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Finding Mabel

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"Dipper, look! A ship!" Mabel exclaimed excitedly, latching onto her brother's arm and pointing - to use the term loosely - at the vessel, arm flailing animatedly in its general direction. Dipper jumped slightly at her loud[er than usual] tone in surprise. He quickly looked to where she was pointing.

A large ship was headed their way. Dipper couldn't quite tell whether it was a pirate ship or perhaps the private ship of some sort of business tycoon, as it was completely painted light blue but was well equipped in the weapon's department from what he could see. Granted, he wasn't exactly an expert on humans, nor was he in the perfect viewing position, being under water. Mabel seemed to think the same, as she grabbed Dipper by the wrist and pulled him behind a large, half-submerged boulder, which she attempted to sneakily peer over at the boat.

"Mabel!" Dipper shout-whispered after a short coughing fit where his gills and other breathing orifices couldn't seem to decide which was supposed to be in charge at the moment. "What are you doing?!" He tried to get her to duck behind the boulder. "Get down here!"

"Aw, come on, bro-bro! It's a big, fancy blue ship!" Mabel pouted, whispering as well.

"Yeah, a big fancy blue ship full of humans, and we're up here alone! We don't have nearly enough power to hypnotize the crew of a boat that size! They could kill us!" The boy argued, gesturing wildly as he spoke.

The girl simply rolled her eyes. "Oh, hush. It's not like I'm planning on letting them see me!"

Dipper huffed, folding his arms and frowning. "We still shouldn't be here."

"Relax, Dipdop!" Mabel whispered cheerfully. "We won't get caught!" With that, the female siren silently dove back into the water and swam away.

Dipper followed. To his dismay, his sister seemed to be headed directly toward the ship. "Mabel!"

Her pink scales shimmered with a yellow sheen as the noon light reflected and refracted through the sea water. She sped up a bit as Dipper called out, rocketing under the boat. She looked at its underside, eyes wide in wonder as she reached out and gently ran the tips of her fingers over the wood. She glanced back at her brother, grinning widely, almost taunting.

Dipper stopped before reaching the ship, wary of getting closer. He half-hid in a patch of seaweed and scowled sternly at his sister. "Mabel, get away from there! If the Stans knew you what you were doing, they'd have our heads!"

"Which is why they won't find out what I'm doing. Right, Dippy?" She returned, smiling dangerously at him and giggling when he began to grumble. She turned back to the boat, swimming around its underside, observing it with blatant wonder. "Y'know, boat kind of sounds like butt." She mused. Grinning mischievously, she added, "Hey, Dipper! Guess what?"

"What?" He sighed, complying tiredly.

"I touched the butt." She snickered, laughing even harder at her brother's exasperated groan. Then something flashed out of the corner of her eye, catching her attention. Her head swiveled in its direction, soon followed by her body as she noticed a small box on the sea floor. She tilted her head, intrigued, and went over to it. The box was wooden, about a foot long on each side, and had a few simple designs on it. It had a silver plate with something etched into it on its lid. On the front was what seemed to be a gold, oddly-shaped plaque with some kind of metal rod of the same material sticking out of it. "Dipper, look at this!" She poked the box, and when nothing happened, she lifted its lid. Inside was a small figurine of a female human in a weird pose. Mabel hummed curiously.

He swam forward a bit hesitantly, glancing up at the ship nervously. "Whatever it is, you should probably leave it alone. They might come looking for it, or it could be a trap." He stopped a few feet behind her, refusing to get any closer.

"Don't be so paranoid!" She curiously pulled at the rod sticking out of it, jumping slightly when it easily slipped out. Turning it over in her hands, she realized that it was a key. Mabel slipped it back into the front of the box and turned it.

"Stop being such a mermaid!" He snapped, irritated. Looking at the box from where he was, he got the feeling that something was off. The box was wooden, but it wasn't bloated, so it couldn't have been under water long. That meant that it had either fallen off of the boat above them, or someone had thrown it overboard. Or...

Wait.

The box was wooden.

Wood floated.

Yet the box was sitting on the ocean floor.

What could be inside it that was so heavy, it kept the box from floating?

Mabel blinked in surprise when music started playing and the figurine began to spin. The tinkling melody was muffled by the water, but the tiny human was not effected. It spun slowly and practically mesmerized the siren.

Her brother's eyes widened at the sound of the music. "Mabel... What did you-" Dipper was cut off as something attached to a rope shot upwards, followed by four more notes of the tune, finishing it. "Mabel! Get away from there!"

Mabel gasped when the figurine shot toward the sky, dragging a rope along with it. She stared at it, frozen in shock. Suddenly, a thick net popped out of the box, landing on Mabel. She panicked, flailing and thrashing in a blind attempt to free herself but only succeeded in tangling herself further. Distressed screeches slipped past her lips as she twisted and turned frantically.

"Mabel!" Dipper shouted, though he was too horrified to move. As soon as he realized she was being lifted, though, he rushed forward. "Mabel! Stop moving!" His hands hovered near the ropes, hesitant and unsure. She was quickly being pulled toward the surface, but he wasn't sure what to do. Mabel continued to thrash, and the net continued to be pulled higher, and Dipper was panicking, so he did the first thing that came to mind, which was to grab the netting and pull. Down.

His efforts managed to slow the net for a minute before it resumed its ascent.

"Dipper." Mabel said, voice sad and defeated. "Dipper, you have to let go. They'll catch you too, if you don't."

"I don't care! I won't let them take you, Mabel!" He replied, still trying to pull the net down.

"Dipper," she gently put her hand on his shoulder. "Let go."

Dipper looked up at her, face contorted in anguish. They held each other's gazes in a silent argument. After a moment, expression pained, Dipper let go and watched as his sister was lifted up. Away from him. "I'll get you back!" He cried desperately. "I'll save you!"

Mabel smiled sadly. "I know you will. Good luck, bro-bro."

With that, she was lifted completely out of the water and out of earshot.

Dipper stayed still for a while, gazing brokenly at the spot he had last seen her. Taking a deep breath, he swam to where the two had hidden before and attempted to think clearly. He needed a plan.

He should probably go to the Stans about this. Probably. Most likely. Okay, there was obviously no way he was going to be able to get Mabel back on his own. But who knew where their elders were at this time of day? Ford usually went exploring, and Stan was usually trying to sell stuff. They could be anywhere. Dipper didn't want to risk trying to find them, because the boat might leave before he would be able to. That, and they would probably start yelling at and lecturing him, and there was definitely no time for that. He decided that the most he could do at the moment would just be to follow the boat and wait for an idea or an opening. Maybe leave a note for the Stans, who were bound to come looking for them eventually.

So that's what Dipper did.

Gathering some red and pink coral, the colors of his and Mabel's scales, he put them in an obvious place beside the boulder, and carved the beginnings of a message for them on the side he was hiding on.

Half an hour or so later, the ship began to sail away, and Dipper made sure to add the direction it was going in to the note before following after it.

He would get Mabel back.

No matter what it took, he would get his sister back.

Chapter Text

"Where are Dipper and Mabel?"

"You don't know?"

"No, I thought they stayed here with you!"

"Mabel told me she was going to hang out with some friends, and Dipper said he was going to research with you!"

"Lee!"

"They're not hatchlings, Ford! I thought they could handle going out on their own!"

A sigh. "Alright, alright. We need to find them. Where would they have gone?"

\/\/\

Dipper had lost track of how long he'd been following that stupid blue ship.

He was exhausted, hungry, and no closer to figuring out how to save Mabel. He couldn't stop to sleep as, if he did, he'd lose track of the boat. He couldn't let that happen. By this point, Dipper wouldn't be surprised if he looked like the illegitimate offspring of murder and death. His eyes felt heavy (he was nearly certain that the bags under them were large enough to contain seven pirate ships' worth of gold), and he was sluggish, yet he continued to follow the boat at its agonizingly slow pace.

He was jolted out of his zombie-like state by a loud rumbling and scraping. He tensed, focusing on the boat before realizing that it had gotten stuck on a rock formation on the sea floor. He watched it for a moment in surprise. Swimming to the surface, he quickly checked the time. In doing so, he determined that it was low tide, and that as soon as the tide rose, the boat would be freed and would start moving again. In the meantime, however, Dipper could rest a bit. Not sleep. If he fell asleep, he wouldn't wake up until long after the boat had left. But he could rest.

Sighing heavily in relief, Dipper allowed himself to sink to the sea floor. Leaning back against a rock, he examined his situation. His muscles ached, he felt lightheaded, and he trembled in exhaustion. He definitely needed this rest. However, he also still needed to figure out how to save Mabel. If they hadn't already killed her. Dipper decided to ignore that thought for his own well-being.

Dipper wasn't sure what to do without his mentors. Stan and Ford always knew what to do in tough situations. Ford was an expert in all things weird and/or threatening, as well as plans, and Stan was the one defending their territory and getting them all the supplies they needed. They were hundreds of years older than Mabel and Dipper, so they knew better how to deal with humans. On the other hand, all that Dipper knew about the two-legged land-dwellers was that they were easy to trick and were the main source of his food supply.

Dipper hadn't noticed that his eyes were closed until he was jolted awake by an obnoxious voice.

"Well, well, well. What's this? What kind of siren sleeps out in the open, unguarded? You're either a mermaid, or you're just plain stupid. Not that there's much distinction between the two."

Dipper's eyes snapped open in surprise. Disoriented by the voice and his surroundings for a moment, he frantically looked around.

Where were Stan and Ford? Where was he? Who was this guy with the annoying voice? What was this stranger doing here? What was Dipper doing here? Where was-

Mabel.

In that instant everything came back to him, and Dipper's eyes widened even further.

Actually taking in his surroundings now that they made a bit more sense, he realized that it was dark. The full moon could easily be seen high above him through the clear ocean water, letting Dipper know that it was around midnight.

Oh no.

Oh no.

He had fallen asleep.

The ship was nowhere in sight and Dipper only knew what direction it had been headed in. It could have changed course. It could have gotten too far for Dipper to catch up with. It could have already reached it's destination, and they could have moved Mabel somewhere else. It could have- It could have-

"Woah, kid, calm down! Where's the cannon?"

The voice. Right. In his panic, Dipper had forgotten what had woken him up in the first place. He glanced around, trying to find the owner of the nasally sound.

The bright moonlight illuminated the clearing with ease, but bleached everything of color. Dipper scanned the monochrome surroundings, spinning in place as he looked. He saw nothing out of the ordinary among the plant life and boulders in various shades of gray. Then a figure emerged from the shadows to Dipper's left, calling his attention in that direction. He spun to face the figure fully, stance tense and slightly defensive.

As the new-comer got closer, Dipper realized that it was another siren. In retrospect, that probably should have been obvious.

Light colored hair fell over the guy's right eye, although his hair was shorter in the back. His fins had lengthy spines that really only succeeded in adding to the creepiness of Dipper's current situation. He was covered in triangles; it honestly fascinated Dipper how many and how perfect they all were. A ring of alternating triangles looped his neck, and centered just below his neck, two slightly larger triangles seemed to point at each other, connecting at their tips. His shoulders, back, hands and forearms were covered in black scales, and the edges of each patch were surrounded by scatterings of small triangles. There was yet another triangle near the left corner of his mouth, but Dipper couldn't tell if it was a freckle or more scales. What wasn't covered in black was either tanned skin or lighter colored scales. Dipper couldn't make out the exact color in the muted lighting of the night, but if he had to take a guess, he'd say they were anywhere in the spectrum between orange and green.

The stranger swam closer, a curious, if somewhat amused expression gracing his features. Without thinking, Dipper backed up a little.

"So what's a guy like you doing alone out here?" The other siren asked.

"Who are you?" Dipper demanded instead of answering.

A grin slit wide across the other's face before he answered. "The name's Bill Cipher; nice to meet ya'." Bill continued forward, beginning a lazy circle around Dipper, observing him. "And you are...?"

"D-Dipper. Dipper Pines." He replied automatically.

"Pines, huh? Well, Pine Tree, my original question still stands. What's a guy like you doing all on his lonesome?" Bill inquired.

"Why do you want to know?" Dipper tried in an attempt to dodge the question.

Bill stopped in front of Dipper. "'Cause I'm in the business of deal-making, kid. And I just might be able to offer my services." He held his hands out to the sides, palms facing upward. Then he crossed his arms and glanced over Dipper's form, looking thoughtful. "And by the looks of it, you need all the help you can get."

"Hey! I don't need your help! I can save Mabel on my own!" Dipper snapped indignantly. Too late, his eyes widened slightly as he realized what he'd done.

"Oh, really? And who is that? Your mate? Your sibling?" Bill grinned mirthfully, thoroughly enjoying prying answers from the other. He watched Dipper's expressions for an answer. "Oh, so it is a sibling! What happened?"

Dipper pressed is lips together and crossed his arms, refusing to answer.

"Alright, I'll guess! Hmm... They were whisked away, right? And there was nothing you could do?"

Dipper tried his hardest not to give anything away, but he must have failed because Bill nodded, grinning, and continued.

"Now, what took them? Well, either you're sickly, have no skill as a hunter-"

"Hey!"

"Or you've been going at this 'rescue' thing non-stop for a while. I'll go with the last one. That means that there is at least a chance that they're still alive – otherwise, why bother trying to save them? Now I'm going to take the liberty of assuming that you're not a complete moron, and that you at least have some semblance of a clue of what you're doing, as in you're not just blindly swimming off in a random direction. So you probably saw them get taken." Bill read Dipper's body language for confirmation. "That means they were either taken by pirates..." Bill blinked, scrutinizing the other. "That's not a yes or a no. But it was humans...? Right." He nodded.

Dipper listened, feeling more and more nervous as Bill puzzled his way closer to the truth. He had a feeling that this "Bill" character was not to be trusted. He just had this creepily persistent vibe about him that made Dipper more than a little uncomfortable.

"To recap: your sibling got kidnapped by humans, and you only have a vague sense of where you're going." Bill clutched his elbow and used his free hand to stroke his chin in thought. "...Might the humans have happened to have been in a blue ship?"

Dipper's eyes widened. "It, uh, it might have been..." He stuttered. Then he blinked and narrowed his eyes. "Why? Do you know something?"

Bill grinned – an expression that seemed to be common for him. "Sure do, Pine Tree! I know lots of things." His visible eye widened with an unnerving glint of something not quite sane, and he leaned closer, almost in Dipper's face. A split second later, Bill had backed away and relaxed a bit, smirking. "But that's irrelevant at the moment. What is relevant is that your hatch-mate is on that boat, and I know exactly where it's headed. You also probably have no idea how to deal with humans, or how you're actually going to accomplish this rescue."

Dipper glanced away apprehensively; he could tell where this was going.

"There's no way you can do this on your own, and you know it." Bill went on. "You have no clue what you're doing. I have the answers to all of your questions. All you have to do to get them is make a deal with me. I help you save your sibling, and you help me. Simple as that. Everyone wins!" He chuckled. "Maybe not the humans, but that's what we're aiming for, right?"

Dipper nodded reflexively before shaking his head as if to clear it. "You- I don't... need-"

"Well then how are you going to do it?" Bill interrupted, arching an eyebrow.

"I was- just- I'm going to s-"

"Do you really think you'd be able to put that many people under a trance? By yourself?"

The brunette grimaced and looked away.

"Exactly. You need me, kid. Without me, you and your sibling are as good as dead." Dipper frowned at that, but didn't have time to comment as Bill continued. "So, wha'd'ya say, kid? Deal?" Bill held out his hand, his eye glinting in excitement. Dipper started when he noticed that both his eye and his hand were glowing blue.

His gaze shifted between the proffered hand and the face of its owner. "As long as I have your word that you won't hurt me or my sister..." Dipper had tried to sound confident, but it didn't end up working as well as he'd hoped.

Bill's expression briefly flashed with something akin to annoyance, but he conceded regardless. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Do we have a deal or not?"

Dipper bit his lip, rolling the skin between his teeth in uncertainty. Bill was right. There was no way he'd be able to save Mabel on his own. At least he had the guarantee that Bill wouldn't hurt either of them.

After a silent moment of consideration, Dipper took a deep breath and nodded. "Yeah. Deal." He grasped Bill's outstretched hand and shook it. As soon as he had done so, their joined hands began to glow brighter.

In a matter of seconds, the light emanating from the handshake reached blinding levels, and Dipper had to look away. He gasped and squeezed his eyes shut as something began to trace across his skin. He tried to pull away but found that he could not move his arm at all. He hissed as a hot line snaked across the back of his hand, starting at the webbing between his thumb and index finger (where Bill's thumb was) and heading diagonally to the center of his wrist. Once it got there, the line changed direction, heading downward at the same angle. It bounced back upward at the side of his hand and crossed the heel of his palm, making a diagonal line opposite his thumb, and continued to the top of his wrist, where it once again changed direction by mirroring the angle. It continued around his wrist until it connected with the previous line across the heel of his hand. When the line was completed, the searing heat engulfed the corner of his palm where the lines intersected, and then vanished.

The light faded, and the moment he could no longer see it through his eyelids, he opened them. Hesitantly, he looked to his hand, still clasped with Bill's, and gently slipped it out of the other's grip to examine it. Two parallel light blue arrows gleamed on the back of his hand and just above his wrist, and a still-slightly-glowing triangle rested at the heel of his palm, a line protruding from each of its corners.

He looked up, broken from his reverie as Bill murmured a distracted, "Interesting..." The other siren was looking at his own wrist, which bore an identical mark. His expression was thoughtful and remained so as his single slitted eye shifted to Dipper. "Very interesting." He added, scanning Dipper's form as though looking at him for the first time.

Dipper had no idea what Bill was talking about, but the fact that something seemed to be new to the more experienced of the two didn't bode well.

Chapter Text

Mabel took a deep breath before she was lifted from the water, hoping it would somehow keep her from drying out as quickly. She squeezed her eyes shut fearfully, curling further in on herself as the pace of the jerking upward pull on the net that contained her quickened. Her heart beat wildly in her chest, thudding as rapidly as her thoughts raced. She hoped Dipper wouldn't get caught as well. She didn't even care if she was saved as long as her twin remained safe. Truth be told, she'd rather Dipper give up on rescuing her than risk his life for her, especially when it was all her fault for not listening to him in the first place.

Mabel was jerked out of her thoughts as the net hit the side of the boat. She attempted to inhale sharply in surprise, but, since she was still holding her breath (and actually getting pretty dizzy), that didn't work out too well, and she choked, coughing harshly to get the water out of her lungs. Once she succeeded, throat raw, she looked up, trying to determine the remaining distance between herself and the deck of the boat. In doing so, she saw someone sticking their head over the side. She bared her teeth and hissed at the figure, but they were gone before they saw it.

Mabel sighed. Thinking about it a bit, she supposed that scaring the humans wouldn't be the best course of action anyway. It would probably be best if she played nice, so they would be less suspicious that she would try anything.

Her hands were tangled in the ropes at already uncomfortable angles and moving them too much would only cause her greater pain, otherwise Mabel would have clawed her way out of the trap by now. As it was, all she could do was hiss as multiple pairs of hands grabbed the netting that held her aloft and dragged her up onto the ship. The siren frowned deeply when the hands disappeared as their owners backed at least ten feet away and gathered around her in a circle to gawk.

A few seconds later, there was a tapping sound, and some of the men stepped aside to make a hole for... a very small, stout man dressed in a lot of ridiculously fancy clothing.

On his head sat a hat that looked so ridiculously disproportional, it was funny. A long coat, roughly the same color as the boat they all currently stood on, fit perfectly over an off-white, frilly shirt and was lined and extravagantly detailed with silver. Sky blue pants were held up by and tucked into a belt and boots, respectively, both made of black leather. He wore copious amounts of jewelry - several rings donned each of his fingers, multiple necklaces draped over his chest, and at least seven earrings weighed down both of his ears. His pearl white hair was slicked back, and an eyepatch made to match his coat covered his right eye.

"Well, what have we here?" He asked in a snobbish, but lilting voice. He strode forward – the long, delicate white feather attached to his gigantic hat fluttered as he moved – and leaned in to look at Mabel with a calculating beady eye, grinning coldly. Then, he turned to a man behind him whose hands were bound and who looked almost pained and rather distressed. "I really must commend you, Fiddleford; I honestly didn't think that little contraption a' yours would work! But, here we are, not even ten minutes after droppin' it into the water, and we already got what we came here for! I should give you a raise!" He giggled. "Oh, wait! I forgot! I'm not payin' ya in the first place!"

Something about that exchange sparked a memory deep within Mabel's mind, but she couldn't quite grasp it. The only thing she could get was the impression that there was something to be remembered. It irritated her that she couldn't remember, but there were other, more pressing matters demanding her attention at the moment. Like the beginning prickles of pain occurring on her drying tail, or the squat jerk in the outfit the same color as the ship that was looking at her again.

"However, I've heard that sirens an' mermaids are almost impossible to tell apart," said squat jerk said. He stepped closer, an almost taunting smile on his face. "You are a mermaid, right? Because if you were a siren, well," he chuckled, "we'd have to kill you."

So she'd have to play dumb if she wanted to live.

Mabel guessed it was a small price to pay. She frowned and stuck her tongue out, realizing, not for the first time, that her own actions wouldn't have been that different from how she imagined a mermaid would act.

He sneered. "Lovely." Spinning on his heel, the ridiculously clothed man began walking away. "Take her to the tub. Quickly! She might look human, but she's still part fish; she can most likely still dry out."

Mabel gritted her teeth as one of the crewmen cut the extra rope off of the net. A few others came forward and threaded a stick through the net above her, lifting her off the wood of the deck. She swayed when they began walking, and tried to ignore the growing pain of her drying scales.

"Captain Gleeful, sir, should I take the inventor guy back to his room, sir?" Asked a man holding "Fiddleford", as the chubby buttface guy (Captain Gleeful? He didn't seem like a very gleeful person... mostly just like a jerk.) had called him, by the arm.

The captain slowed; turning around, he rubbed his chin and eyed Fiddleford. A moment later, he snapped his fingers and smirked. "Do you know what? Why don't we let him move in with the mermaid? He can keep an eye on her for me, and he'll get some company! It's a win-win situation!"

Mabel's view was cut off by one of the crewmen carrying her as they turned and went through a door.

She bit her lip. Now that she had nothing to distract her, the burning tingle of her tail was at the forefront of her mind and seemed to hurt all the more because of it. The pain was akin to the sunburn she sometimes got when swimming near the surface for too long but was concentrated into the stinging pinpricks of a body part falling asleep. She tried to focus on taking long shallow breaths through her nose, but was distracted by the sound of more footsteps behind her and her entourage.

Gritting her teeth, Mabel glanced back to see Fiddleford being led to follow the men carrying her, his head hanging and shoulders slumped. She glared weakly at him for a moment, but couldn't maintain the look for long because the man exuded an air of shame and regret the likes of which Mabel hadn't seen since she swam in on her great uncle Ford that one time he was thinking really deeply (about the past, probably) and hadn't slept in a while. She sighed and turned back around, wondering how much longer it would take.

The group traveled down a few flights of stairs, Mabel making more pained noises and hissing the further they went. Her volume reached its crescendo halfway to wherever they were taking her, grunts and whimpers turning into full-on screams for a few moments before she gradually stilled, weak wheezing becoming the only sound to accompany the hurried footsteps of her captors. At this point, she began fading in and out of consciousness, still in great pain but too drained to do anything about it. Her breathing became increasingly more shallow as she lost strength and consciousness, her heartbeat slowing as well.

A split second before she passed out completely, she could have sworn she felt a cool, soothing sensation engulf her, as if it were a welcome to the void and darkness of oblivion.

Chapter Text

"This is going to be much easier than I thought." Bill quipped pleasantly.

"Wha-" Dipper began before the other spoke over him, cutting him off.

"Well!" Arms akimbo, Bill grinned. "We need to get going if we plan on making up for all that time you spent passed out!"

Dipper wasn't able to get a word in edgewise as Bill spun on his tail and swam off in the direction the boat had been headed hours previously. Not wanting to be left behind, Dipper shot after him a little frantically.

Bill set a quick pace, leading the way with a childish sort of excitement. His current enthusiastic demeanor was a stark contrast to his almost... predatory one from earlier. It was like day and night. The playful and bubbly siren before him was almost nothing like the sly and cunning one he'd made the deal with. Dipper decided not to contemplate it for too long, instead concentrating on swimming.

As the two went along, Bill seemed to make a game of trying to find the weirdest way to swim. He swam on his back, his sides; he swam while spinning; he swam in large loops; he swam in waves; he zig-zagged; he even leapt out of the water a few times. All while grinning impishly at Dipper.

Dipper attempted to ignore it all in irritation as he traveled, his focus solely on moving forward. In fact, he was so focused, he didn't even notice when the sun rose. Or when the ship came back into view.

"Pine Tree!" Bill exclaimed excitedly and started swatting Dipper on the shoulder in a bid to get his attention. "Pine Tree! Pine Tree, Pine Tree, Pine Tree Pine Tree Pine Tree Pine Tree-"

At first, Dipper was prepared to respond to the odd nickname, but once Bill began hitting him and repeating himself like a dolphin, Dipper gritted his teeth in annoyance. Finally, Dipper snapped, "What does that even mean?!"

Bill stopped, tilting his head curiously. "Pine tree?"

"Yes! That! What even is that?!" Dipper confirmed, practically boiling.

Bill smirked. "If I tell you, you've gotta tell me something..." He held out his hand, which was once again glowing. "Deal?"

Dipper calmed down immediately, his annoyance replaced by apprehension at the sudden shift in mood. "Like what...?" He asked nervously, looking between Bill's face and hand.

"Oh, nothing much. Why are you hesitating, though? Do you have something to hide?" Bill goaded, moving his hand forward just slowly enough that one would only be able to tell it was moving if they knew to look for it.

"No..." Dipper replied uncertainly. Though, it wasn't that he didn't know if he was hiding anything so much as it was that he was confused by Bill's reasoning and motives.

"Then you've got nothing to lose!" Bill chimed cheerfully, wiggling the black-scaled fingers of his extended hand.

Dipper bit the inside of his cheek, thinking it over.

"C'mon, kid. We both know I can't hurt you. Part of the deal, remember? All I want is one simple answer from you in exchange for an answer from me."

Dipper closed his eyes and sighed. Opening them again, he reached out and clasped Bill's hand in his own, giving it a firm shake as he spoke. "Whatever. Deal."

Bill grinned devilishly as their hands began to glow brighter, just as they had last time. This time, however, it wasn't as bright. Dipper still couldn't look directly at it, but it wasn't unbearable either.

Also like last time, a heat began to etch its way across his skin, but it too was easier to tolerate, and the action was simpler, so it didn't take as long.

A single, straight line, starting at the vertex of the arrow on his arm and ending just before his knuckles was all that had appeared once Bill released his hand. Dipper made a mental note to ask the other how that worked at some point.

"Great! So, shall you go first or shall I?" Bill asked, smiling.

"Uh-"

"Y'know what? I'll go first! A pine tree is a plant that grows on land. They're usually really tall, and they look... kind of like this, actually." Bill gestured to the golden markings on his wrist that were identical to Dipper's light blue ones. "This line down the middle is the trunk, which is a big brown pole, and these triangles look like the branches and needles – needles are green, spine-like things. You've also got some markings on your back that look kinda like this!"

Dipper was intrigued by one of the first things Bill had said. "On land? How do you even-"

"Ah, ah, ah! It's my turn to ask a question, kid!" Bill interjected.

Dipper's gills flared in slight annoyance, but he stopped anyway, filing the question in his mind for later.

"Good." Bill praised. "Now," his expression suddenly schooled, fitting Dipper with a calculating eye. He held up his hand with the markings. "Where is it?"

"W-where is what?" Dipper asked, horribly confused.

Bill narrowed his eye and began circling Dipper. "Your signum magiae. That thing on your back definitely isn't it."

Eyebrows furrowing, Dipper shook his head. "What are you talking about?"

Bill froze. Facing Dipper fully and eying him skeptically, he explained, "Signum magiae is Latin for sign of magic. A signum magiae is the physical manifestation of great amounts of magic that appear as acute bodily abnormalities. To put it simply: a signum magiae is an extra, missing, or deformed limb, or a birthmark that distinctly resembles something – basically anything on your body that looks weird or nearly impossible – that forms because you have more magic than the average being of your species. I have multiple," he grinned wryly and pointed to the triangle at the left corner of his mouth. "And I already know you have at least one, I'd just like to know where it or they are. Keep in mind that I held up my part of the deal; now, it's your turn."

Dipper's eyes widened as he listened, and he subconsciously fiddled with his bangs at the mention of birthmarks. "Oh," was all he could get out at the end of it.

Bill lifted an eyebrow, waiting expectantly for an answer. "I should also probably let you know that breaking a deal results in pain for both of us, and the mark that corresponds to the deal will burn you and scar over." He informed blandly. "So where is it, kid?"

Complying was the best option, wasn't it? Sighing, Dipper closed his eyes as he pushed his hair back, showcasing his birthmark to the other.

Bill immediately got closer to examine it, suddenly seeming excited. As soon as he saw Dipper's signum magiae, however, he gasped and swam forward, grabbing Dipper by the chin and batting the other's hand away to smooth back the brown locks himself. "Holy mackerel, kid! The Ursa Major?! That's- well, I guess that would explain how you could have that much power and only one signum..."

"What?" Dipper asked, slightly anxious.

Bill's silted eye flicked down to meet worried ruddy-brown before returning to Dipper's forehead. "With birthmarks, certain shapes are more potent than others. Constellations are some of the most powerful. But the Ursa Major– hoo boy, I knew you had to have a strong one, but this is something else!" He elaborated. "Position has a lot to do with it, too! And since yours is smack-dab in the middle of your forehead, it adds to the amount of juice you've already got from the signum."

"How?"

"Hmm?" Bill hummed questioningly, tracing the birthmark with a clawed, black finger.

Dipper shivered. "How does it... add...?” He trailed off.

"Oh! Well, certain spots on the body have more significance and amplify the power. Y'know: hands, chest, stomach, back," Bill gently brushed his thumb over Dipper's signum magiae, "forehead." He released Dipper and backed up. "The placement of it also corresponds with what type of magic you have. For you, that means you have a more... Logical type of magic, I suppose you could say. You most likely control your magic with your thoughts, which are not to be confused with your feelings."

Dipper shook his head as he tried to sort all of this out in his mind. "So... How- What type of things could I do?"

"Well," Bill rubbed his jaw. "With a centered forehead signum, you'll be able to do most base kinds of magic, such as basic physical and mental manipulation. Also, the Ursa Major is usually associated with navigation, since one of its points is the North Star, so the core of your magic probably has something to do with some vaguely pseudo-inspirational navigation junk. But this is all speculation. We won't know until you use your magic."

"Oh." Dipper looked down in thought.

Bill hummed and turned his gaze skyward. "We should start moving again."

Dipper nodded and they both began swimming. A companionable silence settled between them until Dipper spoke up again. "Weren't you trying to tell me something earlier...?"

Bill glanced at the brunet, recognition flashing in his eye a moment later. "Oh, yeah! I was!"

Dipper waited for an elaboration, but when none came he prompted, "... Well?"

"Well, what?" Bill asked innocently.

Dipper pursed his lips, slightly annoyed. "Well, what were you going to tell me?"

Bill grinned widely. "I was going to tell you that we'd caught up to the boat, but then you just had to know what a pine tree was!" He shrugged.

"Bill!" Dipper squawked indignantly.

"Nice going, Pine Tree!" The other cackled, dodging a swat from Dipper. "You're just mad because I'm not wrong!" Bill exclaimed, still laughing and grinning impishly.

Dipper scowled and lunged at Bill. The other dodged it easily and giggled when Dipper missed again. Try as he might to stay angry, though, a small smile soon wormed its way onto Dipper's lips, which then became a full-blown grin, and eventually worked into pealing laughter and joking shouts of threats as the two goofed off.

The pair continued chasing each other until they were too tired to keep going. Both of them sank to the sea floor, light-hearted and breathing heavily. Bill's grin remained unchanged, blinding and sharp-toothed, while Dipper's had calmed a bit, now lopsided, but a grin all the same. They drifted off to sleep like that, smiling and feeling more free than either of them had in a long time.

Chapter Text

Dipper awoke the next morning to a fish landing on his face.

"What the-" he mumbled, taking it off and sitting up. It was fairly large and hung limply between his clawed, webbed fingers as he examined it.

"Time to get going, Pine Tree! You can eat that as we swim, but we gotta move. At this rate, we'll never catch up with those humans!"

Dipper groaned. Right. Bill. The red-tailed siren rubbed his face and pushed off the sea floor, fish in hand. Still half-asleep, he nodded to his traveling companion to let him know that he was as ready as he was going to be.

Bill nodded in return and set off, expecting Dipper to follow. Once the brunet matched his pace, Bill spoke. "You definitely look better than you did yesterday, but I'm going to continue to assume that you're a terrible hunter until you prove me wrong."

"And I'm going to take that as concern for my health rather than an insult." Dipper returned calmly, swallowing the fish Bill had given him whole.

"Whatever helps you sing, kid." Bill chuckled.

Not long into their journey, Bill resumed acting like a child, quite obviously a morning person. He swam circles around Dipper, grin never leaving his face. He seemed ridiculously energetic, dancing to some imagined tune as he spun through the water around his red-tailed, sea-dwelling compatriot. From time to time he would hum happily, all but oblivious to his surroundings as they swam well into the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Dipper was trying to formulate a plan. With the newfound information that he had more power than he'd thought, perhaps, with the addition of Bill, he'd be able to hypnotize the crew before they reached their destination. But Dipper had never been beyond exceptional as a hunter, and despite his protests to Bill's teasing, Dipper had to admit to himself that he was barely average. Maybe he just hadn't tapped into his power? Bill had said that he would probably be able to control his magic with his thoughts, and Dipper had never been the most confident siren, so that could be possible. Although, there had been times that he had tried believing in himself – as his sister had insisted he should – and if that had succeeded in anything, it had probably just made him sound worse.

Maybe it was a different kind of magic? If so, then what was its function? What could it do? What could he do? Following that line of thought, what could Bill do? He knew Bill could make deals, and there was obviously some magic involved in that. What kind, though, he wasn't sure. Maybe it was some type of power transfer? That might explain the dealmaker's reaction to the result of their original deal. It might also explain the colors of their marks. Bill's eye and hand had glowed blue before they shook hands, which was the color of the mark on Dipper's wrist. Did that mean Dipper's magic would be golden? Did magic even have colors?

A face directly in front of his abruptly brought Dipper out of his thoughts.

"What'cha thinkin' 'bout?" Bill asked from above him. He squished Dipper's cheeks. "Cause it's making you look constipated."

Dipper jumped in response and knocked Bill's hands off his face, frowning. "Nothing." He snapped more briskly than he had intended. He was tired and hungry, and the effects only just seemed to be settling in now that he had slept and eaten a little, even if it had been hours since he had done so.

"Sure. And a circle has three sides." Bill shot back. "Just how long had you been swimming before I showed up? Did you eat or sleep at all? Because it's almost night, and you've been out of it since this morning." As if on cue, Dipper's stomach gurgled loudly. Both of their eyes were drawn to the noise, and Dipper's face reddened. Bill gestured to the brunet's midsection, giving him a dry look. "Case and point." He sighed, rubbing his face. "Alright, if we ever actually plan on rescuing your hatchmate, and if we have to be stealthy, a roar like that would immediately give us away. Not to mention that if you're exhausted, you'll slow us down. So, you're going to start taking care of yourself. That means eating and sleeping at regular intervals."

"Fine," Dipper muttered, too embarrassed to protest.

"Wonderful. I'll go find you something to eat," the blond grinned.

"I can hunt for myself." Dipper protested, practically pouting as he crossed his arms.

"If you want to then go ahead, but I have a method that will save us some time, and that I think you might appreciate." Holding up his hand, Bill smirked. A few blue lights shot from his palm, leaving behind faint trails of light as they rose and faded out a few inches above where they had appeared, reminiscent of shooting stars.

Intrigued, Dipper begrudgingly allowed Bill to hunt for him on the condition that he could watch. Bill's smug expression was almost enough to make him change his mind, but before he could, the other grabbed him by the arm and dragged him off into a high patch of seaweed.

Soon enough, he was released. While he rubbed his arm, Bill scanned the area, motioning for Dipper to stay quiet. Dipper rolled his eyes but complied, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow as he watched his companion.

A couple seconds later, Bill's eye lit up, presumably having spotted some prey. He glided forward silently, hiding behind a large group of brightly colored coral, a ray of sunlight shining down on him.

It was in this moment that the color of Bill's tail really hit him.

It shimmered black and golden in the sunlight – or, well, honestly it was more of an annoyingly bright, neon yellow, but golden sounded better. While he had seen Bill's tail before – of course he had, he wasn't blind – besides their initial meeting, Dipper had never really bothered to examine the blond siren. He had always been far too irritated, or distracted, or... just plain out of it to really give him a good look. But now that he had... Well, he could certainly say the color matched his personality. The yellow of his scales was just as bright and annoying as its bearer. It was almost enough to, in Dipper's deprived state, melt him down to nothing but a puddle of giggles, it fit so well.

Luckily, though, Bill started using his magic before that could happen.

Dipper perked up as Bill held up his right hand – the one that bore the markings signifying their deal – and, gaze focused on something Dipper couldn't see, he conjured a sideways triangle, almost like an arrow, in his palm, aiming it at whatever his focus was on. The arrow seemed to be made of blue light – probably because it was completely composed of Bill's magic.

Then, Bill took a breath and released it. Half a second later, smirking in triumph, Bill made a motion like he was beckoning something over to him, and a fish, now dead, came shooting back to him. He caught it easily and brought it to Dipper, offering it to him smugly.

Admittedly impressed and slightly fascinated, Dipper accepted the fish. This only caused Bill's smirk to widen, and while that should have been a feat in and of itself, at least enough of one to mildly intrigue Dipper, in that moment, honestly, the brunet couldn't care less. He was actually pretty hungry, and the fish smelled pretty good. As soon as he'd consumed it, Bill was dragging him off again, this time to a small cove, and all but shoving him onto the ground. "There. You've eaten. Now sleep." The yellow-tailed siren commanded.

"I- can't just..." Dipper objected.

Bill frowned. "Insomnia?" He asked, visibly irritated. Dipper nodded. Rolling is eyes, Bill swam forward, invading Dipper's personal space, and reached up to Dipper's face. Gently brushing away brunet hair before its owner could protest, Bill lightly stroked Dipper's forehead.

The touch sent a soft surge of magic through Dipper, relaxing, calming him down, and swiftly putting him to sleep.

~~~

After that incident, Bill found other small reasons to use his magic around Dipper as they traveled. Whether it was more hunting, making Dipper to sleep again, or illuminating their path as the moon waned and the nights got darker because of it, Bill would use almost any excuse to be a show-off and use his powers.

It was on one such night while Bill was illuminating their surroundings with his magic and was stopping Dipper to insist that they both take a load off, that Dipper had a thought.

He looked down, absently observing the seaweed below them as it swayed lazily in the soft current, its color washed blue by Bill's magic. He chewed his lip in thought, a determined expression claiming his features. His eyes flicked up to Bill, searching the blond's face, then moving to his glowing hand for a moment, as Dipper pieced together the insistent strands of thoughts poking about in his mind. Taking a breath, he squared his shoulders and straightened his back before declaring, "Teach me."

Bill blinked in surprise.

"I'm serious. Teach me how to use my magic." Dipper insisted.

"Oh, I'm sure you're very serious. But what will I get in return?" Bill replied smoothly. His gaze was level, revealing none of his thoughts or emotions.

"What do you want?" The brunet inquired with a shrug.

Bill arched his brow in intrigue. "What do you have to offer?"

"I..." Dipper glanced away, thinking. He'd known Bill would want something in return – so far he seemed like the type of guy who thought that everything had a price. But Dipper had nothing with him (not that he thought Bill would want any of his stuff anyway), and he had no clue what he could offer the dealmaker. Besides, Bill had already gotten an IOU from him. Dipper wasn't sure if he'd accept another.

"How about this," Bill began, gliding over and wrapping an arm around Dipper's shoulders. "If I teach you how to use your magic, then you stick around." When Dipper's eyebrows furrowed, he continued. "I know sirens tend to prefer solitude or large groups since we're all badasses and betrayal is our thing – of course I would, I'm one of 'em, why wouldn't I – but here's the thing about solitude," he made gestures as he spoke, communicating with his free hand as much as with his voice. "Not only is it lonely, but more often than not, it's boring."

"But- why me?" Dipper asked incredulously.

"You're smart, kid. You should be able to figure it out for yourself." Bill quipped, placing a hand on Dipper's shoulder. "However, I do have to admit you seem more than a little dense, so I'll let you in on this one." He pulled his hand away until nothing but his index finger remained in feather-light contact with the scales on Dipper's shoulder, dragging the appendage up the brunet's neck, ghosting by the edges of his gills and along his jaw-line to push his chin up and lock their eyes. "I like you, kid. You're not as dumb as the average sentient being." He took his finger from beneath Dipper's chin and booped his nose. "And you're cute."

"I- thanks?" Dipper replied uncertainly, bewildered and blushing brightly.

"No problem, Pine Tree!" Bill grinned.

"But I'll have to think about it..." Dipper trailed off.

"What? You were determined to make a deal, and now you're hesitating? What's that about?" The blond catechized. Sighing, he shook his head. "Kid, there's a lot of stuff to know about magic. Heck, I'm sure there's things even I don't know! You can't just learn it all in a day. It takes time. If you really want to learn how to use your magic, I can teach you, but you've gotta stick with me until you've learned everything." Dipper bit the inside of his cheek as Bill offered his hand, which was glowing once again, and went on. "So, Pine Tree, how 'bout it? Do we have a deal?"

After Bill's explanation, it took Dipper maybe all of ten seconds to make up his mind.

He shook Bill's hand.

Chapter Text

Fiddleford Hadron McGucket was a man with morals.

Normally, helping a conniving little weasel of a man capture a (probably) innocent, sentient creature of the sea would not have fit beneath those morals. But when that man-child threatened the life of his son, Fiddleford supposed he didn't have much of a choice in whether or not he could adhere to his morals. Besides, it was highly unlikely that...

The probability that they would capture...

Anyone falling for it would have to be an airhead, and that didn't describe...

The door behind Fiddleford slammed open suddenly, and he jumped in surprise, bumping his head on the edge of the contraption he was working on. He sucked a breath in through his teeth and rubbed his forehead where he'd hit it.

"Are you quite finished yet, Fiddleford? Time is valuable, and it's a-wastin'!" Came the sickly-sweet voice of his "employer", Gideon Gleeful, the sea-bound menace to magical creatures everywhere.

At the sound of Gideon's shoes clicking across the wood flooring toward him, Fiddleford hastily tinkered with his machine, making sure that nothing was too loose or too tight, before spinning around on his stool and shoving his device at the deceitful captain. "There. Just drop that in the water and wait," he grit out, folding his arms and frowning.

"Why, thank you!" Gideon chimed. Handing the device to a tall, muscular man behind him, he sweetly said, "Ghost Eyes, be a dear and do that for me, would you?"

"Sure thing, boss man," the man responded, grinning so that the skin at the corners of his odd, milky, yet fully functional eyes crinkled. Ghost Eyes saluted good-naturedly before leaving to do as he was told.

"Now, then," Gideon began, turning back to Fiddleford. "You best hope this works, or your son's last thought will be that you failed him." He put on a smile so fake that it looked ominous and walked to the doorway of the room. "But I trust that won't happen." He hummed as he closed the door, returning McGucket to his solitude.

~~~

Maybe seven minutes later, the menace retuned.

Fiddleford had laid his head down on the work table in an attempt to get some much needed rest, but it was cut depressingly short by the reappearance of that swine-esque face and nasally voice that he had begun to hate so vehemently.

"Rise and shine, Fiddleford! Why don'tcha come and see what your cat dragged in?" Gideon sang as Ghost Eyes walked in and unchained Fiddleford from the table, securing the freed shackle around the inventor's other leg.

"What?" McGucket asked as Ghost Eyes forced him to his feet and toward the door.

"Your machine caught somethin'!" Gideon replied cheerfully. "And we're just gonna go and have a little look-see to find out what it was!"

~~~

The girl they'd captured looked vaguely familiar, terrified, and pissed.

Her thick, long brown hair was tangled in the net from the trap he made that held her, her bright pink scales shimmered with flashes of yellow, teal, purple, and orange in the sunlight, her earfins were turned down in fear and rage, and her almost-pink amber eyes were narrowed with the same emotions.

He lowered his head in shame that he had aided in the imprisonment of such a beautiful and free-willed creature and reminded himself that he was doing this for his son.

He tried to tune out the one-sided conversation taking place before him, but he still heard every word, regret making itself at home in a place deep within his chest.

He wasn't surprised when Gideon "suggested" that he room with the girl, simply sighing and allowing Ghost Eyes to lead him after the crewmen carrying her. When she started making audible noises of pain, he tried to tell the men that she would die without water, so they needed to hurry, but they silenced him and refused to quicken their pace. At least, until she began screaming, that was. At that point they started jogging, and then running, as her screams got louder and louder. He found it difficult to run with his legs chained together, but swallowed his protests for the girl's sake.

Shit, did they really have to keep the tank so deep in the ship?! By now, the girl had quieted; the only sounds filling the hallway were those of her ragged and weakening breathing, the huffing pants of the crew, and their frantic, hurried footsteps.

Eventually, they made it, dropping the girl – net and all – into the glass tank that took up nearly half the room. Fiddleford could only hope that it was soon enough.

Ghost Eyes unchained the inventor's wrists and released one of his legs, only to connect the shackle to another chain attached to the wall. Before Ghost Eyes departed, he left McGucket with words profound enough to rival a fortune teller's, "You better hope she actually is a mermaid, 'cause that chain is long enough to reach the tank."

Wise words indeed.

~~~

Being locked in a room with an unconscious aquatic being, who could either be man-eating or a sort of vegetarian of the species, and having nothing to do was definitely not the best thing for one's nerves.

That was why, after a few minutes of pacing, Fiddleford set about freeing the girl – who was actually still alive, just severely dehydrated. It was tedious, and he had to be very gentle, lest he wake her or hurt her further. He managed to do it, though, and placed the empty net in the far corner of the room.

With that task done, he was back to having nothing to do, so he decided to check her for injuries. This, too, proved difficult, and there were a few moments where he was afraid that she was waking up, but he succeeded, determining that, other than the obvious ailments of dehydration and a basketful of cuts, bruises, and rope burns, the girl was relatively fine.

While he was inspecting her, he noticed that her back, while sporting a fin, also hosted an interesting configuration of scales. Starting at the base of her neck and stopping around the middle of her back was a lumpy, yellow blotch that vaguely resembled a star. Sprouting from that and fading into the pink of her tail were three stripes: one purple, one teal, and the last orange. All together, it sort of looked like a shooting star, and although it wiggled a memory deep within the inventor's mind, it did not knock it loose.

Fiddleford tried pondering that instead of all of his regrets as he waited for the girl to come to.

\/\/\

The first thing Mabel became aware of was pain.

A skull-splitting headache pierced her cranium, angrily throbbing against her temples; hunger buzzed in her stomach, threatening to make it collapse in on itself; dryness afflicted her throat and eyes, an unpleasant sensation she had encountered only a few times before; the very fire of the sun seemed to have contained itself within her scales, the burning akin to a mixture of sunburn and the dryness of her throat; and a stiffness pulled at her skin, scales, and joints, minutely restricting her movements.

Her eyebrows furrowed above closed lids as she grimaced in pain, and the groan that slipped from her slightly parted lips was cut off by a coughing fit, bubbles rising from her mouth in bursts. Once she'd stopped, she curled in on herself and tried groaning again. It was raspy but successful.

She focussed on breathing shallowly so that her movements would be as small as possible to minimize as much pain as she could. She whimpered softly and bit her lip when she accidentally breathed in too quickly, her scales protesting sharply at the movement, feeling as though they might rip apart. Gradually, she began to breathe more deeply, hoping it would make the dryness in her throat go away sooner.

Mabel laid there until her headache dulled – it still faintly squeezed her brain, but it was now only barely noticeable. Hesitantly cracking open an eye, she was relieved to find darkness and proceeded to open her eyes fully.

Shock sparked through her as she realized that what she was looking at was wood. She then also became aware of the unnatural smoothness of the ground she was lying on, and of the staleness of the water she was in.

Mabel blinked in alarm, sat up – ignoring the pain caused by doing so – and looked around. She was in a small, dark room, and a single door across from her was the only way in or out. Five boxes hanging from the walls contained flickering lights, illuminating her sparse surroundings, which included the crusty brown chain hanging near one of the lights. Following the chain downwards, she startled at the sight of the human attached to it lying asleep on the floor.

Memories of recent events came flooding back to her. The box, the net, Dipper vowing to save her, the fat little beady-eyed man, Fiddleford and his prominent aura of remorse, the intense pain of drying out, screaming and writhing, the final relieving coolness before she'd passed out.

Mabel sighed and rubbed her face in exhaustion that was more than just physical. While she still ached straight through to her bones, she had gone through a lot – being kidnapped by a disgusting human, admittedly feeling pity for the man that had apparently created the trap that got her into this mess, and almost dying by drying out – and while she had just woken up, it had been from something that was more akin to a mental shutdown than actual rest. She was tired, and she still needed sleep – real sleep, not an automatic shutdown caused by sensory overload, as Dipper or Great Uncle Ford would call it.

So, rubbing her face one more time, she laid back down and fell into a dreamless sleep, not quite sure what she was hoping for, but hoping for it with her all, regardless.

Chapter Text

Mabel was startled awake by a loud sound that shook the walls that contained her. She jolted to a sitting position as her eyes flew open, immediately regretting it when her aching muscles flared in protest. She hissed in pain before looking about the room for the source of the noise.

Her eyes narrowed into a glare as soon as she found it.

Captain Gleeful stood proudly in the doorway, having apparently thrown the door open moments before, causing the loud sound that had woken her up. His beady gaze swept the room, settling on the only other human in it. "G'mornin' Fiddleford! You slept well, I presume?" He asked, grinning arrogantly.

Fiddleford simply scowled in response.

Despite her soreness, Mabel pushed herself up – discovering that the water only went a few inches past her head when she was sitting – and gripped the top of the clear wall to hold herself above it. Everyone's eyes snapped to her, and she frowned.

The Captain's grin only seemed to widen, and he stepped closer. "Mornin' to you too, beautiful! It's wonderful to see you awake! My first mate Ghost Eyes, here, told me you almost didn't make it!" He gestured behind him to the muscular man now standing in the doorway. He motioned to himself as he continued. "I'm Gideon Gleeful, the Captain of this fine ship! Might I inquire as to what a lovely creature such as yourself would be called?"

Mabel narrowed her eyes and held back a hiss. A deep scowl formed on her face as she attempted to hold back the growl that tried to take its place.

"Hmm. Are you mute? I know mermaids can speak, and I know you can understand me." Gideon huffed, unimpressed.

A small smirk found its way to Mabel's lips. "Man, it would be really awkward if you were wrong, wouldn't it?" She asked hoarsely, voice strained and gravelly from disuse.

Gideon lifted an eyebrow. He hummed thoughtfully. "I suppose." He grinned predatorily as he went on, "But you can, so we don't have to worry about that, do we?"

Mabel pouted, huffing unhappily.

Then her stomach growled. Loudly.

Gideon grinned and laughed. It was an annoying sound. "Hungry, are we?" He turned around. "Ghost Eyes, could you get the lovely lady a bit of food? I'm going to go check our progress. I'll be in my quarters if you need me."

With Ghost Eyes giving an affirmative, the two left, closing the door behind them.

Mabel glared hostilely at the door, hatred bubbling within her, and silence stretched out between the two prisoners left in the room.

Fiddleford cleared his throat awkwardly. "So, um. Hello... I suppose I should introduce myself... I am Fiddleford Hadron McGucket," He paused uncertainly. "Then again, I'm sure you already know that by now..." He trailed off, rubbing his arm and glancing away nervously.

Mabel inspected him silently for a moment, lips pursed. "He said you were the one that built the trap, right?"

He winced. "Yes..." He shook his head, guilt written all over him. "B-but I didn't want to, honest." He hesitated. "Gideon threatened my son. I couldn't- H-he would've- And I-"

Mabel felt tension she didn't know she had leaking out of her. Pity readily replaced it, yet she tried to keep her expression from showing it, giving him the kindest look she could muster instead. "Hey, hey, calm down. I get it."

He froze, blinking in surprise. "You do?"

A small, reassuring smile found its way to Mabel's lips as she nodded.

"Thank you," he sighed in relief, then tensed again, watching her warily. "That means you aren't planning on eating me... Right?"

Mabel laughed, the sound not as joyful and bubbly as it normally would have been, since she still ached all over. "Correct-amundo!" She exclaimed, grinning.

Fiddleford let out the breath he'd unconsciously been holding, let out a relieved laugh, and slumped against the wall, relaxing completely at last.

The siren smiled as she watched him. "Mabel." She said after a moment.

Fiddleford looked up in confusion. "What?"

"Mabel. That's my name." She replied.

The inventor blinked. "Oh," his eyes widened. "Oh! Well, hello, Mabel! It's a pleasure to meet you!" He told her, a smile of his own forming on his lips as he adjusted his glasses.

"You too, Fiddleford!" She returned, amused by his obvious excitement.

He continued to grin for a moment until his expression dropped, and guilt found its way back to his features. "I'm so sorry about all of this, Mabel. You must really miss your family. I know I do." Fiddleford sighed; it sounded sad, with traces of regret and longing.

"It's alright, I guess. Could be worse." Mabel admitted, shrugging.

"Well, that's true, I suppose." The human allowed uncertainly.

"My brother's gonna save me soon, anyway!" Mabel chirped, grinning as she remembered.

Fiddleford blinked in surprise. "Your brother?"

"Yup!" Mabel's tail flicked happily. "If anyone could save me, it'd be my twin brother, Dipper Pines!"

"Pines?" Fiddleford gasped, eyes widening behind his small, round glasses. "M-Mabel," he began haltingly, scrambling closer. "Y-you... You would't..."

Mabel tipped her head questioningly.

He anxiously studied her face for a moment before taking a deep breath and nervously asking, "You wouldn't happen to be related to a Stanford Pines, would'ya?"

Mabel's eyes blew wide in shock. How could a human know her great uncle? Before she could say anything however, the door opened again and Ghost Eyes walked in, holding a plate of raw meat.

Mabel's mouth watered, and her mind focused solely on the food coming her way; it had been a while since she'd had anything to eat, even if sirens didn't need to eat or sleep as often as humans. She stared hungrily at the meat, nearly swooning as the scent of fish blood hit her. She leaned forward unconsciously, the edge of the clear wall poking into her ribs.

Ghost Eyes looked indifferent as he approached but held the plate at arm's length, either not liking the prospect of getting fish blood on himself or of getting too close to the siren, but Mabel honestly could not care any less. It was the soft rattle of chains and the loud growl of a stomach that was not hers that drew her from her food-induced trance.

Mabel's hand paused halfway to the plate, and she blinked, turning her head to look at her chained companion. Fiddleford's face was as red as Dipper' and the Stans' tails combined, and he was decidedly not focusing on either of the others in the room.

"Fiddleford," Mabel called evenly, one eyebrow raised slightly.

"Yes?" He replied, intently inspecting something on the wall beside him that he had thrown himself back toward in fear when Ghost Eyes entered.

"How long has it been since you ate something?"

Silence filled the room like a thick fog, almost palpable in it's uncomfortable intensity.

"It's been, ah... a few days?" He eventually answered, volume low in his uncertainty of both the exact amount of time and what was happening.

"I thought humans ate more than once daily?" Mabel wondered aloud, almost innocently. Her calmness and the clear anger lurking just beneath it were more threatening than outright rage could ever hope to be, giving the aura of the room an unsettling vibe.

Fiddleford blinked and looked back at the girl, expression curious, if a bit nervous. "We usually do..." He told her, giving Ghost Eyes a quick glance.

"Is there a reason you haven't been feeding him?" She asked the muscular man before her, tone intimidatingly sweet.

Ghost Eyes swallowed indiscreetly, suppressing the uneasiness that had begun creeping up on him. "Captain's orders," he informed her.

"Well... Ghost Eyes? That is your name, right?" Mabel began, her amber eyes glinting pink and holding something cold within their depths.

"Yes, Ma'am." He replied easily.

Mabel nodded, smiling pleasantly. "You can tell your captain that starving someone is wrong, and he needs to check his morals and priorities and get them in order." She suggested sweetly. "I'm not sure how well known this is amongst humans, but mermaids can sing just as well as sirens. If you catch my... drift." She laughed brightly at her own joke, the happy and bubbly sound somehow chilling the room. "Just make sure he knows that, alright?" She winked, and her inhumanly sharp teeth bared themselves in a cheek-splitting grin.

Ghost Eyes blanched, expression tightening. "So you, uh, want me to go get him some food?"

"That was the plan, yes." Mabel bat her eyelashes and took the plate of meat from the human.

Nodding shortly, Ghost Eyes turned and left the room as Mabel placed a strip of food in her mouth, chewing it contentedly. From the floor, Fiddleford stared at her with wonder, mouth hanging open in awe.

Mabel hummed happily as the door closed behind the beefy man, eating away at the fish he had given her, eyes closed as she tasted each bite. Satisfaction surged through her, caused by the flavor of the food and by getting her way. She was not surprised, though. No. Mabel always got her way, one way or another. Always.

That might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but she felt like a badass at the moment, and admitting that she might have kind-of-sort-of been lying would really kill her mood, so she refrained from doing that.

Chapter Text

"You didn't have to do that..." Fiddleford said without much conviction.

Mabel paused halfway through a strip of fish, gaze shifting to the human blankly. She resembled a child in that moment, with the food hanging out of her mouth and the owlish way she blinked at her companion – if one disregarded the blood dribbling down her chin or the fact that she almost always seemed to have a juvenile mien. Slurping down the remainder of the meat she had been working on, she declared, "Well, I did it anyway, so you'll just have to deal with it."

"Wha-... Oh. Oh! No, that's not what I... What I meant was- I mean-" The man sputtered awkwardly.

Mabel giggled softly as Fiddleford stumbled over his words for a minute. Eventually, she stopped him by gently remarking, "I was joking, Fiddleford. Your reaction was definitely adorable, though."

His face turned red as he blushed, an odd expression that seemed to be a mixture of confusion and embarrassment adorning it as well.

"Seriously, though," Mabel went on. "I wasn't just gonna sit back and watch you starve."

"I-" Fiddleford blinked as though uncertain how to respond. "Thank you," he seemed to settle on with a small, grateful smile.

"No problem!" Mabel chirped happily. Giggling, she added, "His reaction was pretty great, too! He looked like he was going to crap himself!"

"I suppose it was pretty funny," Fiddleford allowed, chuckling.

They sat in a pleasant silence until the door opened once again. A younger male walked in this time, holding another plate of something that smelled like fish, but... different. Mabel wasn't sure how to describe it, but if she had to, she'd say it was kind of dry and warm. She eyed it skeptically. "That's edible for humans, right?"

The guy answered with a thick accent, "Well, yes. Yes, it is."

"Good." Mabel nodded and gestured to the inventor. "Give it to Fiddleford, then."

The only person with relative freedom in the room returned her nod briskly and did as asked.

Then Mabel took the chance to really look at him.

And, man, did she regret not doing that sooner.

This guy was gorgeous.

Dark chocolate locks seemed to flow from his head like a river, loosely tied back by a green bow. Accenting his angular face, two glittering orbs the color of the waterlogged wood of a long sunken ship were embedded above the swell of his cheekbones, and traces of a mustache lined his upper lip. His tanned and toned torso and arms were covered by a loose shirt, once-white material yellowed from age and use. The puffy fabric stopped just past his elbows and hung a little low on his chest, a v-shaped cut laced with some sort of string causing it to hang even lower (not that Mabel was complaining). His lower half was adorned by green pants that cut off just below his knees, and brown leather sandals protected the bottom of his feet from the wooden flooring of the ship.

Mabel had a hard time keeping herself from drooling.

"I will be leaving, now," the young man announced.

"What," Mabel protested, snapping out of her fantasies, "Why? You can stay and talk a while, if you want."

The guy shook his head, "I have other duties. I must go."

"Aww," Mabel whined, pouting. "At least tell me your name, then."

"Armando," he told her with a small smile.

"Mabel," she returned the favor with a brilliant grin, fluttering her eyelashes flirtatiously.

"A pleasure to be meeting you, Miss Mabel," Armando grinned, bowing slightly.

"And you as well, Armando," Mabel gushed.

Straightening himself again, Armando spoke, "I truly must be going now, but perhaps I will see you again."

"Boy, do I hope so," Mabel breathed airily, resting her elbow on the edge of the glass wall and cupping her chin with her hand.

Armando walked to the door and turned around once he reached it. "Goodbye, Miss Mabel," he bowed as he bid her farewell and faced Fiddleford to do the same, "Mr. McGucket." With that, he left, and Mabel sighed, hosting a dazed expression.

A fond chuckle snapped Mabel out of her lovesick haze. "You sure seemed to like him," Fiddleford commented knowingly.

"He was cute," she shrugged shamelessly, still staring at the door through which the man had left.

Fiddleford laughed.

Chapter Text

Bill Cipher was a charmer.

Literally.

At the left corner of his mouth resided a small birthmark in the shape of a perfect triangle – just one of the dozens of similar marks speckling the siren's skin. Each and every one of the triangular freckles was a signum magiae, and displayed the sheer magnitude of his magic. Though the triangle itself was a simple shape and did not offer much power, the vast amount of them easily made up for it. They all had their own purposes: the ring of alternating triangles around his neck enhanced his already-hypnotizing singing talent, the two triangles on his forehead – one for each of his temples – hidden strategically by his hairstyle, granted him his dealmaking abilities, the bow-tie-looking signum at the base of his neck gave him the power to shape-shift, and the countless other triangles marking his skin demonstrated the sheer power he possessed.

Bill Cipher was very powerful, and seemed to stop at nothing to acquire more power.

Because of this, he was called many things.

Liar. Traitor. Cheat. Good-for-nothing. Evil.

Demon.

Countless insults and slurs were thrown at him, but he always laughed them off.

His actions were justified, he always told himself. These fools were only a means to an end. Most of the time, what they asked for was horrible, immoral. Besides, it was their own faults that they fell for his tricks anyway.

They underestimated him, just because he was about three decades over three centuries old by human time – a young age for a siren – they figured his youth would make him unskilled, easy to take advantage of. They were wrong.

So, why let their enraged words get to him when he could just laugh at their desperate attempts to provoke him?

This kid, though...

Pine Tree was different.

He was the one he had been searching for for so long.

It had to be him; Bill had already messed up once, like that bumbling idiot had said he would, so this had to be it. Regardless of that, though, everything about the kid basically screamed, Right here, dimwit! This is the guy you've been looking for! This literally can not be any more obvious without being intentionally insulting! He's the key to-

Well.

The point was pretty obvious by now.

Everything about Pine Tree was a blinding beacon to Bill.

His back mark, their deal markings, his signum – heck, even the kid's name made it painfully obvious.

So, all Bill had to do was get on the kid's good side, which was easy enough. A little playfulness here, some mild honesty there. Throw in some helpful, "caring" gestures, and winning the kid over was easier than taking a fresh kill from a hatchling!

There was one problem, though.

Bill was starting to get attached.

He hadn't been lying when he'd told the brunet that he liked him, or that he was cute. Those large, rust-colored eyes, cute button nose, and naturally pouty lips made him look adorable. And he had brains, too! It hadn't taken long for Bill to figure that out.

His smarts became even more apparent when Bill began to instruct him in magic.

As it was to be expected, Pine Tree had a bit of difficulty at first, but as soon as he got a grasp on what he was supposed to be doing, he accomplished the task fairly quickly. Bill was mildly impressed with him, and he stated as much, if only to butter the kid up (summoning a ball of pure magic, while simple, was usually pretty hard to get a grasp on and often took beginners days to figure out; it barely took Pine Tree half an hour).

However, after a few days – not even a week – Bill noticed that watching the kid began to give him some weird feelings.

The expressions the kid made when he succeeded in a task made Bill feel nauseous. Especially the first time Pine Tree managed to summon his own magic; he stared in awe at the floating, golden ball with his big, brown eyes like it held all the secrets of the multiverse, and it made Bill feel like hundreds of guppies were wiggling around in his intestines. He got the same feeling whenever Pine Tree would even just smile.

It got worse as the days wore on.

Bill would find his thoughts drifting from his plans to his red-tailed companion. From the way his brunet hair swayed in the currents, to the way his deep brown eyes glittered when he figured out a new spell, and the way his scales shimmered in the sunlight or looked almost navy blue in the shade. He'd think about Pine Tree's adorable tendency to blush and his laugh. He'd think about how the kid kept surprising him with his intelligence. He'd think about the banter they exchanged and how easily the kid kept up with him during those back-and-forths.

Bill started noticing other things, too.

Things about Pine Tree.

Like the way his nose scrunched up whenever something displeased him – there were a few times he'd gotten himself caught in some seaweed while Bill just floated nearby and laughed at how ridiculous he looked. Or the way he'd subconsciously stick his tongue out when he was immersed in focusing on a new spell. The way he'd tried to act exasperated at Bill's terrible jokes, but Bill would still catch him smiling softly to himself. The way he'd occasionally stare off in the direction of Gideon's boat, eyebrows creased and lips pressed thin in worry, but he would play it off as nothing whenever Bill snapped him out of it.

While most of the things Pine Tree did caused Bill's heart to stutter, that last one caused the organ to ache. It made his heart scream at him that he should comfort the kid, that he knew that pain, that Pine Tree shouldn't have to feel that.

He ignored it.

This wasn't about Bill. It never had been. He couldn't let himself get caught up with anything but his schemes. He could listen to his feelings after he'd completed and achieved his plans.

Nothing was more important.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to him.

He could get rid of – or, at the very least, abate – those pesky emotions if he just did one little thing.

And who knew? Maybe it would help the kid with his magic lessons too.

Chapter Text

Fiddleford had taken both of their plates and set them by the door once they were done, returning to his previous spot immediately after.

Mabel's eyes widened as she suddenly remembered something. "Hey, Fiddleford?"

"Yes?" He responded, tilting his head curiously.

"Earlier, you asked me something, but we were interrupted before I could respond," she began. Fiddleford seemed confused for a second before his eyes widened in recognition. Mabel continued before he could speak. "First though, how do you know of Stanford Pines?"

Fiddleford glanced to the side nervously, biting his lip. Taking a deep breath, he told her his story. "Around forty years ago, I met a man. He looked to be older than me, and he wasn't the most eloquent; in fact, he spoke as though he was from an entirely different time period. But there was something... enchanting about him, so when told me he had heard from the townsfolk that I was an excellent scientist and mechanic, and that he would like for me to assist him in documenting all sorts of unnatural and natural phenomena and to teach him how to build things, I couldn't refuse. I was too intrigued. As soon as I agreed, he got excited and told me that he needed to get some things ready, and he would return the next day so that we could begin.

"As promised, he came back the following day, only this time, he was accompanied by another, younger-looking man. This other man seemed horribly familiar to me for some reason, but I had no idea why – to this day, I still don't. However, he seemed to recognize me completely, and tried to convince his companion that they didn't need my assistance. The first man stood his ground, telling the second that the townsfolk had said that I was the best mechanic in the country, and an amazing scientist to boot; my help would be invaluable. He would not be swayed, and we began working together after that, to the apparent displeasure of the second man. Though he made it seem as if he got over it quickly, the second man still did countless things to spite me over the ten years we worked together. But that's a segue for another tangent.

"Anyway, the first man was rather up front about what he was as soon as he discovered that I believed in the supernatural and had an open mind about it. He told me that he and his companion were both sirens, and explained everything about the species to me. We became... good friends.

"At the end of those ten years, he came to me, frantic and frazzled. He said he'd found something out about his companion, and that the biggest of the projects we'd been working on was far more sinister than the two of us had been led to believe.

"The project was a device that amplified the sirens' magic in order to open a portal to other dimensions. He said that his companion had convinced us to build it so that he could bring back a criminal who had been banished from our dimension for committing an unspeakable crime. He'd been lied to by his companion the entire time, and it absolutely devastated him. He told me to hide all of the research we'd gathered, that he'd dismantle the portal, and that he needed to leave anyway – he had family to return to. I... let him go. I knew he was too stubborn for me to be able to convince him to stay, so there was nothing I could do. Then, he left, and I never saw either of them again," he trailed off, staring off into the distance forlornly, reminiscing. After a moment, he snapped out of it, blinking as he focused back in on the present, and turned to Mabel. "The man's name was Stanford Pines. That's how I know him."

Mabel had listened with rapt attention throughout the entire story, laying her chin on her crossed forearms atop the edge of her container. Her eyes were wide by the end of the tale, and she was absolutely astonished. "Ford's my great uncle," she admitted quickly. "But how- Sirens don't have legs! How could he have-," she gasped in realization, "That would explain where he was those ten years, but I still don't-"

"He's your great uncle?" Fiddleford asked, seeming excited, but when Mabel started questioning the logistics, he blinked in surprise. "You mean you don't know?" He tilted his head, befuddled.

"Know what?" Mabel questioned.

Fiddleford hunkered down for another explanation. "There is something called a signum magiae," he told her everything that he himself had been told by her great uncle. He told her what signums were, how they worked, and how her great uncle had a more "hands-on" type of magic because of his sixth fingers – that he usually had to either touch what he was using his magic on, or make elaborate gestures to use his magic.

Mabel stared into the void once Fiddleford had finished, overwhelmed. "This is a lot to take in," she said eventually. She blinked a few times to help focus her eyes and looked back to Fiddleford. "And it seems like you've really missed him," she pointed out knowingly. "I think what both of us need right now is a hug."

"A... Hug?" Fiddleford blinked in confusion.

Mabel nodded sagely, reaching a hand out to him. "Trust me. I'm probably almost three-hundred years old in your human measurements. I have a lot of experiences in matters such as this. And hugs are definitely the best medicine." She paused thoughtfully. "I'm not gonna eat you or anything, if that's what you're worried about."

Hesitantly, Fiddleford stood, approaching Mabel slowly. He nervously inspected Mabel's hand before he took it. As soon as their skin made contact, the inventor froze, and his eyes began to glow a pure white.

Mabel didn't have any time to react as Fiddleford began to speak in a distant voice, the sound echoing as though being spoken by a thousand celestial beings.

"A Shooting Star shall light the way
For a Tree of Pine to help a Blaze,
Two trades shall take place,
And one will be a mistake.
The other will be an equivalent exchange.
One's half for the other's,
For two determined brothers
The price will not be as simple as thought,
As, when dealing with magic,
It's best not to get caught."

Once Fiddleford stopped speaking, his eyes ceased glowing, and he nearly slumped over, but caught himself before he could fall, stumbling to regain his balance. "Oh my, I'm suddenly very dizzy."

Mabel simply stared at him in shock, gaping uselessly. "What just happened?" She inquired weakly.

Fiddleford's hand clutched hers tighter as he got back his footing, while his other held his head. "What do you mean," he returned dazedly.

"You just- with the voice- and the glowing eyes- and the rhyming..." She stuttered.

"What now?" He replied, rubbing his forehead. "What are you talking about?"

Mabel blinked. "You mean you don't know?" She unintentionally quoted.

"Know what?" He recited just as accidentally.

With one last blank blink, Mabel shook her head. "It's- it's nothing. Never mind. I just thought I saw something. I guess I just need some rest. Looks like you do too – you can barely stand up!"

Fiddleford gave her one last confused look before agreeing. "If you say so."

"I do! Go sit down and take a nap!" Mabel ordered cheerfully.

The inventor nodded and stumbled back over to his spot, nearly collapsing into it and falling asleep almost immediately.

Mabel watched him with thinly veiled concern, sinking back into her container. She had no idea what any of this meant, or how to deal with it. She was currently more emotionally exhausted than she had ever been before, and to top it all off, she was still a bit achy from her netted adventure. As she gently settled against the floor, she decided to follow her companion's example, and she drifted off to sleep with the hope that it would all be easier to process when she woke up.