I didn't exactly make the decision to stop wearing my hat. I just left it hanging on the bedpost one morning when I went downstairs to make breakfast, and didn't go back to get it. Marceline noticed right away, smirking and ruffling my hair like she always does when she sees it, and I somehow forgot to feel self-conscious without it.
It's sort of the same way that Marceline ended up moving to the tree fort. One day I mentioned that it was stupid for her to always be running back home for clothes, and soon after, her clothes were here. No discussion or planning or analysis of deeper meaning behind the action. One day, it just happened. And it felt right.
Not everything came so easily. It took her a while to be okay with sunlight again. For days, she shied away from it like it could still kill her. Eventually though, her curiosity started getting the better of her. I'd catch her, curled up by the bedroom window before dawn, waiting for sunrise, or lazily strumming her bass under the umbrella in the observation boat, dangling her bare feet over the side to warm them in the afternoon heat.
One morning, I noticed her wiggling her fingers in the rays shining through the dining room window while she sipped her coffee, stirring the little specs of dust around in the air. She'd rolled her eyes when she caught me smiling at her, but I couldn't help it, and I dragged her up to the roof and showed her how to bask properly.
We still spend most mornings up here, watching the sun until green spots appear in our vision. I try and see it through her eyes, try and imagine what it would be like to go a thousand years without it. I don't think Marceline is the type of girl you can ever fully understand, if there even is such a thing, but I still like to give it a shot every chance I get.
I plant a kiss on top of her head, and she groans.
"This is disgusting," she announces. I raise my eyebrows in question and she says, "Coffee. It's foul."
I just laugh. "You always drink coffee. You drank it before."
"Yeah," she says, sneering down at her cup, "but I couldn't taste it back then. It's not red. I only drank it because it's warm and it smells good and reminds me of my mom," she explains.
I sneak a glance at her, but she's just staring off at the sun again. "O.J.?" I ask, offering her my cup.
She dumps the coffee off the side of the roof and finishes off my juice. "Better," she says.
I stretch my legs out and lean back on my elbows, crunching the surface of the treetop, letting the soft leaves press indentations on my skin. "Marcie?"
"Finnegan?" she taunts, her cool tone meant to remind me how much she hates the nickname.
"Are you glad that you're alive?"
She tenses, sets her cup down carefully, and stares off in the direction of the Ice Kingdom, where the sunlight dances off the eastern sides of the towers. I ask her this question every so often, only at times when I think the answer really could be yes.
"Jury's still out," she answers after a pause, and I try not to show my disappointment. It's the same response I get every time, and every time it stings. I almost wish she'd spare my feelings and lie.
She tugs my hair and gives me a half-smile. "Don't look so down, sunshine. It's not you, okay?"
I nod, but stay silent, fixing my gaze on the horizon.
"Mortality's a lot to deal with," she continues, climbing onto my lap to face me. She pulls me up to a sitting position by my shirt and studies my face with her very human eyes, absently running her thumb over the newest and most obvious scar on my cheek, compliments of the Ice Prince. "I'm working on it."
I nod again, managing a smile this time, although I'm sure it looks a bit forced. She leans in to give me a reassuring peck on the lips, but I hold her to me, suddenly wanting her close, one hand weaving its way through her hair, the other finding the small of her back. She makes a little noise in protest, but doesn't push me away. I still haven't gotten used to the way she feels in my arms now, pressed against me, warm and softer than before, the reassuring thud of her heartbeat in her chest and blood pumping through her veins. It still surprises me a little every time she gets flushed and breathless, but it's also strangely satisfying, finally seeing that I can actually have an effect on her, the way she's always been able to affect me.
My hands find her hips and she grabs fistfuls of my shirt, and suddenly I've completely forgotten what was upsetting me. She bites my bottom lip gently, an act that would have left me bleeding before, but in the absence of fangs, it's just enough to make my blood run hot. I've forgotten about my bad mood, the fact that we're outside, what day it is; unfortunately, Marceline hasn't.
"How much time do we have?" she breathes, her hands traveling downward and resting on my waistband.
I grunt a non-committal response into her neck.
She starts to say something else, but I move my mouth back to hers and she gives up on trying to finish the sentence. It's not until I lay her down, leaning over her and pushing the hem of her dress up the side of one leg, that she finds her voice again.
"I'm all for ditching out on your dumb ceremony today," she says in a throaty whisper, "but if we're gonna do this, we should move to the bedroom. Ice King's probably watching us through his pervy telescope."
My eyes widen and I draw back from her in an instant panic. "Oh glob, what time is it?"
"Relax kiddo," she says. "I think we've still got some time."
I let out my breath. "Oh," I say, relieved, then flash a mischievous grin.
She raises an eyebrow and pushes me off of her. "Not that much time. I still have to change, and you should probably do something about that mop on your head."
We get to our feet and she picks the leaves out of her hair. "Huh? You already have clothes on," I point out.
"Yeah, well," she mumbles, looking away from me. "I have a dress."
She hurries down the ladder and inside through the living room window. When I squeeze my way through, she's on her knees in front of the sofa, pulling out a white box.
"Bonnie sent this over a few days ago," she says, planting the box on the sofa and carefully lifting the lid. "Well, actually, she sent it to my old house. I guess no one told her about us shackin' up."
I bite my lip, feeling guilty. "It's just that I've barely talked to her at all since-"
"It's fine," she stops me. "Really, that's not... Anyway, I think it's her way of trying to be nice, saying 'no hard feelings'."
Curious about the peace offering, I peer into the box. "Uh, what am I looking at?" I ask, poking a finger into the soft yellow pile inside.
Marceline sighs heavily. "That is a dress."
"But, it's so..."
"Yeah. I know."
Grabbing her by the shoulders, I turn her to face me. "Marceline, you don't have to wear that thing. Really. You don't have to dress up at all. It's not a big deal."
"It is a big deal," she says, straightening my shirt. "And I know I don't have to, but I think I should. This is obviously important to Bonnie, and if she's trying to be friends, maybe I should give it a shot too."
I blink a few times, shocked. "Seriously? You're gonna put on some foofy yellow thing and wear it in front of everybody, just to show Peebles you're down to be pals?"
"Shut up, before I change my mind," she says, poking me hard in the chest.
"I'm sorry," I say, smiling ruefully and scratching the back of my head. "It's just, that doesn't really seem like you."
She shrugs. "Maybe not, but she got a pretty raw deal. I mean, I guess we all did, but at least you and I have each other. She sacrificed everything, and now she's alone."
I sink down to the sofa and run my hands through my hair, staring at the ceiling. There's an old wad of gum stuck up there that I'll probably never bother to scrape off. I'm about to say something to Marceline, but when I look up, she's disappearing up the ladder to the bedroom.
She always manages to make a convenient exit whenever one of us mentions the princess. Neither of us have brought it up, but the truth is that if it weren't for P.B.'s sacrifice- if she hadn't married the Ice Prince in exchange for my safety- Marceline and I wouldn't be together now.
The guilt I feel knowing that my happiness has been at her expense gnaws at the back of my mind sometimes, but I sort of figured Marceline wasn't bothered. Considering other people's feelings has never been at the top of her list of priorities. I caught her caring about me back when she was still a vampire, but it took a lot for her to realize it, and even more for her to admit it. Maybe now, she can't bury her emotions like she used to. Maybe she's feeling more human than she lets on.
When she comes back downstairs, she's wearing the new yellow dress and a fierce scowl. "Don't you dare say anything," she warns.
Against my will, I feel a huge grin spread across my face. On her, the dress isn't as foofy as I'd imagined. I thought it would be a Princess Bubblegum-esque gown, but it's not so bad. It's actually pretty plain, with little white buttons down the front, the skirt swinging around her knees when she moves. The only thing that's off is the color, which isn't even that offensive, it's just not her style. But she's got her favorite beat-up old gray boots on, so she still looks like herself, and there's no danger of her appearing too fancy.
"It was even worse before I ripped all this junk off," she adds, dumping an armful of yellow ruffles and bows and fluffy see-through netting onto the sofa next to me. "Let's just go before I change my mind about being seen in this hideous thing." She offers me a hand and pulls me up, then fishes through the yellow pile, pulling out my hat. "You want to wear this?"
"Nah, I don't need it," I tell her, wrapping my arms around her. "If you can dress like a human, so can I."
She responds with a low growl. "I hate you."
Everyone in the Candy Kingdom is bustling around, preparing for the festivities. A few little gumdrop girls walk straight into my ankles, giggling uncontrollably once they look up and recognize me. Marceline rolls her eyes as they scurry off.
"My little celebrity," she says, shaking her head and lacing her fingers through mine.
Peppermint Butler stops us as soon as we're within sight of the castle, holding a clipboard and projecting an air of importance. "Ah, Master Finn, you've arrived. I've been instructed to lead you into the staging area. Your lady may join the other guests in the Grand Hall while she waits for the ceremony to begin."
I glance at Marceline for approval. "Milady?"
"Do your thing, Master Finn," she retorts, punching me in the arm. I can't help but notice as I watch her entering the castle that from a distance, she still moves like she's floating.
Peppermint Butler leads me around the corner, out to the courtyard and behind the enormous stage that's reserved for the most important kingdom-wide events. I keep my eyes open for Princess Bubblegum, immediately nervous about seeing her again, but she doesn't seem to be around.
Before I'm even aware that he's in front of me, Jake grabs me roughly, pulling me in for a rib-crushing hug. "Ah, Finn!" he cries. "I missed you, buddy! I feel like I haven't seen you in weeks!"
I struggle out of his hold, but rub his head affectionately. "Yeah, I know, pal. Marceline and I are still in kind of... an adjustment period," I explain.
He nods. "Yeah, I'll bet. Must be pretty weird for her, no more vampire-kicks, no flying, no super-strength-"
"Actually, she's still pretty flippin' strong, man," I say, rubbing the spot on my chest where she poked me earlier. "She's only half-human, remember? She doesn't have powers, but she's definitely got her dad in her."
Jake chuckles. "Oh right. By the way, what does ol' Papa Evil have to say about the whole thing?"
I scratch the back of my head. "Well, he doesn't exactly know, in the strictest sense of the word."
"Uh-oh," Jake says knowingly.
"Yeah. But that's her biz. I'm officially done getting in the middle of those two."
He slaps me on the back. "That's probably for the best. I'm lucky my in-laws are cool, and usually stick to their own dimension."
"Hey, my besties!" an irritatingly familiar voice calls out.
Jake groans and leans in closer to me as we turn around. "Dude, he's been calling me every day since I broke him outta the slammer," he says under his breath. "He sends cards. Gift baskets. Invites me to parties with just the two of us. I'm tellin' ya, I was happier when he was our nemesis."
"Try to be nice," I say in a hushed voice. "He helped us out when we needed him. Hey, Ice King," I call, waving at him.
"Easy for you to say," Jake complains. "He's still too scared of your girlfriend to stalk you like he does me."
I shrug. "Just one of the perks, man."
"Guys!" Ice King gushes as he pushes his way through a group of candy people to reach us. "Isn't this great? They actually invited me to the Candy Kingdom today, and not to arrest me or anything!"
"Yeah buddy," I laugh. "Pretty awesome."
Three loud claps silence our chatter. "Everyone, we're about to begin!" Princess Bubblegum's voice rings out.
When our eyes meet, I give her a little wave and an awkward smile. She smiles back sweetly. She's always been better than me when it comes to social interactions. I suppose it's all part of being born a royal.
Ice King notices our exchange and pulls on my sleeve. "So, she's single now, right?"
I narrow my eyes, doing my best imitation of Marceline's death-stare. "You do realize that your official pardon only includes past kidnappings, right?"
He just laughs as though I told a joke, and Peppermint Butler shuffles us toward the stage.
The ceremony itself is a little surreal, pretty embarrassing, and majorly cheesy. Jake and I stand center stage, with Ice King off to one side while P.B.'s short, rather plump and pink-faced father, the Candy King, makes a big speech about what it means to be a hero. I'm oddly reminded of what Marceline told me right before Jake's wedding, when she told me I inspire people, make them want to be better. I smile in spite of myself, and try to pick her out in the crowd. Right away, I spot the black hair and the yellow dress behind all the candy citizens, and my smile widens, wishing I were back there with her watching, instead of up here as the center of attention.
I've zoned out a bit, and when there's an uproar of applause from the crowd, I catch the tail end of the Candy King declaring it Hero Appreciation Day. I feel a slight blush rise in my cheeks, and silently hope no one notices.
Princess Bubblegum comes forward, taking from her father three medals on wide pink ribbons. She plants a quick kiss on his cheek and over the noise of the crowd, I hear her say in a low voice, "Thanks for doing this Daddy."
Of course, she's behind this whole event. A kingdom-wide celebration honoring me for my lifetime of heroism thus far? I should have known.
She approaches the Ice King first. "Ice King, along with your official pardon, I hereby present you with this medal for your bravery aiding in my rescue. The Candy Kingdom thanks you."
Ice King winks at me and wags his eyebrows as P.B. leans over him to place the medal around his neck. I curl my lip in disgust, and look the other way.
"Jake," the princess continues in her very formal voice, stepping toward him. "This medal is to honor not only your bravery, but your unwavering loyalty. The Candy Ki-" she stops, shaking her head. "I thank you, my friend." Her eyes dart to me as she slips the medal over Jake's head, then back to him as he pulls her in for a hug. She laughs, and Jake makes a champion gesture, clasping his hands together and shaking them together on either side of his head.
I punch him in the shoulder, but drop my grin when Princess Bubblegum moves in front of me. "Finn," she says softly, then catches herself and raises her voice again. "Finn the Human, you are truly the greatest hero that Ooo has ever known."
My cheeks are burning, and I look to my feet, noticing the beginning of a hole forming in my shoe over my big toe. The thought runs through my head, not for the first time, that it's ridiculous to give me credit for rescuing her from the Ice Prince. After all, he was ended by the Cosmic Owl, and his own hubris, not by my hands. P.B. wouldn't have even needed rescuing if she hadn't been trying to protect me in the first place.
I'd brought up these facts to her when she first told me about her plans for today, but she had insisted. She'd said that in the end, the specifics didn't matter. She just needed to find a way to move past everything, and to turn the experience into something positive. "Besides," she'd said, "you do deserve recognition. It's long overdue."
"On behalf of the entire Candy Kingdom, thank you for everything you've done for us," she says, placing the medal around my neck. I nod, meeting her eyes and keeping my face serious. All I can think is how I'm glad this is almost over, but the princess continues. "We are so lucky to have had a champion of your caliber at our disposal for so long. Today, we wish not only to celebrate you, but to ask for your service in a more official manner, as Knight of the Candy Kingdom."
My lips part in surprise, and she gives me a little smile. I move my eyes from hers to the crowd, and I find Marceline. From so far away, I can't quite tell what her reaction is, but it looks like she's smiling. I take a deep breath and let it out, looking back to the princess's expectant face, and clear my throat loudly.
"Uh, I am very honored," I begin, speaking loudly and clearly, trying to sound as proper as she does, "that you consider me to be worthy of such a title. However I, um, must respectfully decline."
Princess Bubblegum's hopeful smile falls into a look of disappointment.
"Princess," I say to her, then turn toward the crowd, all of whom seem to be hanging on my every word. "Everyone, it's not that I don't want to serve the Candy Kingdom. I do. But, I believe that to be a true hero, I can't pledge myself only to y'all." I ruffle the back of my hair nervously, reverting to my more natural diction. "I serve and protect all the kingdoms in Ooo, and everywhere in between. Anywhere I'm needed. I can't just be a knight here, but I do promise that I'll always be here for you-" I turn back to P.B. and give her my best reassuring smile, "-all of you- when you need me."
I give a little nod, and P.B. nods back, and I hope that she understands. She turns to her father, who leads everyone in another round of applause, and finally, I leave the stage, letting out a breath in relief.
I lean against a bright pink and white striped pillar and receive several pats on the back from the royal staff, and even a "Well done, m'boy!" from the Candy King as he waddles by me.
"I'm sorry I sprung that on you Finn," the princess says to me as everyone's rushing away, heading into the Grand Hall of the castle for the after-party. "I wanted to surprise you, but I suppose I should have realized that you wouldn't want to commit yourself so heavily here anymore."
"Don't be sorry Peebs," I say, almost reaching out to touch her shoulder, but thinking better of it at the last moment. "I wasn't just pretending to be honored that you asked. I really am. And maybe if you'd asked me a couple of years ago, I might've said yes. But, honestly, I don't need a title, or a day in my honor, or a medal. The only thing I really want is to know that everyone came out okay after everything we went through. You... you are okay?"
She smiles at me so warmly, I can actually sort of understand how she melted the heart of the despicable Ice Prince. "I'll be all right," she assures me. "I did get my father back, after all, and I'm thankful for that." She pauses and looks at me for what feels like a long time. "Even if I did lose you," she adds.
I close my eyes for just a moment, her words weighing heavily in my chest. She puts a smooth hand to the side of my face, and I take in the sugary-sweet smell of her. "Although, maybe I never really had you to begin with," she muses. I raise my eyebrows in surprise. "You belong to all of Ooo, like you said. And you're happy, and that's the only thing I really wanted." She sighs, and takes a step back from me. "I'll see you inside for the party?"
I nod, but stop her as she's about to walk away. "Princess?"
"Yes Finn?" she asks, turning back.
"You did. Have me."
Her lips form an incredibly sad smile, aging her beyond her years, and she nods with closed eyes before leaving.
Everyone else has already gone inside, but I stroll in the opposite direction, back out to the courtyard to collect my thoughts before joining the party. I sit on the ground against a taffy tree and look out to the stage where I'd been standing just a few minutes ago, now empty except for the one person I want to see right now. My heart beats a little faster just at the sight of her in that stupid dress, sitting on the edge of the stage with her legs dangling down and staring up at the afternoon sky, letting the sunlight warm her face.
"Hey," I call out, and she looks at me with half a smile.
"Hey stranger," she says, hopping down from the stage and strolling over..
When she reaches me, I stand up and kiss her cheek lightly. "I think I dreamed this."
"Oh really?" she asks in a vaguely patronizing tone.
"Yeah. Except you were nicer."
"Hmm," she says, narrowing her eyes. "What else happened?"
"I'm not sure. I can't remember."
"So, anyway, that was a surprise, up there."
I shake my head. "Yeah, I can't believe she asked me to be a knight, in front of everyone, with no warning or anything."
"No, I meant I was surprised that you said no," she corrects me.
I frown, slightly taken aback. "Really? Why?"
She shrugs. "It just seems like something you would want. To be a knight. To be her knight."
"Marceline," I say, taking her hand. "You don't really think that, after everything, I'd still want to be with her, do you?"
"You mean after you were so completely destroyed by my death that you strong-armed a deity into bringing me back to life?" Her tone is sarcastic, but she knows her words are the truth.
I shove my hands into my pockets awkwardly. "That's not exactly how it happened."
"Well, that's how Jake tells it. So, no, kiddo," she says slipping her arms around my waist and looking up at me, "I don't think you still want your princess. Not after everything. But I do know how important this sugary little kingdom is to you. It just surprised me to hear you turn her down, that's all."
"Yeah, well, I have other priorities these days," I say, hugging her close. Our height difference is all the more obvious now that she's always on the ground, but I restrain myself from teasing her about it, and she stretches up to kiss me.
"So, wanna head in for the shindig?" she asks, breaking away.
I lean down and kiss her again, slowly this time, the kind of kiss I wouldn't usually give her in the middle of the Candy Kingdom, where anyone could see us.
"I really, really don't," I tell her quietly.
She raises an eyebrow. "You sure about that? You're the guest of honor, hero."
"I don't want a party," I say, gently pushing her back up against the taffy tree. "I just want to go home, with you."
She looks over my shoulder at the castle, then behind us in the direction of the Grass Lands. "I do want to get out of this awful dress," she concedes, wrapping her arms around my neck.
"I wholeheartedly agree," I tell her in a serious voice before breaking out into my best evil grin.
It's all the convincing she needs. She takes my hand and says in a low voice, "Let's go home."
After, we lay awhile in comfortable silence, my head propped up on one hand while I draw invisible pictures on her stomach with my finger.
"That tickles," she hums with closed eyes, and swats my hand away. Her protest only encourages me though, and I bring my hand back, lightly tracing a large letter "F" in the middle of her torso, claiming her the same way she claims everything she thinks ought to belong to her. I chuckle softly to myself, wondering if I have an "M" somewhere on my body in a place I can't see, drawn while I was sleeping.
"What's funny?" she asks, not opening her eyes.
"Nothing," I whisper.
I roll back on top of her and rest my chin on her chest, wanting so badly to ask her the question again, even though I already asked her today. I should know by now not to push things with her. No, I won't ask. I won't ask her if she's happy to be alive, because if she says no right now, it would probably crush me.
Finally, she looks at me and brushes the hair away from my eyes. "What is it, sunshine?" she asks.
I take a deep breath. "You could change back," I blurt, regretting it the moment the words leave my mouth. No taking them back now though. "Become a vampire again. If you're not happy."
She frowns, furrowing her brows, her nose wrinkling slightly right where her freckles are. "That isn't what you want."
"Since when have you decided anything based on what anyone else wants?"
I expect her to laugh, but she doesn't. She just works her fingers through my hair and gazes at the ceiling, looking like she's deep in thought. "Jake thinks you probably could have asked for anything. When you asked the Owl to bring me back."
"I didn't want anything else," I say with a shrug. "Just you."
She smiles at me like I've said something funny. "He also thinks that you asked for me alive on purpose."
I shake my head, wondering when she and Jake have had all these heart-to-heart conversations about me. "That's not true."
"That's what I said. I told him you weren't exactly blessed with the gift of forethought," she laughs. "But that doesn't mean you're not happy about the way it turned out."
The way she says it irks me for some reason. "Of course I'm happy," I say a bit too defensively. "You get another chance to be human, and you're not alone this time." I push a lock of hair off of her shoulder with my nose. "And I get to have you, for real this time, not just for a tiny, insignificant portion of your endless un-life."
She just stares at me for a long moment, her brown eyes unreadable. "If... that's what you want," I add sheepishly. "So, you really haven't thought of changing back?"
She sighs, her hands still tangled in my hair. "Kid, the thought hasn't left my mind since it happened."
I turn my head to the side, my ear to her chest, listening to the steady rhythm of her heartbeat, wishing I hadn't opened my dumb mouth, pretending her words don't cut through me like a dull knife. The regularity of the sound is so comforting, it pains me to imagine having to give it up now.
"My dad'll insist on it," she continues matter-of-factly, "when I finally decide to talk to him and tell him what happened. My royal advisers will too, and all my subjects, of course. My kingdom in the Underworld's not run quite as strictly as the ones up here are, but you can bet no one will be happy to hear that the Vampire Queen isn't exactly a vampire anymore."
I close my eyes and focus on the ba-bum, ba-bum trying to memorize the perfection of the sound as it echoes in my ear.
"This whole human deal- growing up, getting old, dying- it was never part of my plan," she says with a humorless laugh. "My plan was to live forever as one of the most powerful creatures of all time, Queen of the Undead, worthy of calling myself the daughter of the Lord of Evil."
"Right," I say, keeping my voice low and even, despite how angry and insignificant she can make me feel with just a few simple words, no malice behind them at all, just honesty. I push myself off of her and sit up, swinging my legs off the bed, and planting my feet on the floor. I purse my lips, my hands making themselves into fists at my sides.
"Finn." She presses against me from behind, wrapping her arms around me.
"What," I say flatly. It's not a question. I really don't want to hear any more about how I've interrupted the life she had outlined.
"Something you and I have in common?" she says. "We're both pretty sucky at sticking to plans."
I stop pouting long enough to turn and look at her, and she plants her chin on my shoulder, an impish smile on her lips. I raise an eyebrow warily.
"So?" I ask, letting the question of our future hang in the air.
"So," she says, rolling her eyes, "I can't promise I won't miss things about being the way I was, or that I'll be happy all the time, or that I'll act the way a regular girl would." She sneaks her way underneath my arm and sits on my lap to face me, wrapping her legs around my waist. Wearing a serious look, she smooths the top of my hair down in a way that I suspect is actually more comforting to her than it is to me. "And I don't know how I'll deal with getting older. I can't promise that I'll want to stay this way forever. But for now, I know that I want to try and do this human thing. With you."
My hurt feelings instantly forgotten, I bite my lip and try not to let my idiotic grin spread too widely across my face.
"Don't look at me like that," she says darkly.
"Like what?" I ask innocently.
"Like a stray puppy I finally let inside after it's been scratching at my door all night."
I pull her in closer and rest my forehead against hers. "I love you," I tell her.
As if on cue, she rolls her eyes and gets up from the bed, detaching herself from me. "Yeah dummy, I know," she says, retrieving a pair of ripped jeans from the dresser that used to be Jake's bed, leaving the prissy yellow dress on the floor. "It's still early and I'm hungry," she announces as she gets dressed. "Make me some spaghetti."
I laugh and slide my own clothes back on. "Ya know, one of these days, you're going to have to learn how to cook something besides tomato sandwiches."
"Ugh, no, that sounds awful," she says dismissively. "You cook, I'll sit on the counter and watch, making condescending comments as I see fit."
I throw a sock at her. Immediately, she retaliates by launching a boot at me, hitting me square in the chest. It knocks the wind out of me, and I double over, surprised by how hard she can still throw. A devilish laugh escapes her, but she quickly covers her mouth and tries to look remorseful.
"You okay?" she asks, stifling more laughter.
"Whatever," I cough.
I follow her downstairs, where she plants herself on the kitchen counter, just like she promised.
"Hey Finn?" she asks as I'm stirring the dry noodles into the boiling water.
"Do you still want to go to the Southern Islands?" she asks, picking up a clove of garlic from the cutting board and smelling it cautiously. "Like we talked about awhile back?"
I smile, remembering the conversation that seems like ages ago now. "Yeah," I tell her, adding some salt to the sauce. "I do."
"When?" she asks, handing me the pepper shaker.
"Whenever you want," I say, sounding a little more cheesy and romantic than I'd intended to.
She hops down from the counter. "How about now?" she asks, and I have to look at her a minute to be able to tell that she's serious. "I'll pack a few things while you cook, then we'll leave after we eat."
"Huh?" I ask incredulously. "It's almost nighttime, we'll have to pack a tent and enough food for the trip, and we don't have a way to cross the Squid Ink Sea once we get there, and-"
Marceline pokes me in the chest and gives me a challenging look. "Come on kid, where's your sense of adventure?"
Maybe it's the way she's looking at me, those golden-brown eyes full of mischief, or the fact that the mysteries of my past are finally solved and I feel more at ease with myself than I have in such a long time, but I realize that she's right. We don't need a plan. Unknown lands in the distance and Marceline by my side- it's enough. It's all I need.
"You're right," I tell her. "Let's do it."