Work Header

Cultural Relations

Work Text:

     “So, what's a princess doing in a vampire's cave?”

     Marceline's glad that Princess Bubblegum does her the favour of not pointing out the fact that in actuality, they're currently inside of a house that's inside of a cave, because getting technical doesn't leave much room for her fearsome, fangy reputation. All things considered, Princess Bubblegum shouldn't be too uncomfortable there, even if it is a good deal more humble than the dwellings she's used to. Marceline can't not notice that the horned skull on the wall disconcerts Bonnibelle, but most of her abode is fairly harmless: blue carpets, pink walls, pinkish furniture. When she first arrived, completely out of the blue, Princess Bubblegum had made terrible small talk, noting that the ladder used in place of a staircase was very clever; it was a great space saver, she'd said, though Marceline doesn't think that the place is small enough to be considered cramped to being with.

     “Oh, you know...” Princess Bubblegum says, waving one hand vaguely in the air. Marceline doesn't miss the bag she's got thrust behind her back in her other hand, either. “Cultural relations.”

     “Cultural relations? Dang, you're a long way from the Candy Kingdom now, Bonnibelle. Shouldn't you have sent an ambassador?”

     Doing her best to take the situation entirely seriously, Marceline actually makes the effort to stand on the ground, rather than float at some unorthodox angle above it, arms folded across her chest. She isn't buying any of this for a moment, because even the Princess doesn't believe a word of what she herself is saying. Marceline can tell that she's doing nothing short of making this all up on the spot. Knowing her, she had something planned out, something she was rehearsing on the journey here, but she'd probably overthought a perfectly good cover story and decided to ditch it in favour of spontaneity.

     Big mistake. Marceline just gives her a breezy smile, letting out a breathy laugh through her nose as Princess Bubblegum's brow furrows at the sound of her first name. It's as if the name is some closely guarded secret, as if there's someone around to eavesdrop on them. It hits her then that there is no one else around, which almost manages to catch Marceline off-guard. Finn's usually there to act as a buffer, an awkward third-wheel that neither of them could really do without, but now it's just the two of them. Just her and the pretty pink princess, and Marceline's glad that they're meeting like this on her territory, because that means that things can play out on her terms.

     Maybe. Possibly. Princess Bubblegum's taken the first metaphorical step in actually turning up at her house, for what Marceline's convinced are highly important official, political reasons.

     “Absolutely not! This is—” Princess Bubblegum begins, certain that it's definitely something, considering the way that her hands are bundled into fists at her sides. Marceline almost feels bad for her. Maybe she'd be able to relax if she started floating around in front of her like absolutely nothing was up. “Important. There need to be bridges built between the Candy People and the vampires. Both metaphorical bridges of peace, as well as the more literal types to cross the canyons here. It was quite an exhausting journey.”

     Marceline's torn between pointing out that Princess Bubblegum's sticky pink hair does look a little ruffled and asking her whether all this rambled nonsense pertaining to peace-bridges and actual-bridges means that she actually intends to visit again. Because she can't decide which line to go with, she promptly snaps her mouth back shut, pauses for a moment, and then laughs at everything Princess Bubblegum has just said. It's just the mental image of a chocolate-chip muffin on legs holding out the olive branch to a vampire that really sets her off.

     “The vampires live in the underworld,” Marceline says, twirling her fingers and pointing down at the floor, like the underworld itself is just a few feet below the foundations of her house. Princess Bubblegum briefly glances down, like she's expecting a ring of hellfire to casually tear through the carpet. “You get me? So if you want to get on with your whole peace harbinger deal, that's fine by me. But you're going to have to dress a little more appropriately for the local climate. Want me to lend you a shirt? Something without sleeves?”

     Marceline grins at the comment about the shirt, fangs digging into her lower lip, though she knows that she shouldn't. It's just that she's had more than enough time to be flustered about what the Door Lord stole from Princess Bubblegum that she can now convince herself it's something to be smug about. It's easy to gloss over the thought of the shirt that she gave the Princess being her most beloved possession when she can poke fun at her, and go on about how much she must loooooove her fashion choices. Princess Bubblegum huffs at the comment, but Marceline knows that she'd never back down with so little provocation. Especially when she herself is the source of Princess Bubblegum's torment.

     “Well! It's research.” Princess Bubblegum changes her mind, mirrors the way that Marceline's arms are folded across her chest, and looks more than a little pleased with herself. “You're a special case. A vampire living on the surface of Ooo, and regularly interacting with a variety of different species, from human boys, dogs, goblins, worm people—”

     “—chewable pink princesses who have wandered a long way from home...”

     “Very helpful, Marceline. As I was saying, I'm sure it will yield some fascinating results, if only from a strictly anthropological point of view.”

     It takes a thousand years of self-control in order for Marceline to prevent her jaw from slamming down against the floor so hard that it opens up the entrance to the underworld for Princess Bubblegum to collect more data for her project. The project that Marceline is certain is very, very real. Marceline wants to ask her when, exactly, she became an anthropologist, because she's fairly certain that she's always been a scientist of the white-labcoated and ridiculously-goggled type. She doesn't think the two are particularly interchangeable, and just as she's about to lay some hard truths down on Princess Bubblegum, mostly consisting of how transparent she's being, Marceline stops. Because she does see how transparent the Princess is being, and how she's clearly only there to visit her. That's possibly the part that makes Marceline the most uncomfortable of all, far more so than the thought of being observed, and having reams and reams of notes written about her.

     She'll be completely honest, if only with herself. After the incident with the Door Lord, she thought that there might've been a chance for her to reconcile with Princess Bubblegum. The appearance of the shirt had thrown her way off, though, and for the next few nights, Marceline hadn't been able to think about much but the possibility of Princess Bubblegum having been entirely truthful when she claimed to wear it as pyjamas. All the time. Pyjamas over her pretty pink skin, in her big, comfy royal bed. Marceline had entertained some idle fantasies, most along the lines of turning into a bat, fluttering up to Princess Bubblegum's window and then returning to her true form just to make sure, but in the end, she'd decided it was pointless.

     She knows that Princess Bubblegum doesn't lie about these kind of things. Marceline had successfully managed to talk herself out of going through with it, and had instead devoted her time to thinking up more dastardly, evil plans. It had been difficult to concentrate, though. For the most part, she'd simply ended up floating above the roof of her own house, strumming her bass along to no particular tune.

     This could be it, though. This could be Princess Bubblegum doing what she doesn't have the— well, not the guts to do, because she certainly has plenty of bravado in supply, but she just hasn't had the time to do anything in the way of making up. No matter how long the urge to do so has been nagging at the back of her mind. Vampires can just afford to take things a lot slower than the rest of Ooo can, and if Princess Bubblegum wants to go ahead and skip things along, then Marceline supposes that she can go along with that.

     “Sure thing. Just don't expect me to turn down my jams when you're trying to catch your beauty sleep, Bonnie.”


     It's a very long night.

     Nights are always long to Marceline, in the same way that days are long to the living, considering that she doesn't sleep, but this one especially seems to drag on. So much so that she can't imagine day ever breaking, let alone not living through another five hundred years. It's simply the fact that there's somebody in her house who isn't dead that's keeping her on edge, and there's nothing more to it. The house creaks in odd ways that she's never heard before, and every time a strange noise rings out, she wonders if Princess Bubblegum's stirred from her sleep, if she's got out of the make-shift bed Marceline set up for her and is wandering around the guest room. Most likely in the t-shirt she gave her.

     Okay. Maybe the fact that it's Princess Bubblegum up there gets to Marceline more than the fact that it's someone up there. Half of the Candy Kingdom could pour into her humble little abode and she doubts that she'd care as much, doubts that her mind would be slammed around by so many thoughts at once. It's troubling, having her there, and a big part of Marceline just wants her gone. She doesn't even know how long the Princess intends to stay for, and even though the two of them are in her house, Marceline feels that it very much puts her at a disadvantage.

     As a small mercy, Princess Bubblegum wakes up bright and early. While Marceline floats around the kitchen, sipping from a glass of cranberry juice, it occurs to her to wonder just how Princess Bubblegum has arranged it so that she could not only leave her kingdom behind, but leave it without an escort of armed guards. Marceline knows that there definitely aren't any guards for her to be worried about. Firstly, because none of them could possibly ever stand so much as a chance against the Vampire Queen, and secondly because she's scouted the surrounding area, and there aren't any of them hiding behind the bigger rocks littered around the cave, or out in the fields beyond the cave's entrance.

     Princess Bubblegum has her ways, she supposes. In she comes, looking as if she was as comfortable sleeping in the bed Marceline made as she would've been in her own, all bright smiles and cheer. Marceline points out that she's not one of her loyal subjects and that Princess Bubblegum doesn't have to feign good spirits around her, and earns a sigh for trying to save the Princess from wasting excess energy.

     “Would you at least tell me where your assortment of breakfast goods are kept?” Princess Bubblegum asks, rocking on the balls of her feet like this is exciting in some way. Marceline supposes that it would be, if you'd never had much need to make your own breakfast before.

     “Right there in the fridge,” Marceline says, and then gets the door for her. They're both met by an array of apples, strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, watermelons, jars of jam and strangely, a collection of red buttons. “—they're just to snack on.”

     “Of course,” Princess Bubblegum says nodding slowly, hand hovering before her as she considers what to take. She goes for an apple, in the end. Not a bad choice, Marceline thinks, grabbing one of herself.

     “What were you expecting? Cream puffs?”

     “Not at all,” Princess Bubblegum says politely as she sits herself down, apparently still going to painful lengths to keep up the act of this being nothing more than a political visit. She brings the apple to her lips, pierces its shiny surface with her flat rows of teeth, and then tears off huge chunks of it with more grace than anyone should be able to consume fruit with. It still looks a little cannibalistic to Marceline, who goes about her meal by poking one fang into the apple and draining its colour right out.

     Marceline spends a few more moments floating around, snow-white apple in hand, but then supposes that Princess Bubblegum wants to observe her in her natural habitat, or some other nonsense that Marceline is still going along with for whatever reason. Facing facts, the only result of this most definitely entirely anthropological indeed visit could be a sign being hung over the entrance to the Candy Kingdom that reads “Vampires Welcome!”, probably with a little candy heart to dot the i. (Or a sign that says “Vampires Unwelcome!” with a sad-faced lollipop in place of the i, depending on how she acts.) With a ciao and a wave, Marceline makes a swift exit from the kitchen, and finds it startlingly hard to remember what it usually is she does. Princess Bubblegum's presence alone makes everything a thousand times more fuddled, and all of her regular activities seem so boring when she could be spending her time throwing paper airplanes into Princess Bubblegum's hair when she's not looking.

     And so she heads out into the garden.

     It's hardly the most malicious of pastimes, though Marceline occasionally does stomp on bugs and purposely neglects to tear certain weeds out. There's a small patch of grass behind a white picket fence, and the sun shines on it through the entrance of the cave, warming it up just enough each and every day in order for a few crops of thrive. She puts on her oversized, floppy hat, crosses her legs and floats an inch or two above the ground, and gets right in there. A few potted strawberry plants are lined up in a row against the edge of the house, and the fruit they're producing looks de-lic-ious.

     Marceline hums away under her breath as she works, the fingers on her occasionally free hand idly forming the notes that swim around the back of her head, and she's happily off in her own little world until she suddenly notices the shadow hanging over her and absolutely doesn't jump. Not even a little.

     “Sheesh, Bonnibelle!” she says, turning to glare daggers at the Princess, “Don't go sneaking around like that.”

     Princess Bubblegum gives her a smile that's less apologetic and more amused, and taps the end of her pen against her notepad. A notepad that Marceline can't help but notice is decorated with cupcakes, every colour of the rainbow. She wonders if they're anyone in particular, and then wonders if it's candy-prejudice if she can't tell them apart. That might not do much to help the supposed vampire-Candy Kingdom relations.

     “I wasn't sneaking around,” Princess Bubblegum says quite confidently. Of course she wasn't, because princesses probably aren't even physically capable of sneaking. She's probably exactly where she ought to be, no exceptions, ever. “So! What is this you're currently doing?”

     Marceline tilts her head to the side, giving Princess Bubblegum a look that says seriously?, to which she simply taps at her notepad again, indicating that she's waiting for an answer.

     “I'm gardening. You know, in my garden. With these gardening tools.”

     Princess Bubblegum jots down far more than Marceline actually says, and Marceline images that she adds –patronising tone not appreciated to the end of her notes. Princess Bubblegum nods away to herself as if this is some great discovery, and Marceline wants to know why, exactly, she's still wearing her tiara and a ridiculous, puffy gown, unless she was actively trying to go for the marshmallow look. She isn't a princess here.

     “And why are you doing that?”

     Marceline spares herself the effort of shooting the Princess another incredulous look.

     “Sometimes, Princess, my hunter instincts fail me, and I just feel like reaching out of my window and grabbing something nice and red to chase away the bloodlust.”

     “But you have a well-stocked fridge for that.”

     With a sigh, Marceline lifts her hands, points to the strawberry plants with both of them, and then over to the house, in the rough direction of the fridge, over and over.

     “The food goes from my garden, into the fridge. Garden, to fridge. Garden, fridge. Gardenfridge. Got it?”

     “I believe I've grasped the complexity of your explanation. Thank you, Marceline.”

     With question time apparently over, Marceline huffs, adjusts her hat as if it's been knocked askew at some point, and with the slight shake of her head, goes back to gardening. Or she goes back to pretending to garden, at least, because Princess Bubblegum is still stood there, leaning against the fence, and for some reason, Marceline can't move from where she is. All she does is poke at the soil of the strawberry plant over and over, though she's checked that it's in perfectly good condition three times already, and then scans over the leaves for bugs trying to score a free meal. She tries to keep calm and composed, tries to act like Princess Bubblegum being there doesn't bother her, and lasts approximately three minutes.

     “Aren't you done here? I've already told you what I'm doing.”

     “Not quite,” Princess Bubblegum says with a hum that really means not at all. “You've told me what you're doing, now I have to see what you're actually doing.”

     Marceline considers the fact that Princess Bubblegum is calling her a liar, and then decides that she really doesn't care enough about it to argue the matter over with her. She's had enough of arguing with her full-stop, really, but the problem with a feeling like that is that it drives her to frustration, and sometimes it seems that arguments themselves are the only reprieve she'll ever get from the tension that builds up and up. Tossing her trowel over her shoulder, causing Princess Bubblegum to yelp, Marceline gets to her feet and dusts her palms off on the knees of her jeans.


     Princess Bubblegum, still flinching a little from the trowel that came mere metres within impaling her, just blinks for a moment, as if not comprehending the question, and the nods all too enthusiastically. Okay then, Marceline thinks with a shrug and a bemused smile, making her way back inside. A few minutes later and she returns with two glasses of lemonade, which Princess Bubblegum gives a funny look. Marceline explains that not everything she eats and drinks is always red, duh, because she's not constantly tormented by the need to feast on the blood of the living. Princess Bubblegum drinks the lemonade with a pleased smile, probably having been preparing herself for a glass of tomato juice.

     The two of them lean against the picket fence, and Marceline finds that she keeps reaching up and fiddling with the edge of her hat, like the sun's about to scorch her. And even though they're both drinking, the two of them keep bringing the glasses to their lips far more often than they strictly need to, taking slow, exaggerated sips, so as to have something to do other than talk.

     “Do you still... enjoy the sun?” Princess Bubblegum asks, and it sounds just as much as if she's questioning her own choice of topic as she is actually asking Marceline something. “Well, you must do. I was wondering if that had changed. Which it clearly hasn't.”

     Marceline laughs, not unkindly, and rolls the cool glass between her palms.

     “It's only been a year, Bonnibelle. That's not even that long for you mortals.”

     “Yes. Well,” Princess Bubblegum begins rather fluidly, and then turns, so that she's staring out of the cave, facing the light, like that's really what they're talking about. “A lot can change in a year.”

     Upon the surface of Ooo more so than down in the underworld, which is probably why Marceline always finds herself coming back up there time after time. She glances at Princess Bubblegum, trying to figure out what she's thinking, but unfortunately, mind reading doesn't feature on her long list of powers, and she can't make anything out from her expression. Marceline lets out a huh under her breath, and keeps on staring at the wall of her house, only now noticing the cracks in the paint.

     “It sure can. I was young back then.”

     Princess Bubblegum lets out a laugh at that, and reaching down to hold onto the edge of the fence, she leans back on her heels.

     “You were young?”

     “Mm-hm. Only nine hundred and ninety-nine. Dang, I was only in the triple-digits.”

     Marceline tips her head forward so that the brim of her hat masks most of her face, and then gives a smile. All of a sudden, she can't remember why she ever wanted to ask Princess Bubblegum why she's really there, to get her to break down and admit to something neither of them can seem to find the space to bring up, even when they're alone. Even when it's just the two of them alone in a cave, no guards, no loyal subjects, no soul-sucking summoned fathers, no pesky ghosts trying to vacuum out brains.

     If Marceline did get Princess Bubblegum to admit that she's only there to make up with her, or at least to clear the air between them, Marceline doesn't know how she'd react. She'd want to accept it all, of course, but that would feel a lot like backing down. Marceline shouldn't be the one who has to apologise, but in the same vein, Princess Bubblegum shouldn't be the one who gets to claim all the credit for piecing things back together. It's probably better that things stay the way they are now. After all, it's been this way for close to a year and Ooo hasn't fallen apart because of it, so there's no real, lasting damage done. And without anyone there to observe them, Marceline doesn't feel the urge to show off, and Princess Bubblegum isn't needlessly defensive about absolutely everything. Marceline doesn't even know what she'd say to her, what she could ramble on about, as if it would make any difference.

     “Catch you later, Princess,” Marceline says, setting the now empty glass down next to one of the strawberry plants. With a quick wave, she promptly transforms into a bat, wings flapping at her side as she heads deeper into the cave.

     Everyone needs some alone time now and again.


     The next day, things don't feel quite as strange.

     Marceline's had time to acclimatise herself to the thought of Princess Bubblegum being there, and while she's still not comfortable with it, she's a little better prepared this time. Admittedly, the Princess makes things a little easier in her own ways, even if those ways mostly consist of grabbing herself breakfast without fussing and questioning first. She's still scrawling away in that cupcake notepad of hers, but Marceline mostly ignores it, writing it off one of the Princess' oddities. She always was a strange girl.

     At half one in the afternoon, Princess Bubblegum comes up to her while she's sat fiddling with her amp, and Marceline expects another flood of what she's certain are painfully obvious questions. In actuality, Princess Bubblegum simply informs her that she's about to depart, seeing as she really has been there for a long time now and the innumerable royal duties she's put on hold for this, and thanks Marceline for her hospitality. Marceline can't do much more than let out an undignified uhhhhh to begin with, and then quickly laughs it off, scratching the back of her head and saying that yeah, she supposes that Princess Bubblegum has been there for way too long already.

     With that settled, Princess Bubblegum heads off to pack her things, and Marceline remains sat on the floor, subconsciously twisting one of the dials on her amp, making the speakers whine with static. She doesn't know why the fact that Princess Bubblegum is already leaving bothers her, because she remembers being amazed enough that she'd found the time to sneak out of the castle to begin with. The Princess has been there over the course of three whole days now, which isn't any stretch of time that the Candy Kingdom should go without their leader. Over dinner last night, Princess Bubblegum blurted out about how Finn and Jake and been the ones to sneak her out and bring her here does, and that does explain a lot, now that Marceline thinks about it. She's certain the two of them have conjured up an incredibly effective and in no way bound-to-end-in-disaster plot in order to keep the kingdom running while its ruler is away.

     When the Princess makes her way back, bag packed, Marceline hops to her feet as if she's going to show her out, and then places herself in front of the door. She crosses her hands behind her back, so that they both cover the door handle, like Princess Bubblegum could possibly reach it from where she is, anyway.

     “Hey, you didn't tell me the results of your study,” Marceline says, having no idea whatsoever where she's going with this.

     “Oh! Well,” Princess Bubblegum begins, and for the first time since she arrived, actually seems to have an answer planned out. “It has been concluded that the vampire representative on the surface world does not pose a threat to the Candy Kingdom, or its citizens.”

     It all comes out in one, anticlimactic breath, and Princess Bubblegum stands there looking disproportionately pleased with herself, tugging at the handles of her bag with one hand as if to say Can I go yet?

     “That didn't sound very anthropological,” Marceline says, though strictly speaking, she isn't exactly sure what anthropology actually is, and how one goes about in a manner befitting the title. Still, she's fairly certain that wasn't it. That was complete balderdash.

     “Okay,” Marceline continues with a nod, playing it cool. “You must've written a report, right? Lay it down on me before you take it back to the candy clowns in your court.”

     Before Princess Bubblegum can come up with some entirely spontaneous excuse, Marceline has both hands on her shoulders, effectively shutting her up. She takes a step forward and Princess Bubblegum takes one back, until they're all the way across the room, in front of the sofa. Marceline gestures for her to sit down, and though she'd done a remarkable job of actually getting Princess Bubblegum across the room, it all goes downhill from there.

     Princess Bubblegum reluctantly sits down, deciding that it's best to get things over and done with, and then lets out a yelp when the sofa doesn't yield beneath her. She's back on her feet in a flash, as if she's just sat on hot irons, and Marceline rolls her eyes, apologising for her house not being as comfortable as a castle. Some part of her mind idly recalls having the same problem when Finn and Jake came over, and then she tries to recall what she did when the issue arose the first time. Cushions piled up on it? An inflatable lilo being placed across the seat? Oh, right, that was it. She'd convinced them that they'd been turned into vampires, and almost had their brains scooped out in the process. Perhaps she shouldn't go down that route with the Princess.

     “Marceline! How do you ever sit on this?” Princess Bubblegum asks, frowning, like Marceline purposely filled the furniture with rocks, all because she knew she was going to sit there.

     “Uh, I don't?” Marceline replies, pointing down at her feet. She drifts in circles around Princess Bubblegum for emphasis, and then hovers an inch or two above the surface of the offending sofa, as if lying in an invisible hammock. “See? Perfectly comfortable. You've just got to make the most out of what you have.”

     “As impressive as that might be, it doesn't help me out!”

     Marceline would usually shrug and rub it in her face that not everything always goes to plan, even for a princess, but she doesn't want Princess Bubblegum to get out of this quite that easily. Sitting upright, she brushes the hair out of her face, and then reaches out with one arm. Princess Bubblegum lifts her brow, questioning her intentions.

     “Come on, Princess. I'll be your pillow,” Marceline says, tugging on Princess Bubblegum's wrist before the look of horror can spread any further across her face. With a graceless stumble, Princess Bubblegum is pulled right into her lap, weight pushing Marceline down for a moment. As she dips, she hits the seat of the sofa, and okay, she really gets what everyone with a pulse has been complaining about all this time. It doesn't take much effort to float back up, though, and when she does, she forgets all about the hard, unforgiving surface of the sofa, because Princess Bubblegum is suddenly kind of close.

     Kind of close meaning in her lap, exactly where she pulled her.

     Marceline's brain temporarily malfunctions, and she wonders how she's going to get out of this one, like it isn't all entirely her fault to begin with. It's simply such a shock to recall the way Princess Bubblegum feels against her, the way her hair is surprisingly tolerable to be close to, considering the fact that she's some sort of gum-flesh hybrid, and how warm and pink she is. Her being pink isn't a thing that changes when they're this close, and Marceline goes to absolutely every effort she can not to think about eating her, even if it would be so, so easy just to lean forward and dig a fang into the line of her jaw. She shakes her head and breathes out heavily, despite not having any functioning lungs.

     The one saving grace is the fact that they're not looking at each other. Marceline feels Princess Bubblegum shuffle uncomfortably in her lap, and wonders why she doesn't just hop to her feet. It's not like she has her arms around her waist, her chin propped up against her shoulder.

     “The report!” Marceline says suddenly, loudly, voice squeaking at the end.

     Luckily for her, Princess Bubblegum is too wound up herself to comment on as much, if she actually notices it in the first place.

     “Yes, the report, I—” Princess Bubblegum mumbles, rummaging through her bag. It's a good thing she managed to keep hold of it in the fray, otherwise that would've made things ten times more awkward, even if Marceline is fairly certain more awkward is a destination they've already passed. “Here!”

     Clearing her throat, Princess Bubblegum flips through her notepad to an arbitrary page, angles the book so that Marceline can't see it without pressing herself up against her back, and traces her finger along the ruled lines, whispering under her breath as she skims. Well, at least she's going to great lengths to make some part of this seem real. Marceline feels herself become all the more impatient. Her legs ache, like they're about to twitch, but she can't stretch and shake them out, lest she knock the Princess to the floor.

     “In the short two and a half days I have spent with Marceline of the vampires—” Princess Bubblegum begins, and lets out a rather undignified startled noise when Marceline jabs the small of her back with two fingers.

     “Marceline the Vampire Queen,” she corrects her, nodding sagely though Princess Bubblegum misses the gesture, “Way higher up than a princess.”

     Princess Bubblegum shuffles in her lap, and then lets out a laugh. It's a quiet, understated sound, but it fills the small room, and like that, Marceline feels all of the muscles in her body relax. This isn't any big deal, after all: they're two friends (and Marceline thinks they are friends again, considering how civilly they had dinner together the other night), poking fun at each other and laughing about it. That's all. It would be even less of a big deal if Marceline slipped an arm around Princess Bubblegum's waist, just to get comfortable, and so that's exactly what she does. She hears the Princess inhale sharply, tensing for all of a second, but after a drawn out moment that Marceline begins to fear will never end, she leans back against her.

     Purely so that she can read Princess Bubblegum's supposed report, Marceline props her chin on her shoulder, peering over at the notebook. Princess Bubblegum snaps it shut in one hand, mumbling something about having memorised it, and it's funny, because no matter how close she may be to the Princess' neck, no matter how easy it would be to press her lips to her throat and take a bite, she doesn't want to. It's no wonder, really, with all the red she's eaten these past few days. There shouldn't be any sort of craving in her at all. Seeming to remember that she claimed to have known the report by heart, Princess Bubblegum once again clears her throat to waste time, and then begins reciting the paper she has to show for her highly extensive research.

     “In the short two and a half days I have spent with Marceline the Vampire Queen, I have come to learn that she has... many unique interests, not typical of those associated with the underworld, including... gardening, for culinary purposes, as well as... well, music, I suppose...”

     “Well, music, you suppose?” Marceline asks with a delighted laugh, wrapping her other arm around her waist. “Very professional! Really nice, Bonnibelle.”

     Princess Bubblegum squirms in her arms, though doesn't seem to be actively trying to escape. If she were anyone else, Marceline expects that her ribs would be thoroughly bruised by way of flailing elbow, at this point.

     “You're distracting me,” she finally says, arms folding across her own chest. In the process, however, they end up resting atop Marceline's, which causes the two of them to fall quieter than before. Because Marceline doesn't insist that Princess Bubblegum read more from her imaginary report, the Princess doesn't speak up, though after a few minutes sat like that, several stray fingertips do wander down, brushing across the backs of Marceline's wrists. Marceline takes that as the opportune moment, pulls Princess Bubblegum closer and lifts her knees just a little, causing her to turn in her lap, so that she's sitting side-on.

     Neither of them move. Marceline's eyes are on the side of Princess Bubblegum's face, and at one point, Princess Bubblegum glances her way. That costs all of the courage she'd managed to build up, though, and she goes back to staring straight ahead of her. Marceline doesn't mind it. Not too much. It's nice enough just having her this close, with neither of them feeling the need to lash out at one another.

     But naturally, she has to go ahead and ruin it. It was inevitable from the beginning, really.

     “There never was any anthropological research, was there?” she asks as softly as she can, although her voice still comes out far too loud.

     Princess Bubblegum, not wanting to risk looking her way again, quickly shakes her head and leaves it at that. With a victorious laugh, Marceline instinctively flicks her forked tongue out, whipping the air with a hiss, just to the side of Princess Bubblegum's cheek. In a fit of unnecessary panic, Princess Bubblegum flounders in her lap with an oh, ew!, and somehow ends up with both hands on Marceline's shoulders, very much facing her.

     Marceline blinks, thinking that Princess Bubblegum's face sure is close. Princess Bubblegum blinks back, expression impossible to read. It goes on like this for so long that Marceline is half convinced that they're subconsciously communicating with one another through a series of blinked Morse code, until Marceline goes ahead and decides that this is entirely stupid. She can't just sit here, arms around the Princess' waist, holding her close in her lap, and not do anything. It's the perfect set-up for a kiss. Things literally could not have arranged themselves into a better configuration for her, and she can't just spit in the face of fate by ignoring all of the signs. Princess Bubblegum is back there with her after so long, and they're actually tolerating each other amazingly well. Things have been building up to this the whole time. She's going to do this. Marceline is going to lean forward and kiss the Princess on her pretty pink mouth. Nothing's going to stop her. Nothing.

     Well. Except for Princess Bubblegum leaning forward and beating her to the punch, maybe.

     Marceline is utterly fuming at first. So much so that she can barely acknowledge the kiss itself. The only thing on her mind is the fact that Princess Bubblegum has managed to one-up her, but luckily for all parties involved, she soon realises how utterly absurd that is, and sinks into a kiss that doesn't last nearly long enough. There's such a vividly red taste on the Princess' lips that Marceline's almost afraid that she's draining the colour right out of her. But she can't be, not when Princess Bubblegum relaxes so completely against her, arms wrapping around her shoulders, fingers brushing through her hair.

     And then as quickly as it started, it draws to a close. Princess Bubblegum hops to her feet, having somehow managed to wriggle free of Marceline's hold, and with a flushed face, straightens out her dress.

     “Finn and Jake will be here any moment,” Princess Bubblegum blurts out, and then purses her lips tightly together.

     “Oh!” Marceline says, like she's just now remembering who Finn and Jake actually are. That's right, she thinks. Princess Bubblegum was on her to meet them outside of the cave before she'd been dragged into whatever that just was. Marceline's actually surprised the two of them didn't wander in during proceedings, because they're wont to let themselves in like that, and it sure as heck would've been awkward. “Wow, where are those guys already? Lemme check for you.”

     Marceline places one hand against her forehead as she makes her way across the living room, like her mind is suddenly reeling, and tries to remember what she's wandering around in search of. She picks up her bass before she remembers that her phone was the intended target, and then hurries to dial Jake once she's got hold of it. Maybe this will clear the fog that's been pumped into one of her ears and is clouding absolutely everything. All she needs is to talk to somebody else, because it's been nothing but Bonnibelle, Bonnibelle, Bonnibelle for close to three days now.

     Bonnibelle with her pink, sugary lips and— “Heeey, Finn, what are you... huh, for real? Okay. Mm-hm. No kidding! Okay. Got it.”

     She hangs up the phone and the squawking on the other end of the line cuts out. Princess Bubblegum makes her way across the room, stands right by her side, and Marceline doesn't like how close they are, in spite of everything that just unravelled. It makes her feel as if her skin is burning, even though she's dead, even though her pyrokinetic powers aren't flaring up.

     “What could be keeping them?” Princess Bubblegum wonders out loud, and Marceline shrugs, as if she doesn't know the answer.

     “Something about a group of gnomes being enchanted by the tears of a lonely giant,” Marceline says, casually dropping her phone back onto the floor, “They might be tied up for a while.”

     Princess Bubblegum bites down on her lower lip, the one Marceline was just kissing and no don't think about that, and barely seems surprised by the news at all. Just a little anxious, and all things considered, Marceline can see why. She is a princess, after all, and she's got a duty to attend to. In a way, it's Marceline's fault that she's away from her Kingdom to begin with, because if she'd only gone through with her plan of sneaking into her royal bedchamber as a bat, then the Princess never would've been forced to leave her lands to begin with.

     She grins. Princess Bubblegum catches sight of the expression, and must think that it's meant to mock her, because her own disheartened expression doesn't fade away. Because of that, Marceline decides that she definitely can't do any more harm here, and reaches out, taking hold the Princess' wrist in one hand, and her bag in the other. She drags her along as she floats through the living room, and then they're outside of the house, at the cave entrance, and Princess Bubblegum is huffing, demanding to know what's going on.

     “Chill out, Princess. I'm going to give you a lift back to your castle,” Marceline says, beaming proudly. Princess Bubblegum simply furrows her brow, wrestles her wrist free, and then turns on her heels, heading back into the house. Marceline's so utterly baffled that she can't follow her for a moment, but soon realises that she was supposed to stay exactly where she is, glued to the spot. Princess Bubblegum soon returns, sun hat in hand, and carefully eases it down onto the top of Marceline's head.

     “You'll be needing this,” she says matter-of-factly, and then wraps her arms around her shoulders. It feels entirely forward, but not the least bit inappropriate. Emboldened by Princess Bubblegum's own daring, Marceline's arms loop around her waist, and in an instant, they've both left the ground far behind. Princess Bubblegum is a little apprehensive to be flying so quickly and so high up, but no more than is necessary, and Marceline is, perhaps, the slightest amount endeared by that. It's a good enough excuse to pull her ever closer, and when Princess Bubblegum's nerves finally settle, she insists on reaching up every few minutes and adjusting Marceline's hat, in order to ensure that she isn't burnt.

     They're back at her castle all too quickly. Marceline was just about beginning to entertain the notion of considering becoming used to the way Princess Bubblegum feels pressed against her a few hundred feet in the air, but now they're apart again and Marceline's bony frame is left with nothing but the breeze to cling tightly to it. It would be ridiculous to voice this much aloud, though, and so Marceline simply says her goodbyes, and then Princess Bubblegum offers up a handful of her own in return. It's strangely benign, considering what's recently unfolded, and neither of them seem to consider going in for a hug. Marceline waves over her shoulder, hops off the balcony, and flies back to her big, empty cave.

     She gets home, composes three new wordless songs on her bass, and then night falls. Night falls, and she can't believe how she went ahead and chickened out after three whole days supposedly spent building her courage up. More than that, Marceline can't believe that the goody-goody princess of the Candy Kingdom had the guts to do what she hasn't. Within seconds of clenching her hands into fists she's a bat, tearing through the pitch black of night, no sun to fear. Something like adrenaline manufactured for the undead courses through her system, and she can't believe how short the journey back to the castle feels. The initial plan had been to formulate a plan of actual worth in her head as she flew, but she lands back on the same balcony she was stood on mere hours ago, and realises that there's nothing more than a tumble weed rattling around the inside of her skull.

     Knocking would be a good start, she supposes. While she had originally entertained the idea of sneaking into Princess Bubblegum's room, now that she's actually standing outside, that just feels creepy. Marceline knocks feebly, and to no surprise, the Princess doesn't stir.

     “Hey, Bonnibelle. Rise and shine,” she says in a whisper that's louder than her usual voice, knocking against the stone arch window once again. This time, it's a little more effective. She sees Princess Bubblegum toss and turn through the netting around her bed, sit up, seem to glance her way, and then fall back down against the mattress. Marceline laughs softly under her breath, knowing what'll come next well enough, and sure enough, Princess Bubblegum wakes up all at once, throws her blankets aside in a panic, and then sticks her head out through the netting to see who's dared to sneak into her room.

     Marceline, who's now stood there, hands in her pockets, nonchalantly rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet, smiles in greeting. Princess Bubblegum looks entirely confused, though not necessarily unhappy to see Marceline, and just follows her with her eyes as she makes her way across the room.

     “Move over,” Marceline says, giving one of Princess Bubblegum's shoulders a gentle push. Falling back against the bed, Princess Bubblegum continues to stare up at her with a furrowed brow, but Marceline can't stop grinning, because she's really doing it, she's really wearing the t-shirt she gave her as pyjamas. As much as Marceline knew she would be, she didn't think that she'd feel like this when she saw Princess Bubblegum wrapped up in the oversized black shirt; she feels nothing short of fearless, like there's never been a drop of hesitance in her system, a hint of uncertainty, when she's around Bonnibelle.

     Making herself at home, Marceline flops down onto the bed, and shuffles down against the thick, soft blankets to get comfortable. Much better than her sofa, she decides. Maybe there's something to this non-floating business after all. Of course, things could always stand to improve all the more. Rolling onto her side, she reaches out to a rather bleary-eyed Princess Bubblegum, who may not be as fully awake as she first imagined, and wraps her arms tightly around her waist.

     She forgets all about the blankets then, forgets about any comfort and warmth around her that isn't the Princess, and hooks her foot around the back of one of her ankles.

     “Had to make sure you were telling the truth,” she murmurs, feeling as if the Princess' sleepy disposition is infectious, as if sleep is the very thing she wants right now.

     Princess Bubblegum is quiet for a moment, and though Marceline has her eyes closed, she feels her gaze flickering all across her face, searching something out. She wants to know what this is all about, and honestly, Marceline does too. Marceline doesn't know exactly what all of this is, what it means, but there's a feeling that buzzes through her like the beat from a strum of the thickest string on her bass, and she thinks that this is either the start or continuation or something. Which doesn't matter. Princess Bubblegum's arms wrap around her in turn, sliding in between her side and the mattress, and Marceline feels her breath glide across her neck as she buries her face into the crook of her shoulder.

     Almost lost entirely back over to sleep, Bonnibelle murmurs, “So, what's a vampire doing in a Princess' bed, anyway?”