Death was the worst. Marceline was of the opinion that no one should ever die. Dying was the most inconsiderate thing a person could do with their life and it was really awful that people kept right on doing it. And now it was just her and Simon and Hambo.
Looking at the wrecked storefronts and at the faded newspapers with their unhappy headlines, it just seemed like people could have found something better to do with their time.
Marceline huddled on a sofa that was only partially blackened. She was alone again, waiting in the hollowed out lobby of what had once been a hotel. If she ever got separated from Simon, she was supposed to go to where they’d last spent the night.
But they weren’t separated very often. And she wasn’t very scared - she was never very scared – just worried.
Marceline waited until day became night and then day again. She slept some, but not very soundly. She tried to play some, but Hambo wasn’t feeling up to it.
Marceline had never waited so long before and the longer she kept waiting, the surer she was that he had died too. Even so, she never moved far from the sofa.
Marceline heard Simon before she saw him. She ran, throwing her arms around his neck when he picked her up. Simon kept apologizing, but Marceline just cried.
Afterwards, they walked for a while. Marceline rode on Simon’s shoulders most of the way and that cheered her up significantly.
When it got dark and the weather got bad, they stopped. Buildings were too brittle to spend the night in, especially on bad weather nights. Simon put his sleeping bag in the back seat of a car and tucked Marceline into it. She snuggled up with Hambo and watched Simon in the front seat; not sleeping, just sitting and writing things down and throwing concerned looks out the window every now and then.
Marceline closed her eyes. She fell asleep, feeling very silly for ever having worried.
“You should cure death,” suggested Marceline.
Candy people aged weird. It was, like, connected to the density of their biomass or something. Marceline didn’t know much about biology. Princess Bubblegum did. She’d even explained it all once, but Marceline hadn’t really gotten it.
Marceline didn’t care about science. Bubblegum did, though. Bubblegum loved science. Marceline just loved Bubblegum.
Bubblegum laughed, then paused and thought about the suggestion more seriously. “It’s not like I haven’t considered it. The people of the Candy Kingdom aren’t quite as complex as, say, you or me – It’s theoretically possible that…”
The princess rambled on until Marceline kissed her quiet. The flame shield made her pretty pink skin look just a few shades off from Marceline’s, but she still tasted sweet.
Someone knocked on the door.
Marceline frowned. Bubblegum smiled up at Marceline, breathless but patient. “Expecting someone?” she asked.
Before Marceline could say that, no, she obviously wouldn’t invite someone over on one of the rare nights she had the always busy Bonnibel all alone, the someone outside knocked again. “Hello?” they called. “Is anyone in there? Hello?”
“Oh, no,” said Marceline and Bubblegum, quietly and at the same time.
“I am so, so sorry,” said Bubblegum. She stood and went for her things. “I’ll just call someone to… escort the Ice King away.”
Marceline was tempted to let her. “No,” she sighed. “I’ll take care of him.”
“Oh, you don’t have to-”
“It’s fine! Seriously, okay? He probably doesn’t even know you’re here.”
The knocking came from Marceline’s bedroom window now. “Hello? Marceline? You in there?”
Marceline shoved Bubblegum to the floor and out of sight. The princess shrieked.
“Yes!” Marceline shouted over her. “Glob, just… wait a second, okay!”
“Marceline, what-” Bubblegum began to rise from the floor, but Marceline pushed her back down.
“This won’t take long," she assured Bubblegum, desperate. "Can you keep out of sight? Just for a little while?”
“I guess, but-”
“Thanks!” Marceline flew from the room and closed the door behind her. She took a deep breath and headed outside.
“How’s it hangin’?” said Simon.
“What are you doing here?” Marceline wasn’t asking Simon. It was a rhetorical question, a completely exasperated one. She had moved to the Fire Kingdom specifically because it was the very last place she thought he would come looking for her. Clearly, she had been wrong. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“Is it?” Simon looked around at all the fire and a sky so choked with ash and smoke it would be impossible to see a sun up above it. “How can you tell?”
“I can tell.”
Simon shrugged. “I thought you were a night person. It’s the vampire part that threw me off. Honest mistake. I thought all vampires were night people, and I probably shouldn’t just assume. That’s rude.” He moved to step around her and go inside, but Marceline blocked his way.
“What’s rude is just showing up unannounced.”
“Why? Do you already have company?”
“Well, hey, great! The more the merrier -- do you have an AC or something in there? Kinda warm out here, isn’t it?”
Simon tried to move past her again and again Marceline moved in front of him. “No.”
“Why don’t you have air conditioning?”
“No! I mean, no, you can’t come in!” Marceline took a deep breath. She hated yelling at him. It never did any good, and it just made her feel bad after. “I want time alone… with my company… It’s private.”
“Oooh,” said Simon and elbowed her knowingly. “I getcha.”
Marceline was undead and standing outside in the middle of the Fire Kingdom and she still felt her face grow hot. “No you don’t,” she groaned, knowing he did but wishing to Grod he didn’t.
“That’s actually why I came over. I hear you’re good with princesses.”
“I need advice on how to pick up chicks. Shocking, I know… Don’t worry, I won’t try and seduce yours out from under you or anything.”
“That’s… good to know, I guess.”
“So how did you catch her?”
Marceline wasn’t sure whether Simon meant that figuratively or not. “I don’t know,” she said, and she was being honest. She really didn’t know what it was Bubblegum saw in her exactly or what kept her around. “And I wouldn’t tell you if I did! Will you please just… get out of here?”
“Fine,” said Simon, heaving a dramatic sigh. “I’ll just leave… And go back to my ice castle… My big, lonely ice castle… that doesn’t have a princess. It’s good that you’ve got one. Which one is it again? Hot Dog Princess?”
“Ah, well… I’ll just… go… Can I get a glass of water for the road or something? This place is really awful.”
Marceline sent Simon on his way, quickly and with a glass of water that evaporated before it got out the front door.
Inside, Bubblegum was still in the bedroom, sitting on the floor and away from any windows. She was reading a big leather-bound book with a sciency-looking title. Her hair was tied back and she was wearing nothing but one of Marceline’s shirts and a pair of pink socks. Even with the heat shield, she was bubbly and pink. Marceline wondered how she managed that.
“I got rid of him,” said Marceline. “Sorry about the interruption.”
Bubblegum smiled, but that faded as she looked up from her book. “What’s wrong?”
“Huh? Nothing, why?”
But Bubblegum didn’t look like she believed that. She pulled Marceline out of the air and down to the floor with her. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I just said nothing was wrong! Why would I want to talk about anything?”
“Let’s just go to bed,” said Marceline. “You have that thing with the Fire King in the morning, or whatever.”
“It’s fine. I can’t sleep anyway. Your bed is like a rock, you know.”
“Well, I’m tired.” It was half a lie. Marceline wasn’t sleepy. She didn’t really get sleepy. She did get tired, though. All the time.
“All right,” said Bubblegum, pushing Marceline’s hair back with an affectionate brush of her fingers. Bubblegum was getting tired too, Marceline could tell.
Marceline didn’t think anyone should live forever. Nothing else lasted forever; not places, not people, and definitely not who you were. The girl who lived through the end of the world and the vampire Queen who loved Bubblegum, those people felt like strangers.
All the good things in life were finite. What was the point if you knew you were going to outlive all the things you liked?
Marceline didn’t wish she was dead, but sometimes she wished she’d never become a vampire. And she didn’t wish Simon was dead, either. But sometimes the thought of that hurt less than remembering all the stuff he’d forgotten.
“So why are you here today?” asked Marceline. She hadn’t bothered moving from the cave yet, but she was seriously considering it.
“Is this yours?” asked Simon and Marceline didn’t know what to say. She grabbed Hambo from him, resisting the urge to hug the toy tightly to her chest. “Some witch had it for sale in a wizard shop, in Wizard City, which is a secret city for wizards that you’re not supposed to know about… I’ll show you their website.”
Simon flew past Marceline and into the house. Marceline followed him. He seemed to be having some trouble finding the computer. “Do you remember giving this to me?” she asked, looking at Hambo. He was a stained, faded, dirty stitched-up mess; no worse for wear, really.
“Of course I do,” said Simon, lifting Marceline’s spirits and then immediately crushing them with, “It just happened, like, a second ago. Geez, Marceline.”
“You gave him to me before that. You gave him to me when I was little.” Marceline sighed. She was too tired for this. “What are you doing? Will you stop that? Just… Is this all you came for?”
“No.” Simon stopped in the middle of the room and watched her in silence for a moment. “Yes,” he admitted. It was clear he had nothing better to do. Maybe he’d hoped Hambo would make her more willing to let him loiter around and annoy her. “…I’ll go.”
Simon trudged toward the door.
“Wait,” said Marceline, surprising herself. A part of her that was still very young liked having him around. She hated that part of herself, but what could she do? It was there. “Have you seen Heat Signature?”
So they watched Heat Signature. Afterwards, they talked about movies and whether or not you could make one by casting only penguins. (Simon thought it would be artsy.) Marceline played him some new songs she’d written and rolled her eyes at his praise, even though she loved hearing it.
When it got very late, Marceline told him he could spend the night (but just one night) if he wanted. She instantly, regretted this when he launched into slumber party grade gossip about princesses, mostly Bubblegum. Marceline humored him with vague replies until he fell asleep, then she went to get Hambo.
Marceline hovered near a window. The view wasn’t great, but she wasn’t really looking, just thinking. She hugged Hambo close and wondered if there was a part of Simon that remembered her. There must be. Somewhere, not so deep down, he needed her – like that forever young part of her that still needed him.