“Marceline, is it just you and me in the wreckage of the world? That must be so confusing for a little girl. And I know you're going to need me here with you. But I'm losing myself and I'm afraid you're going to lose me too.”
“This magic keeps me alive but it's making me crazy. And I need to save you, but who's going to save me? Please forgive me for whatever I do when I don't remember you.”
“Marceline, I can feel myself slipping away. I can't remember what it made me say. But I remember that I saw you frown. But it wasn't me, it was the crown.”
- fragments from the Ice King’s scrapbook
Behind his cracked glasses, Marceline sees how his eyes change. Sometimes they are bright, sharp, alive - he looks out on the world with fear, with wonder, with the curiosity of someone who has spend his life in pursuit of knowledge. And then at other times... they go glazed and foggy. All misted up, like his glasses when he gets too near one of the fires. It’s happening more and more often. And he seems to lose something of himself, every time.
She remembers one night, sitting by a tyre fire – the red flames had licked the sky and she had stared at them, rapt, until behind their crackling she had heard sobs, and turned to look at him. His blue-skinned hands covered his eyes; he was bent forwards and shuddering as he wept. Each tear froze to a crystal before it hit the ground. She hadn’t known what to do, except reach out and pat him on the back.
“Betty – my Betty –” were the only words Marceline could discern; everything else was more like the whimpering of a hurt animal.
At last she had held out Hambo, offering him the bright stuffed toy as though it could make everything better.
“Simon – here, hug him and you’ll feel better. You know he helps. He made me better too.” The sincerity in Marceline’s wide, worried eyes was unmistakeable. He took the toy from her gently, with a weak smile, and hugged it. She had watched it absorb his tears, and hoped that somehow, the smiling red toy would make him warmer.
Now he cries less often. She hasn’t heard the name ‘Betty’ from him in weeks – she thinks, at least, although it’s hard to count the days. But still he has his excesses of mood – not sadness, but a kind of mania that seems to overtake him. He will climb up the craggy ruins of a fallen skyscraper and shout obscenities at the clouds until they rumble and roll above him, and hail falls down in sheets; he laughs, then, and waves his arms as though they might become wings. Sometimes when he gestures, she thinks she sees silver lightning arcing through the sky. She used to explore the ruins with him, but now she trusts him less, and stays on the ground with her knees folded up to her chin, watching as he climbs. Marceline is becoming afraid – not of Simon Petrikov, but of whatever he is becoming as he loses himself.
She knows she can go back to the Nightosphere, if she has to. But she doesn’t want to face her dad – an angry demon is still an angry demon, even when you’re his daughter. And Simon, kind-hearted sweet-natured Simon, who gave her Hambo to cuddle, who finds them safe places to sleep, who (when he can remember) tells her stories from long before the Mushroom War, who tenderly patches her up whenever she trips over (just like her mom used to)… well, she’d kind of hoped he could be her new dad. But he is changing as the days go by, into someone she doesn’t recognise and doesn’t really like, and Marceline wonders desperately if she’ll ever have someone she can count on for long.
One day he sits her on his knee and stutters: “I – I need to save you, little Marceline. But who can save me? I can feel myself drifting away. Everything fades when I try to remember it. Please, please – you need to go somewhere safe. Forgive me. I… I’m forgetting. I’ll write it down for you…”
He trails off, and blinks a few times as though he has just woken up. And she sees his eyes fogging over, sees another crack appear in this fast-fracturing man, and it breaks her heart. He shakes his head like a dog that’s covered in water. His eyes are empty and white. Simon stands up sharply, Marceline tumbling from his lap onto the ground. She scrapes a knee on the rough concrete – he doesn’t even notice. He is staring up at the sky. His beard has grown longer, down to his hips now. The forked white ends of it are rhythmically twitching of their own accord: it makes Marceline think of a baby bird trying to use its wings for the first time. He laughs loudly, and his voice is different – harsher, veering up and down in tone. She shuffles backwards and wraps her arms around her legs, curling up in the shadow until the real Simon is back.
The crown is always with him, its bright spikes glinting threateningly. The red gems glitter like snow in winter sunlight, and Marceline feels like they are eyes that never stop watching. When she first met him, he had kept it slung on his belt loop: sometimes he would unhook it and sit with it in his hands, turning it around and around while he stared at it. More and more often, he would shudder and grit his teeth when he gazed at the crown, as though enacting a silent battle of wills – and then at last, he would place it atop his head, and let out a long and heavy sigh, as though contented at last. This calm would only last a few seconds, and Marceline would see his eyes turn mad and white, and his limbs convulse with strange new energy. When he wears the crown, he shouts and gabbles and laughs, and talks only about the things he can see right in front of him. Marceline detests the crown, hates the hold it has on the man who could have been a new father to her.
When she wakes up one morning and sees Simon already up, and the crown left lying by his pile of blankets, her heart leaps. Maybe he has escaped its power, found some way to fight the way it erases his memories, his personality, his life. He turns towards her, and she sees he is holding a sheaf of papers – photographs, handwritten notes, news clippings. There is fear and desperation in his eyes. He holds them all out to her and says urgently:
“Take them! Marceline – have these. Please. Remember me – as I am now.”
She stares at him, paralysed. At last, tentatively she takes the pile of paper in her arms, glances down at it. His handwriting is messy, erratic. He must have been writing all night. She looks back up at him, and sees his eyelids are fluttering. Marceline feels the prickle of tears, and the choke of sadness in her throat.
“Simon… Simon, please. Stay with me.” Her plaintive voice should touch the coldest of hearts. Even with her demonic ancestry, in essence she is still just a little girl, who is confused and scared and can’t bear to feel the loss of another daddy.
He manages to meet her gaze for a few seconds more, before the fog rises up behind his eyes, and she sees he is gone. The man who was Simon Petrikov lets out a raucous shriek of a laugh, and stares at Marceline as though he has never seen her before.
“Hey, cool – pictures! And writing! Sweet!” he says in his grating, uneven new voice. He grabs the bundle back off her, and his long white beard begins to flap like the wings of a swan. He rises off the ground, still laughing, and flies away. Marceline stares after him, fists clenched, willing herself not to cry this time. In a low voice, quavering with emotion but still determined, she says simply:
“I will remember you.”