Things unravel quickly, as they are wont to do in crisis situations. For all that Marshall Lee has prepared for such possibilities, for all his instinct and fury, there are still instances where everything can fall apart.
He dodges, side-steps, parries, ripostes, flash-stepping and darting around so fast that to a mortal eye he could very well be blinking in and out of existence, but his adversary isn't fooled, and he's hard pressed to find an advantage. Not even the power of flight can help Marshall Lee now, not against this foe, and where did he even come from.
Marshall Lee ducks a measured swing, the wooden stake barely brushing over the tips of his hair, but his reaction is too slow, his footing too loose, his stance too wide. His rival uses his misstep to tackle him bodily, a freight train slamming into his torso and shoving him to the ground.
Wide red eyes stare up at the triumphant expression above him as the younger vampire digs claws into his wrist, leans down on his knees and uses his own weight against him. Adrenaline narrows his focus to the point where he can actually see the sweat bead form on his enemy's forehead, and the few seconds it takes for the perspiration to slide down the tip of his nose and land on Marshall Lee's cheek is almost an hour in his mind.
"I guess this is the end for you, my king," the younger man hisses, and a spike of fear shoots down Marshall Lee's spine. Him, the Vampire King, killed by the trickery and deception of a fledging who hadn't even waited for his own body to grow cold before becoming overly ambitious.
Marshall Lee manages to gasp out, "Wait—"
And then the wooden stake sinks into his chest, straight through his cold, dead heart. And in a single brief instant, Marshall Lee, the two-thousand year old eldritch Vampire King, quite simply ceases to be.
I told you that everything had an end. And here you are.
At your end.
Past your end, if you wanted to get technical about it. I mean, you've been dead for how long exactly? A damn long time. It's actually pretty impressive that you managed to stay topside that long.
But here you are, just like I knew you'd be, no earlier or later than when you were supposed to arrive.
Now, listen. Normally I'm not supposed to do stuff like this. I have my own code of ethics, ya'know?
But you've done me a few favors these last couple centuries and you're not a bad dude. You play a mean guitar.
Anyway. There's somebody here waiting for you.
Been here quite a while, actually. Probably doesn't even remember what she's waiting for. Souls tend to forget stuff like that after a while. They're a bit too bland for actual remembrance. They're kind of stupid, actually. Like little babies. But the way I figure, everybody deserves another chance, you know? Souls ain't cheap to make, and sometimes I gotta reuse 'em. If I didn't recycle some every now and then, well, we'd just be an empty universe and I'd be stiffed out of a job.
Heh heh. Stiffed. Get it? It's a pun.
Look, you gotta take this opportunity while it's presenting itself now. Normally people have to wait a couple centuries before I let them get reborn. I had to pull some strings to get you into the express lane.
So don't mess up this chance, okay? You probably won't get another one, just so you know.
Alright kid. Time to go.
See you on the other side.
Marshall Lee wakes up.
Marshall Lee King works in a little café that's adjoined to a Borders on campus. It's not a very miraculous job, and it doesn't really pay enough money to cover his student loans, but honestly that's what he gets for majoring in musical theory and this coupled with a weekend of good busking is usually enough to pay his half of the rent and put a little extra aside. His boss isn't a total dick, he doesn't waste any gas getting there, and most of the customers are hipsters that are more interested in their tea than in hassling him, so it's not a terrible job, either.
It's a little mediocre, but he didn't exactly go in expecting to be singing show tunes everyday anyway so it works for him.
It's one-thirty in the afternoon, and the store has just entered that no-man's-land state where everyone has gone back to work after their lunch break and the only customers are either the post-grad kids who just got out of high school but can't afford college, or the college kids who just got out of class and are looking to relax somewhere on campus before the next class starts. The university is surprisingly lenient about non-students being on campus, but that's probably because the host town is tiny and the on-campus shops make up most of the entertainment around here. It's kind of a depressing thought.
Anyway, the café is dead, which is totally cool because Marshall Lee needs to be studying anyway. Which is what he starts doing, after he makes the midday inventory count and quickly wipes down the little two-person tables scattered around the tiny eating space.
He opens his Norton's book and manages to get a paragraph into "How To Evaluate Essays" (apparently he'd been doing it wrong since middle school, who knew?) before a shadow falls over the passage.
Marshall Lee quickly shuts the book and shoves it back under the counter, a guilty expression crossing his face just in case it's his boss. But it's not Aurora Queene, who admittedly isn't terrible, but is kind of a hard ass. It's a little petite girl with big blue eyes and a bit of a crooked smile. Marshall Lee blinks at her, because he swears that he's never seen this girl but there's something about her that's frighteningly familiar.
It takes him a moment, but he manages to catch himself before the silence can get awkward and exchanges the habitual pleasantries.
"What can I get you?" he asks, sliding off of his stool and rolling up his sleeves.
"Just a hot chocolate," she says, and her smile is slightly apologetic. She looks young, maybe fresh out of high school or possibly a freshman at the uni, and has the air and inflection of one of those girls that sound like they're apologizing for everything. There are a surprising number of people like that, and when Marshall Lee first started working in a consumer business it threw him off but now he just ignores it.
The order is simple enough and he's pressing a foam cup with a little smiley face on it into her hand within a minute. She tries to pay with a debit card but the machine beeps agitatedly at her when she slides it through the pad.
She squeaks in surprise and stutters out a "S-sorry!"
"It's cool," Marshall Lee says soothingly. "Sometimes the POS doesn't like taking cards. It's kind of old." He punches a few buttons on the keyboard and a message flashes at him. He nods at her again after a couple seconds, and this time the system reads the card but takes a long time to pull the information up. He takes the moment to surreptitiously look her over.
She's short, probably up to his elbows, with long blonde hair that curls out from under the knitted cap she's worn to protect herself from the cold winter outside. There's a light dusting of freckles across her nose that scrunches as she looks down at the touch pad and presses in her PIN. The thick blue sweater she's wearing has short white hairs all over it, like cat fur. Definitely a high schooler.
All in all, she's not beautiful, but certainly not ugly. She's a bit plain, but attractively so. And so incredibly familiar, like someone he used to know but fell out of touch with. If she'd been a couple years older it might have been a possibility, but she's too young to be anyone that he knows well enough to recognize.
Her eyes lift up to meet his again, and Marshall Lee is once again overcome with this intense feeling of nostalgia. It takes a moment before the computer beeps to tell him that the transaction is done and the receipt is printing, and he jumps back into being a professional. He might not have an important job, but as long as he's getting paid for it he'll take it seriously. At the top of the receipt is the brief list for customer info, with her name and last four digits of her debit card printed out, but even as he takes a marker and circles a free coupon on the paper ("Get a few cookie with your next purchase of a 5 dollar or more drink!") he can see in his periphery that she's watching him with a strange intensity.
Marshall Lee hands her the receipt and is about to wish her a nice day before she interrupts, saying, "Have we met somewhere before?" She apologizes quickly when she realizes he was about to say something. "Oh, sorry."
He shakes his head and crosses his arms. "You know, I didn't think so, but you look kind of familiar."
"Yeah," she mutters thoughtfully, "you do too."
After a couple seconds the silence between them becomes awkward, and he takes it upon himself to diffuse the situation. "Marshall Lee," he says, lips quirking upwards as he holds out a hand.
She stares at it like he's extending a snake at her, then a blush blooms across her face and she grips his hand gently and shakes it. "Fionna," she grins hesitantly, "Fionna Hunt."
"Fionna?" He scratches his chin. "Huh. No, I don't think we've ever met."
Fionna's face falls slightly and she bites her lip. "But I could have sworn… I mean, you look just like this guy I used to know! I think. Maybe…"
He blinks at her in amusement as her face slowly grows red, and then chuckles under his breath as she looks away. He's about to laugh good naturedly and finish his farewell speech ("Have a nice day, and remember to fill out one of our survey card to enter to win a five-hundred dollar gift card to Borders!") when she swallows and then blurts out, "But, well, we could, maybe, get to know each other now? And then we could say that we've met. I guess."
Marshall Lee stares at her and then laughs, but cuts himself off with a few giggles when she flushes so hard he's afraid she's going to pass out. She hides her face and turns away, mumbling, but he stops her with a grinning, "No, shit, wait, sorry. Totally didn't mean to sound like that."
He looks her up and down, takes in the blonde hair and freckles and dark blush and little upturned nose and the way she nervously bites her lip, like she's never asked out a guy before and fuck she probably hasn't, and Jesus Christ her eyes, how is it even fucking possible to have eyes that blue.
"How old are you?" he asks, just as a precaution, because fuck if he's getting in trouble with the law again. It must come out a bit condescending though because she puffs up a bit, her eyebrows lowering defensively.
"I'm nineteen," she says in a way that's trying to be cool but is mostly just nervous. It's older than he was expecting, and only three years difference between the two, and he's dated younger than her before.
So he just shrugs and says, "Yeah, sure. That sounds cool."
She blinks those stupidly blue eyes at him and then squeaks. "Oh. Oh! Oh. Um. Cool."
Marshall Lee reaches over to the receipt printer and presses the button, letting a bit of blank paper feed out of it and tears it off when he's satisfied with the length. Fionna watches this, bouncing from foot to foot, and then says quickly, "So, um, just to clarify, I just asked you out and you said okay, right?"
He smirks and scrawls out his phone number quickly, glancing around to make sure his manager isn't going to swoop down and tell him off for flirting with customers again. "Right," he assures her, and tucks the paper into her hand with the actual receipt.
She stares at it for a moment, then takes a deep breath and asks, "When do you get off?"
Marshall Lee's eyebrows shoot up at the bold question, but he glances towards the clock. His shift ends at six, so… "About four hours," he says.
Fionna swallows and nods, apparently rolling with her new confidence. "Awesome. How do you feel about pancakes?"
A smile splits his lips and it puts her a little more at ease, coaxes a more genuine grin from her to match his. "I fucking love pancakes," he says earnestly.
She slips the receipt and his number into her jeans pocket and picks up her hot chocolate, which has cooled just enough in the span of their conversation for her to take a dainty sip. "Cool. Then I'll see you at the IHOP in town at seven." She blinks a couple times, then mutters quietly, "I mean, if that's okay, unless you have homework to do…"
"I'm free," Marshall Lee assures her, smirking at the return of her flustered blush. "IHOP. Seven. Got it."
He lifts a hand in farewell and sits himself back down on his stool as she leaves the café, throwing a nervous smile over her shoulder and scrunching those big blue eyes up at him. He stifles a laugh and pretends not to notice when she trips over the sidewalk curb outside, and finds himself inexplicably looking forward to the evening.
Maybe, he thinks, this silly little girl can grow on him.
(i wrote this before i'd even finished chapter 16, and i told myself that if i ever got to 400 reviews i'd post it, no matter how much time had passed. i know that a lot of you preferred the bittersweet ending provided by chapter 18; please don't be too upset with me for wanting to make it a bit happier!
and finally, since i promise that this is very much the end and i won't be writing anything else in the ETS universe, i would like to thank everyone who read this story. this stupid, silly story that i never expected to get to this point. thank you. thank you so, so much. it's not looking like it right now, but maybe someday the adventure time bug will bite me again and i'll revisit marshall lee and fionna. until then, happy reading, and thank you.)