deepen the kiss she blamed it on her frazzled judgement. The sound that vibrated through Bonnie’s throat made it totally worth it. The feel of Bonnibel’s fingers toying with the hem of her shirt made her shiver. And that was worth it too.

Of course, then her thoughts caught up with what was happening and a time out signal whistled in the dark recesses of her mind and she pulled away. The noise Bonnie made that time was distinctly unhappy. She sucked in a deep breath, wondering why she felt winded.

“Wait,” she whispered, trying not to think too hard about how nice that had felt. Trying desperately to banish the lingering taste of strawberry lip gloss.

Bonnibel exhaled heavily, her forehead coming to rest on Marceline’s shoulder. “Sorry.” The word was felt rather than heard since Bonnie had her face pressed pretty firmly into Marceline’s throat.

“I don’t…” she tried. And failed. Words always failed her. Why couldn’t she just say what she damn well meant?

She squeezed her eyes shut.

Bonnie’s fingers curled into the fabric of her shirt. “You said,” she began softly, still talking against Marceline’s skin. “That you didn’t want to push things. You didn’t want to do something that might make me uncomfortable or that might hurt. Yes?”

“Yes,” she rasped.

“That puts a lot of pressure on me,” she went on. “To start things, to take that ‘next step’, if you want to call it that. It makes me think that I might do something that you’re not ready for and I hesitate.” She leaned away – not far and too far all at once. There was nothing but sincerity in her too green eyes. At least at first. Then a spark of worry, of fear, danced through them. Only it didn’t dance back out again. It stayed.

The acid in Marceline’s stomach bubbled. Her throat clenched. But when she opened her mouth, no words came out. Why did this feel so much like crying?

Except, Bonnie just held her tighter, held her closer than physics should allow. “It’s okay, Marceline,” she murmured. The assurance so honest and sad together. “You can’t scare me.”

“You scare me.”

Somehow, even though she didn’t know where the words had come from (let alone given them permission to be spoken), she knew it was true.

“Why?”

“Because…” Why? “Because you’re here. With me.” This time it was Marceline who hid her face in Bonnie’s hair. “And I don’t know why. I can’t understand why someone like you would want to date someone like me.”

Bonnie’s hands were warm when they curled around her face, pushing her away just far enough that their eyes could meet. Just far enough that Bonnie could give her a smile that made the roiling in her stomach fade. “Because you’re wonderful,” she whispered, pressing a careful kiss to Marceline’s cheek. “And fantastic.” Another kiss. “And I think you’re just the most amazing person in town.” A third. “And I don’t know why other people can’t see that too.”

At some point, Marceline’s eyes had drifted closed. Now they were too heavy to open again. “I’m a mess,” she muttered.

“You’re a little insecure,” Bonnie agreed, laughter lilting her words. “But that’s okay, because I’m going to convince you otherwise.” Her fingers flared out over Marceline’s collarbones, straightening her shirt. “Because you are amazing. And one day you’ll believe me.”

And in that moment, Marceline did believe her.

“This,” Bonnibel added after a moment, pressing her lips to Marceline’s to demonstrate. “This is good. Don’t be afraid of me… please? You’re allowed to take the initiative. I promise.”

Marceline knew that. She did. It was unfair to Bonnie otherwise. So she nodded. “Alright. But if I do something–”

“I’ll tell you,” Bonnibel cut in. “So long as you promise the same.” She waited for Marceline to bob her head before continuing. “Slow is fine. I won’t ask anything from you that you aren’t ready to give. Not ever.” She smiled, a little darkly. This time when Marceline’s stomach flipped it wasn’t to tie itself into panicked knots. “But I’d like to at least know you’re comfortable with… you know…” Her hand vanished from its spot on Marceline’s shoulder, probably to wave vaguely. “Stuff… Progress. Me.”

“Stuff,” Marceline repeated carefully. “It might take a while to get to… stuff.”

Bonnibel laughed. “That’s really okay with me.”

“Progress,” she mused. “You’re right. I’m sorry in advance for any weirdness. I just… I don’t want to lose you.”

Bonnie’s smile was blinding. And so close as she rested their foreheads together. “You won’t. Can we try that again though? Sans the panic?”

And Marceline had to smile with her. “Yeah. We can do that.”

Chapter Text

Tuesday 21st April 2015

At precisely seven in the morning, Bonnie’s phone beeped more times than she truly wanted it to. Not only did it scare her, but it was really quite loud. So she groaned as the chime rang through the flat.

Peter: Have a happy birthday, dear. I’ll be in Blackwater until late tonight because of lectures. Sorry we can’t have dinner.

She replied to that one first. That’s alright. I’ll see you in the morning. Enjoy your day.

Norman: HAPPY BIRTHDAY BONNIBEL! His text was accompanied by a few emotes of confetti and a little smiley face blowing a party horn.

Cherry: Happy seventeenth, Bonnie B. Got plans?

In reply to Norman’s she sent a simple ‘thanks’ but at Cherry’s she frowned. No plans, she typed. School. Peter won’t be home for dinner. Might have pizza.

Marceline: I think Eleanor’s up to something.

Since she’d be seeing Marceline in less than ten minutes she didn’t really see the need for a reply. But her fingers moved of their own accord – naturally – and she found herself pressing ‘send’ on a message reading, Of course she is. What’s new?

Pippa: Happy birthday, Banner.

The last text she did ignore. Well. No. Ignore is a pretty harsh word. She just didn’t reply.

Instead, she hoisted her bag over her shoulder and sucked in a deep breath. Above her, the soft drumming of rain on the roof told her she’d be soaked when she got to school. She’d kind of been hoping that the precipitation would have passed by the time she was ready (and had replied to the texts that needed replying). It wasn’t to be. And she didn’t have an umbrella. Idiot.

She cast one last glare out the window above the sink before heading to the door. When she pulled it in, however, she was (pleasantly) surprised to find Marceline on the other side with an umbrella in one hand and her phone in the other. Upon the door swinging inwards, Marceline glanced up, beaming.

“That’s not new really, is it?” she chuckled. “Hey. Good morning. Happy birthday.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. “So many greetings,” she laughed, tipping forward to kiss Marceline’s cheek. “Good morning to you too. And thank you. I hope it’ll be a good day, at least.”

“How about we start with this then?” Marceline asked, whipping up a manila folder she’d had under one arm. She offered it to Bonnie slowly.

With a gentle furrow to her brow, Bonnibel relieved her of the packet. “What is it?” Her thumb slid under the pre-opened lip so she could press the paper inside far enough out to read it. And her eyes widened. Then she practically squealed and threw herself at a now very surprised Marceline.

The umbrella clattered to the planking as she wrapped one arm around Bonnie’s middle lest they both go crashing to the deck. But they were both grinning. “Wow. Enthusiastic much?” Marceline joked.

“This is worth being excited about,” Bonnie told her flatly, pressing her lips to Marceline’s as if that would somehow prove it. “You got in.”

“Provisionally,” she amended. “But yes. If I keep my grades up, then it’s off to Driscoll next year.”

“I’m so proud of you,” she whispered, hugging her girlfriend just a little tighter before stepping away. “That’s awesome.” Bonnie bumped their shoulders together. “Didn’t I say you could do it?”

“You did. Where your faith comes from, I’ll never know.”

“But it’s well placed. Evidently.”

Marceline smiled fondly. “Evidently. Now let’s go. I brought my car so you wouldn’t have to walk through the wet.”

“You are by far the best girlfriend ever,” Bonnibel sighed.

With a smile, Marceline whipped the umbrella up over their heads and wound the fingers of her other hand between Bonnie’s. “What a relief to hear,” she exhaled. “Because I try so hard.”

“No need to try hard,” Bonnie told her, sinking into the passenger seat. “Pretty sure you’re prefect completely accidentally.”

Marceline rolled her eyes melodramatically. “I’m not sure if I should be offended by that,” she teased. “And perfect might be pushing it.”

“Nonsense,” Bonnie told her tartly, clicking her tongue. “Perfection – like so many things – is in the eye of the beholder.”

With an impeccably straight face, Marceline said, “You must be blind.”

“Take a compliment, Marceline,” she laughed, squeezing her friend’s knee. “I think you’re awesome.”

She sucked in an overly dramatic breath. “Okay,” she consented upon exhaling. “Fine. You think I’m awesome. Got it.”

“You’re insufferable.”

“Ah,” she began, lifting a finger. “But apparently awesome too.”

Bonnie simply rolled her eyes. “One day you’ll see.”

Marceline just kept smiling softly, fingers drumming on the wheel. For a good long minute Bonnibel frowned, thinking something was different. She couldn’t quite pin down what it was though, so she figured maybe she was just going crazy. At least, that’s what she thought until Marceline used her right hand to push hair out of her face as she backed into a space in the school parking lot.

“You got your cast off!” she exclaimed, delighted (and not a little bit embarrassed that she only just noticed). “When?”

Laughing, Marceline said, “Took you long enough. This morning. Dad got me up at like five to go down to the clinic before he had to drive to Blackwater for whatever. No more cast. Yay.” She flexed her fingers, rolled her wrist. “Feels much better now.”

“I’ll bet.” Bonnie was quiet briefly before, “What was it like?”

Marceline blinked at her. “Have you never broken a bone before?”

She shook her head.

“Whoa, Bon. That’s impressive.”

“You have? Broken something before, I mean?”

“Yeah, heaps of times.” She paused only long enough to get out of the car and duck beneath Bonnie’s umbrella. Then she rolled her eyes. “You want the run down don’t you?”

“Sure.”

“Well… when I was a kid I fell out of a tree at Ivy’s place and broke my leg,” she mused. “I broke the same leg in a different place a few years later when my motorbike fell on me. The doctor told me I was really irresponsible and should be more careful because I could do irreparable damage.”

“You should definitely be more careful,” Bonnie agreed. “I’d hate for you to be an invalid.”

Marceline grinned at her. “Noted. I also broke my left arm once when I got in a fist fight.”

“Is that the scar on your shoulder?”

She bobbed her head. “You noticed that, huh?”

Bonnie just gave her a pointed look and concentrated on finding her books for the morning. She decided it probably wasn’t worth the look on Marceline’s face to say that she’d run her fingers over that spot enough to know something had happened.

“It was kinda fun, actually,” Marceline muttered, leaning against the locker beside Bonnie. “I’m left handed so I got out of a whole lot of stuff because of it. I mean it totally sucked not to be able to play music. But no chores? No homework? That was awesome.”

“Only you.”

Marceline flashed her teeth again. “I’m not the only one. Finn broke his right arm once and got out of school for ages. He loved it. In fact, you’re probably the only person in the world who’d hate to break something because school would suffer.”

She rolled her eyes again (must be one of those days), but couldn’t help smiling at Marceline anyway. Bonnie rested a shoulder against her locker door and allowed herself a moment to stare at Marceline. Then she prodded, “Anything else been broken?”

“Oh, yeah.” She lifted her right hand and wiggled her fingers. “I slammed my hand in a car door once. Lost the nails on two fingers and broke the bone in the second joint of my pointer. That was pain.”

“Oh my god,” Bonnie gasped, brow creasing. “That sounds awful.”

Marceline shrugged. “Took a long time to get over that one. But it was entirely my own stupid fault. So.”

“Well,” Bonnie began, pushing away from the locker to head towards her physics class. “Please – for me – be a little more careful. I don’t like seeing you broken.”

Marceline bumped their shoulders together. “You got it, Bon,” she murmured before disappearing down a crossing corridor heading for her first class. Bonnie watched her go, forgetting for a moment that staring at her would give the game away. But in that moment, Bonnie didn’t mind so much.

She was greeted by Finn and Jake’s raucous well-wishes the moment she set foot inside the room. Finn even had a little paper party horn. It unrolled as he blew it out shamelessly. Good thing the teacher wasn’t there yet or she’d feel really stupid. As it was, quite a few of the other students turned to see what the go was and that was plenty bad enough.

“Happy birthday,” Finn enthused once she was seated. “I don’t have a hat for you, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. I told you guys I don’t need anything fancy.”

Jake waved away her complaints, grinning.

Her shoulders slumped. “I’m getting presents aren’t I?”

They both just kept beaming at her.

 

-*…*…*-

 

Marceline said she didn’t have a clue what her friends were up to, so it was with much trepidation that Bonnie left the safety of her spare and headed for lunch. So much trepidation. Surprisingly, however, lunch went off without any fireworks (or other more dangerous pyrotechnic displays).

With the exception of a cake Pippa had brought in, of course.

They didn’t even insist on singing happy birthday. Bonnie was stunned. Pleasantly so, to be sure. But stunned nonetheless.

And not a little bit anxious for after school at this point.

Obviously it was well founded anxiety. It had to be because nothing made Ellen smile like that. Nothing.

She turned to look at Marceline but her girlfriend seemed just as baffled as she was. “I don’t like it when Eleanor smiles that way,” Marceline muttered. “At all. It means something bad’s about to happen.”

“That’s what I figured,” she whispered back. Yet she stepped across the parking lot to drop her bag by the passenger wheel of Marceline’s car and folded her arms. “What’s going on?”

Jake just about banged his head when she spoke, backing out from rummaging around in the rear of his car. Pippa whirled too and Finn popped out from the other side. Clearly she and Marceline had snuck up on them. Ellen’s smile even wobbled slightly.

“Nothing,” Finn and Jake chorused. Their expressions were guilty just the same; evidently having been caught in whatever this particular act might be. She narrowed her eyes at them.

“Really, Bonnibel,” Ellen told her (a much better liar than the boys). “It’s nothing.”

Marceline snorted. “I agree with that,” Bonnie said flatly, pointing at Marceline. “What’s happening?”

Ellen rolled her eyes. “We’re going out to dinner tonight,” she explained. “Not for your birthday,” she went on. “Just coincidentally on your birthday. So go home and get ready.”

“We’ll meet you at your place,” Pippa muttered. “Because Ellen wants to surprise you with the place we’re eating.”

Oh goodie. She sighed. The day had been going so well and everything. The others were piling into Jake’s car before Penelope had finished speaking so Bonnie collapsed into Marceline’s car, bracing herself for whatever they had planned.

“Hey,” Marceline muttered. “Can I ask why you don’t celebrate your birthday?”

She glanced over, wondering at the tone in Marceline’s voice. “It’s not that I don’t celebrate it. I guess… I dunno. It just feels weird. Plus I hate surprises. I prefer simple things. I don’t like when people make a big deal out of it, I suppose.”

“That’s so weird,” Marceline laughed. “You do know that every other person on the planet loves their birthday because it’s an excuse to throw a party?”

“I know. I’m not big on the attention.” She exhaled. “I’m sorry, it’s strange, I know. My parents raised me to keep a low profile, and I guess this always seemed like it should be part of that.”

“So no crazy parties, huh. That’s fine. But I got you a present anyway.”

“Marceline,” she groaned.

“It’s not a big deal. But it is your birthday, and you got me one last year, so think of it as me at least evening the playing field, okay?”

She stuck her bottom lip out. “Fine,” she breathed. “Alright.”

“You’re so touchy about your birthday,” Marceline chortled. “That’s okay. We’ll be really subtle about it. No birthday shenanigans.”

“You’re so weird.”

“Apparently we both are.”

 

-*…*…*-

 

The location of their ‘out’ remained a secret until Marceline followed Jake’s car into a parking lot somewhere near the middle of Blackwater. In the more respectable part of town apparently. And it did look like quite a nice establishment. The exterior presented a cleanliness not seen in other areas of Blackwater, the sign looked brand new and the lighting fixtures didn’t cast a dingy yellow everywhere.

In fact, the restaurant looked almost too nice. “We could’ve just gone to Ivy’s,” Bonnie muttered to Marceline as they got out. She got an affirmative hum in response and nothing more as they headed for the entrance.

A pretty woman with lots of curly dark hair looked up and hustled over to them. “Hello,” she chirped. “Reservation?”

They exchanged a confused look. “Probably under Ellen,” Marceline supplied. “Eleanor Scott-Parker?”

Again, the lady beamed at them. “Just over there. Are there more people coming?”

Marceline bobbed her head while Bonnie followed the finger indicating a table by a window on the far side of the restaurant. The table wasn’t unoccupied. Bonnibel’s brow pinched slightly. Still, she wandered off in that direction, Marceline close behind her, fingers brushing the hem of Bonnie’s shirt.

“Do you know that guy?” Bonnibel felt the words whispered into her ear, warmth radiating off Marceline she was so close. Suddenly the room seemed too hot.

She shook her head, not brave enough to speak. So they stopped at the edge of the table staring down at the unfamiliar young man seated at what was apparently their table. He blinked up at them, lips pursed around a straw in a glass of iced water.

Mister Mystery looked about six foot, at least; easily as tall as Jake. He had shoulders like an ox and short brown hair, all styled in a spikey way that Bonnie thought was kind of silly. His shirt was much too calculated for Bonnie’s liking too, the kind of shirt a guy would wear because he had impressive musculature and wanted to flaunt it. He even had one of those closely shaven beard things (are they five o’clock shadows?) that Eleanor likes so much. Bonnibel could only imagine they’d be scratchy and irritating. Almost instantly she knew she wouldn’t like him.

So she rolled her eyes.

“Hello?” he said uncertainly, placing his glass back on the table. “Who are you?”

Marceline went stiff beside her, fingers now lacing into her shirt. “Who are you?” she fired back. Even though Bonnie couldn’t see her face, she knew it would be filled with intense dislike. Or maybe just confusion. Either was fine.

His mouth canted up in an arrogant smirk. “I asked you first.” But Marceline maintained stubborn silence; probably glaring at him for good measure. He huffed. “Name’s Cameron,” he said wryly. “Cameron Blake. Ellen invited me.”

“Why?” Bonnie asked him curiously. It was probably a dumb question. More than likely this guy was Ellen’s replacement boyfriend. Maybe she was concocting some plan to make Brad jealous even though it wouldn’t work–

“To meet some girl called Bonnie,” he told them with a shrug. Cue explosion sound effect. “Ellen thinks she’s needs a guy and since I’m new to town I ‘don’t break Rule 43’.” The last bit was said with air quotes and everything. “I don’t know what that means though.”

“No girl is allowed to date someone a friend has previously been involved with,” Marceline grumbled beside her. “Goddamn she was listening.”

Bonnie picked up on another part of that. “New to town?”

“Yep. Moved with my dad.” Cameron swirled the straw in his drink. “It means I have to postpone my first year of university, but that’s okay, I guess.” He arched a brow at them then. “So who are you?”

“Oh, right. I’m Bonnie,” she told him. “This is Marceline.” Weirdly, not adding ‘my girlfriend’ seemed totally wrong. She refrained anyway. Marceline must have heard it in her tone though because she relaxed slightly, letting go of Bonnibel’s shirt.

Cameron’s eyes flashed down and back up, smirk widening. And Marceline went rigid again; she was practically radiating fury now. Bonnie’s fingers found her wrist and wrapped around it carefully.

“Right,” he drawled slowly. “Suddenly I’m glad I met Ellen.”

“Don’t be,” Bonnie said tartly. “It won’t get you anywhere.”

He flashed a wall of perfect white teeth. “Sure?”

“Positive. What Ellen thinks is irrelevant. I don’t need or want a guy. Promise.”

Cameron was at the very least wise enough not to argue the point further. That was probably best given how Marceline was pretty much vibrating with ire. Plus Eleanor and the others picked that moment to roll in.

“Oh good,” Ellen chittered. “You guys have met. Did you do introductions already?”

“Yeah,” Marceline huffed. “We did.”

“Excellent.” Eleanor of course went on to introduce the rest of their friends to Cameron then.

Bonnie used her distraction as an excuse to slink into a seat that wasn’t at all close to Cameron and pull Marceline down beside her. Wall on one side, girlfriend on the other. Perfect.

“I did not expect that,” she whispered to Marceline then, taking full advantage of the moment of comparative privacy. “I swear.”

Marceline’s hand found hers beneath the table, twining them together. “I know,” she grumbled. “Blindsided by Eleanor. That sucks. I don’t like him.”

Bonnibel laughed. “I don’t much like him either,” she agreed, squeezing the hand in her grasp. “Please at least try and be civil with him. At the end of the night I’m getting in your car, remember that.”

The words made Marceline smile, so that was a win. “Yeah.” It was almost sighed, one word, one syllable – ringing with happiness.

“Objectively,” Bonnie muttered. “He is attractive though.”

Marceline frowned at her. “Aren’t you gay?”

She scoffed. “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I don’t know when someone is attractive. But I also know when light fittings are aesthetically pleasing. Doesn’t mean I want to date them.” To emphasise her point she nodded her head at the chandelier hanging from the centre of the room.

It earned a soft chuckle. “Point. I guess you’re right. He’s Eleanor’s type; I can see why she picked him.”

“With a little bit of luck and some cunning conversation,” Bonnibel murmured. “I’m sure we could get Ellen to date him.”

When Marceline laughed at that it was much louder and suddenly their little bubble of solitude was shattered.

“Something funny, Abadeer?” Ellen asked with an eyebrow quirked haughtily.

“Yes, actually. Hilarious.”

Eleanor glared at her, but Marceline evidently didn’t plan on enlightening her, merely smiled some more. Bonnie hid her mouth with one hand so they didn’t see her grin. Scowl still being directed at Marceline, Ellen shoved (a now standing) Cameron into the chair directly opposite Bonnie. She offered a not-quite-genuine smile and turned to collapse into the seat beside Hayden.

Cameron smiled at her again. He clearly only had half an ear on whatever Finn was saying to him because his eyes remained fixed on Bonnie. Once more, Marceline’s expression settled on something hard and angry.

“Relax, please,” Bonnie whispered to her.

Marceline huffed. “He’s looking at you like… like… like he’s entitled to you or something,” she ground out through gritted teeth.

“And he can labour under that misbelief if he likes,” she reminded her girlfriend. “But he’s very wrong. So just chill.”

She felt Marceline suck in a long breath and let it out gently. “I’m calm.”

“Good.” She turned her attention to Cameron. “So where are you from?”

“Gatton,” he told her brightly.

“That’s not far from here,” Marceline blurted, startled from her haze of distaste to participate in the conversation.

But Cameron’s eyes flicked to her only briefly before settling once more on Bonnie. “Right. Three hours’ drive south. Not far in the scheme of things.”

“Why move to Blackwater?” Marceline asked him. And Bonnie knew the question was genuine. Why anyone would want to live in Blackwater was always an utter mystery to Marceline.

He hunched a shoulder, finally sparing her more than a passing glance. “No choice. Mum and dad got divorced and she got everything down in Gatton so dad had to move here to find work. We got a farm just to the south-east a bit. Near Reich. That’s how Eleanor met me.”

“Was she trespassing?” Marceline enquired dryly.

At that he chuckled – a soft rumbling sound. “No. But close. There’s an empty field next to our place and she was out there with some friends making a hell of a ruckus. I went to investigate, thinking they were probably drunk delinquents. So imagine my surprise when I got Ellen.”

“Yeah…” Marceline mused. “I don’t see much distinction there.”

“Was that over the holiday?” Bonnie put in before anything else vaguely insulting could come out of Marceline’s mouth.

“Yep.”

“And how long was it before she decided to rope you into her ‘get Bonnie a guy’ plan?”

Cameron laughed again. Even Marceline cracked a smile, although hers was more smug and wry, tinged ever so slightly with a touch of pride. “Not long actually,” he confessed. “I think she looked me up and down, asked me to hang out with them and then pounced the next time we crossed paths. She didn’t put much thought into it honestly.”

“Obviously,” Marceline muttered into her glass of complimentary water.

“That sounds like Ellen,” Bonnie concurred.

Marceline leaned across the table. “What was her pitch?” she demanded. “How do you convince someone you want to date a girl you’ve never met?” And Bonnie thought maybe there was an ulterior motive behind the question but she couldn’t place it.

He just shrugged again, expression mildly sheepish. “She asked me if I wanted to date the greatest person on the planet.” One shoulder remained arched. “Said she’s a saint. I figured there are worse people to date than saints, you know?”

“She is,” Marceline mumbled. Cameron probably didn’t hear it, but Bonnie did. “And there are.”

Bonnibel didn’t argue with the term, she knew Marceline would never let her, so she just smiled. “That’s not much to go on,” she said instead.

Cameron opened his mouth, but Finn frisbee’d a menu in front of him, eliciting a shocked face and a sound to go with it. Marceline and Bonnie were much better prepared when Finn flicked theirs at them with a grin.

“In a hurry are you, Finn?” Marceline teased.

“I have to be home by seven,” Hayden told them. “Dad’s orders.”

“That’s really lame,” Bonnie opined.

“Pretty much.”

At least it gave her a good excuse to concentrate on something that wasn’t the way Cameron was looking at her. That was unnerving, but pouring over the menu she shared with Marceline was much easier, much nicer. And by the time meals had been selected and received he was engrossed in conversation with Finn again.

Bonnie felt relief wash over her, content to spend the entire evening muttering quietly with Marceline. Occasionally she knew Cameron’s gaze drifted over her, but she did her best to ignore it. Focusing on Marceline helped immensely. On the way her chair shuffled closer, the way their hands brushed, the smile Marceline directed her way – the one she reserved solely for looking at Bonnie. The way she smiled back because she just couldn’t help it.

“He keeps looking at you,” Marceline whispered.

“That’s why Ellen invited him,” Bonnie pointed out dryly.

“I don’t like it.”

Bonnibel had to roll her lips under to prevent from smiling (and possibly cooing a little bit). “Aw, you’re jealous.”

Marceline snorted. “I’m not jealous. Why would I be jealous? He’s a guy. That’s a distinct disadvantage with you.”

“Point,” she conceded, but couldn’t quite banish the grin threatening to burst to life. “But you’ve got your ‘defensive girlfriend’ face on. It’s cute.”

“I’m not cute,” she huffed.

“You’re adorable.”

Marceline lifted a finger. “I’m warning you, Banner.”

“Or what?” she challenged, lifting an eyebrow. “What will you do?”

Those blue eyes rolled skyward, obviously searching for something. Eventually she sighed. “Yeah, got nothing.”

“I promise not to call you those things when other people can hear,” she compromised. “How’s that?”

“I can live with it,” Marceline grumbled. “I guess.”

“Hey, guys.”

They both looked up to find Finn and Hayden standing. Cameron had skipped down a few seats and now had his hip pressed up against Ellen’s. Looks like ignoring him worked just fine in Bonnie’s secret counter-plan.

“We’re going now,” Hayden told them all, shrugging back into her coat. “Happy birthday, Bonnie. We’ll see you tomorrow.” Then she waved and followed Finn from the restaurant, smiling at something he’d said.

“When are those two going to bite the bullet and go out?” Ellen lamented softly.

Oh, all the answers that popped into Bonnie’s head she could use to reply to that. Wow. So many things. She wasn’t the only one to come up with smartarse replies either, if the expressions around the table were anything to go by.

“Is it really that late?” Marceline mumbled instead of whatever witty remark flitted around her face. She shook her wrist so she could see the hands on her watch. “Oh, yeah. Okay.”

“Are we all going?” Jake asked as Bonnie pushed her chair back to stand.

“I think so,” she said. “It’s been a long day.” Bonnie moved to step past the chairs, fingers trailing gently across Marceline’s shoulder as she went. But Jake leapt up, blocking her path.

“Where’re you going?’ he asked, brow furrowed suspiciously.

She gestured at the desk. “To pay…?”

“Nope,” Pippa sang, also bouncing to her feet, forcing Bonnibel back a pace. “Not today. Jake’s got it.”

“I’ll split with you,” Ellen added, jumping out of her seat to follow Jake as he headed for the reception.

“What?” Bonnie asked, incredulous. “Why?”

Marceline tilted her head back to smile up at her. “I guess because it’s your birthday,” she offered.

Pippa grinned but didn’t refute the suggestion. She cut a glance over at Cameron and then looked back at Bonnie. “I’m sorry about him, by the way,” she sighed. Honestly, Cameron looked so affronted by that it probably made the entire thing worth it. “Ellen didn’t share her plan. She just said that she had the best birthday present ever and it involved dinner.”

“It’s okay, Pip,” Bonnibel consoled. “Not the first time someone has tried to set me up with a guy.” Her eyes flicked Cameron’s way. “Not the first time they’ve failed either. Obviously.”

“Do I really not stand a chance here?” he asked, hands flat on the table. To be fair, he was nice enough now that he’d stopped trying to be super smooth. Yet nothing but apology filled their gazes as they stared at him.

“No, not at all,” Bonnie told him.

Marceline shifted awkwardly, clearly trying hard not to smile. For her part, Bonnie was having a tough time not squeezing her shoulder. Or touching her in any way actually. Quite the challenge, yes.

His eyes drifted between them both, something cranking behind his grey gaze. But he didn’t find the answer because his brows pinched together. “You just don’t date?”

“Sure,” Marceline said sardonically. “Run with that.”

Pippa eyed her then and Bonnie knew too much had been said. “Yeah,” she blurted. “I don’t date.”

Cameron grinned. “No exceptions?” he asked cheekily.

“Not for you,” she laughed. “You’re not my type.”

“Ouch. But fair enough.”

“Ask Eleanor out,” Marceline advised. “You’re her type.”

“There,” Jake exhaled, sidling back up to Pippa, throwing an arm around her waist. “No paying for Bonnie now. Let’s bounce.”

Cameron glanced up at Ellen. “Would you like me to drive you home?” he offered.

“You’re not driving Bonnie?” Oh Ellen was going to have a heart attack when she realised her plan had been sabotaged.

Now Bonnibel allowed a hand to rest against Marceline’s shoulder. “I’ve got a ride. Thanks though.”

Eleanor opened her mouth – probably to argue – but Bonnie was already pulling Marceline to her feet and dragging her outside. Jake and Pippa weren’t far behind them, but Ellen would probably be gobsmacked for a little while longer yet. Which could only be good for a clean getaway.

“That was the most interesting dinner I’ve ever been present for,” Jake huffed. “Wow. How’re you doing, Bonnibel?”

“I’ll survive, Jake. Thank you.”

“You didn’t talk much,” Pippa observed.

“Excuse you, Phillips,” Marceline interrupted. “When you go somewhere to eat, you eat. You don’t talk. Sheesh.”

“Plus there wasn’t much new to tell you guys since… you know, school let out,” Bonnibel added. “And I didn’t really want to encourage Ellen’s dumb idea with Cameron.”

Jake waved a hand at them. “All are excellent points,” he murmured.

“Yeah, okay,” she consented. “Fair enough. Did you at least have a good day, Bonnie?”

“Yes. Thank you, Pip. It was great.”

“Well good then.” Penelope began backpedalling towards Jake’s ute. “See you tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

The wind left Marceline’s lungs in an audible whoosh as she collapsed into the drivers’ seat. “Something about that was draining,” she grouched.

“Preaching to the converted,” Bonnie agreed, slumping back into the chair. “I’ve never experienced one of Ellen’s plans firsthand you know. That was… It was really something.”

“She’s devious, I’ll give her that,” she growled at the steering wheel as she pulled out onto the highway. “This one was just mean.”

Bonnie tilted her head. “To be fair,” she began – earning a strange look from Marceline. “They don’t know we’re dating. Ellen doesn’t even know I swing that way. If I was single, straight and looking for a guy, he probably wouldn’t have been a bad pick.” Searching Marceline’s profile for a reaction to that turned up empty. “Alas, my tastes run in a different direction.”

That got a smile. “Not ‘alas’ for me,” she sang. “They really don’t know? About you and me, I mean.”

“I’d say after nearly three months of dating we probably classify as an ‘us’ now,” Bonnibel mused. “Rather than a ‘you and me’. But no. I haven’t told them.”

“Why?”

“Because news travels fast in a small town. The fewer people who know something, the less likely it is to be spilled. I learned that lesson firsthand.”

“Ah yes. From when your beans were spilled in Ormeau.”

Bonnie’s lips pursed at the thought. “Mmm,” she agreed. “Once I’m sure nothing bad can come of them knowing we’re dating then I’ll tell them. Until then, I’m going to assume they’ll blurt it to your dad and get you relocated to somewhere I can’t reach you.”

“Which would suck,” Marceline guessed.

“Oh, it’d be the worst.”

There was quiet then – a comfortable one, sure, but silence just the same. They were almost back to Reich when Marceline muttered, “She was your friend, wasn’t she? The one who outed you.”

“Yeah,” Bonnie sighed. “They both were. One more so than the other. But yes. I thought I could trust them. I was wrong. I learned my lesson.”

“That sucks.”

“Yep. We don’t talk anymore so it’s okay.”

As they got out of the car at Bonnie’s place and headed inside Marceline’s smile flickered, changing in some subtle ways she couldn’t place. Whatever it was made Bonnibel’s skin tingle pleasantly. Almost she considered the possibility that the tingles were a warning of some kind.

And when the door clicked shut behind her the mental sensor went ding and her back hit the wall. She made a startled sound – first off – and then her arms were around Marceline’s shoulders and she realised what was happening. Bonnibel honestly had a whole zero complaints that Marceline chose that moment to kiss her. Especially when she had a moment of bravery and her tongue did that thing… yeah. That one.

She felt, more than consciously acknowledged, as she sighed into Marceline’s mouth. “That was abrupt,” she murmured when Marceline pulled back slightly.

“Yeah, but I’ve been holding that in for at least three hours,” Marceline breathed.

Bonnie hummed. “Do it again.”

Marceline chuckled but otherwise ignored her. “After I’ve given you your present,” she whispered, lips ghosting over Bonnie’s tauntingly.

“You didn’t have to get me anything,” she said. But it was a lot less convincing than when she’d said it to her other friends earlier. And Marceline heard it too.

“I did. Because you’re my girlfriend and I’d be an awful person if I didn’t.” Then she pulled away and Bonnie had to fight to contain the unhappy sound bubbling in the back of her throat. “Besides, it’s nothing extravagant. I promise.”

Her hand went to her back pocket and Bonnibel lifted an eyebrow. The other brow joined the first when Marceline produced a pair of what looked like tickets. Bonnie’s eyes roved over the print, but Marceline’s fingers obscured whatever they were tickets for.

“What’s this?” she asked, extending a hand warily to run a finger over the edge of the paper.

“There’s a band playing in Blackwater on the first week of the second semester break,” Marceline told her slowly. “And since you’ve never been to a concert before, I thought I’d rectify that. The fine print is that I don’t know whether you’ll like them or not. To that end,” and her hand went to her pocket again, coming back up with a flash drive. “I compiled a few of their songs for you to listen to. If you don’t like them we don’t have to go.”

Bonnie let Marceline keep the tickets, instead taking the flash drive. “Do you like them?”

“They’re one of my favourite small time bands.”

“Then I’m positive I’ll love it. You’re wonderful.” She pressed a kiss to Marceline’s cheek. “Thank you.”

Marceline turned her face at the last minute, leaning in to kiss Bonnie again. A lot like the last one. Having her toes curl into the ends of her shoes and a strange desperate warmth flood through her chest had never felt that good. Ever. It made her hands fist in the front of Marceline’s shirt in the hopes of keeping her close.

“You’re pretty wonderful yourself,” Marceline muttered, fingers twisting through the hair at the nape of Bonnie’s neck. “I should go. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

Reluctantly, Bonnibel let her go but Marceline didn’t even make it out the door. She paused to scoop a thick envelop off the floor from near the entrance. How they’d missed it before momentarily confused Bonnie. But then she remembered how focused she’d been on Marceline’s mouth and it made more sense.

“Mail?” Marceline asked cheekily.

“Peter must have slid it under the door when he got home,” Bonnie told her, taking the parcel. She didn’t wait for her girlfriend to leave before ripping it open to see what it contained. Once she’d read the first few lines and gotten the gist of it, she wordlessly handed it to Marceline, fighting down a grin.

In the space of a millisecond, Marceline’s bright blue eyes had widened impossibly and then her arms were around Bonnie, hugging her fiercely. “You got in too,” she breathed. “That’s awesome.”

Once more, Bonnie’s fingers burrowed into Marceline’s shirt. “I guess that means we really could move in together next year,” she teased.

The feeling of Marceline’s chin on her shoulder vanished only for her face to appear dangerously close to Bonnie’s. “You were serious about that?”

“Serious as cancer.”

“Don’t joke here, Bon,” she warned; expression unusually solemn.

Bonnibel pressed a slow, gentle kiss to Marceline’s lips. “Of course I meant it. Even if we were just friends, I meant it. No rush for concrete commitments though. There’s a lot of the year still to go.”

But Marceline smiled. “I’d kinda thought you were just kidding. You have no idea how awesome the idea of getting out of this town is though. Leaving with you is just about as perfect as something gets, Bon.”

“Nice to know,” she laughed. “Let’s see how the rest of the year pans out first, yeah?”

“Deal. I’ll see you in the morning.” With one last massive smile and a lingering kiss on the corner of Bonnie’s mouth, Marceline hurried out to her car. Hansen enforced a curfew after all, same as Hayden’s dad. Must be a father thing.

Despite Ellen’s little surprise, this had been a better birthday than she’d expected. Last year she’d been a little waspish about it because it was the first birthday without her parents. But this one… Yeah, this one was pretty good.

And it only got better when she got out of the shower to find a message on her phone from Cherry and Norman. Smiling, she settled into bed with a book and chatted with them until she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Saturday 9th May 2015

Hanging with Bonnie? Easy as pie.

Hanging with Eleanor? Ugh. She’d rather drive nails into her ears. Rusty ones.

And the godforsaken blonde was pretty much the master of being irritating. Why Marceline had decided to come with them remained a mystery. Actually no, scratch that. It wasn’t a mystery at all, because apparently she has this big weak spot for Bonnie that involved her doing just about anything the redhead asked her to.

So there’s that. Hopefully one day she’ll build up a kind of tolerance for that adorable face Bonnibel uses to get her way.

Nah, she probably won’t. That’s okay. She can live with it.

Living with Eleanor though is potentially problematic.

“I have good news and bad news,” Eleanor was saying in that overly excited way she has. Marceline could not care less about her gossip, but zoning out just would not do. There would be a pop quiz later, she was sure.

“Bad news first,” Hayden requested.

“Bad news it is.” And then Eleanor paused because she had this thing for adding artificial drama to a conversation. “Halte has decided that any school events henceforth will require chaperones and a buddy system.”

Another pause, much longer this time. Marceline filled it with an eye roll.

“Okay,” Pippa said slowly. “So?” Obviously she wanted to point out that there really aren’t any school functions to speak of so this is a moot point. She didn’t because… well maybe she wanted to mess with Eleanor as well.

But Eleanor has a very specific way to play this game.

“What’s the good news,” Marceline sighed, indulging her.

So glad you asked, Abadeer,” Eleanor chittered like she honestly hadn’t expected someone to do just that. “The good news is that Halte – begrudgingly it should be noted – has approved our petition for a senior dance. Cue applause.”

“Wait,” Bonnie put in before anyone else could agree about how amazing it was. “He’s letting us throw a party?”

Eleanor’s bright smile crumpled. “Well… not exactly.” Ah, good catch Bonnie. “It will be a social get together with music and probably dancing. Some staff will be there, no doubt to enforce the six inch rule. We’ll have nibblies and stuff like that. All very formal. But… not a party. Too much parental guidance really.”

“That sucks,” Penelope opined.

“It’s not that bad,” Hayden argued. “A senior formal isn’t meant to be a big free-for-all. It’s supposed to be dignified to an extent. That’s why you dress up. Bonnie?”

“She’s right,” Bonnibel concurred.

“But that just makes it the same as the senior dinner only with music,” Eleanor lamented theatrically. “It’s lame.”

Marceline had to bite back the ‘you’re lame’ retort on the tip of her tongue.

“Better than nothing?” Finn offered. He looked pretty disinterested in the conversation too. Boys.

“I guess.” Eleanor didn’t sound convinced. In fact the look on her face was downright dubious. “Feels like false hope to me.”

Thankfully, Marceline’s phone vibrated in her hip pocket which saved Eleanor from getting a snide remark in response to that one. Bonnie (who was probably sitting too close given where they were) glanced down and back up, clearly having felt the vibrations. Her eyebrow canted up a little.

“Hot date?” she asked cheekily. Marceline’s gaze darted over to the rest of the table but none of them were paying her or Bonnie any mind. Whew.

Still, she kept her voice to a murmur when she replied, “Why would you need to text me?”

“Perhaps so there aren’t any loose ears?”

She had a point. Damn it. Marceline used pulling her phone from her pocket as the excuse not to answer that.

“Who is it?”

“Keila,” she mumbled, reading the text. “She says she’s in Blackwater today and heard I’m here with you guys and wanted to know if I needed a rescue staged.” Marceline could only sigh and slide her phone back into her jeans.

Before her hand could pull away, Bonnie’s fingers were wrapped around it, green eyes suddenly very intense on Marceline’s face. “Go.”

She glanced over at the others. Only Pippa seemed to be vaguely aware that something was happening. Hayden and Eleanor were still… debating the pros and cons of the senior thingie they were now allowed to have and the boys looked to be people watching. And she’d tagged along to hang out, not bail. What kind of message would that send?

“Go,” Bonnibel reiterated, her eyes never wavering. “How often does Keila request girl time? Go on.”

Still Marceline hesitated. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. You and I can hang out any time you like. You know that.”

She rolled the idea over. Then exhaled. “Alright. Okay. I’ll see you later.” Marceline stood, waving to Pippa (who was the only one to see her move). And honestly it took a monumental amount of effort not to overtly display any kind of relationship-type thing with Bonnie. She settled for a smile before firing a text at Keila asking for a location.

Not telling the others she was going would just make them wonder. And Eleanor would probably call her some kind of name. The idea made her smile.

In a shocking twist, Keila’s text only took about a minute to come through. Corner of Peach and Gibbons.

So… the café then. Makes sense. And it wasn’t even far from where Bonnie’s pals were hanging out. Bonus points.

Danny’s place had arguably the best coffee short of Ivy’s. When she and Keila had boarded in Blackwater they’d often snuck out to grab a donut and coffee. That was probably the earliest recorded rebellion Marceline had participated in. Danny didn’t own the shop anymore – sadly – he’d passed away ages ago. But it was still a great place to chill when in Blackwater. One of those hidden gems as far as cafés go.

So it was with a pleasant feeling thrumming in her chest (probably optimism, damn it) that she pushed the door in. It tinkled, prompting the young man at the counter to glance up. He went back to his task though so Marceline ignored him, eyes doing a quick scan for Keila.

She was in a booth near the counter. And she was alone Marceline noted with a smile. As she sank into the cushion opposite Keila her phone beeped.

“Secret lover?” Keila teased.

Marceline grumbled something at her (choosing not to notice how similar her assumption was to Bonnie’s from earlier). She also had to fight down the red threatening in her cheeks when she realised how accurate the comment had been. Since the text was from Bonnibel and she’s definitely a secret something.

You wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with us much longer anyway, the message read. Ellen and Pippa have decided that a first round of dress shopping is in order. You dodged a bullet. One that I won’t be so lucky to avoid.

She sent back a short message, You’ll live.

But the damage was evidently done. When she looked up from her phone (a soft smile having snuck onto her face when she wasn’t paying attention) Keila’s expression was bordering on triumphant.

“So it was a secret lover, huh?” she laughed.

“No,” Marceline grunted. “It was Bonnie.”

Keila rolled her eyes. “Much of a muchness, really. What did she want?”

“To tell me that they’re going dress shopping and I bailed at a good time,” she explained.

“Dress shopping?” She blinked as if the concept was foreign to her. “Why? Is there a special occasion coming up that I missed?”

Marceline shrugged. “Apparently that petition Eleanor and Melissa drafted about getting a senior formal was accepted,” she told her friend. “I guess now they’ll need to find ball gowns or something.”

“Oh that’s so exciting,” Keila practically squealed. “Here I was thinking I’d miss out on that particular high school ritual. Now I won’t.”

“Lucky for you. You can die happy.”

“Aw,” Keila sang. “What’s got you in a foul mood?”

What was she supposed to say to that? ‘Sorry, Keila, just a little confused as to how this dance thing will work because maybe I’ll be expected to go with my secret girlfriend and I’m kinda worried about that’? Yeah… no. So she shrugged instead.

“Something’s up with you. Don’t try to lie to me, Abadeer. Spit it out.” She paused, leaning across the table to better fix Marceline with her piercing brown gaze. “Are you worried you won’t have a date?”

“Date for what?”

Marceline didn’t even have to look up from the laminated table top to know who that was. So she rolled her eyes before looking at Gary. Of course he was here. What had ever made her think he wouldn’t be?

“A funeral,” Marceline grumbled softly into the hand cupping her chin.

“The school is having a senior formal,” Keila practically cooed. “Some of the girls put in a petition and it was accepted. It’s so great.”

Gary smiled his much too charming smile (seriously, how was it legal for his teeth to be so white?). “Do I need a tux?”

“Only if you plan on taking me,” Keila told him drolly.

“Which means ‘duh’,” Marceline added flatly.

He spared her no more than a passing glance before sinking into the padded seat beside Keila. “Tux it is, then,” he laughed. “I guess that means you’ll be going dress shopping too, yeah?”

Keila bobbed her head. “Yep. Not today though. I still want to head down to the music shop. Maybe over the holidays. You up for that, Marceline?”

“Dress shopping?” She lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, I think I’ll pass.”

With a shrug Keila stood, already waving Gary to get up again. “Suit yourself. Let’s go do music now. Then we can have lunch.” She shoved him out of the booth. “Come on, Marce.”

One heavy sigh later and Marceline was following her friend down the street towards the centre of town. She tried. Honestly she tried. But inserting comments to the conversation Keila was having with Gary made her feel so tired. Especially when he did his utmost to ignore her.

“Don’t look so glum!” Keila sang to Marceline as Gary pushed the door in for them. Well, for Keila, it was probably just happenstance that saw him holding it for Marceline as well. “We haven’t been here for ages, I’m sure there’s something that’ll cheer you up.”

With that, Keila slipped her arm through Marceline’s and dragged her down to the latest releases. She ran the fingers of her free hand along the spines of the little plastic cases all lined up in their racks. Nothing in particular caught her eye though and Keila sidled away faster than she would have liked. It had almost felt normal, standing there with her eyes glued to an album case. Then she looked up – wanting her best friend’s opinion – only to find she wasn’t there. All that was left was emptiness and suddenly it hurt.

When her eyes scoured the room, she found Keila over by the mainstream stands trying to slap away Gary’s hands as he reached for something. Obviously whatever limited taste in music he had left a lot to be desired. But Keila laughed at him anyway, offering to fill in the spaces of his palate. Marceline had a feeling no amount of dedication from Keila – no well-intentioned exposure – could cure Gary of his limited appreciation for good quality music.

“Jealous?”

The album clattered back to the rack as Marceline spun, eyes ripped away from Keila, fear flaring (incidentally completely erasing any self-pitying emotions she might currently have been entertaining). When she realised who it was though, the fear vaporised. There was no room in her heart to be dealing with surprise mingled tightly with anxiety when she was suddenly so overwhelmed with distaste.

“Ash,” she huffed, reclaiming the case she’d dropped in her shock. “No. Why would I be jealous?”

His lips curled up in a way that superfluously seemed charming but upon closer inspection was actually just cocky and awful. “Because she’s got a guy and you’re wallowing over here in single town,” he said as if it should be obvious. To be fair, he didn’t know she wasn’t single.

“She’s happy.”

“You’re not.”

And there was the crux of the matter. She could hate him all she liked, but Ash had always been good at seeing past what she projected. She glared at him instead of giving him the satisfaction of looking surprised by his observation.

“You think?” she asked dryly. “I decide to hang out with my best friend and get ditched for…” she waved a hand at Gary. “One of the guys in an Apple commercial. I’m entitled to be a little bit irritated.”

Ash tilted his head, leaning up against the rack. And she didn’t fail to notice the way he blocked any retreat she might have. Standing between her and the exit had always been his method. Just another subtle reminder that she’s worth less than he; that he has power in the situation.

“That all it is?” he taunted. “You sure? It’s not because your best friend has a lovely relationship with that guy and you’re all alone? You’re losing your best friend and you don’t have a fall back. Seems worrying to me.”

For that comment she almost offered him her middle finger. “Keila’s not my only friend.” Even in her ears that sounded too defensive. And maybe a bit mopey.

He actually laughed at that. “Sure, babe. Whatever you think. Either way, once she’s gone you can still call me. I’ll always be around.” He winked, once again failing at being charming. “Just for you.”

“You wish.” The rest of that she’d never be brave enough to say aloud. You want a play thing, go buy one of those blow up dolls from down the street.

“I’m just saying,” he tutted, shrugging his shoulders. “Keila’s moving on. You won’t necessarily have her if your dad decides you need a boot out the door to get your life in check. And if he does kick you out, where do you have to go?” He placed a hand over his head. For her part, Marceline had to resist the temptation to inform him of the pair of pyjamas she now had permanently residing in Bonnibel’s top drawer. “My door is always open. You might need it one day.” He rolled his eyes when she opened her mouth. “Argue if you like, I’m only giving you another option.”

“Hey.”

They both turned to see Keila. Gary was conspicuously absent.

Ash just grinned at her. “Hello, Keila.”

“What do you want?”

He sighed. “Just trying to convince Marceline I’m not as bad as she thinks,” he lamented. “It doesn’t seem to have quite made it through yet. You know that Fran Pike doesn’t hate me, right? She’s always been a very good judge of character.”

“If she dated you, I’d say she kind of stinks at it,” Marceline retorted. It lacked the spark she was going for. Somehow, no matter how fiercely she reminded herself she’s a better person than he thinks, Ash had this way of addling her brain. And it always reduced her to her insecurities.

His smile ticked upwards at the corners. “I don’t think she’d appreciate that. But you’ll come around. Preacher’s daughters shouldn’t be harder to convince than the only child of the police captain.”

“Maybe Marceline has more sense,” Keila put in. Only it didn’t help because…

“Sense of self-righteousness maybe, sure. Don’t you know how hard it is to try to assure her that I’m not the fount of all evil?”

“It’s only hard because you’re a tool,” Marceline grouched at him.

Keila remained quiet. While Marceline couldn’t really blame her, it was still disheartening. The look of resigned acceptance colouring Keila’s features didn’t help that at all. It was like… It was like…

When the realisation hit her it hurt more than all of Ash’s words could ever manage.

Because this was Keila giving up.

She shoved past her (best?) friend and circled the stand so she didn’t have to walk past Ash. Then she pushed the door open and sucked in a deep breath while trying (and failing) to ignore the way his smile chased her. Somehow it felt like fleeing. And Marceline didn’t like it.

It left her hollow.

Her hands moved on their own; following the only logical course of action, and pulled her phone from her pocket. She gave no thought to punching in the words, it just happened.

Where are you?

Defying belief, she got a reply not ten seconds later. The mall. Second floor. Dillory’s. Just facts, but that’s how Bonnie’s brain works. The point was that she got a reply from Bonnibel faster than she had from Keila in a long time.

She retraced her steps from earlier until she found herself at the Blackwater Mall. Most of what she passed seemed blurry, but her mind was still foggy with all of Ash’s comments. He was right. About all of it. She was useless. Once she failed out of high school her dad wouldn’t let her stay. She’d have nowhere to go. But Ash would always be there. Waiting for her.

Pitiful. Pathetic. A waste of oxygen.

She should be thankful anyone would take in someone amounting to nothing more than trash.

The front of Dillory’s appeared almost out of nothingness in front of her and then she was shuffling through the store until she found them. Bonnie was sitting on a little stool outside the change rooms with Hayden. Marceline supposed the other two were trying out potential formal dresses.

Utilising her psychic abilities, Bonnibel looked up and beamed at her. So Marceline took the last few steps and hugged her. Because honestly? It was just super nice to remind herself that Bonnie was a real, tangible human being. A tangible human being who wrapped her up and hugged her back.

“Are you alright?” she whispered into Marceline’s collar.

All she could do was shake her head.

“Come on.” She didn’t quite let Marceline go, just pulled away slightly. “Hayden, let them know we’ll meet them at the food court?”

“Yep. We’ll be there in a bit. Finn said he and Jake will be waiting.”

Then Bonnie’s fingers were tangled with Marceline’s and she was being dragged from the store. Once outside those fingers vanished until they were sweeping hair from Marceline’s face and carefully brushing over her cheek.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” Bonnibel asked her in that voice made entirely of concern.

She shrugged one shoulder.

“Please? I need to know if the problem needs an ice cream solution or if more drastic measures are necessary.” She smiled, threading the fingers of one hand through the hair on the back of Marceline’s neck. A tingle ran across her shoulders in response.

“Just…” she exhaled. “Ash was at the music store and Gary was with Keila. I feel… so… He’s right. About everything.”

“Who? Gary?”

“Ash.”

“No. Shush.” And when Marceline tried to open her mouth to argue Bonnie’s lips were there to silence her. “He’s a tool and I hate him and I swear to God I will break his nose. Whatever he said was just him being a prick, okay?”

No response. What could she say to that?

“Marceline? Look at me, honey, please?”

So she did. And instantly regretted it because those green eyes were just… mesmerising. “He said one day I’d have nowhere to go but back to him and then he’d get what he wants. He said that Fran… dated him. Past tense. He only ever leaves a girl for one reason.”

“Who’s Fran?”

“Blackwater Chief of Police’s daughter.”

Bonnie’s nose wrinkled. “What? Does Ash… collect girls with important fathers or something?”

The question was rhetorical but the way Marceline bobbed her head from side to side was obviously all the answer Bonnie needed.

“Ugh. I hate him even more now. I didn’t think that was possible. Listen to me, okay? You are amazing. Do you believe me?”

It took a moment, but searching Bonnie’s face for deceit turned up empty. “Yes,” she admitted.

“Good. He’s a dick and nothing he says is worth the brainpower it takes to understand.”

A watery smile flickered onto Marceline’s face at that. The vehemence in Bonnibel’s tone was impressive.

“Good thing Keila was there,” Bonnie sighed, hands fisting in the back of Marceline’s shirt. “I’m sure even Ash backs down with witnesses.”

“She wasn’t much use though,” she muttered. “Just sort of stood there.”

“Seriously? That’s pathetic. Some best friend.”

Yeah… some best friend. Good thing she had Bonnie then. She tucked her face a little further into Bonnie’s neck, wondering at the way the redhead always made her feel better. Just like magic.

She exhaled and with the breath, all the negativity Ash had somehow injected flowed out with it. The doubt lingering in her veins was banished by the overwhelming sense of happiness suddenly tumbling through her chest. Because Bonnie thought she was worth something. Something more than this.

Somehow, this moment was what she’d always needed.

Chapter Text

Wednesday 20th May 2015

“I don’t want to.”

“This is not a democracy.”

“You’re so mean!”

“I am not being mean, you big baby.”

“You’re right. It’s blackmail.”

Bonnie tugged on the hem of Marceline’s shirt, her eyes doing that thing again. The thing Marceline can’t resist for more than two seconds. She sighed.

“I don’t want to, Bon,” she whined. And she knew it was pathetic, but honestly; she really didn’t want to be there. “They don’t like me.” That was a pitiful excuse and she knew it.

“They do,” Bonnibel scoffed. “Please? Just for a little while?”

She huffed. “Ugh, alright. You’re the worst.”

Yet the twinkle in Bonnie’s eyes said she totally knew Marceline wasn’t being serious. “Sure. There will be cake and we don’t have to stay the whole night. Okay?”

“You know I’ve never been to a ‘sleepover’ before, right?” she asked dubiously. Just making sure, naturally.

Bonnie’s head tilted slightly to one side, a little crinkle of confusion creasing the corners of her eyes. “Keila’s never stayed the night at your place? Or vice versa?”

She shook her head, sliding backwards up onto the counter in Bonnie’s kitchen. “Nope. Dad never allowed it. He was really strict about that.”

“You never rebelled?” Her tone was doubtful.

“Going to parties and staying out late doesn’t count as a sleepover,” she replied sardonically. “No. Neither of us has ever slept at the other’s house.”

“Your father is a very tightly wound man,” Bonnibel exhaled, leaning against the counter beside her.

“You’re telling me.”

“But that’s beside the point,” she decided, bumping into Marceline’s knee. “You’ve stayed here.”

Marceline rolled her eyes. “That is totally different. He thinks you’re a saint.”

“You think I’m a saint,” she teased.

“I’ve called you a saint. Never said I believed it,” she huffed.

Bonnie clapped a hand to her chest in mock disbelief, hurt written across her face. It was an act, of course. But Marceline still felt bad, so she slid forward off the bench and kissed Bonnie carefully.

“Okay, I think you’re a saint,” she whispered against Bonnibel’s lips. “You’re right.”

“Mm,” Bonnie hummed, arms winding around her neck. “You’re pretty saintly yourself.”

Marceline laughed, tried to protest. Bonnie didn’t let her. Which was just fine with her, really. There was no way in hell she’d ever complain about being kissed by Bonnibel Banner. No sir.

“And will you come with me to Pippa’s later?” Bonnie asked gently.

“Absolutely.”

“That’s very decisive. Such a strong change of heart,” she laughed, the sound vibrating through Marceline’s lips, setting her nerve endings alight.

“You’re being particularly persuasive,” she noted.

Her lips lingered a tortuous moment longer before Bonnie jerked back abruptly. “Wait,” she sighed. She sucked her bottom lip between her teeth and that wasn’t distracting at all, was it? No. “Do you want to go?”

Marceline hesitated. “Sure.”

“If you don’t want to go, I don’t want to make you,” Bonnie told her, brow creasing as if she was just realising she’d been pushy. “That’s… really bad form. I’m sorry.”

“Are you going to be there?”

“Yes…” Bonnie said slowly.

“Then I want to be there.” She grinned. “Simple.”

Bonnie’s teeth let her lip go with a quiet pop and she returned the smile wanly. “Are you positive? Much as I’d love to hang out with my amazing girlfriend, if she doesn’t want to be dragged to this thing at Pippa’s, I won’t make her.”

“I’m going. But I won’t stay the night. That would be suspiciously out of character.”

Once more, Bonnibel tugged her lower lip between her teeth. Her thinking face was so distracting. And adorable. “What if,” she began tentatively. “We come back here after dinner? It’s a compromise.”

“Sounds like a deal,” she murmured, pressing another gentle kiss to the corner of Bonnie’s mouth. And Bonnibel seemed only too happy to let herself be distracted.

 

-*…*…*-

 

How it could be so easy to spend time with Bonnibel and yet closer to legendary difficulty when bracing for her friends escaped Marceline completely. It’s not like they were mean or angry or hateful. But… well, they could be kind of scary.

Today, the expression on Eleanor’s face was especially worrying. No amount of Pippa’s welcoming smile could make her feel less awkward about showing up. And ugh, Cameron was there too. Of course he was. Eleanor can’t go anywhere without arm candy. Typical.

Well… At the very least she could feel better knowing he wasn’t here with Bonnie. That would be her and he could suck it. That’s not childish at all, really.

“Hey, Marceline,” Jake exclaimed from the door to the kitchen. “Wasn’t expecting you.”

“Where’s Finn?” Pippa asked him, frowning like a champion. She didn’t even let Marceline say she could leave. How inconsiderate.

Jake’s eyes rolled skyward. “No idea,” he muttered.

Pippa just shoved past him. “Finn, get your finger out of the batter!”

He came hustling out of the kitchen not a second later with a spoon in one hand. He slapped Jake across the shoulder with the other. “Dude, you were supposed to cover for me.”

“Did you get the flavour?” Jake pressed, ignoring his cousin’s indignation.

“No. I only had time to get a spoon.” He brandished the implement for emphasis.

Jake only shrugged. “Should’ve gone straight for the bowl. That’s what fingers are for.”

“You do it next time,” he huffed. “Oh, hey, Marceline. Didn’t think you were coming.”

She blinked. “Did I get an invite?”

“Bonnie was told to ask you to come,” Eleanor piped up from the single seat couch where she was channel surfing. “Only Pippa thought you’d show.”

“I’m not crashing?” she whispered at Bonnie.

“Nope. Does that cramp your style?” she teased, grinning as she flopped onto the couch beside Cameron.

“It’s kinda nice, actually,” Marceline admitted quietly, sinking down next to her. “How’s life, Cam?”

He looked over, shocked; obviously not having expected to be addressed. “Oh… not much. Farm stuff mostly. My sister would’ve hated it here.”

“She’s not big on farms, huh?” Marceline asked.

“Not so much, no,” he laughed. “She’s… um… I don’t know how to say it nicely…”

“Nail polish and fancy dresses?” Bonnie guessed lightly.

He grinned. “Yeah. That’s a much better way than how I was going to say it. The muck would get to her eventually. The outdoors aren’t her scene and she doesn’t enjoy physical exertion.”

Marceline snapped her fingers. “I know someone like that.”

“Don’t,” Bonnie warned softly.

“No idea what you’re talking about, Bon,” she breezed. Still, Marceline didn’t really want to pick an argument. “How old is she?”

“Twenty. Two decades dedicated to irritating the male population,” he sighed.

“I take it you two get on very well,” Eleanor mumbled.

“Oh yeah,” he informed her flatly. “We’re practically joined at the hip.”

“Okay, so,” Pippa began, strolling into the room. “The cake is cooking, dinner will be ready in about an hour, so until then… ping pong?”

Eleanor’s head lolled back until it hit the armrest. “Why, Pip?”

“You can just watch then,” Penelope said, smiling. “The…” her eyes cut to Cameron briefly, “other two boys have already started.”

“I was hoping we could play some stupid party game,” Eleanor moaned, heaving up off the chair to head outside. “Truth or dare, never have I ever, two truths one lie… anything but ping pong.”

Cameron bumped her shoulder as he hurried out beside her. “You can play me. I suck.”

The rest of their conversation disappeared outside.

“And you two?” Pippa enquired.

“Yep,” Marceline decided (figuring she might as well make the most of this whole situation). “I’m gonna kick Finn’s butt.”

Penelope rolled her eyes. “Good luck with that.” Her head tilted slightly as her attention shifted to Bonnibel. “Bonnie?”

She stuck a hand out, a silent prompt for Marceline to pull her up. “I guess,” she sang as she was hauled to her feet. “I can adjudicate, right? I have no idea how to play ping pong.”

“Seriously?”

Marceline wouldn’t under pain of death admit that she found it funny that Pippa asked the same question in the same tone at the same time. She wouldn’t. It wasn’t funny.

But okay, yes she did smile a little bit.

Bonnie’s eyes flicked between them. “Yes, seriously. I’ve never played before.”

“I’m going to fix that,” Marceline declared. “I’ll go easy on you. But if you pick up ping pong as quickly as you picked up Medieval I don’t think I’ll have much to worry about.”

“Just don’t play Jake,” Pippa advised. “He’s a very sore loser.”

“Noted. Marceline’s not, so it’ll be fine.”

“Where’s Hayden?” Marceline questioned, only just realising they were short a redhead.

“She’ll be here for dinner, but she can’t stay the night and because it’s a weekday her dad wanted her to study before she came over,” Penelope explained. “Sometimes I think he’s the biggest fun-sponge in the world.”

“Then you remember that he’s actually running the school,” Marceline concluded.

“Exactly. I wish I’d seen Halte’s face when the rest of the staff accepted the petition. Would’ve been classic.”

“A real Kodak moment, to be sure.”

That was out.”

“Thanks, McEnroe.”

“Oh come on, that’s a low blow.”

“It was in.” Jake waved a hand at the corner of the table near his hip. “Babe, tell him that was in.”

“It was in,” Pippa concurred.

Finn’s bat hit the table as his hands were thrust into the air. “You weren’t even here,” he cried. “How would you know?”

She shrugged. “Jake’s my boyfriend. The ball was in.”

Jake beamed smugly. “You still playing or are you ceding the game?”

Finn snatched his bat back up and crouched over the table. “Damn right I’m still playing. Gotta make up for that lamearse call.”

Pippa rounded the big blue table set up on their expansive patio and sank into the chair beside Eleanor. A padded bench sat to one side of the table directly across from the chairs. Bonnie pulled Marceline down onto the cushions.

“You can explain the rules to me,” she whispered. “So I don’t make a total idiot out of myself later.”

“Sure. Basically, in singles – which is this – the ball has to bounce on the other side of the net and inside the white lines,” she muttered back. “And when you serve it has to bounce on your side and their side. If it doesn’t, they get a point.”

It felt strange to be the one teaching Bonnibel something. Usually it was her listening and Bonnie speaking. She had no complaints, though. It was really nice to be the one who knew all the information for a change. And Bonnibel’s eyes followed the little orange ball raptly while Marceline explained everything; her feet tucked up beneath her, hands folded in her lap. Occasionally she’d glance at Marceline, but mostly she just watched and listened.

After Jake soundly ‘beat’ Finn in their first match, Pippa asked Bonnie if she wanted to call the second game. Apparently they played best out of three. Which was fair enough. One match is hardly conclusive.

Jake complained vociferously (because Pippa’s calls were always biased in his favour), but Bonnie seemed only too happy to have a chance to put her newly acquired know-how to the test. Finn looked much more optimistic about his chances then. It made Marceline smile.

“No,” Jake groaned after Finn took a decisive eleven-two lead. “That one was in. Bonnie, come on. It was in.”

She just shook her head. “It was out, Jake. Finn’s point.”

“I don’t think you know the rules well enough to be calling,” he grouched.

“You’re just saying that because you’re down nine… ten points,” Marceline laughed.

“Ten?” he just about screeched.

“Yeah, that hit your square, Jake,” Bonnie agreed.

“It did not!”

Finn exploded with laughter. “It’s harder when the ref isn’t in your pocket, McEnroe.”

Jake lofted his bat in Finn’s direction. “Watch it.”

It took less time than Marceline had expected for Finn to thoroughly trounce his cousin. Losing twenty-one to nine was pretty awful. Poor Jake. Then they had to play the tie-breaker and even Marceline could tell he’d lost it before they’d even swapped the second serve.

“You suck,” he opined. Jake’s eyes kept flicking between Bonnie and Finn, so she wasn’t sure which one he meant. Probably both. “I’m not playing when Bonnie’s calling anymore. She’s a hard marker.”

“You can play Hayden later,” Finn decided. “Who wants to verse the champ?”

“I do,” Marceline told him, launching to her feet so she could relieve Jake of his bat. “Gonna kick your skinny behind, Martins.”

“Who’s calling this time?” Pippa asked.

“I’ll go again,” Bonnibel volunteered. “I’d like to understand the rules before I play.”

Marceline grinned at her. If having her girlfriend call the match worked the same for her as it did for Jake, she’d have this all wrapped up in no time.

Finn served first, possibly a little cocksure this early, but Bonnie had just called the two games he’d won, so maybe he thought she was on his side. Marceline would’ve laughed at the idea, but he had a nasty back hand.

“Shit, Finn,” she huffed; catching the ball after it ticked the corner. “That’s rough. You play hard.”

“Go hard or go home,” he sang, smacking the ball down the line.

“Point to Finn,” Bonnie muttered as Marceline nearly crashed into her trying to get the ball back. “He’s got a big swing.”

“I was unprepared for this,” she grumbled, taking the ball from Bonnie. “Don’t worry. I’ll get him.”

“Yeah, you will.”

She smiled, tossing the ball back at Finn. His serve after that was definitely too arrogant. It missed the table completely. And it only went down from there. Poor Finn.

“Let,” Bonnie told them about a dozen points later.

“Barely,” Finn grouched. “What even is the score?”

“Seventeen-eleven.”

Marceline grinned at him. “Pick up your game, Martins.”

He glared at her. And then he failed. Twice.

“This sucks,” he griped. “I think the officials are all corrupted in this game.” He jabbed the bat at Pippa first and then at Bonnie. “I know the players are lining your pockets.”

“Nothing in my pockets,” Pippa laughed.

“I demand unbiased referring from now on,” he huffed, dropping the bat on the table. “Who’s playing Marceline?”

“Bonnie,” Marceline decided. “She needs to learn first-hand.”

“I concur,” Pippa added as she stood. “Finn, you call. I want to go make sure Jake isn’t doing anything silly in my kitchen.”

He rolled his eyes. “Ellen, why don’t you call it instead,” he asked. “I just want to watch.”

She exhaled heavily. “Fine.”

“You ready?” Marceline queried gently as Bonnie picked up the bat. “I’ll go easy on you.”

“Sure,” Bonnie sniped. “The first round.”

“What do I get if I win?” she asked, serving carefully.

Bonnibel just grinned at her, slamming the ball straight down the middle. When it hit the table it made a god-awful cracking sound and soared right over Marceline’s head. She blinked.

“Easy there, feisty pants.”

Bonnie glanced over at Eleanor. “My point?”

“Yep.” Gosh, Eleanor is so wordy and eloquent. Marceline could only roll her eyes and aspire to that level of wordsmanship.

“Still gonna go easy on me?” And Bonnie asked it with that adorable little dimpled smile and Marceline just… brain function… failing…

“No,” she sighed. “I guess not.” Wow, Marceline. That was a coherent sentence. Congratulations. Take that, Bonnie’s Adorable Smile.

Eleanor called the game in a monotone. Marceline wanted to slap her.

Bonnie kicked her butt.

As expected.

“How do you do it?” she asked, placing her bat on the table. “Seriously, Bon. What is your secret? Black magic? Pagan sacrifices? Voodoo?”

“Talent.” And she winked. Damnit. “Do you want to call this game?”

“Hayden’s here!”

They all swivelled around to watch as Hayden (announced by Pippa’s bellow) stepped outside. “Oh, ping pong,” she enthused. “Who’s up? Can I go?”

“Yeah, Bonnie just beat Marceline and she’s never played before,” Finn explained.

Bonnie set her bat down. “I’m good. Play Cameron. He’s been sitting over there looking bored for a while now.”

Cameron’s eyes whipped up and away from whatever Eleanor was doing on her phone. “Me?” he asked, shocked.

“Yeah,” Bonnie agreed, waving him over. “Play Hayden.”

“Uh… okay.” He levered himself cautiously to his feet. “Do you play?”

Hayden shrugged. “Now and then. You?”

He just laughed. “Not so much.”

“Who’s calling?”

“Finn.”

“Ugh, why me?”

“Roll with it.”

Bonnie reclaimed her spot on the bench and Marceline was quick to snatch the space beside her. For a moment Marceline couldn’t help but look at Bonnie, but when she glanced back with that tiny smile curving her lips… Yeah, Marceline had to look away then. Before she did something stupid. Like kiss her.

When five seconds later she felt Bonnibel slide a little bit closer on the pretence of adjusting herself, Marceline could feel a smile of her own forming. Seriously. They were going to have to bail after dinner. Too much was already rattling around in her chest and there was no way she could realistically be expected to contain it.

Instead of dwelling on the… whatever that was… behind her ribs, she just focused on Hayden and Cameron hitting the ball at each other. Hayden (despite her mild pyromania) was apparently a surprisingly gentle ping pong player. Cameron, too, barely seemed to be only just getting it over the net.

“How long have they been rallying?” she murmured to Bonnie.

“A few minutes.”

“And the points?”

“I don’t think we’ve even swapped the first serve yet.”

“Wow.”

“I know.”

For at least another two minutes, they just watched as Hayden and Cameron rallied back and forth. It was arguably the single most boring thing she’d done all week. It only stopped when Pippa burst onto the patio so loudly Cameron blinked and missed the ball. It hit the table and bounced off before he could get to it.

“Dinner’s ready,” Penelope told them. “How long until you’re done?”

“It’s three to me,” Hayden told her. “And Cam’s got one point.”

“Get out. You’re done. Come eat,” Pippa decided quickly. “Hayden wins, let’s go.”

Cameron blinked again, looking for all intents and purposes exactly like a deer in the headlights. Then he placed his bat on the table as Hayden shot him a triumphant look (that Marceline thought was uncalled for since they technically hadn’t even finished the match yet) and headed inside. Eleanor was the last to lever herself up; she stuffed her phone in her pocket before trailing behind Marceline.

“So what are you feeding us, Phillips?” Eleanor drawled as she slouched into a chair at Pippa’s dining room table. Cameron sat beside her in a way that was so casual he’d obviously put a lot of thought into it. Guys.

“Chicken kebabs, some garlic pork things and assorted salad stuff,” she said cheerily.

“Do I want to touch the… um… garlic things?” Marceline asked dubiously. She eyed the salad bowl warily. There could be stealth tomatoes in there.

Pippa waved a hand. “It’s pork, it’s fine.”

“Uh huh,” Hayden hummed. But she took the mystery meat item anyway. Brave, brave girl.

There was a whole minute of silence while the table ate. Then Hayden’s phone beeped and every last one of them looked at her. She sighed.

“Dad,” she huffed. “He wants to know if I’m coming home yet.”

“You’ve been here like… two minutes,” Finn grumped. “Your dad is lame.”

“Here, here,” Jake agreed, waving a skewer sans the chicken.

Pippa’s mouth curled downwards. “Will you stay a little bit longer? There’s cake?”

Hayden pattered away on her phone a moment longer. Then, “Of course I’ll stay for cake. Duh. He’ll just have to chill.”

“I want to play a party game,” Eleanor whined. Of course she did. Marceline cringed at the very idea. Beside her, she felt Bonnibel stiffen. Obviously she wasn’t a fan of the concept either.

Finn rolled his eyes. “We’ll play a string of silly games at your party,” he told her flatly. “Besides, yours won’t be on a weeknight.”

Eleanor huffed unhappily. “Fine.”

“If you really want to do something, we could go dress shopping on the weekend,” Pippa offered. “That saves the boys the trauma of having to be with us.”

“Ugh, please yes,” Hayden concurred. “At least if it’s on Saturday or something I won’t have to worry about dad being on my case.”

With a reluctant shrug, Eleanor grumbled, “I guess that sounds alright to me.”

Then they all turned to look at Bonnie. Although wait… was Pippa…? God damn it, Penelope’s gaze was fixed on Marceline.

“What about you two?”

Bonnibel cut a glance at Marceline. A lot of words were contained in the simple gesture and she knew it. Still, Bonnie chirped, “I’m alright with that. Next weekend would be better, please; I don’t think Finn’s prepared for the English exam next week.”

Finn made an indignant squawk at that but when they turned to stare at him he did sigh. “Yeah okay. We should probably revise.”

Eleanor rolled her eyes dramatically. “Fine. Dress shopping next weekend. Everyone in?”

Pippa kept waiting for Marceline’s answer, but she remained stubbornly silent. So they moved on. Bonnie gave her another look but she just shook her head. They could talk about it later.

In the meantime, there was cake. And Marceline much preferred cake to their current conversation. People generally didn’t talk with their mouths full. Unless the people in question were Finn and Jake. Then manners were essentially disregarded in favour of multi-tasking.

Hayden departed not long after they’d finished eating dessert.

“You’re leaving too, aren’t you?” Penelope enquired softly as she stepped back inside. Her eyes were fixed on Bonnibel but they flicked once towards Marceline. For her part, Marceline kept her eyes focused on the television. It was easier that way.

She felt Bonnie shift beside her, nod. The expression on her face wasn’t hard to imagine. It would be that apologetic one, the ‘I’m sorry, but I’m going to do this thing even if you may not like it’ look. It’s the same expression she wore when she’s about to ask Marceline a question that she knows may not go down well.

“Yes, sorry Pip,” Bonnie muttered. “I just don’t want to stay. Not on a weeknight.”

Penelope nodded. A viable excuse, sure. There was no way Pippa could actually expect to call Bonnie’s bluff without having a whole bunch of justifications thrown her way. Plus, Pippa could in no way be considered one for confrontation.

Instead, she smiled. “Thank you for coming then.”

And Bonnibel stood to hug her. “Thank you for inviting me,” she laughed. “And for facilitating my education in the area of ping pong.”

Pippa rolled her eyes. “Don’t mock it.”

“I’m not,” Bonnie assured her. “Next time I’ll be here earlier so I can have a few games.” She bumped Penelope’s shoulder. “Maybe I’ll even kick your behind.”

“Sure, Banner. Whatever helps you sleep tonight.” Then Pippa was staring at Marceline. And it was intense. “You drive safe with Bonnie in your car, alright?”

She stood slowly, offering Penelope a mock salute. “As always, captain. I’ll drive like she’s glass.”

Now, Marceline may not be the best at interpreting social cues. But even she knew the look Bonnie got from her friend then screamed ‘I still don’t know why you hang out with her’. Oh to be there when Bonnibel tells her they’re dating. Pippa’s face would be the Kodak moment to end all Kodak moments.

Or maybe her dad’s would.

Semantics.

“Good night,” Bonnie sang to the rest of her friends. And even though Finn and Jake were arguing over the remote while Cameron perused the spines on Pippa’s bookshelf and Eleanor had elected to have a shower so she was thankfully absent, Marceline couldn’t help but feel kind of proud when she glanced at them. They might not be her friends, but they didn’t hate her. So she smiled and waved as she headed out the door with Bonnie just behind her.

As they fell into the car, Marceline murmured, “Your friends are so weird.”

“I’m going to assume that’s a good thing.” Her tone was teasing and so was the smile tilting the corners of her mouth. But… there was worry in her eyes. “You don’t have to come to these things. And you definitely don’t have to show up on the weekend for shopping.”

Marceline ignored that. “You didn’t tell me I was invited to Pippa’s thing,” she whispered instead.

“Would it have made a difference?” Bonnie asked, head to one side.

“No,” she admitted. “I just…” She sighed. “I’ll take any excuse to hang out with you, Bon. Even if it means suffering through Eleanor’s company. Or Cameron.” She shuddered theatrically.

Bonnibel smiled at her, so there was that. “I just don’t want to feel like I’m forcing you to come with me.”

“You’re not.” Her words were hasty, blurred together. “I promise. And I’ll come with on the weekend too. If only to see you try on dresses.” She couldn’t help but grin at the idea.

“Oh, I already have a dress for the senior formal,” Bonnie laughed. “Don’t you worry about that.”

“Do I get to see it?”

Bonnie shrugged. “I guess that depends on whether or not you turn up to the formal.” She paused, but Marceline knew her well enough by this point to know the space would be filled any second now. “And you don’t have to go. So you don’t have to get a dress or come shopping with us.” Yep, there is was.

“Bonnibel,” she exhaled. “I’m coming shopping with you and your nerd friends, okay? You’re not forcing me to. I’ll just tag along and be the biting wit they all tolerate. Make some snarky comments, tease them about buying into such silly traditions and all will be well. All I want out of it is to see you try on one dress. Regardless of the fact you already have one.”

And Bonnie beamed that sunshine and perfection smile. “Deal.”

When they pulled up at Peter’s place, Marceline sort of stood awkwardly by her car for a moment. She knew the drill: weeknights her dad enforced a similar curfew to Hayden’s. He couldn’t exactly stop her from staying out all night, but he did get mighty vocal about it when she did. It was easier to just avoid the trauma.

Which is why she opened her mouth to tell Bonnie she’d head straight home. But before Bonnibel could even finish unlocking the door to her flat, Peter popped out the back door of the house and hurried over, a phone pressed to his ear. Whatever he was saying into the speaker had him concentrating very hard.

“Bonnibel,” he called. “Is Marceline… oh. Yes, there you are. Hello.”

“Hey, Minton,” Marceline replied, rocking on her heels. “Sup?”

Wordlessly he held out the phone. Even Bonnie looked confused at this point. Warily (hoping this wasn’t some elaborate trap or whatever) Marceline took the phone.

“Hello?” she questioned.

“Marceline.”

Her dad. Great.

“What, dad?”

“Where are you?”

She rolled her eyes. “Given that you’re talking to me on the Minton home phone, I’m going to tell you to ask me a serious question.”

He sighed. “Are you coming home?”

“I’m gonna chill here for a bit, actually.” Bonnie held up a pair of fingers. “Bonnibel says two hours.”

“Be home by ten,” he said curtly. Actually it was bordering on waspish. Then she was listening to nothing but dial tone and she wanted to snap the phone in two. As it was not her phone, however, she opted to hand it back to Minton.

“Thanks,” she sighed.

“Is he alright?” Peter asked her gently.

“Just being dad. Or trying. I’ll be fine.” She slouched over to Bonnie, where she’d been lingering uncertainly in the doorway the whole time Marceline had conversed with her father. Marceline bumped her arm gently. “It’s fine. He can just relax.”

Bonnie nodded, a smile flickering through. She leaned forward slightly to get a better view of her uncle. “Good night, Pete.”

“Night, girls. Please don’t be up late, Marceline.”

“Roger that,” she said with a brief smile.

He shuffled back towards the house and Bonnibel pulled on her sleeve, prompting her inside. “Do we get two hours or…?”

“Yeah. I’ll leave when I’m good and ready,” she grumbled as she slumped onto Bonnie’s sofa. “It just bothers me. He knows I have to come home because that’s where my bed is and he holds it over me and I hate that.”

Bonnibel flopped down beside her, sitting way too close and smiled that much-too-sweet smile. “You know if you ever need to not stay there you can crash here, right?”

“Right,” she agreed wryly. “Sure.”

“I’m serious. You’ve slept on my couch before.” She leaned into Marceline’s shoulder. “My sofa is open if you need it. Promise.”

She offered a half-smile, the wonky one that made Bonnie bite her lip. Mm, just like that. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were propositioning me, Banner.”

“Oh, sweetheart,” she laughed tipping forward until her lips were tortuously close to Marceline’s. “You’d know if I was propositioning you.”

And even through the thrill of fear at the very notion, Marceline couldn’t even deny the funny warmth down in her stomach as it did a terribly uncoordinated backflip.

“And this is not that,” Bonnie added. “I’m honestly just telling you that if you need it, you can stay here.” She finally slipped the last little way to kiss her. “No toxicity or curfews or negativity. Just you and me and the television.”

She sighed and took a moment to realise that she was kind of ridiculously happy to hear that. Actually, scratch that. Just ridiculously happy. Period. The words banging on the inside of her teeth were almost as terrifying as the other thing. She swallowed them.

Content – for now – to just sit on Bonnie’s couch kissing her lazily. Yeah.

The rest could come later.

Chapter Text

Saturday 30th May 2015

It took a moment, but the frown pulling Pippa’s brows together finally made sense. Bonnie spared Marceline a glance (watching Penelope quizzically, almost as if they’d never seen each other before), but then she just smiled, hoping to distract her friend from whatever was happening in her head.

“Hey,” she sang. “Where are the others?”

At length, Penelope looked at her. “They’re already inside, looking at dresses. I figured I’d wait out here for you.” Her head bobbed towards Marceline. “Didn’t think she was coming.”

Marceline shrugged a shoulder, her funny little half-smile-half-smirk canting her lips. It took all Bonnie’s self-control not to pay it any attention. That smile did strange things to her insides. “I was invited,” Marceline pointed out. “Plus what the hell else am I going to do with my Saturday?”

Pippa rolled her eyes and Bonnie assumed that meant the crisis was averted. “Whatever you say,” she said lightly. “To be honest, I’m surprised you’re here too, Bonnie.”

“Why?”

“You said last time that you’ve already got a dress,” she replied with a shrug.

Bonnibel cast another look at Marceline, she had her face all scrunched up as she inspected a dress. “Yeah well… You guys need all the opinions you can get, right?”

Penelope snorted. “Just the peanut gallery, huh?”

“Sure.”

“And Marceline?”

Her gaze (as it always seemed to do), landed once more on Marceline. “Maybe she wants to mock you.”

Her friend mumbled something then and Bonnie was almost one hundred percent certain she didn’t want to know what it was. Before she could actually indulge her masochism, however, Pippa asked, “So are you going to try dresses on or just give us your two cents?”

“The latter.”

The rack rattled as Pippa removed a hangar. “Well then let me go try one on.”

She vanished into the change rooms after that and Bonnie found herself gravitating back to Marceline. As usual.

“See anything you like?” Marceline asked, leaning on one of the racks.

“Not really. Although I was just thinking that it would be mean of me to pick any old dress to try on,” she muttered. “I could pick something awful. Why don’t you pick one for me?”

“Just one?”

“One. You have all day to pick one dress. And you can’t see one and say we’ll come back if you don’t find anything better.”

Marceline blinked. “It has to be spur of the moment?”

“Yes.”

“Wow, that’s rough, Bon. But alright, I can do that.” Her brow furrowed thoughtfully as her eyes scanned the shop. “And you have to try it on no matter what I pick?”

“Correct.” Marceline’s eyes flashed and for a moment Bonnibel wondered if she was in over her head here. So she added, “I’m going to pick one thing for you to try on as well. I promise it won’t be a dress,” she laughed at Marceline’s scandalised expression. “But everything else is fair game.”

“Oh… kay… I guess. Please be kind.”

“Same to you.”

Marceline’s slow smile paired with the twinkle in her eyes should’ve probably made Bonnie worry. But it didn’t. Just made her tingle. Made her heart lurch and her throat catch and made her want to ignore the caution signs in her brain and just spit out the words pinging around in her ribs. Good thing she had excellent self-control.

“Hey, guys.”

Bonnie’s head whipped around at the greeting. Hayden stood in the entrance to the change rooms wearing a lavender dress. She waved when their attention was on her.

“Didn’t think you were going to show. What do you think?” She twirled, the pleated skirt flaring out around her knees.

Marceline shook her head. “You can’t wear purple.”

“Wow,” Bonnie breathed; eyes going wide as she stared at Marceline incredulously. “Tell us how you really feel.”

Her girlfriend went red and she waved a hand at Hayden. “No. I mean… Just…” She sighed. “It’s nice; Hayden, but you can’t wear purple. Eleanor wears purple. If someone goes to the formal in a dress even close to the same colour as hers she’ll flip her lid. It’s just not worth the hassle.”

“Wise,” Hayden laughed, bobbing her head. “I wondered why Ellen was looking at me like I’d stolen the last slice of cake. Give me a minute, there’s another one.”

Once Hayden had vanished back into the change rooms, Bonnie turned to face Marceline. “Is Ellen seriously that possessive?”

Marceline shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure since we don’t talk much. But one time at a function in Blackwater a girl was wearing a dress maybe two shades darker than Eleanor’s and her face went bright red she was that furious. It was intense.”

“You get invited to fancy functions?” Bonnie asked; one eyebrow up.

“Eh,” she grouched, hunching her shoulders up around her ears. “I’m the preacher’s daughter. I get dragged with him sometimes. Whether I dress nicely… or even show up, really, is mostly dependant on the guest list. When I realised Eleanor was at that one I stayed until the drama happened, then bailed.”

“Classy.”

“I try.”

“But ‘dress nicely’ for Marceline is relative.” They both turned slightly to look at Ellen as she spoke. As Marceline had predicted, she was in a flowery purple dress. “She doesn’t actually own nice clothes.” At that, Ellen gestured at her current attire.

“That’s not true, Ellen,” Bonnie disagreed. “I’ve seen her wear dressier stuff. You look wonderful, by the way.” Casually direct Eleanor’s attention away from Marceline. Yes, good plan.

Ellen snorted. “I’ll believe that when I see it.” She swung her hips so the light material swirled around her. “Do you like this?”

Out of the corner of her eye she noted Marceline’s calculated eye roll. “It’s pretty, yes,” Bonnibel told her. “Do you like it, though?”

She twirled again. “I’m not sure. Maybe. I think I’ll sleep on it.”

“There are always other dresses,” Bonnie muttered diplomatically.

“And other stores yet to check,” Ellen added, brightening a little bit. “You’re right. I don’t have to buy the first one. Onwards!”

With that, she swirled back into the change rooms in a cloud of purple fabric. Marceline sighed.

“Do you regret coming with yet?” Bonnie asked her sweetly.

“No,” she said, blinking owlishly – obviously confused. “Why would you think that?”

“Thought it might be too much Ellen for you.”

She waved a hand in the universal ‘so-so’ gesture but couldn’t stop from smiling. “She’s still irritating, but I’ll survive.”

“Good to know.”

Neither Hayden nor Pippa got to try on any more dresses because Ellen forcibly dragged them outside. They headed down the mall, Marceline and Bonnibel trailing slightly behind them. And even though it seemed as though Ellen picked the next shop completely at random, Bonnie knew better. Eleanor always had a plan.

Store two had a smaller selection of dresses, but her friends (yes, even Marceline) wended between the racks to inspect them anyway. Bonnie’s eyes remained fixed on Marceline pretty much the whole time. Now and then her girlfriend would look up and smile that canted grin causing her heart to stutter and her stomach to writhe… not unpleasantly, but it made her shift in the seat she’d taken by the change rooms all the same. The flaring warmth was completely uncalled for but she couldn’t make it go away. Not when Marceline looked at her like that.

Pippa ducked out of the stalls and Bonnibel fixed her with all the attention she could muster, hoping it would distract her from the suddenly burning need to grab Marceline by the lapels and kiss her as hard as she could. The idea didn’t quite leave, but she was perfectly capable of telling Penelope that no, that green just didn’t look right. Thankfully, Hayden and Ellen flounced in to get changed too so maybe she could keep her mind occupied for a little while longer.

She just had to make it to lunch.

“You’re not even looking for dresses,” Marceline accused her softly. Bonnie tried not to stare, but that’s always a challenge for her.

She frowned. “Why would I be?”

“You said you’d pick something for me to wear.” And then Marceline leaned against the post and the little smile appeared and god damn. “How can you find me a thing to try on if you’re not looking?”

At that, Bonnie beamed. “Oh, I know exactly what you’ll be trying on, Abadeer, don’t you worry about that.” Yeah, if the picture in her head was even half right, it would be so worth it.

“Should I be worried?”

“Nope. You go back to looking now.”

“There’s nothing here,” she huffed, shrugging away from the pole to flop into the seat beside Bonnie. “Nothing I’d like to see you in anyway.”

“Uh huh. Well that’s okay. There are a few more shops to hit. We’ll be done by lunch though, so don’t wait too long.”

Marceline’s eyes shot wide open. “What do you mean lunch? I thought I had all day.”

“Eh, that means lunch. Then we’ll either go see a movie or just head home,” Bonnie mused. “Unless you really want to spend all day on your feet? You might have to buy a new pair of shoes while we’re out.”

Marceline rolled her eyes. “Sure. I’ll find something.”

“Your loss if you don’t.”

Then all three other girls stepped out of their stalls and they ended up discussing the pros and cons of lace versus silk ruffles versus embroidery. Colour was Ellen’s big thing though. She was just irritated that there were only two purple dresses in the shop and one of them didn’t even come in her size. How inconsiderate.

The third shop was quite a bit larger than the first two. It did tuxedoes for boys as well and even had little formal stuff for kids. Bonnie honestly thought that was just the cutest thing. Marceline laughed at the way she trailed her fingers over a tiny ruffled dress. She didn’t care.

They lost Ellen and Pippa in the maze of racks within five seconds of setting foot in the store. Given that Bonnie had recently discovered an ability to focus on Marceline and do other things at the same time, however, she managed to stick with her. Hayden looped through the store off to one side for a little while but then vanished to try on a dress.

She emerged not long later and skipped over to them, beaming. She spun in a circle and very nearly crashed into a rack of pants. “Ah, oops,” she laughed. “What do you guys think?”

Bonnie rolled her lip under and cast a glance at Marceline who was also trying not to laugh with her. “Honestly?” Hayden rolled her eyes so Bonnie went on, “As your platonic gay friend, I’m telling you blue is your colour.”

Marceline’s eyebrows both flashed into her hairline. The smirk on her face only just hid the ‘are you serious, right now’ expression. Bonnie laughed at her.

Hayden simply grinned and bopped Bonnie’s shoulder. “I knew there was a reason girls are always so keen for a gay friend.”

“Pretty sure it’s a gay male friend, Hayden,” Marceline told her dryly.

“Whatever.” She returned her gaze to Bonnie. “You like this one?”

“I think you look gorgeous, absolutely,” Bonnibel agreed, nodding. “I think maybe the straps look wrong though. Is there a strapless one here?”

Hayden shook her head, face falling. “Nope. Just this one.”

“Lameness. Next store?”

“I’m done,” Hayden confirmed. “Pippa I think is too. Ellen’s just…”

“Hard to please,” Marceline finished. “She won’t pick a dress until the last minute. It’s how she is.”

“Seems silly to me,” Hayden called as she dashed off to get changed.

It actually took them a while to get Ellen out of shop three. She seemed intent on trying on every purple dress in the store. Pippa wouldn’t hear of it.

“You can come back another time, Eleanor,” Penelope sighed. “Let’s go.”

“Fine.”

Ellen just about stormed out after that, the rest of them giggling softly about it as they followed her. Pippa tried to mollify Eleanor quietly while they walked which only made Marceline grin a little bit harder. Bonnie tried not to find it amusing too (honestly, why Ellen was suddenly so worked up was anyone’s guess), but not smiling turned out to be rather difficult.

“There.”

Marceline’s arm whipped up to point in the window of a store. Bonnie followed where she was indicating, Hayden paused too but the others kept walking. She blinked. Then noticed the dress Marceline was obviously pointing out.

“That one?” Bonnie asked, eyes flicking up to the sign outside and she beamed. “Alright.”

“That one what?” Hayden enquired, eyeing the shop. “We went in there last time.”

“Yeah, I know,” Bonnibel told her. “But I promised Marceline she could pick something for me to try on. Since… we’re dress shopping and all. Go with the others, we’ll wait here.”

“Lunch when we’re done?”

“Sounds good.”

Hayden flashed a quick smile and trotted after Pippa and Ellen. Marceline tugged on her sleeve so Bonnie let herself be pulled inside the shop. After all, this was exactly where she wanted to be. What are the odds?

She paused before the dress Marceline had indicated, her fingers ran along the sleeve. Of course this one. Slowly, she slid one with her size tag off the little stand behind the display. Marceline watched her carefully, face impassive, not giving away her thoughts in the slightest. Although Bonnie suspected the gentle crease around her eyes indicated some kind of uncertainty.

“You’re going to try it on?” Marceline asked softly.

“A promise is a promise. But first…” And she grabbed the hem of Marceline’s shirt, dragging her over to a different section of the shop. “You get to try this on.”

Marceline heaved a deep breath. “You had this in mind all along, didn’t you?” Her tone was almost accusing but Bonnie didn’t even care. It was true. “A conspiracy. I don’t know how to tie those.”

“I’ll show you. But you have to wear it.”

“Fine,” she sighed, drawing out the vowel. Marceline flicked through the hangars until she found the right size and then headed for the change rooms, shaking her head. She turned, backpedalling the last few metres. “Knock when you’re done. I’ll need your help with the tie.”

“Naturally.” With that she swooshed into her chosen stall and set about changing.

It shouldn’t have surprised her that Marceline would pick a little black dress. In fact, it was kind of fitting. Unfortunately, the zip on the back was in just the wrong spot for her to reach. It did feel quite nice to wear though. Swishy.

Bonnie gave up on trying to get the zip done and slipped out of her stall to tap softly on the one Marceline had gone into. “Are you done?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

She pushed the door in and shuffled through the space before taking much time to notice anything. Honestly she was a little more interested in getting out of a public area when she was really only half in the dress. Modesty and all.

So when she looked up she probably shouldn’t have been surprised to find Marceline’s face bright red, hands frozen in the act of doing up a button. Admittedly, Bonnie’s face warmed up quite significantly when she realised when Marceline had said she was done, she’d meant ‘got a few buttons left to do up but yes I’m wearing pants’. Bonnie blinked, trying desperately to look only at Marceline’s face, but the way the sleeves were all scrunched at her elbows and the vest was on crooked and the tie hung around her neck and… yeah… the rather large empty space where the buttons hadn’t been done up… They weren’t making that endeavour easy on her.

“Sorry,” Bonnie rasped, spinning to face the door.

There was a beat of quiet. “I can see more skin now than I could before,” Marceline mumbled.

“Oh… do me up?”

Another extended silence fell over the (suddenly very tiny) space. Then Marceline’s fingers found the zipper on her dress and – shakily – pulled it up; a tremulous line of sizzling fire shivering along her spine in tandem. Although part of that could’ve been because Marceline was standing oh so close behind her and her diaphragm fluttered and her nerve endings fizzled and this was not good.

Very, very slowly – the kind of slow used by a handler in a tiger enclosure – Bonnie turned around. Marceline had missed a button, obviously doing them up too fast to pay proper attention and her vest was still crooked, but otherwise… Not so bad.

So Bonnibel smiled at her. “You look really nice. Do you want me to tie your tie?”

“Please?” Marceline sighed.

Almost, Bonnie thought her fingers had forgotten how to do the knot, but then it was done and she found herself fixing Marceline’s buttons and straightening her vest and… And now she was just looking for any excuse to keep touching her. Her intestines collapsed into a viscous gooey substance when she finally tore her hands away and stepped back far enough to really look at Marceline.

In dark pants and a crisp white shirt with the sleeves pushed back to her elbows and a black satin vest and wow. Mental blank sequence: initiate.

“You look really nice,” Bonnie breathed.

“You said that already, dorkus,” Marceline laughed. “And I should’ve known you’d rock a little black dress. Not fair.”

Bonnibel grinned at her. “You like it?”

She rolled her eyes, taking Bonnie’s hand gently and spinning her around. “Duh.” Bonnie’s hands landed on Marceline’s waist as she was twirled back in. “You look gorgeous,” Marceline whispered.

Between the squirming warmth in her stomach and the way Marceline was looking at her, Bonnie couldn’t stop from winding her fingers into the hem of the vest and pulling her girlfriend that little bit closer to kiss her. Slowly to begin with – still with the tentativeness born of concern for boundaries – but Marceline never wasted any time in banishing that worry. Not anymore. Then – just like that – Marceline’s back was to the wall and her fingers were fiddling rather dangerously with the zipper of Bonnie’s dress. A smile curving her lips letting Bonnie know she was okay.

“A little trashy, don’t you think?” Marceline wondered into her throat. “Making out in the change rooms?”

“Maybe,” she agreed, pressing her lips to Marceline’s jaw, delighting in the way her girlfriend trembled. “But then again, what part of our acquaintanceship hasn’t been kind of cliché and trashy in a ‘teen drama on television’ type way?”

Marceline blinked, letting her head flop back against the cold wall so she could look Bonnibel in the eyes. “How do you mean?”

“Seriously?” she asked flatly. “We officially met in chemistry. If that isn’t some kind of lame joke, I don’t know what is. And I’m not even going to discuss the whole ‘forced into a tutor-student relationship’ thing, because that’s a trope so overused it’s awful.”

It obviously took a moment for that to sink in, but when it did a smile bloomed on Marceline’s face that made Bonnie’s heart stop. “Wow. That’s really terrible, isn’t it? Think of all the puns I’ve missed.” Then in all seriousness she said, “Bon, we have chemistry together. Oh my god.”

Yes, it was the worst joke ever, but Bonnie still laughed, wrapping her arms around Marceline and resting her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder. “Yes we do.”

“Oh man, do not let my brother catch onto this. He will have a field day.”

“I was right, you know.” Change the topic before Marceline can come up with more bad jokes.

“About what?”

“You look damn fine in a vest,” Bonnie exhaled, running her fingers over the soft finish on the back of the article in question. “I mean… wow.”

Marceline’s head fell to one side, the hair in her ponytail slipping free (probably thanks to Bonnie) and she smiled that really quiet smile reserved just for Bonnibel. “Thanks.” Then she was being kissed again. Totally fine with her.

“Hey, Bonnie; are you in here?”

So that didn’t last as long as she might’ve liked. She twisted to look at the door but didn’t even loosen her hold on Marceline. “Yeah, Pip. What’s up?”

“We’re waiting on you guys for lunch.”

“I’ll be out in a bit.”

There was a pause in which Marceline left ghostly kisses along her jawline. It didn’t last long either. “Where’s Marceline?” Pippa called.

Oh yeah, she’s in here with me, she thought wryly. She could feel Marceline grinning too. “Probably lost in the shop somewhere. I’ll see if I can find her on my way out.”

“Uh huh.” Penelope’s tone implied she wasn’t believed.

“She knows you like me,” Marceline whispered before Pippa’s footsteps had finished fading.

Bonnie offered a watery glare. “I told her I thought you were attractive. That does not mean I like you as anything other than a friend. We’ve discussed pleasing aesthetics before, yes?”

“You compared Cameron to a light fixture,” Marceline chuckled. “I remember.” Her mouth found Bonnie’s then and for at least a little while she was happy not to think too hard about anything. “But that wasn’t a question,” Marceline added a tad breathily when she pulled away. “I was telling you, that she knows.”

“How do you know?”

She laughed then, a bright sound that Bonnie would’ve been happy to hear for the rest of her life. (Which explained the little ‘oh god’ going off in the back of her head.) “Because you’re in a change room where – more than likely – you’ll end up wearing very little clothing at some point. And she wanted to know where I am.” She smiled, pressing another gentle kiss to Bonnie’s lips. “She knows something, at least.”

“Oh.” Because that did make sense. “Maybe we shouldn’t keep her waiting then. She might get some funny idea about barging in here.”

“Good call. Will you help me with the tie?”

“Only if you unzip me.”

Marceline’s smile voiced her thoughts better than words ever could have. And maybe it did take them just a little too long to get outside.

It was worth it though.

Chapter Text

Sunday 7th June 2015

“Why is water blue?”

Jake tapped his pen against the edge of the table and glanced over at Finn’s book. Nothing enlightening was written there because Finn had been drawing dolphins in the textbook’s little ocean diagram for the last half hour. He sighed. Marceline could only smile at him.

“You don’t do geo do you, Marceline?” he asked plaintively.

“Nope. Sorry, Jake.”

“Do you know the answer?” he enquired anyway.

“I’m going to say…” she drawled, swirling another note onto her music composition piece. “Science.”

He huffed. “You’re useless.”

Marceline smirked and rocked back on her chair to peek over the top of the lounge chair where Bonnie, Hayden and Pippa were sprawled out working on their history presentation. “Hey, Bon. Is water blue because of science?”

The redhead blinked at her. “Yes, of course. Why?”

“Jake didn’t believe me.”

“It’s the reflection of particles from the upper atmosphere,” she went on. “The water doesn’t absorb those wavelengths so it mirrors the sky’s blueness. That’s why when there’s no sky because of trees or rock formations, the water shows as a different colour. Do I need to come up there and help him with that?”

“You might.”

“Give me one minute.”

Marceline allowed her chair to tip forwards again, clicking the other two feet to the floorboards. “Hear that? Bonnie is going to help you solve all your problems.”

Jake sighed again. “If only she could solve all my problems.”

The words on the tip of her tongue were inappropriate so Marceline swallowed them and smiled instead. “Since she’s a genius,” she said rather than the other thing. “It’s quite possible she can solve most of your schooling troubles.”

“She can’t make it easier for me to understand maths,” Finn pointed out, tapping his pen against his book (his geology book, but whatever). “It still makes zero sense to me.”

“And I still won’t really understand why water is blue,” Jake added. “Just that it is.”

Fingers running lightly across her shoulders were all the warning Marceline had before Bonnie was plopping into the chair beside her, one foot folded beneath her. “You can lead a horse to water,” she muttered, beaming at Marceline.

“But you can’t make it smart?” she guessed, dryly. It earned her a slap on the arm, but Bonnie shuffled closer so she could peer past Marceline’s workbook at Jake’s supposedly uncooperative diagram.

She extended a finger to a little box out in Jake’s book. “Read this.” His eyes snapped to it, scanning the words. “That should give you a basic understanding of it. Really it’s just refraction and colour theory.”

“I’m not an art student,” Jake grumbled. “Nor am I particularly good at physics.”

“So just memorise it,” she suggested. “There will be a practice exam before-hand. Or at the very least a revision sheet that should give you some idea of what you’ll need to concentrate on.” Bonnie’s hand slipped under the table, bracing her weight against Marceline’s thigh as she leaned further across the table.

Despite the red Marceline knew was rising in her face and the way her heart wobbled, she managed to get out in a relatively normal tone, “You could just swap seats with me. Rather than getting all in the way of my assignment.”

“You don’t mind,” Bonnie murmured. Her eyes never left Jake’s text book, reading through the information upside down. Honestly, the girl never ceased to amaze. Her finger jabbed the page again. “Here. This part.”

Jake followed and read the paragraph carefully, brows drawing together the longer he focused. “How did I not see this here before?” he grouched. He clicked his pen violently to take down abbreviated (and more coherent) notes. “Thanks, Bonnie.”

She flashed a smile. “No worries.” Then her hand squeezed Marceline’s knee as she stood, already heading back to her history thing. “Just holler.”

Finn ducked his head a little closer to Jake, stage whispering (so Marceline could hear, how nice), “I think Ellen might be right.” His eyes remained fixed on Bonnibel as she sank to the floor, correcting Pippa’s grammar politely. Marceline might’ve been staring at her too, but for a different reason. Obviously.

“How do you mean?” Jake wondered, still annotating his geology.

“We should get Bonnie a girlfriend.”

At that, Marceline’s eyes whipped around to them, going really wide. “Excuse me?” she blurted. They looked up at her, baffled – clearly – by her outburst. Which… yeah okay, fair enough. She was a little incensed, but that was only because they were talking about her girlfriend here.

Finn just shrugged. “She is really awesome. Someone should get to appreciate that.”

“I think what you people need to stop doing is meddling in other folks’ love lives,” Marceline grouched, glaring at her notepad. “It’s not very nice.”

Jake sucked in a deep breath. “It doesn’t happen often,” he exhaled. “But I agree with Marceline.”

“Really?” she and Finn both questioned incredulously.

He bobbed his head. “Yeah. We don’t know what she likes, don’t know any other girls who play for her team, don’t know anything. I say just let it be.” He shrugged. “One day she’ll meet someone. I’m not going to try and force her into a relationship. That’s not what friends do.”

Marceline levelled her pen in Jake’s direction. “Yes, I agree. One hundred percent. Leave her alone.”

Finn arched a shoulder. “Just a thought. But alright.” For a minute he actually did some work, and then it ended. “Did you hear about David, though?”

“What did he do?” Marceline asked obligingly.

“He stole his dad’s car and crashed it.”

“Oh god, really?” Jake breathed, giving his cousin all of his attention.

Finn nodded seriously. “Yeah, apparently he and Mark were arguing about something over at the bridge. Mark got out, said he’d walk home, that if Dave didn’t have his dad’s permission then he wasn’t going to get involved. Dave went after him and forgot to put the handbrake on so the car rolled right off the highway and into the river.” Finn’s hand mimed the car tipping off the edge and came accompanied with a rough explosion sound for when it hit the creek bed.

“Nasty,” Marceline muttered, shaking her head. “Serves him right, though.”

“I reckon. If I was his dad I’d be so pissed,” Jake agreed. “That car is so nice.”

“Was,” Finn corrected.

“And now it’s cactus. What a waste.”

Finn shook his head. “Some people don’t deserve such nice machinery if they can’t appreciate it.” He clucked his tongue and everything. Marceline just about exploded with laughter.

“You’d know all about that, huh, Finn,” she managed to get out around her grin.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he almost snapped, looking a little wounded.

She hunched one shoulder. “You’ve had that little blue car for how long and it’s already dinged up all over the front bumper and there’s probably something wrong with the fan belt from the sound it makes. Maybe treat your own machinery a little better, yeah?”

At that, Jake burst out cackling. “Oh she got you, bro.” And it came complete with a whip crack sound effect and gesture. Excellent.

She rolled her eyes as they set about bickering with one another over whether or not Finn’s car even counts when the word ‘nice’ is used. Apparently this is why Finn doesn’t have ‘nice’ things to begin with. Marceline found the whole thing amusing but returned her focus to her composition.

For the next hour she somehow managed to keep Finn and Jake tuned out as she powered through her assignment. Hopefully she might even have it finished by the end of the week. That’d give her plenty of time to revise before handing it in. Stupid assignment.

It wasn’t until soft hands grasped her shoulders that she even realised someone had been talking to her. Nearly jumping out of her skin, she glanced around to find Bonnie (of course, who else) standing beside her. At that point the few extra beats per minute her heart was labouring through were for another reason than mere startlement.

“We’re breaking for lunch,” her girlfriend explained. “You coming?”

She blinked. “Where to?”

Bonnie hooked a thumb in a general ‘outside’ direction. “Pippa’s mum made food for us. We’re eating on the deck. Come on.”

Being tugged to her feet and having Bonnie direct her to the patio by virtue of their suddenly linked arms involved a lot less complaining than it might once have done. Weird. Or not so weird given her undying need to be as close to Bonnibel as she could get. Actually, that was kind of embarrassing and awkward and she hoped to God (something she didn’t do often) that Bonnie never found out.

Today, the ping pong table didn’t fill the majority of the space. It had been folded up and shoved against the side of the house. Instead, what dominated the area was a large wooden table and Marceline couldn’t even begin to guess how it had ended up there. Eyeing the exit off the deck to the back yard she figured it must have been out there somewhere the last time she’d visited. On the polished surface of this table was lunch.

As they stepped onto the tiles, Bonnie let her go, circling around to grab glasses off the table and fill them with whatever was in that green pitcher. Marceline’s attention was drawn away from staring (probably a little weirdly) at Bonnibel, when Penelope pushed a blue plate into her hands. She glanced at the plate briefly – long enough to register a bread roll sitting on it, probably filled with stuff – and then looked back up at Pippa, kind of confused.

“What…?”

Penelope just smiled. “You seemed kind of lost. So I made you a sandwich.”

She pointed at the table. “Just trying to work out where that came from. I’m fine.”

“Yeah, okay.” Pippa laughed lightly, collapsing into the seat beside Jake, as usual.

That’s about when Bonnie found her again, beaming and offering Marceline one of the glasses. “Come on, Marceline,” she muttered. “Relax.”

She blinked. “I’m relaxed.” To prove it, she sank into a chair across from Finn. “Totally fine.” Marceline picked up her roll, figuring that’s a great way to stop feeling… out of place. Before she got it even half way to her mouth, Bonnie was grabbing her wrist, eyes doing something panicked.

“Do not eat that,” she huffed. Slowly, Marceline lowered the roll to her plate.

“Um… why?”

Only the question answered itself when Bonnie lifted the top off the sandwich. Oh… Tomatoes. Fair enough.

“Ah,” she sighed, pushing the plate away from her. “Thanks.”

“Any time,” Bonnie sang, grinning. And magically, she had a replacement ready. “Without death food.”

There was an itch between her shoulder blades telling her to double check. But she didn’t, just took a bite. Marceline had enough faith that Bonnibel wouldn’t try to kill her. No need to be paranoid. Her throat didn’t close over either, so that was a good sign.

“My sandwich not good enough for you?” Pippa called from further down the table.

Marceline made a point of swallowing before answering. “Nah, not really.”

Penelope blinked, mouth quirking in something that might’ve been amusement and might’ve been irritation. “Sorry my sandwiches don’t meet your exacting standards, Abadeer,” she teased, rolling her eyes.

She shrugged. “You just don’t know my system.” To punctuate this, she took another bite, grinning around the mouthful.

“I’m sorry,” Pippa deadpanned. “We don’t let pets sit at the table.”

Finn howled with laughter at that so Marceline spun the plate with the death-sandwich on it at him. It whirled across the table and nearly ended up in his lap. Then he ate it. Boys.

“There’s nothing wrong with this,” he decided once it was mostly consumed. “Perfectly lovely.”

“Sure,” she snorted. “Except for the part where it kills me.” The last bit was much softer than the first, but obviously Hayden heard it.

“Kill you?” she asked, disbelieving; eyebrows arched in that dubious way she had. “It’s a sandwich.”

“Sandwiches can be deadly,” she dismissed. But they were all looking at her now; waiting for further explanation. She sighed. “I’m allergic to tomatoes.”

“Deathly allergic?” Penelope’s voice wobbled, her face draining of colour.

Marceline hunched her shoulder. “Yeah, kinda.”

She hadn’t thought it possible, but Pippa’s face went even whiter. She looked like a ghost. “I could’ve killed you!” she just about screeched. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t realise there would be tomatoes involved, Pip,” she explained. “Just relax. I’m fine. Bonnie caught it.”

“That’s beside the point.” Yeah, okay. Now Pippa was just wailing. She fell back against her chair. “This is awful. You could’ve died because I didn’t know that. Oh my god. Are you okay?”

“Jesus, Pip, just chill,” she laughed. “I’m fine. No harm done.”

“Christ.” Then her face flashed from ‘I just had a minor heart attack’ to ‘wait, what did she say’ in such a small period of time it was almost comical. “Bonnie caught it?” Her eyes flicked across to look at the redhead in question. “You knew?”

“Duh,” Bonnibel laughed. “She’s eaten at my place enough times.”

Something suspicious lingered around the corners of Penelope’s eyes for a moment, but the logic was inescapable. “Fair enough,” she huffed. “Would’ve been nice if you’d told me, though.”

Bonnie held her hands up. “I didn’t know you were giving her a sandwich.”

“Next time I’ll just get my own,” Marceline mumbled. At least that seemed to end the conversation. Admittedly, the fact that Pippa had been so scared was sort of nice. She cared enough to have panicked. A smile wavered across her lips at the thought.

When Pippa’s attention had returned to Jake, Bonnie shifted beside her. Their thighs were suddenly pressed together and Marceline had to put an awful lot of effort into keeping the red from her face. So busy trying not to think about how close they were, Marceline nearly jumped when Bonnie’s hand landed on her arm.

“You sure you’re alright?” she whispered.

The breath left her lungs in a big whoosh. “Yep. I’m good.”

Bonnibel continued to eye her for a moment. Then she nodded and went back to her lunch.

 


 

“Marceline, any chance I can get your help with the composition of this?”

Marceline looked up – away from their chemistry – and blinked at Pippa. “Composition?”

“Yeah, for our final piece. I can’t decide if I like this layout.”

“She means in art, Marceline,” Hayden added, her pen swirling in her sketch book.

“Oh right.” She glanced back at Bonnie who just smiled. “Mind if I come back to this?”

As always, her smile expanded when she caught Marceline’s gaze. “Go for it. We can do this later.”

Flashing her a quick grin, Marceline bounced over to Pippa, already muttering something about the sketched draft of her artwork. Figuring she might as well stop with her chemistry for now (she’d finish it when Marceline was done), Bonnie folded her book up and heaved herself off the couch. Finn and Jake were both hunched over the dining table again, not working on their geography this time, though. She tilted her head to get a better look as she sank down beside Jake. Looked like… physics.

“Oh, good,” Finn sighed, slumping across the table. “Help us, Bonnibel Kenobi. You’re our only hope.”

“What are you revising?”

“Acceleration or force or momentum or something,” Finn moaned. “I don’t even know. I’m just hungry.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. “We only ate lunch an hour ago.”

“A long hour ago,” he lamented. “Physics makes me hungry.”

Jake hummed. “I might go pilfer some biscuits from Pippa’s cupboard.”

“Drink,” Finn added as Jake rose from his chair. “Get drinks too.”

“Since you asked so nicely.”

When Jake had disappeared, Finn’s gaze snapped to Bonnibel. “I need help,” he said seriously.

“With physics?” she enquired, not a little confused by his expression.

“No. I was kind of hoping Lemonbreath would turn down the petition for the senior formal, but he didn’t and… and… and asking girls out is scary.” He huffed, chin hitting his book. “Every time I open my mouth to ask, I freeze.”

Realisation dawned. “Hayden?” She couldn’t fight the smile.

“Yeah…” His sigh was somewhat wistful as his eyes drifted over to watch her on the floor, still doodling in her sketchbook. “I mean… I want to ask her to go with me. But my mouth won’t say the words. It sucks.” He closed his eyes.

“How am I supposed to help with that?”

One eye opened half-way to regard her as though the answer was actually really obvious and she’s just dense. “Well… you’re gay. How would you ask a girl out?”

Her laugh was breathier than she’d like. The whole hypothetical was just ridiculous. “You ask. Hey, do you wanna go to the senior formal with me? Easy.”

Someone scoffed beside her and she looked around – startled – to find Marceline digging through her pencil case. “Just need your protractor,” she explained.

“For art?”

She shrugged. “Pippa’s work is really geometrical. Hey, Finn. Just ask her.”

His eyes narrowed at Marceline. “It’s not… I can’t… It’s harder than that.”

“No it’s not,” she sniffed. To prove her point she turned to Bonnie (whose heart began pounding uncomfortably in her ears). “Hey, Bon. Do you wanna go to the formal with me?”

Holy shit, she actually asked. Oh my god. Bonnie’s throat went dry.

“Uh… yeah, okay…?”

Marceline grinned at her. “You actually sound more uncertain about it than I did, weirdo. Just as friends, yeah? We’re the only two singles in the room. Gotta stick together.” She finished with a wink before flouncing off with her pilfered protractor.

“Was that strange?” Finn asked softly.

“A little,” Bonnie agreed. Thankfully, her ability to speak seemed to have returned. “But she does have a point. It is exactly that easy.”

Finn’s jaw squared as he watched Hayden helping Pippa with the protractor. “Yeah,” he breathed. “Easy.”

“Do you have any classes with just her?”

“HPE.”

“So ask her out. Don’t think about it, just do it.”

“Your advice is surprisingly unhelpful,” he told her drolly. “But sure.”

“Just give it your best shot, Finn. That’s all you can do.”

“Yeah…”

 

-*…*…*-

 

She lifted an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

Marceline beamed at her, but confusion shimmered around the edges. “What?” At least she sounded happy as they wandered down the street back towards Bonnie’s place. The sun was too warm on their backs, nice in the growing cool of the day, but that didn’t mean Bonnie wanted to linger in it.

“I didn’t even think you wanted to go to the senior formal.”

Understanding hit her in the middle of her forehead. “Oh,” Marceline whispered. “Right. Well…”

Bonnibel half turned so she could fix Marceline with a proper look. “You don’t have to go.”

“Are you going?”

“Yes. I will be.”

Determination flashed in Marceline’s blue eyes. “Then I want to be there, too.” She paused for a moment; both her words and her feet stilling. “Um… Bon? Do you maybe want… to go with me?”

Her mouth twisted into a teasing smile without any permission at all. “As your friend, right?”

Marceline’s eyes rolled reflexively. She probably would’ve stuck her hands in her pockets too if they hadn’t been holding her books. “No, nerd. Do you want to go with me as my girlfriend?”

“Oh yes, absolutely.” This time, Bonnie winked before bouncing off down the footpath. “Although your solidarity thing was very convincing.”

“I hate you,” Marceline called, following.

“No you don’t.” And there was not a trace of doubt in her words.

She could practically feel Marceline’s next eye roll.

Chapter Text

Friday 19th June 2015

Not for the first time, Bonnie caught herself staring at the sky. So dark and clear, the stars sprinkled across the great velvet expanse in a glittering tribute to lack of pollution. Never in all her time living in Ormeau had she seen this many stars. It struck her then as something she’d honestly miss when she left. The trees, the stars… the quiet. She’d miss all of it. The realisation tugged forlornly in her stomach.

Then her gaze dropped back to her phone as it beeped and she smiled. She’d miss Reich, sure. But she already missed Ormeau. Home, her subconscious supplied. Apparently it was a double bind. Still, at least she had a tether to Ormeau.

Kick starting the holidays? A text from her tether. How about that. Cherry’s tone felt teasing and it made Bonnie shake her head.

At a birthday party actually.

This is me gasping, Cherry fired back with a little gaping emote. Whose?

You know that boy, Finn, I told you about? It’s his today. He was upset that it didn’t fall on the holidays, but the last day of term isn’t so bad.

It surely is not. So why are you texting me at his party?

She rolled her lip under, eyes flicking up to where Finn had been shooting little rubbery darts out of a plastic gun at ducks. Hayden had her arms wrapped around a stuffed lion with a fiery mane, her head back as she laughed at Finn’s latest attempt. Turns out she’s handy with a fire-arm and he’s… not so much. He seemed pretty determined to win her something though; his tongue stuck out between his teeth as he concentrated.

The birthday boy is busy trying to impress a girl, she typed back. We’re at the county fair. It’s only here for two weeks. Unfortunately it’s before the school holidays start so he doesn’t get to come much. We figured it’d be a nice present.

Surely there are others you should be talking to? Cherry pressed. I’ll stop monopolising your time, you enjoy yourself. And don’t forget to call me tomorrow. Also, Zara said your dress should arrive sometime around August. Keep an eye out for that.

Oh, Cherry. You really are the best.

I know.

Shaking her head, Bonnibel slid her phone back into her pocket just as Ellen slumped into the spot beside her. She looked down at the green bench, nose wrinkled in distaste, but she didn’t move. Maybe her bum was stuck to the chair with discarded chewing gum. The notion made Bonnie’s lips curl up a little.

“Not on any of the rides, Ellen?” she wheedled.

The other girl rolled her eyes skyward. “I’m not big on them. Kids get them all sticky and people vomit and they smell. It’s not sanitary.”

Bonnie could only nod. Not that she didn’t find it amusing (she totally did), but she also understood where Ellen was coming from. Almost an entire minute of silence pervaded them before Eleanor spoke again.

“Where’s Marceline?”

She shifted in her seat. “I believe she’s with Keila,” she muttered.

Ellen just nodded. “I don’t like that guy she’s with,” she went on. “Gerald, or something, right?”

Bonnie gave Ellen the flattest look she could manage. “You know his name, Ellen. Come on now.”

“Gary something, yes?”

“That’s him.”

Eleanor nodded. “I don’t like him,” she reiterated. Her hands kneaded the air as she searched for the word she wanted. “He’s too controlling; possessive. I get the feeling Keila doesn’t have half as much freedom as she thinks she does. Poor girl.”

Weird; how Ellen could hit the nail on the head just like that while Bonnie had been contemplating along similar veins for months. Consequently, the way she gaped a little bit didn’t seem half as surprising as the cause. “That’s exactly what it is.”

“And I hear you’re going to the senior formal with Marceline.” Wow, what a drastic topic change. No the wonder people were left with their heads spinning after a conversation with Eleanor. Her train of thought didn’t appear to follow the same logical tracks that everyone else’s did.

Bonnie just shrugged. “Yeah. Well everyone else has a significant other to go with.”

“But neither of you do,” Ellen agreed. “You could though.”

She sighed. “Or not. I’m perfectly happy with how things are. I’d rather hang out with a friend than a guy anyway. At least I know I’ll have fun with Marceline. A boyfriend might ruin it for me.”

“Touché.” There was another moment of silence. Then, “You and I should go guy shopping anyway. Let’s go tomorrow.”

Resisting the urge to needle Ellen about her back-and-forth with Cameron (who was probably off getting her a coffee or something), Bonnie instead said, “I can’t. I’m working with Marceline tomorrow.”

To her surprise, Eleanor actually blinked; stunned. “Um… why? The semester is over, you know.”

“I know. We’re doing extra credit stuff,” she explained. “Building her a portfolio and writing it out nicely so it’s well presented. Stuff so she can get a job.” She left off the bit where they got side tracked and made out instead. Ellen didn’t need to know that.

She blinked again, looking a bit like an owl faced with a bright light. “Huh. I’ll be damned. I didn’t think she’d care about that kind of stuff.”

“You’d be surprised.”

Ellen’s eyes flashed then. “You know,” her tone was devious. This could not be good. “You make plans with her a lot. If you and I had plans – maybe to go guy shopping – and she called to do something with you, what would you do?”

Bonnie rolled that over for a moment. “Depends,” she eventually decided. “If Marceline called to ask for help on an assignment or other form of work, I’d probably explain very nicely to you that helping her get good grades is what I was originally hired for. I will make sure she graduates and if that means I can’t go guy shopping… then I’m really sorry. We can reschedule.

“But if she’s calling for… say, a movie marathon, then I say, ‘Hey, sorry, Marceline, I have plans with Ellen already. Maybe later.’ Then she’d grumble, ‘Ugh, why the hell do you hang out with her anyway?’ To which I’d reply, ‘Well she is my friend and she got in before you so she has first dibs on my time. But you could always tag along.’ And Marceline would reply with, ‘Please, no. I don’t want to be subjected to Eleanor’s company. Not ever.’ So I’d say, ‘Well okay. Maybe you can pick me up when we’re done and we can grab pizza on the way home and watch movies then?’ Marceline would mutter about that for a moment and finally sigh in that overly dramatic way she has and go, ‘Ugh, fine. We can do that.’ Voila, plans made.”

The look on Ellen’s face was perfection. “You got her spot on,” she breathed. Then she started laughing. “That was an excellent Marceline impression.”

“Thank you.” Bonnie beamed.

Before Ellen could speak again, Jake was squishing into the space between them. “Why are you girls over here? Come on a ride with me.”

“Pass,” Ellen said immediately.

“Bonnie?” he just about begged. He even turned on his puppy dog face. How could she say ‘no’ to that?

She sighed. “Oh, alright. Just one.”

“What about a rollercoaster?” he asked, bouncing excitedly.

“Um… no. Pick something easier for a first-timer, please,” she huffed.

He paused halfway through tugging her to her feet. “Wait. You’ve never been on a fair ride before?”

“I went on a Ferris Wheel once,” she told him.

Jake’s mouth fell open. “No,” he breathed. “This is unacceptable. Come on, let’s go ride the teacups.”

“Teacups?” Bonnie let herself be dragged along though and it wasn’t long before she realised how apt the name was. They were actually giant teacups with seats in them. “Teacups,” she repeated flatly. “Do they go fast?”

“Not really,” he said. “They’re a kiddie ride, so they go fairly slowly. Come on. In, in, in.”

At night it was surprisingly empty so there was no line for them to wait through. Jake just offered a quick smile and a wink to the blonde attendant lady and shoved Bonnie into the teacup. He pulled the safety bar down into their laps but continued to bounce in his seat enthusiastically.

For her part, when the ride began to move, Bonnie wrapped her hands tightly around the metal, feeling her stomach plummet to her feet. How fast did it get to? How safe could it possibly be? Surely the bar wouldn’t keep her in. The centripetal force would send her flying out over the top of railing. Surely.

She sank a little further back into the seat despite the fact that it was exactly as sticky as Ellen had predicted. The back felt a little low. Physics had to kick in any second now.

Just as she thought that perhaps the speed was low enough that she wouldn’t go flying out of the cup, it picked up the pace. She hunched down. Jake grinned at her like an idiot, the wind whipping his hair about his face. It was getting pretty long; maybe he should cut it.

For an altogether much too long a period of time, the teacups whirled around in their strange looping circle and Bonnie wondered if her legs would support her afterwards. Probably not. Already they felt like jelly. And her stomach… not a happy camper. Good thing she hadn’t eaten one of those greasy sausage stick things Finn had offered her earlier. She probably would’ve vomited by now if she had.

Slowly, the ride wound to a stop and the bar snapped upwards. Jake turned to face her, eyes wide (probably with enthusiasm), hair sticking out everywhere from the wind. He looked expectant as he helped her stand.

“Did you enjoy it?” he asked.

She eyed him incredulously. “I don’t think carnival rides are my thing, honestly,” she mumbled. “But it was alright. I’ll be better prepared for the next time someone drags me onto a silly thing like that.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “Come on, Bonnie. You had fun. Admit it.”

In spite of herself, she couldn’t stop from smiling. “Yeah, okay. It was fun. I’m just glad I had an empty stomach, to be honest.”

Jake laughed. “Okay, maybe no rollercoasters for you, then.” He looked around, no doubt searching for Finn or Pippa. “Do you want to get something to eat then?”

“Um… not really. Maybe we can get a drink though.” She nodded at the stand not far from them. Jake bounded off, calling for her to just wait there and he’d be right back and oh what does she want? She rolled her eyes at him. She’d been doing that a lot lately.

She spotted another wooden bench – this one blue – and collapsed into it while she waited. People watching was much more her speed. Briefly she saw Ellen weaving around a rack of what looked like plastic ninja weapons but she vanished again just as fast.

Jake was back at her side in an eye blink, offering her a bottle of soft drink. “No water, I’m sorry. That guy didn’t sell it.”

“Lame,” she opined, but cracked the lid off anyway. “Where did everyone else go?”

He shrugged. “Not sure, actually. Finn’s probably still trying to ask Hayden on a date somewhere. Cameron will be following Ellen like a lost puppy and Pippa… yeah no idea. She could be anywhere. Maybe she went to inspect the horses.”

“And tell the workers they’re doing it wrong,” Bonnie added lowly.

Jake heard her, but he just smiled. It was true. Penelope would do exactly that. Then she’d probably try and teach them the proper way of doing it. Whatever ‘it’ happened to be.

So they sat there watching the trickles of people hanging around for the fireworks mosey from stall to stall. One guy had tokens spilling from his pockets and a pair of giant elephant plushies in his arms. A woman pushing a pram nearly bumped into him because she was trying to keep the unruly child in the seat and he couldn’t see past the elephants. Made for an amusing tangle.

She was so fixated on watching the strangers in the thin crowd (and joking about them quietly with Jake) that she shrieked when hands clapped onto her shoulders. Her heart hammered as she leapt to her feet, spinning to see who it was.

“God damn you, Keila,” she grouched. “You scared me.”

Her friend grinned cheerily, repentance nowhere to be found on her face. “That was the plan,” she sang. “What are you guys doing here? On a date?”

Bonnie and Jake exchanged glances, trying not to find the suggestion hilarious. She succeeded. Jake failed. He burst out cackling.

“No,” Bonnibel sighed. “We’re not on a date, Keila. We’re here for Finn’s birthday.”

“Oh right,” the other girl said, snapping her fingers. “That’s today. Wish him well for me.”

Bonnie nodded. “Yeah, he’s around here somewhere.”

“With Hayden,” Jake added, gaining control of his laughter. “Probably either moping or being angry with himself.”

“Or both,” Bonnie added.

“Or both.”

“He still hasn’t asked her out yet, huh?” Keila’s brow pinched as she asked.

“Nope,” Jake answered, popping his ‘p’. “Kid’s chicken.”

Keila shrugged. “I don’t blame him. Fear of rejection and all that.”

“Yeah…” he drew out. “But no. He asked Bonnie out.”

“That’s true,” Bonnibel realised. “He did. I should remind him of that. Might be the kick in the pants he needs.”

“Not your type, Bonnie, huh?” Keila teased.

She snorted. “Not at all.” Then her brain clicked. Speaking of her type. “Oh, hey. Weren’t you hanging with Marceline tonight?”

Keila’s face did something strange then. Her expression catching somewhere between guilt and confusion. Maybe regret cracked the edges too. “Yeah. We were in Blackwater.”

Innocently, Bonnie tilted her head. “What happened? Is she here?”

“We bumped into Gary,” she replied, hunching one shoulder. “He asked if I wanted to come to the fair with him. Said he’d never been to one before. So we came over here. He’s just gone to get something to eat.”

And what about Marceline, he brain demanded. Thankfully her brain-to-mouth filter was working well enough today that she kept it to herself. She did wrap her fingers around her phone though, sending a covert message to her girlfriend.

Aloud, she just said, “Ah. Okay. You have fun then.”

Again Keila’s face contorted into something unusual. “I really like him,” she blurted. “And Marceline can’t see that.”

She stopped, watching Keila carefully. The other girl looked absolutely perplexed that the words had even come out. Jake shifted uncomfortably in his seat, clearly not wanting to be there anymore.

Bonnie shook her head. “What do you mean?”

Keila shuffled her feet, looking anywhere but at Bonnibel. “She just… She can’t see that he makes me happy. She doesn’t seem to want me to be with him.”

Quietly, “Maybe it’s not that,” Bonnie murmured. “Maybe she just wants you to spend time with her as well.”

“I do!”

“How much in comparison to Gary?”

Keila slumped. “Plenty. I see her enough. I just can’t understand why she’s so… prickly about it. If she was in a relationship she’d know. She’d see that I’m doing the best I can.”

Bonnie had to bite her tongue. She had to resist the desire to point out that Marceline had been in a relationship and she’d still had time for Keila. (Especially considering that by her own admission, Marceline hadn’t been the greatest friend while she’d dated Ash. It wouldn’t help her argument any.) She also had to squash the temptation to tell Keila that she’d miss Marceline when she lost her. That probably wouldn’t help either. It’d just make Keila all the more defensive.

Instead, she nodded. “That’s all you can do.” But what if your best isn’t enough? She didn’t say it, but the words lingered in the air between them anyway.

Keila’s head bobbed too, but she looked like she didn’t quite believe it. Then Gary, with his perfect hair and wonderfully white smile, flounced over carrying two hotdogs. A plastic bag with condensation dripping down the side swung from his wrist; probably with drinks inside. He grinned at Keila and just like that she morphed into someone a lot more cheerful and self-assured.

Her phone buzzed, giving Bonnie an excellent excuse not to look at Gary anymore. (He didn’t even greet them, what kind of douche is that rude?) A short, tart message lit up her screen. Marceline had the excellent ability to convey her precise levels of irritation through a few simple words.

Ditched again. Going home.

For a moment she tapped the sides of her phone, debating her options. She sent a reply anyway. Come to the fair. We’ll go on the bumper cars.

Finn’s idea, wasn’t it?

Got it in one.

A few beats passed before her phone went off again. Be there in five.

“Marceline?” Jake asked shrewdly, prompting her to look up.

She hummed an affirmative. “Why?”

He shrugged half-heartedly. “Just wondering.”

Her eyes panned across the fairgrounds. “Keila’s gone,” she noted.

“Yeah. She slipped away while you were on your phone.” He lifted an eyebrow at her. “I don’t think she liked what you had to say.”

“Just giving her my opinion,” she dismissed.

Jake exhaled, throwing his arms along the back of the bench. “You know, I don’t like that Gary fellow.”

“Apparently n