A/N: This was supposed to be a one-shot. But hey, yeah, uhm. Things didn't work out that way. I'll post the second part tomorrow (I hope!) and start working on requests again afterward. =) Sorry for the wait, guys.
Credit for the concept of Bubblegum having been built/engineered goes to the lovely Yamino (of both DevArt and Tumblr)! You can see the comic that heavily inspired this fic on her asksugarlessgum Tumblr. Go read the rest of her comics too if you haven't—they are hilarious.
"They've built a baby."
Marceline blinks. Flattening her palm over her guitar's strings to quiet the chord there, she looks up at the throne. She frowns. "What?" She heard wrong, she's sure.
The monarch sprawled lengthwise across the velvet chair on the dais twitches his shoulders in a shrug. His hair falls shimmering down over his ear, a flaxen curtain reminiscent of the sunlight that curses his people so. "They've built a baby," he mutters again. Turning his head to level his gaze at Marceline, he huffs sulkily, "Those old sorta-mages in the realm to the west. They've built a baby."
Marceline blinks a second time. "You mean they've had a baby?"
He rolls his cornflower eyes. "No, Marceline." Her name curls saccharine over his tongue, light, condescending. "They're too old for that. No—they've built a baby. Engineered it. With their special magic. With their science."
Idle fingers have never been Marceline's forte. She strums another chord thoughtfully. "The realm to the west," she murmurs. "La la la, no—lower, yeah." She adds her thumb to the strings and determines, "That's better. The realm to the west… that's the edible one, right? Chocolate or something?"
"Candy, yes. The Candy Kingdom."
"Mmhm." The first few notes of a melody are coming together—Marceline's not paying her king too much attention. Reaching to twist one of her guitar's knobs, she prods, "So they've built a baby. So what?"
A prick of sharp heat slithers down the back of her neck. She stiffens: her king's hand furls over her nape and he purrs in her ear, clicking his incisors together, "So go examine it, Marceline. Tell me whether it's dangerous."
His thumbnail traces the seam of her hair and skin, a grate that's not painful yet but could be if he wished it. Leaning away from the touch with a grimace, Marceline shoulders her guitar. "Seriously? You want me to go look at a baby? Geez, boss. How can a baby be dangerous? All they do is poop and cry."
She kicks aloft and drifts sidelong, a little to look at the king but mostly to get away from his hands. She isn't successful: he twists the fingers of both in her hair, hauling it taut. Jerking to a stop midair, she hisses at him and he smiles, an expression as sickly sweet as soured milk. Light from the torches pegged in the walls washes his face yellow. There's something almost poisonous about it—about the way he leans in and licks his teeth and leers at her.
"My sources tell me the baby was built for a specific reason." Winding her hair in a loop about his wrist, he draws her near again—hand over hand, like pulling in a rope to coil it. A chuckle bubbles in his throat the same time a snarl blooms in Marceline's. Her nails bite into her palms as he continues, "Those old mages supposedly crafted the baby with the intent that it will one day serve as the perfect ruler of the Candy Kingdom. What do you think that means, Marceline?"
He yanks the noose of her hair. Marceline's head snaps down at level with his own, and he rocks up on his tiptoes to rake his eyeteeth over her nose's tip.
"What," he revisits, "do you think that means, Marceline?" Rust whispers in his breath, too much for an old bedspring or a neglected door's hinge.
"Let go of me." Shoving a hand into the space between them, she flares it over his chest and taps her index finger against the brunt of his dead sternum. Once. "Just let go. Right freaking now, okay?"
His smile widens. His mouth is a millsaw of white glistening razorblades. "Or what?"
"Or I'll show you the business end of my bass, buddy."
The torches make pale ptt-ptt noises as they gutter. The strap of Marceline's guitar rasps over her sleeve and the Vampire King sticks his tongue out at her, a hoarse little bark of a laugh roiling behind it. He wonders, "Are you threatening me?"
"Nope." She pokes him in the ribs. Once upon a time he was ticklish there, she remembers, and his cheek gives the smallest spasm. "I'm warning you, boss. That's all."
They survey one another, the king's icepick blue eyes narrowed, Marceline's smile cold and stiff and bitter on her face. A moment fuzzes past, all flickering shadows and stilted quiet.
He withdraws, her hair slipping like ink from his grasp. Folding his hands behind his back next, he steps a pace away. He sighs, "Fine, fine. Back to the point." His gaze cuts to her in a flicker sharp as a coin's toss. "What is your definition of a perfect ruler?"
Not you, Marceline can't help thinking. Aloud she offers, "I dunno." Her scalp is still beset by unpleasant tingles. She stifles the urge to rub them away. "I guess," she allows, "the definition would depend on the kingdom."
He nods. Turning away from her, he meanders back toward his throne. "Mm. What, do you suppose, might be the key attributes of the Candy Kingdom's perfect ruler in particular?"
She permits herself a snicker. "Heh. They'd need to melt in your mouth—not in your hand."
Her king does not look amused. "What if," he posits, glancing over his shoulder at Marceline, "that baby has been constructed with attributes that are threatening to us?"
"Like chainsaw arms?" Marceline deadpans. "Or garlic breath? Oh no. A mutant infant."
Her quip is ignored. Straightening at the edge of the dais, the king murmurs, "What if that baby was developed to be… resistant to our kind?"
"Resistant?" Brows arched, the younger vampire scratches her cheek. "C'mon, you're making it sound like maybe the kid's a virus. A superflu—"
The king spins on his heel to look at Marceline. His gaze is flat, glacial. "Not a superflu," he disagrees. "But perhaps superhuman."
"Super what? That's impossible. The humans are dead, boss," Marceline reminds the monarch. She adds, "All but a few." He killed the rest, after all, or instigated the idea. She saw the carnage. Remembers the screams resounding in the night—will never forget the purple handprint-smears on the sidewalks of the empty cities, long since crumbled to dust now. She closes her eyes.
"All but a few," the king echoes. He almost spits it. "Those two in the western realm—ancient, decrepit old mortals… I saw no harm in leaving them alone. But now they've gone and built a baby. And if that baby is even at all as resilient as the humans once were…"
The statement trails into meager, unfinished silence but for the whicker of flame and the whisper of breeze through the chamber's eaves. The windows are open—the night is coming, bringing with it the smell of starlight and lilacs.
At last the king continues, "If that baby is remotely like the scientists who built it"—and he holds up a finger—"I want to know now, Marceline. I want to know now, while it is still young enough for me to take measures against it."
"Measures?" A cold worm of disquiet erupts in and wriggles through Marceline's belly. "You wanna know if you should kill it, you mean."
His fingers flutter dismissively. "Go examine it," he orders. "Take the remainder of the week. Report back to me after." He ascends the dais again—drapes himself over the throne there. The heels of his boots glitter black in the torchlight.
"Boss," Marceline asks softly, "what are you worried about exactly? I mean, it's just a baby."
Canting a humorless smile at the other vampire, the king insists as he stirs the air with a fingertip, "Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. But that's for me to decide." Behind Marceline the door swings open of its own accord. "Week's end, Marceline," he chuckles. "See you then."
Full round and melon yellow tonight, the moon hangs precariously low in the sky. Marceline drifts beneath it across Ooo, watching her shadow race to catch up to her over the hillocks and grasses below. Summer rinses the wind warm. Cricketsong rises in earnest, and the cuffs of her jeans flutter pleasantly about Marceline's bare ankles. She kicked her shoes off hours ago—buttery as the evening is, she doesn't need them.
The Candy Kingdom sprawls on the horizon opposite the moon. It's pretty to look at, all pastel colors and softness—it smells good too. Like cupcakes. Or cookies. Marceline, who only has the faintest memory of her mother baking something in a kitchen crisscrossed in red and white tiles, isn't sure which. The castle at the kingdom's center is a modest but medieval affair, complete with a tower, parapets—man, even a moat.
Marceline drifts to the tower first. The gauzy pink curtains fluttering in its window say the kid's probably a princess, and if the stories the vampire was told as a child taught her anything, it's that the princess is always in the tower.
Peeling back the curtains, Marceline peers into the room. It's fairly large, just as pink as its curtains—and hey, look at that! A crib waits in the corner, all white slats and silence. Marceline grins. Hooking her fingers over the sill, the vampire vaults into the chamber. She glides to the perfect little baby cage. Looks over the edge.
The small creature inside gazes thoughtfully back up at her.
"Oh! Uh," says Marceline, startled. Her voice comes out louder than intended. From the next room there rises the immediate tmp-tmp of an elevated heartbeat: one of the kid's pseudo-parents tuning in, probably. She holds her breath, not that she needs to—tenses to jet out the window again. A moment passes. Two. A bedspring creaks: the heartbeat slows, and eventually a snore sounds down the hallway in a muted trumpet.
Glaring back down at the baby, Marceline hisses, "What're you doing awake so late, kid? Sheesh!"
The baby doesn't say anything, of course. She—it is a princess—stares at Marceline silently instead, her tiny dark eyes chips of washed mica in the moonlight. Sucking on her fist, she turns her head, grunts: stretches out a pudgy leg and flexes the fat little toes on the end of it. She's rose-colored and smells of sweet things, and her free hand rises up on a wobbling arm to grope delicately toward Marceline's face. It looks almost like she's waving.
Crooking her fingers in reply, Marceline salutes the baby and smirks. "Hey yourself, Bittybite. What's shakin'?"
The baby smiles. Smiles! Are babies supposed to be able to smile? Marceline's never actually been around one for very long, so she doesn't know. It's a disarming expression, cherry-bud lips drawn back over slobbery toothless gums: the kid's eyes glitter like stars, like gems. Drawing her fist free of her mouth, she waves it in a crescent beneath the crib's rungs. She keens—just once, a soft, fleeting sound. The fingers of both hands unfurl and flutter, demanding, pleading.
"What?" Marceline asks, kicking higher to hover parallel over the crib. "Whatcha want, huh?" Tendrils of her hair snake down toward the baby, who clutches at them for a moment, loses interest, and continues to reach for Marceline proper. Her heels drum on the crib's thin mattress.
"Buu," the princess insists.
"Geez, you're cute," Marceline huffs. Glancing over her shoulder at the room's empty doorway, she leans over the crib. She stretches her arms down, picks up the baby: lifts her clumsily free and lets her dangle a moment. As the princess wiggles, though, Marceline ladles her into the crook of her elbow and drifts to perch on the crib's headboard. Nudging her knees up beneath the infant monarch, she offers over a finger and provides, "'Sup? I'm Marceline."
The baby curls her minute hands over the edges of Marceline's palm. She guides the vampire's finger into her mouth and settles to sucking on it placidly. Her feet knead into Marceline's stomach, two pads of humming heat.
For a while they watch one another over the bumps of the vampire's knuckles.
"Yeah, uh. Just so you know," Marceline supplies at last, "I don't usually let people drool on me until the second date."
The princess blows a spit bubble against Marceline's thumb in reply. She's smiling again, eyes only just open, lavender lashes drawn down over her cheeks like shutters. She's a warm, comfortable weight in the slot of Marceline's ribs, her head lolling slow over the vampire's bicep. Powder coats her pink scalp. Where it's rubbed away the surface is supple and faintly sticky.
"Boss was right," murmurs Marceline, brushing at the powder. "You're the perfect ruler for this place, oh yeah. Your hair's made of bubblegum, kiddo."
There's something on the baby's face then: a spark of recognition. Of comprehension. Her little body jerks and her eyes snap open—her mouth parts around Marceline's finger. "Kee!" she gurgles, kicking her feet. If it's possible for a kid so young to grin, dang, she's doing it.
Brows arched, Marceline ponders aloud a second time, "What? Bubblegum?" Cue more kicking and enthusiastic baby-babble. The bedsprings in the next room creak again and Marceline bounces the child, trying to shush her. "Easy, easy," she whispers. "Ssssh! Sssssh. Pipe down, Bittybite, or I gotta leave!"
Immediately—incredibly—the giggling ceases. The princess turns the round of her face into Marceline's palm. Silence descends on the bedchamber.
Minutes pass. Gradually the kid's parent's snoring resumes, and Marceline lowers her head until her nose is nigh brushing the baby's small, silken cheek. "Bubblegum," she whispers experimentally. "Is your name Bubblegum?"
The princess doesn't just smile this time. She beams, all the while sucking furiously at Marceline's fingertip. Her other hand rises to flare over the vampire's cheek. Despite being covered in drool, it's warm. Sweet-smelling. Tippa-tippa-skt: her nails scutter over Marceline's gray flesh, tapping out a wordless but wholehearted hello.
"Smart cookie, aren'tcha?" Grinning, Marceline bumps her nose into the tiny fingers. They close over said nose in a squeeze. "And strong," approves the vampire. "Nice. I like a girl with a good grip."
Bubblegum responds to this claim by shoving a finger curiously into Marceline's nostril. Baby nails are sharp. Eyes watering, Marceline plucks free the questing digit and mutters, "Whoa now. Let's not get too adventurous the first night, huh?" Tickling at the kid's bare belly with a twist of her hair, she maintains, "I mean, we've got time to get to know each other. I'll be here all week."
Smuck: Bubblegum's lips let go from Marceline's finger. Her head rocks back on the vampire's arm and she laughs—laughs, loud and uncaring and gleeful—and smacks her bite-sized palms against Marceline's chin. She is still chortling and kicking in her crib when her parents come into her room to check on her a little over a minute later.
Watching from the window, Marceline smirks into the sill. "See you tomorrow, Bubblegum," she murmurs. The curtains snap, flutter; the stem of her bass scrapes the tower's brick. One of the scientists looks sleepily in the direction of the sound.
Save for a shadow melting away under the moonlight, the window is empty.