"That's new," the Earl of Lemongrab mumbled to himself for about the eleventieth time that hour. He was hovering over his friend's bed, watching him sleep. This had been going on for several nights now, and as always the poor guy was blissfully unaware of how pants-wettingly creepy he would've looked to anyone with a lick of social sense.
Up until recently, the earl's feelings toward other people tended to fall pretty neatly into one of two categories: hate with a burning passion, or hate with a not-quite-burning-but-still-fairly-passionate passion. Then this other Lemongrab had come along and flipped everything on its sour-sweet citrus candy head. It was love at first poke—or at least, it would have been if Lemongrab had anything resembling a healthy concept of "love". Even so, he'd felt something inside him... soften. For the first time in his short, unhappy life, he didn't want to strangle the life out of this nude ragamuffin who dared violate his personal space.
"That's nyewww," the earl murmured yet again, cautiously poring over the memory in his head.
The clone shifted and mumbled something in his sleep. Lemongrab started at the sudden noise. Instinctively and with the usual needless dramatic flair, he threw himself face-first to the ground. His forehead struck the tiles with an earsplitting CRACK, and he clapped his hands over his mouth in a pitiful attempt to muffle his "MmmmnnnyearrghaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAA!" of agony.
Lemonfriend leaned over the edge of the bed, rubbing his eyes. "Hmmm? You okay down there?"
Lemongrab froze. "I, IrolledoutofbedinmySLEEP," he blurted.
The clone glanced over at his friend's bed, a good thirty feet away. (As well as immaculately-kept, the two earls' sleeping quarters were quite roomy.) "All the way over here?"
Lemongrab's face was utterly expressionless. "…Yes."
The clone stared at him for another couple of moments. "Perhaps you should install a guardrail. Or switch to a king-sized." Frowning a bit, he reached down and gently brushed his fingertips over Lemongrab's forehead. "Ow. Do you require ice?"
"Ice. Yes, of course. Ice for the ouchie, haaah." His mouth was running on autopilot. Right now he couldn't think of anything but the fact that Lemonfriend was touching his face, with his hand no less—eyuugh, everyone knew how filthy hands were!—yet he felt no urge to shove his clone away. No, if anything, he wanted Lemonfriend to… touch him… some more…?
For some unfathomable reason, the idea made his face feel hot. A fever? Could he be sick? That would certainly explain how weird he'd been feeling lately, but no—when he thought about it, it was almost a good kind of weird, whatever sense that made.
"Oh, Lemongrab, I'm so sorry." Princess Bubblegum rushed over with the ice pack and carefully pressed it to her son's forehead. (Apparently acute cranial trauma was his thing now.) She sat next to him on the bench and went on, "I know my candy citizens need a little time to get used to you, but that's still no excuse for—for—what did Mr. Cupcake do, exactly?"
Lemongrab sniffled. "Nyahhhh… well… he manhandled me and had everyone line up and take turns punching me in the face. Then he threw me in the royal alligator pit."
The princess blinked quizzically. "We don't have a royal alligator pit." Lemongrab only blinked back. She sighed and adjusted the ice pack. "I'll have a word with Mr. Cupcake later. Now, what is it you wanted to talk about?"
The earl looked down, scuffing the ground with his feet. "Lemongrab."
"You or him?"
He gave her a withering look. "Hiiim."
"Yes, what about him? Are you two still getting along?"
Lemongrab nodded. "I, uh… don't hate him?"
Princess Bubblegum giggled. "Well, that's certainly good to hear."
Abruptly he sat bolt upright, and the princess flinched away from his sharp gaze. "No! It's more than not hating!" he squawked. "I feel all burny in my face and guts when I think about him, almost like I'm sick but not really, and, and I want him to touch me! What's wrong with me, Princess? Am I dying?! AM I DYING?!"
"Shhhh. Lemongrab, you're hyperventilating." The princess had pressed the ice pack back to his forehead and was stroking his arm soothingly. She knew he didn't like to be touched but couldn't think of anything else just now. "Now just calm down and try to explain as best you can, all right?"
"I… I… nnnnghhhh… I am CALM!" To her surprise, his shoulders relaxed and his breathing slowed somewhat. That must have taken quite a bit of willpower. She smiled. It seemed he'd already come a long way. "But Princess, I don't know what to do! Even if he's making me sick, I don't want him to leave me…" He laced his fingers together. "I suppose I'll just have to deal with the funny tingly fever I get when he's around, huh?"
"Funny tingly—" She broke off, a grin soaring across her face. "Oh. Ohhh. I see what's going on."
Lemongrab stiffened. "What? What's going on?"
The princess smoothed out a crinkled spot on her son's shirt with her spare hand, unable to contain a giggle at his deer-in-the-headlights expression. "You're not sick or dying or anything un-math like that. Sorry to disappoint you."
Lemongrab looked puzzled. "Uhn? That does not disappoint me. I very much lack disappointment. Woohoooo."
She laughed again. "Never mind. Just let your mama tell you allll she knows."
And so the princess of the Candy Kingdom did her best to give her clueless creation a crash course in the art of courtship. Lemongrab listened in complete silence, his eyes growing huge and round as she went on.
"Trust me," she was saying now, "he'll totally love that. And who knows? It might even make him want to touch you." She winked at him.
"Touch, yes. Touching can be good." The earl gazed at her. Inexplicably, his arms started to twitch.
Princess Bubblegum raised an eyebrow. "You feeling all right?"
She gasped when he scooted closer and awkwardly threw his arms around her neck. He pulled away after a brief moment, but there was no mistaking what he'd just done. It was a bona fide hug, from Lemongrab of all people.
"Lemongrab," she said softly. "That was so sweet of you."
"Uhh?" He made a face. "D-Don't get any weird ideas, now. My arms slipped and also my body. Yeah…" He leapt to his feet. "Well, thanks for the advice, Mother. See you."
She nodded. "Yeah. See you…"
Tears stung her eyes as she watched her adorkable son do a bizarre little half-stumble, half-dance over to his lemon steed and ride off into the sunset.
It took time and the generous application of Lemongrab's innate lemonstylez to cultivate his friend's gift. At long last, it was ready. "Eureka," Lemongrab said to the lemon bonsai in its small clay pot, not so much due to this revelation as the fact that it was a Eureka lemon tree and he just liked saying the word.
After pacing the halls of Castle Lemongrab alone for two hours or so, he forced himself to muster his courage and look for his friend. He found him tending to the ordinary-sized lemon trees in the throne room. Weeks ago, the earls had begun the arduous process of reshaping a tree into a suitable throne for Lemonfriend and installing it next to the original Lemongrab's. Soon it would be ready for use. Warmth rose to Lemongrab's cheeks as it occurred to him that the two thrones were well within arm's reach of each other. That couldn't be a good sign. If he started feeling funny just thinking about sitting next to Lemonfriend, how in Ooo was he going to handle—
"Hello? Is that you, dear?"
Lemongrab shrank back out of sight, cringing. Yep, he'd officially lost his nerve. Maybe he should just leave the bonsai here in the hall for Lemonfriend to find and hightail it back to his room. Careful not to make any noise, he set the plant down and turned to leave. …
"What's this thing?"
Lemongrab screeched and jumped so high he whacked his head on the ceiling. "Uh, bonsai. It's a bonsai," he spluttered to Lemonfriend. He swallowed his anxiety, which went down with all the smoothness of a rabid sea urchin. "It's a kind of small bonsai. TREE! I mean tree. Small little bonsai tree, haha." He forced a smile, but inside he was facepalming. He might have to send himself to the dungeon for this later.
"Oh." Lemonfriend picked up the tiny tree and stroked its glossy leaves. "How avant-garde."
Lemongrab folded his arms behind his back. He stared down at his feet. "It's for you."
"For me? Did you grow this?"
Lemongrab nodded, not looking up.
"It's so… symmetrical." The clone placed a hand on Lemongrab's shoulder. His voice softened. "…Like you."
Well, it was now or never. Time to try that mouth-touchy thing Princess Bubblegum had told him about. Sucking in a deep breath, he clumsily mashed their faces together.
Oh, glob. Lemongrab hadn't counted on their noses getting in the way! Barking out incoherent grunts of exertion, he struggled to make their mouths meet. The clone blinked, not saying a word. Panic crushed Lemongrab's chest with an iron fist. He was ruining everything. EVERYTHING!
He jerked his face away. "Ah, haha. Wasn't that diverting? Well, goodbye." To seven infinity years in the dungeon, he added silently as he whipped around to make his escape.
Lemonfriend hugged him from behind, stopping him in his tracks. "Remember when I said you should get a king-sized bed?" he asked.
Lemongrab looked over his shoulder at him, bewildered.
"Well," the clone said, "I have a better idea. You should get an earl-sized one." He leaned in closer, smiling. "Big enough for two earls."
"O-Oh!" Lemongrab murmured. And Lemonfriend squished their faces together in another awkward pseudo-kiss.
This time, Lemongrab didn't mind as much when their noses got in the way.