Mabel knew she didn’t hate easily. She couldn’t; years of trying to find the best in people and in situations had left it hard for her to ignore the possibility of good. Of course, Gideon was a notable exception to the rule, but nobody said she couldn’t ever hate, just that it didn’t come as easy to her as it did Grunkle Stan, or Dipper, or Willow.
Right now, however, she hated with a furious passion.
“So, you’re saying,” she said, smile feeling stretched and wrong and stiff on her face, “that you willingly let the demons possess you all? So that they could pull the humanity out of Alcor?”
The man to her right, plastered in homemade anti-possession stickers, sneered up at her. “You wouldn’t understand. We humans are incomplete, we are worthy only of submission! For that way lies true order: order in chaos, incomprehensible to the unenlightened!”
Mabel rolled her eyes, tapped her trusty bedazzled bat against her sneakers. “Yeah, yeah, crazy cultist goobledeegook. So what’s so bad about human influence then?”
To Mabel’s left, the woman in the trio scoffed and muttered to herself. Mabel turned to her, smile still wide and wrong. “Hmm? What was that?”
“Humans are weak, stupid airhead,” the woman said, loud and slow, like Mabel had Grunkle Stan’s hearing aid. Funny, that hadn’t made them scream in fear any less when he took them down with Wendy, so why was this woman so…so…condescending? “And insidious. Like sickness.”
Even though she didn’t understand the logic, Mabel nodded. “Huh. So. Humans are weak but infect big powerful doofuses of demons, and you wanted to make that stop…why again?”
“Alcor is clearly the most powerful demon out there,” the last of the trio complained, eyeing his nails from where his hands were bound in front of him. He was kind of cute—Henry was cuter, but still—so Mabel had smacked her favorite pink-glitter anti-possession rune on his cheek. It kind of ruined his whole ‘trying to be taken seriously’ wardrobe vibe, but that was okay. “But what do we find? Not only did he have a human connection from the start, he allowed it to corrupt his primal nature as a demon! He obviously needed help.”
“Ah,” Mabel said. Something hot was cooking up in her gut, sparking the nerves up and down her arms and legs and making her trembly in a bad way, not like when Henry picked her up and spun her around or the triplets joined her in a pillow-fort competition or when she had a super awesome compliment left on her knitting business page.
“I doubt you actually see,” the woman complained, unassuming mousey brown hair falling into her sullen eyes. Mabel thought bright blue glitter eyeshadow might brighten her up, but then she imagined smashing the glitter eyeshadow into the woman’s eyes, which would make the woman’s—henceforth Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles—eyes go all red and bloodshot, which while striking was not the best look. Then again, all Mabel wanted to do was brighten Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles up, nothing else.
“Yeah, probably not,” Mabel admitted. “I’m not too good at all this weird logicky stuff. Too silly, really. But you know what?”
Groans and mutters filled the room. Mabel thought that maybe they needed to think about the fact that both Wendy AND Grunkle Stan had left the room ages ago. What did that say about her? She looked at the walls of Grandpa Stan’s old bedroom, at the spartan guest furniture and the dust on the top of the desk. She shifted her grip on the handle of her bat, but nobody reacted. Mabel figured she’d let out some of the ugly sparking shaking in her.
“From my point of view,” she said, stepping forward to look Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles in the eyes, grin feeling a little thinner but a little more natural, “what you did was let a bunch of creeps that you worshiped into your bodies without thinking of the consequences. Then you proceeded to trap the nicest demon that I’ve ever met and tried to push all that good, Dipdop niceness out and turn him into something hard to recognize. To me…”
Faster than the woman could blink, Mabel smashed the side of the bat into Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles’s shin, and there was a sharp, ugly crack followed shortly after by the woman’s shrill scream.
“What the hell?”
“You psycho bitch!”
“That’s unforgiveable!” Mabel sing-songed, teeth bared in a facsimile of a smile. Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles fell over onto the floor, sobbing and awkwardly trying to hide the break with her zip-tie bound hands. Well, she was crying, and that made her eyes red and more striking, so Mabel figured she’d just hit two birds with one stone.
Nobody tried to burn her brother out of his right mind. Nobody.
Mabel pointed her bat—oh, there was blood on that, she’d have to make sure to clean it off later—at the cutie patootie with her favorite sticker, and thought absently that the rune actually made a pretty good target. He was covered in the stickers, so it shouldn’t be too much of a bother if she crumpled one, right?
He flinched back, and she felt her grin grow wider. Oh man, this was actually kind of satisfying. “What do you even want from me?”
“Aw, how nice of you to ask!” Mabel beamed, swinging the bat to rest on her shoulder. “Hmmm, let me think of something…”
“You are a psychotic lowlife who does not understand the true order of things!” the man on the right spit out in an almost growl. Her nerves danced to life again, and she shook. “You dare harm the highest servants of Veshtik, Fagnar, and Anbadaol?”
Mabel laughed, high pitched and a little manic. “Veshtik? Fagnar? Anbadaol? Gosh, I haven’t even heard those names before! Shiver my timbers, is that supposed to scare me?”
The man—she was going to call him Spitamoon Fumblebutton—blinked. “What?”
“Well, not to toot my own horn, but I’ve seen worse,” she said, and then unceremoniously swung the bat off her shoulder and let it fall onto his kneecap.
Something crunched. Mabel cringed a bit, but covered it with a more manic than usual smile. Spitamoon Fumblebottom screamed out a litany of nasty swear words that would have made Mom itch to scrub his mouth out with soap. There was an idea! But it would involve her leaving the room, so maybe not.
“Later,” she mused out loud. A distant part of her thought that maybe breaking bones was a taking it a teensy bit far. Like Dipper-breakdown far. For a moment, bile rose in the back of her throat and she wondered what are you doing at herself. She considered apologizing and leaving.
Then she remembered Dipper in the basement, sly and calculating and Bill one second and screaming his head off the next, and thought that really, she was being quite tame. The manic smile stayed.
“What are you?” Cutiepatootie asked, pressing up against the wall as far as he could and folding his body so he presented a smaller target. “What the hell are you?”
“You know, that’s weird—in a not good way,” she said. “You guys are, like, demon-worshipers, and you think this is super awful? My stars they treated you with kid gloves! Of the most super soft kind, too.”
Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles made a gurgling noise, and Mabel appraised her from the side of her eye. The tear tracks were tinted black with the woman’s mascara, and her face was blotchy from crying. Or fear, that was a possibility.
“You—you—it can’t be, they’re just stupid books.”
Mabel raised her eyebrows and rounded her lips. “Ooooh?”
“—curse upon you and your family for tainting the greatest of demons with your evils of social morality, for harming the True Servants of those powerful gods named demons, a curse upon you—”
“You can’t be human you can’t be, you can’t be, what are you?”
Mabel thwacked the end of the bat against the floor, and Cutiepatootie let out an aborted whimper. “Hey, hey, hush. I wanna hear what she’s going to say!”
“You’re just a stupid child who doesn’t know what she’s dealing with,” Spitamoon Fumblebottom hissed, and even though there were still pain lines around his eyes and his face was a bit white, he still managed a snarl. Pretty impressive!
“I—Karl, I think that’s Mizar.”
Karl was such a boring name, Mabel mused, swinging her bedazzled baseball bat back up onto her shoulder. But she supposed she could compromise for Karl Fumblebottom.
The man named Karl Fumblebottom sneered. “Are you insane? Has the pain gone to your head? Those are nothing but trash romance novels that aren’t even worth the paper they’re printed on. Mizar is a fairytale, a myth.”
Cutiepatootie was staring at her, Mabel noted. He was staring at her, face paler than Karl Fumblebottom’s and more frightened than Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles. “Oh my god,” he said.
Finally people were getting it.
Mabel swung her bat down again and leaned on it. Then she crowed, “Gold star for Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles!”
For a moment, everybody was silent. Then Karl Fumblebottom rolled his eyes and opened his mouth. “I am surrounded by fucking idiots—look, if there was a Mizar, she wouldn’t be so—”
“So silly?” Mabel asked, smile gone and staring Karl Fumblebottom in the eye. He swallowed. “So Lisa Frank? So small? So bright colors and sparkles?”
A heartbeat later and he caught his second wind. “W-Well, see, this human is agreeing with me. She’s not the ‘Mizar’ myth, idiots. She’s an insignificant human who will regret having ever crossed us.”
Mabel hummed, stepped closer. “Naw,” she said, grinning. “It’s you three who will regret being so silly.”
“Now listen here—”
“Karl you need to stop she’s—”
“You cannot be human you cannot be human”
“—you pile of trash, I am not silly, I am an important dignitary of Fagnar, Lord of Feral Nature and Son of Chaos, and I will not have you insulting me in such a way.”
“So you don’t repent for your actions against Alcor?” Mabel asked, hefting the bat. Cutiepatootie flinched back and hid behind his hands.
“Say yes Karl say yes, just almighty Veshtik say yes!”
Karl Fumblebottom looked at her in the face and spat. It collided with her shoulder, and she blinked. Then shrugged her shoulders.
“Kinda knew that would be the answer,” she admitted, and then brought the bat back down on the injured knee. He howled and collapsed onto his side, panting and crying.
The bile came back up her throat, but she swallowed it back. “I am Mizar,” she said, “and because you don’t seem to realize what your friends have, I’ll just say it outright: you fucked up big time.”
When she left the room fifteen minutes later, blood spattered across her jeans and a grin stitched on her face, Mabel didn’t even make it to the bathroom before she threw up all over the carpet. She dry-heaved over the regurgitated mess of cinnamon waffles and about three cups of pink whipped cream and even after she stopped doing that, she stayed there, on her hands and knees. She looked at the blood in the creases of her knuckles, swiped over her fingernails, and remembered the screams and pleas for mercy, for just one shred of mercy.
Mabel closed her eyes and tried to feel sorry, tried to feel apologetic and horrified and all of that stuff. And yeah, maybe there was a little bit in there that did feel dismayed and unsettled and queasy. But for the most part, when she thought about Kurt Fumblebottom’s shattered kneecap (he might not ever walk again) or Shinyscooter Rainbowsparkles’s exposed shin bone (she would need screws and plates to fix it) or Cutiepatootie’s shattered cheekbone (his face would never be quite so handsome), all she felt was a deep, angry satisfaction that they hurt nearly half as much as they had hurt Dipper.
People forgot that Mabel had inherited the Pines’ dark streak.
“Aaaaand this is us the morning after your first experience with Dipnip! Well, it’s really called Yggdrasil or something fancy schmancy like that, but important thing is that it gets you really high and makes you act like a cat! You were sooooo embarrassed when you realized that you’d spent the evening licking Henry’s hair into the prettiest shape.” Mabel tapped the pointer against the projector screen and turned back to face Dipper, trussed up and barricaded behind every binding array they knew. When you lived in the best library of the supernatural in the world, it was a lot of binding arrays.
The demon in the corner sneered. “Your attempts to rile me are futile.”
Mabel flapped a hand and blew a raspberry. “Nonsense! You’re still my dorky brobro, you feel some embarrassment deep down, I know you do! Next slide!”
She pressed the next button on the remote, and the projection changed from a pair of high-off-his-rocker Dippers grooming Henry to a photograph of him snoring midair, Acacia dragging him along by way of extra-long-scarf.
“This is you,” Mabel said, “but you’re taking a nap from your summons and so my darling Acacia thought it’d be fun to bring you to school for show and tell! Unfortunately, she didn’t get very far before you woke up and told her it was a bad idea.”
“Sounds foolish,” Dipper-not-Dipper grinned a grin with more teeth than usual. “And unlike me, for what is better than being unleashed on a gathering of such freshly-reincarnated souls?”
“And that leads us to uncanny valley!” Mabel flipped to the next slide, which featured a video. She hit the play button, and the haunting notes of Dipper’s rendition of the Lamby Dance Song filled the basement. “You really like the violin, for more reasons than its sounds! You thought it was super ironic.”
This time, Dipper-not-Dipper was nodding his head thoughtfully. “You know what, I think I feel it coming back to me. Maybe a hug would help—would you give me a hug?”
Mabel hummed to herself, then nodded. “Sure!”
The expression on Dipper-not-Dipper’s face was carefully blank as she came closer. The moment her toes were on the edge of the outermost binding circle, she saw his expression flicker and knew that whatever small hope she might have had was wrong. Immediately, her arm was up and he received a spritz of holy water right in the face.
“FOOLED YOU!” she yelled and danced back, away from his suddenly-free arms. “Such a sucker! See, this transitions into our next slide, in which Grenda proves herself capable of pulling one over on even all-knowing dork demons!”
“I will get out,” Dipper-not-Dipper said, and his jovial tone had Mabel pausing to glance at him. He was grinning, eyes wide and pupils more oblong than circular. “Don’t you worry your little head, dearest fake-sister. Oh! That means we have fake-parents, right? And you have a family, right? I think I’d like to meet them.”
Mabel bit her lip and turned away. Dipper will come back, she thought. Dipper is a part of Dipper-Alcor, and you can’t just take something like that away.
“Of course you will! Now this, as I was saying earlier,” she said, doing her best to keep the fear and insecurity out of her voice, “is a good friend of yours owning you!”
But as she hit the play button on the click, Grenda’s deep voice coming through strong and steady, she glanced back at Dipper-not-Dipper and knew that neither of them was fooled.
“Is it my turn?” Henry asked, flipping pancakes in the kitchen after gently vetoing Stan’s offer to make them. Mabel rubbed at her eyes and nodded.
“Nothing I say gets through to him,” she murmured, all but collapsing in the dining room chair. “Dipdop just…he smirks and postures and flips from being tooty-snooty to all sly and snickery. And not in the nice candy way either.”
“Kid’s not all there, sweetie,” Grunkle Stan said, sipping at his morning coffee and staring out the window. “I’m sorry to say it, but he’s not. It’s not your fault. Or mine, or Wendy’s.”
Mabel moaned and put her head in her folded arms. “Maybe I should have stayed a bit longer. Maybe it would have worked if I’d prepared another presentation.”
A hand fell on her head, and she looked up to see Henry frowning down at her. “Mabel, you spent seven hours straight with him down there after creating no less than three presentations. You haven’t slept since before you went to get him back from our three…guests.”
“You don’t want to be sleep deprived around him, sweetie,” Grunkle Stan said, and she glanced over to see him looking at her. He’d set down his coffee, and there were funny shadows over his face made by the rising sun. “A conman’s going to take advantage of you, and right now Dipper’s all conman. Better go get some rest.”
Henry’s hand stroking her hair lulled Mabel to set her head back down. “Kay,” she said, feeling as though her eyes were just heavy stones that wanted to sink through her skin to the back of her skull. That was morbid. “The kids?”
“Still upstairs. Stan offered to take them to school.”
Mabel cracked an eye open, stared through the strands of her hair at the new microwave on the counter. “It’s only 6:40?”
“Yeah, it’s a killer of a time to wake up.” Grunkle Stan yawned. “I put Wendy in the spare room; she says she’d love to stay around, but she’s got to take those three yahoos to a police station.”
“Not a hospital?” Mabel twisted her lips down, remembering both how revolting and satisfying it was to break somebody’s kneecap, feeling the vibrations echoing up the shaft of the bat and into her fingers.
“I tried to suggest that,” Henry said, leaving her to presumably flip the pancakes. “But Stan and Wendy exchanged that look they get sometimes and I don’t think that the hospital was a place they were going to take them.”
“But I—they’re hurt, you know, and…” Mabel trailed off and instead nuzzled her fuzzy-sweater forearms with her forehead. Nightmare wool wasn’t as fluffy as Dream wool, but it was soft nevertheless.
“Yup, they are,” Grunkle Stan said, slurping his coffee and then setting it down on the table with a clink. “They are. And I’m sure that the police in Bend will take very good care of them.”
There were footsteps running about upstairs, and Mabel looked up. They were all quiet for a moment.
“They know that their Uncle Dipper’s a bit whacko right now, right?” Mabel asked, still staring at the ceiling. It needed some bright colors, but she’d never gotten around to painting a mural Michelangelo style.
“Yeah, the brats know his mind got screwed with so he’s not safe to be around. Henry told them last night.” Grunkle Stan stood up, joints popping and curses hissing out of his mouth. Mabel looked at him in alarm.
“Are you sure you can take them in? I can always go get your back pillow and you can just take today off.”
Grunkle Stan waved her off. “Nah, I’m not that old yet! I may not recover so fast from a beatdown, but I can manage to drive the kids in and then collapse back here.”
From over by the stove, Henry hummed. “I took the liberty of flipping the sign for the Library to ‘closed.’ I have to go into work myself for a few hours, but I’ll be able to come home a few hours before the kids.”
“To deal with Dipper? Yeah, I’ll set my alarm and pick the brats up,” Grunkle Stan said, shuffling over to the sink.
Mabel flapped a hand against the table. “No no, I can do that. Just lemmee sleep until then and I’ll be good I think.”
“Your funeral,” Grunkle Stan said, but Mabel glanced over at him and saw the relief in his eyes as he turned back to the sink to rinse his cup. She kept remembering that he was super old now, and how it was starting to show.
Yawning, she shrugged and grinned. “Nah, that’s a long ways away! It’ll be good, I can spend time with the kiddos.”
Grunkle Stan snorted and muttered something under his breath that sounded very old codger-y as three sets of footsteps pounded down the stairs.
“You sound like elephants!” Henry said as the triplets rushed into the kitchen; Acacia went for the forks and knives, Willow for the cups, and Hank climbed up onto the counter to get the plates. He wouldn’t need to very soon, Mabel thought, grinning.
“Is Uncle Dipper better?” Acacia asked, smacking the forks and knives down in eight different spots. She rushed around the table and tugged on Mabel’s arm. Little bugger had enough energy to power the whole of Gravity Falls, and Mabel couldn’t be prouder.
Before Mabel could answer, Willow finished setting the cups up and had pressed herself up against Grunkle Stan’s legs. “Mm, I don’t think so. They don’t have any super happy colors.”
Henry stacked the last of the pancakes onto the serving dish and brought it over. “No, he’s not. I’m going to see if I can do anything to help after work. Hank, don’t bring those all over in one go, eight plates is a lot to bring.”
“So we only need seven? Is Auntie Wendy eating with us?” Hank pulled one plate of his stack and looked over in their direction.
“Who knows,” Henry said. “She was up pretty late too. But you might want to take at least another plate off, because your mother is going to bed.”
Acacia had wriggled underneath Mabel’s arms and onto her lap and was then tilting her head back to stare at Mabel’s chin. “You haven’t gone to bed yet?”
Mabel laughed. “Not yet, sweetie. But you bet your bottom dollar I will soon!”
The way Acacia was looking up at her with stars in her eyes had Mabel thinking that they might have to keep an eye on whether or not she actually went to bed for the next few months.
Hank lugged over the six plates and hefted them up onto the table, Willow removed two of the cups and sets of silverware, and Acacia continued to stare up into Mabel’s face.
“What’s up, buttercup?” Mabel asked, biting back a yawn as she did so.
Acacia set a hand on Mabel’s cheek, corkscrew curls brushing up against Mabel’s throat. “You’re so beautiful,” she whispered.
A giggle pulled itself out of her throat, and Mabel let it. She nuzzled Acacia’s nose with her own. “You’re beautiful too!”
Henry patted her on the shoulder. “You want to stay down after all, or do you want to sleep?”
“Just save some for me in the fridge,” Mabel said, prodding Acacia off her lap. “I think I’ll hit the sack.”
“Daaad, we’re out of orange juice!” Hank yelled, voice muffled by the fridge.
Henry sighed. “We’ll get some on our next run to the grocery store. Put it on the list?”
“Okay!” Hank pulled the magnetic pen off the side of the fridge and scrawled ‘OJ’ underneath ‘candy’ on the pad of paper taped to the door. Mabel found herself going cross-eyed trying to read the list and shook her head.
She stood up, ruffled her kids’ hair, and kissed both Grunkle Stan and Henry on the cheek. “If Wendy leaves before I wake up, say bye for me, okay?”
“Right,” Grunkle Stan said, mussing her hair up. “You go get some shuteye, all right?”
Mabel hummed and waved a bit. “Have a good day at school, okay? Don’t traumatize anybody.”
While Hank nodded, Willow sent Acacia a look; the latter just grinned the way Dipper used to when they were kids and held one hand behind her back. “Of course!”
Kids. Such troublemakers, the three of them.
“Make me proud,” she said, waving as she exited the kitchen.
“Mabel don’t—oh my god kids, don’t traumatize anybody period please. Not even if they deserve it, that’s what your Mom is for.”
“But how’re we ever going to get good at that if we don’t practice?” Surprisingly—or not surprisingly, he was her child—Hank was the one who said this, and Mabel just listened to Henry sputter in the kitchen as she went up the stairs.
Dipper would pull through, she thought as she set her alarm for 2:30 PM. Dipper always pulled through, she reasoned as she flopped onto the mattress and buried her face into the Dream wool pillowcase. Dipper would be fine.
Dipper would be fine.
Half an hour after Mabel came home with the kids, Wendy long-gone with their broken captives in tow and Grunkle Stan napping in the armchair, Henry stormed up from the basement door, a quiet thunder in the set of his jaw and anger simmering in his eyes. She stood from where she was helping Willow with her third grade math at the dinner table and reached out to him.
He didn’t speak, just pulled his lips tighter and pulled her gently into his arms. With a start, she realized that he was shaking, arms trembling around her shoulders. Mabel slowly hugged him back, his heart thudding in his chest above her ear.
Behind them, Acacia gasped and said, “Dad, your hand!”
Mabel tipped her head back in alarm and studied her husband’s face. “Your hand?”
He bent over and picked her up so that her head was by his. Her hands wrapped around the back of his neck, and she leaned in close to hear him grit out, “I punched him.”
It was like a blow to the gut; not because her dear brother was punched, but because her dear, sweet-tempered Henry had been pushed far enough to lash out physically. Mabel swallowed back her sudden pessimism and fear and buried her forehead in his neck. “Okay.”
“Mom? Is…what’s wrong?”
Mabel looked down at her trio of kids and tried to smile. It came out a different kind of wrong than the night before, but wrong nevertheless. “Uncle Dipper’s being difficult is all!”
Her husband’s hands were tight but not painful around her arm and leg, and he turned his face into her hair. She could hear his shuddering exhale, how his shoulders rose and fell in an attempt to control his breathing, and she knew what needed to be done.
“Hey, Hank, Acacia—do your old lady a favor and help Willow with her homework, yeah? I’m sure she’ll help you with art and history.”
They answered with subdued nods and glances in their Dad’s direction, Willow staring up Mabel and Henry with slow understanding and growing determination on it.
“I’ll help, sure,” Wills said, all serious and adorable and Mabel would have taken a picture of their cute somber faces if she and Henry weren’t feeling so blech-y.
Henry pressed his face further into Mabel’s hair and mumbled, “Room?”
“Thank you guys,” Mabel said, nodding against Henry’s nose. She sent another, hopefully encouraging smile at them as Henry turned and ducked through the doorway, still trembling and angry the way she’d been last night.
They weren’t even all the way upstairs when he started murmuring. “I didn’t even really talk to him.”
Mabel tilted her head against his. “Oh?”
She tightened her hands around the back of his neck as he let go of her arm to twist the doorknob with his bloody-knuckled hand. He toed the door open. “Just stared.”
As they stepped through, she asked, “So what did the goober do to make you punch him?”
Henry sucked in a sharp breath through his nose, and Mabel winced. Oh dear. He shut the door, and Henry moved past her craft corner and to the bed by the window. She let him lay her down, and stayed curled up as he wrapped himself around her, nose buried in her neck.
They were silent for a good long while. Everybody who knew her when she was twelve, she mused, would be surprised she could go so long without speaking.
“He kept. Posturing. Threatening. Offering.”
Mabel nodded and reached a hand up to card through his unruly hair. “He…yeah, he’s got a problem with that right now.”
“I didn’t realize it would be so bad,” Henry said, voice cracking. He inhaled and exhaled in that deep, controlled way he did when he was on the edge of losing control.
She breathed in and out with him, waited for him to continue. It didn’t take as long this time.
“He isn’t… I don’t think that’s Dipper down there, Mabel.”
Instead of rearing up and protesting like she would have in any other situation with any other person, Mabel pressed herself closer and murmured into Henry’s shoulder, “Why?”
He slid an arm over her side, pressed his thighs up against her shins. This time, Mabel felt as though she were spinning through an eternity before he spoke again, filled to the brim with all her fears and worries about her dorky little demon brother.
The quiet was overwhelming, and she felt an initial flood of relief when Henry spoke up, voice vibrating from the bridge of his nose into the junction of her neck and collarbone.
“He told me he’d use you, Mabes. That he’d use you to…to bleed us dry, one by one, kids first and me last, and that he’d make you aware of what you were doing the entire time.”
She wondered what that would feel like beyond the initial emotions of despair, and was then filled with visions of broken skin and bleeding bones, of deep-rooted satisfaction at the swing and the collision, of primal joy in the resulting vibrations echoing up and buzzing into the palm of her hand. She was filled with a deeper, darker loathing for the trio of cultists who had broken her home and left it more whole themselves than they had any right to be, and she was filled with sorrow for what her brother was going through, for her husband and Stan and Wendy and anybody who had talked to Dipper.
She was scared of herself, because she wasn’t sure if she would lose herself in the carnage once she was too heartbroken to see the people behind the bodies. But she was more scared for the Dipper who was now too buried to see outside, she was scared for the Dipper who would wake up and find his family dead and the blood he spilled on his sister’s hands.
“He’s there,” she said. “He’s there. He’s there.” He has to be.
Henry sucked in a breath, and there were splotches of wetness on her skin. “I love him, Mabes. I love him too. But if he isn’t there, what do we have down in our basement?”
“We,” she choked back the pessimism. “We have Dipper, just buried. He’ll pull through, he always does.”
Henry let out a wet huff of air and clutched her closer, pulling her shins up to rest against his stomach and his thighs up against her feet and butt. He was quiet aside from his hitching breaths, and Mabel dipped her head down to meet the junction between his neck and collarbone.
“I don’t want to say goodbye.”
Mabel’s heart filled up in her chest, her throat, and it ached to the point of tears. “We won’t,” she promised. “Dipper will come back. Trust me.”
Her heartbeats filled the silence, thudding from her chest into her knees and the curve of her throat. They drummed against hear ears but were unable to cut out the sound of Henry clenching his teeth and hissing his breath out of the spaces between his molars in an effort to calm down.
“Okay,” he said, voice smaller than she’d heard it before, and it struck her that they were talking like Dipper was dead, like he was dying. He’ll pull through, she told herself. He always does.
They lay there like that for an age, water seeping into Mabel’s sweater and into Henry’s flannel buttondown, clutching each other as though it were the only thing tying them to reality. It was a heavy quiet, but Mabel had faith it would clear up soon. It had to. It had to.
Then Mabel realized it was too quiet in the house.
“Shouldn’t they be up to something by now?” Mabel murmured into Henry’s skin.
Henry blinked against her shoulder, eyelashes brushing against her collarbone. “You’re right,” he said after a heartbeat.
Mabel remembered the kids’ sobriety. “Maybe they just know something’s wrong and are quiet because of that.”
“Maybe,” Henry said, loosening his grip on her. “Or…”
She looked up at him. I’ll help, sure, she remembered Willow saying. Willow who was an empath. Acacia who had the gumption to lead them all on impossible pranks and mischief. Hank who was far too good at being unassuming.
“Shit,” she swore, rolling off the side of the bed right as Henry bolted upright. Together, they stumbled out the bedroom door and thundered down the stairs, through the kitchen and then stood before the open hidden entrance to the basement.
“No,” she whispered, because Dipper might pull through soon but the kids didn’t know how bad he was now and all she could see was her crying, sobbing brother floating over three small, still bodies. “No.”
“No,” Henry said, low and dark and trembly, at the edge of building up into a keen. “No.”
They flew down the basement stairs together.
Dipper was gone. There was blue fire burning from the edges of his restraints—rope and metal and magic woven together in an attempt to subdue him—and scorch marks obliterating the key sections of the binding circles. Huddled against the back wall were the triplets, unhurt but crying, eyes wide and frightened.
Mabel marched up to them, pulled them all in for a hug, and shook with fear and anger. “What were you thinking?” she cried. “What were you even thinking?”
Henry moved around their group and enveloped the triplets from behind, and his hands were quivering. When the triplets didn’t speak, he said, “Answer your mother.”
“We,” Willow started, high and panicked, “We wanted to help.”
And Mabel started to cry because of course they did, of course they wanted to help and thought they could, even knowing that Uncle Dipper was a demon who could be scary at times.
“Where’s Dipper?” Henry asked, crouched down and running his hands up and down the kids’ arms, inspecting their faces, gently prodding at their sides.
“He left,” Acacia said, and hiccupped.
“He came back first, and then he left,” Hank added, arms wrapped around his torso.
A bittersweet kind of joy bloomed in Mabel’s chest, and she saw it reflected on Henry’s face. It took her a moment to remember out to speak.
“How did he come back?”
The kids looked at each other, but did not answer. Not when Grunkle Stan hobbled down the stairs and asked, not when Dipper’s absence stretched from hours into days into weeks, not when Wendy called to ask about Dipper and or Soos remarked that he hadn’t seen his best bro either, and neither had Pacifica, or Grenda or Robbie or Candy or anybody.
They never did answer.
Dipper came back three months and two and a half weeks later. He popped in nearly silently next to Mabel as she was washing the dishes, the same way he’d been pulled out three months, two weeks and five days ago.
Without a word, she pulled out two King-sized Snickers from her apron pocket and gestured at him with them. From the corner of her eye, she saw him nod and accept the candy, still silently, still morosely.
They’d gone through five pounds of candy just carrying it around in case he’d show up again.
Both Dipper and Mabel were silent. Mabel rinsed the next couple plates, and Dipper conjured a drying cloth from somewhere and started in on them. He’d gone through half the pile when Mabel spoke up.
“Don’t scare me like that, bro-bro.”
He hunched his shoulders and looked away. “I’m sorry,” he croaked, and Mabel knew that he’d gotten her meaning all messed up by the way the self-loathing enveloped him in a veritable cloak, tangible in the air around him.
She nudged him in the shoulder. “Silly, the whole stupid dehumanization thing wasn’t your fault—I was talking about not telling us you’d be gone for three and a half months.”
“What?” Dipper looked her in the face, hatred for himself flaring up, forming a shield against her words. “Are you serious? I could have hurt you!”
“But you didn’t,” Mabel said. “You could have hurt us. You could have hurt the triplets but you didn’t.”
“But I did hurt you, Mabel! I hurt you and—” he choked on his words and looked to the side. After a short pause, he reached for the next cup and began to stuff his drying cloth inside it.
“And you liked it,” she continued, softly. He stopped drying, but she picked up the pan next to the sink and pushed it into the water. It slid in with a burble of water, but no bubbles.
They were quiet. She stared into the soapy dishwater, he stared at her profile, cup in his slack hands.
“You hurt us with words,” she murmured at last, pulling her washcloth from the back of the sink and pushing it into the water to scrub at the pan’s bottom. The water turned murkier. “You hurt us with words and you enjoyed it. And part of you still enjoys it, right?”
She could see the cogs in his head turning without even looking at his eyes.
“You remember the three who hurt you, Dipper?” She pulled the washcloth out and wrung it over the water, black from the leftover grease and charcoal from frying bratwurst. After pouring a liberal amount of soap on the cloth, she set back to work.
Dipper spoke after a moment’s hesitation. “Yes.”
“They’re not in prison.”
He rankled, bristled with self-righteous anger. “How could they get away with—”
“They’re in the hospital,” Mabel interrupted.
Beside her, he deflated. A moment after, he finished drying the cup and set it with the growing pile of cleaned dishes, then returned his attention to her.
“One has a broken shinbone. Snapped in two. She also has nine broken fingers and a smashed left foot. She won’t walk properly again, and she won’t be able to hold a pencil very well. Or a stick of chalk.”
“Why are you—”
“Another,” she said, pulling the pan up and emptying it of the water. There were still splotches of burned matter at the bottom, so she submerged the pan and began scrubbing again. “Another had his kneecap reduced to splinters. The other kneecap was cracked, and half his teeth were knocked out. His wrists were broken, and they don’t think he’ll ever walk or hold anything in his hands for a good long time.”
Dipper made a pained sound next to her, and she glanced over at him. He was holding his head in his hands, looking halfway distressed and halfway jubilated. “I…I did that?”
“I never said that,” Mabel said, and pulled the pan up. Almost clean.
He fell silent again.
“The last one was a bit of a cutie,” she admitted. “But his face isn’t quite so nice anymore. His cheekbone was snapped, his nose smashed, and his jaw was broken. He’ll be eating out of a straw for a bit longer, I think. Um…oh! He also is being considered for admittance to a mental asylum, and six of his fingers are smashed. He can still walk, but he doesn’t do a lot of that anymore. Too scared, Wendy says.”
“Wendy did tha—”
“All Wendy and Grunkle Stan did when we rescued you was beat them up a little. Sure, one or two might have lost a tooth in that mess, but they didn’t do that, dorkface.” Mabel brought up the pan, clean, if a bit sudsy. She set it in the rinse water and pulled the plug in the other sink.
Dipper was silent again, but it was a silence of understanding this time.
Mabel turned to face him, drying her hands off on her apron. “My point, Dipdop, is that it felt good. Satisfying. It still does, a little, and I am sickened a little too. You hurt us, yes. I hurt them, yes. And we both liked it.”
She held up her hand, and he fell silent. “We both snapped, and while we did things we almost-but-not-all-the-way regret, we still regret them. We weren’t…we were ourselves, but we weren’t at the same time. Am I making any sense?”
Dipper cracked a half-hearted grin and pulled the pan out of the rinse sink. “Kind of. But not really.”
“Oh well, you get what I mean.” She nudged him with her shoulder. “So don’t beat yourself up about that, okay?”
By the strained half-smile on his face, Mabel could tell he hadn’t forgiven himself yet. And maybe he never would; she knew there was a difference between hurting those you hated and hurting those you loved.
“Also you need to keep in touch better,” she said, pulling off the apron and heading to hang it on its hook by the fridge. “And apologize to Henry, because you’ve really freaked him out.”
When she turned around, Dipper had paled. “Oh.”
“Go on then,” she said, grinning and feeling lighter than she had in ages, “go get it over with, I’ll keep drying.”
“But the deal—”
“Psssh, it was wordless, it can mean whatever I want it to. But if you’re so upset, here,” she rustled around in the cabinets and pulled out a giant Three Musketeers, then tossed it to him, “this in exchange for finding Henry and apologizing and listening to his response, no matter how long it takes.”
Grumbling, Dipper took the candy. “That has so many holes in it, you have no idea.”
She laughed. As Dipper turned and set his feet on the ground, she blinked and remembered her last question. “Hey Dipper?”
“Yeah?” Dipper turned back, candy already almost half-gone. Pig, she thought fondly.
“What…what made you snap out of it?”
He blinked and then spoke with his mouth full. It would be gross if Mabel didn’t do it herself on occasion. “What, the triplets didn’t say?”
“Nah, they’ve been tight about it.”
This time, he grinned a little more like himself, even if there was still that self-loathing glint in his eyes. “Well, if they haven’t said, I guess I won’t either.”
Mabel stared at him as he hightailed it out of there, making his way up to where Henry was secluded in the front rooms of the Mystery Shack, pouring through tome after tome on how to summon demons who refuse to answer their summons.
And then she laughed, and grinned, and they both fit her face and chest just right.