Fionna had to think for a while: her mind was a giant maze where the walls switched when you weren't looking and the floor fell out from under you. But if you paid attention, there was always treasure to be found, and she could make things make sense if she had enough time to concentrate.
Therefore, Fionna had meant to keep her mouth shut about G.B. entirely and just enjoy the show. This time, Cake was along, and she appreciated Marshall Lee’s music enough to avoid any awkward questions later.
But, to her surprise, Marshall Lee brought it up. He was fiddling with his bass, and though he greeted her cheerfully, he was clearly distracted. “Listen, Fi, I gotta know.” He plucked a string, listened to it, and scowled, although Fionna thought that had more to do with the subject than the string. It had sounded perfect to her. “How do you know that old stick-in-the-mud, anyway? He’s already in college, isn’t he?”
“He’s a sophomore,” said Cake. She approved of academic achievement. G.B.’s scholarly credentials were the only reason Cake let Fionna spend any time alone with him.
Marshall Lee huffed and plucked the next string—also perfect. “Of course he is. So how’d you meet him? You’re definitely not in school together.”
Fionna rubbed her hands against her skirt, glancing at Cake. But Cake didn’t know what had happened last time. Problems, problems, problems. “Well, I mean—”
“Fionna saved his life,” said Cake, with no small amount of pride. Fionna’s ears burned. “It was in the paper. I have a framed copy on my wall.”
Marshall Lee blinked, so confused the anger disappeared from his face. That was good, at least. “…What, were you trapped in a burning building together or something?”
Fionna cleared her throat, determined to get the conversation back on track. Well, okay. They were just talking about G.B. sooner than she’d planned. No big deal. Maybe she’d get some more answers. “No. I was visiting Cake, and I found him having an asthma attack. I called 911. That’s all. Pretty easy.” Her ears turned red; she fought the urge to pull down the ears of her hat and twist them. She didn’t want to look like a little girl in front of Marshall Lee. “Oh. And I gave him. Um. Mouth to mouth.”
Marshall Lee blinked again. Fionna almost thought he wasn’t going to say any more. Then he started laughing, clapping one hand over his face. “Of course you did, kid. Well. You’re a big damn hero, aren’t you?”
“What’s so funny?” Fionna asked, tilting her head to the side.
“Nothing, nothing,” said Marshall Lee, stifling another chuckle. “Sorry. Just brought up—an old memory.” He put his cheek on his hand. He looked a little more cheerful, although his voice remained sour. “And so you’re—what? Dating?”
Fionna had finally gotten rid of her blush; now it came roaring back, and she could no longer fight the need to pull down the ears of her hat.
“Of course not!” said Cake, looking irritated for the first time. Which was good, since Cake usually got irritated about two sentences into conversations with guys. “Fionna’s too young for that kind of thing.”
“I’m sixteen, Cake,” Fionna mumbled, although she was too embarrassed to put up a spirited defense.
“That is pretty young,” said Marshall Lee soothingly. Cake eyed him with a touch of suspicion, but not as much as usual. “Nah, kid, trust me. Better to stay out of the dating scene long as you can.”
Fionna wished somebody would understand the surety in her heart when G.B. smiled at her. She had never felt anything so solid. But Marshall Lee was older; she couldn’t blame him. At least he didn’t wrinkle his nose and remind her that her brain wasn’t fully developed. “It’s not like that,” she said instead. “We just hang out a lot. He doesn’t have many friends.” Marshall Lee snorted. It was not nice. She cleared her throat. “So, um… how did you meet him?”
Marshall Lee’s eyes narrowed. “It doesn’t matter, kid. I’ll put up with him ‘cause I like you, but that doesn’t mean we get along. And don’t let him tell you it’s my fault, either.” He leaned back in his chair. “He’s the one who started it.”
When they got in the car to leave, Cake hesitated before turning over the engine. “Baby…” she said, looking at the steering wheel.
“What?” said Fionna. She’d been thinking of Marshall Lee and G.B., and so she almost hadn’t noticed that they weren’t moving. She looked over at Cake.
Cake leaned on the steering wheel and let out a slow breath, meeting Fionna’s eyes. “Baby, I know what you’re thinking. You wanna save them, just like you wanna save the whole damn world. But some things are better left broken.
Fionna wrinkled her nose, but she didn’t bother trying to deny it. Cake knew her too well. “What’re you telling me that for? What do you know about it?”
Cake bit her lip. “When I told MoChro where we were going, he—told me some things. Don’t go thinking all this could be fixed just by you making ‘em sit down and talk to each other. They never got along. It’s good that you’re friends with ‘em. God knows I wish they were girls, but even that ingrate respects you. They treat you all right. But they don’t need to be friends with each other to be friends with you. Just… let it alone, okay?”
Fionna stared at her knees. She and Cake rarely argued; they knew each other too well. Cake was her defender, her fellow schemer, her partner in crime. Not once had Fionna ever felt like Cake didn’t understand her. And now…
She bit the inside of her cheek. “I can’t do that, Cake. It’s just… not me. You should know that.”
Cake touched her shoulder. “Baby, I do know that. But I had to say it. I don’t want you getting hurt just because those two are idiots.”
Fionna shrugged. Cake sighed and started the car.
G.B. was not surprised when Cake took him aside a few weeks after that first concert. "Baby girl's got something on her mind," she told him, her hands on her hips. "Thought I should warn you, 'cause it's about you, as far as I can tell."
G.B. wrinkled his nose. "Please don't tell me it's about me and Marshall Lee." He'd said Marshall Lee's name more in the last month than he had in the last two years. He did not care for it. He wished he felt nothing at all about it, but he'd given up on that.
"You aren't stupid, and I'm not stupid, so we'll pretend you didn't say that." Cake hopped up on the ledge beside him so they were at eye level—Cake was shorter than even Fionna, so she came in somewhere around his elbow most of the time. Not like he was going to avoid her gaze. He knew better than that. Fionna was the one always getting into fights, but Cake had a killer left hook. "You know she's not gonna give up on it, right?"
G.B. bit back a sigh, because it was a pointless waste of oxygen that could be feeding his brain, the parts that knew better than to obsess over Marshall Lee. "I know," he muttered. "She's going to do what she's going to do, and I can't change that. I just let it happen, most of the time. It'll pass, just like everything else she gets interested in."
But Cake shook her head. "This won't. She's never had anybody in her life like her without liking each other. And you know as well as I do that she's got five million friends."
G.B. nodded. It seemed like every time he spent time with Fionna, she had a new extra special best friend to add to the list of extra special best friends. He told himself that it made her crush on him more okay, even though that was a lie. She never looked at anyone else the way she looked at him.
Cake sighed, patting the edges of her afro absently. "I've been trying to keep her safe, you know? Trying to keep her good. But now there's this shit." She swung her legs. "I knew she'd have to see the world was hard someday, but I didn't want it to be now."
G.B. sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Look, Cake, I didn't ask for this. I—"
But Cake cut him off. "I know you didn't. Nobody ever plans to run into an ex they don't like anymore." G.B. opened his mouth, but she pointed at him. "You can play that game with Fi. You shouldn't, but you can't. But don't you dare try it with me. Not when my baby's involved." She set her hands on her lap.
"So what do you want me to do?" G.B. said, putting his hands behind his back so he wouldn't fidget. Cake probably knew this problem had been keeping him up at night, but he didn't want to give her proof.
Cake thought for a moment, looking at the front doors of the school even though Fionna wouldn't come out for another five minutes at least. "Don't fight it," she said at last. "Whatever she thinks she's gonna do. Don't tell her that it won't work. Let her find it out herself. It hurts more that way, but... I dunno, maybe I've been trying too hard to keep her away from pain. She can handle it." Her eyes flicked toward him. "Maybe it'll take the shine off you, finally."
G.B. pushed a hand through his hair. "I can only hope."
Fionna let some time pass, feeling fidgety and awkward. She wanted to listen to Cake, but she’d meant what she said. She couldn’t just let it lie, not when whatever had happened meant so much to both of them. G.B. was a closed door, all the time—something in him was shut away, kept out of sight. And she’d seen it when he talked to Marshall Lee. She wished she could tell Cake that, but she wouldn’t have had the words.
All the while the problem rolled around in her head, still looking for the hole in the bottom of the maze.
And then it came to her, and she was so excited she ran home and slammed open the door.
Cake was chilling on the couch, her feet up against the wall as she played the DS. “What’s up, Fi?”
Fionna marched over to the couch before making her declaration, so it would have the full effect. “I wanna have a party.”
Cake didn’t glance away from the screen. “How come?”
Fionna glanced around the room, looking for a reason that wouldn’t involve an explanation. If she told Cake, Cake would tell MoChro, and that would only cause problems.
“Well, it’s kinda-sorta-almost-Halloween,” she said, after a long moment.
Cake tilted her head back. “Halloween’s in, like, two weeks.”
“Yeahhhh, but if we take a week to get everything ready, then it’ll be a week before, and Halloween’s on a weekday anyway, so we could have an excuse for being early.” Fionna rocked back on her heels.
Cake paused her game, which meant she was actually listening. “And we haven’t had a party in a long time, either. It would be fun.”
Fionna started to bounce. “We could have everybody dress as monsters! And give prizes for being scary!”
Cake perked up. “I could build a haunted house in the basement.”
“Dude!” Fionna cried. “This is gonna be sweet!”
Fionna made invitations shaped like zombies. G.B. got the first one. Although she expected him to wrinkle his nose, since he hated horror movies, he chuckled when he had to pull the arm off to open it. “These are nice, Fionna.”
“Can you come?” Fionna said, bouncing on her heels. She hoped he would think she was just excited to be around him instead of suspecting something. And she was happy. He smelled like vanilla today.
“Sure, yeah.” He drummed his fingers on his lips. “What should I dress up as, though?”
“You could be a werewolf.” G.B. shook his head. “Swamp Thing?” Another headshake. “Dracula? The mummy? Frankenstein?”
G.B. cocked his head. “The creature would be fun. And easy. I’ve got a pair of big black boots.”
“I’ll paint you green,” said Fionna. G.B. gave her that sideways look that was supposed to make her stop liking him.
She poked his shoulder. His eyebrow cocked. “Will you make cuuuuupcakes?”
“Chocolate or vanilla?” Fionna just looked at him. “Chocolate. Right.” He started drumming on his lips again. “I could make little gumpaste hands coming out of the frosting. I need practice with gumpaste.”
Fionna poked him again. “And dirrrt cake?”
“Oh, all right,” said G.B., pretending to think about it. “Don’t draw out your words, Fionna. It’s uncouth.”
Fionna hugged him around the neck. She let go before he could complain.
Marshall Lee was playing a show across town during the day. Fionna couldn’t go, but she made Cake take her by afterward so she could drop off his invitation. Just like G.B., he laughed when he pulled it open. “These are awesome, kid. You’ve got some talent.”
Fionna blushed. “Thanks.” She twisted her fingers together. “I mean, I know you don’t know me that well, but—”
Marshall Lee winked at her. Cake bristled but didn’t say anything. “Come on, kid. I like you. Besides. I’ve already got a costume.” He held out the edge of his cape and hissed at her. Fionna giggled.
Cake invited G.B. over a few days after Fionna gave him the invitation. The time confused G.B., since Fionna had kendo practice after school on Thursdays, but maybe they had the week off or something.
He almost turned and left when he saw a motorcycle parked outside the house. He didn't recognize it; it was too nice to belong to Marshall Lee. But it was also too much of a coincidence.
Then he told himself he was being stupid. He pressed his hands to his forehead and allowed himself one long deep breath. In and out. His breath didn't hitch, at least. He didn't even know if Marshall Lee was inside, not really.
But he was, of course: lounging on Cake's couch like he visited all the time and not like this was the first time he'd been there. Marshall Lee's eyes narrowed when G.B. came in the door, and he pushed up on his elbows. "Who invited the prince of boredom-land?"
"Don't you move a muscle, rock star," said Cake, pointing at him. Marshall Lee raised his eyebrows but obeyed, frowning.
"What'd you blackmail him with?" G.B. asked before he could stop himself.
Marshall Lee glared. "Believe it or not, Bubba, I don't mind doing favors for my friends. I like the kid, and someone," here he glanced sidelong at Cake, who didn't bat an eyelash, since her shade game was Olympic level according to Fionna, "told me that's what this was about."
"It is," said Cake, stepping to the center of the room. Not quite blocking their view of each other, but still making it difficult for them to launch at each other. Like they were competing housewives on a reality show instead of two mostly adults.
G.B. sighed, feeling weak and stupid. He sat down on one of the poufs scattered around the room. "What is this about, Cake? I've got work I could be doing."
Cake put her hands on her hips. "Well, for one thing, I am making breakfast for dinner. Today's just rank tests for Fionna's class, so she'll be home early."
"You actually let her walk home by herself? I'm shocked," said Marshall Lee, pressing one hand to his chest. "I'm scandalized."
"Watch your mouth, you, or you won't get any bacon pancakes."
Marshall Lee screwed up his face. "I thought that was just something you made up."
"It's real," said G.B.
"And I reserve the right to refuse service to any smartasses who tick me off," said Cake, glaring at Marshall Lee. "Can I finish?"
Marshall Lee flopped back down on the couch in answer, still pondering the bacon pancakes idea.
"Thank you." Cake folded her arms over her chest. "So. Fionna wants to have a big Halloween party. Dae-Phuk and I are gonna make a haunted house. And I want you two to help me make something special for her."
G.B. wrinkled his nose. "I'm not any good at arts and crafts, Cake, you know this. Unless you want food."
"Is there sound mixing involved?" Marshall Lee asked, flopping one arm across his eyes. "'Cause then you should really ask my bassist. He can do all sorts of creepy stuff with a synthesizer."
Cake let out a deep sigh. "Lord, give me strength," she muttered. "No. Marshall Lee, you'll be helping me downstairs. I have some ideas that require three people, and you're the only one I know won't blab to someone else."
"Why can't I help?" said G.B.
Cake pointed at him. "You will be helping. Your job is keeping Fionna out of the basement until we're ready for her, since I dunno when this loser will show up."
Marshall Lee shrugged, half apology and half response. "I'm in a vampire-themed band, girl. You're just lucky I've got any time leading up to Halloween at all."
"Oh, you'd have time whether you had something going on or not," said Cake, narrowing her eyes at him. "Fionna's been in a funk ever since the two of you bumped into each other, and I ain't letting that stand. Something's gotta budge, and it won't be me."
Marshall Lee lifted his head, frowning. He looked between Cake and G.B., like they'd shut him out of part of the conversation.
G.B. just avoided Marshall Lee's eyes. "That sounds fine to me, Cake. I don't like haunted houses anyway."
"Of course you don't," Marshall Lee muttered.
Cake pointed at him. "You are this close to losing bacon privileges, bat boy."
Marshall Lee held his hands up in surrender. "I can't stay anyway. I've got a gig. I just stopped by since it was on my way." He pushed up off the couch. He didn't even look at G.B. as he passed.
Cake watched him go, seeming to deflate as soon as he was out the door. "Do you think he'll do it?"
G.B. thought the question was for MoChro, but MoChro didn't answer, and Cake was staring at him.
G.B. took in a breath. "I don't know.” He had not for one second allowed himself to think that they would look to him as some kind of expert on Marshall Lee. Like he knew Marshall Lee at all. He pressed a hand to his forehead. "Why would you think I know?" It was supposed to be angry, but it just came out soft and sad. "I don't know anything about him."
Cake watched him. G.B. could not bear the sympathy in her eyes, so he avoided her gaze, pretending to be very interested in the picture of Cake, Fionna, and Cake's parents on the far wall that he had seen ten thousand times.
Then MoChro spoke. "We don't have to do this if you don't want to, G.B." His voice, as always, was soft and sort of creaky, like a door people hardly touched.
That did it. G.B. pushed up out of the pouf, keeping his gaze averted. "I've got homework to do," he said instead of replying.
"Bacon pancakes," said Cake sadly.
At least she didn't bring up Fionna.
G.B. meant to walk straight home, but instead he sat down at the bus stop, pressing his hands against his eyes for a long, long time.
On the morning of the party, Fionna and Cake decorated the house in black crepe paper and plastic cobwebs. They put up purple and orange lights and hung up fake torches.
When she got bored with decorating, Fionna invented a game in which she tossed the tiny plastic spiders down the front of Cake’s witch costume. Cake objected, but she shut up once Monochrome got in on it. Then she and Monochrome went downstairs to “work on the haunted house.” Fionna was sure they really were working on it, but putting it in quotations made her giggle.
For her part, Fionna got into costume. She was dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein, which she told herself was not pathetic because she had wanted to wear that costume anyway, thank you very much. Also, it was easy and one of the only ways she could wear a dress without feeling like a girly-girl.
You could only practice hissing in the mirror for so long, though, so she decided to go make punch.
The party was due to start around seven. Lisa P. showed up first, which was fine because Fionna got caught up on all the drama before anyone else came around. Once there were enough people, Cake started leading them through the haunted house.
G.B. showed up about half an hour late, which wasn’t like him, but he said he had underestimated the time it took to make fifty gumpaste zombie hands. To Fionna’s relief, he did not comment on her costume. He set the cupcakes on the back table. “Where’d you get all the dry ice for the punch bowl?” he asked, frowning. “And how did you make it that green?” G.B. didn’t care for artificial colors in his food.
“MoChro has connections,” Fionna replied.
“Which means you didn’t want to ask.” Fionna shrugged, and G.B. nodded. “I wouldn’t either. He ends up in some weird places.”
Fionna thought about making a joke about MoChro and Cake, but she decided to save it. Better to keep G.B. in a good mood. Maybe then he wouldn’t freak out whenever Marshall Lee showed up.
The party filled up after eight. You could fit a lot of people in Cake’s house; it was awesome. Fionna circulated, partly because Cake was downstairs instead of being a good hostess and partly so she wouldn’t sit hanging on G.B.’s every word. And partly because she was waiting for Marshall Lee to swing in.
At nine, Fionna wound her way back to G.B. and touched his arm. “You wanna go downstairs?”
G.B. looked at her in that way that said he was double-checking for any sign of misplaced intentions in her words. She shrugged at him, glad that her grey makeup hid her blush. “Not right now,” he replied, patting the space beside himself on the couch. “Let’s wait until everyone else has gone. I’m not in the mood for a scare yet.”
Fionna glanced at the door, half-expecting Marshall Lee to show up just then because it would be dramatically appropriate. But nothing. She sank back onto the couch, half-disappointed and half-glad that she got to spend more time with G.B.
“Let’s go down now,” Fionna begged, leaning against G.B. “Everyone else has already been.”
“All right, all right,” said G.B., more distracted than reluctant.
When they stood, Fionna took his arm. She wanted to be able to picture them together, a matched pair. Two people who belonged together. G.B. didn’t pull away; he patted her elbow. Fionna pretended it was affectionate, not brotherly.
The door to the basement had been rigged to slam shut whenever anyone entered. Fionna knew it was coming, but G.B. jumped. Fionna caught him before he could fall, and they picked their way down the steps, clinging to each other in the dark.
The stairs had been made into a tunnel. Slimy strands of beads hung over the final step. Fionna pushed them aside so G.B. could proceed unfettered.
“You don’t have to do that,” said G.B. Underneath his makeup, which the blacklight turned pinkish, he looked uncomfortable.
“You hate gross stuff,” Fionna replied, shrugging. She wanted to make things less awkward, but she never made things awkward on purpose, so she never knew how to fix it. “I don’t.”
G.B. shrugged, still uncomfortable, but he ducked under her outstretched arm anyway. His forehead brushed the inside of her elbow, and tingles ran all the way to her shoulder.
The area beyond the beads was pitch black. Then, slowly, light appeared below their feet—glowing handprints pressed to the floor. G.B. tapped his foot against the surface and wrinkled his nose. "Glass? When did they get the time to put all this in?"
"They were down here a lot," Fionna said, shifting from foot to foot. It wasn't just being around G.B.; she was excited to see what her friends had put together. "I mean, I know they weren't working all the time, but still."
"Fioooonna," a voice moaned. Fionna twitched, despite herself; she didn't recognize it. G.B. had a sour look on his face, but Fionna tugged on his arm, and they walked forward.
A string of lights around an archway slowly lit up; this one was also blocked by slimy beads, which Fionna also held aside so G.B. could proceed.
"You're getting gunk in your wig," he said, when she came through after him.
Fionna bit back a sigh. "This is cool, okay? Let's just check it out."
Long pool noodles hung from the roof, coated in something soft that felt gross. The only light came from spooky faces carved into the walls, glowing different colors.
"They could make money doing this," G.B. observed, passing a hand over one of the faces. "This is impressive. I hope I actually get to see MoChro tonight so I can tell him."
Fionna decided not to say anything. She would just sound like a jerk, and she didn't want to be a jerk. Instead, she tugged on G.B.'s hand, and he slid his arm through hers again and led her lead him through the pool noodles.
"Fiooooonna," came the voice again. "We've been waiting for youuuuu..."
Seriously, who was that? She might have thought it was MoChro, since he spoke so rarely his voice was hard to recognize, but he had a thick Korean accent. And Cake wasn't any good at doing voices. Maybe they'd made a recording or something.
They passed through another archway. This one didn't have anything gross hanging from it, but it was too small for them to pass together, so Fionna went first, crawling on hands and knees through a tunnel that began to turn as soon as she was all the way inside, just fast enough to make her stumble.
She wanted to be enjoying herself, but she hit her head on the way out of the tunnel, since it was pitch dark in the next room as well. Scowling, she sat down on the floor, waiting for G.B. to emerge.
But he didn't. She glanced behind herself and realized she couldn't see the tunnel anymore. "G.B.?" she said. She didn't hear him answer.
Fionna got to her feet, slowly, in case the ceiling was low in here, too, but she could stand fully upright. As soon as she got her bearings, a light appeared in the room. A blue lightsaber hung from the ceiling, suspended by a glowing purple cord. Fionna walked up to it and put her hands on her hips. "Hey! I've been looking for this!"
"Fiooooonnna," said the voice, which she still couldn't place. "Take the sword and face your destinyyyyy..."
Fionna glanced over her shoulder again. Still no sign of G.B.
He was being kind of a butt anyway.
But that wasn't nice, and she didn't want to be a grump. The party had been her idea, and she wasn't any good at coming up with plans, so she should not have been surprised that things weren't working out the way she wanted.
She untied the lightsaber, then made a few passes with it. It was a toy, yeah, but here in the dark, it was satisfyingly hefty, and a smile touched her lips. Too bad she hadn't dressed up as Leia. Or Padme.
Something creaked to her left, and Fionna whirled, instinctively assuming her fencer's stance. She hadn't won the state tournament for nothing. But it was too dark to see anything.
Then a red lightsaber appeared in front of her, and LED lights flicked on in the floor, just enough to see by. A figure dressed in Sith robes faced her, holding the red lightsaber.
"Fioonnnaa," said the figure. It was the same voice that had been following them through the haunted house. "Face your doooom!"
Fionna grinned. Then she lunged. The red lightsaber came up just in time to block her blue one, and it was on like Donkey Kong. The Sith Lord wasn't good enough at fencing to stop her, but he was faster.
And, anyway, it was cool.
Fionna found an opening, smacked the Sith Lord's wrist, and made him drop his weapon. She lunged with her own, landing a solid hit that made the person grunt. Before she could lunge again, the lights went out, making her stumble. She fell hard on her hands, and when the lights came back up, there was only an empty robe in front of her.
Fionna picked it up, then brushed a hand across her face and realized she was grinning.
Yeah. Okay. This was awesome.
She picked up her lightsaber, following the LED lights through another tunnel into a normal room. Actually, it was the hot water heater, in the corner of the basement, only there was a pile of soft pillows on the ground, where Cake and MoChro were lounging, twined around each other as usual.
They jumped apart when they saw her coming, and MoChro helped Cake to her feet. "You did it!" Cake said, running forward to hug her. "My baby! I'm so proud!"
Fionna consented to the hug, letting Cake squish her against her not inconsiderable witchy bosom. "Don't tell me you had everybody fight Emperor Palpatine," she said, relaxing into the hug.
"Like anybody else could beat him besides my baby." She gave Fionna a loud and obnoxious kiss on the top of the head. Fionna made a face and squirmed out of Cake's hold, though she was still smiling.
G.B. stepped out from behind some black streamers. "Cake said you weren't yourself, so she thought it'd be nice to arrange something like this for you."
Fionna frowned. "You mean you were Emperor Palpatine?"
"Nope." Marshall Lee emerged from a separate exit. He was wearing his stage costume.
Fionna blinked. "But—I thought you weren't here yet!"
Marshall Lee shrugged, leaning back on his heels. "I was waiting for you, tough girl. Took you long enough."
G.B. was frowning; Fionna wasn't looking at him, exactly, but she knew because she couldn't help but be aware of his movements. "I thought she was going to fight Monochrome."
"Yeah, well, I'm cooler, so I volunteered," Marshall Lee responded, flashing a smile with too many teeth.
G.B. crossed his arms, but he didn't say anything, though his eyes were narrowed in suspicion.
"Well, it was cool of you, I mean," said Fionna, but without much enthusiasm. She'd been feeling so good, and now she was stuck between G.B. and Marshall Lee again, watching them glare at each other. Cake and MoChro didn't even seem to care; they had fallen back on the cushions again, and they weren't making out, but they were considering it. Like this was normal. Like this was okay.
Fionna twisted her fingers together, resisting the urge to tug on the ears of her hat.
"You mean what?" G.B. asked, frowning. He hated it when someone didn't finish a sentence.
Fionna chewed on her lower lips. The words came out anyway. "Well, I mean, I was kind of hoping we were all gonna hang out together. During the party and stuff. We were supposed to have a good time."
G.B.'s brow furrowed. "We did have a good time, Fionna. This was a very nice party."
Fionna stopped herself before she could object. As usual, she couldn't make what she wanted to say come out. "I'm gonna go back upstairs, see if LSP is still here."
Marshall Lee slid over to her. She let him give her a one-armed hug, but she didn't relax into it because she saw the way G.B. was watching her.
Maybe Cake was right. This had been a bad idea.
They headed back up the stairs together—Cake and MoChro had left a space behind the fake walls so you could easily get out. There weren't a ton of people left—LSP was gossiping with some girls from G.B.'s school, and that was about it—but somehow, when Fionna turned her back for a second to get one of G.B.'s cupcakes, Marshall Lee disappeared.
G.B. still had his eyes narrowed, like he was trying to solve a math problem. Only he never had to think to solve math problems. He never had to think to do anything. "I need to step out," said G.B. suddenly.
Fionna lifted her head. "You're not leaving too?" She knew it was a dumb question. It was nearly eleven. G.B. never stayed up this late, unless they were waiting for a midnight movie or something. And even then he napped to make up for the sleep he'd miss.
G.B.'s expression softened, and he put an arm around her shoulders. Usually, Fionna would have leaned into it, trying to memorize the feel of his body against hers. But now she stood stiff and still. She'd just wasted everybody's time, and she felt so stupid. Not that she usually felt smart, but still.
"I'll be back, Fi. MoChro's my ride home, remember?" He squeezed her shoulders. "I just... need some air."
He was lying. Fionna wrinkled her nose. "Okay...?"
G.B.'s mouth firmed, and he stepped away from her. "I'll be right back." And he started walking away.
Fionna thought about following him; usually she enjoyed trying to sneak up on people.
But it was a cruddy night, and she just needed to accept that. Nothing was gonna go the way she wanted. So she flopped down on the couch to listen to LSP, even though she'd already heard versions of this story twice.
Marshall Lee was laying stretched out on the bench at the bus stop, his hands behind his head and one foot absently tapping a four-four rhythm. G.B. drew in a deep breath. He did not want to do this. But he still marched up to Marshall Lee and put his hands on his hips. "You're not doing this," G.B. said.
Marshall Lee didn't even lift his head, though his mouth twisted to the side. "What, taking the bus? Still don't have a car, dude."
G.B. never thought he would miss the irritating nicknames. Not that he did. Miss them. He hardly remembered the entire episode, it was so long ago.
He swallowed. "You're not doing this," he repeated. He bent over to look down into Marshall Lee's face. Marshall Lee stared up at him, his expression sullen. "I know that look on your face, Marshall Lee. You're going to leave."
Marshall Lee set his jaw. "Yeah, I'm gonna leave. I got a recording session in the morning on the other side of town."
G.B.'s hand tightened on the back of the bench. "Don't you dare pretend you don't know what I mean. You're going to leave, and you're never going to speak to Fionna again."
Marshall Lee's eyes narrowed. He pushed himself up, so quickly G.B. had to take a step back to avoid knocking heads with him. He didn't want to touch Marshall Lee. "Dude, I'm just catching the bus. Seriously."
G.B. stared at him flatly.
Marshall Lee stared back for half a second. Then he turned his head away. "The fuck do you care for anyway? I'm gonna be out of your hair. Haven't done anything but screw up the kid's life since I met her. And I haven't even known her that long. Better to get out of the way fast." His jaw worked. "She's happy with you, and you're happy with her, and I'm fucking it up. I'm trying to do you a fucking favor."
"So you're going to leave without a word. Is that right?"
Marshall Lee shrugged, his expression flat. "There's nothing to say."
"Isn't there?" G.B. snapped. "Listen." He leaned forward, getting up in Marshall Lee's space. Marshall Lee did not move back. "You can do this to me. But you will not, will not do this to her. She is going to think this is her fault. You will not break Fionna's heart, do you understand me?"
Marshall Lee turned to face him, so their faces were inches apart. G.B. resisted the urge to reel back. "You know she's in love with you, right?"
Now G.B. jerked away; he couldn't help it. His hands clenched into fists, and he stepped away from the bench, glaring at the sidewalk. "I know. There's nothing I can do about that." His jaw worked. He didn't want to talk about it. But the words came stumbling out anyway.
Because, after all, he'd been able to talk to Marshall Lee. Once.
"She thinks the world of me, and I don't deserve it. Fionna is... Fionna is a gift." He looked back at Marshall Lee, resettling his weight and pushing his hands into his pockets to try and relax. "She's adopted, did you know that? Her parents died when she was a kid. She's been pushed from home to home her whole life—Cake's the only family she had, and that's just because she got lucky with the system for once. She's been hurt and pushed aside and ignored her whole life, and she still loves like nothing will ever stop her. You will not hurt her."
Marshall Lee narrowed his eyes. Then he pushed himself up so he could glare at G.B. from a better angle. "What makes you think it'll bother her anyway? She barely knows you."
"Fionna holds on hard. And she blames herself for anything that goes wrong." G.B. let out a breath and pushed a hand through his hair. "She's a good kid, Marshall Lee. She likes you. Don't be a dick."
Marshall Lee snorted and flopped back on the bench. "Is that supposed to matter to me?"
G.B. narrowed his eyes. "I know it does. No matter how much you pretend otherwise."
Marshall Lee got to his feet, quick as a cobra, and shoved his way into G.B.'s space. G.B.'s chest tightened; his hand closed around the inhaler in his pocket. Marshall Lee's eyes moved over his face. "You don't know shit about me," he said, his voice quiet and deadly.
G.B. wanted to touch him. His hand would still fit perfectly along the side of Marshall Lee's face; his lips would still fit perfectly against his temple. But he stood still. "You're only arguing with me because you know I'm right, and you don't want to admit it. You like Fionna just as much as I do. So don't do this to her."
Marshall Lee glared at him, and G.B. thought he was going to argue more. But then he turned his face away, his jaw working. "You're the one who matters to her, not me, and me being around just pisses you off. It's no good." He didn't say I'm no good. He didn't have to.
G.B. bit his lip, hard. But the words came out anyway. He never could shut his mouth around Marshall Lee. "Of course you piss me off! You left, Marshall Lee. You left without a word, and I haven't seen you in three years! You could have been dead in a ditch somewhere for all I knew!" His voice cracked, and he made himself look away, his hand clenching and unclenching around his inhaler.
He'd forgotten how good it felt to just yell at Marshall Lee, to stop holding back all of the things he kept inside his head.
Marshall Lee turned his back. "You have no idea what happened, so don't talk shit about me."
G.B. stared at the back of Marshall Lee's neck. He opened his mouth to let more bile spill out, and then he saw that Marshall Lee was shaking.
G.B. was shaking, too. Shivering violently, even though it wasn't cold.
He hugged himself and closed his mouth. "I don't know what happened. And you aren't going to tell me, are you?"
Marshall Lee shook his head without turning around.
G.B. let out a slow breath, trying and failing to still his shivers. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, and that helped. "Fine. Do whatever you want. Nothing I've ever done has mattered to you anyway."
He turned and walked away before Marshall Lee could say anything. It was good to be the one leaving.
Fionna was sprawled on her stomach on the floor, playing Pokemon with a fixed frown on her face. She glanced up when G.B. approached. Her face did not brighten for once, which should not have reassured him. But he knew it would come back. Fionna never stayed out of sorts for long.
"You came back," she said, sitting up.
"I said I would be right back," said G.B., perching on the arm of the couch. Everyone else had cleared out by now.
"Did you..." She bit her lower lip. "Did you go after Marshall Lee?"
That was the real problem with Fionna. She was so exuberant and eager that you could miss how damn perceptive she was. G.B. pinched the bridge of his nose. Then he patted the spot on the couch beside himself.
Fionna came up willingly enough, pressing herself against his side. Usually G.B. would have pulled away, ensuring they had space between them, but he'd ruined her night, so he figured she deserved a little kindness. "I did," he said at last, feeling like a fool even though he wasn't quite sure why.
"Why?" Fionna's eyes moved over his face. "He just didn't want to stick around at the party."
G.B. shook his head, looking away. "You don't... you don't know him, Fionna." His voice came out flat and tired. Which made sense, because he was flat and tired. He felt like a flower pressed between the pages of a book that no one ever opened. "He was going to skip town on you. I asked him not to"
Fionna wrinkled her nose. "He's on tour and stuff. That's not so weird."
G.B. closed his eyes, letting his head fall against the couch. His hands ached from clenching them; he felt like he was trying to describe a color. Or anything, really. Words weren't his strong point. "I just... I don't want him to hurt you, Fi. That's all."
Fionna didn't speak for a long moment. G.B. was glad of the silence. Then, quietly, "Because he really hurt you, huh?"
G.B. let out a long, slow breath. "Yeah. Yeah, he did."
Fionna kept quiet for so long G.B. wondered if she'd fallen asleep against him. It had happened before; at this point, he found it more endearing than awkward. Then she pressed her cheek against his shoulder. "I was trying to fix that," she whispered.
G.B. opened his eyes, even though he wasn't surprised. Fionna scooped up spiders and released them outside instead of letting people step on them. "Plenty of people need your help, Fi. Focus on them. I've been doing fine for a lot longer than you think."
"Fine doesn't mean happy." Fionna's voice was just above a whisper. "You're so sad, G.B. I just want that to end. I don't even want you to be happy. Just not sad for once."
G.B. wanted to pull away. But his arm was falling asleep, so he couldn't shove himself up off the couch. And, anyway, Fionna was like having your own personal heating pad, and he was still so cold all over.
Anyway, she was right, and he knew it, and that was the most frustrating thing. He pressed a hand to his face, trying to rub away the headache building behind his eyes. "I know, Fi. I know."
The front door clattered open; G.B. jerked up, startled by the noise. Fionna was already on her feet, her eyes narrowed, looking to the front of the house.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," said a voice that G.B. did not want to be familiar. "Didn't realize you weren't cool with party crashing."
Fionna didn't smile. G.B. wasn't sure if it was because of what he'd said to her or because she was still out of sorts. "It's not crashing if you were invited, Marshall Lee. But usually people. Like. Knock."
"Knocking is for squares."
G.B. settled back down on the couch. He didn't want to look over at Marshall Lee's face. It wasn't even because he didn't want to look at Marshall Lee. He'd spent so goddamn long searching for things in Marshall Lee's face that weren't there. He knew better now. And, anyway, his arm was still asleep, and so he couldn't keep propping himself up on it.
"Anyway, turns out I'm a dumbass who forgot what time the bus runs, so I've got more time to kill. Mind if I join you?"
Fionna hesitated. G.B. could hear her fidgeting, shifting from foot to foot. "Yeah. Okay. LSP can probably give you a ride home whenever she's done."
Fionna sat back down beside G.B., keeping an arm's length between them this time. She wasn't usually afraid of PDA, so this was either because she was mad at him or for Marshall Lee's benefit. G.B. wasn't sure which explanation he preferred. Even though Fionna didn't hold on to anger. He didn't want her to think there was anything left between him and Marshall Lee.
Not that it mattered. Marshall Lee had found her discarded 3DS, and now she was showing him her Pokemon, and neither of them were paying any attention to him. G.B. took his tablet out so he could get some homework done. He only glanced over once, when he thought both of them were engrossed in the game. But Marshall Lee was looking past Fionna, and he turned his gaze to G.B., a challenge in his eyes.
G.B. didn't answer it. He knew he hadn't been wrong, but Marshall Lee would never admit otherwise.