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Universe Falls

Chapter Text

ZHOFRPH WR JUDYLWB IDOOV.

Oregon, 1843

The Crystal Gems had always loyally followed their respected leader anywhere she led without question. They had followed her into battle against their former Homeworld. They had followed her into the unknown after the war, in her resolve to eternally protect the earth from harm. They followed her on all of their countless treks across the planet over the past several centuries.

Which was why it wasn’t such a ceremonious event when they found themselves wandering the thick forests of a territory that the humans had only recently dubbed “Oregon”.

Even though it had been midday when the Gems had entered the woods, the towering canopy of lush pine trees shielded a great deal of light from the forest floor. The path they were taking was a relatively new one, as told from its rugged boarders and footprints and wagon tracks that told of recent travel upon it and seemed to be what they were following. A rather unsettling breeze wafted through the light needles of the trees, whistling in tune with the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of insects. Aside from the sparse natural lighting, an array of summer fireflies also danced loftily through the trees, giving the forest both an enchanting, yet undoubtedly mysterious vibe.

The sudden hooting of an owl perched upon a nearby branch was what caught Pearl’s attention specifically as she kept close behind Rose, never straying too far from her beloved liege as usual. Garnet and Amethyst marched single-file behind her, the former keeping up a firm, resolute pace and the latter meandering about in wide-eyed curiosity. Pearl herself at long last tore her eyes away from Rose’s cascading pink ringlets in front of her, to the eerie low lighting of the woods all around them, a frown crossing her features as she tried to reason what purpose their esteemed leader had in bringing them to such a seemingly empty place.

Pearl quickened her pace a bit to keep up with Rose, her lithe legs not missing a step as she held her hands close to her, trying her best not to let her worry show. And yet, she couldn’t help but feel apprehensive all the same. Pearl had always been one to air on the side of caution in most situations, her carefulness and precise nature often being both a strength and a weakness depending on the task at hand. And yet, even with her fretful traits aside, the white Gem had picked up on the obvious. Something was strange about these woods, something that she couldn’t quite pinpoint. Neither her nor the other Gems could reasonably admit to sensing the presence of any rouge Gem monsters in the area, which was what their usual targets were. But if that was the case, then why had they even wandered out this far away from human civilization in the first place?

“Um… Rose?” Pearl finally spoke up, unable to retain her bubbling curiosity any longer. She reached a hand up towards her superior’s shoulder, but she quickly retracted it as a spark of the usual excitement and nervousness that came along with so much as even touching her illustrious Rose Quartz ran through her. “Are you sure we’re heading the right way? We’ve been wandering these woods for hours and we haven’t spotted a single sign of… well, whatever it is we’re supposed to be looking for.”

“We’re heading the right way,” Rose assured in her silky, melodic voice, her tone unusually serious as she kept her sights solely on the path ahead. “I can feel it.”

Pearl raised a confused eyebrow at this, but before she could press as to what Rose meant, Garnet, who usually used what few words she spoke sparingly, ventured the question instead. “Feel what?” she asked, her tone as stoic and calm as usual.

“We’re close…” Rose said, hiding the small hint of apprehension in her tone well as her luxurious curls twisted gracefully as she walked. “Of course, you all remember me telling you about the rumors of… anomalies that humans in this part of the continent have been spreading around? Well, I have reason to believe we’re heading towards the source of such strangeness.”

“Anomalies?” Amethyst spoke up, her tone emanating her obvious confusion. The youngest and smallest Gem of the bunch, Amethyst had no qualms about letting her curiosity be known, especially when it came to human-related affairs. After all, humans were such fascinating, often hilarious creatures; spectating them was something of a sport for the small purple Gem. “As in… Gem monsters?”

Rose shook her head, taking in a deep breath as he dark eyes scanned the forest ahead, feeling the chill on the wind even more than her companions did. She was admittedly more sensitive to such things than other Gems; she always had been. She could feel that there was an imbalance of energy all around them, in the air, in the ground, in the very flora and fauna that surrounded them. And under her sworn duty to protect the earth, she was determined to find out what was causing it.

“No…” she said solemnly, still not turning to face her fellow Gems. As she spoke however, Garnet found her attention briefly diverted away from her leader. Amethyst sauntered past the taller Gem casually, while she stopped for a brief moment, her head turning with the breeze as it blew past her. The rustling of the trees percolated her attention, and though she almost summoned her gauntlets, she refrained from doing so unless Rose called for action.

But even so, Garnet hid her own bewilderment well underneath her glasses as she noticed a lone tree, peeking out of the woods amongst countless others. The tree had been a long time withering, no longer fostering any pine needles but rather decaying, brittle branches that rustled with the almost morose wind. However, what caught Garnet’s eyes the most was the visage that had been crudely caved into its dead bark. It was a triangle, large and lonely amidst the rest of the peeling wood, a piercing, rounded eye marked into its center. Though Garnet had never been one for superstitions, even she couldn’t deny that she felt a small shiver run through her form as she felt its strange scrutiny almost physically, even if logic deemed such a thing absurd. What wasn’t absurd however was the fact that Rose’s beliefs seemed to be proven true upon seeing the one lone word painted underneath the triangle in large, rugged, blood-red letters:

BEWARE

Garnet kept her focused gaze upon this disturbing sight as Rose went on, her words echoing well with the warning on the tree. “I fear that something much more sinister lurks around here…” she said, keeping her professionalism up even despite her ominous words.

Upon hearing such troubling information, Amethyst turned her glance towards Garnet behind her, who still had her gaze fixated upon the tree that was just out of the purple Gem’s line of sight. “Hey, Garnet?” she asked, her voice but a whisper as she looked up at the towering Gem expectantly. “You ok? You look like you’ve seen a ghost or somethin’.”

Garnet was quick to turn her attention back towards the rest of the group at this; thankfully, Pearl and Rose were still on the move, the white Gem softly whispering her concerns to their leader all the while. That was a good thing; after all, whatever the warning on the tree meant, the tall Gem was almost certain that Rose knew something about it, perhaps it was even related to why she had brought them here in the first place. Which was why Garnet saw no need to make Amethyst, who was much more carefree and innocent having not fought through the Gem war, worry about a warning that, as she tried to caustically reason, might not even have any bearings.

“It’s nothing,” she said succinctly, yet easily, picking up the pace as she walked on and left the marked tree behind. Amethyst let out a huffy sigh of disappointment, knowing that she was often left out of the loop because of her relative youth compared to the other Crystal Gems, but all the same, she let it go, pressing on close behind Garnet.

However, it was only a few moments later that the entire line came to a sudden halt behind Rose. The pink Gem stood before what looked to be but a mere wall of trees, yet clear, crisp daylight was peeking out from behind them. “Gems…” she spoke, her voice soft yet careful as she addressed her wards. Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl all held their breaths, anxiously awaiting whatever she was about to tell them.

Rose’s full pastel lips perused into a frown as she took another small step forward, placing her hand against one of the trees as she strained her eyes to look at whatever lay beyond them. All three of the Gems could hear their leader take in a sharp breath, something that put them even more on edge than the ominous atmosphere of the darkened forest did.

“What?” Pearl asked in a breathless whisper, finally working up the nerve to place her hand on Rose’s shoulder. “What is it, Rose? What do you see?”

“A town,” Garnet spoke for Rose, not even needing to look through the tree line thanks to her special abilities in foresight.

“Yes…” the pink Gem confirmed with a small nod, pushing aside a branch that was blocking both their path and their view. Rose was the first to pass through the small hole out of the forest she had made, and though the other Gems were a bit more uncertain, they all eventually followed suit after her.

“We’re here…” Rose said resolutely as they all stood on the other side of the woods, now drenched in the golden sun of the Oregon afternoon instead of the eerie shadows of the woods. The air was much more natural and refreshing here, laced with the sweetness of summer and the hints of what felt like a new beginning.

All four Gems stood upon a high hill that slanted down into a vast open valley. Expectedly, the entire area was awash in thickets of pine trees, which the Gems had grown used to seeing on their exploration of Oregon thus far. However, what attracted the most attention were the dual cliffs on the far edge of the valley, a few miles away from their position. The imposing cliffs stood adjacent to each other, towering high over the valley that was nestled in their large shadows. Both cliffs oddly looked as though they had been cleaved straight through the middle, giving them clifftops the illusion that they were floating to the point that one would wonder how they had not crumbled apart. A large waterfall cascaded down from the far side of the right cliff down into a large, pristine lake, which was fed by a twisting river that snaked through the valley. Within the valley itself were a few sparse, primitive, relatively new human dwellings, showing that civilization was present here, even if it was clearly in its infancy.

“Whoa…” Amethyst whispered, her eyes wide as she clung onto the skit of Rose’s gown and peered out at the valley with wide, excited eyes. “This place is HUGE!”

“This is it?” Pearl asked, frowning caustically as she surveyed the area, unimpressed by the small human settlement before them. “But… there’s hardly anything here…”

“So it would appear…” Rose mused, though unlike Amethyst and Pearl, both her and Garnet refused to believe that there was nothing in this largely untamed valley. “But there’s much more to this place…” The pink Gem’s determination to discover more prompted her onwards, heading down into the valley and whatever secrets awaited them there. “I can feel it…”

And so it was that the Crystal Gems followed their leader once more, even into this unknown frontier, none of them able to guess that ultimately become the place they would come to call home. And of course, all four of them embraced themselves for whatever might come, just as they always did before embarking on a new mission, as they passed under the brand-new sign that gave all travelers a simple greeting as they entered, the Gems included:

“Welcome to Gravity Falls!”

 

Chapter Text

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Present Day

The Mystery Shack was among the stranger of oddity-based tourist attractions in eastern Oregon. From the outside, it appeared to be nothing more than an over-advertised, ramshackle shack nestled amidst the densely forested boarder of Gravity Falls. The combination house-museum-gift shop had certainly seen better days across the decades; its sloping roof fostered more than enough patches of wild moss to count amidst the weather-worn shingles. Its log exterior, though giving off an appropriate rustic appearance, had clearly faded from the freshness it had once known. Even the large sign perched upon the roof showed its age, with its chipping discount yellow paint and the stubborn “s” in “Shack” that refused to ever remain hammered in place for very long.

Any savvy traveler would most likely wonder what the appeal of such a seemingly rundown place would be, but for the more nuanced tourist, the allure of the Mystery Shack came in its very simplicity and novelty. Somehow, the shack managed to not only make a profit, but a surprisingly large one at that, though that could easily be attributed to the high prices of museum tours and cheaply-made souvenirs. The attractions housed within the shack itself were certainly bizarre in concept, even if most of them were either staged or fake. But all the same, they did well to draw in and entertain the gullible masses that frequented the shack, and those same visitors usually never hesitated to buy into the unique local lore and legends glorified by the variety of exhibits, nor did they hesitate to buy into the knick-knacks and curios sold there.

Expectedly, the shack’s proprietor, Stan Pines, had been happily raking in the generous profits of his roadside attraction for years now. Among the people of Gravity Falls, the self-proclaimed “Mr. Mystery” had a longstanding reputation for being a skilled con artist and an unrepentant fraud, but none of the impressionable incoming summer tourists needed to know that as far as he was concerned. As long as he was making money, Stan was content, even if most of his revenue was brought in from the often over-exaggerated myths and hoaxes that seemed to constantly be pouring out of Gravity Falls. The tourist trap business was a lucrative one, and it was a lifestyle that Stan had grown accustomed to, perhaps even comfortable with the predictability of it. 

That is, until the summer his great niece and nephew came to stay.

Stan had never particularly been a “family man”, having lived in the shack alone for the past thirty years. However, despite his own better judgement, he had agreed to take on the task of summer caretaker for the twelve year old twins, largely with the intent of having two more hands to help out at the Mystery Shack on top of Wendy and Soos.

Of course, neither Dipper nor Mabel had been that enthusiastic about being forced out of the house by their parents and onto a nine hour bus ride to spend their entire summer in the backwoods town of Gravity Falls, simply for the sake of, as their parents had put it, getting some “fresh air”. Well, that was almost entirely true; while Mabel optimistically saw any excursion as a grand adventure, Dipper was a bit more begrudging over the fact that they had to work in their great uncle, or “grunkle’s”, tourist trap, filled with low-budget exhibits that he had seen right through the day they arrived.

And yet, what neither of the Pines twins had known prior to their arrival in Gravity Falls was that it was certainly a unique place, filled with wonders and mysteries far beyond the ones that Stan passed off for show at the Mystery Shack.

In fact, they had already encountered such strangeness as early as their second day there. The twins had barely even had time to orient themselves to their new surroundings, they had both been thrust into the rumored weirdness of Gravity Falls upon discovering the existence of gnomes living deep in the forest. However, they might not have ever made that discovery if the little men had not literally pulled together and conspicuously presented themselves as Mabel’s new “boyfriend”. And despite Mabel’s initial enthrallment with her first summer romance, it quickly shattered upon the gnomes revealing themselves and their desire for a new queen. Of course, Dipper had not hesitated in rushing to his sister’s rescue, and both of them held their own quite well in escaping and outsmarting the leviathan monster the gnomes had assembled into. But in the end, this strange conundrum had confirmed that there was suspicious, perhaps even supernatural activity in Gravity Falls, a fact that intrigued Dipper, who had always had an interested in mysteries and conspiracies, even more than Mabel, who much preferred to live in the moment and cheerfully enjoy every second.

And yet despite their adventurous second day, the twins found that their third day in Gravity Falls was already turning out to be significantly less harrowing and fantastic. It was already midmorning, and thus far, Dipper’s expectations for a strange happening or bizarre adventure had not been met. And, at the slow pace the hours were going by as him and Mabel wasted them away merely working in the shack, it didn’t look like any such excitement would happen soon at all.

Mabel grinned brightly to herself as she aimed her grappling hook to the far wall of the gift shop, shutting one eye so she could focus better on her target, a simple wooden sign posted to a support beam. The grappling hook itself was relatively new; it was something of a gift from Stan, who, in a rare act of affection, had allowed both of the twins to take one item from the shop free of charge the previous day. This act of good will had not been lost on either Mabel, who had gladly chosen the grappling hook out of the anticipation of the adventures she could have with it, or Dipper, who had simply picked out a new cap, a white and blue one with a printed pine tree on it, to replace the one he had lost in their earlier faceoff against the gnomes.

But regardless, business at the shack was slow this morning, and so, since Stan didn’t seem to particularly mind, Mabel had taken to practicing with her new toy after finishing up her chores. And so she stood in front of the counter, her tongue slightly peeking up out of her mouth as she narrowed her eyes at her target, taking into consideration that her brother was sweeping the floor rather close to him. Yet she was confident that she wouldn’t hit him; after all, she had been using the grappling hook since yesterday. She already considered herself to be a “grappling professional” as she had put it.

And yet, what Mabel still wasn’t used to was the amount of force that the hook always shot out of the barrel. The hook propelled forward with a soft bang, drawing Stan’s attention away from the money he was counting up from behind the counter, even though Wendy, who was engrossed in the latest issue of Avoid Eye Contact Monthly, still kept her gaze fixated on her magazine. Due to her lax footing, Mabel was unable to keep herself from stumbling backwards after the hook was released, causing her to lose control of her aim, though she giggled in amused surprise nonetheless.

By this point, the trajectory of the hook had gone haywire, missing the target sign by a wide margin. Instead, it veered towards the right, or more specifically, towards Dipper. Luckily, however, the moment he saw the heavy metal projectile darting towards him, he had the wits about him to duck instead of panic, dropping his broom to the floor as the hook narrowly zipped over his head and crashed into the stained glass window behind him. Needless to say, the window shattered dramatically upon impact, resulting in an explosion of glass that landed both outside of the shack and inside.

His heart still pounding with adrenaline from being put in sudden danger once again, Dipper slowly rose to stand once more and turned to inspect the damage of the broken window. Indeed, the entire orange and yellow glass pane had been obliterated, with only a few spare shards still clinging onto the window frame even as Mabel began to retract the hook back towards her.

“Mabel!” Dipper chastised his sister’s recklessness as he turned towards her with an exasperated frown.

“Heh,” Mabel laughed in embarrassment, noticing the slightly aggravated look that Stan was giving her as well for breaking his window. “Sorry, bro-bro! I guess this thing packs more of a punch than I thought!”

“You’re just luck I don’t care enough about public safety to take it away from you,” Stan said with little empathy, straightening the pile of dollar bills on the counter in front of him before addressing Dipper. “Make sure you pick up every last piece of that broken glass, kid! I don’t want some tenderfoot coming in here and trying to sue me because they ‘cut their foot’ or something.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dipper said as he rolled his eyes, unphased by his uncle’s usually miserly ways. “I’m on… it?” He found himself trailing off, however, as he turned back towards the window, the sight outside of it catching his eye now that the colored glass that had once obscured it was gone.

A large, tall, easily-inclined hill stood beside the Mystery Shack on its left side, its base being only about a mile or so away. Like most of the natural settings of Gravity Falls, the hill was blanketed with a forest of pine trees, however, only on its back half. The other side was more like a cliff, its solid, stony surface standing straight and narrow, devoid of any signs of vegetation save for a view vines and patches of moss. What did take up most of the cliff face was a towering, imposing statue of what appeared to be an eight armed woman. The statue’s form was mysterious, yet elegant, its hair an abundance of masterfully carved, twisting curls. It seemed to have two faces, one resting atop the other like a mask, though both were set in neutral expressions, its four unseeing empty eyes set upon the town in an almost watchful gaze.

Whatever its purpose was, it looked to be quite old, with a few cracks in its otherwise pristine form and moss clinging to its chest, torso, and many arms. In fact, it appeared to missing three of its hands, with only one of them spread out and open towards the sky and the other four converged near its navel around something that was still blocked behind one of the window frame’s few remaining glass shards. But even so, the statue’s unique appearance aroused immediate curiosity in Dipper. Of course, this wasn’t the first time he had seen this statue since his and Mabel’s arrival in Gravity Falls. After all, anyone with eyes could see the enormous woman from anywhere in town, really. But amidst being chased by and defeating a collaborative gnome monster, this was the first time he had really gotten a chance to look at it and already countless questions about the odd statue were filling his mind. Who was it a statue of? Who built it? How long had it been there for? And most importantly, why was it even there?

“Hey, Grunkle Stan?” Dipper asked, only turning away from the window slightly. “What’s the deal with that weird statue up on the hill?”

Before Stan even had a chance to react to this question, Mabel enthusiastically jumped in, looking towards the statue outside the window as well. “Oh! You mean the eight-armed GIANT woman?!” she asked, her eyes alight with excitement. “She’s so gorgeous! I love what’s she’s done with her hair!”

“Huh?” Stan looked towards the statue as well, a look of uneasiness briefly crossing his features, though neither Dipper nor Mabel noticed it before he returned to his usual sarcastic scowl. “Oh, that huge broad? If by gorgeous, you mean she’s a giant eyesore that distracts all of the photo-snapping tourists I could be getting rich off instead, then sure; she’s absolutely beautiful.”

“Yo, dude,” Soos cut in as he came to stand near the window himself, having overheard the conversation while straightening the shelves. “They say that these three magical ladies live up there, protecting the town from monsters and stuff. No one really sees them that much, but they’re sorta like guardian ninja babes, ya know?”

Though Dipper was a bit more skeptical in believing a fantastical rumor like this, Mabel was much more open to buying into it as she rushed towards the window herself. “Whoa!” she exclaimed brightly, pushing past her brother as she pressed against the window, tip-toing around the broken glass still lying on the ground. “They sound so cool! I wanna go up there and meet them!”

“Oh, come on…” Wendy said, rolling her eyes as she finally glanced up from her magazine. “You guys don’t actually believe that dumb rumor, right?”

“It’s not a rumor,” Soos protested as he shook his head. “I read about it on this blog online, and as we all know, everything on the internet is completely 100% true.”

Wendy was silent for a moment or two as she gave Soos a concerned look, before laughing off in her nonchalant way. “Whatever you say, man…” she said, returning her full attention to her magazine once more.

“Well, if a group of ‘magical’ women doesn’t live up there, then what does?” Dipper asked in confusion as he glanced over the statue once more.

“It doesn’t matter,” Stan said dismissively. “The only thing you kids need to know is that hill is off limits.”

“What?” both Dipper and Mabel asked in unison as they exchanged a confused glance.

“But why?” Mabel continued on in clear disappointment, her hopes of meeting the three mystical female guardians diminished upon hearing this.

“Because,” Stan said, his tone unyielding and succinct. “I said so.” He paused for a moment to gauge the twins’ expressions, only to see that neither of them were buying such a lame excuse. “And… uh… because it’s… dangerous up there, or something. Yeah, that’s right. So don’t let me catch you two fooling around up there. After all, I promised your parents that you’d both get home at the end of the summer in one piece. You wouldn’t want to make your Grunkle Stan a liar, would you?”

“You mean even more of a liar than you already are?” Dipper deadpanned as he crossed his arms, knowing well about Stan’s tendency to frequently fabricate the truth.

Stan shot his nephew a rather harsh glare for that snide comment, but he didn’t try to argue it. “Just stay away from that hill, ok?” he asked in aggravation, clearly not willing to hear any more protests on the matter. “Now, that’s enough standing around and yapping! I’m not paying you all to stare out a broken window all day!”

“You’re not paying me or Mabel at all,” Dipper pointed out, much to Stan’s continued annoyance.

“Not if you keep back sassing me like that, I’m not,” Stan said in clear frustration as he headed out from behind the counter and towards the exit into the rest of the house. “I’m going to my office, and I expect all that glass to be off the floor by the time I get back.” And with that, Stan took his leave, though his aggravated mutterings could still be clearly heard. “Take the kids for the summer, they said! They’ll be no trouble at all, they said! Why I oughta-”

His voice eventually trailed off, leaving the four remaining employees of the Mystery Shack to their own devices. Wendy continued to pour over her magazine as Soos returned to straightening up, while both Dipper and Mabel lingered near the window a bit longer, both of them taking one last longing look towards the fascinating statue.

“I wish Grunkle Stan would let us get closer to it…” Mabel sighed wistfully. “I bet there’s all sorts of neat stuff up there!”

“What’s his deal with that place anyway?” Dipper asked suspiciously. “It almost sounded like he was afraid of it…”

“Eh, I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” Wendy interjected, giving the twins a reassuring grin as she relaxed even more now that Stan was gone by leaning back in her chair and putting her boots up on the counter. “He probably just doesn’t want you guys to get hurt.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right, Wendy…” Mabel said with a frown, though Dipper could clearly tell that she was still disappointed, a sentiment he shared very much at the moment. After all, the statue was incredibly intriguing based on its aesthetic appearance alone, and he couldn’t help but be curious about its nature and purpose. Something had to be up there, considering how avoidant Stan seemed to be about it, going as far as to even call it dangerous. And even if it was, Dipper was determined to get to the bottom of it. After all, he wasn’t the kind to just step back and let a mystery like this go.

“Hey, Mabel,” Dipper whispered to his sister as he pulled her aside, checking to make sure that Stan was completely out of earshot. “I feel like there’s something about that statue Stan doesn’t want us to know. Wanna go check it out?”

“Well, duh!” Mabel said with a wide grin that quickly turned into a sudden frown. “But… Stan told us to stay away from it…”

“Oh, come on, I’m sure he was just over-exaggerating,” Dipper scoffed, knowing that Stan was hardly ever serious about anything. “It’s just a statue; how bad could it be?”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Mabel said, her chipper manner returning as she glanced out the window with newfound excitement, not letting a mere warning impair a possibility at an adventure. “And don’t worry, Dipper! If we run into any trouble, I got the grappling hook covered!” she exclaimed, holding said object out though thankfully not aiming it anything this time. But even so, Dipper took an in instinctual step back as he eyed the hook nervously, remembering what had happened the last time she had used it.

“Uh… yeah…” he said with an uneasy frown. “Why don’t we just... leave that here this time?”

“What? No way!” Mabel said with a daring grin, not about to let her grappling skills go to waste. “Just you wait, bro; this grappling hook will save our lives someday!”

“Yeah, or put them in even more danger…” Dipper muttered to himself sarcastically.

“Now, c’mon! We have a giant woman to explore!” Mabel said, even more enthusiastic about the investigation they were about to begin now than her brother was, especially as she thought about the chance at getting a glimpse at the town’s rumored, supposed, elusive guardians. Which was why, without any further deliberation, Mabel grabbed Dipper by the arm, startling him and practically dragged him out of the shack so they could embark one of their first of many mystery-solving, discovery-making adventures.

Chapter Text

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The Crystal Temple was something of a landmark of Gravity Falls, if a towering statue of an ethereal, two-faced, eight-armed giant woman could be considered a landmark. All of the residents of the town in the valley that rested in the shadow of the temple were quite used to its presence, at it had been there for generations, silently and stoically watching all that lay in its unseeing gaze. Most viewed the temple as merely a piece of the town’s history, even if a great deal of them had no idea where it had come from or why it was even there. Of course, there were countless rumors that often circulated surrounding its presence, but most of them had very little weight, such as the theory that the statue was actually secretly sentient or that it had been there for thousands of years. It had come to be viewed as yet another unique facet of Gravity Falls, an already strange little town in and of itself, and as such, it often went unnoticed by most of its residents as they carried on in their daily lives.

Amidst the myths and mystery behind the temple, the three beings who were said to inhabit it were just as enigmatic. In fact, those who did know of their existence knew very little about them, which was intentional on their part. After all, the Crystal Gems largely kept to themselves whenever they could, even more than they had used to when their outgoing, human-affectionate leader was still around.

The Gems had faithfully followed Rose Quartz’s request to remain in Gravity Falls even after she departed from them nearly twelve years ago now, despite the fact that so many memories of her remained there. After all, she had led them there over one hundred years ago and together, they had all made the ultimate decision to settle down for a few centuries and investigate the strange happenings that seemed to gravitate towards the town. Gravity Falls had barely been but a fledgling settlement when they had happened upon it, and since then, they had watched it grow into the small, quaint, yet modern town it was today. Throughout their time there, Rose’s goal, above all else, had been to uncover the underlying secret behind why Gravity Falls seemed to be such a hotspot for supernatural anomalies, unlike any even any of the Gems had encountered in their centuries of existence. She had reasoned to her fellow Gems time and time again that in doing so, they would be able to better protect the humans that not only lived in the area, but potentially the rest of the world at large. However, in the end, she had never reached a definite conclusion; for instead of finding satisfaction in solving one of the greatest mysteries of all time, the leader of the Crystal Gems found it in another place instead.

The other Gems, save for perhaps Garnet, could have never anticipated the result of Rose’s relationship and ultimate romance with a man by the name of Greg Universe. Greg had been a young musician when he had first encountered Rose while preforming a concert in Gravity Falls, at which the pink Gem had been the sole attendee. And in an indescribable, almost magical way, the simple human man and the illustrious Gem warrior were attracted to each other from the moment their eyes first met. Rose and Greg’s romance had been brief, but beautiful. Their love, lauded by Garnet, laughed at by Amethyst, and loathed by Pearl, had ultimately culminated in what was perhaps the richest way a couple could show it: the decision to bear a child.

Unfortunately, despite their well intentions, this choice did not come without its consequences. Going in, Rose had come to the realization that, because of her status as a Gem and the fact that she was incapable of naturally bearing a child like a human woman, the only way her baby could survive was under one condition. She had to sacrifice her own Gem, and therefore her physical essence, so the infant could be brought into the world, even if it would be without her. The deciding process had been long and tremulous, but in the end, both Rose and Greg agreed to the most selfless choice of action—they would have a baby together, regardless of what they both knew they would lose. The Gems had all been adamant against this choice at first, especially Pearl, but after some coaxing from Rose, they eventually learned to accept it. In the end, the Crystal Gems lost their beloved leader, and in her place, they were to help Greg bring up her half-human, half-Gem son.

Steven.

Needless to say, for the first few years, the Gems were somewhat distant from both this new addition in their lives, as well as the human world in general, keeping themselves busy with fighting off Gem monsters as opposed to chasing anomalies as Rose once had. It was an easy way to distract themselves from the uncomfortable truth that she was gone, most likely never to return. And yet, what the other Gems, who had all been so close to Rose and so miserable to see her pass, could have never guessed was that they would ever grow to actually become as fond of Steven as they did. Even though he spent the first few years of his life living with Greg in his simple van, the Gems couldn’t help but let themselves be charmed by the bright, cheerful, ever-growing child every time they saw him, to the point that Garnet herself eventually suggested to Greg that they build a house addition onto the temple, so that Steven could live there until he was able to actually use his Gem to access the temple. After all, one of Rose’s last requests had been for the Gems to teach Steven how to use his Gem, which he had inherited from his mother, supposedly with most of her powers as well. It was only fair that they honor her final wishes in any way they could.

And thus far, progress had indeed been made between both Steven and the Gems. Of course, Steven had a lot to learn about Gems and Gem heritage, largely because he had grown up enveloped in human culture instead thanks to Greg. In fact, as much as Steven had to learn from Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl about how to use his Gems and grow into his role as the newest Crystal Gem, the inverse of this was also interestingly true. After all, following Rose’s passing, the Gems had intentionally isolated themselves away from humanity, partially blaming it in its entirety for their former leader’s conscious and selfless decision to have a child. And yet, as they stepped up to fill the role as Steven’s caretakers in conjunction with Greg, all three of them gradually found themselves immersing themselves in the world that Rose had once tried to encourage them to be a part of. Needless to say, it was a learning experience for all four of them, as was the still budding connection between Gems and humans at large, but Steve, energetic and optimistic just as his mother was before him, was willing to meet Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl halfway just as much as they were willing to do the same for him.

Despite the fact that Steven had at long last succeeded in summoning Rose’s iconic shield at least once, the Gems were still hesitant about allowing him to accompany them on missions. After all, he was still just a kid, and half human at that. The last thing any of them wanted was to see him get hurt. Occasionally, if their objective was a low-level threat or simple fetch quest, they would allow him to tag along, much to Steven’s excitement, but even when they deemed a mission to dangerous for him, he was just as content to patiently await their return.

In fact, he had been doing exactly that for the majority of the morning. After waking up relatively late to find that the Gems had already departed on a mission, Steven had taken to making himself a simple breakfast of waffles and sliced fruit before settling down to watch a few rerun episodes of Crying Breakfast Friends. And yet, as used to being left alone in the house as he was, Steven couldn’t help but anticipatingly await the Gems’ return, constantly keeping an eye on the warp pad as time ticked by. In fact, his excitement for his guardians’ arrival soon got the better of him, to the point that he decided that he would present them with a playful, pleasant surprise upon their entry.

Knowing that the Gems could be back at any moment, Steven rushed down the stairs from his bedroom loft, carefully positioning himself behind the wall on the far side of the house so that he would not be visible from the warp pad. After testing out his hiding spot once by taking cover behind it to ensure it concealed him, Steven peeked around the side of the wall, grinning eagerly as he trained his eyes on the warp pad, wanting to be ready to spring his surprise the moment the Gems arrived.

And fortunately, he didn’t have to wait too long. The telltale tunnel of light that signified the incoming warp stream enveloped the warp pad, giving Steven just enough time to slip behind the wall with a quiet laugh, more than prepared to catch the Gems off guard with his sudden greeting.

The Crystal Gems warped into the temple with all of their usual flare, though it was slightly dampened by Pearl sending a disapproving glare Amethyst’s way. And as soon as the light faded from the warp pad, she wasted no time in verbally asserting her frustrations to the purple Gem as she often did.

“Amethyst!” Pearl ranted, her tone impatient and huffy. “Must you always be so careless!? That monster nearly got away because of your recklessness!”

Amethyst let out a bored sigh as she rolled her eyes at the taller Gem’s usual ranting, placing her hands on her hips as she gave a sarcastic retort. “Hey, at least I was having fun beating that creepy thing senseless, unlike some other Gems…”

Pearl took this remark with offense as she scoffed haughtily, crossing her arms as she glanced away bitterly. “Regardless, it’s a good thing I was there to reign you in, as usual,” the white Gem admonished.

“Oh, please…” Amethyst groaned in annoyance. “You weren’t even the one who poofed that monster; it was Garnet who-”

“That’s enough,” Garnet finally cut into the argument upon mention of her name, her tone as patient and calm as usual as she held her hands out to put an end to Pearl and Amethyst’s quarreling. The other two Gems immediately respected their leader’s command as they both gave her looks of confusion, unable to discern what her covered gaze was currently focusing on.

Much to Pearl and Amethyst’s ongoing bewilderment, Garnet’s neutral expression suddenly shifted into a small smile as she looked out into the house, her tone softening a bit as she spoke. “Nice try, Steven,” she said with a hint of amusement in her mysterious tone.

A burst of brief disappointment filled Steven upon being called out, and yet he hesitantly poked his head around the wall with a defeated grin, his surprise mildly ruined at best. “Aw, Garnet!” he exclaimed with mock disheartenment, only somewhat surprised that the tall Gem had prematurely discovered him. “How’d you know I was here?”

“Lucky guess,” Garnet said vaguely, still grinning as she casually adjusted her shades.

“Yo, Steven!” Amethyst greeted with a newfound grin as she leaped off the warp pad, the other Gems following suit as they call came to meet Steven halfway as he left his failed hiding spot. “How goes it? What are you planning on getting into today?”

“Me and Connie are going down to the Mystery Shack,” Steven said enthusiastically, eager to show his newest, and by far closest friend to what was perhaps his favorite locale in Gravity Falls. “Can you guys believe she’s never been there before?”

“Yes,” Garnet said flatly as she crossed her arms.

“I just don’t understand what it is about that place you find so fascinating, Steven,” Pearl pondered with a slight frown. “You know we fight infinitely more interesting things on a daily basis than the fake… attractions they have at that old rundown shack.”

“Aw, c’mon, P!” Amethyst said as she came to stand beside Steven, sharing his wide grin. “Don’t be such a prude! The Mystery Shack has some freaky awesome stuff in it! Right Steven?”

“Yeah!” Steven readily agreed, having been a frequent visitor to the Mystery Shack enough to know its odd exhibits well. “Like the sascrotch!”

Pearl was silent for a moment upon hearing this as her pale cheeks lit up in an awkward blush. “Yes…” she said uneasily, glancing away from the chipper pair. “Well… Still, I’m not sure how I feel about you going down there all the time… Especially considering the fact that its owner isn’t the most… trustworthy man…”

“What?” Steven asked with a confused frown. “Oh, don’t be silly, Pearl! Mr. Pines is the best. One time, he even gave me a half-eaten candy bar just to get me to leave the shack! What a guy!”

Pearl’s frowned deepened as she exchanged a concerned glance with Garnet, who kept up her relaxed, unyielding front as usual. “How thoughtful,” the tall Gem deadpanned, something that elicited a giggle from Amethyst and a groan of exasperation from Pearl.

“I know, right?” Steven agreed wholeheartedly, reminding all three of the Gems of his consistently open, kind, trustful, if not a bit silly, nature, something that often made them think of how warmly his mother used to act.

Before the conversation could carry on any longer, a sudden knock on the door interrupted it. “That’s Connie!” Steven cheered excitedly before calling out to her friend on the other side of the screen door. “Come in!”

Connie was quick to do so as she entered into the house, her grin just as cheerful as Steven’s as she stepped inside. “Hey, Steven!” she greeted warmly, also sending a respectful nod to the Gems. “Are you ready to go?”

“You bet I am!” Steven said heartily, already racing for the door. After all, there wasn’t a moment to waste; he had been waiting to take Connie to the Mystery Shack for quite some time now, so that she could get the same sense of wonder and enjoyment out of the humble tourist attraction that he did. Steven and Connie had been tightly-knit friends for several months now, ever since an accident involving a Gem-produced magical bubble on Steven’s part. Ever since then, the two of them had only grown closer and closer, united by their common interests and excitement about all things Gem-related. Connie in particular valued their close bond, for before she met Steven, she had never really had a friend before thanks to her parents constantly moving from place to place. Fortunately though, it seemed as though Connie and her family were going to stay put for a while, living in a small suburban area just outside of Gravity Falls and a convenient enough distance away from the Crystal Temple, much to Steven’s delight. After all, every moment they spent together was an endlessly fun experience, whether they were faced with something new and exciting in relation to Steven’s partial heritage as a Gem, or if they were just spending a day out and about on the town, like they plans for today were.

“Now, be careful you too!” Pearl called out cautiously after Steven as he hurried out with Connie. “Don’t get into any trouble down there!”

“But have fun,” Garnet said with an easy smile, trusting that Steven and Connie would mind themselves just fine.

“Yeah, and don’t forget to stop by the ‘Outhouse of Mystery’ for me!” Amethyst added with a sly laugh as the kids went outside onto the porch.

“‘Outhouse of Mystery’?” Connie asked Steven with an amused grin once they were outside.

“Yeah!” Steven confirmed, referring to his extensive knowledge of his favorite tourist trap. “It’s right next to the bottomless pit.”

Connie laughed in response to this as her and Steven headed over to Lion, who was curled up into a large, sleeping, pink ball of fluff near the door. “You know, based on everything you’ve told me about it, this Mystery Shack place sure does sound… well, mysterious!”

“It’s so cool, Connie!” Steven gushed, his eyes alight with enthusiasm as he climbed up onto Lion’s back. “I’m sure you’ll love it. There’s stuff in there you won’t believe until you see it!”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Connie giggled as she graciously accepted Steven’s hand in helping her up onto Lion behind him.

“Now, c’mon!” Steven said as he glanced down at Lion, who was still heavily snoozing, regardless of the two children on his back. “Wake up, Lion! Let’s go!”

Though Steven wanted his soft pink animal companion to instantly be roused and ready to race down the hill, Lion merely responded to his command with a passive yawn, readjusting his large paws to cover his face as he continued to sleep. Steven laughed good naturedly at this, knowing that the gentle giant only occasionally listened to him, most of the time opting to be stubborn and apathetic instead. But all the same, Steven had appreciated and loved Lion from the moment they first encountered each other in the desert, which had ultimately led to the somewhat working companionship they currently had.

“Ok, then…” Steven said, glancing back at Connie with a bashful, somewhat embarrassed grin. “I guess we’ll go when Lion’s nap is over…”

“That’s ok,” Connie assured in clear amusement. “I have all day to hang out now that its summer vacation.”

“Summer… huh?” Steven asked in obvious confusion, unfamiliar with the term.

“You know, when school gets out for the summer?” Connie asked with a frown, wondering how Steven had never heard of such a common concept before.

“I’ve never been to this—how do you say?—‘school’” Steven said, using air quotes with the word school. “What is it?”

“Wait, you’ve never been to school?” Connie asked, even more bewildered.

“Nope,” Steven said with a shrug. “Is it like some sort of snow-covered mountain that has to be shut down in the summer because all the snow melts?”

“I wish,” Connie laughed, amazed at his innocence about the subject. “Well, while we wait for Lion to wake up, why don’t I tell you what school actually is…?”

“Yeah!” Steven said with an excited nod, more than ready to learn about the foreign concept that was “school”, at least until their slumbering ride finally awakened to get them down the hill and to their destination. “And then, when Lion does wake up, off to the Mystery Shack we go!”

Chapter Text

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As it turned out, the hill behind the statue was much steeper and more unkempt than it seemed from afar, something that Dipper and Mabel quickly discovered as they began to scale it. There was no defined path along the forested incline, and so the twins tried to create their own as they hiked straight up it. And for the most part, they managed to keep to that straightforward, unofficial path, except for when Mabel strayed from it for a brief instance to chase after a squirrel that she claimed was “impossibly cute”.

“Come on, Dipper!” Mabel called back to her brother, noticing that she had taken the lead as they got closer to the top of the hill. “Hurry up! I wanna meet those magical ladies Soos was talking about!”

“H-hold on!” Dipper exclaimed breathlessly, practically running to keep up with Mabel’s pace, which, considering they were on a relentlessly uphill trek, was certainly starting to wear him out. “I… I’m on my… way!” His exhaustion getting the better of him, Dipper finally had to pause and catch his breath as he doubled over, clearly overwhelmed by the thick summer heat of the afternoon.

“Seriously? You’re tired already?” Mabel asked with a teasing laugh as she leapt up onto a nearby rock and grinned down at him from above. “See, this is what happens when you spend all your time with your nose in a dumb book instead of out having fun like I do! You’re out of shape!”

“No, I’m not!” Dipper protested amidst recovering, though Mabel was as privy to his embarrassment over his lack of stamina. “This hill is just a lot… steeper than I thought it would be!”

“Yeah, whatever you say, slow-poke,” Mabel said with a good-natured laugh. “I guess I’ll just have to put you on the ‘Mabel Pines Approved Work Out Plan’! When paired with ten packets of sugar each morning, it’s guaranteed in pump you up with endless energy, or your money back!”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Grunkle Stan,” Dipper said as he laughed at Mabel’s unique brand of humor, finally pressing on as he caught up with her. “So, do you really think a group of magical women live up here?” he asked her as they edged closer to the top side by side.

“I hope so!” Mabel exclaimed with a hopeful grin. “That would be so cool! Way cooler than my ‘boyfriend’ turning out to be a bunch of gnomes, at least.”

“And hopefully less unexpectedly dangerous,” Dipper added, remembering how they had almost been bested by the clan of little men the previous day. “But even if these women aren’t real, I’m sure we’ll find something interesting up here. It only makes sense considering how weird this town’s turning out to be.”

“Heh, you’re the weird one, you dork,” Mabel joked, giving her brother a small punch on the arm.

“Not any weirder than you are,” Dipper retorted with a smirk, watching as his point was mutely proven by Mabel finishing up the impromptu craft project she had been working on for the past several minutes, a shish kabob composed of pinecones, leaves and mushroom caps all skewered on a long stick.

“We’re both weird!” Mabel proclaimed enthusiastically, swinging her “nature kabob” around for fun. “That’s what makes us so great!”

“Yeah,” Dipper agreed with a small laugh, taking pleasure in his sister’s effervescent personality and how it bolstered their already impeccably strong sibling bond. However, the warm sentiments between the twins were soon broken as a strange rustling in the nearby tree line caught Dipper’s attention.

“Mabel, did you hear that?” he asked, his tone suddenly tense as he placed a hand on his sister’s shoulder in order to get her to stop walking. After all, they were treading on unknown territory and though it could very well be nothing, Dipper believed it was always better to err on the side of caution instead of throw it to the wind.

Mabel poised an ear towards the forest and listened intently for a moment or two before scoffing Dipper’s concerns aside. “What? You mean the wind?” she asked, having heard the rustling as well, though she didn’t believe it to be anything important. “Or maybe it’s that adorable squirrel again! I bet he wants another hug!”

“After how you nearly suffocated him last time, I highly doubt that,” Dipper said with a frown. “But I’m serious, Mabel. That rustling was too loud to be the wind.”

“So… what? Do you think it’s some huge, scary monster or something, waiting in the woods to gobble up two kids for dinner?” Mabel asked, her tone jokingly overdramatic as she picked fun at her brother’s usual paranoia. “Well, to be honest, you’d be dinner. I’d be desert ‘cause, like I said earlier, ten packets of sugar a day!”

“Come on, Mabel, this is serious,” Dipper stressed, somewhat aggravated over how Mabel liked to play things like this off unserious way.  “What if there really is something in there?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Mabel said with an unconcerned shrug. “It’s probably just-” She was abruptly cut off, however, by the sound of a startled shout breaking through the trees nearby.

“Lion, wait! Where are you going?!” the unknown, yet concerned voice called out from the woods closer to the cliff face. However, before either Dipper or Mabel had a chance to react to it or even wonder who it was, they were both taken by complete surprise to see a large pink blur emerge from the thick woods. And even more surprising was that, in the brief millisecond in which it was rushing straight towards both of the twins, this blur was actually, beyond all explanation, a large pink lion.

Both Dipper and Mabel let out simultaneous cries of shock and fear upon seeing the pastel beast that was racing for them at a frightening speed, neither of them having ever anticipated encountering a lion of all things in the woods of Oregon. What they failed to see in the midst of their panic over possibly being mauled by this monster were the two figures mounted upon its back, both of them holding on for dear life as their ride inexplicably trailed off their original downhill course.

Regardless, the lion was undeterred as it bounded towards the frightened twins, viewing them as little more than unwarranted trespassers on its turf.  Though Mabel had quick enough reflexes to leap well out of the lion’s path before it could pounce on them both, Dipper was not so lucky. Before he could escape out of its range, the pink beast pounced upon him, knocking him to the ground with little effort. Mabel gasped in fear and worry upon seeing her brother be taken down, and Dipper was in a state of absolute panic as he desperately tried to wriggle out from underneath the lion’s heavy paws pressed against his wrists. The lion growled and barred its deadly teeth as it glared down at its catch, and while Mabel was more than ready to leap into action to try and save her brother despite her fear of the strange creature and Dipper was ready to accept his fate at the maw of this pastel beast, a miraculous intervention prevented both of these things just in time.

“Lion! Stop that!” the same youthful voice that had preceded the lion’s appearance called out disapprovingly. “What have I told you about attacking people? It’s rude!”

Dipper was both immensely relieved and admittedly confused as the lion thankfully did as it was told and backed off, allowing him to finally release the anxious breath he had been holding in throughout this near-death experience. Mabel didn’t hesitate to rush to his side and help him off the ground, though the lion continued to keep them both in its distrustful gaze as it upheld its tall, prideful posture.

“Hey, are you guys ok?” one of the two people who were seated on lion’s back asked as they both peeked around the beast’s magnificently poofy mane, finally allowing the twins to see that they were actually kids, both about their age. Sitting closer to the front was a young boy with a somewhat stocky build, short, bushy dark brown hair, wearing jeans and a dark pink shirt bearing a star upon it. His wide, innocent eyes were filled with concern as he frowned at the twins, while at the same time petting the lion’s neck soothingly in order to calm it down. Behind him sat a girl who looked to be just a bit taller than the boy, with darker skin, weight-length dark brown hair, clad in a simple white top and teal shorts, a pair of maroon-framed glasses perched upon her nose.

“Um… yeah…” Dipper said a bit breathlessly as him and Mabel exchanged a look of equal bewilderment upon seeing a kid only about as old as they were tame such a savage beast. “Thanks…?”

“You’re welcome!” the boy replied with a cheerful smile. “Sorry about that though; Lion can get kinda… overprotective sometimes…” He let out a slightly embarrassed laugh at this, giving the beast an affectionate pat on the head, though the lion simply brushed the gesture off boredly.

“This is your lion?” Mabel asked, her eyes wide with amazement as she quickly broke out into an excited smile now that the pink beast had calmed down to the point of it being harmless. “You’re so lucky! And he’s so cute!”

“You do remember how he nearly killed me just a few seconds ago, right?” Dipper asked giving his sister a skeptical frown as he opted out of joining her in getting closer to the large pastel creature. Though the lion initially growled as it watched Mabel get closer, but upon being admonished by the boy yet again, it was quick to refrain and begrudgingly let her get close enough to stroke its luxurious mane.

“Aw…” Mabel gushed as she pressed her face into the lion’s mane. “He’s so soft too! Like a walking cloud of cotton candy, but with teeth!”

“I know, right?” the boy asked with a wide grin as both him and the girl slid off of the lion’s back. “He makes a great pillow too!” he exclaimed with a laugh as he gave the pink beast another friendly pat. “I’m Steven, by the way. You’ve already met Lion, of course,” he said, giving a smile to his pink companion. “And this is my friend, Connie,” he said, referring to the girl beside him.

“Nice to meet you!” Connie greeted politely. “Even if it was by accident.”

“I’m Dipper and the girl losing herself inside your, uh… lion’s mane is my sister, Mabel,” Dipper said, grinning in slight amusement at Mabel, who was still completely enthralled by Lion’s silky fur.

“So SOFT!” Mabel exclaimed to prove her point, even if her words were muffled as she continued to press herself into the pink beast’s mane. Unlike before, Lion had come to simply ignore the presence of both twins as he stoically sat down, closing his eyes in an attempt to resume the rest that it had been begrudgingly roused from thanks to Steven.

“So what are you two doing up here all by yourselves anyway?” Connie inquired curiously.

“Yeah,” Steven added, wondering the same thing, considering the fact that it wasn’t often he encountered anyone on the hillside. “The only thing up here is the temple, and if you wanted to go there, then there’s a much easier way than climbing up the hill, you know.”

“Temple?” Dipper asked, his interested peaked.

“Yeah, the temple!” Steven said, throwing his arm out towards the cliff face, or rather the statue itself. “It’s where me and the Crystal Gems live!”

“Crystal… what?” Dipper asked, however, before his question could be properly answered, Mabel finally broke free from Lion’s mane, taking in a deep breath to reclaim lost air.

“Too… much… softness…” she exclaimed between heavy breaths, having nearly suffocated herself amidst the pink giant’s warm, velvety fur. Regardless, she was still enchanted by the now-very relaxed pink beast as she proceeded to give him an affectionate scratch on the ear, which Lion readily accepted.

“Whoa!” Steven exclaimed excitedly as he looked to Mabel with stars in his eyes. “I love your sweater! It’s kinda like my shirt!” he said, pointing to the article of clothing in question and showing that Mabel’s sweater was somewhat similar to it their dark pink color and their star designs, though the sweater bore a shooting star to be precise. “Well… kinda…” Steven said with a shrug.

“Yeah, I guess it is!” Mabel agreed with a wide smile. “I’m glad you like it! All of my sweaters are handmade by yours truly. You know, if you really wanted one, I’d be more than happy to make one for you, free of charge!”

“Oh yeah!” Steven exclaimed enthusiastically. “Maybe you could even make matching ones for you and me! Or me and Connie! Or all four of us!”

“Oh my gosh!” Mabel practically squealed with joy over the prospect of getting to design so many new sweaters. “That sounds so awesome! Then we could all be sweater buddies!”

By this point, both Mabel and Steven were completely caught up in their overactive imaginations concerning this matter, and though both Connie and Dipper were mildly amused by this, the former was ultimately the one to break it up in favor of more practical concerns. “Wait, wait, wait,” Dipper said, interrupting the sweater-centric conversation as he looked to Steven. “A minute ago you said something about… Crystal Gems? Who are they?”

“Oh, right!” Steven said, still smiling as he was always eager to talk about the Gems to anyone who would listen. “The Crystal Gems are Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl, and me! We use magic from our Gems to fight monsters and protect humanity and stuff.”

“So… the rumors about magical guardians living up here are actually true?” Dipper asked a bit skeptically, unsure if Steven was actually being serious or not.

“Believe it or not, they are,” Connie confirmed with a small smile. “Steven’s proof of that.”

“Aw, yeah, well…” Steven began a bit bashfully, giving Connie an embarrassed grin. “I’m only half magic. My dad’s a human, but my mom was a Gem. See?” To show the twins what he meant, he lifted his shirt up a bit to reveal the rose quartz gem upon his navel.

“Whoa…” both Dipper and Mabel said in equal awe upon examining the pink gem.

“Unbelievable…” Dipper muttered in amazement upon realizing that the gem was actually real and not just a decoration.

“Sparkly…” Mabel whispered with a stunned expression, her eyes reflecting the shine of Steven’s gem as it glistened in the afternoon sun. “What does it do?”

“The Gems tell me that my mom used to use it to do lots of stuff,” Steven said as he lowered his shirt once more. “But… I’m still learning how to use it. So far I’ve used it to make a shield and a bubble. In fact, the bubble was how me and Connie met!”

“Uh… yeah,” Connie said with a slight laugh at the memory of their initial meeting a few months ago. “We got trapped in it for several hours and we nearly drowned at the bottom of the lake. Other than that, it was a pretty good day.”

“Plus, we beat a giant worm monster and saved the town!” Steven added proudly.

“Heh, yeah, this town has some weird stuff going on in it,” Connie said, knowing that the aforementioned worm monster wasn’t the only anomaly that her and Steven had encountered in Gravity Falls since their meeting.

“Finally! Someone else notices how strange this place is!” Dipper exclaimed, excited that he was not alone in thinking that Gravity Falls was a noticeably odd little town. “I’ve been saying that since we got here. We’ve been here less than a week and already we’ve faced off against a bunch of gnomes stacked together into a giant monster.”

“I learned a valuable lesson there,” Mabel said with a joking frown. “Never go out with gnomes in disguise.”

“Oh, you guys met the gnomes?” Steven asked with interested, having encountered the little men in the past since he’d lived in Gravity Falls all his life and had plenty of time to casually happen upon its stranger facets. “Yeah, they can get a little crazy when they don’t get what they want… One time they stole my donut and I spent all day chasing them down to get it back! The weird thing was they didn’t even want to eat it; they wanted to use it as a wheel for the little gnome car they were building. It was actually kinda cute, even if I never did get that donut back…”

“So you two have only been in Gravity Falls for a few days?” Connie asked inquisitively. “Did you just move here?”

“No, we’re only here for the summer,” Dipper clarified. “We’re staying with our Great Uncle Stan down at the Mystery Shack.”

“Wait, Mr. Pines is your uncle?” Steven asked with a gasp of surprise. “That’s so cool! The Mystery Shack is one of my favorite places in Gravity Falls, along with the temple… and the lake… and the Big Donut… and Funland Arcade… and Greasy’s Diner… and-”

“I think they get it, Steven,” Connie interrupted with a giggle. “What a coincidence, though. We were just on our way down to the Mystery Shack before we ran into you guys.”

“And we were on our way up here to check out the giant eight armed woman!” Mabel said, referring to what her and Dipper now to knew to be some sort of temple thanks to Steven. “Isn’t that crazy? It’s almost like... fate, or something!”

“Or it was Lion just going through his rebellious stage,” Steven said with a laugh as he playfully pressed his hands against the sides of his companion’s fuzzy face. Lion retaliated to the sudden interruption from his standing nap however with a simple long lick, soaking Steven’s face in salvia and causing him to recoil in slight disgust. “Aw, Lion!” Steven exclaimed as he pushed Lion away, chuckling along with Connie, Dipper, and Mabel over the pink beast’s ornery behavior. “Gross!”

The four kids continued to laugh over the humorous scene, none of them thinking too much about the comradery and roots of friendship that had just been planted between them all. And another thing that none of them would have ever thought to think about was that Mabel had, in a way, actually been right in joking about fate being the thing that had brought them all together. None of them could have known, upon that innocent, seemingly accidental first meeting upon the hillside on that early summer’s day, of the adventures they would have, the challenges they would face, the mysteries they would solve, the magic they would discover, or the bonds they form together.

After all, the summer had only just begun.

Chapter Text

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It was amazing how easily all four kids had managed to forget their original objectives and destinations upon their chance encounter with each other. Steven and Connie had long since forgotten their original intent to go down to the Mystery Shack upon delving into conversation with Dipper and Mabel, and likewise, the twins had all but abandoned their goal of investigating the statue in light of Steven providing them with inside information about the mysterious temple. None of them minded the distraction however; even in the short time the two pairs had known each other, they had already struck up a strong camaraderie, laying the foundations for what would no doubt be strong, long-lasting friendships.

“So, if you guys are twins, which one of you is the older one?” Connie asked Dipper and Mabel inquisitively, both her and Steven sitting with their back against Lion, who was reclining in a lazy slumber on the ground. The twins had taken to sitting on the ground across from them as they continued to converse, with Dipper still being a bit wary of the pink beast after their first somewhat dangerous encounter, even if Mabel found the gentle giant absolutely adorable regardless.

I’m the oldest,” Mabel jumped in with a proud grin, glad to be able to claim that this was one thing she had the advantage in over her brother.

“Only by like, five minutes,” Dipper reminded her, knowing that this was a point that she often enjoyed teasing him about.

“Man, you guys are so lucky,” Steven said somewhat wistfully. “Being twins must be so cool!”

“For the most part, it is,” Dipper said, sharing a warm smile with Mabel.

“Yeah, when we’re not driving each other crazy!” Mabel exclaimed mischievously as she playfully pulled the front of Dipper’s hat down so it covered his face. Though somewhat startled, he couldn’t help but laugh along with her, something that both Connie and Steven couldn’t help but join in as well. “But seriously, you sound like the lucky one, Steven,” Mabel said once that bout of levity had passed. “I mean, not only do you have an incredibly fluffy, pink pet lion, but you get to live with three mysterious magical women inside an even bigger mysterious eight armed woman! You guys must do all sorts of amazing things!”

“Well… the Gems do,” Steven said with a half-hearted smile. “I go on missions with them sometimes, but only when they think it’s not ‘dangerous’. But most of the time, I just hang out in the temple or around town, or I go down to the Mystery Shack.”

“Oh gosh, the shack!” Dipper exclaimed with a frown, realizing that they had wildly lost track of the time as the afternoon sun continued to sink ever lower across the sky. “Mabel, we’ve got to head back. Stan’s going to get suspicious if we’re gone for too long.”

“Aw, come on,” Mabel scoffed with little concern. “We’ve only been up here for like… an hour or something. Besides, Soos and Wendy are covering for us, remember?”

“If you guys need a ride down to the shack, we’d be more than happy to give you one,” Steven offered. “We were headed down there anyway, and Lion can seat four if he really needs to!”

Lion partially opened his eyes upon hearing his name as he sent an annoyed glare the twin’s way. Though Mabel giggled in amusement at this, Dipper shifted a bit uncomfortably under the stoic creature’s bored gaze, not too keen on the idea of utilizing him as a method of transportation. “Uh… I think we’ll be fine walking,” he said somewhat avertedly, ignoring his sister’s huffy sigh of disappointment.

“Oh! Or—or we could always race down the hill!” Mabel suggested with a daring grin, already hopping up off the ground.

“Yeah!” Steven agreed enthusiastically as he also stood. “First one to the Mystery Shack wins!”

“Wins what?” Connie asked with a laugh as she accepted Steven’s hand in helping her off the ground.

Considering they were the main proponents for this impromptu race, Mabel and Steven exchanged a brief glance before somehow reaching the exact same conclusion. “First place!” they exclaimed unanimously, both of them grinning jokingly as they innocently stated the obvious. Connie frowned in slight confusion at this response, but Dipper simply smirked and shook his head as he likewise stood up.

“Honestly, we should have seen that coming,” he jokingly said to Connie, who couldn’t help but chuckle along with him as they watched Steven and Mabel affectionately send Lion off. The pink beast didn’t protest as he slowly rose to his feet and magnificently leapt off, heading back towards the temple and leaving the kids to their race.

“Ok, everybody ready?” Steven asked as all four of them lined up and prepared to race down the hill. “Set… go!”

Upon his word, all of them propelled forward, Mabel and Connie leading the way as they sped down the hill faster than either Steven or Dipper were capable of running. For Mabel, her seemingly endless energy served as a great advantage in this race, though Connie’s speed largely came from her own innate physical ability, as well as her growing tennis skills. Thanks to the steep incline of the hill, Steven found that he was doing more falling than running as he quite frequently tripped over his own feet and tumbled down the hill, though he still trailed behind the girls quite a bit, though it was clear he was having fun no matter how many times he fell. Dipper, on the other hand, was carefully trying to avoid falling as much as Steven was by jogging instead of outright running, largely because he was still somewhat worn out from his and Mabel’s initial journey up the hill.

“Hey, Dipper!” Mabel called back to her brother with a teasing grin as she glanced behind her to see how far behind he was. Her and Connie were neck and neck for the lead, with Steven still basically rolling down the hill instead of running and Dipper lagging relatively far behind them all. “Looks like you’re gonna need my workout plan after all if you ever wanna catch up!”

Dipper didn’t call out a response to this amidst pressing onward to keep up, but he did accept Mabel’s taunting as a challenge and pushed himself to run faster, throwing his former caution to the wind. However, he had only been sprinting for about a minute or two before his foot caught onto a stray rock positioned on the path, tripping him up instantly. Mabel couldn’t help but laugh as she watched her brother inevitably tumble to the ground, though she was quick to turn her attention back to the race when she realized Connie was gaining the lead. Unable to properly break his fall, Dipper rolled down the hill until he roughly collided with a nearby tree a moment later, letting out a gasp of pain and surprise as he did so. He realized with frustrated exasperation that there was no hope in catching up with the others, including Steven, as he used the tree in support for helping him stand up.

However, as he placed his hand against the tree, Dipper couldn’t help but notice there was something off about it; its bark felt nothing like wood, but rather metal, as could be deduced from its hard, cold exterior. Confused and intrigued, he gave the tree a tentative knock, listening closely to hear that the tree did indeed make a strange metallic noise. Upon further investigation, he soon discovered that the tree itself wasn’t composed entirely of metal, but rather, a small section of it was, as if it were a panel of some sorts. His curiosity getting the better of him, Dipper ran his hand over the metallic surface once more only to discover that there were small, relatively well-hidden hinges on one side of it, as if it were some sort of door. And sure enough, after a bit more probing, he managed to feel out the edges of the panel, and with a little bit of a struggle, he actually ended up prying it open.

The panel creaked open to reveal a small, dust-ridden compartment hallowed out in the tree. It looked as though it hadn’t been touched in years, which, Dipper figured, was most likely the point. After all, why would someone go to the trouble of creating putting a secret window in a random tree like this in the first place if it wasn’t for the sake of hiding something? And yet, the only thing inside of the compartment seemed to be an outward-facing button, surrounded by a few smaller buttons and what appeared to be letters engraved into the metal walls, though they were completely indecipherable. The button itself was in the shape of a hand, though oddly enough it appeared to have six fingers, and upon its palm was a symbol that looked somewhat akin to a rose, with thorny vines spiraling around it, its deep pink coloration a stark contrast from the stoic grey metal of the hand.

As cryptic as the hand switch was, Dipper couldn’t deny that he was now more interested than ever in figuring out what its purpose was. Cautiously, he peeked around the tree to see that Mabel, Connie, and Steven were still racing, all three of them having advanced past the base of the hill as they continued rushing for the Mystery Shack. He couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit of selfish excitement about the fact that they hadn’t happened upon this secret with him, for whatever mysteries the switch might uncover, he was about to unlock them on his own. And so, with curiosity eating away at him, he reached forward and pressed the button, watching with anticipation as it sunk into the compartment until it wouldn’t go down anymore.

Dipper spun around in surprise when he heard a soft rumbling sound behind him, only to see that a piece of the grassy ground seemed to be moving only a few feet away from him. The patch of earth slid back to reveal what looked to be a small dugout, apparently opened up in response to the switch being pressed.

“What the…?” Dipper muttered to himself in confusion as he approached the square hole in the ground, kneeling down so he could get a better look. Much like the tree compartment, the shallow dugout looked as though it had been abandoned for decades, large cobwebs spun in each of its corners and a thick layer of dust resting upon the lone object that rested in the center of the hole: a book.

Raising an eyebrow at the dirt-covered tome, Dipper reached inside the dugout and lifted the withered book out, easily blowing the dust from its cover to reveal more details about it. Despite its apparent age, the book was sturdily bound, with a rugged, somewhat tattered burgundy leather cover and rounded golden corners. However, what was by far the most intriguing feature of the book was the fact that it shared the same design of the six-fingered hand from the switch in the tree, shining in gold against the red leather as a bold number three was marked upon it in black.

Dipper carefully placed the book on the ground as he looked around once more to check for any prying eyes. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was suddenly so paranoid about someone else finding out about this book, but at the same time, he believed that whatever it was, it was an important discovery, one that definitely deserved more looking into. He slowly creaked open the front over of the book to reveal a pastedown inscribed only with the words “Property of…” The name of the supposed owner of the book had been torn away, quite possibly intentionally, though there was no way to be sure. Resting upon the first page of the tome was a circular eyepiece, attached to the binding via a cord, which Dipper tentatively picked up and examined for a moment before turning his attention back to the book itself.

Upon turning the page, he found what seemed to be a journal entry, headed with the date “June 18”, but oddly enough, there was no year. However, that didn’t deter Dipper from reading what was rather elegantly inscribed on the tattered, time-weathered page: “It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since I began researching the strange and wondrous secrets of Gravity Falls, Oregon.” Already immediately intrigued, Dipper quickly skimmed the rest of the page before he began to flip through the rest of the journal, finding that things only got more interesting from there. The browning, crinkled pages were filled with sketches and photographs of all sorts of unheard of oddities, from floating eyeballs to cursed doors to zombies and nearly everything in between. Alongside the detailed descriptions of these anomalies were what appeared to be countless codes and cryptograms, most likely hiding away even more information.

“What is all this?” Dipper asked in bewilderment over the strange contents of the journal as he picked the up and rose to stand. He continued to leaf through it as he started down the hill once more, walking rather than running, not even noticing as the square hole in the ground and the panel in the tree both closed on their own accord, as if they had never been opened at all. He finally stopped flipping through the journal upon coming to a page that was characterized by a message scrawled towards the bottom in frantic, bold letters that simply read “TRUST NO ONE”. Dipper frowned in sudden apprehension upon reading this, and, wanting to know the reasoning behind this pointed warning, he read over the upper page aloud. “Unfortunately, my suspicions have been confirmed. I’m being watched. I must hide this book before HE finds it. Hopefully, she’ll understand and still be willing to help me.”

“Remember, in Gravity Falls, there is no one you can trust.”

Upon reading this, Dipper slowly closed the book and silently mused over everything he had seen within it thus far. The journal seemed to very much confirm that Gravity Falls was home to many strange creatures and occurrences, which mirrored his own beliefs about the strange town. Certainly, if he held onto it, then he’d have access to whatever knowledge the author of the journal had uncovered about the mysteries of Gravity Falls, knowledge that, for the most part, seemed comprehensive, almost encyclopedic. And yet, even despite his initial excitement over having made such an interesting discovery, he couldn’t help but recall the journal’s ominous warning as he headed back towards the shack, wondering if, in light of all of the strangeness that seemed native to Gravity Falls, it held any weight at all.

“No one you can trust…”


The race essentially ended in a tie, with both Mabel and Connie reaching the shack at the same time. Regardless, both girls laughed good-naturedly as they both caught their breath after having ran down the hill nonstop.

“Wow, Connie!” Mabel exclaimed with an impressed grin as they both leaned against the side of the shack to rest. “You’re pretty fast!”

“Thanks!” Connie accepted her compliment with a bashful laugh. “I guess all that tennis practice paid off. Oh, look! Here comes Steven!” she said with another chuckle as they both watched Steven trudge his way towards them exhaustedly, his clothes covered in grass stains and his skin sporting several minor cuts and bruises from having fallen so many times. However, he was clearly no worse for wear as he was still grinning brightly, obviously in good spirits despite the fact that he came in third.

“Woo…” he said breathlessly as he stopped and took a much needed rest. “How are you guys able to run so fast? I couldn’t keep up with either of you no matter how hard I tried!”

“It’s allabout stamina,” Mabel said with a playful grin as she pretended to flex her muscles. “And I got oodles of that!”

“So this is the Mystery Shack?” Connie asked as she glanced up at the building her and Mabel were standing in the shadows of.

“Yep!” Steven said with a broad grin. “And it’s even cooler inside! You and Dipper must have so much fun working here, Mabel!”

“Eh, it’s ok,” Mabel said with a shrug. “My only complaint is when Grunkle Stan gets mad at me for trying to give things away for free in the gift shop. I mean, these tourists come all this way and pay so much money for the tour; they deserve a little something extra for their trouble! Speaking of trouble, where’s Dipper?”

Steven and Connie both shrugged, neither of them knowing where Dipper was since he had fallen so far behind during the race. Mabel frowned with slight concern for her brother as she glanced towards the path that cut through the woods and led to the hill only to have her question be aptly answered as she spotted Dipper heading towards the shack, completely engrossed in flipping through what appeared to be some kind of book.

“Hey!” Mabel greeted in her usual excitable way as she rushed towards her brother, Connie and Steven trailing not too far behind. “What do you know? Looks like you actually found your way down the hill after all, even if you were way behind the rest of us!” She giggled jokingly as she reached him, before taking notice of the book he was still intently focusing on. “Ooo! What’cha reading? Some nerd thing?”

Dipper’s attention was pulled away from the journal as he realized Mabel was reaching for it, but he was quick to pull it away and hide it behind his back out of sudden fear. “Uh, it’s nothing!” he stammered, knowing that this was a rather pathetic way of trying to brush the matter aside, but as caught off guard as he was, he had no time to think of a better excuse about the journal.

“‘Uh, it’s nothing!’” Mabel mimicked as she teasingly imitated her brother before breaking out into a sly grin. “What? You’re actually not gonna show me?”

Knowing that he could never get away with hiding anything from Mabel, Dipper relented and held the journal in front of him once more, allowing her to see it better. By now, Steven and Connie had reached them and were able to see the journal in full view as well.

“Wow…” Steven said with curious interest as he looked over the journal, intrigued by the mysterious six-fingered hand upon its cover. “What a cool looking book! Where’d you find it?”

“In a secret compartment up on the hill,” Dipper said before he suddenly realized something. “Wait… Steven, you said you live inside the statue… How have you never seen this before?”

“I dunno,” Steven shrugged, knowing for certain that this was the first time he had ever seen this book before. “But it sure does look interesting!”

“You have no idea,” Dipper said with an excited grin as the others gathered around him to get a better look at the contents of the journal itself. “It’s amazing! Whoever wrote this book apparently researched Gravity Falls for several years, and according to them, this place has this whole secret dark side.”

“Whoa…” Mabel said in awe as Dipper leafed through the book, showing off some of its varied entries on the hidden secrets of Gravity Falls. “Shut. Up!”

“This is incredible…” Connie mused as she adjusted her glasses. “It’s like some sort of encyclopedia about mythical creatures! Does anything in here actually exist?”

“Who knows?” Dipper said, even if he fully did believe that the journal’s information was on the mark. “But get this; after a certain point, the pages just… stop, like the guy who was writing it just… mysteriously disappeared.”

“Maybe he died?” Connie suggested, basing her guess off of the fact that the journal did look like it was pretty old.

“Or maybe he was abducted by aliens!” Mabel offered with a dramatic flair.

“Or maybe he’s still be out there somewhere!” Steven said optimistically, already as completely caught up in the mystery of this journal as Dipper was. “But then… why would he hide his own book, especially on the hill? I wonder if the Gems know anything about this… We could always-”

“There you kids are!” Stan’s gruff voice called out from the Mystery Shack as all four kids turned to see the proprietor of the Mystery Shack standing upon the back porch with his arms crossed and his expression impatient. Dipper was quick to tuck the journal away in his vest upon Stan’s arrival, not too keen on the idea of wanting to share the discovery of it with anyone else. Not that he thought Stan would do anything but pass the journal and its content off as mere nonsense. “You two have been gone for almost two hours! I was starting to think that you both had fallen off the face of the earth.”

“Hi, Mr. Pines!” Steven greeted Stan with an enthusiastic grin as he run up to him, the others following not too far behind.

“Oh, geez,” Stan said with a sigh of annoyed exasperation, having gotten accustomed to dealing Steven’s overt cheerfulness. “Just what I need: more hyperactive childhood innocence. As if Mabel didn’t have enough of that.” Coincidentally, Mabel happened to prove Stan’s point as she attempted to chase after Gompers the goat, only to trip and fall flat on her face, though she was quick to pick herself up off the ground and let out a hearty laugh all the same.

“Mr. Pines, this is my friend, Connie,” Steven said, still smiling as he introduced Connie, who had come to stand next to him. “I brought her here so she could experience the wonders of the Mystery Shack for herself!”

“Nice to meet you, sir,” Connie said with a polite nod.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Stan said dismissively as raised an expectant eyebrow at Steven. “But you remember what I told you about coming around here without any money, right kid? You know I don’t give free tours for anyone, not even those two goofuses,” he said, referring to Dipper and Mabel.

“It’s true,” Dipper affirmed caustically. “When we first got here, he charged us both ten dollars before we could even step inside the shack.”

“Hey, be grateful,” Stan said as he shot a warning look towards his great nephew. “I gave you both the family discount. But for you, Universe, it’s full price of admission. Same goes for your friend.”

“Oh, don’t worry!” Steven exclaimed, setting Connie’s sudden worry over having not brought any money with her to ease. “I remembered this time!” After a moment or two of digging through his pockets, he produced a crumpled wad of money and handed it to Stan. “Here you go, Mr. Pines! I saved all that up by helping my dad out at the car wash!”

Stan was hardly listening as he quickly counted through the small pile of cash before deeming that it was indeed sufficient. “Ok, fine,” he relented, stepping out of the way as he tucked the money into his suit. “You two can go on in. But don’t touch anything you can’t afford to buy!”

Steven and Connie shared an excited grin at this as they both rushed into the gift shop. However, Stan was quick to sidestep to stand in front of the door before Dipper and Mabel could follow. “Alright, you two; spill it,” he said with knowing suspicion as he gave them both a sided glance.

“Spill what?” Dipper asked with a frown of confusion.

“Where’d you two run off to for two hours?” Stan rephrased the question, briefly glancing up towards the statue as a guess as to where they might have gone. “I couldn’t get the information out of Soos or Wendy; guess you kids were smart in getting them to cover for you after all.”

Dipper and Mabel exchanged a sudden nervous glance upon hearing this, both of them thinking that Stan was already well aware of their unauthorized adventure. As to how they might have been busted when both Soos and Wendy had remained confidential was beyond the twins, but even so, neither of them were too keen on the idea of getting in trouble over something that they saw as completely insignificant.

“Uh, we didn’t go anywhere,” Dipper lied as casually as he could, which, in fact, wasn’t very casual at all. “We… we were just hanging out around here.”

“Yeah!” Mabel chimed in. “We totally didn’t go up towards the statue of the giant woman even after you told us not to, if that’s what you’re thinking.” She continued to smile innocently upon saying this, not even noticing her brother face-palm in exasperation over how she had just completely and thoughtlessly shattered their cover.

“Do you two knuckleheads really think I didn’t know you wandered up there against my orders?” Stan asked, his tone still as sardonic as ever. “I mean, the fact that you bumped into that Universe kid is proof enough.”

“Wait… so you knew Steven lives up there?” Dipper asked, puzzled over why Stan might have claimed that the hill was dangerous when it seemed to be quite the opposite really, save for the fact that the journal had been secreted away there. “Then why’d you insist that we stay away from it?”

“Yeah, there wasn’t anything dangerous up there at all!” Mabel said with a befuddled frown. “Only Steven and his adorable pet lion!”

As if on cue, Steven poked his head out of the door to the shack, sporting his usual bright grin. “Hey, aren’t you guys coming in?” he asked, ignorant to the fact that he was breaking up a conversation.

“You bet!” Mabel said with a smile as she blissfully began to head inside, not heeding the veil of tension that still seemed to hand between her brother and her grunkle.

Knowing that his pressing questions wouldn’t be answered now even if he tried asking them, Dipper followed after Mabel and headed into the shack, but not before casting one more glance behind him at Stan, who simply urged him on inside with his usual stoic scowl. Obviously, he knew more than he let on about the statue, but whatever he did know, he was insisting on hiding it under a layer of cynicism and dismissiveness. Based on his mysterious avoidance on the whole matter, Dipper couldn’t help but wonder for a brief moment if Stan knew anything about the journal, but he quickly brushed such overly suspicious thoughts aside. After all, Stan ran a tourist trap that was founded upon the very principle of false hoaxes and faux mysteries. He was clever, true, but only really when it came to swindling unsuspecting travelers. Even if the oddities written about in the journal were all true, he would be the kind of person who would either brush them off with skepticism or ignore them altogether. Certainly, Dipper reasoned, Stan couldn’t possibly be harboring any hidden knowledge about the true nature of Gravity Falls.

Right?

Chapter Text

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As Steven had hoped, Connie was duly charmed by the various bizarre artifacts and exhibits on display at the Mystery Shack. Having been on the tour countless times before, he was able to perfectly replicate it for her from memory, though to differentiate it from Stan's usual deadpanned delivery of it, Steven made sure to spice it up with his own humorous, impromptu additions. Connie got a good laugh out of hearing Steven attempt to come up with his own explanations as to how such oddities as the "six-pack o'lope" and the "cornicorn" came to be, even if she knew there were all completely fabricated. But they were both having fun in exploring the museum together, and that was really what mattered in the end.

Both Connie and Steven emerged from the museum and into the gift shop at the end of the self-guided tour in good spirits, chatting enthusiastically about all they had seen. Dipper, Mabel, and Stan were already there from having entered in through the gift shop entrance, and the twin's grunkle had wasted no time in putting them both back to work to make up for the two hours they had spent scaling the hill. Though both Dipper and Mabel begrudged the fact that Stan rarely gave them a break, they both perked up somewhat upon the arrival of their two new friends.

"Hey, you guys!" Mabel exclaimed with a chipper smile as soon as Steven and Connie stepped into the gift shop. "How'd you like the museum?"

"It was great!" Connie said with an amused grin.

"And mysterious as always!" Steven said with a faux dramatic tone, something that prompted Stan to roll his eyes at as he took inventory on the other end of the shop.

"Yo, Steven!" Soos warmly greeted the younger boy, who was a frequent regular to the Mystery Shack, as he reentered the gift shop from the rest of the house. "It's been a while since you've come down here, dude."

"Yeah, how's it hanging, man?" Wendy asked as she gave him a cool grin from her spot behind the counter.

"Soos! Wendy!" Steven exclaimed, giving the handyman a hearty high-five and sent a friendly nod in the cashier. "I'd like you both to meet my friend, Connie."

A round of introductions was exchanged between Soos, Wendy, and Connie, but before the conversation could go any further, Stan abruptly interrupted it. "Alright, so you kids paid your way and went on the tour," he said dryly to Steven and Connie. "Now if neither of you are gonna buy anything, get out. Loitering is against the rules."

"What rules?" Dipper asked, knowing that the Mystery Shack had no established policies of any kind, save for its strict ban on refunds of any kind.

"My rules," Stan said unyieldingly. "And according to my rules, its either buy or bye!"

Steven and Connie exchanged frowns of dismay at this, especially as the former checked his pockets for any more money only to find that they were completely empty save for a few sparse wads of lint. Neither of them wanted to leave so soon; after all, they were still enjoying their visit to the shack, even if their tour had ended. To have to nip their visit in the bud so early, especially considering they had only just met Dipper and Mabel, filled both Steven and Connie with visible disappointment to say the least.

"Oh, come on, Mr. Pines," Wendy argued, having always had a soft spot for Steven and his excitable ways. "Let them hang out. It's not like they're not hurting anything."

Of course, as soon as Wendy said this, Steven happened to accidentally knock over the postcard display rack while leafing through some of them. "Sorry!" the boy exclaimed, flustered as he began scooping the fallen postcards off the ground as Soos hurried over to help him. Stan merely let out an exasperated groan and face-palmed at this. He already didn't have a particular penchant for children in the first place, hence his initial hesitation in taking in Dipper and Mabel for the summer, but he found Steven's wide-eyed optimism and innocence a bit hard to swallow. Not to mention those three enigmatic women he lived with…

However, just as both Steven and Connie were about to make their case to Stan to convince him to let them linger just a little longer, a sudden, completely unexpected crash reverberated from outside, rattling the entire shack's foundation. The abrupt quake roughly threw Dipper, Mabel, Steven, and Connie to the ground, and Soos only barely managed to maintain his balance by steadying himself against the ice cream freezer at the last moment. Wendy was nearly knocked out of her chair behind the counter and by some miracle, Stan remained standing without the need for any sort of support until the ground finally stilled.

"What was that?" Dipper asked in bewilderment as he cautiously picked himself up off the ground before helping Mabel do the same.

"Maybe it's the giant anthropomorphic groundhogs emerging from their underground city to finally claim the surface as their own!" Soos exclaimed in sudden panic.

"Soos, how many times to I have to tell you? There are no giant groundhogs," Stan said caustically, repositioning his fez atop his head after it had been knocked askew by the earthquake. "The groundhog that stole your sandwich last week was regular-sized."

"But what if the smaller ones are just their spies!?" Soos protested, though no one had a chance to offer a rebuttal to this logic before the ground subtly rumbled once more, though this time, it was accompanied by shouting coming from outside.

Though their words were indiscernible from inside of the shack, Steven instantly recognized the yelling voices as he jumped to his feet in excitement. "It's the Gems!" he exclaimed, knowing that he had heard Pearl shout something first, followed by Amethyst and then Garnet. He guessed that they were dealing with whatever had caused the shaking earth, and, wanting to help them, he rushed for the door with Connie trailing off after him out of worry that he might get hurt.

"Come on!" Mabel exclaimed to Dipper with a daring grin, grabbing his hand before he could protest and dragging him to the door so they could see what was happening outside.

"Kids, wait!" Stan called out after them, but they were already out the door before he could stop them. The proprietor of the Mystery Shack grumbled to himself in aggravation as he headed for the door himself, both Soos and Wendy opting to curiously follow to see what the ruckus was about. Stan didn't particularly want to get involved in whatever disaster was going on outside, but it looked as though he had to in order to ensure that the kids didn't get into any trouble. Well, any more trouble.

Steven, Connie, Dipper, and Mabel burst out of the shack and onto the porch to find a sight that made all of their jaws collectively drop. The lawn surrounding the Mystery Shack was littered with strange almost insect-like creatures. They had long, green, slinking bodies, upheld by five legs on each side, and pincher-like tails. Their heads were mainly just sets of large, clamping jaws, their singular eyes somehow resting in the backs of their open mouths. They skittered about the area directionlessly, most of them completely oblivious to the kids' presence save for the one that had been closest to the porch when they came out. Clearly acting on primal instinct, the creature in question reared up on its hind legs in self-defensing, letting out a hissing cry at the four humans staring at it with shock before spitting out a glob of green acid-like liquid their direction.

All four of them gasped in frightened surprise as the most likely dangerous substance arced towards them. Steven was quick to leap out of the way, though in doing so, he managed to fall off of the porch and into the grass. Connie was far enough out of its path that she evade it by sidestepping away, but Dipper only managed to escape from being hit by it thanks to Mabel, who thankfully had the wits about her to pull her brother out of the line of fire just in the nick of time. The burst of corrosive fluid struck the corner of the porch squarely, instantly eating away at the once-firm wooden surface and creating a sizable hole.

"Whoa…" Dipper breathed a sigh of relief, recognizing just how close the acid had been to hitting him. "Thanks, Mabel."

"Anything for you, bro-bro!" Mabel said with a smirk, glad that she had been able to come to his rescue yet again.

"These things are so cool!" Steven exclaimed with a fascinated grin as he sat up on the ground and gauged the size of one of the creatures, seeing that they were only a bit smaller than him. However, he didn't have much of a change to get a closer look as the same one that had attacked them all moments ago set its sights solely on him, pouncing towards him with acid still dripping from its maw. Steven let out a frightened cry as he attempted to shield himself with his arm, but thankfully, before the creature could land upon him, it was abruptly halted.

The monster was skewered to the ground by a long, thin, white spear, its spiraled tip piercing the creature through its middle evenly as it convulsed wildly for a moment or two before going limp. Its body unexplainably disappeared only a second later in a puff of smoke, leaving nothing behind at all, not even the spear as it also vanished with a glimmering flourish.

In the immediate wake of the monster's demise, three feminine figures landed in front of the shack from above, their dismount simultaneous and admittedly impressive. Steven let out a delighted gasp at their arrival and Connie shared his relief, but all Dipper and Mabel could do were stare at them, agape with awe, neither having never seen women like these newcomers before. The tallest one of the bunch stood at around seven feet with a solid, steady build and dark maroon skin. Her hair was a black, thick, cubical afro, her eyes were shielded behind a pair of opaque triangular shades, and she was clad in a sleek black and magenta body suit that matched her pair of powerful battle gauntlets as she stood firm with her fists clenched and ready for action. Standing alongside her was a slightly shorter, very slender woman with porcelain white skin with very short peach-colored hair and a noticeably pointed nose. She wore a sleeveless light blue top, tied around the waist with a sash, and short tan leggings, and she held a spear that was identical to the one that had slayed one of the creatures moments ago, her grip on it quite tight with anxiety as she looked down at Steven with concern. The final member of the group was significantly shorter, though she was still a little taller than Steven, with a stout, thick build. Her skin was of a light shade of purple and her messy, lighter lavender hair fell almost down to the floor, some of it spilling over one of her eyes. Her outfit consisted of a mauve tank top with off shoulder sleeves, black leggings with star cutouts on the knees and white boots and she wielded a multi-tailed gem-encrusted whip, its long tail slung over her shoulder as she flashed a casual grin.

"Sup', Steven?" the shortest woman asked, her tone lax even as she deftly spun around and lashed her whip out, instantly downing the creature that had attempted to launch a sneak attack upon her.

"Amethyst! Garnet! Pearl!" Steven exclaimed with an admiring grin. "What's going on?"

"Steven, go back inside," Garnet said authoritatively, her tone as calm and stoic as ever.

"What?" Steven asked with a frown of disappointment, having already jumped at the chance to aid the Gems in a mission, especially since this one had fortunately happened to come to him. "But I wanna help you guys!"

"We appreciate your enthusiasm, Steven," Pearl said with a frown. "But these centipeedles are a little more than you're used to handling. Until you learn to control the powers in your gem, we'lltake care of protecting humanity, ok?"

"Aw…" Steven sighed, wishing that the Gems would trust him with more responsibilities instead of being so overprotective of him.

"Hey!" Stan shouted indignantly as he emerged from the shack along with Soos and Wendy. Though the two younger employees were just as surprised to see the scampering centipeedles as the kids had been, the shack's owner simply scowled at the sight in annoyance, as if seeing such a bizarre sight didn't faze him at all. "What in the sweet name of money is going on out here?!"

The Gems reacted with little surprise to such a harsh reception, though while both Pearl and Garnet met Stan's impatient gaze with looks of dry cynicism, Amethyst offered him a wry grin. "Yo, Stan!" she greeted nonchalantly. "It's been a while, huh?"

Though he wanted to uphold his front of bitter stoicism, Stan couldn't help but crack a small, subtle smirk upon hearing this. "Sure has, Amethyst," he said with the slightest hint of a laugh in his tone, before it quickly turned harsh again as he turned to the other two Gems, silently demanding an explanation.

"Don't worry, Stan," Pearl said indifferently as she forcefully thrust her spear into an unfortunate centipeedles that happened to pass in front of her. "We weren't able to contain these centipeedles before they escaped from the temple and migrated down here, but we'll take care of them so you can go back to… whatever it is you do."

Stan's already sour glower deepened upon hearing Pearl's condescending tone, but before he could let loose a snappy retort, Garnet was already calling the Gems to action once more. "Let's do this," she said evenly, taking up a brief battle stance before leaping high into the air to take on the centipeedles horde from a different position. Pearl and Amethyst did likewise, each of them going to a different side of the shack in order to eradicate the creatures as efficiently as possible.

"Wait up, you guys!" Steven exclaimed, still waiting to help even though he had already been turned down. Not even sparing a second thought about the potential danger he was rushing into, he hurried after his teammates, hoping to be of some use to them even though there wasn't much he could really do.

"Steven!" Connie exclaimed in sudden fear as she also leapt off the porch and ran after him, knowing that she was even more defenseless against these monsters than he was, but still, she didn't want to see him get hurt.

In the aftermath of observing all of this, Dipper and Mabel exchanged a bewildered glance, neither of them really sure what to make of the unfolding situation. The centipeedles still meandering about aimlessly paled in comparison to the ethereal beings who were combating them. Beyond all initial skepticism, the elusive guardians that Steven had called the "Crystal Gems" were real, and yet, what intrigued and confused the twins the most was the fact that their grunkle apparently had some level of familiarity towards them. Then again, it did make sense in hindsight considering that the Gem's temple and the Mystery Shack were so close to each other. By that logic, Stan and the Gems were essentially neighbors, though based on the former's apparent distain towards the trio of warriors, as well as limited interaction that the twins had seen between them, their relations were most likely anything but smooth.

"Alright, everyone," Stan said rather dismissively, already turning to head back inside the shack. "You heard 'em. They got this infestation of… whatever these things are covered, so we can all go kick our feet back and relax. Well, can. You all can get back to work."

"Don't you think we should help them?" Mabel asked with a concerned frown as she glanced over to the action taking place just a few feet away.

Stan didn't answer immediately, instead opting to watch with muted amusement as Pearl was knocked into a nearby tree by one of the centipeedles' thrashing clamped tails. "Like I said, they're handling it just fine," Stan said stoutly. "Now, let's go inside. These things are an eyesore. Get it? Eyesore? 'Cause they only have one eye!" Regardless of the fact that no one else joined him, he let out a wholehearted laugh at his own pun as he entered the shack, with Wendy, Soos, Dipper, and Mabel begrudgingly following not too far behind.

A layer of disappointment leveled throughout the gift shop as the door swung shut with a succinct bang. It didn't take Soos or Wendy too long to return to their usual tasks, even if they didn't expect any visitors to the shack in light of the monster infestation outside. Dipper and Mabel, however, were a bit more restless. It took every once of willpower they had to keep themselves from peering out the broken window at the battle waging against the Gems and the Centipeedles outside, lest Stan admonish them for their curiosity. Yet neither twin could deny they were worried for their new friends. While the Crystal Gems looked as though they were more than capable of fending for themselves against any threat, Steven and Connie were most likely in over their heads in this struggle. And while neither Dipper nor Mabel believed they'd fare much better against such obviously dangerous creatures, they still wanted to be of some help in protecting the shack instead of simply sitting back and waiting for the threat to be neutralized.

"Man, this stinks," Mabel pouted as soon as Stan had left the room and was clearly out of earshot. "There's a huge magical fight going on right outside our door and we're not even allowed to watch it! Lame!"

"Why does Grunkle Stan seem to have such a problem with them anyway?" Dipper asked, referring to the Crystal Gems. "I mean, they did come all the way down here to help get rid of those monsters. They can't be too bad, right?"

This question went unanswered as another abrupt quake rattled the shack. Outside, the Gems were quick to pause their attacks against the centipeedles in an attempt to keep their balance and figure out what was causing this new tremor. Steven and Connie, on the other hand, immediately fell in the midst of the heavy rumbling, who had been trying their best to keep up with Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, even if they were flagging behind out of exhaustion.

"What was that?" Steven asked as he picked himself up off the ground before helping Connie up, even though the earth was still softly trembling underneath them.

Connie let out a gasp of surprise as she rose to stand and happened to glance up towards the temple. "Look!" she shouted as she pointed up to the clifftop, not only directing Steven's attention there, but the Gems as well.

Perched atop the temple was a massive centipeedle, far bigger than all of the others with a long body that stretched out several feet. Its maw was also wider and more narrow, though its mandibles appeared to be even deadlier as it reared up onto several pairs of its many legs and let out an ear-splitting screech, its thick, untamed white mane flaying out wildly behind it. It had only one eye, similar to the smaller centipeedles, and as it set its sights down upon the Gems down in the clearing far below it, it let out another fierce battle cry.

"It's the mother!" Garnet shouted, clenching her gauntleted fists tight in a battle-ready stance.

"You were right, Garnet!" Pearl exclaimed as she looked up to the giant centipeedle with wide eyes. "These centipeedles did come from a mother! We have to make sure it doesn't get into the temple!"

"So, if we get rid of the mom, then all these smaller guys will disappear, right?" Amethyst asked, lashing her whip out in preparation.

All eyes were on Garnet, whom everyone hoped had the answer to this question as her intel usually proved to be infallible, but this time, she simply shrugged. "Worth a try," she said succinctly, as ready to fight the fearsome centipeedle mother as Amethyst and Pearl were.

The Gems were about to leap into action against this new central threat, but before they could, they were halted by Steven, who was attempting to rush forward alongside them. "Wait, you guys!" he exclaimed a bit breathlessly. "Let me come!"

"Steven, get back in the shack!" Pearl demanded in clear exasperation. "You too, Connie. This situation just got infinitely more dangerous with that mother here and neither of you need to be involved in this. Now, please-"

Before Steven could even try to put forth any protests, the centipeedle mother let out one more loud screech before it propelled itself into the air, flinging itself away from the temple as gravity pulled it down towards the shack, or more specifically, towards the Gems. Thankfully, Garnet had the wits about her to leap into action immediately, quickly gathering both Steven and Connie into her arms as she leaped out of the mother's projected landing zone, saving them both in the nick of time before the creature dismounted heavily, causing a rumble to ripple across the ground once more.

By now, Dipper, Mabel, Soos, and Wendy were all gathered around the broken window to see the giant centipeedle, which was about as tall as the shack itself when it rose to its full height. All four of them watched in agape awe as the Gems engaged it in battle, Amethyst and Pearl leading the charge as Garnet joined them after depositing Steven and Connie on the porch of the shack, where it would be safer. The centipeedle mother widened its maw for a moment before it began to unleash a steady stream of acid, one that the Gems quickly leapt out of the way of as it scorched the earth where they had once stood. Thinking quickly, the Gems took to the tree line, all three of them taking cover behind separate trees as they attempted to strategize. Unfortunately, their momentary retreat did not go unnoticed by the centipeedle mother, which was targeting them as it reared its head in their direction and prepared to spit more acid their way.

"Whoa, that thing is nasty!" Wendy said with disgust upon seeing the acid still dripping from the centipeedle's mandibles.

"Yeah, it's a good thing we're safe and sound here inside the shack where it can't possibly get to us!" Soos said with assurance, however, his belief of security was almost immediately proven wrong as the centipeedle mother lashed out, spitting a wide barrage of acid out in the hopes of hitting the Gems, though a few drops of it managed to fly towards the shack, or more specifically the window they were all peering out of. They all gasped in sudden fear as the deadly green substance launched their way, and, in an attempt to avoid it, they all quickly ducked away from the window as the acid landed, burning away the few remaining shards of glass that remained around the window.

As soon as they figured the immediate danger was averted, Soos and Wendy stood and resumed watching the fight with immense interest, but before Mabel could join them, Dipper held her back.

"Mabel, listen," he said, lowering his voice down to a whisper just in case Stan happened to be eavesdropping. "I know Stan told us not to get involved with all of this, but I can't help but feel as though we should."

"Yeah," she nodded in agreement with an expression of worry. "What if that huge bug destroys the Mystery Shack!? Where will I store all my sweaters then?!" Dipper rolled his eyes at his sister's rather trivial concern, but he allowed her to continue nonetheless. "We gotta do something, Dipper! Steven and his friends need our help!"

"That's exactly what I was thinking," he said, taking a brief glance towards the gift shop entrance to make sure the coast was still clear. "But what can we do against something like… that!?" he asked, motioning to the centipeedle mother right outside the window.

Both twins pondered this problem for a moment or two, neither of them really knowing how to deal with a creature like this. A pack of angry gnomes was one thing; an acid-spewing behemoth was another thing entirely. And, it was that exact train of thought that incidentally gave Mabel an idea. "Oh! Oh! Oh! I got it!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Maybe there's something about that monster in that old book you found!"

"Mabel, that's a great idea!" Dipper said with an equally enthusiastic grin, knowing that with its wealth of knowledge, certainly the journal would have at least some information on an unnatural creature like this.

"What can I say?" Mabel said with a satisfied shrug. "You're not the only one with brains in this family."

"Come on!" Dipper said as he grabbed Mabel by the arm and rushed out of the gift shop and into the den so they could examine the journal with in private. Mabel took first watch to make sure that Stan wouldn't come barging in to find them doing exactly what he had told them not to do as Dipper began to leaf through the journal in search of anything that appeared to be remotely similar to the monster outside.

"Ok, let's see here…" Dipper said as he quickly flipped through the journal's crinkled pages, carefully focusing on the illustrations specifically to see if he could spot a drawing of the creature that was still rampaging as fiercely as ever. "Ghosts… zombies… invisible cows… anthropomorphic bushes…"

The ground suddenly rumbled once again as the centipeedle mother continued to throw its weight outside, reminding both twins that time was of the essence in finding a way to get rid of it. "Uh, you might wanna hurry it up, bro!" Mabel exclaimed with a frown as she peeked out a nearby window to see the centipeedle spitting acid at the row of trees the Gems had taken refuge behind, quickly burning them down to nothing more than brittle stumps. Steven and Connie were nowhere to be seen, but it could certainly be assumed that they were still out there and still in just as much danger as the Gems themselves.

"I'm working on it!" Dipper exclaimed defensively as his search grew more frantic. And while the next several pages he glanced over were useless to the current situation, sure enough, he soon happened upon exactly what they were looking for. "Aha! Here it is!"

Mabel was quick to join her brother in examining the page that had a very accurate drawing of one of the smaller centipeedles on it, though they both figured that if there were details on the little ones, then certainly the same information could be used on a super-sized one. "A common type of Gem monster, centipeedles can be identified by their pincher-like tails and their singular eyes," Dipper read the entry on centipeedles aloud. "The acid they spit is highly corrosive and highly toxic; avoid at all costs."

"Does it say anything about how to get rid of them?" Mabel asked, realizing that the journal was only telling them stuff they already knew.

"Let me see…" Dipper said, skimming the rest of the entry silently for a moment or two before finding a piece of pertinent information. "Centipeedles originate from a central mother, who must be defeated to eradicate the rest of the horde all at once. Like most Gem monsters, the centipeedle mother will poof away upon being badly damaged and must be contained in one of the Crystal Gems' bubbles to prevent regeneration."

"What does that mean?" Mabel asked in clear confusion. Dipper simply shrugged as he continued reading, not knowing what it meant himself, though he figured it wasn't immediately important.

"The centipeedle mother can be defeated through largely any method, though it should be noted that an effective way of stunning it is through electrocution."

"Electrocution!" Mabel exclaimed with a bright grin. "So all we gotta do is find a way to shock the mom and it'll explode! Bzzrt!" She playfully poked her brother's arm as she gleefully imitated an electrical noise, even if Dipper wasn't as outright elated at this discovery.

"It didn't say electrocuting it would defeat it," he said as he closed the journal and tucked it away inside his vest once more. "It said it would stun it."

"Stun, defeat, same thing," Mabel said with a shrug. "But we gotta go tell Steven so he can let those Crystal Gems know!"

"Hold it, you two!" both twins were completely startled as Stan entered the room, a firm scowl on his face as he glowered down at them with his arms crossed. "You knuckleheads weren't thinking about going back outside, were you?"

Dipper and Mabel exchanged an apprehensive glance, knowing that, yet again, they had been caught red handed by their grunkle, who was apparently more perceptive than either of them had originally thought. "We… uh…" Dipper began, though Mabel was quick to cut in.

"We weren't really thinking about it as much as we were… going to… just… do it?" she ventured with a sheepish grin, realizing that she had failed to come up with something clever.

Stan sighed in aggravation as he pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly. "You two just don't know when to give up, do you? Why do you kids insist on giving me a headache?"

"Why do you insist on being so mysterious all the time?" Dipper asked, tired of Stan never giving them any direct answers. "What do you have against the Crystal Gems?"

Stan scoffed upon hearing this question, though it was clear that it had taken him off guard. "I don't have anything against those three," he said, rolling his eyes. "I just don't appreciate it when they drag their disasters onto my property."

"So… this has happened before?" Mabel asked with a frown.

"Well of course it has!" Stan said, clearly growing frustration with this interrogation. "We live five minutes away from each other for crying out loud! They're always causing trouble around here, claiming that they're just 'protecting humanity' or whatever. All three of them are nuisances, including that Steven kid who hangs around with them, and I wish you kids would just take after me for once and steer clear of them."

"But we know how to get rid of the monsters outside!" Mabel protested. "Don't you want the Gems to defeat them and keep the shack safe?"

"All I want is those Gems out of my hair," Stan said stubbornly, not about to budge on his firm stance at all. That is, until Dipper came up with an argument he was certain would wear their miserly grunkle down.

"You know, Grunkle Stan, as long as those monsters are outside, they're going to scare tourists away from the shack," he said a bit leadingly as Mabel, already knowing where her brother was going with this, did her best to stifle a smirk.

"So what?" Stan asked indifferently.

"So… until someone gets rid of them, you won't be making any money," Dipper said, knowing that cash was by far Stan's weakness.

It only took Stan a moment to relent upon hearing this, but he still did so begrudgingly nonetheless. "Fine," he said, waving them away to go tell Steven and the Gems what they somehow knew. "But just this once. We are not making this a habit this summer."

The twins shared a triumphant grin as they turned to hurry out before Stan changed his mind, but right before they could rush out the door, he stopped them once more. "Wait, kids," he said, prompting both of them to turn around in sudden nervousness that he was going to renig on his choice. However, he did the exact opposite as he instead flashed them a daring, surprisingly encouraging grin. "Make those eyesores pay for messing with the Mystery Shack."

Though quite surprised by this sudden affirmation, both Dipper and Mabel smiled and nodded, a sudden, newfound understanding formed between them and their stubborn old grunkle as they boldly headed outside into the thick of the fray.


Steven and Connie paced around on the shack's porch anxiously, both of them racking their brains for some sort of plan or idea. Thankfully, the smaller centipeedles were paying them no mind as they huddled against their mother, who was still relentlessly attacking the Gems. The only reason why the two youths had stayed upon the porch instead of rushing forward to help was because Connie had somehow managed to convince Steven that they needed a plan before they tried to aid the Gems. The only problem they faced was trying to actually come up with said plan.

"Maybe if we found a huge rock and threw it at the monster…" Steven began relaying his newest idea, though Connie was quick to shoot it down using practical thinking.

"Steven, even if we could find a rock like that, how would just the two of us pick it up and throw it at that thing?" she asked with a frown.

"We could get help!" Steven exclaimed, hopeful. "We could ask Mr. Pines, and Soos and Wendy! And Dipper and Mabel too! Where did they all go?" he asked, having not even realized that they had all gone inside in all of the chaos.

"We're right here!" Mabel exclaimed with a dramatic flair, taking advantage of the perfect timing as her and Dipper emerged from the shack and onto the porch.

"Great!" Steven exclaimed with an excited smile. "You guys are just in time! Now we just gotta find a big rock so we can throw it at-"

"Uh, I don't think any rocks will be needed, Steven," Dipper said as he pulled out the journal. "We figured something out."

"You mean that book has information on that thing?" Connie asked, intrigued.

"Yeah!" Mabel quipped enthusiastically. "It says all we gotta do is give it a good shock and it'll be out of our hair for good!"

"Awesome!" Steven said, already more than ready to leap into action. "We should tell the Gems! I bet they know a way to shock it!"

"But how are we going to get past that thing?" Dipper asked apprehensively, watching as the centipeedle mother unleashed another wave of acid on the trees the Gems were hiding behind.

Everyone pondered this problem for a moment or two before Steven took charge. "I got an idea!" he exclaimed, leaping off of the porch. "Everyone! Follow me!"


Though the Gems never liked to admit it, they weren't faring well in this battle. They had fought centipeedles in the past before, but they had only managed to take down a mother once in the past, with Rose Quartz bravely leading them in the charge against the massive monstrosity years ago. Now, however, Rose was gone and Garnet, Amethyst and Pearl were left to fight the centipeedle mother on their own, or, more accurately, hide from it, which was what they were doing as they continued to retreat deeper into the nearby forest as the mother's acid continued to obliterate more and more trees. The only thing the Gems could really take solace in as their minds frantically rushed for a plan was the fact that both Steven and Connie had actually listened to them and remained on the porch instead of brazenly trying to take on the centipeedles themselves.

All three of the Gems cringed as the mother hissed and spit out even more corrosive fluid, already starting to wear down the tree line they were currently hiding behind. "What are we going to!?" Pearl exclaimed in a panic amidst the sound of the decaying trees behind them. Even though the question was directed at her, Garnet simply clung onto the quickly burning tree she had once used as shelter, before she suddenly used her formidable strength to rip it out of the ground, roots and all, and hurl it at the centipeedle mother. The monster squarely caught the tree in its large jaws however, and it easily obliterated what was left of it upon chomping down.

"You know, we could really use Steven's shield right about now!" Amethyst huffed as she glanced out from behind the tree that was concealing her, only to immediately press herself against it once more to avoid being hit with acid.

"Yes…" Pearl said, her tone someone forlorn as she recalled how Rose had used that very same shield to protect them countless times in the past. "But it's for the best that he stays safe and out of the way. After all, who knows what would happen if he-"

"Hey!" Steven's voice suddenly shouted boldly as the centipeedle mother was struck with a small pebble from behind, diverting its attention away from the Gems at long last. "Leave them alone!"

Immediately, all three Gems peeked around the trees they were taking cover behind, fear and panic filling them as they saw their young charge standing ready to face off against the centipeedle mother alongside Connie and two other children the Gems were not familiar with. But all the same, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl weren't about to let Steven, or anyone else for that matter, get hurt on their watch.

As the centipeedle mother turned its massive head and its acid-dripping maw to face them, Steven, Connie, Dipper, and Mabel all immediately realized they had made a mistake. Though it was nearly impossible to read the creature's expression thanks to its singular eye, it was still easy to tell it was irritated by its body language alone. The centipeedle mother let out another piercing screech as it began to slink towards them with its many legs, thankfully not opting to spit acid at them this time and instead go for a more direct attack.

"Ok, so maybe I should have thought this idea through more!" Steven exclaimed a bit sheepishly as all four of them began a collective, hasty retreat in order to put some distance between them and the monster.

"You think?!" Dipper retorted, glancing over his shoulder to see that the centipeedle mother was indeed gaining on them in strides, its jaw continually clamping open and closed threateningly.

"We have to save them!" Pearl exclaimed worriedly as she prepared to emerge from behind the tree. However, before any of the Gems could really do anything, the centipeedle's huge pincher-tail snapped closed across the tree line, cutting several of the trees in half as the Gems narrowly avoided meeting the same fate by ducking down behind them first.

"Can we save ourselves first!?" Amethyst asked pointedly, just as clueless about what to do as before.

"Steven! What do we do!?" Connie shouted fearfully as her, Steven, Dipper, and Mabel continued to hurry away from the centipeedle mother as fast as they reasonably could.

"Uh… Well…" Steven stammered as he desperately tried to come up with a new plan, but it was difficult considering the only things filling him now were fear and adrenaline.

"What we need right now is a huge thunderstorm!" Mabel said, keeping pace with the others even though she could easily run faster. "Maybe then we could get lucky enough for a lightning bolt to strike that monster right in its giant eyeball!"

"Good luck with that," Dipper scoffed, knowing the chances for a thunderstorm at that moment were nigh impossible. "There's not a cloud in the sky!"

"Wait, no!" Steven exclaimed with a sudden grin. "She's right! A storm's exactly what we need right now! And I know exactly who can bring the thunder and the lightning! If you know what I mean."

Connie, Dipper, and Mabel all gave him a look of absolute confusion, not catching his drift at all, but then again, Steven didn't really need them to. All he really needed was to catch the Gem's attention, which, he figured, considering their current predicament, wouldn't be too terribly hard.

"Hey, you guys!" he called out to the Gems, who were scrambling to come up with a strategy that wouldn't put the kids in any more danger than they were already in. However, this did not go unnoticed by the centipeedle mother, who let out a shrill hiss before it spat out another stream of acid, which all four kids managed to frantically leap out of the way out just in time.

"Steven!" Garnet called upon seeing this, quickly rising to stand even though the mother's pinchers were still snapping aggressively. Thankfully, the steadfast leader of the Gems managed to catch them just in time and, though she was clearly struggling against their great force, she somehow found the strength to hold them off and push them back. "Go!" she shouted to Amethyst and Pearl, commanding them to aid the kids in any way possible. The other two Gems didn't hesitate to heed her order as they leapt into action, already racing to the fray with their weapons at the ready.

"You guys, listen!" Steven called out as he picked himself up off the ground in the aftermath of the centipeedle mother's attack. He paused for a brief moment to gather his bearings once more as he realized Amethyst and Pearl were on their way, with Garnet still holding back the monster's pinchers, and Connie, Dipper, and Mabel were still recovering from the mother's attack several feet away from him. However, it was clear that the latter group was the centipeedle's new target, as it began to rear up and prepare another stream of acid to launch their way. Steven took in a frighten gasp as he realized that, even despite their usual speed, Pearl and Amethyst wouldn't make it in time to rescue them, and thanks to their close proximity to the shack, they were relatively cornered with nowhere to run. Which was why, as the centipeedle mother began to spit its fresh stream of acid at his unprepared friends that Steven, half on instinct and half because he had no better ideas, recklessly threw himself directly into the line of fire.

"Steven!" all three Gems practically screamed in absolute horror as time seemed to both speed up and slow to a crawl all at once. None of them were able to stop the centipeedle mother from unleashing its acid upon the kids, but what no one, not even Steven himself had been expecting was the nearly-blinding pink glow that enveloped the entire area. And, when the light faded a bit, they were all met with a surprising sight.

Steven, Connie, Dipper, and Mabel were the first ones to notice that the centipeedle mother's acid had been averted away from them, having struck the surface that had suddenly and miraculously appeared between them and the centipeedle: a shield. The circular pink shield bore a spiral, thorny design that rounded out to a central rose design, and its entire surface seemed to shimmer beautifully even as the remnants of the centipeedle's acid dripped down it. The kids all stared at it with their jaws dropped and the Gems themselves paused as they looked upon it in both relief and amazement, but no one was more awed that Steven, who was simply trying to wrap his head around the fact that he had somehow managed to summon his shield for the second time ever. He glanced down to see that his gem was glowing underneath his shirt, keeping his shield's integrity up, even if he had no idea how this was even happening in the first place. After all, it wasn't like he had been trying to call upon the shield at all; he had merely been trying to keep his friends safe, regardless of the cost.

"How are you doing that?" Dipper asked Steven in bewilderment, having made the connection between the shield and his steadily glowing gem.

"Uh… I'm… not really sure…" Steven said with a shrug, still holding his arms open wide in hopes that the shield would stay longer, however, it was already starting to fade away, leaving them vulnerable to the centipeedle mother's wrath once more.

"Steven!" Amethyst and Pearl exclaimed in unison, having broken out of their initial shock to begin their pursuit once more.

"Oh, that's right!" Steven said, suddenly remembering the task at hand as his shield unceremoniously disappeared. "Guys! You have to shock the monster!"

"Shock?" Amethyst asked with uncertainty. "As in... electrocute it?"

"What?" Pearl scoffed, also not buying it. "But how do you know-"

Before Pearl could even finish her question, the centipeedle mother suddenly let out a piercing cry as its entire long body jolted with an electrical charge, its white mane sticking straight up as it attempted to backpedal in pain. Everyone turned to see that Garnet had already heeded Steven's advice, despite Pearl and Amethyst's doubts, as an electrical current flowed from her gauntlets and into the centipeedle's pinchers, painfully coursing through the rest of its body. "Gems! Weapons!" she commanded firmly, letting the resistant electricity do its job as she leaped high into the air to join her teammates. "Let's go," Garnet said as all three Gems stood together, prompting them to leap into action.

The centipeedle mother continued to writhe in stunned pain as the kids watched with amazement as all three Crystal Gems pounced upon it. Amethyst was the first to launch an offensive as she smoothly coiled her whip around its neck and wrangled it down, allowing Pearl to squarely wedge one of her spears between its wide open jaws to keep them from shutting. From there, Garnet landed the final blow, all while the mother was still incapacitated, by pounding away at the eyeball at the back of its throat with a single, unforgiving punch.

With one final agonized scream, the centipeedle mother suddenly burst in its entirety, its long body poofing into a cloud of smoke that quickly faded away to reveal all that remained of the dreaded beast: a small, lone, round green gem. All of the smaller centipeedles immediately vanished away as the gem bounced down on the ground, rolling until it landed underneath Garnet's foot. The leader of the Gems lowered her hand to it, using magic to surround it in a maroon glow that soon turned into a small, translucent bubble that had the gem contained inside. Garnet's expression remained as stoic as ever as she brought the bubble up to her level, before merely waving her hand to somehow make it disappear from sight once and for all.

"That was so cool, you guys!" Steven cheered as he ran up to the Gems, whose weapons disappeared at will now that the danger was averted. "That monster didn't know what hit him! …Or her… Or whatever it was."

"Thank you, Steven," Pearl said with astute satisfaction in a job well done. "But I doubt we can take all of the credit for this victory."

"Yeah!" Amethyst chimed in as she gave Steven an affectionate noogie. "You summoning your shield was awesome! And how'd you know that thing about electrocuting it? It worked great!"

"I owe that to my new friends, Dipper and Mabel!" Steven said with a wide grin as he glanced behind him to see the twins approaching with Connie, all three of them having taken the time to catch their breaths after the dangerous ordeal they had narrowly survived.

"Hello," Garnet greeted the twins amicably enough, despite the fact that she was as monotone as ever. "We are the Crystal Gems."

Before either Dipper or Mabel could introduce themselves in return, Steven eagerly jumped on the impromptu idea that suddenly occurred to him, and as a response, he burst into a zealous song. "We'll always save the day!" he sang cheerfully as he came to stand amidst the Gems, who, much like Connie and the twins, gave him curious looks. "And if you think we can't, we'll always find a way!"

By now though, the Gems were catching onto what he was doing as Garnet joined her own melodious voice in. "That's why the people of this world…" she continued as Steven cued her in, with Pearl and Amethyst jumping in to harmonize perfectly to the bouncy tune.

"Believe in—" Steven sang on with a huge grin before pointing to the Gems to take it away.

"Garnet," the leader of the Gems sang as she took up a pose of authority, showing off the maroon gemstones upon both of her palms.

"Amethyst," the purple Gem chimed in lightheartedly, pulling down her top just a little to expose her own gem more.

"And Pearl!" the white Gem trilled elegantly as she gestured to the gem resting on her forehead.

"And Steven!" Steven wholeheartedly shouted the last lyric of the song as he lifted up his shirt to reveal the pink gem on his stomach, completely overjoyed that the Gems had aided him in his unplanned serenade.

Though the sudden break-out into song had come completely out of nowhere, Dipper, Mabel, and Connie all laughingly applauded it, having enjoyed it all the same. Already more than excited about finally getting to meet the rumored "magical women" she kept hearing so much about, Mabel raced ahead of her brother to greet the Gems, shaking each of their hands excitedly, even if they were a bit perplexed by her enthusiasm. "Hiya! The name's Mabel! And that's my brother Dipper!" she introduced, pointing her thumb behind her at her brother, who, lacking his sister's innate extroverted tendencies, was a bit more hesitant in approaching the Gems. "So do you guys beat up giant monsters like that all the time?"

"Well, I wouldn't say all the time…" Pearl mused, taking what Mabel had said a bit too literally. "On a daily basis would be more accurate."

"It's all in a day's work in keeping you humans safe," Amethyst said with a casual, somewhat teasing grin.

"So… what exactly are you?" Dipper asked the Gems a bit warily after finally joining Mabel, knowing that if the Gems didn't refer to themselves as human, then they had to be something… other than human.

"Didn't you hear the song, kid?" Amethyst asked rather sarcastically. "We're the Crystal Gems!"

"And they always save the day!" Mabel added cheerfully, with Steven ready to leap in and begin a refrain of the song, though before they could, Dipper was quick to cut in and rephrase his previous question.

"But, you guys aren't actually… gem-gems, are you?" he asked, thinking such an idea to be preposterous, though he wasn't exactly sure how else to phrase it.

"Simplified down to our most basic forms, actually, we are," Pearl clarified eloquently, unable to deny that she appreciated this young human's curiosity. "Unlike humans, we don't have organic beings. Our bodies are actually projections generated by our gemstones," she explained, motioning to her own gem.

"So… you're basically like holograms… but with mass?" Dipper asked inquisitively, still trying to wrap his head around this somewhat bewildering concept.

"Exactly!" Pearl said with a nod and a grin. "That's a perfect way of putting it."

"Hey, Garnet," Amethyst chuckled impishly as she elbowed the Gem leader. "Nice mass."

"I know," Garnet said with a small, amused grin as she adjusted her shades.

"Dipper and Mabel are staying here at the Mystery Shack for the summer," Steven informed the Gems. "Mr. Pines is their great uncle!"

"Huh, Stan's never mentioned that he has a niece and nephew before…" Amethyst mused, though she was still smirking lightly. "Your uncle and us go way back," she said a bit jokingly to the twins, though Pearl merely brushed her comment off with a scoff.

"No we don't," the white Gem said as she crossed her arms with slight distain. "Just because you like to go off gallivanting with Stan and getting into trouble every now and again doesn't meanwe do, or that we even support such unruly behavior. Right, Garnet?"

"I'm not involved in this," Garnet said succinctly, smartly choosing not to stoke the fires of another potential argument between her teammates. However, they were thankfully interrupted before one could even begin, as Stan ironically enough emerged from the shack to see that his yard was finally clear of monsters, though, much to his dismay, not of Gems.

"Hey! Speak of the devil!" Amethyst greeted him with a rowdy laugh. "We took care of your little pest problem for ya!"

"I can see that," Stan said, though he still did glance over the area once more to make sure no centipeedles who might threaten his chances of making money remained. "So… what? Do you three want me to pay you or something?" he asked, hating to even pose that question, for even if the Gems did request monetary retribution, he would go out of his way to find a way to avoid giving it.

"Oh, no, thank you," Pearl said rather coldly, turning her nose up a bit at the offer. "We have no need for any of your human currency. We simply take pride in protecting all members of the human race from any threat. ...No matter who they might be."

Stan scoffed bitterly upon hearing the white Gem's biting remarks as he mimicked her proclamation under his breath, though she didn't hear it as she turned to Steven instead. "Now, come along, Steven," she said with a much more complacent tone. "It's getting late. Time to say goodbye and head back to the temple for the night."

"Aw… already?" Steven asked with a frown of disappointment as he glanced up at the sky and did notice that it was starting to turn shades of pink and violet with the setting sun.

"Actually, I should be heading home too…" Connie said with a frown, knowing that her mother would get after her if she was out too late. "But maybe we can hang out again tomorrow!"

"Yeah!" Mabel cheered enthusiastically. "And maybe we could go check out that temple you were telling us about, Steven!"

"Oh, yeah!" Steven exclaimed, already fully on board with this plan as he turned to the Gems to ask for their permission. "Can they? Please?"

Garnet simply shrugged, despite the fact that Pearl was about to protest. "I don't see why not," she said evenly.

The kids all shared their happy reactions to this, with Steven and Mabel openly cheering and high-fiving to show their excitement as both Dipper and Connie simply laughed in amusement at their equal verve. Their celebrating was soon ended, however, as the Gems called for Steven once more and Connie begrudgingly took her own leave to go home.

"Bye, you guys!" Steven bid farewell to the twins with a bright grin as he trailed behind the Gems back to the temple. "See you later!"

"Bye!" both Dipper and Mabel called back with equal friendly smiles, despite the fact that, in light of the eventful day they had, they were both very worn out. As soon as Steven and the Gems were gone, both twins tiredly plopped down on the ground to take a much needed rest as they sat back-to-back in the newfound calm of the evening. Or at least they did for about a minute before Stan abruptly broke through that calm.

"Alright, you two," he said gruffly as he crossed his arms and glowered down at his niece and nephew. "You 'saved the day' or whatever, so I'm sure two busy-body little 'heroes' like you would have no problems helping fix up the damage those monsters caused."

Dipper and Mabel wearily looked over to the shack to see what their grunkle was talking about, and indeed, it did look a little worse off than it had been before, with several spots in its wooden exterior having been burnt through thanks to the centipeedles' acid and a few of the porch's beams having been crashed into during the earlier battle against them. However, neither twin was too keen on getting up at the moment at all, much less do any sort of manual labor.

"Ugh, Grunkle Stan, do we have to?" Dipper moaned, trying his best to project exhaustion so that Stan might go a bit easier on them.

"Yeah, we're so tired!" Mabel added, letting out a big, albeit somewhat fake, yawn.

"So what?" Stan asked unsympathetically. "I'm tired all the time. Doesn't keep me from getting things done. Besides, you two are young; you should be chock full of energy! Now get on in here and help clean this mess up! I would have had the Gems do it, but I'm sure Pearl would have gone into this big long spiel about how it's 'above them' or some garbage like that." Stan continued to complain about the Gems to himself as he headed on inside, leaving the twins to follow him in. However, they didn't do so immediately, instead opting to take at least one more moment of rest and, oddly enough, reflection over everything that had just happened in the last several hours.

"That was crazy," Dipper said, still trying to process the events of the past day alone, including meeting Steven and the Gems, finding the journal, and narrowly escaping death at the maw of the centipeedle mother.

"Yeah," Mabel agreed, though she was grinning to herself. "But you gotta admit; it was a ton of fun."

"It was," Dipper said with a small laugh, unable to deny that even as dangerous and hectic as the day had been, when it came right down to it, he had still enjoyed himself. "What do you say the chances of the entire summer being like this are?" he asked his sister as he rose to stand and extended a hand to her to help her do the same.

"I'd say they're pretty good," Mabel grinned as she accepted her brother's hand and stood, hoping that the rest of the summer would wield just as much action and intrigue as this day alone had. And indeed, both twins were firmly certain that as long as Steven and the Crystal Gems were around, then this summer would hold plenty of untold adventures and daring escapades in store for them all.

Chapter Text

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The mail often arrived quite early to the Crystal Temple, and though Steven usually slept through its delivery most mornings, this particular morning, he was up with the sun to anxiously await its arrival. The Gems had been on a mission when he woke up and hurriedly and excitedly prepared for the day before rushing down the path from the house to the mailbox, eagerly waiting beside it for the mail to come.

"Hey, Mr. Postman, bring me a post!" Steven cheerfully sang to himself to pass the time, keeping a careful watch on the woods surrounding the temple for any signs of the mailman. "Bring me the post that I love the most!"

Steven was just finishing up his song when the postman in question emerged along the path that came from town, just as he had been hoping for. "My song came true!" he exclaimed, bouncing up and down in excitement. "Hi, Jamie!" he greeted the young mailman enthusiastically. "Do you have a package for me today?"

"Hey there, Steven!" Jamie said with a friendly grin as he arrived at the mailbox, though he was quick to open his mailbag and begin to ruffle through it. "Let me see what I've got here… Hm… Did you order a loaf of bread with a stamp on it?" he asked as he pulled out exactly that.

"No," Steven said, shaking his head as he partially wondered why someone would mail order a loaf of bread.

"Did you order a jury summons for R.J. Finkle?" Jamie asked as he pulled out an envelope and briefly read over the label.

"No, that's not me, I'm Steven!" the boy said, growing more and more anxious. After all, he had patiently waited almost two weeks for shipping and handling on the package he had ordered; he figured it was about time for his waiting to finally pay off.

"Oh, right, right, Steven!" Jamie said with a laugh at the boy's verve as he pulled a rather bulky package from his bag. "Here it is, Steven Universe!"

"Yes!" Steven cheered as he gladly took the package. "This thing is gonna help me save the world!"

"Really?" Jamie asked, raising an eyebrow. "It says it's from Wacky Sacks Supply Company."

"Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl think I shouldn't go on magic adventures with them because I don't know how to use my Gem powers yet," Steven explained.

"That seems reasonable," Jamie mused, still smiling.

"But there are other ways I can help," Steven insisted as he grinned down at the box in his arms.

"With a Wacky Sack?"

"Exactly!"

"Do you know how you can save my world?" Jamie laughed as he pulled out a signature pad and held it out to Steven. "Sign here, please."

"Sure thing!" Steven agreed as he quickly scribbled his name onto the pad.

"Thanks," Jamie said as he put the pad away once Steven was done. "Barb yells at me if I don't get signatures."

"That's awful!" Steven said with genuine sympathy, though he was soon distracted by a sudden burst of light emitting from his house behind him. "Oh! The Gems are back! I gotta go! Thanks, Jamie!"

"Wait, Steven!" Jamie called out after the boy, who was already bounding up the stairs to the house with his package in hand. "What is a Wacky Sack?"

The mailman's question went unanswered as Steven burst into the house, only to stop in the doorframe as he took in the disarray before him.

"Hello, Steven," Garnet greeted calmly, white feathers randomly poking out of her slightly disheveled afro. Steven didn't even have time to ask the Gem leader what had happened before he was abruptly distracted by Pearl and Amethyst's bickering in the kitchen.

"Amethyst, we do not need that!" Pearl scolded, her hands on her hips as she watched Amethyst attempt to squeeze a large egg covered in light blue stars into the fridge. "It's not going to fit in there!"

"What?" the purple Gem scoffed as she rolled her eyes. "I totally got this." In one fluid movement, she pulled the middle tray out of the fridge, all of its former contents dropping onto the floor to create a mess of spilled milk and fallen bagels. Amethyst paid this no mind however as she finally managed to push the egg inside, letting out a triumphant laugh as she gave Pearl a smug grin. "See! It fits!" she said before carelessly slamming the fridge door shut. A cringe-worthy crack immediately followed, and the purple Gem didn't even need to open the fridge to know what had happened to her prize. "Oh man…" she sighed in disappointment before perking up a moment later. "Eh, I guess it's not a total loss. Now we can make a big omelet, or a quiche, or a huge sunny side up!"

"Amethyst!" Pearl exclaimed in exasperation, only imagining the disaster that awaited inside of the fridge.

"Ugh, come on, Pearl…" Amethyst groaned. "You're no fun anymore. This is why we never form Opal anymore."

Pearl scoffed as she crossed her arms. "We don't form Opal because you're difficult and a mess."

Amethyst took up an angry stance as she marched up to Pearl, refusing to take such belittling. "We don't form Opal because you're uptight and-"

The purple Gem didn't have time to finish her criticism before Steven jumped in between them, abruptly interrupting their argument only moments before Garnet had intended to. "Guys! Guys!" he exclaimed, having left his package at the door as he pushed the two Gems apart a little and looked to both of them with wondering eyes. "What's Opal?"

"Opal is the two of us," Amethyst said with a sly grin as she clasped her hands together dramatically. "Mashed together!"

Steven gave her a look of bewilderment, but thankfully, Pearl jumped into better explain the concept, though it was clear she was still embittered. "Is water just hydrogen and oxygen 'mashed' together?" she asked sardonically, though the only response she received were clueless looks from Steven and Amethyst. "Analogy wasted…"

"Steven, what Pearl and Amethyst are trying to say is that Opal is the fusion of both of their forms," Garnet cut in as she placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "When they synchronize physically, mentally and emotionally, they can unite into a single, more powerful Gem."

"Whoa…" Steven said in awe, stars in his eyes as he turned to look between the other two Gems, who were still clearly at ends. "That's so cool! Tell me more about Opal!"

"Well, Steven," Amethyst began with a grin as she wrapped her arm around the younger Gem's shoulder. "She's an ultra-powerful, stone cold, Betty—that part's me. And she's like, kinda tall-that part's Pearl," she finished, dropping her voice down to a loud whisper that the white Gem could still clearly hear.

"As I tried saying earlier, Opal is not that simple," Pearl restated eloquently. "She is an amalgam of our combined magical and physical attributes fused into a single entity."

"Wow! So can you do it right now?" Steven pleaded, excited to see what the two of them might look like together. "Come on, form Opal!"

Both Amethyst and Pearl were quiet for a moment as they both looked to Garnet, who simply nodded in agreement with Steven, though both of the other Gems could tell it was something of a challenge. "Well?" she asked expectantly, her arms crossed as she gave them both a stoic expression.

"Uh… well…" Amethyst began, scratching the back of her neck as she glanced away from Pearl somewhat awkwardly.

"Garnet, you know we only fuse when it's absolutely necessary!" Pearl protested, even if she knew that rule couldand had been bent before.

"Alright then," Garnet said evenly, even if both of the other Gems could tell that she was only letting the matter go out of necessity rather than anything else. "If you don't want to fuse, I won't force you."

Amethyst and Pearl both let out collective sighs of relief, though they were barely audible under Steven's loud sigh of disappointment. "However," Garnet went on. "We should set out on our next mission immediately. We must retrieve the Geode beetles of Water and Earth."

"Oh! Oh! Guys, this is perfect!" Steven exclaimed excitedly as he rushed back over to the package lying near the door and began to open it.

"What? Why?" Pearl asked.

"Because when we find the beetles, I can help carry them in this!" In a flourish, Steven pulled out the item he had been anxiously awaiting for weeks and held it up for the Gems to see. "Ta da!"

All three Gems looked at the backpack Steven was triumphantly holding up, which, interestingly enough, was styled to look exactly like a cheeseburger, complete with fixings and all. "It's a… hamburger?" Pearl asked as she raised an eyebrow.

"It's a novelty backpack shaped like a cheeseburger!" Steven said proudly as he slipped it over his shoulders. "Isn't it cool!? Everything is a pocket! Even the cheese is a pocket! I bet I could fit all sorts of important Gem stuff in here! Like those beetles!"

"Oh… well… I'm not sure if this mission will be… safe enough for you to go on, Steven," Pearl said, wanting to let him down gently upon seeing how excited he was.

"He can come," Garnet said before Steven even had a chance to offer a rebuttal to Pearl. "After all, we are splitting up to get the beetles."

"Well, I'm going with not Pearl," Amethyst said stoutly as she crossed her arms and glared away from the white Gem, still bitter from earlier.

"Well that's perfect because I don't want to go with grammatically incorrect people anyway," Pearl retorted.

"Is she talking about me?" Steven whispered to Garnet amidst checking out the features of his cheeseburger backpack, even if he wasn't entirely sure what Pearl had meant by "grammatically incorrect". The Gem leader cracked a small smile at this as she shook her head, before addressing her teammates before another argument could break out between them.

"You three go together," Garnet said simply. "I go alone."

"What?! Why?" Amethyst and Pearl exclaimed in surprised unison.

"The Earth Beetle's at the bottom of a boiling lava lake, and only I can swim through lava," Garnet explained, waving her fingers over her shades as they magically transformed into a pair of swimming goggles of the same triangular shape. "You won't even need to warp to find the Water Beetle because it's located somewhere around Lake Gravity Falls. It's safer."

"You mean boring-er," Amethyst scoffed as she rolled her eyes.

"You mean more boring," Pearl corrected.

"So you agree with me."

Pearl shot her an annoyed look as she headed for the front door. "Come on, you two!" she called to Steven and Amethyst as Garnet headed for the warp pad. "Let's go."

"Coming!" Steven exclaimed with a huge grin, always excited to accompany the Gems on a mission, especially now that he had his cheeseburger backpack to help them out. Amethyst lagged a bit behind the younger Gem on purpose, knowing that her sluggishness would further aggravate Pearl, which it certainly did.

"Steven!" Garnet called out after the trio once more before she warped to go on her solo mission. "Be sure to keep the harmony!"

"No problem!" Steven said with a firm salute as the Gem leader warped away, leaving him with his two quarreling teammates. "You heard what Garnet said, guys!" he said with an eager grin as all three of them stepped out of the door to head over to the lake. "Today's gonna be all about HAR-MON-Y!"


"Are you ready for the ultimate challenge?"

"I'm always ready."

"Then you know what this means," Mabel said, giving Dipper a daring grin as she held her bottle of maple syrup up a bit higher, more than ready to take her brother on in their breakfast-themed competition.

"Syrup race!" both twins declared simultaneously, and sure enough, the battle was on. Both of them tipped their respective syrup bottles back and anxiously waited for the sweet, sticky liquid to drip down onto their awaiting tongues. It was something of a slow process, especially since they had an unspoken rule to not tap the bottom of the bottles to coax the syrup out sooner, but Mabel emerged as the victor in the end as she got to taste the syrup first, even if she did manage to choke on it in her excitement.

"Yes!" Mabel cheered amidst her choking as she slammed her bottle of syrup down on the table. "I won!"

Dipper accepted his sister's triumph with a good-natured laugh as he turned his attention back to the magazine he had been leafing through before Mabel had challenged him to a syrup race. "Whoa, no way!" he exclaimed with interest as a certain ad caught his attention. "Mabel, check this out."

Mabel let out a gasp in intrigue as a huge grin lit up her face. "Human-sized hamster balls?!" she asked, thinking that such a thing was too good to be true. "I'm human-sized! It's like it was made for me!"

"No, not that," Dipper said as he pointed to what was on the opposite page. "This." The page in question advertised a monthly monster photo contest, with the previous month's winning entry being a photo of a monster that looked anything but intimidating. However, what really attracted the attention of both twins was the fact that it promoted a one thousand dollar prize for the winning photo. "We see weirder stuff than this every day!" Dipper insisted enthusiastically. "We didn't happen to get any pictures of those centipeedles from the other day, did we? Or the gnomes?"

"Nope, just memories," Mabel said as she shook her head. "And this beard hair," she said, holding up a lock of grey hair that clearly came from one of the gnomes they had faced off against several days ago.

"Why did you save that?" Dipper asked, somewhat disturbed.

Mabel simply glanced towards the gnome hair again and shrugged, not entirely sure of the answer to that question herself.

"Morning, knuckleheads," Stan greeted as he entered the kitchen, apparently in a strangely upbeat mood. "You two know what day it is?"

"Um… happy anniversary?" Dipper guessed, though based on Stan's immediate reaction, he was clearly wrong.

"Mazel tov!" Mabel cheerfully proclaimed nonetheless.

Stan rolled his eyes as he gave his great nephew a light whack on the back of the head with his newspaper. "It's family fun day, genius!" he clarified as he headed over to the fridge to get some milk. "We're cuttin' off work and having one of those, ya know…" he paused as he took the milk out and gave it a tentative sniff to make sure it was still fresh. "Bonding-type deals."

"Grunkle Stan, is this going to be anything like our last family bonding day?" Dipper asked with a frown, referring to the events that had taken place just a few days ago. "You know, when you forced us to help you make counterfeit money and said it was 'arts and crafts'."

"The county jail was so cold…" Mabel shuddered, recalling their brief stint there after they had been inevitably caught by the police.

"All right, so maybe I haven't been the best summer caretaker so far," Stan admitted. "But I swear, today we're gonna have some real family fun."

Both twins couldn't help but smile a bit at this, both of them genuinely curious to see what their grunkle had in store for the day, even if there was a large chance that it could either put them in significant danger or trouble. Nonetheless, Stan gaged their receptive reactions with an eager grin as he wrapped his arms around their shoulders. "Now, who wants to put on some blindfolds and get into my car?"

"Yay!" both twins cheered in excited unison, though Dipper was the first to realize the somewhat untoward implications of what Stan had just asked. "Wait, What?"


The ride to wherever Stan planned on taking the twins was a bumpy one to say the least, though that could very well have been attributed to Stan's less than exemplary driving skills. Not that either Dipper or Mabel could really see where they were going anyway, as their grunkle had been true to his word in blindfolding them both before they even got in the car. While they both had plenty of questions about their destination or about Stan's intentions, neither of them really bothered asking any of them as they tried to remain in steady sitting positions amidst their grunkle's reckless driving. It was both a marvel and a relief when the vehicle finally sputtered to a stop, most likely worse for wear as it had certainly collided with several various obstacles en route to their destination.

"Okay," Stan with a confident grin after they had unloaded out of the car. "Open em' up!"

Dipper and Mabel did as they were told and finally lifted their blindfolds to see really the last thing they had been expecting. They had both thought that Stan was taking them to a bank or a diamond mine or some other place where he could attempt to acquire money, most likely illegally, under the guise of family "bonding". But what they hadn't been anticipating was that he was taking them to the town lake.

Lake Gravity Falls, while not the largest lake in the world, was still fairly sizable, stretching several miles wide and quite deep in many places. Its murky cerulean surface shimmered radiantly in the mid-morning sunshine, as the towering waterfall that the town was named for spilled into it far across from its shore. Upon the waters themselves were countless small boats and dinghies owned by various townsfolk, and if the banner stretching from the bait shack on the shore that read "Fishing Season: Opening Day" was any indication, then it was clear that they were all here for the same purpose.

"Ta da!" Stan chimed as he threw his arm out towards the lake, a huge, genuine grin on his face. "It's fishin' season!"

"Fishing?" Mabel repeated as her and Dipper exchanged a bewildered glance.

"What are you playing at, old man?" Dipper asked, raising an eyebrow at the sudden strangeness of this situation. After all, neither twin had known their grunkle to ever be too fond of fishing, and this impromptu rip had been too out of nowhere for it to not have any ulterior motives behind it.

"I'm not playing at anything," Stan said, and his innocence was surprisingly believable. "You kids will love it. The whole town's out here! And you know what they say: fishing is some qualityfamily bonding."

"I don't think anyone says that," Mabel said with a sided frown. "Ever."

"Grunkle Stan, why do you wanna bond with us all of the sudden?" Dipper asked somewhat distrustfully, finally voicing the question that both twins had silently been wondering.

"Come on, this is gonna be great!" Stan said enthusiastically, not really providing much of an answer. "I've never had fishing buddies before. The guys down at the lodge won't go with me. They don't 'like' me or 'trust' me," he said, using air quotes to emphasize his point.

"I think he actually wants to fish with us," Mabel leaned over and whispered to Dipper, feeling somewhat sorry for their apparently lonely grunkle. That is, until he pulled out two homemade fishing hats from his back pocket.

"Hey, I know what'll cheer you sad sacks up," Stan said before slapping the hats on the twins' heads. "Pow! Custom-made Pines' family fishing hats! That's hand stitching, you know."

Though Stan was clearly proud of his handiwork, Dipper and Mabel were far less enthusiastic as they took the hats off to get a better look. Stan had embroidered the twins' names onto the hats, though Dipper's was shorted to "Dippy" and the L in Mabel peeled itself off as she was holding it. As if the prospect of having to muddle through the mind-numbing boredom of fishing in and of itself hadn't been bad enough, these embarrassing hats only proved to turn the twins off from this outing even more.

"Yep," Stan said as he held his hands on his hips in satisfaction, barely even noticing the fact that his niece and nephew were cringing as they looked at the hats. "It's just gonna be you two, me, and those goofy hats on a boat, out on the wide open lake, for ten hours!"

"Ten hours?" Dipper asked in dismay, knowing that the last thing he'd ever want to do for ten hours straight was fish.

"I brought the joke book!" Stan added cheerfully as he held up a copy of 1001 Yuk 'Em Ups, the "Uncle Approved" edition.

Both twins let out a unified gasp of horror at this, knowing that the only thing worse than both fishing and poorly-made hats were bad uncle jokes.

"There has to be a way out of this," Mabel said to Dipper, her tone deadly serious and desperate as they both shared the same exact same dread over the unfolding situation.

However, this dread quickly turned to hope as Dipper happened to spot three familiar figures heading down the shoreline. "There just might be…" he said with a small smile as he nodded in that direction, directing Mabel's gaze there as she joined him in his relief.

Pearl, Amethyst, and Steven were approaching the lake at a rather hurried speed, even if the former Gem trailed behind the two latter ones a bit. And yet he tried his best to keep up as he continued asking them question after curious question about the mysterious Opal, craving to know more behind the concept of fusion.

"So, when you fuse, do you turn into a giant giant woman, or just a regular-sized giant woman?" Steven asked, ignoring Amethyst's groan of exasperation. "Does one of you control the right arm and the other control the left arm?"

"Come along, Steven," Pearl urged as she glanced behind her, her expression just as aggravated as Amethyst's as she also refused to acknowledge Steven's inquiries about Opal.

"Wait! These are extremely important questions!" Steven exclaimed as he quickened his pace up a bit to catch up, only barely taking note of the fact that they had just about reached the lake. "What if you eat a hot dog? Whose stomach does it go into? Or do you share the same stomach? That would be gross!"

"Steven, please," Pearl said with a sigh of disdain. "You know Gems don't need to eat."

"But Amethyst likes to eat!"

"True 'dat!" Amethyst quipped casually.

"So would that mean that Opal would like to eat too?" Steven continued with his endless round of questions. "Or would she only like to eat sometimes, since you don't like to, Pearl?"

"Wha-" Pearl began to asked, before she decided not to even indulge such a ridiculous question as the trio finally came to a stop upon the lake's shore. "That doesn't matter right now, Steven. What matters is that we've finally arrived at the lake."

"And on opening day of fishing season too!" Steven exclaimed with a grin upon spotting the banner. "Cool!"

"So where's this Water Beetle at anyway?" Amethyst asked as she played with a lock of her hair absently.

"It's hard to say for certain…" Pearl mused as she glanced over the lake with a frown. "For all we know, it could be anywhere around here, even at the bottom of the lake itself…"

"Great," Amethyst said sarcastically. "Then we better get our swimming caps on, huh, Pearl? After all, you wouldn't want to mess up that 'perfect' point of yours," she teased, referring to the symmetrical point at the end of the white Gem's hair.

"Actually, it would be completely illogical for us to swim all the way down there," Pearl retorted pointedly as she crossed her arms. "Instead, I was thinking that we could use the nearby resources available to us to craft a vessel that could help us retrieve it. That is, if the beetle even is located in the lake bed… We should probably get to searching around for it first before we-"

"Hey! Look who it is!" Steven exclaimed with a bright grin as he caught sight of the twins, who had been discretely waving at him to catch his attention and avoid Stan's for the past several minutes. "Dipper! Mabel! Mr. Pines!" he called as he ran towards the Pines family, leaving the two Gems to continue to quarrel quietly about their mission as they followed not too far behind.

"Oh, geez…" Stan groaned in aggravation as he turned to see Steven headed their way. "I can't even go one day without having to deal with them, can I?"

Despite their grunkle's apparent exasperation, Dipper and Mabel continued to share hopeful smiles as Steven hurried towards them, knowing that if anyone could save them from having to spend the whole day fishing with Stan, it was Steven and the Crystal Gems.

"Hey, Steven," Dipper greeted as him and Mabel walked passed Stan, who crossed his arms and glared away bitterly. "What are you guys doing out here?"

"Please tell us you aren't going fishing," Mabel pleaded in a whisper, making sure Stan couldn't hear her.

"Nope, but I wish we were! That sounds like a ton of fun!" Steven said optimistically. "We're actually here looking for a magical Gem thing called the Water Beetle. And when we find it, I'm gonna carry it back to the temple in this!" He promptly spun around to show the twins his cheeseburger backpack, and as he had hoped, they were both duly impressed by it, though Mabel moreso than Dipper.

"Steven, that backpack is the coolest thing I've ever seen!" she exclaimed with an excited grin, stars in her eyes as she inspected it more closely. "I'd take it with a side of fries!"

The kids shared a laugh at this, though it was short lived as the Gems arrived, as it was clear that neither Amethyst or Pearl were in much of a mood to converse with each other, much less anyone else. "I'm sorry, Steven," Pearl said a bit impatiently. "But there's no time for you to play with your friends right now. We have to start looking for the Water Beetle."

"Yeah," Amethyst added boredly. "The sooner we get this mission done, the better."

"Yeah, well, we can't stand around and chat all day either," Stan said succinctly, even though he had no desire to as he grabbed the twins by the shoulders and began to lead them away. "We have a full day of fishing ahead of us, right kids?"

Dipper and Mabel exchanged an unenthusiastic glance, knowing that the search mission that Steven and the Gems were on sounded infinitely more fun than fishing with Stan ever would. However, before they could protest, a sudden interruption fortunately sounded out from the other side of the shore.

"I SEEN IT! I SEEN IT AGAIN!" a frantic voice shouted from the dock, immediately catching everyone's attention. A hunched over old man with a long white beard and large, tattered brown hat broke through the crowd of fishermen on the dock, clearly in a panic as he scrambled onto the shore.

"Oh boy," Amethyst commented to Steven and the twins with a sarcastic grin. "Look out, everyone; crazy Old Man McGucket's having another one of his 'episodes'."

"The Gravity Falls Gobblewonker!" the old man, McGucket, shouted wildly as he ran across the shore, obviously not in his right mind. "Come quick before it scrabdoodles away!" Upon proclaiming this, he broke out into a frenzied sort of dance, bouncing up and down wildly to emphasize his point.

"Aww… He's doing a happy jig!" Mabel said with an amused smile, though it quickly vanished as McGucket, who had happened to overhear her, grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her feverishly.

"NOO! It's a jig of grave danger!" he shouted to both Mabel and Dipper, the fear in his wide eyes clear, however, before he could continue his untamed ranting and raving, the old man was chased back by the lake ranger.

"Hey! Hey!" the ranger scolded in warning as he used a spray bottle to douse McGucket with water in an attempt to calm him down. "Now what did I tell you about scaring away my customers? This is your last warning, Dad!"

"But I got proof this time, by gummiy!" McGucket protested as he headed towards the dock, waving a hand to the crowd that had gathered to watch his episode. "Foller me!"

Curious to see where this was going, most members of the crowd did so, including the Pines family and the Gems. Once everyone was gathered on the dock, McGucket pointed a shaking finger down to a small wooden boat that had been completely split in half floating in the water, its broken ends splintered and raw. "BEHOLD!" he shouted in reference to the boat. "It's the Gobble-dy-wonker what done did it! It had a long neck like that bird there!" he exclaimed, pointing to Pearl and her somewhat long neck. The white Gem simply scoffed at the absurdity of being called a bird as she placed a hand against her neck self-consciously, ignoring Amethyst's teasing laughter. "And wrinkly skin," McGucket went on in his description. "Like… like this gentleman right here!" He shifted his pointing finger over to Stan, who had hardly been listening as he picked his ear absently and was quite surprised to be put on the spot.

"It chewed up my boat to smitheroons, and then it shim-shammed over to Scuttlebutt Island!" McGucket continued, clearly distraught and desperate to be believed. "You gotta believe me!"

The entirety of the crowd was silent for a long moment as they took all this in, though this silence was soon broken as the police boat pulled up to the dock, carrying on it Sherriff Blubbs and Deputy Durland, who were quick to comment on the situation.

"Attention all units!" Blubbs said into his intercom, before breaking into a sardonic grin. "We got ourselves a crazy old man!"

Most of the townsfolk were quick to break into a round of laughter upon hearing this, save for a handful that included Steven, Dipper, and Mabel, who couldn't help but feel somewhat sorry for the crazy hillbilly, and Pearl and Stan, who were rather apathetic towards the situation altogether. Seeing that no one was buying his outlandish tale, McGucket hung his head in disappointment as he began to walk off, muttering incoherently to himself as he did so. "Aww, donkey spittle! Banjo polish!"

The crowd was also relatively quick to disband as everyone returned to their previous activities, though the Pines and the Gems hung about on the dock afterwards.

"Well, that happened," Stan said was an indifferent shrug as he turned towards his own boat, a small, ramshackle wooden thing that barely looked like it was seaworthy at all. "Now," he said to the twins. "Let's untie this boat and get out on this lake!"

Dipper and Mabel largely ignored their grunkle as he went about untying the boat as they instead conversed with Steven over what had just occurred. "Poor Mr. McGucket," Steven said with pity for the old man. "I believed his story about the Gibble-… Grubble-… whatever that thing was called!"

"But did you guys hear what he said?" Dipper asked, an idea already forming in his mind concerning this rumored creature.

"'Aw, donkey shpittle!'" Mabel exclaimed, mimicking Old Man McGucket, broad arm swings and all.

"The other thing," Dipper said, rolling his eyes. "About the monster. If we can snag a photo of it, then we can split that prize."

"What prize?" Steven asked curiously.

"This one," Dipper said with a daring grin as he held up the magazine he had brought with him, showing Steven the page that detailed the monster photography contest. "The winner of this contest gets one thousand dollars. And if we win it, then each of us would get about three hundred a piece!"

"Whoa! Three hundred dollars!?" Steven exclaimed in awe. "Imagine what we could do with all that money!"

"Oh, I already know what I'd do with my share," Mabel said as she fantasized it in her head. "Four words: Human. Sized. Hamster. Ball!" She let out a scree of excitement as she pictured how amazing it would be to run around all over town inside of a giant hamster ball. "Dipper, I am one hundred percent on board with this!"

"So am I!" Steven agreed whole-heartedly. "With three hundred dollars, I bet I could buy a whole collection of Wacky Sacks! I could get the hot dog, and the root beer float, and the taco… and even the rare crepe messenger bag! I'd have a food-shaped backpack for every occasion!"

"Then it's on," Dipper said with determination in their plan as he turned to Stan, hoping that he could convince him to let them do this. "Grunkle Stan, change of plans. We're taking that boat to Scuttlebutt Island and we're gonna find that Gobblewonker!"

"What?" Stan asked in obvious confusion, taken aback by this sudden turn of events.

"And can I go with them?" Steven asked Amethyst and Pearl with a hopeful smile. "Please?"

"Only if you count me in!" Amethyst said with a rogue grin. "I'm always down for a good monster hunt!"

"Yeah!" Steven cheered in excitement. "Monster hunt! Monster hunt!" Amethyst was quick to join in on his enthusiastic chanting, with Dipper and Mabel following not long after. "Monster hunt! Monster Hunt!"

"Excuse me," Pearl cut in succinctly, interrupting the overzealous excitement. "But we aren't going on a 'monster hunt'," she said, referring to herself, Amethyst, and Steven. "We have a beetle to find."

"Ugh, come on," Amethyst groaned in annoyance. "Don't be such a party-pooper, P."

"I am not being a party-pooper!" Pearl asserted. "I'm simply thinking realistically! For all we know, this 'Gobblewonker' or whatever it is, might not even exist!"

"But Pearl, what if the Gobblewonker is really a Gem monster?" Steven asked, hoping to change her mind. "Then shouldn't we get rid of it before it hurts anyone?"

"Well… I suppose, if that was the case, then yes, but-"

"Yay!" Steven exclaimed triumphantly before Pearl could continue, joining Amethyst, Dipper and Mabel in another round of cheers. "Monster hunt! Monster hunt!"

A sudden honking noise broke through their chant as a new boat pulled up to the dock, one that was by far superior to Stan's meager, leaky boat in every way. And while the boat itself wasn't familiar to any of them, its captain was.

"You dudes say somethin' about a monster hunt?" Soos asked as he turned from the wheel of his boat with a friendly smile.

"Soos!" all three kids exclaimed with bright smiles.

"Wassup, hambones," Soos greeted warmly. "You know, you dudes could totally use my boat for your hunt. It's got a steering wheel, chairs; normal boat stuff."

"I bet we could use that boat for beetle hunting too," Amethyst said as she elbowed Pearl's leg. "Unless you wanna go for a pretty long swim."

Pearl shot a warning glare at the purple Gem, even if she knew she was right. But even so, she refused to acknowledge that Amethyst's plan was actually a good one, especially since she could tell that both her and Steven were more enthusiastic about going after that monster that they were about looking for the Water Beetle. And though she didn't consent to this wild goose chase, she at the very least hoped, just as Amethyst did, that it would take Steven's mind off of continually urging them to form Opal.

Though Steven had managed to convince Amethyst and Pearl to go looking for the Gobblewonker, Dipper and Mabel were finding that they were having a harder time persuading Stan to let them go.

"All right, let's think this through," Stan said to the twins, trying his best not to get angry with them, though he could clearly see that they were being taken in by the allure of monster hunting with Soos, Steven, and the Gems. "You kids could waste your time on some epic monster-finding adventure… or you could spend the day learning how to tie knots and skewer worms with your Great Uncle Stan!"

Dipper and Mabel were silent for quite a while as they weighed their options. On one hand, they had Stan and his leaky old dinghy, and the promise of a boring day out on the lake trying to catch fish that probably wouldn't bite all while having to put up with their out-of-touch old grunkle. And on the other hand, there was the chance to search for the Gobblewonker, to have a real, exciting adventure that they could very well profit from quite a bit, all while hanging out with Soos, Steven, and the Gems and exploring the mysterious unknown that lurked underneath the depths of the lake. Neither twin had to put much thought into what option sounded like the most fun.

"So?" Stan asked with a hopeful grin, trusting that his niece and nephew would make the right choice. "Whaddya say?"


"We made the right choice!" Mabel proclaimed cheerfully as Soos's boat sped away from the dock with herself, Dipper, Steven, Amethyst, and Pearl on board. Neither twin felt much remorse about leaving their grunkle behind at the dock, knowing that he'd only sulk about being ditched for a while before going on to a boring day of fishing by his lonesome anyway. And besides, it made little sense for them to hold any regrets when they had an exciting monster hunt awaiting them.

"Yeah!" Steven agreed heartily, glad that his new friends were joining in on this adventure. "We're gonna find that Gobblewonker!"

"After we find the Water Beetle," Pearl cut in firmly, even if she doubted that such a monster as the Gobblewonker even existed. "That's our first and foremost priority, remember?"

"Chill out, Pearl," Amethyst said as she reclined back in her chair casually. "We'll find the beetle. Can't you just hang back and go with the flow for once? Who knows? Looking for this monster might actually be fun."

"We're not here for fun," Pearl retorted. "We're here on a mission. And maybe if you took things more seriously, then you'd insist on getting it done, like I do."

Amethyst simply scoffed sarcastically at this, not even bothering to put forth the effort to offer a snappy reply this time. Meanwhile, the kids (and Soos) were busy at work planning out a strategy for tracking down the Gobblewonker.

"Alright," Dipper began, his tone formal and serious as he paced before Mabel, Soos, and Steven. "If we want to win this contest, we have to do it right. So, think; what's the number one problem with most monster hunts?"

"Oh! I know!" Steven exclaimed eagerly. "When you run out of snacks! That happened to me once when I was on a mission with the Gems and I would have given anything for just a few chips or a cookie!"

"Or if you're a side character," Soos began, putting forth his own suggestion. "Then you die within the first five minutes of the movie." He paused for a beat before reaching a startling realization. "Dudes, am I a side character!?" he asked Mabel and Steven with sudden worry. "Do you ever think about stuff like that?"

"No and no," Dipper said, shooting down both Steven and Soos's rather naïve suggestions. "Camera trouble!" he clarified before going into an example. "Say Bigfoot shows up. Soos, be Bigfoot?"

Soos played along as he struck what he assumed to be a Bigfoot-like pose, complete with a leg up and his arms held up in a somewhat menacing position. As soon as Soos was in position, Dipper continued with his example. "There he is! Bigfoot!" he exclaimed, playing his acting up for the sake of the made-up scenario. "Uh oh! No camera!" he said as he patted down his life vest in search of one, before pulling a disposable camera out with a clever smile. "Oh wait, here's one! But, aw… no film! You see? You see what I'm doing here?" he asked, his tone serious once more as he hoped his point was getting across to the others.

"Oh, yeah," Soos said as both Steven and Mabel nodded in agreement. "Dude's got a point."

"That's why I brought seventeen disposable cameras," Dipper said confidently, before running through his stock. "Two on my ankle," he said as he pulled down his sock to reveal the two cameras hidden there. "Two in my jacket, three for each of you," he said as he handed three cameras to everyone on board. "And one…" he trailed off as he lifted his cap to reveal the final camera resting atop his head. "Under my hat! There's no way we're gonna miss this."

"Wow, Dipper," Pearl mused as she checked over her trio of cameras with a small, somewhat surprised grin. "I have to say, your thorough preparedness for this situation is quite impressive."

"Thank you," Dipper accepted her compliment with a nod, glad that someone appreciated his zeal for planning. "Ok, everyone; let's test our cameras out!"

The entirety of the group began to do so in different ways, though to varying degrees of success. Soos snapped a picture of himself, though he didn't anticipate the brightness and suddenness of its flash as it startled him and caused him to accidently drop the camera overboard. "Aw, dude!" he exclaimed with dismay as he turned towards Dipper with a frown, but thankfully, the younger boy was not upset over its loss.

"You see? This is exactly why we need backup cameras," Dipper said, keeping his cool, though he hoped that no more cameras would be lost.

Unfortunately, such hopes were dashed only a second later as a seagull happened to fly just a few feet over Mabel's head, surprising her with a sudden skwak. "Ah! Bird!" she exclaimed as she instinctually threw one of her camera's up at it, losing it in the process.

"Fifteen!" Dipper exclaimed, keeping count and trying his best to remain calm. "Okay, guys, I repeat: don't lose your cameras!"

"Wait, what was that?" Steven asked, having not heard what Dipper had said as he tossed one of his cameras into the water with the idea that the fish could use it to take fun group photos. "Dolose the cameras?"

"DON'T!" Dipper stressed somewhat impatiently.

"Dude, I just threw another one away," Soos confessed.

"Oh… I kinda thought these were snacks for later…" Amethyst said after having swallowed one of her cameras whole, as she had always loved the taste of cheap plastic and metal combined.

"Twelve! All right! We still have twelve cameras-" Dipper froze upon throwing his fist down, inadvertently crushing the camera that had been resting on the cooler. "Eleven," he said with a frustrated sigh. "We have eleven cameras."

"So what's the plan?" Mabel asked. "Throw more cameras overboard or what?"

"NO!" Dipper exclaimed, refusing to lose more cameras at this point. "No. Okay. Mabel and Steven, you guys can be lookouts. Soos can work the steering wheel. Amethyst and Pearl, can you make sure we don't lose anymore cameras?"

"Sure thing, dude," Amethyst said with a yawn as she stretched out and closed her eyes, soaking in the sun as she prepared to settle into a nap. Pearl shot a distasteful glare at her, unamused by her usual laziness.

"Yes, I can," Pearl agreed pointedly, used to pulling most of the weight anyway. "And I suppose I'll have to keep an eye out for the Water Beetle as well."

"Really?" Amethyst asked with a coy grin as she cracked an eye open. "Thanks, P. I can always count on you."

"What are you gonna do, Dipper?" Steven asked curiously.

"I'll be captain," Dipper proclaimed with a grin, though Mabel was quick to protest the idea of her brother being in charge.

"What? Why do you get to be captain?" she asked with a pout. "What about Mabel, huh? Ma-bel! Ma-bel! Ma-bel!"

"I'm not sure that's a good idea…" Dipper said with a frown, knowing how much of a lose canon his sister could be.

"What about co-captain?"

"There's no such thing as co-captain."

Mabel said nothing for a moment as she came up with an on the spot plan to convince Dipper to let her hold some authority on this mission. "Hey, Pearl?" she asked the white Gem with an innocent smile. "Mind if I see what one of your cameras for a sec?"

"Um… sure?" Pearl consented in obvious confusion as she handed the girl one of her three cameras.

"Whoops," Mabel said with a caustic grin as she casually tossed the camera into the water, taking amusement in the look of panic on her brother's face.

"Okay, fine!" Dipper relented, internally making down their number of cameras to ten. "You can be co-captain!"

"Can I be associate co-captain?" Soos asked.

"As co-captain, I authorize this request," Mabel nodded.

"And can I be assistant to the captain and co-captain?" Steven asked, adding onto the already lengthy chain of command.

"Approved!" Mabel agreed, ignoring Dipper's sigh of aggravation over how everyone wanted to be in charge.

"Well as first co-captain, our number one order of business is to lure the monster out with this," Dipper said, motioning to the large barrel of fish foot resting on the far side of the boat.

"Permission to taste some?" Soos asked, giving the fish food a tentative look.

Though this was certainly an odd request, no harm would probably come from it, which was why Dipper nodded his consent. "Granted."

"Permission co-granted!" Mabel added.

"Assistant permission granted!" Steven encouraged.

"Permission associate co-granted," Soos said as he scooped some of the fish food into his hand before giving it an experimental lick. Immediately, though, the bitterness of it got to him as he gaged, quickly trying to wipe his tongue clean from the taste of it. "Dude, I don't know what I expected that to taste like!"

The kids all got a good laugh from this, however, their amusement was only multiplied as Amethyst rushed forward, a hungry grin on her face as she leaped right into the barrel of fish food. "I wanna try some!" she exclaimed, boldly stuffy a whole fistful of the flakes into her mouth and actually enjoying them. "Mm! I dunno, Soos; I think this stuff is pretty great!"

Everyone laughed wholeheartedly as they watched Amethyst readily scarf more fish food down, though it was clear that Pearl was not as amused by what she viewed as nothing more than a sign of the purple Gem's immaturity. Regardless, everyone aside from the white Gem was having more than their fair share of fun thus far, something that did not go unnoticed by the sole person on board an old dingy floating not too far away.

"Traitors!" Stan scoffed bitterly as he glared behind him towards Soos's boat, having overhead the sounds of merriment coming from that direction. Though Dipper and Mabel had abandoned him, he had gone out on the lake nonetheless, even if the fish weren't biting whatsoever and the lake wasn't big enough for him to distance himself too far away from them at any given time. But even so, the old con man was resilient; he wasn't about to let the fact that his own niece and nephew left him hanging ruin his fishing day. He would just adapt instead. "I'll just find my own fishing buddies!" he said to himself as he glanced over the lake before spotting a young couple sitting in a boat not too far away. "Aha!" Stan said with a newfound grin as he started his boat's rattling engine up. "There's my new pals!"

Of course, what Stan didn't know as he sailed towards his new "fishing buddies" was that the young man was in the midst of attempting to purpose to his girlfriend. That is, until they were abruptly and rudely interrupted by a certain con man.

"Hey!" Stan called to the couple as he pulled his boat up, ignoring the looks of both surprise and distain they were shooting his way. "You two wanna hear a joke? Here goes: my ex-wife still misses me… but her aim is gettin' better!" He flashed a large grin as he waited for a reaction from the couple, only to get nothing from them but expressions of disgust for his off-color joke. "Her aim is gettin' better!" he tried once more, though he still didn't get so much as a chuckle from either of them. "Y'see, it's funny because marriage is terrible."

Upon hearing this, both the young man and the young woman let out appalled scoffs and didn't even humor Stan with a response as they succinctly rowed away, turning their noses up as they refused to so much as glance back at the older man, who called out after them in confusion. "What did I say?"


The waters surrounding Scuttlebutt Island were engulfed in a thick fog, one that even the boat's spotlight could not pierce through. Since the vessel was already on a guided course towards the island, Soos was positioned towards the back of the boat as he shoveled the fish food over the side in the hopes that it would attract the Gobblewonker. Everyone else stood towards the front of the boat, with Steven, Dipper, and Mabel at the railing keeping watch for the island through the fog. As the boat pushed onward, Steven happened to glance behind him at Amethyst and Pearl, frowning as he noticed they both stood facing away from each other, their sour expressions telling of the antagonistic feelings they had been harboring towards each other all day. Garnet had instructed him to keep the harmony, and Steven realized that he hadn't been doing a very good job of that thus far. So perhaps it was time to change that.

"You know…" Steven began as he turned to face the two Gems with an encouraging grin. "I bet Opal would be really helpful in finding the Gobblewonker…"

Pearl sighed in exasperation as Amethyst simply turned her gaze tightly on the fog-covered waters. "Steven, we only fuse in deadly situations," the white Gem reminded him, not noticing as a pelican landed on the railing beside her. "Does this look like a deadly situation to you?" No more than a second after she said this, the pelican suddenly pecked her harshly on the side of her head with its large beak, startling her and eliciting a cry of pain from her. "Ow! Hey! Bad pelican!" she scolded the bird as it fluttered its wings and squawked at her. "Shoo!" The pelican took off, but as it did so, Amethyst let out a rowdy laugh at what had just happened, unable to uphold her stoicism in light of Pearl's humorous suffering.

"Darn it," Steven said in disappointment as he hung his head. "I'm never going to get to see Opal…"

"Who's Opal?" Dipper asked Steven in confusion, which was a sentiment that Mabel shared as well.

"Opal is Amethyst and Pearl combined together into a giant woman," Steven said, still somewhat disheartened by the Gem's refusal to fuse. "I've never seen her before, so I've been trying to convince the two of them to form her all day, but they just don't seem to be getting along…"

"Wait, how does that even work?" Dipper asked, primarily concerned with the logic of what Steven had simplistically explained about fusion. "They don't actually combine into one person, do they?

"Who cares? I wanna see a giant woman!" Mabel exclaimed with an excited grin, the very idea of fusion sounding incredible to her. "Steven, we gotta convince them to form Opal!"

"Exactly!" Steven agreed as he reached to his cheeseburger backpack and pulled out his small ukulele, which somehow fit inside of it. "And I think I know of a way to do it…"

Both Amethyst and Pearl were quite surprised to be drawn out of the stalemated silence that lingered between them by none other than Steven's singing, accompanied by an impromptu melody that he had devised on his ukulele. "All I wanna do is see you turn into a giant woman! A giant woman!" Steven began his upbeat, encouraging tune as he stood between the two quarreling Gems, grinning as he sang all the while. "All I wanna be is someone who gets to see a giant woman."

While Dipper was still trying to figure out the science behind fusion on his own, Mabel was more than happy to join in with Steven's song, turning the melody into a duet as it entered its second verse. "All I wanna do is help you turn into a giant woman. A giant woman!" the two of them sang in unison, both of them attempting to urge Amethyst and Pearl closer together physically, though neither of them were really having it. "All I wanna be is someone who gets to see a giant woman."

Steven took over the first part of the next verse as he looked to both Gems with pleading eyes, coming up with more than a few reasons as to why they should fuse. "Oh, I know it'll be great, and I just can't wait to see the person you are together!"

"If you give it a chance, you could do a huge dance, because you are a giant woman!" Mabel added with apt excitement as she sang perfectly in time with the chords Steven was playing on his ukulele, before the two of them joined into a duet once more.

"You might even like being together, and if you don't, it won't be forever," they sang, and though Amethyst and Pearl exchanged a glance at this, they quickly looked away from each other once more. "But if it were me, I'd really wanna be a giant woman. A giant woman!"

The song began to wind down as Steven slowed the pace of his playing, both him and Mabel flashing the Gems as convincing of smiles as they could muster. "All we wanna do is see you turn into a giant woman…" the finished easily, waiting for a reaction as the melody faded into the fog.

"I appreciate the… effort you both put into that song," Pearl began, hoping to let them down as easy as possible. "But no."

"Yeah, sorry, guys," Amethyst said, though she really wasn't. "But no amount of singing is gonna get me to fuse with her."

Pearl glared harshly at her, but merely crossed her arms and turned away without offering much of a retort. "Likewise," was all she said, her tone bitter and cross.

Steven and Mabel's shared disappointment as visible as they rejoined Dipper at the front railing, both of them still pining to see Opal in all of her supposed glory. But, the way things were going, it seemed as improbable as the fog surrounding them letting up.

"I really thought that would work," Steven said with a frown.

"Eh, don't worry," Mabel said with a shrug, confident that they would succeed eventually. "We can always try again later. And maybe next time we can add a choreographed dance number! If that doesn't convince them, I don't know what will!"

"I hate to break this up, but aren't you guys supposed to be on lookout?" Dipper asked them, still largely focused on their hunt for the Gobblewonker, even if he wanted to see Opal himself, though in a more low-key way than Mabel and Steven. The two of them gave him blank stares for a moment, having completely forgotten about their lookout position in the midst of their song and its aftermath. And yet they didn't really have any time to return to it as the boat suddenly jolted to a very abrupt stop upon meeting the shore of the island, its tip dug into the sand as everyone somehow managed to maintain their footing.

"Look out!" Steven exclaimed, even if he was a bit late.

"We are lookout geniuses!" Mabel said with a wide grin as she exchanged a high five with Steven before leaping off the boat and onto the shore. "Hamster ball, here I come!"

Scuttlebutt Island wasn't very large, consisting of only about a square mile of densely forested land, still enshrouded in the thick fog that rested upon the lake waters. There was a rather eerie silence to the place as the group disembarked the boat, only occasionally broken by the distant knocking of a woodpecker or the beating of a dragonfly's wings. As the group headed into the darkened forest, Dipper led the way with a lantern in hand to light the way, with Mabel, Steven, and Soos following not too far behind and Pearl and Amethyst keeping their distance from each other as much as possible. It wasn't very long into their trek that they passed by a sign bearing the island's name on it, which Steven, Mabel, and Soos were quick to stop in front of.

"Dudes, check it out," Soos said with a joking grin as he covered the part of the sign that read "scuttle" with his hand. "Butt Island."

"Oh, Soos, you rapscallion!" Mabel exclaimed as her and Steven both got a good laugh out of this. Amethyst also let out a chuckle, ignoring the look of aggravation Pearl was giving her for not taking their mission seriously and looking for the Water Beetle as she was.

"Hey!" Mabel said to Dipper as she suddenly caught up with him, noticing he was not taking part in their merriment. "Why aren't you laughing? Are you scared?"

"Pssh! Yeah right!" Dipper scoffed, even if his tone carried the slightest bit of uncertainty. "I'm not-"

"Yeah, you are!" Mabel proclaimed with a teasing grin as she poked her brother in the nose and blew a raspberry, before proceeding to assault him with a round of playful pokes.

"Hey!" Dipper exclaimed in protest, trying his best to block her pokes, though ultimately failing as he dropped his lantern. "Quit! Stop! Mabel!"

Mabel finally did relent as a low growling noise sounded in the distance, bringing everyone to a stop as they all grew silent to listen to its intimidating snarl. "Dude, did you guys hear that?" Soos asked with a concern frown.

"Oh! I bet it was the monster!" Steven exclaimed, seeing this as another opportunity to try and convince the Gems for fuse. "Quick!" he said to Amethyst and Pearl. "You guys have to form Opal! If you don't then it will eat us all!"

"Steven…" both Pearl and Amethyst groaned in shared exasperation.

In paying attention to Steven and the Gems, Dipper failed to notice the possum that was scurrying towards the group from behind, that is, until it clamped its long jaw over the handle of the lantern lying on the ground and abruptly ran off with it. "Hey!" he called out after the possum angrily, watching with dismay as it carried their only real source of light off. "Our lantern! Ugh, I can't see anything!"

"Dude, I dunno…" Soos said with an uncertain frown now that they were all in the creepy darkness of the woods. "Maybe this isn't worth it…"

"Not worth it?" Dipper asked, not about to let this minor setback deter him in his search. "Guys, imagine what would happen if we got that picture! It's not just about the money; it's about the fame, the notoriety…"

"And being able to rub it in Grunkle Stan's face that we had more fun monster hunting than we would have had fishing!" Mabel added with a grin.

"You guys are right!" Steven enthusiastically agreed. "We just gotta look at this from a different angle. In fact… I bet Opal would be tall enough to get a great view over the entire island… That way we could find the Gobblewonker and the Water Beetle all at once!"

"We don't need Opal to find the Water Beetle or the monster," Pearl asserted firmly as the group continued to head deeper into the woods.

"Aw… Can you do it anyway?" Steven practically begged. "Pleeease? It would be easier, wouldn't it?"

"Not as easy as this!" Amethyst said as she pulled her whip out of her Gem and succinctly cut her way through the myriad of branches that were impairing their path.

"Wow, Amethyst, that was a really good idea!" Mabel exclaimed as she ran on ahead, Steven nodding in agreement with her sentiment as he joined her.

"Hah, I know," Amethyst said confidently as she smirked at Pearl, who only rolled her eyes in aggravation over the purple Gem's unneeded use of brute force. "I'm full of 'em."

Though the woods were still dark, at least the path was somewhat clear thanks to Amethyst. No one was really sure where or how they'd happen upon the Gobblewonker, or the Water Beetle for that matter, Dipper was confident that when they did happen to find the monster, they'd be more than ready to span the coveted picture of it. Of course, despite her brother's seriousness about their mission, Mabel didn't mind trying to spice their hike with an impromptu rap, accompanied by Soos's rhythmic beatboxing and Steven strumming his ukulele.

"My name is Mabel! It rhymes with table!" she rapped upbeatly. "It also rhymes with… glabel! It also rhymes with… shmabel!"

"Dude, we should be writing this down," Soos said as he took a break from his beatboxing.

Suddenly, the growling noise from earlier sounded once more as the group neared the other end of the island, only this time it was louder and obviously closer than before. "Guys, wait!" Dipper exclaimed, already digging one of his cameras out of his life-vest. "Did you hear that?"

Mabel and Steven let out gasps of excitement as they heard the growling more clearly, realizing that they were getting closer to what they had been searching for all day. "This is it!" Dipper proclaimed with an eager grin.

"Yes!" Mabel shouted in a zealous whisper, giving her brother a playful punch, which he was glad to return. Steven bounced up and down on his toes in elation, more than ready to see the mysterious Gobblewonker. Soos, being a bit more apprehensive about what they might find, picked up a thick, sturdy stick lying on the ground nearby, just in case it was needed for self defense. Of course, Amethyst and Pearl were more prepared as they summoned their weapons, neither of them sure if they would be needed, though they were better safe than sorry.

The entire group pressed onward into the fog, eventually emerging out of the woods and on the opposite shore of the island. They all immediately came to a stop at the end of the path, all of them gaping with awe upon seeing a very monster-like silhouette resting afar in the water. Not wanting to be spotted prematurely by the creature, they were all quick to take cover behind a large, nearby log, though Dipper peered up over it with one of his cameras at the ready before urging everyone else to do the same.

"Everyone! Get your cameras ready!" he whispered as they all aimed their cameras towards the silhouette on the lake. "Ready?" Dipper asked, a determined grin on his face as he held a finger over the camera's shutter, ready to snap that all-important photo at any second. "GO!"

At this command, Soos was the first to let out a battle cry as he leapt over the log, rushing towards the water as he snapped a barrage of uncalculated photos. The kids were all quick to follow after him, taking their own pictures of the silhouette as the Gems were the last to come out of hiding, both of them still clinging onto their weapons just in case. However, as the group neared the water, what the silhouette actually was became clearer as the fog lightened a bit, revealing a sight that disappointed them all. The "monster" was nothing more than the battered remains of an old, wrecked boat sticking up out of the water, a group of beavers cavorting upon it as they chattered to themselves cheerfully.

"Aww…" Steven said with a charmed smile by the adorable creatures. "Beavers! They're so cute!"

"But… I don't understand," Dipper said with a frown as he lowered his camera. "What was that noise then? I know I heard a monster noise!"

His confusion was soon laid to rest as the supposed "monster noise" sounded out once more, only now, its source was plainly visible. Oddly enough, it turned out to be nothing more than another beaver fiddling around with a rusty old chainsaw, occasionally turning it on and off at random intervals.

"Oh, sweet!" Amethyst laughed in amusement at the sight as she snapped a picture of it. "Beaver with a chainsaw!"

"Maybe that old guy was crazy after all…" Dipper said with a dejected sigh, bitter over the fact that they had wasted all this time on a hunch that had turned out to be nothing more than a hoax.

"He did use the word 'scrapdoodle'…" Mabel said with a frown.

"Well, it just goes to show that you shouldn't believe everything you hear," Pearl said as she stepped forward, glad that they could finally put all of this monster nonsense behind them. "Now we can finally focusing on finding the Water Beetle as we should have been doing all this time."

"Yeah, yeah," Amethyst said with a bored wave of her hand. "We'll find the beetle. Quit obsessing over it."

"I am not obsessing!" Pearl exclaimed angrily. "I'm simply acknowledging that we need to find it! It could be anywhere on this lake and we still don't have the slightest lead as to where it is!"

"Maybe you should freak out some more," Amethyst said with a goading chuckle. "That's really gonna help us find it."

Pearl clenched her fists tightly at her side, not even noticing the saddened look Steven was giving both of the feuding Gems. "I can't believe your attitude, Amethyst," she scolded. "All day long, you've been slouching around doing nothing to help!"

"Hey, it's not my fault we can't find the dumb beetle!" Amethyst said defensively. "Why do you have to make things worse by squawking at me!?"

"I do NOT squawk!"

"Yeah, you do! You're squawking at me and commenting on my posture!"

"That wasn't squawking! THIS is squawking! SQUAWK! SQUAWK!"

The two Gems continued to argue loudly and fiercely, something that disappointed Steven even more than the fact that they had failed to find the Gobblewonker. All day long he had tried to keep the harmony, but in the face of Pearl and Amethyst's drastic differences in personality and ideals, that seemed impossible. And so, seeing that their respective goals for the day had all turned up being nothing more than busts, Steven, Dipper, and Mabel all let out a dejected sigh in unison, knowing that this was the last way they imagined this day to turn out.


"Look, when you're threading the line—a lot of people don't know this—but you wanna use a barrel knot," Stan said to the young boy he had happened upon and decided to teach his coveted fishing tips to, the very same tips he had wanted to teach Dipper and Mabel before they had abandoned him. "That's a secret from one fishing buddy to another!"

"Uh… I… who are you exactly?" the obviously frightened boy asked, unsure of why this strange old man was even conversing with him in the first place.

"Just call be your Grunkle Stan!" Stan proclaimed with a cheerful grin as he gave the boy a pat on the back, which only made the terrified youth jump in fear.

"Sir? SIR?" the boy's mother, who, along with his father, was standing just on the other end of the family's small boat, said, obviously disapproving of the interaction between them. "Why are you talking to our son? If you don't leave right now, I'm calling the police!"

Stan chuckled nervously upon catching the suspicious glares of the boy's parents. "Uh… you see, the thing about that is…" he trailed off, before quickly switching his boat's motor on and speeding away as fast as he could, not wanting to get the police involved again.

"Go bother your own kids!" the boy's mother called out after him angrily, shaking a fist in warning as Stan's boat puttered across the lake, carrying only one lonely passenger upon it.


"You know, Pearl, I think that old guy was right about you being a bird, because you sure do squawk like one!"

"Stop accusing me of squawking! At the very least I get things done efficiently, unlike you, Amethyst!"

"Hey! I get things done and I have fun doing it!"

Steven frowned as he glanced back at the two Gems, who were somehow still arguing just as fiercely as ever. "Darn it…" he sighed as he sat upon the shore of the island alongside Mabel, absently drawing in the sand with his finger. "I can't believe we're not gonna get to see Opal or the Gobblewonker…"

"Tell me about it…" Mabel said, just as disappointed as he was. At least Soos was having fun as he continued to snap pictures of the beavers out on the wrecked boat, somehow blocking out Pear and Amethyst's continuous bickering.

"What are we gonna tell Grunkle Stan?" Dipper asked as he sat upon one of the large rocks resting in the water close to the shore. "We ditched him over nothing." Seeing as there was nothing better to do, he picked up one of the smaller pebbles resting on the stone he was sitting on and skipped it across the surface of the lake.

However, no more than a second later, a soft, sudden rumbling sent ripples across the otherwise calm waters, something that did not go unnoticed by Dipper. "Hey… Did you guys feel that?" he asked Mabel and Steven, who both shook their heads no. However, they did feel it as it the ground rattled once more, causing the rock that Dipper was sitting on to sink into the water as he fell in. He was quick to swim the short distance back to shore, and by now, everyone, save for Amethyst and Pearl, had their attention turned towards the lake as a tall, ominous silhouette moved through the mist further out on the lake.

"Wait…" Steven said as he strained his eyes to get a better look at the mysterious shape. "Is that…?"

"This is it!" Dipper exclaimed excitedly, his hope renewed as the silhouette clearly shifted about in the fog. "It's the real thing this time! Come on! This is our chance!" he encouraged as he took out a camera and began to snap pictures at the approaching figure. However, instead of trying to catch a photo of the silhouette, Steven, Mabel, and Soos all backed up in sudden apprehension, especially as they heard a sinister growl come from the lake. "What's wrong with you guys?" Dipper asked as he turned towards them in confusion upon seeing their fearful expressions.

"Dipper…?" Mabel whispered worriedly as she watched the monstrous figure begin to rise out of the lake.

"Dude…" Soos breathed in obvious shock, his jaw dropped nearly to the ground.

"Uh… Amethyst? Pearl?" Steven asked, his voice shaking a bit as he glanced back towards the arguing Gems, who barely heard him as they continued to fight.

"It's not that hard, you guys," Dipper said, clearly unaware of the danger right behind him. "All you gotta do is point and shoot. Like this!" At long last, he turned around to try and catch a picture of the monster, only to encounter the fearsome creature face to face.

The Gobblewonker certainly lived up to the terror surrounding it; it was a huge, menacing beast, its long, snakelike neck towering high into the air and its deadly, serpentine fangs overlapping its long lower jaw. Its skin was dark green and scaly, its body wide and finned in many places, despite its rather small appendages that were clearly meant for maximum mobility in the water. Its eyes were a piercing, glowing yellow and its nostrils flared as it took in the scent of its potential prey.

The beast let out a bone-chilling, ravenous roar, one that startled even Pearl and Amethyst as they finally turned towards the monster in absolute shock, their ongoing argument finally dying out. Likewise, Dipper didn't even notice as his camera slipped out of his hands and fell to the ground as he stared at the Gobblewonker in frozen fear, before both Mabel and Steven thankfully brought him back to his senses as they began to drag him away as fast as they could.

"Run!" Soos shouted, and no one protested as they all turned and sped off in the opposite direction, hoping to get to the boat before the Gobblewonker could catch up with them. But of course, the monster perused them, growling ferociously all the while. In an attempt to take the massive beast out, Pearl summoned her spear as they ran and skillfully tossed it at the monster, though it was all for naught as the Gobblewonker swallowed the weapon whole.

"This thing isn't a Gem monster!" Pearl announced frantically, having not spotted a Gem on its large body anywhere.

"Who cares?!" Amethyst shouted back. "We gotta take it down, or we'll be as good as fish food!"

"You know what you guys could do?" Steven asked with an eager smile as he ran alongside them, hoping that this us situation would be enough to finally convince them to fuse.

"Not now, Steven!" Pearl exclaimed, unable to believe that he was still thinking about Opal when all of their lives were in mortal danger.

As the Gobblewonker let out another roar, everyone quickened their pace, knowing that there really was no plan for defeating the monster at the moment as much as there was a need to escape it. "Get back to the boat!" Soos called in a panic. "Hurry!"

Mabel let out a fearful yelp as the Gobblewonker snapped its massive maw at her, prompting her to leap onto Soos's back and hitch a ride. Steven was trying his best not to trip over his own two feet as he tried to keep apace with the Gems, who were infinitely faster than he was. At the same time, Dipper turned and tried to run backwards, his camera poised to snap what would certainly be a great picture of the Gobblewonker, considering its proximity to them. However, what he failed to see in doing so was the root sticking up out of the ground, that is, until it tripped him up and caused the camera to fall out of his hands. "The picture!" he exclaimed as he quickly picked himself up off the ground and raced to reclaim the camera, before Soos ultimately grabbed him for his own safety.

"Soos!" Dipper protested as he struggled against the handyman's secure hold.

"Dude, if it makes you feel any better, I got a ton of pictures of those beavers!" Soos said between heavy breaths.

"Why would that make me feel better?!" Dipper shouted angrily, knowing that all of the peril they were currently in would all be worth it if he could get just one good picture of the Gobblewonker.

Thankfully, the other end of the island soon came into view and with it, so did Soos's boat still nestled into the sandy shore. No one hesitated to hop on board and as soon as everyone had, Soos quickly shoved the boat back into the water before jumping on himself and starting the engine. The boat lurched backwards as everyone clung tightly onto the railing, watching with baited breath as the Gobblewonker leapt into the water and swam after them.

"All right!" Dipper exclaimed as he pulled out another camera and aimed it towards the Gobblewonker. "Here we go." However, as he looked through the viewfinder, he let out a dismayed scoffed at what he saw. "Cracked lens!? Soos! Quick, get a photo!"

Soos was, in fact, doing quite the opposite of that as he continued to steer the boat backwards, tossing all of his spare cameras at the Gobblewonker in the hopes that one would strike it enough to stun it. Amethyst joined him in doing the same thing as she let out a wild battle cry, one of her cameras actually managing to hit the monster in its snout, only enraging it more.

"Yeah, that's right!" Amethyst shouted at the monster challengingly. "Oh, what? You want some more? Well then take this!" she yelled as she threw another one of her cameras at the beast.

"Amethyst!" Pearl admonished harshly, knowing that now was not the time for such impertinence.

"What are you guys doing!?" Dipper exclaimed in a panic, having no idea how many cameras were left now, though he imagined it wasn't that many.

"Oh, don't worry, dude!" Soos reassured him. "I still got one left!" He tossed his last camera Dipper's way, however, his aim was off as it missed him and instead crashed into the nearby cliff side that the boat was sticking close to. Of course, the camera shattered into several pieces upon impact, all of them falling into the water as Dipper merely face-palmed in aggravation, knowing that they were getting nowhere as far as getting a picture of the monster went.

The Gobblewonker was clearly tired of playing games with its prey as it dove down into the water, going deep enough so that it could no longer be easily seen. As Soos continued to push the boat as fast as it would go, the kids and the Gems all kept close to the railing as they peered into the water, keeping a close lookout for the monster that could easily swallow the boat whole if it managed to catch up with them.


Stan grumbled to himself in exasperation as he struggled to tie a fishing knot, getting nothing but a bundle of tangles out of his lure. Though he had been out on the lake for several hours now, he had nothing to show for it. He hadn't caught a single fish, nor had he successfully found any new "fishing buddies". Overall, the day thus far had been a miserable experience and he could only hope that the kids were having just as bad of a time as he was.

Of course, Stan's already sour mood worsened as he happened to overhear a particularly mushy conversation between a pair of young siblings and their grandfather on a boat that was only a few yards away from his.

"Can you pwease tell us mo'e funny stories, Pop Pop?" the young boy asked his grandfather, his tone sincere and admiring as he smiled at his elder.

"Anything for my fishing buddies!" the grandfather said cheerfully as he patted the children on their heads and let out a warm laugh.

Stan growled bitterly as he watched this exchange, knowing that, while it was certainly sappy, he had still hoped for similar shows of affection from his own niece and nephew before the day had gone south.

"Pop Pop?" the boy asked as he looked to his grandfather with the upmost respect. "I just weewized that… I wuv you."

"Aw, come on!" Stan shouted, no longer able to stomach this sickeningly sweet display. "Boo! Boo!"

"Hey, now! What's the big idea?" the grandfather asked the con man with a frown.

"Maybe he has no one who wuvs him, Pop Pop," the young boy said with a pitied expression.

"Yeah, well, I… I…" Stan began to say challengingly, but before he could finish, Soos's boat happened to sped right in front of him, carrying the panicking twins and Gems alike on it as it soaked the old con man with a spray of water. Stan let out a growl of frustration as he threw his wet hat to the bottom of the boat before ultimately sitting down and sighing in disappointment. Clearly, this day wasn't going to get any better; the twins were obviously off on some epic adventure with Soos and the Gems, probably not even thinking about their old grunkle at all, and so he figured that the only thing to do now was just give up.

After all, this wouldn't be the first time he had lost something to the Gems.


"Guys, I know you're still not really getting along, but don't you think now would be the perfect time to form Opal?" Steven asked Amethyst and Pearl insistently, especially as the Gobblewonker reared up out of the water once more, only to reveal it was quickly gaining on them.

The two Gems exchanged a tentative glance at this, knowing that he did have a point. After all, they were all in mortal danger and clearly the Gobblewonker was too big of a threat for them to take on separately. Perhaps it was finally time for them to put aside their differences and fuse. At least until they warded off the immediate threat.

Steven was quick to get Dipper and Mabel's attention so they could watch as Amethyst and Pearl bowed to each other in preparation for their fusion dance. Their respective Gems began to glow brightly as Pearl preformed an elegant pirouette and spin while Amethyst did the exact opposite, shaking her hips and giving the white Gem a coy grin as she continued to dance to an invisible beat. Pearl took notice of this as she grumbled to herself and continued her graceful movements as Amethyst shuffled smoothly towards her. As the two Gems neared each other, Amethyst grabbed Pearl by the wrist and pulled her down causing her to trip and falter towards the bottom of the boat as it lurched to avoid the Gobblewonker. Amethyst narrowly caught her by the waist as both of their forms began to glow with a white light and their bodies began to fuse into each other. Stars were in both Steven and Mabel's eyes as they watched in eager anticipation, and Dipper's jaw was dropped in disbelief at what he was seeing. However, in the end, their attempt at fusion failed as their shared form wavered briefly for a moment or two, before spitting both Gems out and tossing them roughly to the ground.

"So you wanna try that again?" Amethyst asked with cold sarcasm as she picked herself up off the ground. "With less hitting me in the face this time?"

"Well, it would have worked if your movements weren't so erratic and formless," Pearl countered.

"So it's all my fault?" Amethyst asked bitterly as she got up and approached the white Gem. "You totally weren't even trying to sync with my dancing. You should know how I dance by now!"

Pearl was quick to push Amethyst away from her, but fortunately before any further altercation could occur, Steven was quick to intervene. "Stop!" he exclaimed, desperate tears practically in his eyes. "Come on, guys! Please stop fighting! If you can't get along with each other, then we might never get to see your awesome fusion powers!" He paused for a moment as the Gobblewonker caught everyone's attention with another fearsome growl. "And we might get eaten by a giant lake monster!"

And as it turned out, that exact thing happened no more than a moment after Steven had said it. The Gobblewonker threw its head back once more as it roared loudly, before it rushed forward and swiped at the boat, knocking its control cabin clean off. Seeing that it had the upper hand, the monster snapped once more, this time at the group gathered towards its back end. Though Dipper and Mabel were narrowly able to leap out of its path, Steven was not so lucky as the Gobblewonker managed to entrap him in its huge maw, its pointed teeth thankfully not harming him as it picked him up off the boat and abruptly swallowed him whole.

"Steven!" everyone on the boat cried in a panicked unison, Pearl and Amethyst shouting the loudest and most fearfully.

However, there was no time to do anything about what had just happened as the Gobblewonker came in for a third attack, though it fortunately missed this time. But all the same, several holes had been torn in the wooden side of the vessel, and it was clear that it wouldn't last for much longer as it propelled forward straight towards a dead end.

"What do we do?!" Amethyst shouted, absolutely distraught over what had just happened to Steven.

"I don't know!" Pearl practically screamed as she looked towards the Gobblewonker, knowing that they had to find a way to rescue Steven from its belly quickly, or else.

"I think it's kinda obvious what you guys need to do!" Mabel exclaimed, taking the same initiative Steven had been pressing for all day. "You have to form Opal and save Steven!"

Both Amethyst and Pearl sighed relenting, knowing that they didn't really have much of a choice now that Steven was in such immense danger. "She's right," Pearl said, her tone serious as she turned to Amethyst. "There's no room for failure this time. We have to do this."

"For Steven?" Amethyst asked with resolve, already knowing the answer as she extended her hand

"For Steven," Pearl nodded as she took the purple Gem's hand and their fusion dance commenced.

Of course, this dance went unnoticed by Soos and Dipper, who were trying their best to navigate what was left of the boat away from the Gobblewonker, lest they all meet a fate similar to Steven's. "Dude, where do we go!?" Soos exclaimed, seeing that they were speeding straight towards the waterfall with nowhere else to really go.

Thankfully, Dipper had remember to bring the journal with him before leaving the shack that morning, and he saw this as a good of an opportunity as any to put it to use. Acting quickly, he pulled it out of his vest and flipped through its pages, hunting for any information on Lake Gravity Falls that could be helpful. "Um… uh… Go into the falls!" he exclaimed after skimming over a line that briefly mentioned the waterfall. "I think there might be a cave back there!"

"Might be?!" Mabel asked as she briefly turned away from watching Amethyst and Pearl fuse to see that they were about to hit the waterfall. While the Gems were already in the midst of fusing, the other three all let out panicked screams as they covered their eyes to avoid having to see their inevitable impact. However, instead striking the waterfall and whatever might be behind it, be it a cave or a wall, something else happened instead.

Right before the boat collided with the falls, more than a pair of large arms scooped Dipper, Mabel, and Soos up and easily lifted them all off the boat as it sped through the falls and into the cave that actually did hide behind it. And yet, instead of crashing into the cave as the boat did, all three of them opened their eyes to see something, or rather someone was holding them.

It took almost no conjecture for them to realize that their rescuer was Opal, based on the fact that she fit the description of a "giant woman" perfectly. She easily stood at around twenty feet tall, maybe more, and she shared many of both Amethyst and Pearl's physical traits: Pearl's pointed nose and lithe frame, Amethyst's full lips and long hair, now tied up into a thick, white ponytail with two shorter pigtails framing her face. Her skin was a very pale shade of lavender and she possessed both Pearl's Gem upon her forehead and Amethyst's Gem on her chest, though both of them were of a more varied coloration. Her outfit was also a mix of that of the two Gems', with Pearl's yellow sash around her waist and a pastel green top with a drape in the front and back that bore the same star that all of the Crystal Gems seemed to wear. Her outfit also consisted of dark pink leggings akin to Amethyst's and her flat yellow boots fit her pointed feet perfectly. Oddly enough she had four arms instead of two, three of them holding on to the trio she had plucked from danger in the nick of time, and the other one clinging onto the cliff side close to the waterfall.

Dipper, Mabel, and Soos all stared up at Opal in silent amazement for a moment, before their awe was suddenly broken by the Gobblewonker speeding past them towards the cave. Opal barely managed to beat it inside as she gracefully leapt from the cliff, still holding the three humans in her gasp as she dove into the cave and landed deftly inside. The Gobblewonker barreled into the cave entrance after them, at which point Opal set the trio down and rose to her full height, which could barely be contained inside of the small cave.

"Stay low," she instructed the three of them in a rather deep, yet calm voice as she stepped forward. The Gobblewonker passed through the entrance of the cave, its maw snapping angrily at all four of them. That is, until its large body got stuck inside the narrow entryway halfway through.

"It's stuck?" Mabel asked in disbelief, glancing back to Opal, who was glaring at the Gobblewonker with her icy blue eyes.

Dipper breathed a laugh of relief at this, watching as the Gobblewonker struggled to break free from the cave entrance before a sudden realization struck him. "Wait, its stuck?" he asked as an even wider grin crossed his face. Acting fast, he patted himself down in search of a camera, only to find that they were all gone. That is save for one. Dipper was quite surprised when, out of all of them, Opal was the one who reached down and lifted his cap up, to reveal the camera he had forgotten he had stored there.

"Oh, right!" he said with a somewhat sheepish laugh. "Thanks," he said to Opal, who gave him a small, brief smile in return.

"Did you get any good ones?" Mabel asked her brother after he had happily snapped several up-close and personal pictures of the Gobblewonker.

"They're all good ones!" Dipper excitedly exclaimed, knowing that any one of these pictures could win the photo contest easily.

"Woo!" Mabel shouted in triumph. "Hamster ball!"

After several moments of letting Dipper photograph the Gobblewonker, Opal apparently decided that it was time to rescue Steven from it as she stepped closer to it, ignoring its enraged roars and wild thrashing. Both of the fusion's Gems began to glow as she summoned Amethyst's whip and Pearl's spear at the same time, holding them both over her head for a moment before they suddenly transformed into a magnificent longbow. Holding onto the bow with one set of arms and pulling back on the bowstring with her other two arms, she seamlessly formed an shimmering energy arrow upon the string, one that charged up with power the longer she held her stance. Dipper, Mabel, and Soos all watched with wonder as Opal took aim at the Gobblewonker, before ultimately letting her arrow loose in a dazzling array of light.

The arrow's aim was true as it struck the Gobblewonker squarely in the face, which somehow elicited both a wild scream, and a sputtering, electrical noise from it. The monster abruptly quit its struggling as its head fell into the water, the energy from the arrow having burnt off its "scales" to reveal a metallic framework underneath.

"What the…?" Dipper asked in confusion as he walked past Opal towards the Gobblewonker and touched its side, feeling nothing but cold metal as opposed to scales. "Huh?"

"Whoa…" Mabel said as she looked at the Gobblewonker's now robotic face. "What's going on here?"

Still curious, Dipper tentatively knocked on the Gobblewonker's side, only to hear nothing more than a hollow, metallic noise, further confirming his suspicions. Wanting to learn more, he climbed up onto the monster itself, disregarding the potential danger.

"Careful, dude!" Soos called with concern.

"I've got this! Hold on!" Dipper reassured him as he climbed onto the monster's other side, only to make a startling discovery. "Hey, guys! Come check this out!"

Mabel and Soos exchanged a confused look but hurried in that direction all the same, with Opal following in slow, graceful steps as she somehow defied the surface tension of the water to walk upon it. Oddly enough, there was a handle on the opposite side of the Gobblewonker's body, which Dipper hesitantly turned a little. A small stream of steam began to emit from the metallic monster, until a flood of it erupted once the trapdoor was fully opened, revealing who had been behind this "monster" the whole time: none other than Old Man McGucket himself.

"Work the billows and the… Eh?" the old hillbilly muttered to himself as he frantically worked the rather complex array of switches and buttons inside of the Gobblewonker. Upon realizing that the trapdoor had been opened, he quickly spun around in surprise, shocked that he had somehow been found out. "Aww, banjo polish!"

"Wha—you?!" Dipper exclaimed, as absolutely bewildered at this turn events as Soos and Mabel were. Only Opal somehow managed to upon her usual calm exterior, though all three of them were sure that if Pearl and Amethyst weren't fused, they would be taken aback as well. "You made this? Why?"

"Well, I… I… uh…" McGucket stammered, looking for a viable excuse but finding none. "I just wanted attention."

Before anyone else could ask any further questions, Steven suddenly poked his head out from underneath the Gobblewonker's metal interior, thankfully unharmed and actually rather content as a relaxed grin was on his face. "Oh, hey guys!" he exclaimed brightly. "What's up?"

"Steven!" everyone save for Opal exclaimed in relief.

"Wait, wait, wait," Dipper said, still trying to make sense of all this. "Steven, how are you ok? We saw this thing eat you alive!"

"Oh, well I thought I was a goner too until I found Mr. McGucket controlling the monster," Steven explained, still smiling. "And even he gave me this in exchange for helping him run it!" he said with apt innocence, as he dug into his cheeseburger backpack for a moment or two, before holding out a small, insect-like object with a turquoise Gem encrusted on its back.

"I found that there doo-hicky while lootin' for spare parts for my robut here!" McGucket exclaimed with his usual silly grin.

"The Water Beetle!" Opal exclaimed as she stepped closer, at last catching Steven's attention. The younger Gem's jaw dropped as he looked upon the fusion, stars in his eyes as he realized that his wish had come true after all.

"Opal?!" he exclaimed in awe, realizing that the wait to see her had been worth it; she was indeed as magnificent and as giant as he had hoped. Opal merely nodded, her expression still relaxed as Steven held the Water Beetle out to her, only for her to fold it back into his hand and point to the cheeseburger backpack with one of her other arms, wordlessly telling him that it would be safer in his keeping. Instead, the fusion held out her hand to him, kindly helping him up and out of the metallic monster as he continued to stare at her in astonishment. "Uh… do you… know who I am?" he asked a bit sheepishly, unsure if Opal retained any of Pearl or Amethyst's memories.

Opal simply chuckled softly at this before she slowly and gently broke into a short reprise of Steven and Mabel's song from earlier. "All you wanna do, is see me turn into…" she trailed off, allowing Steven to finish the rest.

The younger Gem let out a gasp of joyful surprise as he completed the melody with an awestruck whisper. "A giant woman!"

In the aftermath of this rather touching exchange, there were still quite a few unanswered questions as to what was going on concerning the Gobblewonker. "Wait, I still don't understand what's going on here," Dipper said with a frown as the group turned back to McGucket.

"Well, first I just hootenannied up a biomechanical brain wave generator," McGucket began, going into the details of the inner workings of his robot. "And then I learned to operate a stick-shift with ma beard!"

"Okay, yeah, but why did you do it?" Mabel asked.

"Well, when you get to be an old fella like me, nobody pays attention to you anymore," McGucket said with a sad frown as he glanced down and removed his hat. "My own son hasn't visited me in months! So I figured maybe I'd catch his fancy with a fifteen ton aquatic robut!" He broke into a rather maniacal bout of laughter before finally relenting into a morose sigh. "In retrospect, it seems a bit contrived. You just don't know the lengths us old-timers go through to spend a little quality time with our family."

Dipper and Mabel exchanged a frown at this, both of them unable to keep themselves from thinking about Stan. Regardless of his unorthodox ways of showing affection, he had put effort into trying to have a bonding experience with them. He had even put work into making them hats that, while incredibly tacky, did at the very least show that he cared. And how had they repaid him? They had leapt at the chance to ditch him, leaving him all alone without so much as a second thought. Some niece and nephew they were.

"Dude, I guess the real lake monster is you two," Soos said with a small laugh, only making the twins feel worse about what they had done. "Sorry, that was like—boom—just popped into my head there."

"So, did you ever talk to your son about how you felt?" Steven asked McGucket, clearly feeling sorry for the poor, deranged old man as the rest of them did.

"No, sir, I got to work straight on the robut!" he proclaimed with a proud grin as a projector rose up from the Gobblewonker's side, casting an image of the blueprints of the monster onto the inner side of the trapdoor. "I made lots of robuts in my day!" he continued as he ran through a slideshow depicting his strangely extensive experience with robotics. "Like when my wife left me and I created a homicidal pterodactyl-tron, or when my pal Ernie didn't come to my retirement party and I constructed an eighty ton shame bot that exploded the entire downtown area!" he exclaimed as he laughed insanely once again. "Well, it's time to get back to work on my death ray!" he announced as he ducked back down into the robot's interior, working on his next project for a moment or two before reaching his arm up once more. "Any of you kids got a screwdriver?"

"Well, so much for the photo contest," Dipper said with a sigh as he pulled out his camera once more, knowing that they couldn't very well submit a picture of a monster that was nothing more than a robot.

"You know, I still have one camera left," Steven said with a small smile as he pulled said camera out of the cheeseburger backpack and handed it to Dipper.

"What do you wanna do with it?" Mabel asked Dipper with a grin, even though they both already knew exactly what the answer was.


Stan let out a defeated sigh as he steered his boat back to shore, knowing that the sun was getting low and the chances of having anything resembling a good time were even lower. The twins, wherever they were, would certainly catch up with him eventually, and if not, then Soos could just give them a ride back to the shack when they were done monster hunting, or whatever it was they were doing. Not that he really cared; after all, they had already showed how much they cared about him, so why should he concern himself with them?

"Hey! Over here!" Stan's attention was diverted away from the shore and towards Soos's rather beaten-up boat as it slowly puttered towards his own boat, Dipper, Mabel, and Soos all waving at the con man with bright smiles on their faces. Tagging not too far behind the tattered vessel was what looked to be a giant, four-armed woman unexplainably treading upon the surface of the water as if it was solid ground as she carried Steven on one of her shoulders. As the two boats pulled up next to each other, Dipper lifted up his camera and snapped a photo of a very confused Stan, who was not only surprised at the impossibly large woman, but the twin's return in general.

"What the—kids?" he asked in bewilderment. "I thought you two were off playing 'spin the bottle' with Soos! And who's the huge broad over there?"

"This is Opal!" Steven happily introduced the fusion Gem to Stan. "She's actually Amethyst and Pearl, fused into one Gem!"

Stan raised an eyebrow at this explanation, not fully buying it but shrugging nonetheless. "Eh, I've seen crazier, I guess," he said, deciding he didn't really care to know much more.

"We spent all day trying to find a 'legendary' dinosaur," Dipper began to explain with a leading grin.

"But we realized that the only dinosaur we wanna hang out with is right here," Mabel finished as she motioned to her grunkle with a warm smile.

"Save your sympathy!" Stan said as he stubbornly crossed his arms. "I've been having a great time without you! Makin' friends, taking to my reflection… I even had a run-in with the lake police! Guess I gotta wear this ankle bracelet now," he said, holding up his ankle to reveal the beeping brace clasped around it. "So that'll be fun."

"So… I guess there isn't room in that boat for three more?" Dipper asked with a somewhat regretful expression.

Stan shot the twins a rather cold grin, refusing to let his hard exterior break to their puppy-dog eyes. However, his resolve quickly crumbled as Dipper and Mabel put on the hats he had made for them, this time gladly and proudly wearing them, something that he had wanted from the very beginning. "You knuckleheads ever see me thread a hook with my eyes closed?" he asked with a relenting grin as he motioned for them to come aboard.

"Five bucks says you can't do it!" Dipper challenged as he hopped aboard Stan's boat.

"You're on!"

"Five more bucks says you can't do it with your eyes closed, plus me singing at the top of my lungs!" Mabel added onto the dare as she and Soos joined them on Stan's boat.

"I like those odds!" the con man grinned daringly before he turned towards Steven and Opal. "You sure that tall drink of water is up for fishing?" he asked Steven.

"Oh yeah!" Steven nodded enthusiastically. "Opal's great at fishing! Right?" he asked Opal, who, as a sign of her skill, quickly plunged one of her arms into the water before pulling it out with several fish thrashing about in her tight grip.

"Well, alright then," Stan said with surprise as he adjusted his glasses, clearly impressed

"Okay, everyone, get together," Dipper called as he held his camera up to snap a group photo. Everyone, including Opal and Steven managed to squeeze into the frame as they all smiled collectively. "Say fishing!"

"Fishing!" everyone shouted as the picture was snapped, the first of many as the entire group spent the next several hours of the late afternoon fishing. Unlike their hunt for the Gobblewonker, this adventure was much safer, yet it somehow ended up being even funnier, something that the twins could have never expected earlier that same day. As it turned out, fishing in and of itself was quite the engaging activity, especially when Stan made good on his word and baited his hook with his eyes closed. The joke book that Stan had brought along actually turned out to contain quite a few side-splitters, a few of which made even Opal crack a smile as Steven nearly fell off her shoulder several times laughing at them. Opal herself made the fishing experience all the more interesting as she performed a graceful dance atop the surface of the water upon Steven and Mabel's request, which Dipper managed to catch several great pictures of. And of course, considering they were fishing with Stan, the trip was not without its mischievous escapades, which the twins were more than happy to help out with. Upon trying to steal a few fish from the siblings and grandfather Stan had encountered earlier, they were nearly chased off the lake by the police, though the officers were quick to flee upon being intimidated by Opal's towering, imposing presence. At the end of the day, they all managed to catch not only several fish, but even more memories that would certainly last for a long time.

As the sun set over the waters of the lake, Opal led the way towards the shore, with Stan's boat gliding across the water not too far behind. Both Dipper and Mabel sat in front of Stan and Soos, both of them relaxed and content with the day they had had. In fact, the calm of the evening was only broken by the boat shaking a bit, something that did not go unnoticed by the twins.

"Whoa!" Mabel exclaimed as she glanced down at the water.

"What was that?" Dipper asked in confusion, sitting up a bit from his former reclined position.

Mabel simply shrugged, having no idea what it could have been, and Dipper accepted it as he relaxed once more, knowing that not all mysteries could be solved.

Little did either of them know that, far underneath their vessel, one of the last disposable cameras was steadily sinking towards the bottom of the lake, only for it to be caught by the maw of a massive lake monster…


Everyone was in high spirits as they all returned from the lake that evening, something that Garnet noticed as she stood at the base of the hill where the Mystery Shack's property intersected with the temple's hill. She had almost been tempted to go see what was taking her teammates so long after returning from her solo mission and waiting for several hours for Amethyst, Pearl, and Steven to return, but she ultimately decided against it for several reasons. Regardless, her expression was as calm and stoic as ever as she watched Stan's car pass by, its three passengers all clearly happy as the twins waved at her as they passed. Garnet did not smile as she waved back at them, but that was usual for her. In fact, she didn't even smile as she turned to see Steven and Opal emerge from the path not too far behinds the Pines family.

"Hi, Garnet!" Steven chimed cheerfully as Opal helped him off his perch on her shoulder. "We're back!"

"The Water Beetle," Garnet reminded them, hoping that they had not left the lake without it.

Opal's usually calm façade suddenly crumbled as her eyes opened wide and she let out a gasp. "I don't have it!" she exclaimed in shock, her form wavering for a moment or two before she split apart, both Amethyst and Pearl falling out of her and to the ground as separate Gems once more.

"Amethyst! You got distracted!" Pearl exclaimed hotly as she sat up.

"Hey, you were the one getting carried away with all those fancy backflips!" Amethyst retorted defensively.

"Wait, guys!" Steven exclaimed, breaking up their argument as he reached into his cheeseburger backpack for the beetle in question before presenting it. "You guys—I mean Opal—gave it to me to hold onto! Remember?"

Pearl and Amethyst exchanged a rather surprised glance at this, neither of them remembering having done so. "Opal always has been very forgetful," Garnet said, knowing well the major weakness of her teammates' fusion. "Good job, Steven," the Gem leader said as she took the Water Beetle and put it into a small terrarium alongside the Earth Beetle she had retrieved earlier before bubbling them both away. "I also see you helped your teammates fuse."

"Yep!" Steven proclaimed proudly. "And all I had to do was get eaten by a robotic lake monster!"

"Nice work," Garnet said with a nod as she began to head back up to the temple, motioning for Amethyst and Pearl to do the same, despite the fact that they were still a bit stunned. "You'll be great at fusing someday."

"Yeah," Steven said with a wide grin as he began to follow her, though he stopped in his tracks as he caught onto the last part of what she had said. "Wait! I can do that too?!"

Chapter Text

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It had been a few days since the Gobblewonker incident, and surprisingly, things had been relatively relaxed since then. There had been no Gem monster attack or supernatural hoax as of late, something that actually bade rather well with the kids. While the Gems still went on their regular missions, Steven was restricted from coming along on most of them on the ground of them being "too dangerous", though he didn't really mind; after all, it gave him more time to hang out with Dipper and Mabel.

The young Gem and the Pines twins had been continuously developing their friendly rapport, though not always by means of climactic battles or fantastical discoveries. Sometimes it was just as casual as sitting down around the television, which was exactly how Steven, Connie, Dipper, and Mabel were spending the afternoon. Though her parents had much of her free time, even during summer break, devoted to tennis or violin practice, Connie had been able to take the day off and, under Steven's suggestion, she had joined him and the twins in enjoying a marathon of Duck-tective at the Mystery Shack.

The kids were all collected around the recliner in the den, all of them deeply invested in the adventures of the feathered sleuth despite the fact that they were all simultaneously multitasking. Mabel was busy at work knitting her newest sweater while Steven and Dipper snacked on a bowl of popcorn and Connie switched back and forth between watching the show and skimming through a novel she had already read several times. Yet despite their various distractions, they were all still able to follow the ongoing saga of the popular mystery-drama.

"I'm afraid your services won't be required here, sir,"the constable on screen said to Duck-tective as the two of them stood together at the scene of a crime. "My men have examined the evidence, and this is obviously an accident."

Duck-tective was quick to offer a stout response, though it came out as a series of subtitled quacks. "An accident, constable?" the crime-solving bird challenged. "Or is it… murder?!"

"What?!" the constable exclaimed with a shocked gasp, a sentiment that both Steven and Mabel shared as they glued their eyes to the screen in light of this startling revelation. Of course, the show immediately cut to a commercial break at this dramatic cliffhanger, much to their disappointment.

"Whoa!" Steven exclaimed with a marveling grin. "I never saw that coming! How does Duck-tective do it?"

"I know, right?!" Mabel heartily agreed as she stilled her knitting needles for a moment. "That duck is a genius!"

"Eh, it's easier to find clues when you're that close to the ground," Dipper shrugged, clearly not as impressed.

"And it was kind of obvious that it was a murder," Connie added. "A body wouldn't end up in a position like that if the victim died of 'natural causes'."

Mabel and Steven exchanged a glance upon hearing this show of doubt, and both of them were quick to question it. "Are you guys saying that you could outwit Duck-tective?" Mabel asked, giving her brother in particular a scrutinizing look.

"Well, he is a duck," Connie said with a joking grin.

"But he's a really smart duck!" Steven protested. "Plus, he has that cute little detective hat."

"That doesn't matter," Dipper scoffed. "Besides, I have very keen powers of observation. For example, Mabel, just by smelling your breath, I can tell that you've been eating…" He trailed off to take in the scent of his sister's breath, only to frown in confusion at what he smelled. "An entire tube of toothpaste?"

"It was so sparkly…" Mabel confessed guiltily, remembering the painful stomach ache that she had gotten not long after doing so.

"Hey, dudes!" Soos exclaimed as he poked his head around the corner, clearly anxious to tell the kids something. "You'll never guess what I found!"

"A secret stash of ice cream?!" Steven guessed excitedly.

"Dinosaur bones?" Connie speculated.

"Ooo! Dinosaur bones would be way cooler than ice cream!" Steven gushed before Dipper and Mabel put forth their own ideas.

"Buried treasure!" Dipper theorized, not knowing that Mabel was about to do the same thing only a few seconds later.

"Buried—Hey! I was gonna say that!" she laughed, giving her brother a playful punch in the arm before all four of the kids got up to follow Soos to whatever it was he wanted to show them.

"So, I was cleaning up," the handyman began as he led the way to a door in the hallway, one that the twins had never seen before. "When I found this secret door, hidden behind the wallpaper. Its crazy bonkers creepy!"

"Oh, boy! I hope there really are dinosaur bones in there!" Steven exclaimed as he nudged Connie, who simply chuckled at his enthusiasm.

Soos opened the creaky door to reveal a hidden room that mystified all of them at once. It clearly hadn't been touched in years, as one could tell by the dust and cobwebs filling nearly every nook and cranny. However, that was by far the least notable thing about the room; what was much more bewildering was the horde of life-sized wax figurines of historical figures hall kept stored there for some reason.

"Whoa…" Dipper mused in awe, shining his flashlight around at the various waxen faces. "It's a secret wax museum!"

"Cool…" Steven grinned as he stopped to glance up at the wax rendition of William Shakespeare. "Hey, Connie! Check it out!" he exclaimed as he mimicked the famous poet's pose, holding his hand up in a dramatic stance. "'To be or not to be!'"

"That is certainly the question," Connie finished with an amused laugh.

"They're all so life-like," Mabel noted as she poked the wax figure of Sherlock Holmes, only to see that he was indeed lifeless.

"Except for that one," Dipper said as he pointed his flashlight at what he had assumed was a wax figure of Stan. That is, until it moved.

"Hello!" Stan greeted with a chipper grin, the light shining up at his face from below giving him an unsettling appearance. The very fact that he had moved amidst all of the frozen wax statues elicited startled responses from the kids. "It's just me!" the con-man reassured them with a chuckle. "Your Grunkle Stan!"

His reassurance did nothing however, as all four of the kids, as well as Soos all let out a unified scream of terror and abruptly raced out of the room. Stan merely sighed in annoyance as he went to regather them all, and though it took some doing, he did manage to eventually coax them all back into the storage room so he could properly show off his prized wax figure collection.

"Behold! The Gravity Falls Wax Museum!" Stan announced in his usual showman way as he gave the kids a grand tour of the dusty storage room. "It was one of our most popular attractions… before I forgot all about it."

"Wow, Mr. Pines! How many wax figures do you have in here anyway?" Steven inquired curiously.

"I got 'em all, kid!" Stan said as he led the way down the long line of wax statues. "Genghis Khan, Sherlock Holmes, some kind of… I don't know, goblin man?" he guessed as he paused before the wax rendition of Larry King.

"Is anyone else getting the creeps here?" Dipper asked with a shudder.

"Yeah…" Connie agreed with an uneasy frown. "It's like their eyes follow you wherever you go…"

"Eh, I'm sure it's all in your heads," Mabel laughed off their paranoia in her usual carefree way.

"And now for my personal favorite," Stan continued the tour, coming to the other end of the room. "Wax Abraham Lincoln! Right over-" He abruptly cut himself off upon glancing over at what used to be the wax figuring of the 16th president, now reduced to nothing more than a melted glob of unrecognizable wax, courtesy of the hot summer sunlight streaming in through the nearby window. "Oh! Oh no!" Stan exclaimed in shocked horror, clearly distraught over the loss of his most prized figurine. "Come on! Who left the blinds open!? Wax John Wilkes Booth, I'm looking in your direction!" The conman let out a dejected sigh as he bent down and put a finger in the pile of melted wax, seeing that it was indeed unsalvageable. "How do you fix a wax figure?"

"With lots of wax glue?" Steven suggested with a grin.

"Oh, sure," Stan deadpanned, rolling his eyes. "I'll just go down to the supermarket and pick some of that up. After all, it's not like it's something that doesn't actually exist."

"Cheer up, Grunkle Stan!" Mabel encouraged. "Where's that smile?"

Stan merely passed his niece's cheerfulness off with a sour grunt, though Mabel showed her persistence by playfully poking her surly uncle in the face. "Beep! Bop! Boop!"

"Ow."

"Don't worry, Grunkle Stan. I'll make you a new wax figure to replace this one!" Mabel declared, more than ready to take on such an artistic challenge.

"You really think you can make one of these puppies?" Stan asked as he rose to stand.

"And how! Grunkle Stan, I'm an arts and crafts master. Why do you think I always have this glue gun stuck to my arm?" Mabel asked as she held up her arm to reveal that a small glue gun was indeed attached to her sweater, even despite her best efforts to shake it off.

"Hey, Mabel, mind if I help?" Steven asked eagerly. "Sculpting a wax statue sounds like a lot of fun!"

"Sure, Steven!" Mabel said with a huge grin. "We'll go into business together! I can see it now: Pines & Universe Wax Sculptors Extraordinaire! Together, we'll carve out a waxy empire!"

Of course, Steven was on board with plan as he joined Mabel in leaping right into the plans for the new wax figure, both of them chattering on about their ambitious ideas so fast that no one else in the room could really catch a word they were saying. Even Stan couldn't deny that he was amused by their shared enthusiasm.

"Well, I gotta admit, you kids have gumption," the conman said with a broad grin. "I like it!"

"I don't know what 'gumption' means, but thank you!" Steven said with a cheerful smile.

"Just you wait, Grunkle Stan," Mabel declared, countless plans for her and Steven's masterpiece already brimming in her mind. "We'll make you the best wax figure the world has ever seen!"


"I think it should be tall."

"At least ten feet!"

"And really colorful!"

"It should have nothing less than all of the colors of the rainbow!"

"How many arms should it have?"

"Four! Maybe even five!"

Dipper heard this zealous conversation coming from the parlor even all the way in the kitchen as he grabbed himself a soda. Curious to see what Mabel and Steven were intently discussing, he decided to peek in on them, only to see the two of them feverishly working on crayon sketches, several of which were scattered in a disarrayed mess on the floor around them. The two of them had gotten to work on planning for the new wax figure early that next day, and as the countless colorful drawings on the floor showed, their creative process had been quite hectic.

"Dipper!" Mabel exclaimed excitedly upon noticing her brother standing in the doorway, startling him and causing him to choke on his soda. She didn't take notice of this however as she happily leap to her feet, gathering several of drawings in her arms and rushing over to him, with Steven following not too far behind her. "What do you think of our wax figure ideas? This one is part fairy princess, and parthorse fairy princess!" she beamed, proudly holding up a sketch of the somewhat horrifying amalgamation she had described.

"Or this one!" Steven added as he held up his own drawing. "It's a cat with eagle wings and a top hat! He's fancy."

"Uh… maybe you guys should carve something from real life…" Dipper frowned, somewhat weirded out by their bizarre ideas.

"Like a waffle, with big arms!" Mabel ventured, pulling out a drawing of said waffle from her pile of pages.

"Oh, that's one of my favorites!" Steven exclaimed with a smile.

"Okay… Or, you know, like something else," Dipper said, knowing that neither of them were really catching on in all of their wide-eyed excitement. "Like… like someone in your family."

Before either Mabel or Steven could respond to this idea, the idea session was suddenly interrupted by Stan's entrance into the room. "Kids, have you seen my pants?" the conman asked the trio as he casually walked into the room in but his boxers and a dirty undershirt, stopping with one foot perched upon a briefcase lying on the ground.

Mabel and Steven shared a unified gasp of excitement, newfound inspiration clicking in both of their minds all at once as they looked at Stan. "That's it!" Steven exclaimed, already getting to work on an experimental sketch.

"Oh, muse, you work in mysterious ways…" Mabel whispered in elation as she glanced upwards, her eyes big and brimming with exhilaration over this new, definitive idea.

"Why's your sister talking to the ceiling?" Stan muttered to Dipper, the creative magic clearly lost on both of them as they stared at the two overjoyed "artists" in confusion.

Without any further provocation, Steven and Mabel got to work on crafting their shared masterpiece. Though neither of them had really ever created something of this artistic magnitude before, much less worked with wax, but that hardly deterred them. With but a book on wax sculpting checked out of the library to guide them, the pair whittled away at the formless glob of wax that was their canvas, working tirelessly for hours on end until their hands were practically coated in the stuff. Of course, the process wasn't all work and no play; they both kept the radio blaring all the while, and they made sure to take the occasional break for a snack or random dance party to liven things up and keep their creative juices flowing.

They were about halfway finished with their waxen creation when Steven took a step back to examine their work, looking it over with a scrutinizing, intent gaze. It wasn't long before Mabel, who was still carving at her usual rhythmic pace, noticed her partner's thoughtful focus. "What's the matter?" she asked, giving their progress so far a once-over as well. "Did we mess up on the nose?"

"No, it's not that…" Steven mused as he put a finger to his chin in contemplation. "It's just… he looks kinda… lonely…"

Mabel frowned as she looked back to the half-shapened lump of wax in front of her, immediately thinking the same thing before she remembered something. "Oh, but he won't be as soon as we finish him and put him with the other wax figures!"

"Yeah, but he'll be the only new one… The rest of them are probably years old and they're covered in dust! He'll be like a baby compared to them."

"True… So what should we do?"

Steven pondered this question for a moment or two, though it didn't take him long to reach an obvious conclusion. "We should make more!"

"Yeah!" Mabel readily agreed, knowing that was sculpting was surprisingly fun despite the hard work that went into it. "But of what? Do we need to go back to the drawing board? I still have my sketches of the buff waffles!"

"Actually, I think I have another idea…" Steven said with a vague grin, the plans for three new wax figures already formulating in his mind as inspiration struck him yet again.


"I think… they need more glitter…" Mabel mused as her and Steven stood apace from their nearly-completed creations. It had taken nearly the course of a day and a half to finish all four of them, but the time had been well spent, as they had not one, but four new wax figures to show for their efforts, all of them painstakingly carved to ensure accuracy and presentability.

"Agreed," Steven nodded, his tone serious as he ran over and got the bucket of glitter they had on hand throughout the sculpting process. He handed it over to Mabel, who didn't hesitate to throw the entire bucket over all four of their wax sculptures without calculation, giving them all a decent coating of the sparkly substance.

"There!" Mabel smiled in satisfaction over their shared job well done. "They're perfect!"

No more than a moment later, Stan happened to wander into the parlor, now bereft of shoes. "I found my pants, but now I'm missing my-" he abruptly cut himself off with a startled cry upon noticing the set of wax figures the kids had made, their life-like semblances causing him to trip backwards in surprise.

"So?" Mabel asked with a beaming grin as her and Steven anxiously awaited Stan's seal of approval on their hard work. "What do you think?"

"There's four of them," Stan noted incredulously.

"Yeah!" Steven quipped cheerfully. "We were having so much fun carving the first one that we decided the more the merrier!"

"Hm… Well, I could always up the price of admission if we include even more figures…" Stan mused as he rose to stand, imagining the profits that could be made off of such artful displays.

"So, do you like them, Grunkle Stan?" Mabel asked, her tone hopeful.

"Like 'em?" Stan asked with a growing grin of satisfaction. "I think it's safe to say that the wax museum's back in business!"


A bustling crowd had gathered at the Mystery Shack, even though most of its members didn't really know what the event they had congregated for was really about. But nonetheless, many of Gravity Falls' residents made their way out to the tourist attraction and they all even paid the rather steep admission price, creating a far bigger turn out than anyone, save for Stan, had been expecting.

"I can't believe this many people showed up," Dipper said to Wendy as the two of them worked the ticket stand together, watching the crowds flow in to the event.

"I know, right?" Wendy asked with a sardonic grin. "Your uncle probably bribed them or something."

"He bribed me," Dipper said with a grin, holding up the five dollar bill Stan had paid him off with to get him to stay at the ticket stand for a few hours. Likewise, Wendy smirked as she held up her own five dollars that the conman had bribed her with as well.

Amidst the steadily assembling crowd, Steven eagerly trailed ahead of the Gems, who kept a casual, non-rushing pace behind him as they all three stoically took in the gathering. Of course, Steven failed to notice their relative disinterest in light of his excitement over how he had managed to convince them to attend this paramount event, getting them to take a break from their constant flow of world-saving tasks.

"Right this way," Steven guided the Gems to a spot near the front of the crowd. "You guys are gonna love this!"

"Let me guess…" Amethyst began with a coy grin. "Stan tricked all these people into coming out here just so they could pay him to stand outside for several hours."

"That sounds like something he would do," Garnet deadpanned.

"I have to admit, I thought Stan would be at least a little more creative than that…" Pearl mused before glancing at the bubble hovering above her palm, several gem shards of various sizes and shapes trapped inside. "But regardless, we can't stand around here all day, Steven. We have to find the rest of these missing gem shards. They're very important."

"But this is very important too!" Steven protested, sneaking a glance up at the four tarp-covered shapes awaiting on stage amidst the other wax figures. "Otherwise I wouldn't have 'waxed' you to come!"

The younger Gem laughed heartily at his own pun, which elicited a snort from Amethyst and a short-lived smirk from Garnet. Pearl, however, was not as amused. "I'm serious, Steven," she urged. "These shards contain a powerful consciousness that has been harnessed by Gems throughout history in order to create fully-sentient drone soldiers with the capacity to follow both basic and complex orders."

Pearl went on with her lengthy, intricate explanation, detailing something about the gem shards becoming self-aware and turning on their commanders, though Steven missed most of it as Amethyst distracted him instead. "Hey, Steven," the purple Gem grinned mischievously as she elbowed the younger Gem, catching his attention. "What's under the sheets up there?"

"I can't tell you," Steven whispered in response, not wanting to interrupt Pearl's rant. "You just gotta wait until the grand unveiling. But Ican tell you that it will be totally worth the wait!"

"It better be," Amethyst said, crossing her arms. "Last time Stan held a grand unveiling, it was for 'renovations' he did on the outhouse, which was really just a band-aid he put over one of its peepholes. He charged everyone ten bucks for coming, and let's just say… it wasn't a pretty sight…"

Steven frowned a bit at this as Amethyst simply chuckled in levity over the memory, both of them still not really listening to Pearl as she finished up her speech. "That's why is very, very important that they're kept away from any moldable substance, or else they'll-"

"Shhh, Pearl!" Steven was quick to quiet the white Gem as Stan took the stage. "It's starting!"

Stan was quick to garnish the crowd's attention with a succinct tap of the microphone, ignoring the brief ear-splitting screech that emitted from it as he flashed his best charming grin. "You all know me, folks! Town darling, Mr. Mystery! Please, ladies, control yourselves!" The conman paused for a moment to wait on the reactions of any of the women in the crowd, only to get none whatsoever. "As you all know, I always bring the people of this fair town novelties and befuddlements, the likes of which the world has never known!"

"Oh please…" Pearl muttered sarcastically upon hearing this claim, rolling her eyes.

"But enough about me," Stan went on, getting to the point of this gathering. "Behold… me!" He pulled the sheet off of the foremost shape with a flourish, revealing one of the wax museum's newest additions: Stan himself. The wax carving of the conman matched him in almost every way, from height, to clothing, to even the proud beaming grin he wore as he stood alongside his wax twin. The crowd's response was lukewarm at best, with only about one or two of its members offering a soft, polite clap while the rest simply continued to stare up at the stage, unimpressed.

"Mr. Pines!" Steven called remindingly, breaking through the bored haze of the crowd with an eager grin.

"Oh, yeah, right…" Stan muttered as his smirk quickly turned into an annoyed scowl. "And, uh, the Crystal Gems… or whatever." In a much less ceremonious fashion, he pulled the tarps from the other three obscured wax figures, revealing that they were indeed quite accurate carvings of the Gems. The figure of Garnet held her usual stoic expression, her hands placed on her hips in a firm stance. Pearl's figure was posed more elegantly, her eyes shut in a peaceful smile and her hands poised gracefully in front of her. The carving of Amethyst wore a confident, if not somewhat impish grin as her arms were held up in a carefree pose and her long waxen hair flayed out behind her.

While the rest of the crowd was just as indifferent towards the wax statues of the Gems as they were with Stan's, upon seeing these renditions, the Gems themselves all responded in different ways. Garnet remained silent, but as Steven grinned up at her for her approval, she recognized his hard work with a thumbs up. Pearl was clearly the most bewildered as she looked up to her own wax figure with a confused frown, unsure of what the practical purpose of a lifeless lump of wax molded to resemble her was. Amethyst, on the other hand, let out an amused chuckle upon seeing her own wax twin, admiring the apt accuracy in its form, features, and even its playful manner.

"And now a word from our featured artists: Mabelangelo and, uh… Steve-inci! Yeah, that works…" Stan took a step aside as both Steven and Mabel rushed to the stage, excited to finally reveal the fruits of their shared labor the world.

"Now, now! Settle down!" Steven called into the microphone with a wide grin, even though the only ones applauding in the entire crowd were the Gems, who were doing so to show support to their young ward. "Applause are not needed! Your smiling faces are appreciation enough!"

"Thank you all for coming!" Mabel continued cheerfully. "Steven and I both worked hard to make these sculptures with our own two hands. They're covered in our blood, sweat, tears, and other fluids!"

The crowd reviled a bit in disgust upon thinking through the implications of this, though Mabel and Steven simply laughed it off. "We will now take questions!" Steven announced, pointing to the first person in the crowd to raise their hand. "You there!"

"Old Man McGucket, local kook," the hillbilly addressed himself as he stood. "Are the wax figures alive? And follow-up question: can I survive the wax-man uprising?"

Steven and Mabel exchanged a confused glance upon getting such a left-field question, one that neither of them were really sure how to answer. However, Mabel attempted to so anyway. "Um… Yes!" she exclaimed with an awkward grin. "Next question!"

"Ronaldo Fryman for the blog 'Keep Gravity Falls Weird!'" the teenager rose to stand, his phone in hand ready to record the answer to his prodding question. "Is it true that these wax figures were sculpted out of rare Ukrainian cursed wax?"

"Uh… I don't think so…" Steven replied with a frown. "We just recycled the wax from a figure that melted, plus a few other ones that were broken. So… they're probably not cursed. Probably. Any more questions?"

"Toby Determined, Gravity Falls Gossiper," the staunch man began, holding up a turkey baster towards the stage as opposed to an actual microphone. "Do you really think this constitutes as a wonder of the world?"

"Your microphone's a turkey baster, Toby," Stan deadpanned, shooting the amateur reporter's question down quickly.

"It certainly is…" Toby said as he retracted his question with a disappointed frown.

"Next question!"

"Shandra Jimenez, a real reporter," the newswoman said pointedly, not needing to prove herself as she had an actual microphone and a camera crew. "Your fliers promised free pizza with admission to this event. Is this true?"

"I can confirm that it is not!" Kofi Pizza exclaimed hotly. "Fish Stew Pizza is the only pizzeria in town that delivers and we received no orders from Mr. Pines! Not that we would ever expect a cheapskate like him to pay us anyway!"

Angry murmurs began to ripple through the crowd at this, all of its members wondering where their promised pizza was and why it had not been passed out yet. Stan frowned a bit nervously as they began to grow gradually more impatient, many of them glaring at him expectantly, though of course, he found a way to avoid altercation as usual. "That was a typo," he said succinctly, not bothering to explain any more. "Good night, everyone!" Without another word, the conman tossed down one of the smoke bombs he always kept on hand for just such an occasion and dashing off the stage in the aftermath of its explosion. Of course, before he escaped the scene entirely, he made sure to swipe the admission cash box before anyone could see him, refusing to let go of such an easy profit.

Of course, the crowd was in no way pleased with this as they all bitterly disbanded, all of them beyond furious for how they had been duped. It was a miracle that no violence broke out in the aftermath of such a scam, though one of the decorative poles near the shack did suffer a casualty courtesy of Manly Dan. In the end, the only members of the crowd who hung around were the Crystal Gems, who had done nothing to quell the crowd's anger and had instead merely let them simmer.

"Well… that was…" Pearl began with a frown, though Garnet was quick to finish for her.

"A mess," the Gem leader said simply, calmly adjusting her shades.

Amethyst let out a rowdy bout of laughter, one that she had been holding back as a subtle snicker throughout the crowd's heated outburst. "Boy, Stan really knows how to piss a crowd off, huh?" she chuckled with a sly grin as she hopped up on the stage. "Though I gotta admit, I'm totally digging wax me!"

"You like them?" Steven asked as he stepped forward on the stage, a hopeful smile on his face as he awaited the Gems' critique.

"Oh… well, Steven, they're um… they're very… lifelike," Pearl stammered, not really sure what to think of the wax sculptures. "But are they really necessary?"

"Huh?" Steven asked with a confused frown, though thankfully Garnet cut Pearl off once more before she could offend the budding artists.

"We love them," Garnet said, her usual stoicism breaking for a small grin. "You both did a wonderful job."

"Thank you!" Steven and Mabel both chimed in unison.

"Yeah!" Amethyst heartily agreed as she jumped up onto the shoulders of her wax double to take a seat. "I was just telling Pearl the other day that we need more of me around! And this chill dude will look awesome in my room next to my favorite pile of trash!"

"Wait, Amethyst!" Steven protested. "You can't take it back to the temple with you!"

"Why not?" the purple Gem asked, having already hoisted her wax duplicate onto her back.

"Because they're for the wax museum!" Mabel explained.

"Oh, please don't tell me Stan's trying to revive that tired old exhibit…" Pearl said with an exasperated sigh.

"Yeah, he is!" Steven grinned cheerfully. "And I can't wait to take the grand tour when it's up and running with all four of these new wax figures on display! It'll be great!"


"Hot pumpkin pie! Look at all this cash!" Stan exclaimed with a proud grin as he tallied up the proceeds from the grand unveiling later that evening. "Scamming unsuspecting yokels always pays off! And I owe it all to one person! This guy!" He let out a hearty laugh as he placed an arm around his wax duplicate's shoulder affectionately.

"Grunkle Stan…" Mabel said with a knowing smirk as her and Dipper sat across the kitchen table from their uncle, watching him count his proceeds.

"Yeah, you too, ya little gremlin," Stan acknowledged with a chuckle.

"And…" Mabel urged, giving a nod towards the wax carvings of the Gems, which Stan had carelessly shoved into a small group in the corner of the living room.

"And them too, I guess," the conman said, his grin diminishing a little bit. "But not as much as me! …Or him… Eh, both of us! Now you kids go wash up. We got another long day of fleecing rubes tomorrow."

The twins shared a laugh of amusement as they got up and did as their uncle said, both of them heading upstairs to get ready for bed. Once they were gone, Stan decided to take this opportunity to "bond" with his beloved wax twin by carefully toting it over to his chair in front of the TV, setting it down as he reclined in the chair and flipped the TV on to a the end of a rerun of Duck-tective.

"Well, Duck-tective," the constable concluded. "It seems you really quacked the case."

"Don't patronize me," Duck-tective responded via subtitles, though his quacks were obviously annoyed at that pun.

"Ha! Stupid duck!" Stan laughed as the show cut to a commercial. "Well, I'm gonna use the john," he said to his wax duplicate, who's broad grin was as unchanging as ever. "You need anything?" Of course, the wax figure didn't respond, but the conman simply mirthfully chuckled once more. "I love this guy! Don't you go nowhere, handsome!"

Stan was only in the bathroom for about a minute or two, but that was just long enough. No one was around to see the figures looming in the shadows of the living room, and there was not a single witness to swift, yet heinous act that was committed in that quick span of time. And of course, the culprits were all quick to make themselves scares as soon as it became apparent that the conman was returning to the room. And when Stan did enter the room, he did so to find a sight that made him instantly scream in shock and horror.

"No!" the conman cried in absolute dismay, loud enough that it could clearly be heard throughout the entire shack. Even though they were in the upstairs bathroom, Dipper and Mabel could hear him, and concerned, they didn't hesitate to rush downstairs to see what was the matter.

The twins came to an abrupt stop in the entryway of the den, both of them surprised and confused to see their grunkle on his knees, cradling his wax double's body in his arms as he lamented over it. At first, it was hard for them to understand why, though they quickly discovered why he was so upset: Wax Stan's head had been sliced cleanly off.

"Wax Stan! He's… he's been murdered!" Stan cried mournfully, completely devastated by this travesty.

Upon seeing how her and Steven's art had been so callously defaced, Mabel let out a horrified gasp before ultimately fainting into her brother's arms from the shock of it all. Of course, while Dipper was nowhere near as emotional over the "death" of an inanimate wax figure as his sister and grunkle were, he did understand their sudden grief. But as he glanced over the scene of the crime once more, he noticed two other important factors that both Stan and Mabel had failed to. Firstly, the wax forms of all three of the Crystal Gems had toppled over each other onto the floor into a careless pile. But even more disturbing than that: their heads were also missing, and much like Wax Stan's head, they were all nowhere to be found.


Steven hummed happily to himself as he prepared himself a glass of water before bed as he usually did. As he was doing so, Amethyst emerged from the temple, an impish grin on her face as she sauntered over to the kitchen to chat with the younger Gem.

"Hey, Steven," she began casually, leaning against the counter as she took a cursory glance towards the temple door to make sure Pearl was nowhere around, lest the white Gem discourage her from her crafty plan. "How'd you like to do something fun?"

"Like what?" Steven asked, always ready for fun, especially with Amethyst.

"I was thinking about going down to the Mystery Shack so I could… borrow wax-me," the purple Gem said, her smirk widening. "You wanna come?"

"Amethyst, you can't do that!" Steven frowned. "The wax figures belong in the museum!"

"Oh, come on," Amethyst scoffed playfully. "It's just a prank. Me and Stan used to punk each other like this all the time. Besides, he's so in love with his own wax twin that he probably wouldn't even notice that he's missing one."

"Hm…" Steven mused, not buying her argument. "I dunno… Isn't that stealing?"

"Nah," the purple Gem shrugged. "Remember what I said: I'm just gonna borrow it for a while. I figured I could stick it in Pearl's room and use it to creep her out. I figure it'll be good for a few laughs."

Before Steven could reply, the kitchen phone suddenly rang, though the younger Gem made sure to voice his disapproval of Amethyst's mischievous plan as he went to answer it. "Well, I still don't think you should just go take it," Steven said. "Me and Mabel can just make you another one, if you want."

"Aw… but it wouldn't be the same…" Amethyst pouted, crossing her arms. Steven ignored her however as he answered the phone with his usual cheerful greeting.

"Hello!" he said, not noticing the purple Gem as she practiced shapeshifting her hand into a larger size to she could properly carry her wax copy away. "Oh, hi, Dipper! What's up?... Wait, who is that crying in the background?... Well, why are they crying? Did something happen?...W-what?! Oh, no! NO!"

By now, Amethyst was eavesdropping in on the conversation with rapt interest, though because she was only hearing one half of it, she didn't really understand what it was about, not that her curiosity was any less for it. "Ok, ok, we'll be right there!" Steven panicked exclaimed before he hastily hung up the phone.

"What's up, Steven?" Amethyst inquired calmly, watching as the younger Gem rushed over to the temple door and pounded on it feverishly, calling for Garnet and Pearl desperately. "You're acting like there was a fire or something."

"There might as well have been!" Steven exclaimed morosely, not even letting the other two Gems get a word in edgewise as they emerged from the temple before he grabbed them by the wrists and practically dragged them towards the front door.

"Steven, what's wrong?!" Pearl exclaimed with concern, her eyes wide as she stumbled after Steven, Amethyst following not too far behind them. "What are you doing?!"

"We have to go down to the Mystery Shack right now!" Steven urged insistently. "Come on!"

"This late?" the white Gem questioned. "Why?"

"Because… because… Oh, it's too horrible for words!"

"Steven," Garnet interjected calmly, placing a hand on the distraught boy's shoulder. "What happened?"

Steven took in a deep breath to settle his frayed nerves before finally relaying the terrible news to the Gems. "There's… there's been… a murder!"

"What?!" all three Gems exclaimed in shocked unison, all of them exchanging stunned glances upon hearing this news. Of course, Steven didn't say anything else as he hurriedly led the way out of the house, the trio following close behind him without question this time. After all, a murder was a very serious matter, and as the sworn protectors of humanity, the Crystal Gems weren't about to let such a horrible crime go unpunished under their watch.


"Steven, I wouldn't exactly classify this as a… murder…" Pearl frowned in exasperation as she glanced down at the younger Gem, who had joined Mabel in mourning over the fallen wax sculptures of Stan and the Gems. They were all crowded in the living room of the shack, now roped off with police tape courtesy of Sherriff Blubbs and Deputy Durland, who had arrived on the scene to investigate the "crime" and were in the process of questioning Stan. Though Garnet and Pearl were rather unsympathetic towards the beheadings of what were nothing more than lumps of wax, Amethyst was taking the "death" of her own wax figure almost as hard as Steven and Mabel were.

"If only I'd gotten here sooner!" the purple Gem mourned as she cradled the headless wax figure. "You'd still have your head, and we'd be chilling out, pulling pranks of Pearl… Man, it could have been great…"

"Why do things like this happen to good wax figures!?" Steven practically sobbed as he clung onto Garnet and Pearl's wax figures tightly. "They deserved so much better…"

"I just can't believe it…" Mabel said dejectedly, shaking her head as she tried not to tear up at the sight of the headless wax carving of Stan. "All our expert handcrafting… besmirched!"

"Who would do something like this?" Dipper asked with a suspicious frown, knowing that there was no was this could have been an accident; the heads had all been too cleanly chopped off for it to be anything but completely intentional and most likely premediated.

"So, I got up to use the john, right?" Stan continued to explain to the two officers, still clearly traumatized from the death of his wax double. "And when I come back, blammo! He's headless, and so are the other three!"

Sherriff Blubbs gave the conman a somewhat stoic expression after he finished taking down notes about the murders. "Look, we'd love to help you folks, but let's face facts… this crime is unsolvable."

Almost everyone in the room let out a gasp of disbelief upon hearing this, save for Pearl, who scoffed harshly instead. "What crime?!" she asked caustically. "This may be a case of property damage, but it's a far cry from an actual murder! They're wax figures for crying out loud!"

"Wow, Pearl," Amethyst retorted crossly, glaring at the white Gem in offense. "No need to be so insensitive. That's just rude, you know."

"There has to be something you can do!" Steven pleaded with the two officers. "Our wax creations must be avenged!"

"Sorry, kid," Blubbs shrugged somewhat apathetically. "But we got nothin'. It's a dead end case."

"You're kidding, right?" Dipper asked, believing their lack of confidence to be nothing more than a lack of effort instead. "There must be evidence, motives, something! You know, I could help if you want."

"He's really good," Mabel pointed out, her hope renewed in the possibility that her perceptive brother might be able to find out who had done this horrid act and bring them to justice. "He figured out who was eating our tin cans!"

"All signs pointed to the goat," Dipper said with a confident grin in his sleuthing skills.

"Yeah, let the boy help," Stan added. "He's got a little brain up in his head!"

"Yeah!" Steven agreed. "I'm sure that if anyone could figure out who did this, it's Dipper!"

Of course, upon being present with this suggestion, the officers merely laughed mockingly in response, much to Dipper's immediate frustration. "Oooh! Would you look at what we got here!" Blubbs jeered with a chuckle. "City boy thinks he can solve a mystery with his fancy computer phone!"

"City booooy! City booooy!" Durland called in additional taunting derision.

"Heh, city boy," Amethyst chuckled in amusement to herself, ignoring the aggravated glare Dipper sent her way for egging the officers on.

"You are adorable!" Blubbs proclaimed as he grinned at the boy patronizingly.

"Adorable?" Dipper scoffed, knowing that was the last thing he wanted to be called.

The officers let out another round of laughter at his obvious aggravation, finding that his irritated scowl only made him all the more adorable. "Look, p.j's, how about you leave the investigating to the grown-ups, ok?" Blubbs asked rather demeaningly.

"You two can't be serious about actually looking into such a ridiculous issue, right?" Pearl asked in disbelief, unable to take this situation seriously. "Certainly you must have more important things to do with your time and resources!"

"Listen, darlin'," Blubbs began, addressing her with the same condescending grin he had used with Dipper. "You've got a point. We're very busy and we have a lot of important police-type work to do before we-"

The sheriff was cut off by the sound of his own walkie-talkie sounding off from his belt. "Attention all units," the officer on the other end of the line announced. "Carl is about to fit an entire cantaloupe in his mouth. Repeat, an entire cantaloupe!"

"It's a 23-16!" Durland exclaimed in excitement.

"Let's move!" Blubbs proclaimed with a wide grin, both officers giggling gleefully as they can out and rushed for their car without a second thought.

"This is why we take responsibility for protecting this town," Garnet deadpanned as she also took her leave, not really caring to stick around much longer in favor of returning to the temple. Pearl followed behind not too far after her, but not before turning to Steven with a puzzled frown once more.

"Come back up to the temple when you're done… mourning, Steven," she called, clearly not empathizing with the younger Gem over what she viewed to be a silly, pointless situation anyway. "You too, Amethyst!"

"Gimme a minute!" the purple Gem called back, lingering over the prone form of her headless wax double a moment longer. "I'll never forget you," she said morosely, stroking the wax figure's arm affectionately. However, her former grief was clearly not inconsolable as she was still able to easily depart after Garnet and Pearl, without really even looking back.

"I guess we'll never know who was responsible for this…" Steven said with a dejected sigh, knowing that the police had made it quite clear that they would not be of very much help.

Upon hearing this, the idea that Dipper had been thinking through when the cops left solidified in his mind, determination filling him as he reached a conclusion. He had never been one to believe in impossible odds, especially in light of a situation like this. There had to be a solution to this perplexing mystery, an explanation behind who was behind this and why. And if anyone was going to get to the bottom of this, it would be him.

"That's it!" Dipper proclaimed boldly. "Steven, Mabel, we're going to find the jerk who did this and get those heads back ourselves. Then we'll see who's adorable." No sooner had he finished asserting himself than he let out a small, short, somewhat high pitched sneeze, which of course elicited amused chuckles from Mabel and Steven.

"Aww, you sneeze like a kitten!" Mabel gushed with a beaming grin, despite the annoyed scowl both her and Steven were catching from Dipper. He made sure to make a mental note to make a conscious effort to make his sneezes less cute.

After all, the road to being taken seriously had to start somewhere.


The next morning saw the kids all getting up early so they could properly begin their investigation of the wax murders. Steven had invited Connie to join them, knowing that her intelligence would certainly be in assent in solving this bewildering mystery and she had readily agreed to come along to help out. Dipper had decided that the best place for them to start would be at the very scene of the crime, and so the four of them had gathered in the den of the Mystery Shack, where the headless bodies of the wax figures still lay. They had worked to make it look a bit more like an actual crime scene by stringing up "police tape", even if it was just toilet paper with "do not cross" etched onto it with marker.

"So someone just broke in and cut all their heads off?" Connie asked with a frown, trying to get a better read on the situation. "And no one saw who did it?"

"Nope," Steven confirmed, shaking his head. "Weird, isn't it?"

"It's more than just weird," Dipper said, his tone serious and resolved. "It's suspicious. This couldn't have just happened out of nowhere; there were a lot of unhappy costumers at the unveiling yesterday. The murderer could have been anyone."

"Yeah! Even us!" Mabel exclaimed, even though the chances of that being the case were basically nonexistent.

"In this town, anything is possible," Dipper continued, largely ignoring his sister's left-field comment as he took the journal out and flipped through its pages. "Ghosts, zombies… it could be months before we find our first clue."

"Hey, look!" Steven exclaimed, having noticed something on the ground in front of him. "A clue!"

The clue he had pointed out turned out to be a series of shoeprints, rather large ones, imbedded into the thick carpet of the living room and originating next to Stan's chair. "Nice find, Steven!" Dipper exclaimed with a grin, glad to see that they had a starting lead to get them on the right track.

"But look at them for a minute," Connie noted, lowering herself closer to the ground so she could get a closer look at them. "There's a hole in the prints. What could have caused that?"

"Maybe the murderer was wearing a pair of old shoes?" Steven guessed, hoping that information might be of some help.

"Maybe…" Dipper noted thoughtfully. "Where do they lead to?"

At this prompting, all four of the kids followed the relatively short line of footprints around the chair to find what was obviously a very damming piece of evidence lying behind the chair: an axe.

"Whoa!" Mabel gasped in surprise, carefully picking the somewhat heavy weapon up so they could all see it better. "How did this get here?"

"It must be the murder weapon!" Connie exclaimed. "Nothing else could have cut the heads off of the wax figures so cleanly."

"Why don't we go ask Soos about it?" Steven suggested. "He knows all about tools!"

Without any need for further deliberation, the four of them agreed on doing so, taking the axe with them to the gift shop where Soos was indeed on duty preforming his usual tasks of keeping the shack up and running. After a brief exchange of greetings, the kids handed the supposed murder weapon off to the handyman, hoping that he could give them more intel about the kind of person who might possibly wield such a tool.

"So, what do you think?" Dipper asked expectantly after Soos had an ample opportunity to look over the axe.

"In my opinion, this is an axe," Soos stated simply, affirming the obvious.

"And…?" Steven urged on, hoping for more information.

"And it's sharp," Soos continued astutely, though of course, that insight was of no help to them either.

"Wait a minute!" Mabel gasped, a sudden realization hitting her. "The lumberjack!"

"Of course!" Dipper exclaimed in agreement, recalling how the lumberjack had singlehandedly punched out a pole at the unveiling yesterday in his unbridled rage.

"That does make sense," Steven said. "He was pretty mad when he didn't get that free pizza."

"Mad enough for murder!" Mabel dramatically added.

"Oh, you mean Manly Dan?" Soos asked casually. "Yeah, he hangs out at this crazy intense biker joint downtown."

"Then that's where we're heading," Dipper said with resolve.

"Wow!" Connie exclaimed with an excited grin. "Looks like we already have a suspect and a motive! Looks like we're well on our way to solving this case."

"Dude, this is awesome," Soos commented with a grin, admiring their shared zeal. "You four are like, the Mystery Kids, or something."

"Don't call us that," Dipper was quick to say, feeling as though such a title made all four of them sound like they were far from the serious mystery-solvers they were setting out to be.

With their mission in mind, the kids bid Soos farewell and headed out to go downtown, though they didn't get very far past the shack before they were stopped by Stan, who was in the midst of pulling a large wooden coffin out of the back of his car. "Hey, kids!" he called to the four of them as soon as they stepped out of the shack. "Give me a hand with this coffin, will ya? I'm doing a little memorial service for Wax Stan later on. Something small, but classy."

"What about the wax Gems?" Steven asked with a concerned frown, knowing that they deserved to be honored in the same way. "What are you going to do with them?"

"Eh, I don't really care," Stan shrugged rather matter-of-factly. "You can do whatever you want with them, kid."

"Well, Amethyst will be happy to hear that…" Steven said, deciding to bequeath the remains of the fallen wax Gems to their living counterparts later on.

"Sorry, Grunkle Stan, but we can't help you right now," Dipper said in reference to Stan asking for their aid. "We've got a big break in the case."

"Break in the case!" Mabel added for extra emphasis.

"We're heading downtown right now to interrogate the potential murderer."

"And we have an axe!" Steven added as he pulled out the deadly weapon, waving it around a bit with a showy grin.

"Hm, this seems like the kind of dangerous thing that responsible parents wouldn't want you to do…" Stan noted, though his tone was nowhere close to chastising. "Good thing I'm an uncle. Avenge me, kids! Avenge me!"

The kids all grinned and nodded in firm agreement, glad to see that Stan was encouraging of their mission to catch the criminal who had defaced the wax figures. Resolve and ambition burned in the youths as they banded together in their unanimous goal: to find the murderer and bring them the justice due to them for slaughtering the four innocent wax figures. And none of them would rest until they had succeeded.


Skull Fracture was Gravity Falls' sole biker bar, and as such, it was the central hangout for many of the town's rougher and more rugged thugs and brutes. Its rundown outer appearance was frightening enough on its own, the large, muscular bouncer on duty outside was just as intimidating. None of this was lost on Dipper, Mabel, Steven, and Connie as they peered around the corner of the tavern, gaging up the situation they were about to dive into.

"This is the place," Dipper said, trying to act bold, though the edge of fear in his tone was obvious.

"Um… are you guys sure this is a good idea?" Connie asked with slight uncertainty. "Chances are we probably won't even be allowed in there."

"Oh, that won't be a problem," Mabel said with an assured grin. "I came prepared." Upon saying this, she pulled out four fake IDs that she had created for just such an occasion and passing them out. In all honesty, none of them looked very convincing, being composed of un-laminated cardstock and covered in crayon and glitter. And while neither Dipper nor Connie were that confident in their believability, Steven and Mabel were optimistic that they would work perfectly.

As inconspicuously as possible, the kids emerged from their hiding place, all of the approaching the surly bouncer with the most confident, mature strides they could muster. The bouncer gave them an unimpressed glance as they approached him, his arms crossed as he looked down at them with an expectant eyebrow raised.

"There's no way this is going to work," Connie whispered nervously to Steven, who simply returned her concern with a low-key grin of reassurance.

"We're here to interrogate Manly Dan the lumberjack for the murder of Wax Stan and the Wax Crystal Gems," Mabel got straight to the point, her tone really quite professional when compared to her usually silly manner.

"We believe you will find our identifications to be viable," Steven said, dropping his voice down lower so he could sound more mature as they all held up their fake IDs.

Dipper couldn't help but face-palm upon hearing this, sharing Connie's sentiments that this plan would certainly be a failure and that they would harshly be denied access into the pub. However, he was duly surprised when the bouncer only briefly glanced over the makeshift IDs and shrugged, opening the door for them. "Works for me," he said cooly, as stoic as ever as the kids went inside.

"I can't believe that worked…" Connie said, still feeling the lingering anxiety of the situation, anxiety that quickly turned into legitimate fear as they saw the sight inside of the bar.

Skull Fracture was certainly an appropriate name for the pub, as nearly every one of its patrons were engaged fist fights with each other. The entire club was filled with the sounds of not only physical fighting, but uproarious arguments and the stale, sour stenches of cigarette smoke and beer. Clearly, this violent bar was no place for children, but that hardly deterred the four self-proclaimed detectives as they began to scan the space over for their suspect.

Thankfully, none of the rugged patrons picked the obviously kids out of the crowd immediately, as they were all clearly invested in showing off their masculinity to their opponents instead. Mabel in particular noticed this as she stepped over the unconscious form of a thug that had recently been defeated lying in her path. "He's resting," she reassured herself with an optimistic smile as she caught up with the others.

"Alright, everyone, let's just try to blend in, ok?" Dipper asked, knowing that the best kind of detective work was discreet and under the wire.

Steven and Mabel responded with cheerful thumbs up while Connie merely nodded sincerely, obviously taking their mission as seriously as Dipper was. Though the original intention was for all of them to stick together for this interrogation, Mabel was the first to break away to chat up a nearby surly patron sitting at the bar. "Hey there, fellow restaurant patron!" she greeted brightly as she climbed up onto the barstool beside him, giving him a friendly punch on the arm and ignoring the sour growl he emitted as she did so.

It didn't take too long for Steven to split off from the group either as he easily approached a group of rowdy bikers sitting at one of the tables. "Hi, I'm Steven!" he introduced himself with a friendly grin as he noticed the scowls and glares they were directing at him. "You all look like you could use a good song. Any requests?" he asked as he pulled his ukulele out of his cheeseburger backpack and eagerly prepared to play.

Even though Steven and Mabel had gotten distracted from their original mission, Connie and Dipper still managed to locate Manly Dan towards the back of the pub, brutally taking on the arm wrestling machine. As he defeated it once more, the lumberjack let out a fierce victory shout and ended up effectively breaking the machine by pulling the fake arm up from its restraints entirely, showing off his formidable strength.

"Manly Dan, just the guy we wanted to see," Dipper began, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. "We have a few questions for you. Where were you last night?"

"Punchin' the clock!" Manly Dan answered in usual angry, gruff manner.

"So… you were at work?" Connie inferred.

"No, I was punchin' that clock!" the lumberjack growled, pointing to a street clock right outside the window, which had clearly been pummeled to the point that its pole was bent in an awkward angle and it obviously was no longer functioning.

"10 o'clock…" Dipper noticed the time frozen onto the broken clock face with dismay. "The time of the murder… So, I'm guessing you've never seen this before?" he asked, pulling the axe out of his backpack and presenting to the lumberjack.

"Listen, little girls!" Manly Dan began hotly.

"Hey, actually, I'm a-" Dipper started to correct him, only to be quickly cut off by the impatient lumberjack.

"I wouldn't pick my teeth with that axe! It's left handed! I only use my right hand, the MANLY HAND!" Without any real provocation, Manly Dan let out another brutish shout and began wildly beating the remains of the arm wrestling machine with the mechanical arm he had pulled off of it earlier.

"Left handed…" Dipper and Connie repeated in unison, both of them exchanging a glance as they realized they had just happened upon another clue.

In light of this new information, Dipper was quick to grab Mabel, interrupting her conversation with the thug she had befriended, in which she was helping him determine his future via cootie catcher. Likewise, Connie went over to get Steven, breaking through the cheerful tune he was strumming for the choir of bikers he had assembled right before they reached the chorus.

As soon as they had all regrouped outside of the bar, Dipper and Connie made sure to relay the information they had managed to glean about the axe to Steven and Mabel, viewing it as a rather significant break in the case. "It's a left handed axe," Connie explained. "Which means that our pool of suspects just shrunk a whole lot."

"From here on out, all we have to do is use the process of elimination," Dipper said after he finished scribbling up a list of everyone who had been present at the unveiling. "These are all of our potential suspects. Manly Dan is right-handed, so that means all we have to do is find our left handed suspect and we've got our killer."

"Well, that shouldn't be too hard," Steven said with a confident smile. "There can't be too many left-handed people in Gravity Falls, right?"

"Hopefully not…" Connie said, knowing that if there were multiple lefties then things would most likely become even more complicated.

"Oh man, we are on fire today!" Mabel exclaimed with zeal over their progress thus far. "This will be easier than guessing what my favorite color is! Spoiler alert: is all of them."

"Alright," Dipper said with determination, steeling their resolve up for what he assumed would be the final stretch of this investigation. "Let's find that murderer!"


Unlike at the pub, the kinds all managed to stick together throughout the duration of their search across town for the criminal. At the risk of enraging the innocent, they decided to avoid bringing up their investigation to anyone, instead opting to only check and see what each suspect's dominant hand was. They worked in the order of whomever they encountered first, which worked rather well considering Gravity Falls was a rather small town and the chances of bumping into any of its citizens were fairly high.

By chance the first person they ran into during their search was Old Man McGucket, who they quickly realized wasn't the murderer upon seeing that his right hand was engulfed in the maw of a baby alligator for some reason. They headed to Fish Stew Pizza next, knowing that Kofi Pizza had been quite angry over how Stan had neglected to order any of his pizza for the unveiling. Though Kofi was quick to kick the kids out for what he called "loitering without buying any of his delicious pizza", they did manage to spot him chopping up fish with his right hand, eliminating him from their list of suspects. From there, they stopped by Gravity Fries to check out Mr. Fryman, who had also been amongst the crowd at the unveiling along with his sons Ronaldo and Peedee. They immediately ruled Ronaldo out based on his incompetence alone, as he had caught wind of the wax murders and had been blogging nonstop about how they were "completely bizarre and part of a much larger government conspiracy to use wax figures as target practice". Fryman himself could not have been the killer based on his right-handedness, which the kids deduced upon watching him whip up a batch of "fry bits" upon Steven's order for them. Likewise, Peedee could not have been responsible, as he was seen spinning a sign for the restaurant while begrudgingly wearing a rather unsettling-looking fry costume. They even spied on Onion, whom Steven claimed to Dipper, Mabel, and Connie, was probably quite capable of an action as violent as the wax murders, despite his young age, small stature, and strangely silent nature. And indeed, upon watching Onion stoically and unfeelingly toss a brick into a nearby car window for apparently no reason, the suspicions of his strangeness were confirmed, though there was only one problem: he had thrown the brick with his right hand.

The kids continued their search for the true culprit throughout much of the day, checking name after name off of the list of suspects upon confirming that they were all righties. At first, it seemed as though they were getting nowhere with their investigation, until their list began to gradually narrow down until it all became clear.

"Guys, there's only one person left on the list!" Dipper exclaimed as he crossed the second to last suspect off, quickly checking over it once more to make sure they had not missed anyone. But indeed, every single last potential murderer had been ruled out, save for one.

Of course, upon hearing this, Mabel, Steven, and Connie were all quick to crowd around Dipper to take a look at the list, all of them gasping in surprise at who the sole remaining suspect was. "Of course! It all adds up!" Mabel exclaimed, snapping her finger for extra emphasis.

"Then it looks like there's only one thing left for us for us to do…" Dipper said with finality, confident that they had this case just about wrapped up once and for all.


They had decided to wait until dark to execute their final operation. Dipper had even managed to convince Sherriff Blubbs and Deputy Durland to join them in order to make the arrest, even though they still aggravatingly referred to him as a clueless "city boy". Nonetheless, the kids and cops all gathered just outside of the small headquarters of the Gravity Falls Gossiper, sneaking in the shadows to be aloof and inconspicuous.

"You kids better be right about this or you'll never hear the end of it," Blubbs warned the youths, who were all beyond eager to prove that their hunch was correct.

"Don't worry, officers," Dipper assured them confidently. "The evidence is irrefutable."

"It's so irrefutable," Mabel added with a casual wave of her hand.

"I'd say it's downright intrusive!" Steven grinned, though Connie was quick to notice that he had used the wrong word.

"I think you mean conclusive, Steven," she corrected him gently.

"That too!"

"I'm gonna get to use my night stick!" Durland exclaimed with glee, waving said night stick around zealously.

"You ready? You ready, little fella?" Blubbs asked his partner with equal verve as they playfully poked each other with their police batons, both of them ready to do what they classified as "real" police work.

"Ok, on three!" Dipper said, readying himself, just as all the others were, to face whom he was absolutely certain was the murderer. "One, two-"

Before he could make it to three, Durland and Blubbs jumped the gun, breaking the door down with a unified wild shout. "Nobody move!" the sheriff shouted firmly as the kids all piled into the building behind the two cops. "This is a raid!"

Upon having his office invaded so suddenly, Toby Determined tumbled off his chair and onto the floor with a startled cry, clearly befuddled over this unexplainable break in. "What is this, some kind of raid?!" he asked redundantly, giving the officers a fearful look.

"Toby Determined, you're under arrest for the murder of the wax bodies of Grunkle Stan and the Crystal Gems!" Dipper boldly declared.

"You have the right to remain impressed…" Mabel began with a satisfied grin, trailing off so Steven could finish off the one-liner they had rehearsed in preparation of this moment.

"…With our awesome detective work!" Steven picked it up brightly, prompting all four of them into a round of celebratory high fives over their success.

"Gobbling goose feathers!" Toby exclaimed, obviously flustered by this news. "I don't understand!"

"Then allow me to explain," Dipper began articulately, prepared to bring up all of the conclusions he had drawn about this case. "You were hoping that Grunkle Stan's new attraction would be the big story that could save your failing newspaper. But when the show was a flop, you decided to go out and make your own headline…"

To emphasize this point, Connie held up that morning's issue of the Gravity Falls Gossiper to show off its front page article, which of course detailed the scoop of the murders of Wax Stan and the Wax Gems. "It's all right here in black and white," she said firmly, having analyzed the article over and over for all of the clues they needed.

"And read all over!" Steven added jokingly, eliciting a giggle from Mabel, but no one else appreciated the pun.

"But you were sloppy," Dipper continued, still as serious as ever. "And all the clues pointed to a shabby-shoed reporter who was caught left handed."

"Toby Determined, you're yesterday's news," Mabel finished off with an assured grin.

"Ooo, that was a good one!" Steven complimented her one-liner in light of the fact that the two of them had been working on them all day as part of their "detective-talk".

"Boy, your little knees must be sore…" Toby began with a frown. "From jumping to conclusions! Hachacha!" Proud of his own witty remark, the reporter broke out into a short jig before coming to what the kids had hoped would be a confession, though it was anything but. "I had nothing to do with those murders!"

"I knew it!" Dipper jumped on what he thought was an admission of guilt, though he was quick to realize it wasn't. "Wait, what did you say? Nothing?"

"But… what about the axe? And the hole in the shoes?" Connie asked with a confused frown, knowing that all the signs had pointed to Toby being the murderer. "The motives and clues all added up… How could it not be you?"

"So, if it wasn't you, then where were you the night of the murder?" Blubbs asked Toby, him and Durland having a hard time believing either the reporter or the kids in light of these circumstances.

"Ehh…" Toby scratched the back of his neck rather awkwardly, not really wanting to reveal this information, though he soon relented for the sake of proving his innocence.

Without any explanation, he inserted one of the office's security tapes into the TV, and it immediately opened on Toby cautiously glancing around the office before hurrying towards the closet. What none of the others save for the reporter himself had been expecting was for him to pull out a life-sized cardboard cutout of Gravity Falls' key female news reporter, holding it closely and romantically as he attempted to flirt with it. "Finally we can be alone, cardboard cutout of TV news reporter Shandra Jimenez!" he swooned affectionately before kissing it passionately. Of course, this elicited disgusted, disturbed reactions from everyone else watching, and though there was nothing of note about this tape save for its bizarre strangeness, one thing about it was of key importance. It has been recorded around 10 o'clock the previous night.

"Well, the time stamp confirms it," Blubbs said with finality after the initial revulsion over the tape had worn off. "Toby, you're off the hook, you freak of nature."

"Hooray!" Toby cheered with relief, regardless of the fact that the embarrassing tape of him and the cutout of Shandra Jimenez was still playing.

"B-but… it has to be him!" Dipper protested, shocked that their hard-earned conclusion to this mystery had unraveled so suddenly, leaving them with countless loose ends. "Check the axe for fingerprints!"

The cops were quick to do so, dusting the weapon's handle for any signs of incriminating fingerprints, only to strangely come up with nothing. "Nope," Blubbs shook his head. "No prints at all."

"No prints?" Dipper repeated, beyond confused at this revelation.

"But… how is that possible?" Connie questioned, just as bewildered at the lack of logic in it all.

"Hey, I got a headline for you, Toby," Blubbs said, though it was clear he was aiming his taunting tone more at the kids than the reporter. "City kids waste everyone's time!"

The adults in the room shared a laugh at their expense, disheartening the kids even more in their embarrassing failure. They had all been so certain that their hunch had been correct and their detective work had been sound. They had searched every inch of the crime scene, inspected every clue, checked out every lead, considered every suspect, but in the end it was all for naught. Their thorough investigation had reached a dead end, and at that end, the young sleuths found themselves with nowhere else to go and nowhere left to look.


True to his word, Stan had arranged a small funeral service for his deceased wax counterpart at the Mystery Shack. It wasn't anything excessive or extravagant, especially since its sole attendees aside from all the other wax figures consisting of Dipper, Mabel, Steven, Connie, and Soos. The headless wax Gems were lined up in the back of the room, ready for Steven to take them back to the temple once the funeral was over seeing as Stan had no use for them. But nonetheless, the service itself was a solemn scene, the red rays of the setting sun streaming in through the parlor windows as Stan took the front of the room, standing alongside his wax double's coffin as he began officiating the service.

"Kids, Soos, lifeless wax figures, thank you all for coming," the conman started with a somber frown, ignoring the fact that Soos was the only one in the room who had managed to tear up. "Some people might say it's wrong for a man to love a wax replica of himself."

"They're wrong!" Soos exclaimed emotionally as he jumped up out of his seat.

"Easy, Soos," Stan said, though he understood the handyman's upset sentiments. "Wax Stan," he said, his voice growing thick with an oncoming sob as he turned to address his headless double. "I hope you're picking pockets in wax heaven. I'm sorry!" he exclaimed, clearly unable to go on amidst being overwhelmed with grief. "I got glitter in my eye!"

Without another word, the conman rushed out of the room tearfully, with Soos following not too far behind so he could hopefully console his despondent employer. A solemn silence leveled the sunset-painted room as the kids all exchanged pitied glances, all of them still feeling rather defeated in the aftermath of their failure to solve the murders.

"Poor Mr. Pines…" Steven frowned with sympathy after seeing how upset the conman had been. "I wish there was something we could do to at least give him some closure about all this…"

"There's nothing we can do," Dipper said, bitterness and disappointment in his tone as he crossed his arms. "Those cops were right about us…"

"Aw, come on, Dipper," Mabel encouraged with a small smile, placing a reassuring hand on her brother's shoulder. "We've come so far. We can't just give up now!"

"Mabel's right!" Steven heartily agreed. "That murderer has to still be out there somewhere. For all we know, the answer could be right under our noses."

"There has to be something that we missed…" Connie mused with a frown. "But what?"

"We didn't miss anything," Dipper insisted as he stood and approached the coffin up front, the others doing the same after him. "We considered it all: the weapon, the motive, the clues… Maybe this really is a dead end case…" He let out a dejected sigh as he glanced down at Wax Stan's headless form, which of course reminded him of how they had unexplainably failed to find the perpetrator. Though he didn't have the same emotional connection to this case as Stan, Mabel, or Steven did, Dipper had still wanted to solve it, and not just to prove the officers who had doubted him wrong. He had seen this mystery as an opportunity to prove himself not just to everyone else, but largely to himself. This had been a test of his resolve, his deductive skills, his very intelligence, and though he had utilized all of those things to the fullest, in the end, none of it had been enough. And because of his failure, the mystery of the wax murders would be forever that: a mystery.

However, it was only as Dipper was looking down at the wax rendition of his grunkle that he noticed something he never had before, even after investigating the decapitated body several times in their initial search of the crime scene. "Wax Stan has a hole in his shoe..." he noted with confusion, realizing that the hole itself was oddly enough in the very center of the shoe.

"Oh yeah," Steven said with a nod as he took a glance at the hole in the shoe himself. "All of the wax guys have that, even the Gems."

"That's how you get them to stand upright," Mabel explained. "It's where the pole thingy attaches to their stand dealy."

"Wait a minute…" Dipper said, his eyes widening with the sudden realization. "What has a hole in its shoes and no fingerprints?"

Though the conclusion was lost on Mabel and Steven, Connie was quick to catch his drift as she gave him a look of disbelief. "What?" she asked with a bewildered frown, thinking that it didn't make sense. "But… that's impossible…"

"It might be," Dipper admitted, knowing that he could be wrong once more, even if all of the loose ends were starting to tie themselves up with this new theory. "But if it's not, then that means that the murderers are-"

"Standing right behind you."

All four of the kids let out a unified fearful gasp at the new, English-accented voice from behind them, and as they spun around to find its source, they could scarcely believe their eyes. Beyond all logic, the audience of wax figures, save for Wax Stan and the Wax Gems, began to move on their own accord, their varied expressions twisting into malicious grins and scowls as they sulked forward towards the kids rather menacingly. The army of around twenty or so wax figures towered over them as they all bunched together towards the front of the room in shock over what they were witnessing. The lineup of wax marauders was composed of all of the figures in the collection, from Sherlock Holmes, to Shakespeare, to Genghis Khan, to Edgar Allen Poe, to Larry King to even Coolio, all of them united in the intent of taking out the four youths, the only ones who had discovered that they were responsible for the murders.

"Congratulations, my four amateur sleuths," Wax Sherlock Holmes spoke up, stepping forward as he gave the kids a patronizing glance. "You have unburied the truth, and now, we're going to buryyou. Bravo, Dipper Pines; you've discovered our little secret." The waxen detective brushed his cape aside in a flourish, pulling out the decapitated, still broadly grinning head of Wax Stan as he did so. Likewise, several of his cohorts produced the hidden heads of the Wax Gems, revealing that they had been harboring them away in secret ever since the murders. "Applaud everyone!" Wax Holmes addressed his fellow wax figures sardonically. "Applaud sarcastically."

The wax figures collectively did so, all of them smirking mockingly at the four frightened kids as they clapped. "Uh, no, that sounds too sincere," Wax Holmes admonished. "Slow clap. It's more mocking." At this, the figures decreased the frequency of their applause, to the point that it indeed sounded quite taunting. "There we go, nice and condescending…"

"You know, this would be kinda cool if it wasn't actually terrifying…" Steven said nervously, believing that the wax figures coming to life was indeed incredible save for the fact that they wanted to hurt them.

"H-how is this even possible?" Dipper asked, completely bewildered by this sudden, totally unexpected twist. "You're all made of wax!"

"Are you… magic?" Mabel asked was a curious gasp.

The wax figures all chuckled at what they perceived to be an incredibly simple question. "Are we magic?" Wax Holmes laughed with a sneer. "Did you all hear that? She wants to know if we're magic! Ofcourse we're magic!"

"W-what do you mean?" Connie asked apprehensively.

"It's elementary, my dear girl," Wax Holmes began to explain, his tone as snide as ever. "Many years ago, Stan purchased us at a garage sale-"

"A haunted garage sale, dog!" Wax Coolio added.

"For the last time, it was not haunted garage sale!" Wax Holmes insisted in annoyance. "It was just an ordinary garage sale. And up until that point, we all had just as much sentience and mobility as any other wax figures under the sun—or preferably, not under the sun. But all that changed upon our first night here at the Mystery Shack…"

"It was by fate that I had happened to be positioned underneath a shelf upon which a sack containing the remains of shattered gemstones, which of course, upon being agitated shifted off of the shelf and into my hands. And alas, suddenly I was alive, self-aware, free-willed! Likewise, my fellow waxen compatriots were also brought to life as soon as I imparted the other gem fragments to them."

"Wait…" Steven interrupted, his eyes widening with realization as he vaguely remembered something from a few days ago. "Gem fragments…?" It all came back to him at once as he let out a surprised gasp. "Oh my gosh! The shard thingies Pearl told me about! The Gems have been looking for those! You guys had them all along?!"

"Indeed we did," Wax Holmes affirmed with a disdainful scowl. "And we weren't about to let those vexing 'Crystal Gems' take our newfound consciousness away from us. So we quickly learned to keep out sentience a secret from the world for our own protection. By day, we would reside in the wax museum, forced to be but the playthings of man."

"But when the old man was asleep, we would rule the night," Wax Coolio interjected placidly.

"It was a simple, yet charmed life for us waxen beings…" Wax Holmes said reminiscently, though his tone quickly turned sour once more. "That is, until your uncle closed up shop. He locked us away inside that infernal storage room, and though we tried our hardest to escape, it was by all means impenetrable."

"We've been waiting ten years to get our revenge on Stan for locking us away…" the wax detective continued vengefully. "We had it all planned out; we were going to take him out and shatter the Crystal Gems before they could shatter us. But when we finally got what seemed like the perfect opportunity… we got the wrong ones…"

"So you were trying to murder Grunkle Stan and the Crystal Gems for real?" Dipper asked, completely shocked at the dark turn this had all taken.

"You guys were right all along!" Mabel said to Dipper and Connie, remembering their earliest assumptions about the wax figures. "Wax people are creepy!"

"Well, yeah, but who could have ever guessed they'd be this demented?!" Connie exclaimed, pressing her back against the wall in fear even moreso in light of this revelation.

"Enough!" Wax Holmes silenced them abruptly. "Now that you all know our secret, you must die!"

For an extra measure in terrifying the kids, the wax figures all simultaneously growled intimidatingly as their eyes inexplicably rolled back in their heads. The four youths watched as they edged closer to them with murderous intent, all of them frightened out of their wits at the bizarre danger they were facing.

"What do we do!? What do we do?!" Mabel shouted, clearly in a panic as they were being cornered.

"I don't know!" Dipper exclaimed, completely at a loss as the wax figures drew closer to them. "Steven, do you know anything about those shard things that are keeping them alive?"

"Uh, not really!" Steven admitted a bit sheepishly. "I wasn't really listening to Pearl when she was telling me about them!"

Upon gaging that everyone else was clueless about what to do, Connie was the one to take the initiative, coming up with a spur of the moment plan to get them out of harm's way initially. "This way!" she commanded firmly, motioning for the others to slip away from the wall right as Wax Lizzie Borden swung her axe at them. They narrowly escaped and rushed over to the small refreshments table sitting near the window, hoping that they could find a means of defending themselves there. Of course, the wax figures were quick to follow after them, many of them wielding weapons of their own as they prepared to strike. In the midst of this chaos, Dipper spun around without really thinking and upon spotting the coffee pot resting on the table, he quickly picked it up and tossed it towards the crowd of wax figures without much calculation. Fortunately, it hit at least one of them, Wax Genghis Khan, it the scalding liquid instantly began to melt his wax form as he let out a pained scream.

"That's it!" Mabel exclaimed with a grin of realization. "We can melt them with hoty melty things!"

"And then we can collect all of the gem shards!" Steven added with apt enthusiasm.

"Then let's do it," Dipper declared with renewed resolve, grabbing one of the electric candles resting on the table. The others were quick to do the same as they pointed the lit ends at the wax figures with confidence that the heat emanating from them would get them to back off. "Anybody move and we'll melt you into candles!"

"Decorative candles!" Mabel added, waving her candle around with emphasis.

"Do you four really think you can defeat all of us?" Wax Holmes scoffed.

"I… I don't really know," Dipper admitted with a shrug, knowing that he was being honest with himself over his level of confidence against such a threat. "I'm not really sure."

"I mean, we're going to try at the very least," Connie said, though her tone was also only half-certain as well.

"It's worth a shot," Mabel added rather casually.

"So be it," Wax Holmes said coldly before addressing his companions. "Attack!"

Once more, the wax figures closed in on the kids, regardless of the warm weapons they now wielded against them. But this time, none of the youths backed down; instead, they stood their ground together. If the wax figures wanted a fight, then it was a fight they were going to get.

Fueled with adrenaline, Connie was the first to take the offense against the wax marauders, thrusting the tip of her candle out like it was a sword. She managed to hit the unprepared Wax Thomas Edison right in his midsection, melting out a hole that allowed the gem shard hidden inside his body to come free and fall to the ground, causing him to lifelessly freeze up instantly. In the midst of watching this victory with amazement, Mabel almost failed to notice Wax Lizzie Borden toss her axe broadly towards her until it was almost too late. Nonetheless, she managed to duck out of the way just in time, and the murderess's strike ended up inavertedly decapitating the nearby Wax Robin Hood instead. As Wax Shakespeare crept up behind her however, Steven leapt in before the poet could attack, using his candle to swipe his hands off. Wax Shakespeare let out a startled cry as he hurried away from the young Gem, who barely pursued him across the room with his candle raised for attack. Meanwhile, Dipper was facing off against Wax Larry King, holding his candle out boldly, despite the fact that he was secretly clinging onto it like his life depended on it, which it did, in a way.

"Interview this, Larry King!" Dipper exclaimed pointedly, swinging his candle out widely and quickly enough to decapitate the interviewer in one clean slice. Apparently, the gem shard keeping Wax Larry King alive was inside his head, as it somehow remained animated even after his head was chopped off.

"My neck!" the wax host cried in despair as his head tumbled to the ground. "My beautiful neck!"

Dipper had no time to relax in this victory however as Wax Groucho Marx rushed for him, though he accidentally managed to grasp the tip of the candle, instantly causing his hand to melt. While he was distracted, Connie came in from behind and used her candle to slice him clean across the middle.

"Joke's on you, Groucho!" Connie quipped triumphantly, returning Dipper's nod of gratitude for coming to his rescue.

"I've heard of cutting remarks, but this is ridiculous!" the wax comedian chaffed casually, twittling his fingers a bit as the top half of his body slid off of the lower half. "Hey, why is there nothing in my hand?"

"You're surprisingly good at this," Dipper said to Connie, duly impressed with her skills under fire.

"So are you," she remarked with a sly grin, though their exchange was cut short as the already partially-melted Wax Genghis Khan ran at them both with a barbaric battle cry. Both kids let out a surprised gasp but get their wits about them as they both leapt out of the way in opposite directions, freeing up the path for the wax conqueror to dash right into the lit fireplace instead.

"Ha, Genghis Khan!" Dipper laughed victoriously, grinning as the discarded gem shard clattered onto the floor. "You fell harder than the… uh… I don't know, Qin Dynasty? Right?"

"Ok, that one was a bit forced…" Connie frowned sidedly as she collected the gem shard and added it to the pocketful she had already gathered.

"Dipper, I've told you thousands of times before!" Mabel called out remindingly even from across the room as she took out several of the other figures using Wax Coolio's head as something of a mace. "You're no good at witty one-liners!"

"Whatever," Dipper scoffed in annoyance, though he did accept Connie's kind offer of help in getting off of the ground before she went off to help Steven.

Mabel had just defeated a handful of the wax figures when she happened to glance across the room to spot something that made her gasp in fear. "Dipper!" she called worriedly to her brother, who was in the midst of taking out Wax Richard Nixon by the legs. "Watch out!"

Heeding her warning, Dipper quickly turned to see that the main instigator of all of this, Wax Sherlock Holmes, was approaching him with a dark, murderous expression. "Alright," the detective said rather calmly, even though the underlying anger and annoyance in his tone were clear. "Let's get this over with."

Dipper took in an anxious breath as he watched Wax Holmes swiftly grab the ornamental sword that was hanging from the wall and give it an experimental swing before aiming it at him. Not really knowing what else to do, Dipper attempted to use his candle to defend himself from the detective's first actual slash, though it was cleanly sliced in half by the swipe, which nearly took his hand off as well.

Noticing that her brother was in considerable peril, Mabel attempted to slip away from her own duel against Wax Betsy Ross to help him, but found that she was ultimately unable to. And so instead, she decided to aid him from afar. "Catch!" she called to him, quickly grabbing the fire poker from beside the fireplace and tossing it over to him. Dipper managed to catch the poker just in the nick of time as Wax Holmes brought down his blade once more, only for it to be blocked by the poker. The detective let out a growl of aggravation at this turn of the tide but nonetheless, he continued his barrage of attacks, which Dipper frantically did his best to guard against.

Gradually, the brute force of Wax Holmes' slashes managed to push Dipper back until they were both out of the parlor and steadily heading towards the stairs that led to the attic. Dipper knew well that he wouldn't be able to keep this fight up forever, especially considering that the only thing he head to defend himself with was a measly fire poker that was already starting to wear down from being consistently struck by the detective's sword. But as they all too quickly emerged into the attic, he realized maybe he wouldn't have to, especially as he glanced over at the large alcove window that lead to the roof.

"You might as well surrender now, child," Wax Holmes taunted as he managed to temporarily corner Dipper against the wall. "Once your family and those Crystal Gems are out of the way, none shall stop us!"

Finalizing his rather spur of the moment plan, Dipper took one more look towards the window as the wax detective prepared to bring his sword down for the finishing blow. "Don't count on it!" he retorted boldly, taking advantage of his own relatively small size to roll through Wax Holmes' legs and escape him before promptly throwing the window open and emerging out of it onto the slanted roof.

"Come back here, you little brat!" Wax Holmes shouted in frustration, his sword raised as he pursued his opponent outside.

Meanwhile, back in the parlor, Connie and Mabel were wrapped up in their own struggles against a group of wax figures while Steven was going one-on-one against Wax John Wilkes Booth, who was all too quickly cornering him against the window. Somewhat intimidated, Steven took a cursory glance down at his stomach, wishing that he had better control over his Gem so he could use it in this battle. But even if he couldn't, he saw the opportunity he needed as the wax assassin began to leap towards him, especially as he glanced up at the window. Acting quickly, Steven unlatched the window and threw it open, allowing Wax Booth to jump through it, though only halfway. He was quick to throw the window shut as the assassin's body was partially through, the force of the action cutting him in half and allowing the gem shard to fall into Steven's hand. "That's for Honest Abe!" the young Gem proclaimed with a justified grin as he reopened the window once more and quickly took a glance at the nighttime scene outside.

"Pearl!" Steven exclaimed as he noticed the white Gem standing a few feet away from the shack, her jaw dropped in shock as she stared up towards the roof.

"Steven?!" Pearl gasped with concern, quickly hurrying over to him. Upon making sure that Connie and Mabel were able to hold their own without him, which they certainly were, Steven hopped through the open window, falling down into the grass with a clumsy thud as Pearl reached him. "What are you doing here?! What's going on? And why is Dipper fighting a wax version of Sherlock Holmes on top of the Mystery Shack?"

"Ok, so this might sound crazy…" Steven began a bit sheepishly, especially since he knew he should have gone to go get the Gems as soon as all this chaos began. "But-"

Before the young Gem could go on, a sudden shatter was heard from behind him as the same window he had come out of broke. Pearl and Steven spun around in surprise to see that several of the remaining wax figures were pushing their way through the window to come outside, still intent on taking out anyone that stood in their way. Without any hesitation, Pearl summoned her staff and gave it a deft spin as she looked back to Steven for an explanation.

"So it turns out that all of the wax figures are alive and they were the ones who killed the wax figures of you guys and Mr. Pines," Steven explained, speaking quickly as he stuck close to Pearl for protection. "But that's because they each have one of those gem shards that you were looking for."

"What?!" Pearl exclaimed in a panic. "Steven, those gem shards are incredibly dangerous! The longer they're attached to something, the more intelligent and rouge they become! Didn't you hear what I said about the living armor and infantries and the many, many deaths?!"

"No!" Steven admitted guiltily. "But if it helps, we already got rid of a bunch of them!"

"It certainly looks like it," the white Gem scoffed a bit sardonically as the group of wax figures angrily approached the two of them. "Just stay back, Steven. I'll handle this."

"Pearl, wait!" Steven exclaimed worriedly, though the white Gem didn't heed him as she rushed for the wax army, thrusting her spear out skillfully. She managed to skewer several of them right off the bat, though Steven knew that it wouldn't do too much good. The only weapon that was really effective against the wax figures was heat, which, he fortunately still had on his side as he clung onto his candle.

Though her movements were swift and precise, what Pearl hadn't been counting on was for the apparent intelligence of the wax figures. As she managed to stab one of the figures to her left clean through the chest, one of them suddenly grasped onto her spear from behind. Though she did her best to shake them off, she soon found herself becoming overwhelmed by the entire group, all of them converging on one of their actual murder targets at once.

Steven let out a frightened gasp as Pearl disappeared into the center of the wax figures, her spear being flung away from her and landing in the ground only a few feet away from him. Even though the white Gem had told him to keep away from the fight for his own protection, he knew that he had to intervene now, before the wax figures actually succeeded in taking Pearl out just as they had her wax counterpart.

With a courageous shout, the young Gem ran towards the raging crowd of wax figures, which were all doing their best to oust Pearl, who had taken to fighting them with her bare hands, even if that wasn't her strong suit. She was quite surprised to say the least when Steven burst into the fray, candle in hand, burning through the horde as much as he could.

"Steven!" the white Gem cried with concern over how he was putting himself in such danger. "Be careful!"

"Don't worry, Pearl!" Steven replied with a confident grin. "I got this-" Of course, right as he said this, the candle, his lone means of defense, was knocked clean out of his hand by one of the figure's weapons. "Ok, maybe I don't…"

"Steven!" Pearl practically screamed, picking herself off the ground as she kicked one of the wax figures away from her so she could rush over to protect him. However, as he watched her do so, a sudden idea came to him, especially as he happened to glance down and see a few discarded gem shards lying on the ground in front of him.

"Shards…" he gasped, his eyes widening with realization, remembering that Pearl had mentioned that they could be used to bring any moldable substance to life. Certainly something like clothes would fit into that category, right? "Need!"

"What?!" Pearl called, having only heard part of what he had said before he dashed out of the fight for a moment to enact his plan. "Steven, what are you doing!?" Steven didn't offer her a reply as he got out of the wax horde's range, and he didn't need to; his plan would become clear soon enough.

As Steven and Pearl were struggling against the wax army in the yard, Dipper continued to duke it out with Wax Holmes up on the roof. It was essentially a race against time and endurance now as the wax detective chased him up the roof, still attacking all the while. Not really having anywhere else to go, he hastily climbed up onto the Mystery Shack sign, stilling gripping onto the fire poker, which by now was heavily dented and bent in an awkward angle. Of course, Wax Holmes followed, parrying his blade continually as Dipper struggled to both defend himself and keep his balance on the edge of the sign at the same time. Right as they were nearing the far corner of the sign, the wax detective thrust his sword out with gusto, forcing Dipper to jump back lest he be struck by it as he wasn't entirely sure the poker would provide him much protection anymore. The abrupt movements on top of the sign caused the weakly-hammered S in shack to come loose from its holds and slide down onto the roof. Upon watching this, Dipper was reminded just how high up they really were, and that if he were to so much as slip up now, there was a high chance that he could fall to his doom. And as intimidating as that thought was, he couldn't help but notice the bizarre scene taking place down in the yard below.

Pearl was just about to summon another staff to cut down the wax figures assaulting her, but right before she could, a new force entered the fray. Oddly enough, the white Gem noticed with bewilderment that it was none other than Steven's pants, freely moving on their own accord thanks to the gem shard tucked into the pocket. Since the shard had just been imparted to the pants, they hadn't gained enough sentience to be as the wax figures, and therefore they were actually obedient to Steven, who stood back away from the battle and watched as his pants actually managed to kick one of the figures out of the way so Pearl could slice it in half. The young Gem grinned as all of the remaining wax figures looked towards him in shock, his shirt, socks, and shoes all standing upright alongside him, each containing a gem shard of their own and leaving him in nothing but his underwear.

"Your move, wax guys," Steven challenged daringly, before commanding his living garments to leap into action. The clothes all leaped into action, flying towards the wax figures, who were all at first undaunted by things as weak and supposedly ineffectual as mere clothing. However, they underestimated the garments at their own peril, as they managed to land legitimate attacks on the wax army, knocking them to the ground so Pearl could sweep through and clean them all up. All the while, Steven cheered his clothes as he rushed into the heat of the chaotic clothing fray, picking up all of the scattered shards with as much haste as possible.

Though he was momentarily distracted by all this, Dipper's attention was quickly drawn back into his duel against Wax Holmes as he barely managed to parry away another heavy slash. Praying that time was on his side, he carefully leapt off of the sign and back down onto the roof, discarding the fire poker as he did so to increase his mobility; hopefully he wouldn't need it any longer anyway.

"Do you really think you can outwit me, boy?" Wax Holmes asked in aggravation over how Dipper had managed to slip away once again. "I'm Sherlock bleeding Holmes! Have you seen my magnifying glass?! It's enormous!"

Dippy didn't reply as he instead raced to hide behind the chimney, exhaustion catching up with him as he felt the adrenaline that had been fueling him begin to run out as he anxiously waited for Wax Holmes to catch up with him, which he inevitably did. He had only been hiding for a moment before he peered around the side of the chimney to see that the detective was there, scowling hatefully as he prepared to end this fight. Dipper was unable to do anything but let out a pained gasp as Wax Holmes brutally kicked him down and kept him from getting back up by keeping him at sword point.

"Any last words?" the detective asked dramatically as he raised his sword for the final blow.

Dipper didn't respond immediately, but instead, he glanced past Wax Holmes to see that the skies were beginning to lighten just below the tree line to the east. He let out a small, barely noticeable sigh of relief upon seeing this, knowing that everything was going exactly according to his plan. "Um… got any sunscreen?" he asked with a small grin, trying his best to be witty, even though he knew that he was still in considerable danger.

"Got any—what?" Wax Holmes asked in confusion, though he was quick to gather what was happening as he turned around. He let out a startled gasp upon seeing that the sun was just beginning to rise over the trees, warm summer heat already emanating from it even as dawn broke. "No," he said rather calmly, glaring at the source of warmth that immediately began to melt his waxen body as its rays shined over the roof of the shack.

"You know, letting me lead you outside? Probably not your sharpest decision," Dipper said with more confidence as he rose to stand, watching with satisfaction as the wax detective began to steadily melt.

"Outsmarted by a child in short pants! No!" the detective exclaimed in frustrated dismay as the sun rose every higher, causing him to melt faster. Likewise, as the sun struck the yard, the wax figures that Steven and Pearl were fighting also began to melt from the heat, exposing their individual gem shards, which the white Gem hurried to collect and bubble. "Fiddlesticks!" Wax Holmes shouted in defeat, his form liquefying even more as he went off into a long string of archaic English curses. "Humbugs! Tiiter… total kerfuffle! B-butter hullabaloo..." His words startled to slur together until he melted into a pile of wax, with little more than his head remaining.

"Case closed!" Dipper declared victoriously, whipping the dust of his hands in triumph, though he did inavertedly let out a small sneeze as he did so.

What was left of Wax Holmes let out a mocking laugh upon hearing this, even as his remains began to drip off of the room and onto the ground several feet below. "You sneeze like a kitten! Those policemen were right, you're adorable! Adorable!" the detective's final word was elongated as the last of his remnants fell off of the roof and splattered onto the ground, finally defeated.

"Ew…" Dipper muttered with disturbed disgust upon watching the wax detective's somewhat gory demise, though he immediately relaxed upon seeing that all of the wax figures in the yard had melted too. "Are you guys ok?" he called down to Steven and Pearl, who were just finishing up collecting the remaining gem shards.

"Yeah, we're fine!" Steven replied with a cheerful grin, his clothes still discarded, even if Pearl had taken the gem shards from them. "As soon as I bared by butt, I knew they'd crack."

Both Pearl and Dipper rolled their eyes upon hearing this, the white Gem in particular rather fed up with the situation at large as she teleported the bubble containing the shards back to the temple. As she did so, Garnet and Amethyst arrived on the scene casually, having missed the wax catastrophe entirely as they took in the melted wax all over the yard with surprise.

"Whoa…" Amethyst mused curiously, investigating the wax in confusion. "What happened? It looks like a wax graveyard out here?"

"The wax figures all came to life but we beat them!" Steven explained enthusiastically.

"Does that explain why you aren't wearing any clothes?" Garnet asked in her usual stoic way.

"Yep!"

"The figures somehow got ahold of the gem shards we've been searching for," Pearl reported with an exasperated sigh. "But don't worry; we collected all of them and I bubbled them away. They should be safe now."

Garnet nodded with satisfaction at this, not even noticing as Amethyst playfully ran through the puddle of wax on the ground, intentionally slipping in it and getting covered in the slick, liquid substance as she laughed in amusement.


Just as the wax battle was finishing up outside, Mabel and Connie had successfully taken out all of the remaining figures by working together. All that remained of the waxen army were discarded body parts and scattered gem shards, though Connie picked them all up as Mabel got rid of the remains by tossing them into the fireplace, which was what she was about to do with the still-living head of Wax Shakespeare.

"Though our group be left in twain, man of wax shall rise again!" the poet rhymed eloquently as Mabel held his head up towards the flames.

"Know any limericks?" she asked with a curious grin.

"Uh… there once was a dude from Kentucky…" Was Shakespeare attempted rather lamely, and clearly, it wasn't good enough for Mabel.

"Nope!" she cheerfully proclaimed before tossing the head into the fire.

"Well, I think that's all of them," Connie said with a tired sigh as she held out her handfuls of gem shards. "I hope Steven and Dipper are doing ok against the rest of them."

"We're more than ok!" Steven proclaimed brightly as him, Dipper, and the Gems entered the room. "We're great!"

"Uh… why aren't you wearing any clothes?" Connie asked Steven somewhat awkwardly, a slight blush lighting up her cheeks.

"Oh, I used them to help defeat the wax figures," Steven exclaimed, glancing down at the pile of clothes folded in his arms. "Pretty cool, huh?"

"Yeah, it is!" Mabel agreed with an amused grin before she rushed over to her brother and gave him a congratulatory high-five. "Dipper, this is so awesome! You solved the mystery after all!"

"Well, I couldn't have done it without my sidekicks," Dipper said with self-assurance as he went to go recover the heads of Wax Stan and the Wax Gems from the other side of the room along with Steven.

"No offense, Dipper, but you're the sidekick," Mabel informed him with a frown.

"What? Says who? Have people been saying that? Have you heard that?"

Steven was more than eager to present the found heads to the Gems, which he gladly did with a cheerful flourish. "Ta da!" he chimed with a huge grin, Connie helping him in handing the wax heads over to their rightful Gems. Pearl merely frowned at hers as she held it in her hands, a bit disturbed by it after the ordeal she had just been through with the living wax figures.

Amethyst let out an excited gasp as she tossed the head around a bit before placing it on her shoulder and letting out a playful laugh. "Hey! Check me out!" she chuckled. "I have two heads!"

Meanwhile, Garnet took her own wax head and simply stared at it expressionless for a moment or two before she slowly headed over to her wax duplicate standing at the back of the room. With firm movements, the Gem leader positioned the head back on the wax figure's body, placing her hands on her hips and mimicking its pose when she was sure it looked just right. And, before walking away, she gave the wax figure a thumbs up, satisfied that all was well.

It was around this point that Stan happened to walk in, having been fast asleep during the wax battle, despite the fact that his niece and nephew had been in considerable danger during it. "Hot Belgian waffles!" the conman exclaimed in shock upon seeing the waxen mess all over the room. "What happened to my parlor!?"

"Your wax figures turned out to be evil, so we fought them to the death!" Mabel explained with a dramatic flare.

"I decapitated Larry King," Dipper vouched rather seriously, the realization of the danger all four of them had been in hitting him once more.

Stan frowned doubtfully upon hearing this, raising an eyebrow at the Gems for a real explanation. "Hey, don't look at us," Amethyst said with a defensive shrug. "Pearl was the only one who was there."

"And it's a good thing I was," the white Gem said rather pointedly, though she still gave credit where credit was do. "Though I can't say I was entirely responsible for defeating them…" she said, smiling down at the kids with gratitude.

"On the bright side, look what we found," Dipper said with a grin, holding up Wax Stan's head.

"Hey, my head!" Stan beamed happily, clearly overjoyed to be reunited with his wax double's head as he gladly took it. "I missed this guy! You done good kids! But, uh… is there any reason why you aren't wearing any clothes, kid?" he asked Steven with an awkward frown.

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?" Steven asked obliviously.

As fate would have it, a police patrol car happened to drive up to the broken parlor window, Sheriff Blubbs and Deputy Durland casually relaxing inside. "Solved the case yet, boy?" Blubbs asked Dipper condescendingly, having stopped by to really mock the kids over their previous failure and little else. "I'm so confident you're gonna say no, that I'm gonna take a long, slow sip of my coffee."

He proceeded to do so as the kids all exchanged broad grins at this chance to prove that they had succeeded after all. "Actually, we did," Dipper informed them, anxiously anticipating their shocked reactions. He was not disappointed as Blubbs choked on his coffee in surprise upon hearing this, before ultimately spitting the hot liquid on Durland's face. The deputy, who had also been drinking his own coffee, let out a pained cry as he did the same, tossing the two cops into a loop of screaming and spitting until they drove off in a panic, still crying out in pain all the while.

Of course, upon watching their humorous misfortune, the kids, Stan, and even the Gems all shared a good laugh, knowing that this was certainly cathartic in light of the doubt the officers had previously shown. "They got scalded!" Stan chuckled heartily before he went to return his wax duplicate's head to its proper place.

"Well, you guys," Steven grinned broadly, taking up a heroic pose despite the fact that he was still barely clothed. "I think our work here is done."

Dipper, Mabel, and Connie all readily agreed with this sentiment, satisfied in their teamwork and in a job well done and a mystery well solved. And though Garnet, Amethyst, and Stan were all distracted in reuniting with their respective wax figures, Pearl couldn't help but frown down at the ambitious younger Gem, admiring his verve but knowing that there was still one thing he needed to do. "Steven," she began in exasperation, knowing that she would be perfectly content in never seeing another wax figure ever again. "Put your clothes back on."

Chapter Text

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“Behold!” Steven declared in an excited grin as he led the way from the forest path to their intended destination, with Dipper and Mabel following not too far behind. When the young Gem had offered to show the twins to one of his many favorite spots in Gravity Falls, they had been expecting for him to take them to a mysterious, magical hotspot or an ancient Gem structure. However, where they had ended up instead was a far cry from either of those things. “The Big Donut!” Steven chimed cheerfully, throwing his arm out towards the rather small snack store that stood on the outskirts of downtown Gravity Falls. “This place as the best donuts in the world. I come here pretty much every day!”

“Oh my gosh!” Mabel exclaimed with the same amount of excitement as Steven as she grinned up at the large donut sign resting atop the building. “I love donuts! I once ate two dozen donuts all at one sitting on a dare. Talk about a sugar rush! It was great!”

“Until you got sick from eating so many,” Dipper reminded her as he crossed his arms.

“So I threw up a little,” Mabel said with a carefree shrug. “Nothing can change how I feel about donuts and their sugary sweetness!”

“Then you’ll absolutely love the Big Donut!” Steven beamed as he led the way to the store. “Not only are the donuts great, but its employees are so nice! Just wait till you meet-” the young Gem was abruptly cut off upon opening the doors to the shop to an intense argument that was going on between the two teenaged employees behind the counter.

“Lars, I told you not to stack those boxes like that!” the short, blonde female clerk yelled at her taller male coworker in frustration over the box of pastries that had spilled onto the floor. “But of course, you didn’t listen to me, as usual! Now look at this mess!”

“Chill out, Sadie,” the young man, Lars, scoffed with little concern as he leaned against the counter, making no effort to help Sadie in picking the donuts up. “It’s not my fault our stock comes in these wimpy boxes. And besides, you know how heavy those things are!”

“Lars, they’re filled with donuts,” Sadie deadpanned, knowing that he was simply being lazy. “Each box only weights about ten pounds.”

“So what, are you saying I can’t lift them?” Lars asked defensively. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve got plenty of muscles.” To prove his point, he flexed with a showy grin, though he only managed to emphasize his lanky build.

“Plenty of nothing if you ask me,” Sadie muttered to herself with a sarcastic grin. However, before their spat could go on, they were interrupted by the trio of young customers that had just burst into the store.

“Lars, Sadie!” Steven greeted the duo cheerfully as he approached the counter along with Dipper and Mabel. “How are my two favorite donut-dealers this afternoon?”

“Hi, Steven,” Sadie welcomed with a friendly grin as she finished cleaning up the scattered donuts. “Who are your friends?”

“This is Dipper and Mabel,” Steven introduced the twins, who greeted the cashier with amicable nods. “Mr. Pines is their uncle; isn’t that neat?”

“You mean that old creep who runs that lame tourist trap down the road?” Lars asked dryly. “That place is a run-down mess.”

“Aw, the Mystery Shack isn’t that run-down,” Mabel said with a bright grin. “If you can get past the splinters, and the mold, and the occasional leak in the roof.”

“More like the one leak in the attic that Grunkle Stan refuses to fix,” Dipper corrected a bit sarcastically.

“So, would you three like some donuts?” Sadie asked dutifully, resisting the urge to cast an aggravated glare Lars’s way as he disregarded their customers by taking out his phone.  

“You know we do!” Steven exclaimed. “That’s the whole reason why we came; well, that, and so I could say hi to you and Lars!”

Though Sadie appreciated Steven’s outgoing ways, Lars simply let out a scoff at this, rolling his eyes as he kept his focus on his phone. However, this did not go unnoticed by the young Gem, who was quick to garnish the teen’s attention through a different way. “Hey, Lars…” Steven said with a widening grin. “Get ready, cause I got a high five for you from waaaay down town!” With his arm raised high, he pushed himself against the counter in an attempt to reach Lars, who refused to reciprocate his high five but instead only offered him a sour glower. But even so, Steven persisted as he managed to high five Lars’s chest as opposed to his hand.

“Steven, cut it out!” Lars said crossly as he slapped the young Gem’s hand away, not even initially noticing the new group of customers that had just entered the store until after Sadie formally greeted them.

“Welcome to the Big Donut,” she addressed the rather large group of teens, directing the kids’ attention towards them as well. While they were rather unfamiliar with most of the teens, the three of them immediately recognized one amidst their number.

“Wendy!” Dipper, Mabel, and Steven all exclaimed in surprised unison as the teen Mystery Shack cashier entered the donut shop, her large group of friends trailing not too far behind her.

“Hey, dorks,” Wendy playfully greeted the kids with a casual grin. “What’s up?”

Before any of the kids had a chance to answer, Lars spoke up, leaning up against the counter as he flashes as nonchalant of a grin as possible. “Oh, hey you guys,” he said, trying to sound relaxed but coming across as a bit nervous instead. “Crazy seeing you all here, a-am I right?”

The teens all exchanged confused glances upon hearing this, until one of the guys amidst the group, tall with shaggy blond hair, questioned Lars’ claim of familiarity with them. “Uh… do we know you, bro?”

Ignoring Sadie’s amused laugh at this, Lars tried his best to play it off with a chuckle that was actually rather awkward. “Ha! Good one, Lee!”

Though Lars continued to laugh for an uncomfortable amount of time, no one else joined him, making things all the more awkward. Fortunately, this passed quickly as another member of the group, clearly the most apathetic and broody of the bunch, spoke up with a question posed to Wendy. “So… what?” he asked, giving Dipper, Mabel and Steven a rather condescending glance. “Do you, like, babysit these dweebs or something?”

“Come on, Robbie,” Wendy scoffed. “Dipper and Mabel are my pals from work, and Steven hangs out at the shack a lot. Right guys?” she asked the kids with a grin.

“Right!” Steven readily agreed with a beaming smile as he exchanged a high five with Wendy. “Though I also hang out a lot here too, especially with my buddies Sadie and Lars!”

“Ugh, Steven….” Lars muttered in aggravation at the boy’s embarrassing enthusiasm, though fortunately no one seemed to notice.

“Hey, look!” Mabel exclaimed excitedly to the group at large. “I chewed my gum so it looks like a brain! Blah!” At this, she stuck her tongue out to reveal the wad of gum upon it, eliciting amused chuckles from several of the teens.

“Mabel’s not much for first impressions,” Dipper cut in with a somewhat awkward grin, trying to play it cool in from of the teens, especially Wendy. “Unlike this guy!” he exclaimed, pointing himself. Of course, after he got no real reaction from the teens, he tried once more, only with much less confidence this time. “…this guy…”

“Anyway…” Wendy fortunately jumped in just in the nick of time to spare Dipper from any real embarrassment. “These are my friends. We have Lee and Nate…” she said, as the two guys she referred to shared a chuckle as they playfully punched each other on the arm. “Tambry…”

“Hey,” Tambry muttered broadly as she kept her focus on her phone as she had been ever since the group had walked through the door.

“Thompson, who once ate a run-over waffle for 50 cents…” Wendy continued.

“Don’t tell them that!” Thompson exclaimed in embarrassment, before he was promptly struck with the donuts Lee and Nate had jokingly tossed his way.

“Jenny…”

“What’s up?” Jenny asked with a cool grin.

“Buck…”

“Yo,” Buck greeted in a relaxed, monotonous tone.

“Sour Cream…”

“How goes it?” Sour Cream asked nonchalantly.

“And Robbie,” Wendy finished “You can probably figure him out.”

“Yeah, I’m the guy who spray painted the water tower,” Robbie said passively as he leaned against the nearest wall and shoved his hands into his sweater pockets.

“Oh, you mean the big muffin?” Dipper asked, having noticed the red painted mark on the water tower before.

“Um, it’s a giant explosion,” Robbie clarified pointedly.

At this, everyone took a glance out of the shop window towards the water tower, which was clearly visible from there despite its relative distance from the Big Donut. “Heh, it kinda does look like a muffin,” Nate agreed with a laugh.

Of course, upon having his handiwork undermined in such a way, Robbie was quick to shoot a bitter glare at Dipper, who anxiously shied away from it the slightest bit. Regardless, rounds of various conversations broke out amongst the group of teens as they spread out through the small store to get what they came there for, leaving Sadie rather busy as Lars declined in helping her work the register. However, though he was trying his best to be passively cool in the presence of the teens, Lars’s attempts were soon undermined as Steven leaned against the counter in front of him with a broad grin, also trying to come off as insincerely aloof.

“So, you know these guys, Lars?” Steven asked curiously.

Upon realizing that the teens were all pretty much distracted and not really listening in on his conversation, Lars broke his nonchalant front a little bit. “N-not quite,” he admitted quietly. “But I’ve seen them around. I’m sure we’ll hang out at some point.”

“Well why not hang out with them now?”

“T-that’s not how these things work, Steven!” Lars exclaimed, obviously flustered. “The plan is to keep it cool and let them come to me.”

“But since they’re here, isn’t it like they came to you anyway?” Steven asked, clearly not getting Lars’s apparent anxiety with the situation. “You know, if you want, I could go ask them if you could hang out with them.”

“What?!” Lars stammered, his face turning bright red in embarrassment. “W-what would ever make you think I would need you to make friends for me!? And besides, it’s not like I can just leave; in case you haven’t noticed, I’m at work.”

“Actually, Lars, your shift is just about over,” Sadie remarked with a coy grin, more than ready to get back at her coworker by seeing him embarrass himself. “You’re free to go.”

“Thanks a lot, Sadie,” Lars said sarcastically, though he soon realized with a panic that Steven had already departed to go talk to the teens on his behalf. “Steven, no!” he shouted in an aggravated whisper. “You’re gonna wreck everything! Ugh, I hate you!”

Of course, Lars’s pleas went unheard as Steven walked up to Buck, Sour Cream, and Jenny, who had all gathered in a corner of the shop as they conversed, and addressed them outgoingly. Meanwhile, Wendy and Dipper were watching in amusement as Lee and Nate dared Thompson to chug an entire liter of soda, only for him to fail rather miserably at it as he began coughing it up within the first few seconds.

“Ok guys,” Wendy said laughingly as she garnished their attention, as well as Tambry’s and Robbie’s. “Let’s hurry it up and get what we need; I got big plans for tonight.”

The rest of the group complied as they raced throughout the small store to stock up on all of the snacks they wanted for the evening, save for the trio that was still conversing with Steven. “So… where are you guys heading to exactly?” Dipper asked Wendy a tensely, trying to sound more casually curious than anything else.

“We were planning on checking out this old shut-down joint across town,” Wendy explained. “It’s gonna be wild.”

“Ooo!” Mabel suddenly cut in, much to Dipper’s lowkey annoyance. “Are you guys gonna throw a crazy dance party?”

“Maybe,” Wendy shrugged. “It kinda depends on what we’re feeling when we get there. We sorta just roll with the flow, you know?”

“Oh, I totally know,” Dipper interjected, feigning confidence that he admittedly lacked.

“Well, if you do have a dance party, I know somebody who would definitely be down for it,” Mabel said leadingly as she gave Dipper a referential elbowing.

“Mabel…” Dipper groaned in annoyance with his sister, already knowing what she was alluding to and hoping that she wouldn’t actually discuss it with Wendy.

“Whoa, Dipper! I didn’t know you danced!” Wendy said in amusement.

“I-I don’t really…”

“Yeah, he does!” Mabel cut in once more, hardly noticing her brother’s growing impatience. “Mom used to dress him up in a lamb costume and make him do…” she paused for a moment before lowering her voice down to a whisper for extra emphasis. “The Lamby Dance!”

“Now is not the time to talk about the Lamby Dance,” Dipper muttered in angry embarrassment, quickly glancing around to make sure that none of the other teens had happened to overhear.

“Lamb costume?” Wendy laughed good naturedly. “Wow, was there like little ears and a tail or…”

“Well, uh…” Dipper stammered nervously, wishing that Mabel hadn’t revealed this rather embarrassing early childhood memory in the first place.

“Yep!” Mabel went on, pulling out a picture from the stack she usually kept on her, depicting a four-year-old Dipper wearing an admittedly adorable lamb costume, ears, tail, and all. “Dipper would prance around and sing a song about grazing. It was seriously cutest thing ever.”

“No kidding,” Wendy grinned as she glanced over the picture, before smirking at Dipper in amusement. Of course, though he was extremely mortified, he couldn’t help but falteringly grin back as a sudden idea occurred to him, especially as he noticed that the rest of the teens were finishing up their purchases.

“Well, looks like it’s about time for us to head out,” Wendy noted. “Though I gotta say, it really does look like Steven’s hitting off with Buck, Jenny, and Sour Cream over there.” She nodded over to the group in question, and indeed, the trio of teens all let out a collective chuckle as Steven cheerfully conversed with them.

“Wait!” Dipper exclaimed before Wendy had the chance to head off. “Why don’t I—or, why don’t we, and by we, I mean Mabel, Steven, and me, go with you?”

“Oh… I don’t know…” Wendy mused a bit cautiously. “My friends are pretty intense… How old did you guys say you were?”

Before Mabel had a chance at answering that question honestly, Dipper was quick to cut in with a white lie that would hopefully work in their favor. “We’re thirteen! So, technically a teen.”

“All right,” Wendy nodded with a sly grin. “I like your moxy, kid. Let me gather up the gang and we’ll head out.”

At this, she departed to collect her scattered friends, leaving the twins behind and leaving Mabel very confused. “Since when are we thirteen?” she asked Dipper with a frown. “Is this a leap year?”

“Come on, Mabel,” Dipper said, seeing nothing really wrong with the small lie he had told. “This is our chance to hang out with, you know, the cool kids. And Wendy and whatever.”

Mabel let out an loud gasp upon hearing this, hardly able to contain her excitement as she gave her brother a huge, goading grin. “I knew it!”

“Knew what?”

“You’re in love with Wendy!” she exclaimed rather overtly, at which Dipper was quick to quiet her down before anyone heard.

“Yeah, right!” he retorted defensively. “I just think Wendy’s cool, ok? Its not like I lie awake at night thinking about her, or anything…” Of course, he knew this was something of a lie too, as he had spent the very last night doing that very thing.

“Don’t try and deny it!” Mabel said with a knowing grin. “I can tell by the way your awkwardly stammer even more than usual when you’re around her! You’re in love with her! Love love love love love!”

Not really wanting to hear much more on what was a rather touchy subject for him, Dipper was quick to detract Mabel’s rambunctious elation by way of distracting her. “Oh hey, what’s that?”

“Huh?” Mabel was quick to spin around to curiously face the direction her brother was pointing. Of course, because of this, she was unable to do much as he promptly flipped her long hair over in front of her face. Mabel was hardly phased by this however, as she simply stuck her tongue out in playful protest amidst the curtain of hair covering her face.

While Steven had been conversing with Buck, Jenny, and Sour Cream, Lars had been watching from behind the counter apprehensively the whole time, ignoring Sadie’s teasing comments about him being a chicken. It was only as the young Gem eagerly rushed back towards the counter that he stood up straight from his crouched over position, trying to act cool once more as the trio of teens glanced his way.

“Hey, Lars!” Steven exclaimed brightly.

“Yo,” Lars nodded nonchalantly, nodding towards the teens as they rejoined the rest of the group.

“Guess what?! They invited you, me, Dipper, and Mabel to come hang out with them tonight! Isn’t that cool?”

“Huh?!” Lars exclaimed, clearly flabbergasted. “Wait a minute, they—you? Steven, you got lucky! Just don’t ruin this with any of your lame shtick!” 

Steven was happy to comply with this as he pointed his fingers and playfully pretended to shoot them like guns. “Pew pew! You got it!” he laughed, already heading for the door as Lars face palmed before rushing off to change and clock out.

As soon as everyone had gathered what they needed, the collective group of kids and teens gathered outside just as dusk was falling over the town. Though the minivan the teens have come in was barely large enough to contain the nine of them, they had to squeeze even more tightly into the vehicle to accommodate all thirteen passengers. Of course, this meant that Lars had to begrudgingly take the very back alongside Steven and Mabel, which was clearly the last thing he wanted since he was trying to get in good with the cool kids. Meanwhile, Dipper attempted to slip into the front row alongside Wendy, only to ultimately be cut off right before by someone else.

“Sorry, kid, but I ride shotgun, alright?” Robbie asked rather arrogantly as he shut the car door.

Dipper didn’t offer a reply but instead simply smiled a bit nervously as he backed off in disappointment, knowing that he would be getting nowhere with Wendy from the back seat. Hopefully though, the ride wouldn’t be too long, especially since he had to uncomfortably crowd into the back between Steven and Mabel.

Once everyone was packed inside the van, Thompson glanced through the rear view mirror from his spot in the driver’s seat before apprehensively addressing his load of passengers. “Ok, so… before we go, my mom said you guys aren’t allowed to punch the roof anymore, so…”

Of course, no one heeded Thompson as they all instead did the exact opposite of what he had told them by fist pumping into the metal roof of the car and adding onto the myriad of dents there from past punches. Knowing there was little he could do to stop the rowdy group, Thompson simply put the car in drive and sighed relenting as the others cheered his name patronizingly.

Buck, Sour Cream, and Tambry had filed into the seat in front of Lars and the kids, and though the latter was still glued to her phone, the guys were quick to turn around and converse after the car had pulled out. “Where’d you get that rad shirt, Steven?” Buck asked in his usual cool manner.

Steven grinned down at his shirt for a moment before he innocently, yet honestly replied. “I have no idea where any of my clothes come from.”

“Yeah, man,” Buck nodded with a small smile. “Living free. I like it.”

“Hey, check out my shirt,” Lars cut in, pointing to the snake design on his tee-shirt.

“Oh, that snake is nasty,” Buck commented as his grin faded.

“Oh,” Lars said, flustered as he let out a fabricated laugh. “Yeah, I hate snakes!”

“Oh, what? That’s too bad. Some snakes are pretty cool.”

“Hey, Thompson!” Sour Cream called up to the front. “Let’s get some spaced out beats up in here!”

“Uh… Well, I’m not really supposed to play loud music in here, but, uh…” Thompson shyly began before Wendy cut in.

“Pump up the jams!” she exclaimed as she turned the radio onto an upbeat electronica station. The teens all cheered once more as they enjoyed the smooth beats, and even far in the way back, Steven and Mabel danced as much as they could to the music in their seats, as limited as their space, despite the fact that they were inadvertedly shoving Dipper around as they did so.

“Oh, man, I could totally rave to this!” Sour Cream declared as he slowly moved his arms in front of him, flowing to the rhythm of the song.

“Whoa there, Sour Cream,” Jenny laughed easily as she glanced back at him. “Don’t get too crazy there.”

As the car plodded through town, Mabel happened to take notice of the wide variety of graffiti written all over the interior of the car, specifically a message that read “You stink!” Wanting to make it a little more positive, she quickly snatched the pen that Dipper had with him away and crossed the offensive note away, writing her own instead: “You look nice today!”

“Ha! This is gonna blow someone’s mind!” she exclaimed proudly as she capped the pen, proud of her handiwork.

“Mabel, please!” Dipper said rather impatiently, wishing that she would for once try to be a bit more mature since they were in the midst of an older crowd.

“What, am I embarrassing you in front of your new GIRLFRI-” Before Mabel could even finish obnoxiously shouting the word so everyone in the car could hear, Dipper hurriedly slapped his hand over her mouth, not allowing her to out him again. However, Mabel was quick to pay him back, which was what prompted Dipper to immediately pull his hand away from her mouth.

“Ugh! Did you just lick my hand?” he asked with disgust, though Mabel only responded with a sly, triumphant grin.

As the van drove past the park, it was halted by a stoplight, allowing the group to notice the evening political rally taking place there. “Hey Buck, isn’t that your dad?” Nate asked, referring to the mayor, who was clearly in the midst of a passionate speech.

“…Another reason you should re-elect me, I love babies!” Mayor Dewey declared over the microphone, coming across as only fairly confident. “Oh, will you look at that!” he exclaimed, feigning shock as one of his aids handed a baby to him. “Gonna kiss it…” He did so rather fakely, though this garnished the impressed applause of the crowd nonetheless.

“Hm, I like his policy on babies,” Steven noted.

“Man, he never kisses me like that,” Buck said somewhat bitterly as he crossed his arms and turned away from the window.

“That’s rough, bro,” Lars said with apt sympathy.

“It’s not rough,” Buck clarified. “The lack of daddy kisses in my life made me who I am.”

“Truth!” both Nate and Lee agreed as they exchanged casual high fives with Buck, leaving Lars ousted and annoyed at his own lack of social graces.

It wasn’t too much longer before the van finally pulled to a spot on the more empty side of town, just as the sun had finally set completely. Their stop certainly had an eerie quality to it, one that was quite noticeable as the kids and teens alike got out of the vehicle to get a closer look. On the other side of a tall metal fence was what looked to be an abandoned, rather run-down building that looked as though it had not been touched in years. It looked to be some sort of shop or convenience store, though its sign was not lit and it was too dark to really read the name off of it. It rested directly in the shadows of a tall hill that shielded it from the rising moon, and in the shadows of the store itself was a pool filled with quite a bit of thick, lush moss, giving it a swampy appearance. However, as Steven hopped out of the car following Dipper and Mabel, he froze in his tracks, his eyes going wide with surprise and fear as he noticed the familiar spot they were at, or even more specifically, the yellow police tape surrounding the lake that had only been heavily strung up there just a few days ago…


 

“This doesn’t look good at all…”

Pearl shook her head as her, Garnet, and Amethyst stood halfway up the hill, looking down at the small swamp and the building resting beside it. Steven was preoccupying himself as he leapt among the dead logs floating in the lake, stopping to reach down towards the skim the green moss floating upon its murky surface. The Gems took notice of this immediately as they all let out warning gasps, especially as the moss slowly began to move on its own accord.

“Whoa…” Steven remarked in amazement as the moss began to creep towards his outstretched arm. “Cool!”

“No, Steven!” Pearl exclaimed in a sudden panic. “Don’t go near that stuff!”

“Steven, wait!” Amethyst shouted in growing fear, ready to lash her whip out at the moss to protect the younger Gem if need be. However, Garnet preempted both of her teammates as she easily lifted one of the boulders resting on the hill and chucked it towards the log Steven was standing on. The force with which it hit the log was enough to catapult Steven up out of the lake entirely and into Pearl’s concerned, outstretched arms.

“Steven’s here!” he announced with a playful grin as Pearl gently placed him on the ground beside her.

“Steven, you have to be more careful!” Pearl cautioned with a frown.

“Why?” Steven asked as he glanced down at the lake below, noticing that the moss was quickly consuming the log he had just been on until it was no longer visible at all. “What is that stuff?”

“It’s the moss that Rose Quartz planed on the hill,” Garnet said astutely as she folded her arms.

“My mom planted this stuff?” Steven asked curiously, always wanting to know more about his mysterious mother, whom the Gems always spoke of with such high regard, even though he would never really have the chance to know her.

“Rose Quartz used to climb that hill every spring and tend to the moss at the top in the light of the full moon,” Pearl exclaimed somewhat wistfully as she projected a vague holographic image of Rose ascending the hill from her gem. “But now that Rose is… gone, the moss has no guidance or sense of location. It’s on the move!”

“It’s lost…” Steven said with sincere empathy, knowing that even if he had never gotten to know his mother personally, she certainly would be upset about her precious moss not thriving as it should.

“It’s not lost,” Amethyst remarked a bit sarcastically. “It’s gross.”

“Yes, but Rose loved it anyway,” Pearl mused as she held her hands close to her heart and gazed up at the sky, clearly caught up in memories of their former leader. “She saw beauty in everything, no matter how gross.” The white Gem let out a deep breath as she regathered her usual formality. “Fortunately, I know just what to do in this situation.”

The Gems had carefully descended the hill to stand in the dry area beside the abandoned building, with Pearl positioned before the rest of the group. With a daring grin, the white Gem opened her closed eyes wide and preformed a deft spin as she lifted her hands towards her gem, which was starting to steadily glow.

“This is why I get up in the morning!” Steven whispered to Amethyst with rapt excitement, stars in his eyes as he watched Pearl work her magic. No more than a second later, a small glowing orb floated out of Pearl’s gem, hovering over to Steven before it fell into his hands, the glow fading from it to reveal what it really was. “Is this… police tape?” he asked, rotating the roll of yellow cautionary tape in his hands.

“Isn’t this great?” Pearl asked with a satisfied grin. “This way, we don’t even have to use magic! The humans will just see this and walk away.”

“But isn’t that what that big fence is here for?” Steven asked in confusion, remembering how they had breached that very fence to get to the hill earlier.

“Well… let’s just say fences haven’t proven to be the most… foolproof precaution in our experience…” Pearl said with a slight, somewhat disdainful frown.

“Besides,” Amethyst added with an impish grin as she leaned in close to Steven. “That fence is here to keep people out of there,” she nodded towards the abandoned store a few feet away.

“Why?” Steven asked, raising an eyebrow. “What happened there?”

“We’re not really sure,” Garnet said rather succinctly.

“They say that some people died in there several years ago,” Amethyst said with something of a morbid grin. “And you know humans; they’re always so superpsicious about stuff like that.”

“You mean superstitious,” Pearl corrected before getting the group back on track. “But enough about that. We have work to do.”

Considering that the Gems fought fierce monsters on a regular occasion, putting up police tape was child’s play for them. Between Amethyst and Garnet throwing the tape across the rocks surrounding the swamp, to Pearl elegantly lacing it up into a bow near the front of the store just to ensure humans wouldn’t go near it, to Steven breathlessly rushing to cover any spot they had missed, they had this mission completed in less than an hour. And by the time they were done, the pond was completely marked off limits thanks to the ample supply of police tape barring its entrance.

“Perfect!” Pearl sang cheerfully as she admired their handiwork. “Now we just have to come up with a plan to move the moss back up to its hill!”

“Maybe we could carry it?” Steven suggested, even if he wasn’t sure such a plan would work.

“What, do you wanna get swallowed by that stuff?” Amethyst asked incredulously. “It’s better to just leave it where it is. It’s not hurting anyone.”

“But it might if we just leave it to grow,” Pearl advised before she let out an impatient sigh. “I suppose there isn’t anything we can do for it now, though. After all, it only really blooms at night.”

“We’ll come back some other time,” Garnet declared with finality, already leading the way back to the temple. Pearl and Amethyst were quick to follow behind her, though Steven cast one more frowning glance back at the moss, left to its own devices as it choked in the shadows, instead of the moonlight where his mother had wanted it to be and where it belonged.


 

Steven paled as this recent memory rushed back to him, especially as he stared at the pool of moss resting directly beside the store. Based on what he had seen of it as well as what the Gems had told him, this was quite a dangerous spot, but a part of him hoped that this was only a momentary stop and that they were just there to look from a distance rather than actually get in close. Which was why he didn’t immediately speak up as the teens approached the fence, but rather trailed behind the entire group apprehensively, thinking that certainly the fence alone would be enough to keep them away from the moss.

“There it is, fellas,” Wendy said with a daring grin as the group pressed up against the fence. “The condemned Dusk 2 Dawn.”

“Cool!” Lee and Nate exclaimed in unison as they pumped each other up by exchanging punches to the arm.

“I’m getting some killer vibes from this place,” Jenny commented with a smooth smile.

“So, uh… why’d they shut it down?” Dipper asked with slight uncertainty as he looked towards the store, noting how eerily silent the scene was as the nearest streetlight flickered on and off hauntingly. “Was it like a health code violation, or-”

“Try murder!” Nate said dramatically.

“Some folks died in there,” Lee explained. “The place has been haunted ever since!”

“This town has such a colorful history!” Mabel grinned pleasantly, seeing nothing that morbid about the fact that they were standing just a few feet away from a supposed murder scene.

“A-are you guys serious?” Dipper asked with a nervous frown, hoping that the teens were just messing with them.

“Yeah! We’re all gonna die!” Wendy teased light heartedly before giving Dipper a friendly punch on the arm. “Chill out, man! It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“Y-you know what?” Steven spoke up, hoping that maybe the possibility of the store being haunted when combined with the threat of the moss would drive the teens away. “Maybe Dipper’s right. This place may look cool, but it’s probably a lot less cool than you think. W-why don’t we just go have fun downtown or something?”

“Steven, you trying to scare us?” Jenny asked with a coy grin, fortunately not directly making fun of his worry.

“Building atmosphere,” Buck said with a complacent nod. “I appreciate that.”

“Steven, stop being lame,” Lars whispered crossly as he pushed his way past Steven before casually addressing the others. “Let’s check this place out.”

Steven took in a sharp breath as the teens began to scale the fence one by one, his worry growing even more as he glanced towards the moss once more. He was half tempted to warn them all about it, before he refrained, not wanting to be the one to spoil everyone’s fun, especially since he knew Lars wanted to get in good with the other teens. And besides, certainly they wouldn’t violate the police tape on the other side of the fence, right?

It didn’t take too long for everyone to scale the fence and land on the other side. Against his better judgement, Steven had just finished climbing the fence himself, with Dipper going next as he awkwardly attempted to straddle the fence so he could properly climb it.

“Come on, Dipper!” Wendy encouraged from the other side.

“O-okay!” Dipper reassured her a bit shakily, clearly intimidated by how far away the ground below was. “Just gotta get a foothold…”

“Dude, your sister did it!” Robbie criticized impatiently as everyone glanced towards Mabel, who was excitedly running on the ground in a sideways circle, her boundless energy clear.

In order to speed the process along, Lee, who was also on the other side of the fence, cleared the top of it alongside Dipper. “Hey, you know what? Just…” he paused for a moment as he abruptly picked the younger boy up and somewhat roughly nudged him off the fence. Dipper landed on the other side somewhat clumsily, but fortunately, he escaped any sort of injury aside from a few scrapes on the knee.

“Good job throwing the kid off the fence, genius!” Nate remarked teasingly as Lee jumped down to the other side.

“Your mom’s a genius!” Lee retorted, giving his buddy another punch on the arm.

Steven made sure to cautiously lag behind just a bit as the rest of the group approached the store, thankfully none of them bothering to get close to the pond. Likewise, the moss seemed to be relatively still, so maybe there wouldn’t be much of a problem after all, especially since Pearl had sealed the store’s entrance with a bow of police tape. Steven took in a breath of relief as the teens took notice of the tape barring the doors, remembering what that the Gems had been confident that it would keep people away.

“Huh, police tape…” Sour Cream remarked with a sided frown. The entire group exchanged a brief glance before Sour Cream abruptly ripped off the careful bow of cautionary tape over the door. “Awesome,” he grinned, not even regarding the discarded tape on the ground.

Steven let out a surprised gasp at seeing this, especially as Lee, Nate, Thompson, and Buck joined in on ripping off the rest of the tape covering the front of the store. “I’m above the law,” Buck said boldly, garnishing a laugh from the other guys.

“Oh no…” Steven whispered worriedly, completely at a loss of what to do. By now, Dipper, who as just about as anxious, had noticed Steven’s apparent apprehension, and he was quick to gather that there was more to it than just the unsettling atmosphere of the area.

“Steven, what’s wrong?” he asked with concern, lingering back alongside Steven as the rest of the group peeked through the store windows.

“W-well, I didn’t wanna freak anyone out, but…” Steven began with a fearful frown, making sure that the teens couldn’t overhear. “You see that moss in the pond over there? It’s magic. My mom planted it a whole bunch of years ago, but since she’s not… around anymore, it’s kinda gotten out of control. That’s why the police tape was there; the Gems and me put it up a few days ago to keep people away.”

“But… it’s just moss,” Dipper said, clearly not understanding Steven’s immense worry. “Honestly, I think the possibility of this place being haunted is a lot more intimidating.”

“You don’t get it!” Steven clarified, staring at the moss with a pit in his stomach. “The moss can move on its own! I’m not really sure how it works, but the Gems told me it’s really dangerous. I don’t think we should really be here. What if something bad happens!?”

Dipper frowned uneasily as he took all this in; of course, he believed what Steven was telling him, based on what he had seen of the Gems and all things related to them thus far. But he doubted that any of the teens would be as willing to buy a story about magic moss as he was. In actuality, they would be more likely to pass it off as both boys being cowardly and nothing more. And in his goal of impressing Wendy, that was something that Dipper couldn’t really afford to let happen, regardless of the apparent risk. After all, the moss didn’t look like it was anything too worrying at the moment, and if they were going to enter the store, then they wouldn’t really have to be too concerned with it anyway.

“Well, the moss is only out here, right?” Dipper reasoned, hoping that he could set Steven’s dread to ease as much as his own. “So if we’re inside the store, it can’t hurt anyone. Simple as that.”

“Uh… I guess…” Steven said a bit uncertainly, though he preferred it if they were as far from the dangerous moss as possible. “But we probably should warn everyone, just in case.”

“Steven, wait!” Dipper exclaimed in a sudden panic, stopping the young Gem before he could mention any of this to the teens. “There’s no sense in raising a false alarm, right? I mean, everyone’s having such a good time; why make everyone worry about some moss that probably won’t even cause any trouble?”

Steven only half-bought this as he cast a concerned glance at the teens, silently ensuring that they were keeping a safe distance from the pond. He had much of the same line of reasoning as Dipper, especially when he considered that the teens had been kind enough to invite them all along in the first place. The last thing he wanted to do was spoil the fun for everyone by warning them of a looming danger over their heads or trying to convince them to leave when they were so dead set on exploring the abandoned store. And so, with a resolute sigh, he relented. “Mm… Okay…” he said, still clearly on edge. “But if the moss shows signs of acting up, then we’ve gotta get everyone out of there, agreed?”

“Agreed,” Dipper nodded, even if he didn’t think that such a precautionary measure would even need to be taken. Or at least he hoped.

They boys rejoined the rest of the group just as they were discovering that the doors to the convenience store were locked. “I think it’s stuck!” Robbie grunted as he tried his hardest to wedge the glass doors open.

With a fair amount of effort, Sour Cream gave the bottom of the doors a kick, though they still did not budge. “Well, I got nothing,” he admitted with a shrug of defeat.

“Let me take a crack at it,” Dipper volunteered, putting the worrying conversation he just had with Steven behind him to focus on trying to prove himself to the teens.

“Oh sure,” Robbie scoffed, rolling his eyes sarcastically. “I can’t get in, but I’m sure Junior here is gonna break it down like Hercules!”

“Come on, leave him alone,” Wendy admonished with a sympathetic frown. “He’s just a little kid.”

Dipper did his best to suppress the fact that his face reddened in embarrassment over this comment. After all, the last thing he wanted to be seen as by Wendy was just a weak kid. And he saw no better way of refuting that idea than by utilizing both his wit and relatively small stature to find a way to grant them all access to the store. After briefly glancing over the surrounding area, Dipper managed to spot a dumpster on the side of the building, which was fortunately opposite from the lake and the moss. Without informing any of the others of his spur of the moment plan, he headed for the dumpster, his expression stern and resolved as he began to scale it. Everyone took notice of this and watched in confusion as he stood on top of the dumpster and then used the old vines clinging to the building to climb the rest of the way up onto the roof.

“Kid, what are you doing?” Tambry asked in surprise, having finally glanced up from her phone.

“Whoa, look at him go up there!” Jenny remarked, impressed with Dipper’s dauntless tenacity.

“Go Dipper!” Mabel cheered her brother on as she watched him punch the metal grate covering the vents that lead inside the building from the roof. “Punch that metal thing!”

Though the grate wouldn’t budge upon a first attempt, Dipper was persistent as he struck it once more, this time breaking it free from the rusty bolds restraining it and creating an opening into the store that was just large enough for him to crawl through.

“Hey Dipper! Take it easy!” Wendy called with concern as she watched Dipper disappear inside the store.

“Who wants to bet he doesn’t make it?” Robbie asked as he crossed his arms, anticipating that the younger boy would either get lost or scared inside. However, what he hadn’t been expecting was for the front doors to swing wide open only a few moments later. Dipper grinned confidently as he held the door open, gesturing for everyone to go on inside.

“Yeah!” Mabel exclaimed with a huge grin as she gave her brother a celebratory high five before rushing into the store.

“Good call inviting this little maniac!” Lee laughed heartily.

“Your new name is Dr. Funtimes!” Nate proclaimed as he walked past Dipper, who gladly accepted such a recognition.

 “That was pretty rad, kid,” Buck agreed with a casual nod.

“Nice work,” Wendy smiled with satisfaction as she gave Dipper an affectionate punch on the arm, making him all the more proud of what he had just done as it had garnished her approval.

Steven was the second to last to enter before Dipper, though before he did, he stopped short and took one more glance over at the moss on the side of the building. “Remember what we talked about,” Steven cautioned with an uneasy frown. “If things start going wrong, we need to get out.”

“I know,” Dipper reassured him with a calm grin. “But relax, Steven; nothing’s going to happen.”

“…I hope your right…” Steven said, trying his best to shake away the bad vibes he had towards this entire situation away.

“I know I’m right,” Dipper said confidently. “Now come on; let’s have some fun.”

Steven halfheartedly agreed as the two of them went inside the store, the doors closing behind them as they joined the group in marveling at the abandoned shop. Since the lights weren’t on, it had an unsettling, darkened feel to it, dust layering most of the still-stocked shelves and counter. However, despite that, it was quite surprising that everything looked as though it was largely in order, as though people had stopped going there altogether and left it exactly the way it was the day it closed down, which clearly must have been quite a few years ago based on the discontinued brands of snacks and food that the store offered.

“Whoa, this place is sweet,” Buck remarked as he adjusted his shades.

“D-do you guys really think it’s haunted?” Thompson asked a bit nervously.

“Na!” Nate scoffed with little concern. “Thompson, are you kidding me?”

“I gotta admit, though, it’s even creeper than I imagined!” Wendy grinned as the group disbanded to investigate the rest of the store.

As everyone spread out through the shop, Mabel headed for the counter, curiously wiping off some of the dust on the change holder sitting there with her finger before giving it an experimental like. “Yep,” she confirmed her suspicions with a small grin. “It’s dust.”

Steven stuck close behind Lars, Robbie, Lee, and Nate as they walked before the line of freezers in the back. Though he was admittedly still apprehensive about being there in the first place, he forced himself to try and relax, knowing that the chances of the moss harming them while they were inside were low. And besides, the abandoned convenience store itself was interesting enough of a place to distract him from his concerns. For the most part.

“Hey dude, where do you think they keep the dead bodies?” Lee asked Nate jokingly.

“Shut up, man!” Nate laughed as he shoved Lee, obviously not concerned with the prospects of the store being haunted whatsoever.

“So, uh, this place is pretty cool, huh Robbie?” Lars asked the teen in front of him, who wore an unimpressed scowl as he glanced around.

“I guess,” Robbie said apathetically. “If you’re into old hole-in-the-walls covered in dust.”

“Ha! Yeah!” Lars agreed a bit too heartily. However, before he could say anything else, Steven inadvertedly ran into him from behind, having not watched where he was going as he took a tentative glance towards the window to make sure the moss was still where it belonged. “Steven!” Lars exclaimed in annoyance, glaring back at him. “Watch where you’re going!”

“S-sorry, Lars!” Steven apologized, a bit startled, though Lars hardly noticed as he continued conversing with the other guys.

“Hey, guys! Check it out!” Wendy called everyone’s attention from the front of the store. They all turned to see that she was standing before the master power switches, grinning cooly as she prepared to flip them on. “You think these still work?”

Clearly they did, for as she turned the switches on, the entire store came to life with light and electricity. The florescent lights hummed as they illuminated the building, allowing everyone to get a better view of the snacks lining its shelves and treats filling the freezers. The entire group grinned in excitement over the fact that a whole new realm of possibilities for their evening had opened up, possibilities that they were more than ready to take.

“So… what do we do now?” Dipper asked Wendy curiously.

“Anything we want!” Wendy responded boldly, knowing that there was no one stopping them from doing whatever they pleased.

And so, the unrestrained fun began. Since the store had been untouched for so many years, no one in the group saw any problems with making good use of the countless bags of chips and candy by holding an impromptu food fight, complete with water balloons filled with soda as opposed to water. Using only a bottle of Pitt Cola and mints, they managed to create a cascading soda fountain, with everyone trying to catch a little bit of the soda in their mouths as it exploded in a sticky shower. Not a single person could deny that they were having the time of their lives as they went wild, disregarding rules entirely and embracing all the fun open to them. In the wave of activity and excitement, Steven gradually forgot about his anxiety concerning the moss and instead embraced the fun everyone was having, especially as he joined Mabel, Jenny, and Thompson, in building a tower entirely composed of candy bars. Maybe, just maybe, if things continued as well as they were going, this evening would be both safe and successful after all.

In fact, it was as Mabel was racing to get more candy for their growing tower that she happened across something that made her stop in her tracks and let out a gasp of surprise. “Oh my gosh!” she exclaimed as she stood before the display of candy sugar packets, immediately grabbing one as she stared at it in disbelief. “Smile Dip! I thought this stuff was banned in America!”

“You know, maybe they had a good reason for banning it,” Dipper said with a frown, having overheard his nearby sister’s elation at this discovery. However, he didn’t try to really dissuade her from trying it as he was struck by a soda balloon from behind, prompting him to laughingly run off to exact payback. With no one to convince her otherwise, Mabel grinned broadly as she opened up a pack of Smile Dip, shoving the stick into the sugary powder before disregarding it completely and pouring the entire package directly into her mouth.

The group had been living it up in the convenience store for over an hour, and the fun still showed no signs of slowing down.  Everyone was still spread about the shop, partaking in all of the creative entertainment they could come up with using the all resources the store had to offer. Dipper and Wendy were taking a break from the merriment as they relaxed together on top of one of the store shelves, enjoying ice cream bars as they watched everyone else have fun down below.

“Hey, come here! We got it ready!” Nate called to Thompson as he collaborated on a dare along with Robbie and Lee.

“Whatever it is, I’ll do it!” Thompson exclaimed as he rushed past the shelf Dipper and Wendy were sitting on top of.

“Thompson!” Wendy called in joking encouragement, laughing cheerfully as turned to the younger boy beside her. “Dipper, this night is like, legendary.”

“Really?” Dipper asked with a small, hopeful grin.

“Totally! Just look around,” Wendy said as she nodded towards the various groups having fun on the ground. “The guys are bonding…” she said, referring to Nate, Lee, and Robbie, who were pouring ice down Thompson’s pants. “Sour Cream hasn’t been this inspired in ages…” And indeed, Sour Cream was creatively raving to the song Jenny was playing from her phone as Buck, Lars, and Steven cheered him on. “I’ve never seen Tambry look up from her phone this long…” Of course, while Tambry was still texting away, she did happen to glance up from her phone every now and then as she sat hunched over it. “And your sister seems to be going nuts for that Smile Dip.”

Mabel let out a slightly nauseous groan as she lay against the Smile Dip display, her mouth coated with the ridiculously sugary substance. She had consumed at least ten packs of it in a row, and it was starting to become apparent that she had went a bit overboard. “Ugh, maybe I’ve had too much…” she admitted, trying her best to ignore her rumbling stomach. “What do you think?” she asked the giant puppy that existed only in her sugar-induced hallucinations. Dipper and Wendy watched with concern for a moment as Mabel continued to talk to her bizarre fantasies, before Wendy continued.

“You know Dipper, I wasn’t sure if you could hang with our crew at first, but you’re surprisingly mature for your age.”

“Yes, yes I am,” Dipper said with confidence, distracted by Wendy to the point that he inadvertently shoved his ice pop into the side of his face instead of his mouth.

“Hey guys! We need more ice!” Lee called as he shook an empty back of ice over Thompson’s pants as the latter visibly shivered.

“I’m on it!” Dipper volunteered as he hopped down from the shelf to head towards the ice freezer near the back of the store. He couldn’t help but grin in satisfaction as he did so, knowing that this this evening was turning out to be better than he could have ever imagined. Not only had he managed to prove himself to the teens, but he had also impressed Wendy, which had been his overall goal from the beginning. Dipper figured that if things continued going was good as they were and he continued to keep his cool, then perhaps, against all odds, he might actually have a chance with Wendy.

Dipper was so engrossed in that enticing thought that he didn’t notice that something was amiss as he opened the freezer and grabbed a bag of ice until he happened to glance up and see something that made him gasp in fear. Inexplicably floating inside the freezer was what appeared to be a phantom creature of unspeakable horror; it vaguely resembled a brain, only with two long, protruding eyestalks and several vein-like tendrils stemming from it. Upon merely taking a momentary glance at this bizarre monstrosity, Dipper let out a frightened shout as he slammed the freezer door shut, the bag of ice slipping out of his arms and spilling onto the ground in the process. For a moment, he simply stood before the freezer with his eyes wide and heart racing, before he tentatively cracked the door open once more and peered inside, only to find that there was no signs of the nightmarish monster; the only thing awaiting in the freezer was exactly what should have been there: ice.

“What was that?” Dipper spun around to see that most of the teens, as well as Steven, had congregated behind him, clearly having overheard his fearful cry earlier. “I thought I heard some lady screaming back here,” Sour Cream remarked, following up his prior question.

“You freakin’ out kid?” Nate asked, his tone jokingly dramatic.

“Uh, no,” Dipper said defensively, hiding his former distress well. “I’m cool. Everything’s cool.”

“Then what’s all this about?” Robbie asked caustically, pointing to the steadily melting ice spilled all over the floor.

The teens all collectively murmured their curious confusion as Dipper glanced around nervously, trying to come up with a viable, spur of the moment excuse that wouldn’t cost him any momentum with the teens. As he did so, he happened to briefly meet eyes with Steven, who, unlike everyone else, said nothing as he wore an expression of worry, as though he was silently and knowingly asking Dipper if something was wrong. Of course, he wasn’t about to admit the strange, disconcerting sight he had seen in front of all of the teens, lest they cast him as little more than a frightened kid in over his head. And so instead, he decided to detract them with a distraction instead.

“That’s uh, um… Hey, look!” Dipper exclaimed, pointing to the dance video game machine near the front of the store. “Dancy Pants Revolution! That game that tricks people into exercising!”

Fortunately, the teens took the bait as they all migrated towards the machine, Steven reluctantly following as well. Dipper breathed a sigh of relief at this, though he did anxiously take one last glance back at the freezer before putting thoughts of the terrifying monster he may or may not have seen out of his mind and joining the rest of the group.

Not surprisingly, Thompson was the first to try out Dance Pants Revolution merely upon Nate and Lee’s goading, and they were not disappointed as they cheered him on while he flailed and faltered in trying to keep up with the beat. “Wow, he’s really terrible at this,” Wendy laughingly remarked to Dipper as the two of them stood together, watching Thompson fail.

 Dipper let out a nervous laugh, having not really heard what she had said as he was still wrapped up in thought about the new realization he had reached in light of the freezer monster: the chance that the convenience store could really be haunted after all. “Yeah,” he agreed a bit distantly. “That… that’s great…” No more than a moment after he had said this, however, Dipper stole a glance over at the doors of the shop, only to be met with yet another startling sight. The reflections of everyone standing near the dance machine were clear in the glass, himself included, with one glaring difference. It was as though everyone had been robbed of their skin, so that they instead all appeared as erect skeletons instead, though none of them seemed to notice this horrifying imagery. Dipper gasped softly at this, rubbing his eyes to make sure that he wasn’t hallucinating like Mabel certainly was on her Smile Dip binge. But when he looked towards the window once more, their reflections were all as normal as they should have been. And though this normally would have comforted him, the fact that he had seen two frighteningly strange sights in a row only made Dipper worry even more.

Meanwhile, Steven was also keeping a watch on the windows, but for an entirely different reason. He dutifully watched for any signs of the moss making a move as he stood not too far away from Lars, who was trying to flirt with Tambry and Jenny to less than stellar results.

“So… Tambry…” Lars began with a smooth smile as he leaned against the counter close to her, despite the fact that she was still texting at a rapid rate. “That’s a pretty cool phone you got there. What brand is it?”

As engrossed in her phone as she was, Tambry didn’t offer any real response, largely because she hadn’t really heard him. Lars noticed this as he anxiously tried again. “Uh… Tambry?”

“Huh?” Tambry muttered boredly, not even bothering to glance over at Lars at all.

“…Never mind,” Lars sighed, seeing that he was getting nowhere with her as he turned to Jenny, who was also watching Thompson play Dance Pants Revolution. “So… Jenny… What’s working at the pizza shop like?”

“Pft, its lame,” Jenny shrugged. “I only do it ’cause my dad makes me.”

Lars let out a slightly obnoxious laugh at this, one that Jenny clearly found a bit off-putting based on her weirded out expression. “Yeah!” he agreed too heartily. “I totally feel you!”

“Uh… yeah…” Jenny frowned, obviously not wanting to prolong this awkward conversation. “Hey, Steven, what are you looking at?”

“Huh?” Steven jumped a bit startled at the question as he turned away from the window for a moment. “Oh, uh… nothing. I was just…” He trailed off as he glanced out the window once more, only to notice something that made him gasp in sudden fear. Though the moss had not shown any prior signs of movement, it had apparently creeped up from its original spot in the brief seconds he had looked away, to the point that it was now pressed against the base of the window. Steven stared at it with his mouth agape for a moment, watching with dread as it slowly crept up the window a little more, something that went unnoticed by Lars, Jenny, and Tambry. “Uh… I’ll be right back!” he said quickly, not noticing the aggravated glare Lars was shooting his way as he hurried off to another part of the store.

At the same time, Dipper had also snuck away from the others to find Mabel, knowing that if there was anyone he could confide in about the odd happenings he had observed, it was her. “Mabel, I need your advice,” he began, pacing anxiously as he often did when he was at a loss. “We’re hanging out at a haunted convenience store, apparently there’s a whole bunch of magical, deadly moss right outside, and if I say anything about it to any of these guys, they’ll think I’m a scared little kid or something!”

Of course, Mabel was in no real position to offer advice of any sort as she lay on the ground before the Smile Dip display, awash in the sugary candy and her eyes wide and clearly zoned out. The only response she could give was a lazy, yet intoxicated moan, a dazed grin on her face even as her brother shook her in an attempt to rouse her.

“Mabel! How many of these did you eat?!” Dipper asked with concern, knowing that Mabel had a tendency to go too far when it came to anything sugary.

“Beleven… teen…” Mabel murmured contentedly, her words slurring as her head drooped to the side. Seeing that she was unresponsive only made Dipper worry more, knowing that her sugar buzz was only making matters worse.

“Oh man…” Dipper said to himself as he dropped Mabel, letting her wallow in her craving as he began to panic, knowing that there was little he could do or say in this difficult situation. “Oh man…”

“Um… hey, Dipper?” Steven asked as he approached the other boy from behind, clearly startling him as he spun around with an agitated gasp.

“Steven! Don’t sneak up on me like that!” Dipper exclaimed, clearly on edge in light of everything that had happened.

“Sorry,” Steven apologized, though his expression gave away his own worry well. “But, uh… I need to talk to you. I think we should leave. Soon.”

“W-why?” Dipper asked, trying his best to hide his anxiety over the unfolding situation. “Aren’t you having fun?”

“It’s not that…” Steven frowned, though he was steadily catching onto the fact that Dipper was being as apprehensive as he was. “It’s the moss. I think it’s starting to climb up the window. See?” He pointed to the far window, where indeed, the moss was slinking up the glass in small increments, though neither boy had taken of the small crack that had manifested at its base.

“Oh,” Dipper acknowledged, admittedly relieved at this development. After all, if they could convince the teens to leave based on the threat of the moss alone, then perhaps they wouldn’t have to deal with the haunted aspects of the store actually manifesting themselves. “Well, if you think leaving is the safest thing to do…”

“I do,” Steven nodded with resolve. “So… should we tell everyone?”

“Uh… you can,” Dipper encouraged, knowing that it would be better if Steven interrupted the fun, as the teens probably would go easier on him due to his relative innocence and cheerfulness. “I’ll catch up with you in a second. I gotta get Mabel and everything, you know?” he asked as he pointed back at his still inebriated sister.

“Yeah,” Steven said with a small, relieved grin as he began to head towards the dance machine. However, before he could address them, Robbie gathered everyone’s attention first.

“Whoa, guys! You might wanna see this,” he called from behind the counter, prompting everyone to head over that way to what the big deal was. Against their better judgement, both Steven and Dipper joined the rest of the group, hoping that whatever it was, it wouldn’t take too long so they could convince the teens that they needed to leave.

Dipper was perhaps the least surprised out of the entire group that what awaited behind the counter was yet another sign pointing towards the store being haunted. The outlines of what looked to be the shape of two bodies were marked on the floor in tape, obviously proving that the store was indeed the site of a murder. Oddly enough, however, the floor surrounding the outlines was immaculate, clear of blood or any other signifiers that the victims had been intentionally slaughtered.

“Whoa…That is straight-up creepy,” Jenny remarked, her eyes wide with surprise.

“Looks like the rumors are true after all!” Lee exclaimed.

“Dude, I dare you to lie down in it,” Robbie elbowed Lee with a goading grin.

“Good idea! Go lie down in it,” Lee said, passing the dare onto Nate, who readily agreed.

“Hey look! I’m a dead body!” Nate laughed as he walked over the markings, preparing to step foot inside one of them before he was abruptly stopped.

“Wait!” Dipper exclaimed, his nerves getting the better of him and finally prompting him to speak up before something horrible had a chance at happening. “M-maybe let’s not do that.”

“Oh! This guy’s scared!” Sour Cream said a bit teasingly.

Dipper resisted the urge to outright deny this claim as he instead strived to come across as calm, something that he definitely was not internally at a moment like this. “All I’m saying is, why tempt the fates? I mean… what if this place really is… haunted?”

As he had been expecting, his apprehension was not well received. The teens all collectively booed upon hearing this, none of them buying it and instead passing it off as mere superstition. Only Steven seemed to share the same concerns as Dipper, though his were largely more centered around the moss, though the chances of the store being haunted worried him as well.

“Nice job taking it down a notch, Captain Buzzkill!” Robbie said caustically, sending a glare Dipper’s way.

“I thought I was Dr. Funtimes,” Dipper frowned, knowing that he was all too quickly losing ground.

“Well, you’re acting like Captain Buzzkill! Right, guys?”

The teens all nodded their consent, several of them crossing their arms as they frowned at the younger boy in dry exasperation. Even Wendy, who had largely been vouching for Dipper for most of the evening, couldn’t help but reluctantly agree. “Yeah, little bit…” she said with an awkward frown, glancing away from him.

Fortunately, Steven was quick to leap in, fending for the same line of reasoning as Dipper, though with a different fear behind it. “Uh… I don’t know you guys…” the young Gem frowned anxiously. “Maybe we really shouldn’t be here after all… I mean, there’s no proof that this place isn’t haunted… right?”

“Ugh, are you serious, Steven?” Lars asked with a bitter scoff. “I should have known that you and your lame friends would ruin tonight!”

Steven and Dipper exchanged fretful frowns upon receiving this collective admonishment, knowing that they were both losing favor fast amongst the teens because of their shared paranoia. However, though Steven was more concerned with making sure everyone was safe rather than his own reputation, Dipper wasn’t about to take such belittling lying down.

“Status update,” Tambry said sarcastically, still texting away on her phone. “Trapped in store with two insane nine year olds.”

“I’m not a nine year old!” Dipper declared defensively and firmly, proving his point by succinctly lying down in one of the tape outlines on the floor, despite Steven’s fearful gasp of warning. “I’m thirteen! Technically a teen!”

Of course, Dipper regretted his brashness no more than a moment after he did this as the tape markings on the floor around him suddenly traced themselves in a bright, haunting green light almost instantaneously. As he quickly scrambled to pick himself up off the floor, the lights throughout the entire store shut off, leaving everyone in the dark as they looked around with newfound fear and confusion. The most horrifying part of these sudden developments however, came when Tambry happened to glance up from her phone, only to be momentarily enveloped in a violet glow before dissolving into thin air entirely, only her phone remaining as it dropped to the ground unceremoniously. Mere moments after her disappearance, she reappeared, only now she was on the security camera TV hanging from the ceiling, letting out a horrified scream as she banged her fist on the screen she was somehow trapped behind.

“Tambry!” Wendy exclaimed with a frightened gasp of concern.

“Can you hear us in there?!” Steven called worriedly, though clearly Tambry could neither hear nor see any of them as she instead looked around in confusion from inside the TV.

“Oh man, I did not sign up for this!” Buck said, breaking his usual steady cool and replacing it with fear.

“What are we supposed to do?!” Nate asked in a panic.

“I don’t know, man! I don’t know!” Lee replied, equally as alarmed.

“Let’s just go already!” Robbie ordered, motioning towards the door. Everyone was quick to head that way, save for Thompson, who was still engrossed in Dance Pants Revolution.

“Thompson!” Wendy called to him, gleaning his attention.

“Wait! I’ve almost got the high score!” Thompson exclaimed as he jumped up and down to the beat, until the dance machine began to shake and glow with an unnatural light. “Uh…?” Before he even had time to react, Thompson vanished in a manner quite similar to how Tambry had disappeared moments earlier. However, instead of appearing on the security monitor, he rematerialized on the screen of the game as the directional arrows began to rain down upon him from above.

Time to shake what your mama gave you!” the machine declared in its usual cheery tone as the falling arrows began to strike Thompson.

“No!” he exclaimed, clearly in pain from their sharp tips. “Too many arrows!”

“You’re a dance machine!”

“No! You’re a dance machine!” Thompson retorted as he finally gave up, curling into the fetal position as the arrows continued to steadily fall on him.

“Thompson!” Jenny exclaimed in shock as the others watched all of this occur, none of them able to help him.

“Forget them! Let’s just go!” Robbie exclaimed, hurrying for the open doors of the shop, which slammed shut the moment everyone approached them.

“What the…” Wendy murmured in confusion as she did her best to pull the doors open, but much to her dismay, they wouldn’t budge. “Guys, it’s locked!”

No one really had the time to take in the fact that they were trapped in the midst of this chaos, especially as a new source of trouble suddenly made itself quite apparent. The glass window on the far side of the shop suddenly shattered, and though this could have been seen as an alternate escape, it was anything but as thick green moss began to migrate into the store through the opening, creeping towards the group at an alarming rate.

“Oh no!” Steven exclaimed, realizing his fears had come true. “Everyone, stay back!” The young Gem took charge as he threw his arms wide in front of the teens, essentially shielding them from the encroaching moss as it headed their way inch by inch.

“Steven, what is your deal!?” Lars exclaimed, just as frightened at this sudden turn of events as everyone else was, though he was quite surprised that Steven seemed to know exactly what was happening. “What is that stuff?”

“I-it’s some kind of magic moss my mom planted!” Steven explained quickly, pulling up his shirt a bit to see if he could get his shield to come out, but to no avail.

“Wait,” Lars said, his eyebrows furrowing in sudden frustration. “Your mom?”

“Quick!” Steven ordered as the moss began to completely dominate the area near the window it had broken. “To the other side of the store!”

No one objected as they all followed the young Gem’s lead, pressing against the opposite window as the moss steadily crawled their way. By now, everyone who was remaining was in a complete panic, their hearts all collectively racing as they tried to find a way out, which seemed like an impossibility now.

“Okay,” Wendy began, trying to keep her cool as much as possible as she tried to make sense of this. “So on one hand, we have some killer magic moss, or whatever. But then what made Thompson and Tambry disappear?”

“Wait!” Dipper exclaimed, a sudden idea hitting him as he pulled out the journal from his vest as he began frantically leafing through it for something that would help. “Whatever’s doing this has to have some kind of reason. Maybe if we can figure out what it is, they’ll let us out of here before the moss can reach us!”

“‘Uh-uh, they’ll let us out of here!’” Robbie mocked scornfully. “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense!”

“I don’t know guys, maybe he’s got a point!” Wendy said, knowing that some plan was better than nothing.

“Yeah right,” Lee remarked sarcastically. “I’m sure the ghost just wants to talk about his feelings!”

As soon as he said this, however, Lee also disappeared just like Tambry and Thompson before him, though instead of on a screen, he reappeared on a box of cereal sitting on a nearby shelf. Lee let out a horrified cry as he glanced up to see the toucan mascot on the box lift up his spoon before shoving it down into the bowl of milk and cereal that he just so happened to be in.

“Lee!” Nate cried in fear as he heard his friend’s pained shout. “Okay, okay… I’m with you kid! 100% man!”

As everyone focused on the moss ever inching their way, they failed to notice the figure slowly rising up into the air from behind the counter until they spoke up in a deep, haunting male voice: “Welcome.”

Upon being startled by this new, booming voice, everyone whipped around to see the last sight they had expected such a voice to come from: Mabel. It was clear that something was off about her however, as a intimidating blue glow hovered around her as she somehow floated above the group, her arms held out wide and her eyes bereft of pupils as they shared that same empty, eerie glow amidst glowering down at them all. Though initially horrified and bewildered at what was happening to his sister, Dipper soon reached a disturbing realization as he remembered the ghost that was actively haunting the store and quickly picking them off one by one.

  “They’ve got Mabel!” he exclaimed, filling everyone else in on the fact that his sister was apparently possessed.

“Welcome to your graves, young trespassers,” the ghost spoke through Mabel in its menacing voice, letting out a taunting laugh. “I would tell you that you shouldn’t be here, but it seems you’ve all already figured that out.”

“We’re super sorry for hanging out in your store!” Wendy exclaimed, trying to come off as sincere as possible despite her fear.

“Yeah!” Dipper agreed, having put the journal away as it really wasn’t helping much in this situation “Can we just go now and leave forever?”

“We promise we won’t come back!” Steven added pleadingly, keeping his watch on the crawling moss as well as the ghost, which was the only thing that could grant them an exit in light of the moss.

Well…. Okay. You’re free to go,” the ghost said, its tone surprisingly amicable as it willed the doors open. “But before you leave, hot dogs are half off! I know it might be crazy, all things considered, but you gotta try these dogs!”

Of course, the teens were having none of that as they took the opportunity for escape that was available to them instead of even so much as heeding what the ghost had said. Nate, Robbie, and Sour Cream were all the first to rush for the door, not withholding their unified cries of terror as they did so. Expectantly, before they could reach it, the ghost slammed the doors shut, sealing them tight as the moss began to stretch in front of it, sealing it even further.

“Just kidding about the hot dog sale!” the ghost proclaimed angrily, clearly having put forth the offer in spite.

“Just let us out of here already!” Nate demanded rather crossly, as tired as they all were of being tricked.

“I don’t like your tone!” the ghost retorted harshly before making Nate dissolve into thin air with just a mere glare in his direction. No more than a second later, he reappeared, strangely enough, as one of the several hot dogs inside the rolling warmer case on the nearby counter.

“No!” Nate screamed, panicking as he glanced down at his new meaty form. “I’m a hot dog!”

With only eight trespassers left out of the original group, the ghost apparently decided that it was time for the haunting to kick it into high gear. Still possessing Mabel’s body, it hovered even higher into the air, its arms held outside as the ghostly glow around it intensified. “It begins…” the ghost declared gravely, using its otherworldly powers to flip the entire store completely. Gravity seemed to reverse itself as everything that was once on the floor was abruptly pulled to the ceiling, including the moss. “Welcome to your home for all eternity!”

As the kids and teens also fell from what was once the floor, Buck, Jenny, and Sour Cream were all violently thrown sideways, or more specifically, towards the moss. Though the others had managed to cling onto things to weigh themselves down as the ceiling became their new floor, the three of them had not been as lucky as they fell right into the thicket of the moss, which was more than happy to begin swallowing them up upon contact.

“No!” Steven exclaimed fearfully as both him and Lars took shelter behind a flipped over shelf. “Lars, we have to help them! Come on!”

“Steven, wait!” Lars exclaimed, though he was able to do nothing as the younger boy desperately grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him towards the moss, which by now had all but covered Jenny, Sour Cream, and Buck, despite their attempts to struggle to break free from it.

“Even the moss from outside acknowledges your disrespect!” the ghost goaded with a triumphant laugh. “Now either it will destroy you, or we will!”

As Steven and Lars began futilely trying to rescue Jenny, Buck, and Sour Cream, Dipper and Wendy were doing their best to avoid the debris that were wildly being tossed about by the ghost’s telekinesis in an attempt to strike them. “Dipper, what do we do!?” Wendy shouted, noticing that Robbie had been knocked out by one of the randomly flying objects, though at least he was out of harm’s way.

“Duck!” Dipper exclaimed warningly, pulling Wendy down along with him as a shelf narrowly flew just above their heads.

“Quick! In there!” Wendy pointed to the cabinet of the nearby ice machine that had been tipped over onto its side, moss congregating in the space behind it, giving them little options of anywhere else to go. As the two of them crowded inside of it to catch their breaths, they glanced out at all of the chaos raging on in the rest of the store, both of them at a loss on how to stop it.

“What do they want from us!?” Wendy asked, obviously distraught after watching almost all of her friends be picked off.

“Revenge, I guess?” Dipper ventured, knowing that in light of everything that had happened, this made the most sense, even if the situation at large was all rather confusing.

“But for what? We didn’t do anything to them!”

“Okay, let’s try to figure out the pattern here,” Dipper said, trying to utilize logic and reason in face of all of the havoc. “Why was each person taken? Tambry was texting, Thompson was playing a video game, Lee was being sarcastic; it doesn’t make any sense!”

“Yeah! I mean, those are all just normal teenage things!” Wendy said, as equally as bewildered. However, upon hearing this, Dipper realized that this was perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle behind this bizarre haunting.

“Wendy, say that last part again,” he said, his eyes widening in realization.

“Normal teenage things?”

“Of course!” Dipper exclaimed, a newfound plan filling him with resolve. Of course, it was something of an embarrassing plan, but it was one he knew he had to implement for the sake of the greater good. “Stay here until I get back,” he said as he began to crawl out of the freezer, much to Wendy’s confusion.

“Dude, what are you doing?!” Wendy called with a concerned frown, half tempted to follow him until she relented, hoping that whatever plan he had would be a good one.

At the same time, Steven and Lars were still trying their hardest to rip away the moss from the other teens, though it seemed that with every small piece they managed to tear away, more moss would cover its victims in its place. “Guys, hang on!” Lars called to the teens, who were clearly having a hard time breathing as the moss steadily began to suffocate them.

As Lars became even more frustrated with the clinginess of the moss, Steven happened to glance up at the ceiling, or well, the floor, above them as he remembered something that Pearl had mentioned when he had first visited this spot several days ago with the Gems: “Rose Quartz used to climb that hill every spring and tend to the moss at the top in the light of the full moon…” It stood to reason that if the moss needed moonlight to thrive, then perhaps the reason it was acting so violently was that it had been deprived of it for so long in light of Rose’s absence. However, Steven knew there would be no getting the moss outside and up the hill thanks to the ghost barring their sole exit from the store. But perhaps all the moss needed was the light of the moon itself, and as Steven focused on the tiled floor above them, a sudden, yet risky plan came to him.

“Lars, I know what we have to do!” Steven exclaimed with newfound hope, just as Lars was giving up in trying to save the teens out of frustration. Unfortunately though, this also meant that he didn’t so much as heed a single word of what the young Gem had said as he lashed out instead.

“This is all your fault!” Lars shouted bitterly, showing the slightest signs of tearing up out of vexation. “I knew that if something went wrong tonight, it would be because of you! Now I’m never going to be friends with these guys, and it’s all because of your... weird mom!”

Despite the clatter of the haunting going on behind them, these heavy words hung on the air for what seemed like ages as Steven took them in, his eyes narrowing as his jaw dropped in offended shock. Though the young Gem was usually so patient and gentle, it was clear a nerve had been struck as he clenched his fists tightly at his side, his expression twisting into one of rage that Lars didn’t even know Steven was capable of. “What would you know about my mom?” he asked, his voice low and practically shaking with fury, before it finally exploded into an enraged shout. “I didn’t even get to know my mom! But I do know she saw beauty in everything! Even in stuff like this and even in jerks like you!”

A long silence hung between the two of them as Lars backed off, obviously regretting what he had said as he glanced down in shame. Steven let out a sigh himself, never liking to get so cross with anyone, even if it was completely called for. After all, he had indeed never gotten to know Rose; everything he had ever heard about her was from secondhand stories from the Gems or his father. He had never really thought much about it before, but the fact that he did not know his own mother nor would he ever get to know her, filled him with a sadness that he really couldn’t describe. But even so, Steven knew that there was no time to dwell on all that now, not when there were lives in danger. Now was the time for action, not mourning. “Come on,” he said to Lars, his tone still rather dry and bitter as he lead the way to a gathering of boxes in a corner of the store which was steadily being covered in moss. “We need to make a hole in ceiling.”

“You mean the floor?”

“It doesn’t matter!” Steven urged, already starting to stack the boxes into a tower. “Just help me!”

Lars didn’t argue this time as he helped Steven in any way he could, knowing that they were essentially racing against the clock now in saving both themselves and the teens from the moss. However, in the midst of their desperation, they failed to remember that the ghost was still fueling a haunting that was making their attempt all the more difficult, especially as it took notice of the tower of boxes they were building. “Hey there!” the ghost called, glaring threateningly at Steven and Lars as it began to glide Mabel’s body over to them. “What do you two think you’re doing?!”

The two of them exchanged a frightened glance as they froze amidst stacking the boxes, only to find that the moss was just about at their toes. If they didn’t start climbing towards the ceiling soon, they would meet the same fate as Jenny, Buck and Sour Cream, but they wouldn’t even have a chance to save them if the ghost got ahold of them first. Fortunately though, before the ghost could properly stop them, it was intercepted just in the nick of time.

“Hey, ghost!”

The ghost abruptly spun Mabel’s body around, head first, followed by the rest of her body, in a rather creepy fashion, towards Dipper, who stood before it boldly, refusing to back down in the face of this threat. “I have something to tell you!” Dipper exclaimed, sending a cold glare up at the ghost as he declared what he hoped it wanted to hear. “I’m not a teenager!”

All at once, everything that had once been floating around the store abruptly fell to the ground as gravity acted upon it all once more. Seeing that the ghost was clearly distracted, Lars and Steven let out a shared sigh of relief as they discreetly continued building their box ladder to the ceiling, knowing that they had no time to waste.

At long last, the ghost, or ghosts rather, freed Mabel from their possession to reveal themselves. Surprisingly, the pair of specters appeared to be an elderly couple, and a rather amiable looking couple at that. Based on their name tags, which read “Pa” and “Ma” respectively, as well as the work aprons they wore, it was easy to infer that they had probably worked at the convenience store at some point, if they weren’t its very owners. They both shared the same friendly grin as they held Mabel, who was completely dazed in the aftermath of being possessed, by her hair as they hovered above the ground for a moment before dropping her into the pile of candy just below them.

Well, why didn’t you say so?!” Pa laughed warmly in response to hearing that Dipper was not a teen after all. “How old did you say you were?”

Dipper hesitated for a moment, knowing that he finally had to come clean over the lie he had told earlier, but there was really little else he could do at this juncture. “I’m… I’m twelve. Technically not a teen.”

Oh, thank heavens!” Ma exclaimed with relief. “When we were alive, teenagers were a scourge upon our store!”

“Always sassafrassin’ costumers with their boomy boxes and disrespectful short pants!” Pa raved in frustration. “So we decided to up and ban them! But then they retaliated with this newfangled rap music.”

“The lyrics, they were so… hateful!” Ma exclaimed with apt horror, cringing at the memory. “It was so shocking, we were stricken down with double heart attacks! That’s why we hate teenagers so much. Don’t we, honey?”

“We sure do!” Pa proclaimed cheerily, nuzzling his wife romantically as the two of them embraced.

“But… they’re my friends,” Dipper said with a pitied frown, understanding the ghosts’ distain, even if he didn’t necessarily agree with it. “Isn’t there anything I can do to help them?”

“Well… there is one thing…” Pa said, his grin widening. “Do you know any funny little dances?”

“Uh… Is there anything else I can do?” Dipper said with an awkward smile, knowing that he would really rather do anything but that, especially in front of Wendy.

“NO!” Pa shouted, his patience suddenly all but gone as frightening flames surrounded his ghostly form.

“Okay! Okay!” Dipper exclaimed relentingly, backing up a bit to avoid being burned. “Um… Well… I do know… the Lamby Lamby Dance…” he admitted very reluctantly, hating even so much as bringing it up. “B-but I can’t really do it without a lamb costume! So…”

Dipper crossed his arms and grinned in satisfaction, hoping that this excuse would be enough to get him out of having to do the dance. Unfortunately, he underestimated the ghosts’ ability to bend reality, for with a mere snap of Pa’s fingers, Dipper found that he was suddenly clad in a full-body lamb costume, complete with wool, ears, tail, and all.

“Oh…” Dipper sighed with dismay, already feeling his face redden in embarrassment as he frowned down at the childish costume, knowing there was no way out of this now. “Well… There it is…” He took in a deep breath as he steeled himself for what was most likely going to be the most mortifying experience ever, not even bothering to glance back at Wendy, lest he back out of this entirely. Nevertheless, he figured he might as well get it over with, solely for the sake of saving everyone and little else. “Welll…Who wants a lamby lamby lamby? I do! I do!” he began the song and the sickeningly adorable dance that went along with it, still remembering every prancing step of it. “So go up and greet your mammy mammy mammy! Hi there! Hi there!”

Wendy suppressed a laugh as she watched Dipper perform the Lamby Lamby Dance, knowing that it was perhaps one of the silliest, yet cutest things she had ever seen. It also caught Steven and Lars’ attention just as they were starting to use a discarded pole to break a hole through the ceiling, with the hopes of making an opening just large enough. Steven let out a delighted gasp as he watched Dipper dance, grinning in amusement as he genuinely found it to be entertaining rather than embarrassing. Lars, on the other hand, cringed, thinking that nothing could be more corny, which was saying something considering how schmaltzy Steven often was. However, as their attention was drawn back towards the moss, which by now had begun creeping up the tower of boxes they were both standing on top of.

“Steven! It’s getting closer!” Lars exclaimed in alarm.

“Just keep pushing!” Steven urged as he pushed the pole further into the ceiling, having broken through the tiles, leaving only a layer of concrete between them and the sky.

“What’s gonna happen when we break through the ceiling anyway?” Lars asked, not getting the point of this plan.

“I-I don’t really know!” Steven admitted sheepishly.

“You don’t know?!”

“The moss needs moonlight to grow! That’s what it wants!” Steven explained, letting out a gasp as he felt it begin to cling to his feet.

“Ugh! It’s getting everywhere!” Lars shouted, losing mobility as the moss swallowed his legs.

“We’re almost there!” Steven encouraged as they rammed the pole into the concrete, creating a sizable crack in it. “Don’t give up!”

Of course, it was getting increasingly harder to do so as the moss began to overwhelm them all too quickly. The hole had nearly been caved into the roof just as the moss covered their arms, halting their movements entirely and leaving them effectively immobilized.

“Steven…” Lars said a bit stiffly as the moss crawled up his neck, threatening to suffocate him.

“What?” Steven struggled to ask, close to meeting the same fate.

Lars’ solemn manner quickly faded as he glared down at the moss encasing them. “This sucks!” he declared bitterly, before the moss swallowed him up, covering his face and freezing him where he stood.

“Lars!” Steven exclaimed fearfully, his final word muffling as the moss overcame him as well, the hole they had so desperately tried to carve into the ceiling still unopened as a sign of their failure.

The moss still continued to creep along the floor of the store, hoping to claim more victims, though Dipper had not time to notice this as he was still in the midst of gratifying the ghosts via the Lamby Lamby Dance. “So march march march around the daisies…”

“Yes!” Pa cheered as him and Ma cheerfully applauded, clearly eating it up. “More! MORE!”

“Don’t don’t don’t you forget about the babies!” Dipper went in for the big finish, complete with a charming wink, despite the fact that he was thoroughly exhausted and humiliated in the aftermath of the abhorred dance. At the very least, though, he could take solace in the fact that it was over, especially as the lamb costume turned back into his normal clothes courtesy of the ghosts, who were clearly pleased.

“That was some fine girly dancin’, boy!” Pa praised heartily. “Your friends are free. Though you might wanna be careful about that moss.”

“A really sweet young woman used to come around here and take care of it, but it’s been a few years…” Ma said with a frown. “I wonder whatever happened to her… Oh well!”

“Well, I don’t think you have to worry about us coming back, so…” Dipper said with clear relief, though he didn’t have much time to react to the fact that the ghosts abruptly vanished into thin air, clearly no longer restless as they had been before. With their powers no longer acting upon the store, gravity reverted back to normal, everything and everyone falling back down to the floor. Tambry, Thompson, Lee and Nate all suddenly reappeared, none of them worse for wear, even if they were all a bit dazed. However, by far the most miraculous thing in all this was the fact that the sudden shaking of the foundation of the store caused the hole that Lars and Steven had been working on in the ceiling to finally break open, creating a rather sizable opening that allowed the light of the full moon directly above the store to shine through.

The bright glow of the moonlight struck the moss squarely, and the effect was almost immediate. As Wendy emerged from the freezer cabinet, her and Dipper found that they were essentially cornered by the moss, which had already begun swallowing up all of the other teens almost as soon as they reappeared, much to their horror. However, as the moonlight fell upon the moss, it was as though it received all new life. Instantaneously, the green moss erupted into an abundance of pink blossoms, which all began to float upward and out of the store through both the hole in the ceiling and the now open doors. The small flowers were radiantly beautiful, with glowing pink gems at their centers and petals as soft as silk. As they glided up into the air, they released everyone from their once mossy prisons, leaving all of them breathless, but safe as they recovered.

Steven and Lars abruptly fell from their box tower after being freed from the moss, but neither of them were hurt as they picked themselves up and joined Dipper and Wendy, who were now standing in doorframe of the store watching the flowers rise.

“This is seriously the coolest thing ever, man,” Wendy said with clear awe before she gave a sly grin to Dipper. “Aside from what you just did, dude.”

“Yeah, well…” Dipper trailed off with an embarrassed grin, finding it hard to believe that Wendy actually thought the Lamby Lamby Dance was anything resembling cool, but relieved to know that she did not think any less of him for it.

“The moss was just trying to bloom!” Steven grinned brightly as he watched the flowers dance through the air with stars in his eyes, knowing that his mother would be proud.

It wasn’t long before the others started joining them near the door, Mabel being the first as she was steadily recovering from the aftermath of her intense sugar rush. “Ugh…” she groaned, feeling sick as she barely even noticed the rain of blossoms. “I’m never gonna eat or do anything every again…”

“Hey, look! There’s still some left!” Dipper said as he spotted a discarded package of Smile Dip on the ground, picking it up and offering it to Mabel.

“Evil!” she exclaimed, wanting no parts of the disastrously sugary candy as she slapped it out of her brother’s hand.

“What happened after everything went crazy?” Lee asked, still a bit on edge as all the teens were.

“I think we died…” Sour Cream moaned, still feeling a bit week.

“But look at that!” Jenny exclaimed, clearly amazed by the countless wafting blossoms reigning the sky as they glided towards the moon itself, glowing radiantly in the starlight.

The teens all shared muses of awe at this sight, all of them clearly impressed. “It’s beautiful,” Buck remarked, adjusting his shades as they reflected the moon.

“But… what freed us from that stuff?” Jenny asked in confusion.

“Well, Steven thought of-” Lars began to explain before he was abruptly interrupted.

Lars broke a hole in the ceiling to let the moonlight into the store!” Steven said with an enthusiastic grin, not at all begrudging Lars the credit he wanted. Clearly, he hadn’t been expecting this, especially after he had insulted both Steven and his mother, but he couldn’t help but feel grateful for it as Buck, Jenny, and Sour Cream gave him their grins of approval.

“I can totally rave to this,” Sour Cream declared before he did exactly that, moving to the impromptu beat of the other teens cheering him on amidst the blossoms falling.

Steven and Lars exchanged a friendly grin as they stood by, a new understanding clearly formed between them. Though Lars had once seen Steven as an annoyance and little else, he couldn’t deny that if it had not been for the enthusiastic young Gem, he wouldn’t have gained any ground among the cool kids at all. Which was why he intercepted Steven’s attempt to give him a basic high five by instead high fiving his chest instead as a show of his gratitude.

“Yeah!” Steven laughed cheerfully, returning the favor as he slapped a hand on Lars’ chest and kept it there.

“Okay, that’s enough,” Lars said a moment later, his grin fading into an awkward frown as the gesture had gone on too long for his comfort.

“Wait, so if Lars took out the moss, what happened to the ghosts?” Robbie asked, rubbing his head as he recovered from being knocked out earlier.

“You guys aren’t gonna believe it!” Wendy began with a zealous grin. “The ghosts appeared, and Dipper had to-” She cut herself short as she glanced over at the younger boy, noticing his embarrassed expression as he expected her to reveal the humiliating way in which he got rid of the ghosts. But instead, she spared his reputation and did the exact opposite. “Uh… And… uh, Dipper just grabbed a bat and started beating down ghosts left and right! And then the ghosts got all scared and ran away like a couple of little girls! It was insane!”

Dipper was quite shocked to hear all this, even if he was immensely relieved, especially as the teens all regarded his supposed heroism highly. As a sign of confidentially between them in this matter, Wendy turned to Dipper amidst everyone else celebrating and reveling in the falling flowers and nonchalantly zipped her lips, silently telling him that this would forever be their little secret. Dipper gladly returned the gesture, taking satisfaction that despite everything that had gone wrong and all of the danger they had been through, he had accomplished his original goal in getting closer to Wendy after all.

It wasn’t very long before the blossoms all disappeared into the night and everyone decided it was time to call it quits for the night. As exhausted as everyone was, most of the teens clonked out as soon as they piled into Thompson’s car, with Dipper and Wendy being the last to do so as they chatted outside.

“Well, I’m probably scarred for life,” Wendy said with a rather relaxed grin in light of what had happened.

“Yeah, that was pretty crazy…” Dipper admitted with a small smile, knowing how close they had all been to being doomed in a variety of ways.

“I think I’ll go stare at a wall for a while and rethink everything,” Wendy said, her calm manner fading into a serious one for a moment, though she was quick to chill again as she climbed into the van. “Hey, next time we hang out, let’s just stay at the Mystery Shack, ok?”

“Next time?” Dipper asked with newfound hope in the confirmation that the two of them would do something like this again, only hopefully in a less harrowing situation. “Yeah! Let’s hang out at the shack!” he heartily agreed as he got into the car himself, this time gladly sandwiching himself between Steven and Mabel. “Next time…” he muttered with a satisfied smile.

“You know, all in all, I think tonight went well,” Steven said with a cheery grin as the car roared to life and began to drive away from the convenience store. “Right, Lars?”

“Whatever…” Lars said tiredly as he leaned against the window. “Ugh, I’m getting Sadie to cover for me tomorrow. I need a day off after all that…”

Still sick from the aftereffects of the Smile Dip, Mabel let out a sluggish groan as she glanced down at the note she had scribbled onto the interior of the door earlier, reading “You look nice today!” with her bleary vision and clearly not getting it. “What kind of sick joke is this?” she asked languidly, before immediately succumbing to sleep just as the rest of the teens had.

As the van filled with both kids and teens left the convenience store behind, none of them noticed its lights flicker on and off until they eventually died out entirely, leaving the store just as it had been before they arrived. Abandoned as it sat in the shadows of a hill now bereft of the moss that had once grown there, but now had bloomed towards the skies.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Strong in the Real Way

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In the occasional event that the Gems would allow Steven to accompany them on one of their missions, the young Gem always eagerly leaped at the chance, and this particular mission was no exception. Though Garnet had made it clear that this was a routine inspection, with little chance of any danger befalling them, Steven didn’t mind. The thought of getting to see another legendary Gem structure was exhilarating enough for him.

Stars were already in the young Gem’s eyes as they warped to their destination, which was obviously quite a ways from Gravity Falls. Instead, it was somewhere in the middle of a desert, though thankfully the Gems were spared from the heat of the day as they had chosen to go at night. The bright glow of the moon rested upon the imposing structure only a few feet away from the warp pad, an illustrious pillared tower that stretched high into the starry skies as it emitted a thin beam of light from its tip that stretched even higher, perhaps even into space.

Steven’s jaw was agape with awe as he stepped off the warp pad, the other Gems following not too far behind. “Whoa…” he whispered in amazement as he stared up the length of the tower. “What kind of magical place of mystery is this?”

“Oh, I’m so glad you asked!” Pearl grinned, always eager to divulge Gem knowledge to Steven. “This was once a communication hub, used to send messages among Gem-kind. But lately, it’s begun transmitting bursts of electromagnetic interference!”

“What’s that mean?” Steven asked with a confused frown as the group headed over to the pillars of the structure.

“It’s hurting television,” Garnet said succinctly, placing her hands on her hips.

“Oh no!” Steven exclaimed with a gasp of dismay. “We have to do something guys! We can’t let television die!” In an admirable, yet futile effort to “save television”, the young Gem pressed his weight against one of the load-bearing pillars near the ground in an attempt to shove the whole tower over, though of course it didn’t budge.

“Sorry, dude,” Amethyst grinned slyly as she easily picked Steven up and set him aside, curtailing his efforts. “But we need a Steven at least…” she paused as she shapeshifted into the younger Gem, only a taller, more muscular version of the original. “This strong for the job!”

Steven let out a wonderstruck gasp at seeing the buff rendition of himself. “It’s all the me I could be!”

Still shapeshifting as Steven, Amethyst let out a rouge laugh as she gave one of the pillars a hearty punch, creating a crack in it and sending a bit of debris flying from it, but ultimately failing to cause integral damage.

Pearl shook her head disapprovingly as she deftly caught a piece of the rubble, knowing that a plan would be necessary to tackle this problem as opposed to brute force. “Amethyst, we could be here all day taking down these pillars individually.”

“Ugh, I hate it when you’re right…” Amethyst groaned in annoyance as she shapeshifted back into her original form. “You get this look on your face-” Before she could continue, she happened to glance over at the white Gem and notice the aggravatingly smug grin she was wearing. “Yeah, that’s the one.”

“What we need is a well thought-out plan…” Pearl began strategizing, her Gem glowing with an oncoming hologram that she could use for illustrative purposes, before she was abruptly cut off.

“No,” Garnet said with resolve. “We don’t need a plan. What we need is Sugilite. Amethyst, fuse with me.”

WHAT?!” both Pearl and Amethyst exclaimed in absolute shock, though the later was quick to break out into a series of uproarious screams of unbridled joy. Amethyst excitedly dashed forward, leaving Pearl behind as she glanced away somewhat bitterly.

“Yeah!” Amethyst cheered in clear delight. “Let’s mash it up! Bigger! Badder! Better! Woo!”

As the purple Gem continued to enthusiastically celebrate, Steven watched her elation with confusion for a moment before he began to gather what was going on. “Wait wait wait!” he exclaimed, briefly halting Amethyst’s revelry. “Are… you guys going to turn into a Gem fusion?”

Amethyst simply screamed happily as a reply, and her excitement was contagious as Steven soon joyed her, more than ready to see another fusion, especially one between Garnet and Amethyst.

“Wait!” Pearl broke in, practically shouting with her protest as she tried to call them all to reason. “Garnet, think about this. You and Amethyst can be a little… um… unstable when your personalities combine. We need to be careful in this situation. Why don’t you fuse with me instead?”

“We don’t need to be careful,” Garnet replied with honesty as she placed a consoling hand on Pearl’s shoulder, understanding her position, though she was still going to do what she believed was appropriate for the situation at hand. “We just need to be huge.”

“Oh yeah!” Amethyst cheerfully bounded towards Garnet, already fully prepared to begin fusing. “Let’s wreck this joint!”

Garnet agreed as she held up her hands, the gems on both of her palms already starting to glow in anticipation. “Synchronize,” she ordered calmly, before she began to smoothly move her hips in time with their dance. Steven watched eagerly, but before he could see much more of it, his eyes were abruptly shielded by Pearl, who found the whole display to be a bit too inappropriate for him.

“Wha-? Who-?” the young Gem frowned in dismayed confusion. “Aw… C’mon, Pearl! I wanna see!”

He managed to pry away the white Gem’s fingers just a bit to get a glimpse of the fusion dance. Garnet continued to swivel her hips and arms in deft, easy gestures, as Amethyst shook her shoulders about as her own gem began to shine. The two gradually began to approach each other, with Garnet planting herself in a firm, open stance before Amethyst took the initiative and rushed for her fusion partner in a zealous dash. Immediately upon contact, the two Gems’ bodies merged, the fusion emitting a dazzling display of violet light that shot high into the air, until, out of the obscurity of the light, a set of five glowing eyes emerged. As the light faded to reveal the fusion, she quickly covered four of them with a set of triangular shades, leaving only one atop her forehead exposed.

Garnet and Amethyst’s fusion was massive to say the least. She easily dwarfed Opal in size and made both Pearl and Steven look even smaller by comparison. Her frame was strong, muscular, and stocky, and her four arms were all buff as could be. Her skin was a dark lavender and her hair was a deep purple unkempt main that hung down her back messily. Her outfit was easily a mix between Garnet’s and Amethyst’s, with a predominantly violet coler scheme, rugged tears in several places, and pronounced shoulder pads. She wore a confident, sharp-toothed, twisted grin as she let out a loud playful laugh that rumbled across the desert like thunder.

“Ha! It’s been a while!” the fusion exclaimed boisterously, cracking one set of her knuckles. “I forgot how great it feels to be me!”

That’s Sugilite?” Steven asked with an impressed grin, stunned at just how larger-than-life this new fusion seemed to be.

“You got it, baby,” Sugilite replied with a sly smirk. “Hey, Steven, wanna see something cool?” she asked, bending down a bit closer to him and Pearl.

“Yeah!”

“Then check this out.” As Sugilite rose to stand, she summoned Garnet’s gauntlets, which were now big enough to fit her large hands. As the gauntlets rose up from her palms and joined together in a connected fist, Amethyst’s whip caught the end of them as Sugilite pulled the combined weapon, now a giant flail, back down to the ground as it landed beside her.

Steven could scarcely contain his amazement upon seeing this, something that Sugilite clearly noticed as she let out another chuckle. “You like that, little man?”

“Are you gonna smash stuff with your giant wrecking-ball thing?” Steven asked eagerly, knowing that he couldn’t wait to see Sugilite throw her impressive strength around.

“That’s the plan!” the fusion shouted heartily. “Where should I start?”

“Do that one!” Steven exclaimed, pointing to the nearest pillar of the tower. Sugilite was quick to indulge him as she easily heaved her flail, swinging it around recklessly until it struck the tower squarely, creating a shower of rubble in the wake of its destruction.

Unable to hold back her distaste towards such a needless show of violence, Pearl finally voiced her disapproval as she realized that it was far too dangerous for Steven to be in Suglite’s careless presence. “Steven, I think we should go.”

“What? No way!” Steven frowned. “This is awesome!”

As Sugilite continued plowing down the numerous pillars of the hub, the chunks of debris thrown from it became even larger, something that Pearl took notice of as they fell closer to her and Steven. “Watch what you’re doing!” she shouted angrily to the uncontrollable fusion, preemptively kicking one of the rocks that was flying their way in half. Unfortunately, one half of it managed to go haywire and accidently strike Steven squarely in the forehead, knocking him to the ground he let out a pained gasp. “Steven!” Pearl shouted worriedly before glaring at Sugilite for being responsible for this. “Ugh! You’re just… too much!”

“Maybe you’re just too little!” Sugilite taunted, holding her flail back before letting it lose with another uncalculated swing.

“Steven, we’re going,” Pearl said with finality, picking Steven up and taking him to the warp pad amidst the rain of debris before he could be hurt anymore.

“B-but I’m fine!” Steven protested, holding a hand against the injured spot on his forehead. “What about Sugilite? We can’t just leave her here!”

“She can find her own way home!” Pearl said bitterly, not willing to hear another word about the overpowered fusion as her and Steven warped away, much to the young Gem’s disappointment. And they did so just in the nick of time too, as mere seconds after they left, a large rock fell from the debris of the tower and crashed into the warp pad, shattering it completely.

With relatively little persuading, Dipper and Mabel had convinced Stan to take the morning off work and go to Greasy’s Diner in town so they could satisfy their appetites with a late breakfast. Normally, the con man would have denied such a request on the grounds of saving money, but he admittedly hadn’t been in the mood for dealing with the usual round of scatterbrained customers at the shack and so he sided with the kids just this once.

Since it was a sleepy Sunday morning, business at the diner was booming. A large number of the town’s residents were enjoying breakfast as the Pines arrived and took a seat at a booth. Despite the bustling activity, they were waited on fairly quickly, before the twins even had a chance to decide what they wanted, though it soon became apparent that Stan had already made a meal choice for them all.

“Lazy Susan!” Stan greeted the waitress with a bright grin. “There’s my little ray of sunshine! What were you up to yesterday?”

“I got hit by a bus!” Lazy Susan replied cheerfully.

Stan let out a hearty laugh at this, not believing her to be serious. “Hilarious!”

“Thank you!” Susan chuckled in return, her laughter going on for an awkwardly long amount of time.

“So, you do split plates here, right?” Stan asked, glancing over the menu.

“Maybe…” Lazy Susan said a bit coyly, forcing her one constantly shut eye up into a wink.

“Great! We’ll all split one-fourth of the number seven, plus a free salad dressing for the lady and a small plate of ketchup for the boy,” Stan ordered succinctly, ignoring the glance of dismay Dipper and Mabel exchanged upon hearing what little food their miserly great uncle expected them to eat.

“But Grunkle Stan, I want pancakes!” Mabel protested as Lazy Susan scribbled the order down and walked away from the table.

“With the fancy flour they use these days?” Stan scoffed. “What am I, made of money?” As he asked this, a dollar bill peeked out from his suit sleeve, though he was quick to tap it back into hiding before the kids could catch onto him.

Before either Dipper or Mabel could complain further, the clamor of the entire diner was suddenly broken as the door abruptly burst open, drawing everyone’s attention that way. Steven stood in the doorframe, his posture bold as he stood with his arms crossed and his sunglasses further punctuating his “tough” manner along with the white gauze generously wrapped around his head. The young Gem clearly noticed all of the attention as he nodded to the crowd of restaurant patrons who were all giving him confused glances. “’Sup,” he greeted simply, dropping his voice down a little to sound more masculine. Steven carried a bit of swagger in his step as he moved through the restaurant, which had buzzed back to life as everyone began muttering gossip amongst themselves.

“Whoa! Steven, what happened to you?” Dipper asked with concern as the young Gem approached their table.

“Seriously, you’ve got enough bandages wrapped around your head to patch up an amputee,” Stan remarked sarcastically as he took a sip from his coffee.

“Oh, this?” Steven asked nonchalantly as he leaned against the table. “Just a little… battle damage from our last mission.”

“Oooo, like what?” Mabel asked with a curious smile. “Did you guys face off against a giant monster?”

“Nope,” Steven replied, smirking as he took off his sunglasses. Without any further prompting unraveled the bandages that Pearl had generously applied to reveal his “injury”: a cut on his forehead that was so small that one had to squint to properly see it. “I got hit by a rock!”

Upon seeing the young Gem’s minuscule scratch, all three of the Pines burst out laughing at how amusingly underwhelming it actually was. Steven frowned in confusion at this, clearly not getting the joke.

“It must not have been a very big rock,” Dipper said, still chuckling good-nautredly.

“Well… uh… There’s… internal bleeding!” Steven said defensively. “My hurt is on the inside!”

“Oh come on, kid, suck it up,” Stan said, rolling his eyes. “I’ve seen paper cuts worse than that.”

“You’re right…” Steven said with a disheartened sigh as he took a seat at the booth beside Dipper. “I’m soft… I guess I’ll never be as tough as Sugilite…”

“Sugilite? Who’s that?” Mabel asked.

“Oh yeah!” Steven perked up almost instantly, realizing that he hadn’t told the twins about the fusion he had met last night. “You guys remember Opal, right? The fusion between Pearl and Amethyst?” He paused for a moment as all three of them nodded in recollection, since their encounter with Opal had been just about a week ago. “Well, it turns out Garnet and Amethyst can do that too. So last night we needed to smash this tower thing, so they fused together into a super beefy, giant, giant woman named Sugilite! You guys should have seen her! She was so cool and loud and fun!”

“I wish I could!” Mabel exclaimed enthusiastically, remembering well how amazing Opal was as she tried to picture Sugilite. “Is she still around?”

“Eh… yes and no,” Steven said with a half-smile. “I’m pretty sure Garnet and Amethyst are still fused, but I don’t really know where she is now since me and Pearl left Sugilite back in the desert last night. I’m not really sure why, but I don’t think Pearl likes her that much…”

“Oh gee, Pearl not liking something that’s fun? That’s a shock,” Stan deadpanned dryly.

“But yeah…” Steven sighed again, his excitement fading as he leaned back in his seat. “Sugilite is way strong. She can break a huge rock just my throwing her wrecking ball at it! I wish I could be as tough as her…”

“Eh, I wouldn’t sweat it too much, kid. It’s not like you’re alone in that boat,” Stan said, shooting a rather pointed glance to Dipper.

“What?” Dipper asked in confusion, not catching his uncle’s drift.

“No offense, Dipper, but you’re not exactly “Manly Mannington”,” Mabel said with a chuckle, sharing Stan’s opinion.

“Hey! I am too Manly… Manny… or whatever it is you said,” Dipper protested, trying his best to hide his already growing embarrassment at being called out on this point.

“Face the music, kid,” Stan began apathetically. “You got no muscles, you smell like baby wipes, and let’s not forget last Tuesday’s… “incident”.”

“What happened?” Steven asked.

“No!” Dipper exclaimed immediately, knowing exactly what incident Stan had been referring to. “Grunkle Stan, don’t tell them!”

“I walked in on him singing “Disco Girl” to himself in the bathroom mirror,” Stan laughed, ignoring his nephew’s pleas and getting a good laugh out of both Steven and Mabel.

“You were listening to girly Icelandic pop sensation BABBA?” Mabel asked with a teasing grin, finding it hilarious that her brother was into such effeminate music.

“Me and Amethyst heard that song while listening to the radio once,” Steven recalled with a wry grin. “She said that the only people who listen to that kind of music were middle-aged, single women. And Pearl.”

“Well, I wasn’t listening to it!” Dipper affirmed defensively, even if he knew that was a lie. “It’s not important anyway. I’m plenty masculine. You see this chest hair?” he asked as he pulled his shirt down a bit, only to reveal his completely bare chest, with not a single hair in sight.

“Put it away!” Mabel cried jokingly, laughing as she shielded her eyes from how pale and empty her brother’s chest was.

“So smooth! My eyes!” Stan leapt in on the teasing just as heartily, joining his niece in another round of laughter at Dipper’s expense.

“Aw man…” Dipper muttered with a disappointed frown as he pulled his shirt back up in embarrassment.

“Don’t feel bad, Dipper,” Steven reassured empathetically. “I don’t have any chest hair yet either.”

“See?” Stan interrupted, still taking great amusement in all of this. “It’s not so bad! At least you two can be wimps together!”

Dipper and Steven exchanged a frown at this, both of them tired of being belittled for their relative lack of strength or toughness. Even if they were both still rather young, they were both in the general age range in which qualities of manliness were supposed to begin showing themselves, so why hadn’t they yet? Were they merely late bloomers or were they just doomed to be forever weak and fragile? If it was indeed the latter, then Dipper was resolved to fix that as soon as possible.

“Fine, family of little faith,” Dipper said firmly after taking notice of the manliness tester towards the back end of the diner, which advertised a stack of free pancakes as a prize to the winner. “Allow me to prove to you just how manly I am by winning us all some free pancakes by beating that manliness tester. Get ready to eat your words,” he said with a confident grin as he got up from his seat. “And some delicious pancakes.”

“You? Beating a manliness tester?” Stan called after Dipper as he headed over to the machine, garnishing the attention of the curious restaurant patrons. “Ha! That’ll be the day!”

Dipper largely ignored his uncle’s teasing as he approached the machine with determination, knowing that the simple game couldn’t be that hard to beat. Steven anxiously followed not too far behind, wanting to test his hand at the manliness tester as well so he could further aspire to share Sugilite’s strength.

“Uh… Dipper? Are you sure you’re up to this?” Steven asked with an uncertain frown, admittedly intimidated by the machine himself as the two boys stood before it.

“Are you kidding? Of course, I am!” Dipper scoffed, feigning his own confidence as he realized the majority of the restaurant was watching him in anticipation. Taking in a slightly nervous breath, he moved his hand over to the machine’s handle, not quite taking hold of it yet as he mentally conditioned himself for this test of strength. “Okay…” he muttered in anxious preparation. “Here we go… And a one and a two-”

“Quit stallin’!” Stan called out impatiently from the other end of the diner, putting even more pressure on Dipper as he was prompted into quickly grabbing the handle. With as much force as he could muster, he forcibly pulled back on the lever, straining what few muscles he did have. Both boys’ faces lit up with increasing excitement as they watched the light move up the machine’s level indicator, slowly blinking from “whip”, to “middle-aged woman”, to “barely passible” as it gradually started to increase towards “man” and “manly man”. However, before it could really come close to either of these categories, Dipper unfortunately and quickly reached his limit, and the machine clearly detected this as it immediately bottomed back down to “wimp” as his final result. To add even more embarrassment to this already humiliating failure, the machine spat out a small card with the image of a baby that read “You’re a cutie-patootie!”

“Aw! What a cute baby!” Steven beamed as Dipper took the card with a dismayed frown.

“Oh what?” he asked in offended disbelief, hoping that something was simply wrong with the machine, even if he knew that probably wasn’t the case. “This thing must be broken. It’s totally broken, guys!” he said, turning to the face the restaurant customers who had all watched him lose. “It’s like, a million years old. Probably ran out of steam power or-”

Before Dipper could finish, both him and Steven were abruptly pushed out the way by Manly Dan, who cracked his large knuckles before making his attempt at the machine. “Hey, um, excuse me?” Steven asked a bit timidly as him and Dipper picked themselves up off the ground. “I was going to try-”

The lumberjack didn’t so much as heed the young Gem as he simply nudged the machine’s handle with but his pinky, the light spiking all the way up to “manly man”. Apparently, the manliness tester couldn’t handle Manly Dan’s brute strength, as it imploded immediately after, flinging the stack of free pancakes sitting beside it all across the restaurant so a least one landed on the plate of every patron. “Yes!” Manly Dan shouted in loud triumph. “Pancakes for everyone!”

No one was about to turn a free breakfast down as they all cheered and began scarfing the pancakes down. Dipper and Steven both frowned in disappointment, largely in themselves, especially as they noticed that Stan and Mabel were laughing at them even more than before.

“Um… Steven, at the risk of embarrassing ourselves even more, I think we should go!” Dipper quickly said to the other boy, knowing that this situation was beyond mortifying.

“Good idea,” Steven nodded in immediate agreement, just as flustered as they rushed out of the diner. Both of them tripped over each other as they clumsily ran out, though they were quick to pick themselves out and leave with all due haste, both boys sharing the resolve to toughen up in any way possible.

“Yeesh!” Stan remarked as him and Mabel watched Dipper and Steven hurry out. “How am I related to that?”

“Oh come on, Grunkle Stan,” Mabel said, feeling a bit bad for how she had teased the boys in retrospect. “Everyone has a soft side deep down, some more than others. I bet even you do too!”

“Ha! Not a chance!” Stan said, crossing his arms. “There’s nothing in this chest but a cold, dark, empty soul.”

Though Mabel wasn’t entirely convinced, she had not time to protest as Lazy Susan arrived at the table with the measly breakfast Stan had ordered. “Here ya go!” she said with a cheerful grin as she placed the plate down.

“Thanks there, sugar pot,” Stan began, though the hint of trepidation in his tone was clear. “I-I mean, uh, honey wasp, k-kitten baby, baby cow, uh…”

Susan merely chuckled in response to the con man’s impromptu pet names. “Ha! Silly!” she beamed as she began to head back to the kitchen. “Silly man…”

“What was that about?” Mabel asked Stan with a curious frown once the waitress had left.

“Nothing,” Stan said stubbornly, awkwardly glancing away. “I don’t wanna talk about it. Talk about what? Why is this table sticky?”

“Wait a second…” Mabel said, catching on to what she had just observed. “Oh my gosh… I think I get what’s going on here! You-”

“No!” Stan protested before she could even say it, though nothing could really contain Mabel when she was excited.

“And her-”

“Stop it!”

“AHHHH!” the girl screed, nearly deafening her grunkle with her elation.

“Oh boy…” Stan sighed, knowing there would be no defusing her now.

“You have a crush on Lazy Susan! Aw! You really do have a soft side!”

“Hey! Keep it down will, ya?” Stan hushed her quickly before anyone could hear, especially the waitress in question. “Alright. I don’t like admitting things like this, but you got me. I guess it would be kinda nice if she liked me. But I’ve been out of the dating game for so long, I wouldn’t know where to start! I mean, look at her. She’s so classy.”

They both turned to see Lazy Susan beating the broken pie case in frustration, trying her best to get it to spin but failing. “She may be a bit out of your league…” Mabel began, resolve burning in her to make this unattainable romance happen for her hapless uncle. “But don’t worry, Grunkle Stan. You may be a cranky, gross, weird old man-”

“Is that supposed to be reassuring?”

“But we’ll get Lazy Susan to like you, because nothing is stronger than the power of-”

“Love?”

Mabel,” the girl corrected him boldly, confident in her match making skills. “To victory and romance!”

“One… t-two… t-t-three…”

“Two… three… f-four…”

“H-hey… Dipper…?”

“Y-yeah, Steven?”

“Are… are you making any progress?”

“Hold on; let me check.” Admittedly grateful for the interruption, Dipper set the branch he had been trying to bench press aside as he sat up and glanced down his shit, checking carefully to see if any masculine hairs had emerged. After leaving the diner, the boys had taken to the woods, hoping that the ruggedness of the outdoors would inspire them as they both conspired to work towards their shared image of manliness together. To this end, they had decided the best place to start was a solid, steady workout to help increase their strength and muscles, even if they both were essentially starting from nothing. “No chest hair yet…” Dipper sighed in disappointment as he flopped back down into the grass. “What about you?”

Still breathing heavily from exerting himself through a relatively small number of pushups, Steven took to an upright sitting position as he checked his chest as well, only to find nothing. “Nope,” he frowned, though he quickly perked up again once more. “But we are just starting out. I’m sure that if we keep at it, we’ll both be buff in no time!”

“More like in twenty years,” Dipper remarked sarcastically. “What are we missing here? Is it physical, is it mental? What’s the secret to being strong?”

“Maybe it’s magical!” Steven suggested optimistically. “At least, that’s what seems to work for the Gems…”

“Well, unlike you, I’m not a Gem,” Dipper said dryly, wishing that it could come that easy to him. “Which means I actually have to work for this.”

“Hey, I’m only half-Gem remember?” Steven asked, half-heartedly remembering how effortlessly Sugilite had thrown her massive flail around as a show of her marvelous strength. “So I guess the only thing we can do is keep working out. We’re bound to get stronger eventually!”

“At this rate? I doubt it,” Dipper sighed in defeat as he pulled out the bag of beef jerky they had picked up on the way to the woods for them to share as a snack. “We’re gonna need some serious help.”

Before either of the boys could dig into the bag of jerky, the ground beneath them suddenly began to softly tremble, though the shaking grew stronger with each passing second. By the time it escalated to the point that neither Dipper nor Steven could really keep their footing, the nearby forest animals had all cleared out, rushing through the clearing with frightful speed as they fled from the source of the rumbling.

“W-what is that?!” Steven shouted fearfully above the clamor.

Dipper had no time to respond as a loud, fierce roar sounded from the forest, most likely the source of the shaking earth. “Who cares!? Let’s just get out of here!”

They both quickly turned in an attempt to flee, but before they could take even a single step, their path was blocked off by the tree that had suddenly come toppling down only a few feet in front of them. Seeing that there was no escape, the boys spun around to face this danger with a horrified cry, though Dipper was quick to correct his high pitched scream by throwing his voice a bit to make it sound lower and more manly. Both boys froze with fright as a huge, burly monster stormed out of the woods. Well, not exactly a monster; instead, the creature seemed to be mostly human, very tall, muscular, hairy and undoubtedly masculine. At the same time, however, he seemed to have several bovine features, such as a snout and sharply-pointed horns; likewise, his legs were more akin to those of a bull, hooved, stocky, and covered with ruddy hair. He belted out a wild roar as he stomped into the clearing, though it soon morphed into a yawn as he easily picked up a nearby dear in his large hand and used its antlers as a backscratcher before tossing it aside and glaring down at the two young boys cowering before him.

“P-please, don’t eat us!” Dipper pleaded fearfully as him and Steven trembled together in the shadow of this massive creature.

“We don’t taste good at all!” Steven vouched nervously. “And I’m really chewy; not in the good way, either!”

“Yeah!” Dipper readily agreed, backing up into the tree just behind them. “And I haven’t showered. And I’m all elbows! Elbows and grilse!”

“YOU TWO!” the manly creature bellowed in a deep, powerful voice, frightening the two boys even more, despite the fact that his apparent rage quickly reverted to complacency. “Gonna finish that?” he asked, poiting to the bag of jerky that had fallen to the ground between Steven and Dipper.

“Um… no…” Dipper frowned as he exchanged a confused glance with Steven, before tossing the masculine monster the bag of jerky. Upon catching it, he savagely tore the bag open and devoured the strips of dried meat savagely as the boys stood by and watched curiously.

“Whoa…” Steven remarked with a small, amazed grin. “He’s so beefy! He reminds me of Sugilite!”

“I can’t believe it,” Dipper said, equally as awed. “Part animal, part human. Are you some kind of minotaur?” he asked the creature, who had just finished scarfing down the entire bag of jerky.

“I’m a manotaur!” he roared boldly in response. “Half man, half… uh… half taur!”

“Cool!” Steven exclaimed with a grin.

“So… did we like, summon you, or-” Dipper began to ask, though he was quickly cut off.

“I smell of jerky summoned me! JERKY!” the manotaur shouted fiercely as he easily punched a nearby tree down before smashing a rock against his head merely as a testament of his brute strength. “YEAH!” he let out a hearty laugh before he paused and bent down to sniff the two youths before him. “I smell… emotional issues.”

“Aw… you mean you don’t smell the scent of manly toughness?” Steven asked in disappointment.

“Nope; the only things I smell from you two are sweat and desperation,” the manotaur said, crossing his buff arms.

“You got us,” Dipper sighed in relent. “We’ve got problems, manotaur. Man-related problems.”

The manotaur nodded gruffly as he plopped down to a sitting position with a loud thud, patting his leg as he prompted both boys to join him so he could listen to their shared plight. From there, Dipper and Steven launched into their relatively short tale of embarrassment and the woes that came along with their lack of masculinity. The manotaur nodded in understanding as he heard their troubles, though as they listed them, both boys soon reached the same idea as to how they could fix them.

“Hey, you know, you seem pretty manly,” Dipper said to the manotaur as soon as him and Steven were finished with their explanation. “Maybe you could give us some pointers?”

“Yeah!” Steven chimed in agreement. “If there’s anyone who knows about being tough, I’m sure it would be someone as manly as you!”

“Very well,” the manotaur said as he rose to stand. “I shall train you in the arts of manliness! Climb atop my back hair, children!”

Dipper and Steven exchanged an uncertain glance as the manotaur knelt down to allow them to scale his rather grimy back hair, but they tentatively did so nonetheless. Before they could really even get a good hold, the manotaur began barreling through the woods at a thunderous pace, disregarding any obstacles in his path. The boys held on for dear life as they crashed through tree branches, soared over a sizable gorge, and finally crashed through the rocky side of a mountain through sheer force alone. Though they were a bit shaken up from the rough trip, both Steven and Dipper were instantly awed by the place they now found themselves in.

They large cave they had smashed their way into was an absolute mess, littered with discarded bones and food scraps. At the same time however, it was also outfitted with several other features, including an impressive set of barbells, a few dart boards lining the stony walls, and even a foosball table. All of these activities were being enjoyed by the countless other manotaurs filling the cave, who were all aptly tough and macho in both their appearance and mannerisms.

“Whoa… This place is amazing!” Dipper remarked as him and Steven dismounted from the manotaur’s back.

“The gnomes live in trees, the merpeople live in the water… ‘cause they’re LOSERS!” the manotaur proclaimed with pride. “But we manotaurs crash in the MAN CAVE!” With another loud roar, he punched the nearby gong with his bare fist, catching the attention of the other manotaurs. “Beasts! I have brought you two hairless children!” he announced as he pushed the two boys forward for the other manotaurs to see.

“Hiya!” Steven greeted with a friendly, cheerful grin.

“…S’up,” Dipper said much more anxiously, clearly intimidated by the horde of incredibly manly manotaurs towering over them.

“This is Pubetor,” the manotuar began, going down the line of other manotaurs as he introduced them. “Testosteror… Pituitor… And I’m Chutzpar. And you two are?”

“I’m Dipper,” the first boy introduced himself, though he was quick to add a masculine addendum to his name as the manotaurs booed, clearly not impressed. “The… uh… Destructor?”

The manotaurs nodded in complacent approval of this title before Steven quickly came up with an additional name for himself. “And I’m Steven the Strong Guy!” the young Gem boldly proclaimed, much to the amusement of the manotaurs who took his title with a round of hearty laughs.

“Dipper the Destructor and Steven the Strong Guy want us to teach them the secrets of our manliness,” Chutzpar informed the other manotaurs after silencing them with another bang of the gong.

“We really need your help, guys!” Dipper practically pleaded, knowing that the manotaurs might be their only chance for learning how to be truly tough. “We’re both seriously lacking in the chest hair department!”

“And we wanna get huge, beefy muscles, just like all of you!” Steven added, flexing a bit to show his desire for toned, meaty biceps. “And like Sugilite. She’s a really tough Gem fusion, just so you guys know.”

“GEM?!” several of the manotaurs roared in angry unison, startling both boys quite a bit at their sudden shift in mood.

“What business do you have with those dainty, frilly Gems, boy?” one of the manotaurs asked Steven harshly.

“Oh, well I am one,” Steven explained, seeing nothing wrong with that fact as he pulled his shirt up to reveal his Gem. “Well… half-one, anyway.”

“Long have we manotaurs quarreled with the so-called Crystal Gems,” Pubitor explained bitterly. “Their girliness is an insult to our MANLINESS!” he shouted as he brutally punched the manotaur beside him right in the face, though of course, he took it like a man.

“O-oh… Um… Well…” Steven began, trying to come up with something to say in defense of the Gems. After all, he really did find them to be quite strong in his eyes; perhaps not as macho as the manotaurs, but still quite tough and tenacious warriors all the same.

“Well, Steven is only half Gem, like he said,” Dipper cut in, hoping that the manotaurs would still accept them both despite the rivalry they apparently had against the Gems. “So… that shouldn’t really be that much of a problem, right?”

The manotaurs hesitated to themselves for a moment or two, muttering their dissent amongst themselves as both boys anxiously awaited their verdict. However, as they convened within a collective huddle, their discussion soon erupted into little more than a brutish fist fight, which was how the manotaurs solved most of their dilemmas. Eventually, the exchange of fists died down as the manotaurs apparently reached a consensus, which they finally relayed to Steven and Dipper. “After a lot of punching, we have decided to deny your request to learn our manly secrets.”

“Denied?” Dipper repeated in clear dismay.

“Aw… Why?” Steven asked with a disappointed frown.

“The keys to manliness are far too sacred and awesome to give out to humans, and especially to prissy Gems!” Testostoraur growled firmly, the other manotaurs nodding in resolved agreement.

“B-but what if we-” Steven began, though Dipper was quick to interrupt as he utilized the sudden idea he had just come up with.

“Okay,” he said calmly, pretending to be not at all concerned with their reaction of them. “That’s fine with us. Obviously you guys must think it would be too hard to train us. Maybe you’re not man enough to try.”

“Not MAN enough?” one of the most burly manotaurs asked, clearly appalled by the boy’s audacity.

“Destructor…” Chutzpar cautioned, already seeing how this call-out was incurring the wrath of the other manotaurs.

“Not MAN enough?!”

“He didn’t mean it.”

“I have three Y chromosomes, six adam’s apples, pecs on my abs, and FISTS for nipples!” the enraged manotaur shouted brutally as he glared down at the two boys. “We’re ALL more manly than you’ll ever hope to be!”

“I-I believe you!” Steven stammered nervously, shrinking back a bit out of fear.

“I dunno…” Dipper said caustically, still upholding his casual manner. “Seems to me like you’re too scared to teach us how to be men. Maybe it’s just too much of a challenge for you guys. In fact… it kinda seems like you’re all a bunch of-”

“Dipper, don’t say it!” Steven pleaded in a whisper, not too keen on the idea of getting pummeled into the ground by a group of angry manotaurs.

“Chickens,” Dipper finished with a bold, daring grin. He could tell just by how insulted the manotaurs all seemed to be by this statement that he had them right where he wanted them. Fortunately, Steven’s fears of the manotaurs taking their anger out on the two of them were disproven as they formed a huddle once more and quickly talked over their previous decision before announcing their intention to change it, lest they be proven cowards.

“After a second round of deliberation, we have decided to help you two become men!”

“Men! Men! Men!” the manotaurs all chanted loudly as Steven and Dipper high-fived in triumph of their unexpected success, knowing that their journey into manliness and toughness was about to begin.

“Thanks guys,” Dipper said with a grin of satisfaction. “Whatever we have to do, we won’t let you down.”

“Yeah!” Steven added enthusiastically. “Just you wait! We’ll be the toughest, strongest men the world has ever seen!” Despite his boldness, he quickly retracted this statement as the manotaurs all growled their mutual disapproval of it. “A-aside from you guys, of course!”

Mabel had practically dragged Stan out of the diner so they could begin what she called “dating practice”. Though the con man wasn’t as enthusiastic as his niece, he didn’t complain too much as they headed back to the shack, especially since they had managed to leave the restaurant without paying for their meal, which was more than good enough for him.

“Okay, Grunkle Stan,” Mabel began as her and Stan emerged from the car once they got back to the shack. “Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life! We’re gonna teach you how to impress a lady! But first, a before picture.”

Before Stan had really even gotten out of the car, Mabel suddenly snapped a rather unflattering picture of him, startling him to the point that he nearly fell right back into the car. “I never miss a scrapbookertunity!” Mabel proclaimed brightly as she slapped the picture into her scrapbook. “Ah, memories…”

“Listen, kid, I appreciate your energy, but can’t this wait till later?” Stan asked with relative disinterest. “I had a big day of sitting around and watching TV planned out and I kinda don’t wanna miss out on that.”

“C’mon, Grunkle Stan,” Mabel said with a bit of an impatient huff. “You’re not getting any younger. Who knows how many years you have left to find love?”

“Gee, thanks,” Stan said, rolling his eyes sarcastically.

“Just you wait,” Mabel said with determination. “By the time we’re though, Lazy Susan will think you’re irresistible! Let’s start with some roleplaying. Soos! You can come on out now!”

The handyman stepped out of the shack at this que, oddly enough dressed in drag and plenty of makeup, much to Stan’s confusion. “Soos will play Lazy Susan,” Mabel said to her grunkle with a confident grin.

“I’m soft, like a woman,” Soos remarked, gesturing to the dress Mabel had given him to wear.

“Uh… I don’t know about this…” Stan frowned, already feeling uncomfortable with this situation.

“Oh, you’ll do fine,” Mabel said with a casual wave of her hand. “First of all, show me how you approach a woman. Remember, this is a safe, non-judgmental environment. I’ll just be right off to the side here judging you on a scale from one to ten.” However, before this simulation could begin, Mabel happened to catch sight of the familiar figure coming along down the forest path towards the intersection between the Mystery Shack and the Gem temple, and she didn’t hesitate to cheerfully greet her. “Hi, Pearl!” she called as the white Gem passed by, not noticing her apparent anxiety.

“Oh, hello Mabel,” Pearl put on a quick smile, though it faded into confusion as she noticed Stan and Soos. “Um… What’s going on here?”

“We’re teaching Grunkle Stan how to talk to women!” Mabel informed her chipperly. “Wanna watch?”

Pearl frowned as she looked Stan over, already knowing there would be no success on that front. “…No,” she said simply, not offering much of a goodbye as she turned and continued up the path to the temple. Stan merely scoffed with slight distain and little concern as he watched her go.

“Ok! See you later then!” Mabel called out after the white Gem as she turned her attention back to her current project. “Alright. Ready and… flirt!”

Stan did as he was told, taking in a deep breath as he approached “Lazy Susan” with apt confidence. However, he quickly lost his edge as soon as he rudely spit to the side and held out his hand demandingly. “Can I borrow some money?” he asked callously, though Mabel was quick to call out his failure with a blow of her whistle.

“This is gonna be harder than I thought…” she sighed, knowing that she certainly had her work cut out for her.

The ongoing bubble of anxiety Pearl had been feeling ever since they had left the communication hub only grew as she arrived back at the temple to find that neither Garnet nor Amethyst, or even Sugilite for that matter, had returned. It was already early afternoon and the fusion had been MIA ever since the previous night, much to the white Gem’s alarm, especially considering the fact that the desert warp pad was inexplicably down. While Pearl didn’t doubt her teammates could hold their own, she knew well what happened to fusions who remained together for too long, and considering how brash and volatile Sugilite was, the chances of that occurring were dangerously high.

However, instead of arriving back at the house to find Garnet or Amethyst, the white Gem did happen upon another pair as she glanced up to the loft after noticing the trail of discarded clothes leading up to it. Pearl frowned at the mess as she came to stand at the base of the stairs, glancing up to the two boys who had scarcely noticed her arrival as they were apparently hunting through a large pile of clothes for something.

“Steven? Dipper?” Pearl called up to them, catching their attention instantly.

“Oh, hey, Pearl,” Dipper greeted with a casual grin as Steven quickly popped his head out of a mountain of clothes.

“Pearl!” the young Gem exclaimed. “Have you seen my sweatbands anywhere around here? We need them for something really important!”

“I… can’t say that I have…” Pearl said with slight confusion as she distastefully glanced over the clothes scattered all over. “What do you need them so badly for anyway?”

“We’re going to learn how to be real men from a group of manotaurs,” Dipper explained as both boys climbed down the stairs to the main floor.

“What?!” Pearl asked with a concerned gasp.

“Yeah!” Steven chimed, having managed to find one of the sweatbands he had been searching for not too far away from the stash of jerky that they were going to take back to the Man Cave so they could stay in the manotaurs’ good graces. “They’re gonna teach us all sorts of stuff about being tough! We’re gonna get supa strong! Like Sugilite!”

Pearl flinched a bit upon hearing the reckless fusion’s name, but she ignored her resentment for Sugilite for the moment as she focused on the more immediate issue. “Manotaurs?” she repeated with a disapproving glower. “How on earth did you two run into those brutes anyway? They’re hardly a good source of advice, considering the fact that they rarely think.”

“Oh yeah! They mentioned something about having some sort of rivalry with you guys,” Dipper said, remembering how the manotaurs had made their derision for the Gems quite clear. “What’s the deal with that?”

“Well… it’s not so much of a rivalry as it is… a mutual sense of contempt,” Pearl said rather blatantly. “We try to get along with all of the various tribes and creatures of Gravity Falls, but the manotaurs have never been willing to meet us halfway. Apparently, they have a problem with our “girliness”, whatever that means.”

“Aw, come on, Pearl,” Steven pleaded. “The manotaurs aren’t so bad. Like we said, they’re gonna help us be manly!”

“Yes… Well, maybe that’s not such a good idea…” the white Gem remarked dubiously, knowing that if there was anything that both the manotaurs and Sugilite had in common, it was that they certainly took the concept of being “tough” way too far.

“What?” Dipper asked with a puzzled frown, not understanding what Pearl was so apprehensive about. “Why not?”

“Um… Well…”

“But Pearl,” Steven protested zealously, cutting the white Gem off. “How else are we gonna become men?”

“You know, maybe being a… ‘man’ isn’t the most important thing,” Pearl cautioned tentatively. “After all, you both are still rather young. And besides, there are different ways of being strong…”

“But we wanna be strong in the real way!” Steven emphasized, believing that lied only in physical strength and little else.

“Yeah!” Dipper readily agreed with a confident grin. “Like men!”

“Yeah!” Steven cheered in response before launching into a round of enthusiastic chants, which Dipper was quick to join in on as the two headed out. “Men! Men! Men!”

“Steven, Dipper, wait!” Pearl called out after them, though they hardly heeded her as they left to head back to the manotaurs. The white Gem let out a worried, somewhat disdainful sigh as the door slammed behind them, still wanting to derail them from the risky path they had chosen. But instead, she merely glared down at the clothes littering the floor, creating quite a mess as she thought of how headstrong and thoughtless both boys were being, much like the manotaurs and the fusion they were striving to be like.

She should have guessed that Steven would become enthralled with the idea of being “strong” after seeing Sugilite’s careless display of raw physical power the previous night. However, the fact that him and Dipper had decided to follow after the barbaric ways of the manotaurs only made matters worse. Pearl couldn’t help but feel as though they were both searching for the wrong kind of strength in the wrong kind of places. If they had only asked, then she would have been more than happy to educate them in a much more well-rounded kind of strength, one that was physical and mental, one that would never falter no matter what the occasion. But instead, they had chosen brute strength, which, at most, was only ever superficial and temporary, hardly anything resembling what she believed to be real strength.

Not really knowing how else to vent her frustrations over the situation, Pearl resorted to the method she often took when she wanted to express her deeper emotions: song. And so, she busied herself with tiding up the mess of clothes the boys had left behind as she sang to no one in particular, her harmonious voice belting out throughout the house in a passionate melody nonetheless.

“Why do you have to look up to them? Aside from in a literal sense…” the white Gem began with apparent scorn as she gathered a bundle of Steven’s clothes and began folding them neatly. “Don’t you know that a power that big, comes with a bigger expense?”

An expense that, at least Pearl believed, was common sense. Physical strength had its place, but she knew that reliance on it could be deadly, something that both Steven and Dipper had yet to learn. “And can’t you see that they’re out of control and overzealous? I’m telling you for your own good, and not because I’m-”

She quickly cut herself off before she could even admit it to herself, even if she knew it was true. The aversion she harbored towards the manotaurs was one thing, but her hidden envy towards Sugilite ran far deeper than she really cared to express. “I could show you how to be strong… In the real way. And I know that we can be strong… In the real way!”

Pearl paused for a brief moment as she stole another glance towards the door, a new idea striking her. She couldn’t deny that she was quite concerned for both boys in their mission towards manliness, especially since she had a firsthand idea of how unforgiving and harsh they could be. Perhaps, even if they weren’t going to listen to her advice, the least she could do was follow after them from a distance and keep an eye on them to make sure they weren’t getting hurt or pushing themselves too far. She figured she would only really get involved if the situation spiraled out of their control; otherwise, she was content to let them learn the error of their ways the hard way. “And I want to inspire you,” the white Gem sang boldly as she ventured out of the house, knowing that she would easily be able to catch up with Steven and Dipper as they made their way back to the Man Cave. “I want to be your rock, and when I talk, it lights a fire in you…”

As it turned out, the manotaurs had quite a training routine cut out for the two boys, a “gauntlet of manliness”, as they called it. Nonetheless, Dipper and Steven were more than ready to take on the all of the challenges laid out before them, no matter how daunting or intimidating. As was expected, all of these tasks involved some form of physical strength or endurance, as their first trial of pulling the manotaurs’ “party wagon”, made clear. As the boys went through each of these manly tests, Pearl was never too far behind, taking refuge behind trees or just outside of the Man Cave as a refrain of her song rang through her mind as she watched them struggle for their idea of strength.

“I can show you how to be strong… In the real way…”

The white Gem couldn’t help but roll her eyes as the manotaurs eagerly plastered both boys in temporary tattoos as symbols of their increasing manly toughness or how they foolishly tried gluing hair to their bare chests. Though she didn’t have much knowledge on what human men believed to be masculine, she hardly thought such things were dignified or respectable when combined with the Neanderthal behavior the manotaurs were known to exhibit.

“And I know that we can be strong… In the real way…”

Regardless of Pearl’s low opinion on the situation, neither Steven nor Dipper could deny they were having the time of their lives with the wild, eccentric manotaurs, who, despite their rough exteriors, were actually quite likable. Though some of the activities they took part in were questionable, such as the obstacle course they had set up over a gator-filled river, they still knew how to have a good time with their complete disregard for manners or authority. For all of their manly statures, both boys couldn’t deny that there was a wonderful, refreshing freedom in all of it, one that not only liberated them, but made them feel as though they were making real progress on their road to masculinity.

“And I want to inspire you, I want to be your rock…”

As the day progressed and the challenges became more physically demanding, it was becoming quite apparent that Steven in particular was starting to lag behind in comparison to Dipper, who only became more zealous and passionate about their trials. Though neither boy was used to such strenuous activity, the young Gem was starting to realize that he was less fit than he thought, especially when they were tasked with scaling up a tall cliff-face with but their bare hands alone. They both managed to reach the top, though Steven only managed to do so with Dipper’s help, despite the manotaur’s firm motto of “every man for himself”. Though Pearl nearly emerged from hiding upon seeing how worn out and fatigued the younger Gem was, she restrained herself; after all, Steven had to learn that the strength he sought came at a price, even if it was as simple as a tired body and sore bones.

“And when I talk, it lights a fire in you…”

After several hours of hard work and several manly challenges later, the boys finally got a well-deserved break as they joined the manotaurs in relaxing in one of the Man Cave’s hot springs. Steven especially appreciated this as he sunk low into the refreshing, boiling water, hoping that it could soothe his aching muscles, which had been worked to their limit throughout their intense training session. However, he knew it would all be worth in the end when that raw soreness would hopefully be exchanged for muscles as big as the manotaurs’ or Sugilite’s.

“Guys,” Dipper said to the manotaurs with a grateful grin, feeling quite indebted to them all for the advice and training them had imparted thus far. “I just wanna say that these last few hours have been…”

“Painful…” Steven moaned, his voice muffled a bit as he spoke half submerged in the water.

“Well, yeah,” Dipper admitted, not able to deny that he was a little sore himself after spending the day using muscles that weren’t used to being employed. “But I really do feel like we’ve been making progress here I mean, you guys took us under your wing and you’ve all been so supportive.”

“Yeah!” Steven chimed with as much enthusiasm he could muster, sitting up a little, even if the movement alone made his back ache even more. “You guys are the best, hands down!”

“Oh, stop,” Chutzpar said with a wave of his hand, clearly flattered, as all the other manotaurs were.

“No, you know what? Steven’s right; you guys really are the best,” Dipper said with sincerity. “I think I speak for both of us when I say that we’re really starting to feel like men thanks to all of you.”

Steven nodded in enthusiastic agreement with this statement, knowing that his sore bones were obviously a sign that he was inching his way towards being stronger. However, despite the boys’ shared confidence, the manotaurs were not yet convinced. “Not yet, Destructor,” Chutzpar clarified. “One final task remains for you both. The deadliest trial of all.”

Another one?!” Steven whispered in exasperated concern, not sure if he could take another test of his already wavering strength.

Dipper, on the other hand, was ready for any test or task the manotaurs had in store for them. “We’ve survived forty-nine other challenges,” he said with a daring shrug. “Whatever it is, bring it on!”

Steven sucked in an anxious breath upon hearing this, not quite sharing the same sentiments. While he wanted to be strong and manly just as much as Dipper did, the young Gem felt as though he had already pushed himself too far to this end, to the point that he wasn’t quite sure if he could push himself any further. Especially if this final challenge was as dangerous as the manotaurs were implying. But even so, Steven refrained from protesting, not wanting to be seen as weak or afraid by any of them. After all, Sugilite certainly wouldn’t ever back down from a trial, no matter how daunting. Neither would he.

Wanting to get this final manly test over with so they could claim the rite to be called true men, the boys followed the manotaurs to their great hall deep within the Man Cave. While neither of them were really sure about what the nature of this last challenge would be, they were both a bit anxious as they stood together, waiting for further instructions about what supposedly deadly task they were to undertake. They didn’t have to wait for too terribly long however, as the clanging of the gong rung out throughout the cave, calling all of the manotaurs to attention.

“Behold our leader!” Chutzpar announced, throwing his arm out to the obscured back of the cave. “Leadertaur!”

At this, a rather old, somewhat small manotaur stepped forward, his long beard greyed and his muscles nowhere near as impressive as those of his younger brethren.

“Aw… He’s so old and wrinkly!” Steven gushed with a small grin.

“So, is he like the oldest, or the wisest, or…?” Dipper trailed off in slight confusion, having not expected such an weakly elder to be very highly revered among the manotaurs. And as it turned out, his suspicions were right, for no more than a moment after he posed this question, the old manotaur was abruptly captured in the jaws of a much larger, much more monstrous figure.

“Nah, he’s just the offering,” Chutzpar corrected. “That…” he paused to point to the massive manotaur who had just devoured the elder whole, a fierce beast that was at least ten times as large as the other manotaurs and somehow even more masculine, if that was even possible. “Is Leadertaur.”

Both boys were awestruck and admittedly terrified as they craned their necks up to get the full scope of the manotaur leader, feeling incredibly small and intimidated in his presence. “YOU!” Leadertaur bellowed, his booming voice bouncing off the cave walls as he shouted at the two youths before him. “You wish to be men?!”

Though Dipper responded to this question with a bold battle cry, Steven simply swallowed and nodded nervously, trying his best to hide the fact that he was shaking fearfully. Leadertaur seemed to accept this, however as he continued, his tone stoic and stone-cold as his harsh, eternally glaring expression. “Then you both must do this heroic act. Go to the highest mountain and bring back the head of…” The manotaur leader paused as he suddenly let out a loud roar, reaching in between his toned pecks before pulling out a pair of crude spears. “The Multi-Bear!”

The other manotaurs let out a collective gasp as Leadertaur threw the two spears down at the boys’ feet, providing them with weapons to complete this challenge. “The Multi-Bear?” Dipper asked with a hint of trepidation in his tone as he glanced down at the spear before picking it up. “Is that some sort of bear…?”

“He is our sworn enemy!” Leadertaur growled with fierce scorn. “Conquer him and your mansformation will be complete!”

“C-conquer?” Steven asked with a frown, taken aback by this concept. “As in… kill him?”

“Of course!” the manotaur leader exclaimed as if it were obvious. “How else are you going to prove your manly strength?!”

Steven and Dipper exchanged an uncertain glance upon hearing this, neither of them too keen on the idea of actually taking out another living being, even something that sounded as frightening as the Multi-Bear. The young Gem in particular found an anxious pit in his stomach forming as conflict filled him over this dilemma, but thankfully, before he could voice these concerns to the manotaurs and be called out for them, Dipper had the courage to do so first.

“…I don’t know, man…” he said with a hesitant frown, not as much intimidated by the thought of facing off against the Multi-Bear as he was the task of slaughtering it in cold blood that they had both been given. He knew well that being violent was all part of being a man, but as far as he knew, the Multi-Bear was innocent. Did he really deserve to be killed just because of an ongoing rivalry he apparently had with the manotaurs?

“Hey, Destructor? Is this yours?” Chutzpar called to Dipper from across the cave, apparently having rooted through his backpack to happen upon the BABBA CD he kept in it. The boy let out a frightened gasp as he quickly snatched it away, trying his best to hide his embarrassment as the other manotaurs began to murmur their dissent to each other over this choice of such feminine music.

“W-what? Are you guys kidding? Of course it’s not mine!” Dipper exclaimed, laughing awkwardly as he tried to play it off by hiding the CD behind his back.

“But Dipper, I thought you liked BABBA,” Steven said with a confused frown, remembering the anecdote Stan had told earlier at the diner.

“Ha! Yeah right!” Dipper joked with a rather forced grin, begrudging Steven’s tendency to be innocently honest. “I don’t know whose this is. I’m just borrowing, uh… I mean, it’s a friend’s! Yeah, not mine. Not mine at all…”

The manotaurs didn’t seem to be entirely convinced as they frowned down at the two boys, shaking their heads in disapproval as the crossed their arms suspiciously. Caught up in the heat of the moment as his desire to be accepted, Dipper was quick to act upon his first whim so he could prove to them all that he was just as manly as any of them, even if that meant taking on their rather unfavorable challenge. “We’ll do it!” he proclaimed boldly and bravely, raising his spear above his head as Steven hesitantly picked up his own. “We will conquer the Multi-Bear!”

“Uh… Y-yeah…” Steven agreed with a half-hearted grin as the manotaurs all cheered their bombastic support. “What he said…” With their goal set out for them, both boys ran out of the cave, Dipper triumphantly leading the way as Steven followed a bit behind out of uncertainty. As they emerged from the Man Cave and set off on the arduous path towards the mountain, a lone figure stood hidden near its entrance, dread filling her as she caught wind of the dangerous, undoubtedly cruel mission that they had been sent on. But nonetheless, the white Gem dutifully followed after them, hoping that they wouldn’t go too far in their misguided quest towards false strength.

Much like Steven and Dipper, Mabel had also been undertaking a difficult challenge for most of the afternoon, though one of an entirely different kind. She had completely thrown itself into the daunting task of implementing all of her skills and talents in trying to mold Stan into her idea of “datable”. Of course, this entailed many things that the con man found rather unpleasant, such as Mabel trying to shave his untamable body hair, teaching him to walk with something resembling actual poise, and attempting to squeeze his gut into a girdle. It had been an undertaking, to be sure, but in time, they reached a point where Mabel felt satisfied with Stan’s progress, which, despite her optimism, really wasn’t that great.

“Okay, Grunkle Stan. You started out like this,” Mabel said as she stood alongside Soos and Wendy to evaluate how far the conman had come by comparing her before picture to how he was now. “But you became…” Her smile quickly turned to a frown as she lowered the picture to reveal that her uncle was somehow even more of a sweaty, grizzled mess than he had been when they had started hours ago. “Oh…”

“Can I scratch myself now?’ Stan asked in disinterest, none too interested in upholding the rules of etiquette Mabel had been enforcing upon him all day.

“No!” the girl exclaimed in angry dismay at how all of her hard work was for naught. “And is that throw up on your shirt?”

“I don’t know how to answer that,” the con man responded, taking a tentative glance down at his soiled undershirt.

“Ugh, I can’t believe we didn’t make any progress at all!” Mabel groaned in frustration as she ripped up the before picture. “If anything, he regressed! How in the world is he supposed to impress Lazy Susan looking like that?”

“Face it, Mabel, your uncle’s unfixable,” Wendy consoled as she placed a hand on the younger girl’s shoulder. “Like that spinning pie thing in the diner.”

Mabel let out a gasp of realization upon hearing this, her eyes widening as she looked back to Stan, who was standing by rather apathetically, once more. Indeed, he was a fixer-upper, but perhaps he wasn’t in need of as much fixing as she thought. Or at least the kind of fixing she specialized in.

“Grunkle Stan, come with me!” she exclaimed with newfound zeal, heading for the door. “And leave your pants at home!”

“With pleasure!” Stan readily agreed, not questioning his niece’s guidance this time as they headed out.

The trek to the mountain where the Multi-Bear’s lair was certainly was a journey, one that spanned across the vast forests and ravines resting in the outskirt wilderness of Gravity Falls. For Dipper, it barely felt like a hike at all as he was fueled with both determination and adrenaline, but Steven admittedly struggled to keep up as he was weighed down not only by his own physical fatigue, but also by his ever growing conflict over the situation as a hole. Neither boy had really taken the chance to discuss their mission, even now that they were out of the Man Cave and away from the manotaurs. If anything, an uncomfortable silence lingered between them as they drew ever closer to their destination, neither of them wanting to address what they knew they had to do if they wanted to be acknowledged as true men.

Regardless of this malleable tension, it became increasingly obvious that it was bound to break as the pair scaled up the rugged path towards the Multi-Bear’s cave towards the peak of the mountain. The inklings of apprehension that Steven had first felt when they had first been charged with this mission had steadily grown into a well of overwhelming anxiety that he could no longer keep to himself as him and Dipper found themselves standing at the mouth of the cave where their bounty awaited.

“Um… Dipper?” Steven asked hesitantly before either of them could step foot inside. “A-are… are you sure about this?”

Dipper immediately understood the concerns Steven was alluding to without him even needing to mention them at all, largely because he shared them. But as uneasy as he felt about having to flat-out kill the Multi-Bear, he knew that he would never be a real man if he didn’t. And besides, they had both come so far towards masculinity in the course of one day alone. It wouldn’t make sense to throw all that hard work away just because of something as temporal as guilt or remorse. “Of course, I am,” he replied with assurance. “Now, let’s do this!”

“Dipper, wait,” Steven said a bit more insistently as he grabbed the other boy’s arm to stop him in his tracks. “I… This doesn’t seem like a very good idea… Maybe we should think about this before we go diving right in.”

“You’re not scared, are you, Steven?” Dipper asked with a frown, his tone not challenging or teasing, but rather genuinely concerned. Even if he knew what the young Gem was truly apprehensive about, he secretly hoped that Steven would admit to fear instead of trying to derail their final mission.

“No, not really…” Steven said with a small shrug. “I just… Well, this doesn’t really feel… right.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…” the young Gem paused and let out a heavy sigh, not entirely sure how to express his ongoing inner conflict in words, though he tried nonetheless. “Is we’re about to do really worth it? I know that the manotaurs don’t like the Multi-Bear, but does that really make it ok for us to hunt him down and… kill him?”

Dipper had seen this coming, and though he agreed with this line of reasoning, he stubbornly forced himself not to follow it, especially since it flew so in the face of all of the lessons of aggression and violence that the manotaurs had been imparting them with. “What? Are you serious?” asked with a somewhat relaxed smile. “It’s totally worth it. Besides, the Multi-Bear is probably some horrifying monster that terrorizes these woods for fun. Getting rid of him will probably be for the best.”

“But what if it’s not?!” Steven asked, glancing down to his feet as he held onto his longtime belief that all life was worth salvaging, no matter if it was good or evil. “What if… what if the manotaurs were wrong? What if being a man isn’t about being super macho or tough? What if being strong doesn’t mean being mean?”

These questions held quite a bit of weight behind them, and as provocative as they were, Dipper resisted his natural urge to use logic to think them through and reach the right conclusions. After all, the manotaurs had made it clear that intelligence and reasoning had little to do with being manly, and morality had even less to do with it. Certainly, strength and ruthlessness were synopsis with each other, which meant that the only way to obtain strength was through rising above and conquering the weak and cowardly. Right?

“Oh, come on, Steven,” Dipper said with a slight edge of exasperation. “I think the manotaurs know a thing or two about being manly. I mean, nobody’s ever gotten strong from sitting around and just talking about their feelings. And besides, weren’t you saying that you wanted to be super strong? Like Sugilite?”

“Well… yeah…” Steven admitted as he awkwardly scratched the back of his neck, knowing that he had been striving after the kind of fortitude Sugilite possessed all along. But now that it was within his reach, he found that perhaps it wasn’t as appealing as he had once thought. “But at what cost? Hurting others doesn’t really seem like the kind of thing that makes a man; it’s the kind of thing that makes a bully.”

“S-so what?” Dipper asked a bit too harshly, clearly on edge and conflicted, as much as he didn’t want to admit it. “You’re saying that after all we’ve been though, everything we’ve done, we should just turn around and head back like scared little kids?!”

“No…” Steven said calmly, his resolve growing ever clearer as he realized which path he had to take. “I’m saying that I… I just don’t think I can go through with this. I don’t care if that makes me weak or afraid or whatever… All I know is this is wrong… I won’t stop you from going in there and doing what you feel you have to do, but… you can count me out.”

“Are you sure?” Dipper asked, clearly taken aback and unsure of how to really respond to this sudden turn of events. Regardless though, even if he knew Steven was right on many of the points he had made, he wasn’t quite willing to let his dreams of manliness slip through his fingers quite so easily.

Steven merely nodded his resolute reply, his expression hard, yet still a bit nervous as a long silence lingered between him and Dipper. The young Gem anxiously held his breath to see if his friend would give up this foolish quest and adopt the same merciful line of reasoning he had, so that they could both put all of this behind them. But instead, Steven’s heart sank as he watched Dipper wordlessly turn towards the cave once more, his grip around his spear tightening with fearless resolve. At the same time, however, Steven was quite surprised; if he had expected anyone to listen to reason on something like this, it was Dipper. But apparently, the tempting call of manliness and strength were just too strong for him as he slowly ventured into the darkened cave, but not before the young Gem stopped him one last time.

“Dipper, wait,” Steven called out with a saddened frown. Dipper paused only for a moment to glance back at the young Gem, trying to express stoicism, when what he really felt was remorse, not only for what he was about to go do, but for their disagreement over it as well. Steven took in an anxious breath, wanting to say something to convince Dipper against this cruel course of action, but all of his words went unsaid as he sent him off with a worried farewell instead. “Be careful…”

The other boy nodded in acceptance as he boldly returned to his quest, leaving the young Gem to restlessly wait for him just outside. Of course, neither one of them knew about the set of eyes that had watched their entire exchange from the shadows not too far away, and though she could not deny that she was overwhelmingly proud of one of them, she still harbored dread over the safety and morality of the other one.

The inside of the Multi-Bear’s cave was just as dark and menacing on the inside as it appeared from the outside. Dipper was admittedly quite a bit on edge as he ventured inside, clinging onto his spear tightly with both hands as though his life depended on it, which it very well might. There were no immediate signs of any creature that would fit the bill of what the manotaurs had referred to as their sworn enemy, giving Dipper very little to go on as to what to expect.

“What is a Multi-Bear anyway?” he muttered to himself incredulously, figuring that it was a bear, though that was about all he knew. However, what he didn’t see as he took a cautious glance around the cave was the large, lumbering figure that was looming in the shadows behind him. That is, of course, until it let out a sudden, fierce, echoing roar.

Dipper quickly spun around with a frightened gasp, his spear poised in defense as he faced the monstrosity before him. “Oh,” he remarked in breathless nervousness. “That’s a Multi-Bear.” As it turned out, the “Multi” part of the creature’s name was quite literal. It was a fearsome beast composed of several bears, all conjoined to form one massive, furry black body. The Multi-Bear possessed quite a few sets of limbs and several heads, many of which were still growling harshly as they glared down at the boy standing so audaciously before them.

“Bear heads, silence!” the central head called, somehow capable of English speech. However, the other heads apparently weren’t as intelligent as one of the continued to roar, despite this command, though it was soon quieted by an authoritative smack. “Child, why have you come here?”

“Multi-Bear! I seek you head!” Dipper proclaimed brazenly, banishing his former dread, both literally and morally, and replacing it with zeal and courage. “Or… one of them, anyway. There’s like what? Six heads?”

“This is foolish!” the Multi-Bear bellowed angrily, his deep voice rattling the walls of the cave. “Leave now or die!”

Undaunted by this threat, Dipper took up an offensive position as he pointed his spear at the Multi-Bear and set his expression in a hardened glare. “So be it…” the Multi-Bear growled as he rose to its full height, all of his heads roaring in violent unison as he prepared to attack.

Without much warning, he charged at the boy headfirst, though Dipper was more than ready for it. Acting quickly, he rolled out of the Multi-Bear’s barreling path easily, not even missing a beat as he dodged most of the bones the beast had sent flying this way with a mere swipe of its paw. Taking advantage of his surroundings, Dipper snatched a rock from a nearby pile and chucked it straight at the Multi-Bear, watching with satisfaction as it struck his main head. Seeing that the creature was distracted in tending to its now-bleeding muzzle, the boy took a chance and rushed for the bear, leaping on top of one its lower heads as an aid in scaling its back and reaching the top of the behemoth. Now that he had the upper hand, Dipper used his spear to wrangle the Multi-Bear’s main head into a tight head lock, not letting up even as the beast began to choke. Desperate to break free, the Multi-Bear lashed his claws up at the boy, and though he managed to land a few minor, shallow swipes, but most of them missed. After what seemed like ages, the mighty beast finally collapsed to the ground with a heavy thud, weak from asphyxiation as he lay on the ground in pitiful defeat.

“A real man shows no mercy!” Dipper shouted triumphantly, clearly caught up in the adrenaline that had kept him going through this fight as he stood over the fallen Multi-Bear, his spear poised to land the finishing blow.

“Very well, warrior…” the Multi-Bear sighed relenting, knowing that he had embarrassingly lost this battle against a mere human child. “Victory is yours… But will you grant a magical beast one last request?”

“Uh… okay?” Dipper shrugged, seeing nothing really wrong with this. After all, it was clear that the Multi-Bear intended on being a good sport about this, so why couldn’t he do the same?

“I wish to die listening to my favorite song,” the Multi-Bear said, nodding one of his heads towards a tape player sitting on a nearby rock. Hoping that this wasn’t some sort of trick, Dipper hopped off the beast’s back and headed over to it, wondering what kind of music a Multi-Bear would be into. However, his curiosity was soon replaced with absolute shock the moment he hit play and heard a song that he instantly recognized: “Disco Girl”.

“You listen to Icelandic pop group BABBA?” Dipper asked in disbelief as he turned back to the Multi-Bear. “I… I love BABBA…”

“I thought I was the only one,” the Multi-Bear said in slight shame. “All of the manotaurs made fun of me because I know all of the words to the song ‘Disco Girl’.”

“Oh, you mean: Disco girl…” Dipper began, singing along with the tape as the Multi-Bear quickly picked up the next lyrics.

“Coming through…”

“That girl is you!” they both finished with equal grins, a newfound sense of understanding formed between the two former adversaries.

“This is crazy!” Dipper said with a good-natured laugh, amazed at this incredible coincidence. “Finally someone who understands!” His enthusiastic grin soon turned into a remorseful frown however as he glanced down at the spear still in his hand, reminding him of what he had come here to do in the first place. “Oh yeah… Uh… I guess I’m supposed to… kill you? Or I’ll never be a man?”

“It’s fine,” the Multi-Bear said with a compliant nod, clearly wanting to die with dignity. “I accept my fate.”

“R-really?” Dipper asked, more hesitant than ever about all this as he remembered what Steven had said: perhaps taking the life of the Multi-Bear wasn’t the right thing to do after all, even if it was a task of manliness and toughness. Perhaps it would only be a product of mindless violence instead of true strength and fortitude.

“It’s for the best…” the Multi-Bear insisted amiably, though it was clear he wasn’t going to put up a fight in his final moments. Dipper couldn’t help but feel as though his own words were being thrown right back at him upon hearing this, making him feel all the more guilty now that he knew the Multi-Bear was truly an innocent, if not benevolent creature. He knew that if he really did go through with this, he’d probably regret it not just later, but immediately. But if he didn’t, then certainly he’d never be considered a real man.

Right?

Steven let out an apprehensive sigh as he paced in front of the Man Cave worriedly, waiting for either Dipper to come out or for a sign that he might need help. Though the young Gem had heard sounds of fighting from inside the cave earlier, now things had gone eerily silent, much to his alarm. And yet, Steven remained firm in his resolve to not get involved, hoping that things would turn out the way they were supposed to.

Regardless of his neutrality, Steven was overwhelmingly relieved to see Dipper finally emerge from the cave, looking a bit disheveled but generally unharmed, even if he did look a bit forlorn. But even so, the always-sentimental young Gem didn’t hesitate to meet his battle-worn friend with a sudden, yet sincere hug, startling him quite a bit.

“Dipper!” Steven exclaimed with an overjoyed grin. “I’m so glad you’re ok! I was starting to think something happened in there!”

“I’m fine, Steven,” Dipper said with a small laugh of amusement as the friendly embrace disbanded. “Well… physically, at least…”

“What happened?” Steven asked nervously, a bit confused as he realized that the Multi-Bear’s decapitated head was thankfully nowhere in sight.

“I couldn’t do it,” Dipper admitted with a sigh. “You were right; turns out the Multi-Bear didn’t deserve it at all. I beat him and everything, but when it came down to killing him… it didn’t feel right… I guess this really does make me a wimp, huh?”

“Are you kidding?” Steven asked with a pleasantly surprised smile, his lingering dread gone all at once. “Not at all! I think deciding not to go through with it makes you even braver than if you actually had done it!”

“Yeah, well you know what will take even more bravery?” Dipper asked, still not entirely reassured, even if he was confident in the choice he had made. “Standing up to the manotaurs and telling them they were wrong about everything.”

“Well, no matter what happens, I’ve got your back,” Steven encouraged as the two of them began to descend the mountain together. “And who knows? Maybe we’ll end up teaching those manotaurs a thing or two about what being manly really means!”

“You two know nothing about being manly!” Leadertaur roared in heated anger immediately after Steven and Dipper had asserted their position against killing the Multi-Bear upon their return to the Man Cave. “You were told! The price of manliness is the Multi-Bear's head!”

“But is it, really?” Steven asked with an incredulous frown.

“Listen, Leadertaur, alright?” Dipper began, utilizing his reasoning skills for perhaps the first time all day as opposed to brute force. “You too, Testostoraur, Pubertaur, and… I don’t know, whatever your name is? Uh, Beardy?”

“It’s Beardy,” the heavily bearded manotaur in question affirmed.

“You guys keep telling us that being strong and manly means doing all these tasks, and being aggressive all the time, but I’m starting to think all that stuff’s malarkey.”

The manotaurs let out a collective gasp of shock at this, clearly none of them used to having their masculine viewpoints challenged so boldly. Despite their surprise, however, Dipper continued with just as much zeal. “You heard me: malarkey,” he said brazenly, hoping that he was gaining some ground with this impromptu speech. “So maybe we don’t have muscles or hair in certain places, and sure, when a girly pop song comes on the radio, sometimes I leave it on! Because dang it, top 40 hits are in the top 40 for a reason! They’re catchy!”

“And maybe I am a Crystal Gem!” Steven added, motioning to the pink gem on his navel without shame this time. “But you know what? I’m proud to be one! The Crystal Gems are really brave and smart and heroic, even if they are all girls! I don’t see anything wrong with that, and neither should any of you. After all…” he paused for a moment, a brief burst of guilt filling him as he remembered how he had so callously brushed off Pearl’s advice, especially as he finally realized it had been true all along. “They’re strong in the real way, and so are we!”

“So… what are you two saying?” Chutzpar asked, the point of the boys’ message clearly not getting through to any of the rather dense manotaurs.

“We’re saying that the Multi-Bear is a really nice guy,” Dipper said, knowing that he had left the cave on actually quite good terms with the beast, despite his original mission. “And you’re a bunch of jerks if you want us to cut off his head!”

“Yeah!” Steven agreed firmly. “He did nothing wrong! You guys just like bullying him because he’s different than you. Why don’t you actually try getting along with him? Maybe then you guys could all be friends!”

“NEVER!” Leadertaur shouted, refusing to listen to reason over virility. “We’ll give you one last chance: kill the Multi-Bear or never be men!”

Steven and Dipper exchanged a hardened glance, not even needing to consider this choice. Even after everything they had gone through and all their strides towards supposed manliness, physical strength would all mean nothing if they didn’t have moral strength first. “Then I guess we’ll never be men,” Dipper said with calm finality, feeling strangely at ease with this choice despite his earlier panic over his prior lack of masculinity. Steven added his agreement with a simple firm nod, knowing that the kind of strength that the manotaurs flaunted was only skin-deep.

Expectantly, the manotaurs didn’t take such impudence positively. Instead of heeding the truths that the boys had discussed with them, they simply disregarded them with a round of disapproving boos and jeers, though neither Dipper nor Steven paid them much attention as they took their leave from the Man Cave. Despite the manotaurs’ teasing, both boys felt more confident and self-assured than they had all day. And even more than that, they had reached this high point all on their own.

None of this had gone unnoticed by Pearl, who had overheard the boys’ standing up to the manotaurs from right outside the cave. Her heart swelled with pride and relief for both of them as she took to hiding one last time as they emerged from the cave, knowing that it was time to reveal herself for the sake of affirming their morally sound choice.

“I can’t believe we just did that…” Dipper said with a frown as him and Steven exited the Man Cave, slightly regretting the fact that they could never really be called men. But even if he had scarified his claim to masculinity, at least he could claim that he had a clean conscious, which was indeed worthwhile.

“We did what we had to,” Steven shrugged, rubbing his shoulder to try and ease the soreness he was still feeling. “At least we don’t have to do any more “manly challenges”. I don’t know how many more of those I could take!”

“Yeah… But it still feels like something of a waste…” Dipper said with a sigh. “All that hard work, and we have nothing to show for it…”

“I wouldn’t exactly say that…” a familiar voice mused from behind a nearby trees, startling both boys as they stopped in their tracks.

“What the…? Wait… Pearl?” Steven called in confusion, his bewilderment growing even more as the white Gem indeed emerged from behind the tree, a small, sheepish grin on her face.

“Hello, Steven, Dipper,” she greeted rather cheerily as she ignored the bewilderment written all over their faces.

“What are you doing here?” Steven asked curiously, gathering from the fact that neither Garnet nor Amethyst were with her that Sugilite had still yet to return.

“Oh, well, I was concerned about the two of you hanging out with those brutish manotaurs, so I decided to tag along from a distance to make sure they didn’t push you too far,” Pearl explained. “But it turns out I had nothing to worry about! When given the choice between senseless violence and moral reasoning, you two made the right decision after all. I’m very proud of you both.”

“So… you’ve been following us around all day?” Dipper asked with a disconcerted frown, though Steven was hardly concerned with this as he gladly accepted the white Gem’s adulation.

“Thanks, Pearl!” Steven grinned widely. “And you were right; being tough and macho doesn’t make someone strong in the real way. I only wish we had realized it sooner. Sorry for not listening to you earlier…”

“It’s quite alright, Steven,” Pearl said with a good-natured smile. “Now if only a certain rouge fusion could learn that lesson too…”

As if in answer to the white Gem’s statement, the ground soon began to rumble softly, birds clearing out of the forest to the east as a booming, enraged shout echoed through the area. Confused, the trio made the unanimous decision to go check it out, getting a better vantage point on a nearby bluff as they watched the towering, angry figure that was approaching them.

“What is that?!” Dipper asked in alarm, not recognizing the four-armed being storming their way, even though Steven and Pearl immediately did.

Though the white Gem was filled with instant dread upon seeing the massive fusion return instead of having chosen to split up, Steven eagerly grinned as he announced her arrival, even if her fierce manner already had done that for him. “It’s Sugilite!”

Sugilite let out an infuriated roar that rattled the woods she was plowing her way through, her double sets of arms easily pushing down the trees, which were all smaller than her, out of her way. It wasn’t too long before she spotted the small group standing on the nearby cliff, all four of her hands clenched into tight fists as she shouted at them. “I’M BORED!” she growled bitterly, her fiery scowl apparent even behind her shades.

“Y-you’re back!” Pearl exclaimed fearfully, instinctually positioning herself between the outraged fusion and the two boys.

“You left me behind!” Sugilite accused hotly, her menacing form towering high above all three of them, even despite the elevation of the cliff.

“We just thought you didn’t need any help!” Pearl tried to reason, even if she knew well that Sugilite never listened. “Now, why don’t you two separate and we can all sit down and-”

“NO!” the fusion shouted, abruptly interrupting the white Gem as she threw down one of her fists at all three of them, which they all narrowly dodged.

“Listen to me!” Pearl exclaimed more firmly, glaring up at Sugilite as she rose to stand. “You’ve been fused for too long! You’re losing yourselves!”

“I AM myself, and I’m sick of being split up!” Sugilite proclaimed stubbornly. “So you better get used to me, baby! CAUSE I’M HERE TO STAY!”

With another brutal battle cry, the fusion swung her fists out at the bluff, knocking off large chucks of it as Pearl, Steven, and Dipper drew back a bit to escape her wrath.

That’s what Garnet and Amethyst are like fused together?” Dipper asked in disbelief, wondering why the two of them were so volatile and savage when combined.

“Yeah, but I don’t get it!” Steven exclaimed, sharing Pearl’s clear panic. “Why is she acting like this? Why is she attacking us?!”

“That doesn’t matter!” Pearl called over the sounds of destruction, knowing she had no time to explain the intricacies of fusion now. “You two need to get out of here!”

“But we wanna help!” Steven insisted, ready to do anything to get Garnet and Amethyst to return to their senses.

“Yeah!” Dipper agreed, knowing that if there was any circumstance in which to combine both strength and reasoning, this was it.

Pearl had no time to argue with them as they attention was soon caught by a new party rushing headlong towards Sugilite from just underneath the cliff they were on. Apparently, the clamor the fusion was causing had not gone unnoticed by the manotaurs, who had all emerged from the Man Cave to fight off whatever the threat might be. “HEY! YOU!” Chutzpar shouted up at the fusion challengingly. “We don’t care how big you might be; no woman is gonna come up here and wreck our turf! So beat it!”

Your turf?” Sugilite retorted with a harsh scoff. “Yeah right! This place is mine now, boys, so why don’t you beat it! Or how about I just beat all of YOU!”

Without much effort at all, she easily lifted a large bolder up from the forest floor and held it up high above her head, smirking darkly as she prepared to slam it down on the manotaurs. It was at that point that they all instantly realized that even with their muscles and spears, they were no match for the massive size and strength of the fusion. Which was why, in a rare act for the usually so bold manotaurs, they all instantly fled back to the Man Cave, right before Sugilite chucked her boulder after all of them, only narrowly missing as she laughed in crazed triumph.

“Huh,” Dipper remarked to Steven as they watched the manotaurs hastily retreat. “So much for ‘a real man never runs away from a fight’.”

Seeing that the situation was only getting worse by the second, Pearl decided to take matters into her own hands, summoning her spear from her Gem as she dashed to the tip of the bluff and aimed it at Sugilite unflinchingly. “WHAT?!” the fusion challenged as she glared down at the much smaller Gem. “YOU WANNA FIGHT TOO?!”

“You’ll thank me for this later!” Pearl exclaimed, deftly leaping towards Sugilite as Dipper and Steven ran to the edge of the cliff as well to watch what was about to unfold. Clearly, the fusion didn’t see the white Gem as much of a challenge as she simply knocked her away with a bat of her large hand. Pearl wasn’t about to give up so soon however as she managed to land on one of the nearby treetops, using her agility to aid her in jumping off of it and back towards Sugilite. The fusion tried punching her away once more, but the white Gem was ready for it as she maneuvered out of her fist’s path and succeeding in kicking away Sugilite’s visor to reveal all five of her eyes, which were all filled with unspeakable ire. The boys gasped in shock upon watching this, especially as Sugilite’s fury grew to the point that she was visibly shaking with rage, which was something she all too quickly took out on her opponent.

“YOU THINK YOU’RE SOMETHING?!” Sugilite roared fiercely, catching Pearl by surprise as she used one set of arms to knock the white Gem upwards. Pearl let out a sharp gasp of pain as the fusion’s huge fists struck her squarely in the side, sending her flying up into the air. “YOU!” Sugilite practically screamed as she threw her fists up at Pearl again, this time smashing her into the ground almost instantly. “AIN’T!” The white Gem let out a small sob of agony as she collided with the forest floor, every part of her body screaming with searing pain. But even so, the merciless fusion did not relent as she landed a heavy kick to Pearl’s stomach, plowing her through several layers of trees as if she were nothing but a mere twig. “NOTHING!”

Pearl was nearly unconscious by the time she landed, though thankfully her gem was undamaged, which was the only reason why she was still going. She was, however, heavily injured, which only added to her despair as she glanced up to see Sugilite summoning her flail. The fusion threw it down in her direction, sliding it across the forest floor, though thankfully missing due to her limited visibility from the cover of the trees.

“Pearl!” Steven’s concerned cry reached the white Gem as she weakly attempted to pick herself up off the ground, only to collapse to her knees breathlessly as her body recoiled with pain. Tears sparked in Pearl’s eyes as she looked up, spotting Steven and Dipper as they stood high above her on the bluff, staring down at her with fearful worry. Shame flooded her as she stole another glance towards Sugilite, remembering that despite the fusion’s heated, uncontrollable fury, her teammates were still in there, though there was painfully little she could do to separate them.

“I… I can’t do this…” she muttered to herself mournfully, her tears finally falling as she bowed her head, knowing she had lost this battle. “I’m sorry!” she cried up to the two boys, her failure overwhelming her. “Garnet… Amethyst…” she choked on a sob as she realized that because of this failure, the two other Gems would be forever lost to their wild, untamed fusion. “I wasn’t strong enough… to save you… I’m not strong enough to do anything…”

“That’s not true!” Steven called down to the injured white Gem firmly, resolved to inspire her into action once more. “Come on, Pearl! Don’t give up! I know you can take her down!”

“Yeah, you gotta get up, Pearl!” Dipper encouraged just as fervently. “Who else is gonna separate those two?!”

“I can’t!” the white Gem replied dejectedly, tears still streaming down her cheeks as she prepared to surrender to the fusion’s strength.

“Yes, you can!” Steven argued passionately, trying his best not to tear up himself. “You always know what to do! You gotta show her what you showed us! That you’re strong, Pearl! Strong in the real way!”

Pearl took in a sharp breath upon hearing this, her heart beginning to stir with something far different from shame. Instead, the words of her own song echoed through her mind, ringing in tune with the sincere encouragement Dipper and Steven had offered her: “And I know that we can be strong… in the real way…” It was a strange, yet special irony, the white Gem thought as she shakily rose to stand once more, that the very same message she had wanted to inspire them with was now inspiring her. There was no doubt that Sugilite had ample amounts of physical strength, but without restraint and control, what was that really worth? And as Pearl realized that she had so much more to offer instead of muscles or brute force, she wiped her tears, her confidence renewed as she smiled, ready to stand firm and defeat the rogue fusion once and for all.

“Hey!” Pearl called out to Sugilite, refusing to back down this time.

“WHAT?!” the fusion snarled in disbelief, appalled that the white Gem was still alive. “YOU WANT SOME MORE?!”

“Any time!” Pearl proclaimed with determination as she summoned another spear. “You’re no match for me! Not even CLOSE!” With a bold battle cry, the white Gem threw her spear up at Sugilite, landing a rather sizable cut across the side of her face. The fusion growled angrily as she threw a punch Pearl’s way, but this time, she was more than ready to leap out of the way as she began to outmaneuver her larger opponent.

“Yeah, Pearl!” Steven cheered enthusiastically, overjoyed to see that the white Gem had gotten her morale back. Dipper, on the other hand, was no longer content to simply sit on the sidelines and watch this battle unfold.

“Steven, we have to help her!” he said with resolve, having already formulated a plan through watching Sugilite throw her weight around. “Follow my lead!”

Pearl grinned in assurance, realizing that she had something that Sugilite certainly didn’t have as the fusion continued to try and crush her with her lumbering fists: speed. Using agile leaps, the white Gem made sure to steer clear of the fusion’s attacks, all while trying to come up with a plan for defeating her. However, it seemed as though the boys already had that covered as they managed to distract Sugilite by launching a barrage of stones her way.

“Wha-?” the fusion spun around after being struck with several rocks from behind to see Steven and Dipper throwing them at her from the cliff.

“Hey, Sugilite!” Dipper called out challengingly. “Bet you can’t catch us!”

“You two?!” Sugilite scoffed, believing the two of them to be no match for her. “Please! I’ll crush you like the bugs you are!”

Knowing that they had to act now, Dipper quickly took Steven by the hand and practically dragged him off the bluff just before Sugilite could smash it entirely. Running as fast as they could, the boys hurried down the hillside, already racing through the forest as the fusion began to peruse them with thunderous footsteps. Pearl gasped in sudden worry as she realized the danger they were in, and she didn’t hesitate to give chase as well, her speed aiding her as she managed to pass between Sugilite’s legs unnoticed to catch up with them.

“What are you two doing!?” the white Gem demanded as she joined stride alongside them.

“Don’t worry!” Dipper reassured her a bit breathlessly as all three of them charged through the woods towards town. “I’ve got a plan!”

Pearl didn’t outright protest as she decided to go along with whatever he had in mind, hoping that it would somehow work. All the while, Sugilite was starting to gain on them, her fury burning as hot as ever as she pursued them. “Get back here!” she shouted, punching a thicket of trees forward with the hopes of barricading their path. Unfortunately for them, this just so happened to work as the pile of trees landed only a few feet in front of them, stopping them right before they emerged out of the woods near the diner.

“Ha!” Sugilite laughed triumphantly as she smirked down at the trio, her lower set of arms ready to take them all out with one fell swing. “Nice try! But running away ain’t gonna save you now!”

“O-okay…” Dipper said a bit nervously as they all backed up a bit, his plan suddenly falling apart at the seems. “We may need to come up with a new plan…”

“I think I may have something in mind…” Pearl said with a small smile as she looked over to the tall tree to her right. “You two stay down here and figure out a way to clear out these trees. I’ll take care of Sugilite!”

Steven and Dipper nodded in agreement with this plan, both of them splitting up to divert the fusion’s attention while at the same time hoping to push the trees away. Sugilite let out an infuriated roar, refusing to be tricked again as she slammed her fists down at the two of them, only to narrowly miss once more. Before she could try again, however, she was suddenly cut across the chest with a spear that came from above. With a bitter snarl, she glanced up to see that Pearl was precariously positioned atop one of the few trees that actually happened to be taller than Sugilite, balancing on its point on her tip-toes as she stood ready to leap. Sugilite took a swing at the tree, smashing it in half only after the white Gem had jumped from it, soaring high over the fusion’s head. Not letting her get away this time, Sugilite quickly tossed her flail up at Pearl, only for it to miss its target and continue sailing high into the air, though the fusion was quick to disregard it as the white Gem landed squarely on the ground below.

“Is that all you got?!” Sugilite challenged with a sneer as she raised her foot to crush Pearl underneath it. “You think that’s enough to beat-”

The fusion was abruptly cut off as her own flail suddenly fell from above, plummeting down to land hard and heavy on her head. The heavy shaking caused by this strike was enough to finally clear the path free of the fallen trees as they rolled out of the way, but that wasn’t all. The brutal damage caused by the force of the heavy weapon was enough to damage Sugilite to the point that she could no longer remain together. She didn’t even have time to let out any bitter remark or even a surprised gasp as she immediately fell apart, Garnet and Amethyst flying apart from each other as they fell to the ground, their fusion at least defeated and disbanded.

Mabel grinned brightly as her and Stan returned to Greasy’s Diner to find that Lazy Susan was still beating the broken pie trolley, as the girl had been hoping for. After instructing Stan to forget everything she had taught him earlier, Mabel led the way to the waitress, confident that her new plan would succeed.

“Lazy Susan, listen,” Mabel began, interrupting Susan’s futile attempts to get the trolley spinning. “I know he may not be much too look at, but you’re always fixing stuff here at the diner, so if you’re into fixing stuff, look no further than my Grunkle Stan! Nothing needs more fixing than him! Also, women live longer than men, so your dating pool is smaller and you should really lower your standards.”

Upon hearing this, Lazy Susan gave Stan an expectant look, not offering a response as she waited for him to speak first. “So, Lazy Susan… What do you say?” the conman asked with a small, hopeful grin.

The waitress was still silent as she looked him up and down with a rather neutral expression before simply walking away. Stan glanced down disappointment as Mabel gave him a pitied frown, both of them knowing that despite their earnest efforts, it had all been for naught. “Well, Grunkle Stan, I guess that’s it…” Mabel sighed, hating to admit defeat as they two of them prepared to leave the diner. “I’m sorry…”

Stan was just about to reassure his niece before they were interrupted with a call from behind. “Hey!” Lazy Susan exclaimed, hurrying after them with a piece of paper and a plate of pie in her hand. “Here’s my number!” she said with a coy grin, handing the conman the paper. “Why don’t you give me a call sometime?”

“R-really?” Stan asked in surprise, his eyes wide as he looked down at the waitress’s number.

“Really!” Susan nodded with a bright chuckle. “Also, here’s some pie! For you!”

Stan gladly took the pie and took a seat at a nearby booth with Mable as Lazy Susan got back to work, but not before sending one last flirtatious wink his way. “EEEEEE!” Mabel squealed excitedly, amazed that her matchmaking had come to fruition. “We did it! When are you gonna call her? You wanna call now? I don’t have a phone. Let’s buy a phone! We can put it on a credit card! Let’s get a credit card!”

“Mabel, please!” Stan said with a satisfied grin, unable to keep up with his enthusiastic niece who was talking a mile a minute in her elation. “Let a man enjoy his pie, huh?”

Mabel was about to start listing all of the things that Stan could talk about during his call with Lazy Susan, but before she could, the entire diner was suddenly rattled by a sudden earthquake apparently right outside. “Whoa!” Mabel exclaimed as soon as the spell of rumbling had ended. “What was that?!”

“Who cares?” Stan asked with little concern as he continued eating his pie.

“C’mon, Grunkle Stan!” the girl quickly got up from her seat, dragging her begrudging uncle away from the pie so they could see what had just happened. “Let’s go check it out!”

***

“Amethyst! Garnet!” Pearl exclaimed with concern as she raced over to her fallen teammates, who were both lying semi-paralyzed and incapacitated on the ground in the aftermath of their defeat. Likewise, Dipper and Steven joined her, both of them relieved to see that Sugilite had been taken down and torn apart. “Are you okay?!”

“Yeah…” Garnet moaned, clearly worn out as she remained unmoving on the ground. “Sugilite just overworked our bodies… It’s… a little painful.”

“Ugh… I’ve got a monster headache…” Amethyst muttered, every part of her body aching as she refused to move a single muscle.

Pearl, however, disregarded their pain as she expressed her joy at their return by tightly embracing them both, though she quickly released them upon hearing their unified agonized groans. “Whoops!” the white Gem laughed sheepishly as she allowed them both to rest and recover. “Sorry…”

“Pearl, you did it!” Steven congratulated enthusiastically.

“That’s not entirely true…” Pearl said with a fond grin as she wrapped her arms around both boys’ shoulders. “We did it.”

Steven and Dipper more than readily accepted this affirmation, knowing that despite the manotaurs’ claims that they would never achieve manliness, they had still found a way to prove their strength all the same. And unlike going against the Multi-Bear, this had been a challenge of true strength, one that, as far as both them and the white Gem were concerned, they had passed with flying colors.

“What the hey happened out here?” Stan asked as him and Mabel came from the diner to see the mess of fallen trees that had caused the rumbling they had felt from inside. “Oh,” the conman noted gruffly upon seeing the Gems. “I should’ve guessed.”

“Dipper!” Mabel greeted her brother with a cheerful grin, though it faded as she noticed how battle weary he looked. “Whoa! You’re a mess, bro-bro! And so are you, Steven! What happened to you guys?”

“Sugilite got a little out of control, so we helped Pearl defeat her so she could split apart!” Steven explained with a proud grin.

“What?! You mean I missed her again?” Mabel asked with dismay. “Darn it! Oh well… Maybe I’ll get to see her next time!”

“Hopefully not…” Pearl muttered to herself as she grinned knowingly at Garnet and Amethyst, who were still largely out of it.

“Well… Defeating a crazed Gem fusion wasn’t the only thing we did today…” Dipper admitted a bit hesitantly.

“Oh really?” Mabel asked with interest. “What else happened? Fill me in on all the deets!”

“I’d rather not…”

“Good,” Stan deadpanned, crossing his arms.

“It’s just that these half-man half-bull humanoids were hanging out with us,” Dipper began anyway, still clearly bothered by what had happened with the manotaurs earlier.

“Here we go…”

“But then they wanted us to do this really tough, horrible thing, but it just wasn’t right. I was actually going to go through with it, but in the end, I decided not to.”

“You were your own man and you stood up for yourself,” Stan remarked rather out of nowhere, catching Dipper off guard quite a bit.

“Huh?” he asked in confusion, knowing that it wasn’t like his gruff grunkle to be so oddly supportive.

“Well, you did what was right even if no one else agreed with you,” the conman said with a hint of an almost proud smile. “Sounds pretty manly to me, but what do I know?”

Dipper smiled as he accepted what he knew to be something of a compliment, at least for Stan anyway. It was by this point, however, that Mabel had taken notice of something that her brother hadn’t yet. “Wait a minute…” she mused, squinting scrutinizing at Dipper. “Do my eyes deceive me? Dipper, I think you have a chest hair!”

Upon hearing this, he immediately glanced down at his chest, pulling his shirt down a bit as he let out a gasp of pleasant surprise. “Oh my gosh! You’re right!” he exclaimed triumphantly. “This is amazing! I really do! Take that, man tester! Take that, Pituitor!”

“Pituitor?” Stan asked, raising an eyebrow.

“This guy has a chest hair!” Dipper proclaimed proudly, pointing a thumb to himself with a broad grin. However, he only had a moment to celebrate this newfound sign of emerging masculinity before Mabel suddenly reached over and plucked the hair right from his chest.

“Scrap-bookertunity!” she blithely chimed as she plastered the hair in her scrap book, ignoring the look of horrified shock that her brother was giving her.

“Don’t worry, kid,” Stan reassured his nephew, placing a hand on his shoulder. “If you’re anything like me, there’s more where that came from!” With a wide smirk, the conman ripped his shit open to reveal his chest covered in grayed hair, eliciting sounds of both amusement and disgust from the entire group.

“Ew…” Pearl recoiled in revulsion, though Amethyst, who was still lying on the ground, couldn’t help but let out an entertained chuckle.

“Oh my gosh!” the purple Gem laughed as much as she could despite her sore body. “That is so gross! Awesome!”

Of course, everyone got a good laugh out of this, though it gradually faded as it became apparent that Stan had no replacement shit. “Seriously though,” Dipper said with a somewhat repulsed frown once the levity had passed. “That’s disgusting.

“Pearl,” Garnet spoke up in the midst of all this, catching the white Gem’s attention. “We feel as though we should apologize,” she said, speaking for herself and Amethyst, obviously. “We should have listened to you… You were right.”

“Yeah,” Pearl nodded, though she soon became emboldened as she realized the implications of what the Gem leader had just said. “Yeah, I was right, wasn’t I?”

“Go Pearl!” Steven cheered enthusiastically, just as proud of the white Gem as she was of him.

“Come on!” Pearl declared rousingly to her listless teammates. “I feel great! Who’s up for a mission?! Or…”

The white Gem continued on her cheerful rant as Amethyst and Garnet merely exchanged a passive glance, neither of them having the energy or really the right to derail her after Sugilite’s rampage. “How long is she going to keep this up?” the purple Gem asked with a tired sigh, hating how Pearl often loved to filibuster like this.

“We deserve it,” Garnet admitted, knowing that this was fair payback for how outlandishly their fusion had behaved. After all, if Sugilite had no mercy on Pearl, then it only made sense for Pearl to take no mercy on them. “Take it like a Gem.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Magic and Mystery

Part 1

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 “Ohhhhhh! He’s a frozen treat with an all-new taste!”

“‘Cause he came to this planet from outer space!”

“A refugee from an interstellar war!”

“But now he’s at your local grocery store!”

“Cookie Cat! He’s a pet for your tummy!”

“Cookie Cat! He’s super-duper yummy!”

“Cookie Cat! He left his family behind!”

“Cookie Caaaaat!”

“Now available at Gurgens off Route 109!”

Upon the conclusion of their rapping duet of the commercial jingle, Steven and Mabel burst into a giggling fit as they both stuffed the ice cream treats they had been singing about into their mouths. Likewise, Dipper chuckled in amusement at the abundant enthusiasm of his sister and his friend as he enjoyed his Cookie Cat much more casually and calmly.

“Mmm! So good!” Mabel gushed with a delighted grin, ice cream sloppily smeared all over her face. “Steven, where on earth did you get these Cookie Cats? I thought they stopped making them!”

“They did…” Steven said, somewhat remorseful over that fact as he climbed down from his bedroom loft to grab them all some more Cookie Cats. “But the Gems got a whole bunch of them for me from the factory a few weeks ago. I’ve eaten a few already, but I’ve been saving most of them for a special occasion. And what could be a more special occasion than all of us finally getting the chance to hang out here at the temple!?”

“Thanks for having me and Mabel over, by the way, Steven,” Dipper said with a grin as Steven returned with his load of ice cream sandwiches. “We’ve been meaning to come ever since you invited us, but things have been… pretty crazy since then.”

“Yeah,” Mabel chimed her agreement as she readily took the Cookie Cat Steven had offered her. “After dealing with living robot lake monsters, living wax statues, and haunted convenience stores, it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and enjoy the best, now-extinct, ice cream in the world!”

“And we all get to watch…” Dipper trailed off as he glanced towards the TV, only for his smile to turn into a confused frown. “Steven, what is this again?”

“It’s Crying Breakfast Friends!” Steven said with a chipper grin as he turned his attention towards the incoherently sobbing food items on the screen. “Isn’t it great?”

“I don’t know if ‘great’ would be the word I would use to describe it…” Dipper said with a skeptical frown.

“Oh come on, bro-bro!” Mabel said, giving her brother a playful punch on the arm. “I love this show! It may not look like much at first, but it’s actually super deep and has a lot of complex layers and themes. Plus, Mourning Muffin is absolutely adorable!”

“I know, right?” Steven agreed with a grin. “Personally, I’m a Bawling Bacon kinda guy myself.”

Dipper rolled his eyes in exasperation as Mabel and Steven continued fawning over the rather unimpressive cartoon, not really getting what all the fuss was about. Thankfully, before it could go on for too much longer, a bright flash of light coming from the warp pad in front of the temple door caught their collective attention.

“Wow…” Dipper and Mabel whispered in awed unison as the light intensified, though Steven merely grinned eagerly. After all, this was quite a regular sight for him.

The Crystal Gems materialized above the warp pad, all of them looking quite satisfied with their most recent victory. Pearl and Amethyst were both grinning broadly, and though Garnet didn’t share their apparent glee, she did have a bubbled gem hovering over her palm, which she was quick to send away with a mere wave of her hand.

“Hi, you guys!” Steven greeted brightly as he leapt off of the loft, landing on the soft couch below. Mabel dismounted onto the couch in the same way, laughing all the while, though Dipper took the more sensible approach in taking the stairs down to the main floor.

“Oh, hello there, kids,” Pearl greeted with an amicable smile as the trio stepped off the warp pad.

“Well, what do you know?” Amethyst laughed. “Looks like the gang’s all here! How are you guys digging the place?” she asked Dipper and Mabel, knowing that this was their first visit to the temple.

“It’s awesome!” Mabel exclaimed cheerfully.

“And definitely more inviting than the Mystery Shack,” Dipper remarked somewhat sardonically.

“Well, that’s because, unlike your uncle, we actually manage to keep our house clean,” Pearl explained pointedly. “Or at least some of us do…” she muttered, shooting a glare Amethyst, who was busy making a mess in the kitchen as she constructed a sandwich.

“There is something I have been wondering though…” Dipper continued with a curious frown.

“And what’s that?” Garnet asked simply.

“What’s in there?” he asked, nodding towards the temple gate and the five gemstones resting on each point of the star emblazoned upon it. He had thought to ask Steven about it earlier, but he figured that he would be able to glean even more information about the magical-looking door from the Gems themselves.

“Oh, you mean the temple?” Amethyst asked casually.

“The temple?” Dipper repeated in confusion. “But I thought we were in the temple.”

“Nah, this isn’t the temple,” the purple Gem corrected. “This is just the house. It’s kinda like a lobby to the temple, actually.”

“Wait, so does that mean my room is part of the lobby?” Steven asked, clearly inspired by this comparison. “Maybe I should set up a welcome desk for when visitors come by, just like a real lobby!”

“Anyway…” Pearl continued the conversation that Steven had innocently interrupted. “The temple serves as our base. Garnet, Amethyst, and I live inside of it, while Steven has his own room out here. At least until he becomes more accustomed to using his Gem.”

“Yep!” the young Gem chimed in. “And when I do, I’ll be able to go in there any time I want, right?”

“Yes,” Garnet answered succinctly, even though Pearl had a mind to elaborate. However, before she could, the white Gem was abruptly cut off.

“Wow! I bet there’s so many cool things in there!” Mabel exclaimed in excitement as she took a tentative step towards the temple gate. “Mind if we take a peek?”

All three Gems exchanged a glance at this, but as usual, it was their leader who was the one to voice their unanimous opinion. “That’s not a very good idea…” Garnet said, sidestepping to block Mabel’s path to the gate.

“What? Why not?” Dipper asked in dismay, which was something Mabel shared over this rejection as well.

“Um… well, the temple… It’s a bit… dangerous,” Pearl explained, though she had no real intentions of telling them why. “Especially for… non-Gems-”

“Like you guys!” Amethyst cut in with a rouge grin, ruffling both twins’ hair playfully, even though neither of them were very amused.

“Amethyst!” Pearl scolded, knowing just how rude calling that fact out was. “But yes… The temple really is no place for humans. We’re sorry, but we just don’t want to see either of you get hurt.”

“But don’t be so down about it!” Amethyst encouraged with an upbeat grin, taking note of how upset both Dipper and Mabel were over this news. “At least you guys can still hang out here with Steven.”

“Yeah!” Steven exclaimed reassuringly. “And you guys are welcome here any time!”

“Thanks, Steven,” Dipper said, mustering a small smile, even if his innate curiosity over what lay beyond the temple gate was still eating away at him. But even so, he decided against further questioning the Gems about what exactly was so dangerous inside of the temple, knowing that they probably wouldn’t supply much of a straight answer anyway.

“We have to go,” Garnet said to her teammates, nodding towards the front door.

“What? But you guys just got back,” Steven frowned. “Don’t you wanna hang out with us for a while?”

“We’d love to, Steven,” Pearl said with sincerity. “But we have to preform our weekly check over the town. Gravity Falls isn’t going to protect itself, you know.”

“Right…” Steven sighed in relent, knowing that the Gems insisted on their weekly inspections over the town, largely because of its strange, often-dangerous facets. “See you later, then?”

“See you later,” Garnet affirmed with a hint of a smile as she led the way out of the house.

“Don’t have too much fun without us!” Amethyst joked as the Gems headed out, leaving the kids alone once more.

Since he was used to the Gems taking off quite often, Steven merely shrugged in acceptance once they had left, his usual upbeat attitude quickly returning. Likewise, Mabel easily perked up from her former disappointment of being denied access into the temple, as fascinating as whatever was inside sounded. Dipper, on the other hand, was nowhere near as complacent.

“You okay, Dippin-Dots?” Mabel asked her brother with a small, empathetic grin upon noticing his downcast expression. She gave him a small, playful poke on the arm in an attempt to cheer him up, but Dipper was having no parts of it as he absently swatted her hand away and kept staring at the door the Gems had left through rather bitterly.

“They didn’t even answer my question…” he muttered, still clearly upset over how his simple curiosity had gone unrequited.

“Well, they kinda did,” Steven pointed out. “You wanted to know what was in there, and they did technically tell you it was the temple. So…”

“But they didn’t tell us what was inside of the temple!” Dipper protested rather crossly. “Do you even know what it’s like in there, Steven?”

“Er… Not really,” the young Gem admitted sheepishly as he glanced towards the temple gate. “I’ve never actually been in there before. My gem’s supposed to be able to open the door up, but… it’s never really worked…”

“What’s so ‘dangerous’ in there that we can’t at least see what’s inside?” Dipper asked, crossing his arms in an impatient huff.

“I bet it’s full of magical lasers and sparkly lava!” Mabel theorized zealously. “Or maybe it’s a room that’s entirely underwater, stuffed with swords and other sharp pointy-things! Or maybe the real reason why the Gems don’t want us in there is because it’s super messy and they just need to tidy up!”

As Mabel continued rambling her various imaginative ideas off to herself, Dipper simply let out an agitated sigh as he leaned against the doorframe. “Why do the Gems have to be so mysterious all the time anyway?”

“That’s… just kinda… how they are,” Steven frowned, suddenly perplexed even as he said this. He had never really thought of the Gems as “mysterious” before, considering he had known them ever since he was born, but the more he thought about it, the less he realized he actually knew about them aside from the basics. Like how Pearl liked to keep things neat and clean, how Amethyst found great amusement in causing mischief almost as much as she found pleasure in eating, and how Garnet… well, since Garnet utilized her words so sparingly, he probably knew the least about her, but he did know that she cared for him immensely, as all of the Gems did. But anything beyond personality traits, such as where the Gems had actually come from, how they had ended up living in Gravity Falls, and of course the enigma that was his own deceased mother… Steven realized he actually had no real answers to such questions. And this distressing realization alone was enough to silence the young Gem and really make him think; why where the Gems keeping what seemed like very basic, essential information about themselves away from him?

“I just wish they’d let us know a little more about them,” Dipper said, largely to himself as he glanced down sourly. His curiosity didn’t really come out of suspicion towards the Gems; after all, they seemed to be pretty on the level in their selfless commitment to protect the town from what he had seen thus far. No, instead his wonderings came from his own inquisitive nature, especially in regards to anything that seemed highly unusual, which was a description the Gems certainly fit. Both them and Steven had provided the rather simple explanation that they were “magical” beings, but Dipper had never really been one to buy into the idea of magic. That was more Mabel’s fancy. Dipper, on the other hand, preferred to favor himself as a man, or perhaps more appropriately boy, of science. In his opinion, everything had to have a logical, semi-rational explanation behind it. Even things that seemed to be supernatural or mythological, such as the gnomes, the manotaurs, or even the Gems themselves, had to have originated in a way that could be scientifically explained. Which was why it bothered him all the more that the Gems refused to provide him with any such explanations. Certainly, getting even the slightest glimpse at the inside of their temple would have answered many of the questions he had about them ever since their first encounter last week. But all the same, the summer was still very young. Hopefully, Dipper reasoned, the veils of secrecy and ambiguity about the Crystal Gems would steadily be pulled away, so that he could better understand what was by far the most interesting thing about Gravity Falls he had seen yet. And that was saying something.

A long bout of stated silence had filled the house, something that Mabel immediately noticed as she practically felt the bothered puzzlement that her brother and her friend were sharing. Always one to try and lighten the mood, she had an impromptu joke at the ready, but before she could even open her mouth to say it, a heavy crash suddenly sounded from outside.

“What was that?” Dipper asked, having been shaken from his spot against the door.

Both Steven and Mabel were prepared to answer with an “I don’t know”, when all three of the kids caught onto the sound of familiar voices arguing outside. “The Gems!” Steven declared, already taking the initiative by leading the way out of the house as the twins quickly followed.

The first thing the trio noticed upon emerging into the balmy heat of the summer afternoon was that the entire world seemed to be bathed in a faint shade of red. It was a color befitting the glow of sunset, but it made no sense, considering it was only about three o’clock and the sun wouldn’t go down for hours yet. The next thing the kids spotted were the Gems, who had apparently not gone very far in their survey of the town as they stood clustered together at the base of the path that led towards the Mystery Shack. All three of them had their sights set towards the sky, their neck craning as they all worriedly gazed upwards at what the kids initially assumed was the sun, though they were quickly proven wrong as they took their own tentative glances up from the porch.

Their jaws dropped all at once upon seeing the strange, foreign crimson orb hanging in the sky, countless miles away from the earth, but still close enough to be plainly visible. In its current position, it was about the size of the average full moon, a faint glow surrounding it as it hovered in the yellowing sky. Upon a first glance, it appeared to be stationary, but as the kids stood staring intently at it, something became unnervingly clear.

It was moving.

“Whoa…” Mabel whispered in sedated awe. “What is that thing?”

“I dunno…” Steven shrugged, just as encompassed in wonder and curiosity. “But maybe the Gems do.”

The decision to head down the hill and ask the gems about the unknown object was unspoken and unanimous. Even though none of them knew that it was, they couldn’t really shake the feeling that it was unwelcome, possibly even dangerous. Those suspicions were only confirmed as they approached the Gems, hearing their concerned conversation as they did so.

“This is bad,” Garnet said, though her tone was as calm as ever.

“What is it doing here in the first place?” Amethyst asked, glaring up at the orb distrustfully.

“That’s not what we should be worried about right now,” Pearl said gravely as she peered up towards the object in question through the telescope she had summoned from her gem. “We should be worried that it’s here in the first place. Look at the size of it! I had no idea these things were so big!”

The Gems had yet to notice the kids’ arrival as they all paused behind them, exchanging nervous glances upon hearing their worries. Regardless though, Steven was the one to speak up first. “Um… you guys?”

All three Gems spun around, startled, as they looked to the kids with wide, anxious eyes. “Oh! Seven! Dipper! Mabel!” Pearl exclaimed with a nervous, clearly fake laugh as she tried to make light of the situation. “What are you three doing down here?”

They largely ignored this question as Dipper came forward with an even more pressing, obvious question instead. “What is that?” he asked, nodding towards the intrusive orb above.

“And more importantly, can I see?” Steven cut in before any of the Gems could answer. Pearl handed him the telescope and the young Gem didn’t hesitate to use it to get a better look at the orb, which he quickly realized was more akin to a giant eye as it came into focus. Its iris was long and hexagonal, and surrounded a pupil that seemed to be more like the shutter of a camera than anything else. The whole thing seemed to have something of a metallic tint to it, further showing that it was far from anything natural. “Wow…” the young Gem mused with a small grin as he handed the telescope off to Mabel so she could take a peek. “It’s a giant eyeball! Awesome!”

“NOT awesome!” Pearl scolded testily. “It’s a Red Eye.”

“Red Eye?” Mabel asked in bewilderment. “You mean like that disease that makes your eyes all crusty and gross?”

“Oh no!” Steven exclaimed in a sudden panic. “It’s going to infect us all!”

“That’s pink eye,” Garnet corrected as Amethyst let out an amused chuckle at their paranoia.

“So, what exactly is this Red Eye thing anyway?” Dipper asked, hoping that the Gems would actually provide a real answer this time. “And what’s so bad about it?”

“The Red Eye is sort of like a meteor,” Pearl explained with an anxious frown. “If we don’t do anything about it, then it will crash into Gravity Falls and crush us, along with a bunch of oblivious, innocent people. That’s why we have to stop it!”

“Whoa! This is sorta like that one video game where you have to stop the moon from falling on this town in three days!” Steven exclaimed with a bright grin. “Only… we probably don’t have three days to stop this thing, do we?”

“No,” Garnet answered bluntly.

“What can we do to get rid of it?” Dipper asked, hoping that the Gems would actually let him and Mabel in on aiding them in this dilemma and not just chalk it up as a “Gem” situation, like they had with the temple. After all, certainly the journal would be able to help them find a solution, and even if it didn’t, the twins, as well as Steven, were quite inventive and clever on their own.

“The only things powerful enough to destroy it are the two laser Light Cannons that belonged to Rose Quartz,” Garnet explained as she adjusted her shades.

“Rose Quartz?” Mabel asked in confusion, unfamiliar with the name. “Who’s that?”

“My mom,” Steven spoke up, realizing that though he had mentioned his mother to the twins before, he had never really addressed her by name. “She’s… um… not really around anymore…”

Neither Dipper nor Mabel had to press for any more information than that as they expressed their sympathy for their friend with silent, solemn nods. The Gems, however, were still clearly stressing over the situation at hand.

“Ugh, if Rose were here, this would be so easy!” Amethyst groaned bitterly, kicking the ground as she crossed her arms and pouted.

“I know, but she’s… not…” Pearl said tightly, glancing away as she bit back what seemed to be oncoming tears. “And both cannons have been missing for years. We’ll just have to find another solution.”

The kids all exchanged frowning glances as they paused to think about just what to do about the imposing Red Eye, until, out of nowhere, Steven perked up with a sudden idea. “Oh! Oh! I know!” the young Gem exclaimed with a newfound grin, his bout of grief over his mother now passed. “If the cannons belonged to my mom, I bet my dad knows where they are! He can help us save the day!”

An off-putting silence hung over the Gems upon hearing this idea, all three of them glancing away from Steven rather awkwardly. Amethyst cleared her throat as Garnet kept up her usual stoic expression behind her shades, which left Pearl as the one to speak up. “Greg is… nice, Steven…” the white Gem began with an uncomfortable frown, though it was clear she was hiding her true opinion behind a layer of sugarcoating. “But I doubt Rose would entrust someone like him with such powerful weapons…”

“Your dad’s kind of a mess, Steven,” Amethyst pointed out rather bluntly, placing a hand on the confused young Gem’s shoulder.

“AMETHYST!” Pearl snapped hotly, shocked that the purple Gem would say something like that outright, even if she couldn’t deny it was true.

“I’m just sayin’,” Amethyst shrugged. “Even if she did leave them with him, he probably broke them, or lost them, or dropped them in the lake by now.”

“True,” Garnet agreed succinctly.

“No way,” Steven said, brushing their underestimations of his father aside. Unlike the Gems, he had all of the confidence in the world in his dad, and he had no problems showing it. “I’m sure he’s just keeping them somewhere safe. I’ll go ask him.”

“We can handle this, Steven,” Garnet assured him, sharing the sentiment that there would be no need for Greg’s amateur assistance. “Ready?” she addressed Amethyst.

“You know I am!” the purple Gem quipped daringly before letting the Gem leader easily lift her above her head. The kids all watched in confusion as Garnet aimed Amethyst, who had her body positioned as though she was about to dive in a body of water, before tossing her towards the Red Eye with an incredible amount of force. The purple Gem soared towards the orb, letting out a battle cry as she sailed higher and higher into the air before she abruptly hit it. This had no apparent effect however, as Amethyst merely bounced off of its metallic surface before she began to plummet towards the earth once more.

“I’m ok!” she shouted from afar, most likely having landed somewhere in the woods.

“Um… we’re gonna go…” Steven announced with a frown, though the Gems weren’t really paying him much attention anyway as they focused their efforts on the Red Eye.

“Okay, good luck,” Pearl said absently, waving the kids away as she resumed watching the Red Eye through the telescope while Garnet and Amethyst continued their current guerilla method of attacking it.

“So,” Steven began with a grin as he turned to Dipper and Mabel. “You guys wanna come with me to see if my dad has the cannons?”

“Of course!” Mabel eagerly agreed. “Anything to help out in another epic Gem mission!”

“But Steven, what if your dad doesn’t really have them?” Dipper asked apprehensively, not too fond of the idea that the entire town might be crushed in just a few hours.

“Oh come on, Dipper!” Mabel smirked teasingly. “Don’t be such a Negative Nancy! He’s gotta have at least one of them, right Steven?”

“I dunno,” Steven shrugged with a bright grin, not letting the possibility that he might be wrong deter him. “But it’s worth a shot. Now, come on! We have a town to save!”

Neither twin questioned the young Gem’s enthusiasm this time as they followed after him towards town, all three of them knowing that they were working on a hunch and a hunch alone. Yet, considering the giant menacing eye looming miles above their heads and growing ever closer with each passing hour, it was enough.


 

Soos whistled blithely to himself as he emerged from the Mystery Shack, toolbox in hand, to fix the weather vane like Stan had asked him to. Already feeling the sweltering summer heat, the handyman wiped the sweat from his brow and got to work, though not before taking a quick glance up at the apparently sunset-golden skies and the blood red orb he assumed was the sun.

“Huh,” Soos said to himself with a confused frown. “Guess it’s later than I thought. Oh well!  That just means it’s almost time to head home and enjoy Abuelita’s world famous quesadillas!”

The handyman shrugged contentedly as he carried on with the repair, scaling the stepladder so he could reach the weather vane. He had scarcely even set his toolbox down on the roof when the gift shop door suddenly burst open, rattling the roof and nearly knocking Soos down from his perch.

“Soos!” Stan bellowed gruffly as he stepped out of the shack. “When you’re done with that weather vane, I need you to get in here and clean up the broken snow globe that this klutzy kid dropped. I would enforce a “no kids under five” policy, but I don’t wanna lose out on their parent’s money.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Pines!” Soos readily complied. “I’ll be in as soon as the new sun sets. You know, I think that one actually gets closer instead of going lower.”

“Soos, I don’t know what you’re babbling about this time but-” the conman cut himself off as soon as he stepped out from under the porch roof a bit, only to see that the usual yellow afternoon sun was being completely overshadowed by the red, meteor-like orb positioned in the eastern skies. “What in the heck is that?”


 

Greg Universe lived on the far end of town, though technically, he could live wherever he wanted given that he slept in his van. However, most of the time he kept up shop at the carwash he owned and operated singlehandedly. Even if it’s wasn’t too close to the temple, it still wasn’t that much of a walk through town to get there, but considering the circumstances they were facing, the kids hurried towards it at a rather quickened pace.

“You guys are gonna love my dad!” Steven grinned cheerfully, glancing back at the twins as he led the way to the carwash. “He’s really laid back and a lot of fun. Plus, he used to be a rock star!”

“Wow!” Mabel exclaimed, stars of wonder practically in her eyes. “Your dad was a real rock star? With like a band and everything?”

“Nah, he didn’t have a band or anything like that,” Steven explained. “He sang and played the guitar by himself, but he still sounds great! He told me he used to go on tours all over the place. In fact, that’s how he ended up here in Gravity Falls in the first place!”

“So… why did he end up giving all that up so he could work at… a car wash?” Dipper asked, his tone turning a bit deadpan as they arrived at the car wash in question, the pun of its name: “It’s a Wash!” not being lost on him.

“Because of my mom, of course,” Steven explained succinctly, his idealistic grin apparent. “Now, if I know my dad, then he’s probably relaxing in his van right about now…”

Greg’s van stuck out like a sore thumb as it sat in front of the carwash. Its paint job was an elaborate array of colors and patterns, though they all called a space aesthetic to mind as stars, comets, and planets embezzled themselves on the vehicle’s otherwise white, lightly dented exterior. The words “Mr. Universe” were painted onto the side in purple, poiting towards the van’s origins as a tour vehicle. Dipper and Mabel followed close behind Steven as they approached the van, neither of them knowing what to expect save for what the young Gem had detailed about his father thus far. Steven, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to bang on the van’s back doors rather loudly in an attempt to rouse him.

“Dad!” Steven called. “It’s me! Are you in there?”

There was no immediate response, which only prompted the young Gem to knock harder on the metallic doors. “Dad, come on! Wake up!” he shouted as he began to climb onto the van itself. After giving Dipper a daring grin, Mabel joined him, and together, the two began to shake the vehicle as much as they could.

“Mr. Steven’s dad!” Mabel called loudly. “Come on out! Me and my brother would love to meet you!”

“Yeah! And we have to save the world!” Steven urged as him and Mabel continued to rock the van lightly. It wasn’t too long before the sudden motion set the van’s alarm off, the high pitched, irritating noise blaring through the calm of the afternoon. And, as the kids had hoped, this was finally enough to wake Greg up.

The former rock star burst out of the van, its doors swinging open as the middle-aged man stumbled out, brandishing a waffle iron and a startled expression. “Who’s there?” he exclaimed in a. “I have a waffle iron!”  Greg quickly stopped waving the iron around upon noticing Dipper, who was the only one of the kids still on the ground and who was somewhat taken aback in light of the man’s abrupt appearance. “Huh?”

“Dad!” Steven called from the top of the van as both him and Mabel peered down. “It’s me!”

Greg glanced upwards upon hearing his son’s voice, squinting in confusion as his eyes adjusted to the waning daylight. “Steven?”

With an energized grunt, Steven hopped off of the roof of the van, landing squarely in his bewildered father’s arms while Mabel dismounted from the vehicle the way she had scaled up it. “Dad!” Steven exclaimed once more, a wide grin on his face as Greg set him down. “I want you to meet my friends!  is Dipper and Mabel.”

“Oh yeah,” Greg offered the twins a friendly smile. “Steven’s told me about you guys. It’s good to finally meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too, Mr. Universe,” Dipper replied politely, though he had barely finished speaking before Mabel jumped in with her usual verve.

“So, Steven told us that you used to be a rock star,” she began with an eager grin. “Just how famous were you? Did you ever sign a record deal? Did you go platinum? Did you ever get a lunchbox with your face on it? Did you-”

“Heh, I wasn’t that much of a big deal back in the day…” Greg cut her off with a humble laugh, somewhat overwhelmed by all of her questions, though her boundless energy certainly reminded him of his own son. “I used to dream about making it that big, but… well… sometimes things don’t always turn out the way you’d think they would…” He paused for a moment, smiling wistfully before he turned back to the twins. “But anyway, Steven says you kids are related to Mr. Pines?”

“Yep!” Mabel confirmed. “He’s our grunkle!”

“Which is short for great uncle,” Dipper added, knowing that not everyone initially understood the term they had come up with for Stan.

“Well, what a coincidence!” Greg said. “I used to work for Mr. Pines when I first came here to Gravity Falls. It was a part-time gig, of course, but it put food in my belly and gas in my van back when me and Steven’s mom were going out.”

“Whoa!” Steven gasped in awe upon hearing this new information. “Dad, you never told me you used to work at the Mystery Shack! That’s so cool!”

“Yeah, I don’t like to brag about it too much, but I was the first real employee there,” Greg said with a reminiscent laugh. “Mr. Pines was actually a pretty neat boss. In fact, he even helped me out with a small loan so I could buy the car wash here.”

“That’s funny; I can’t picture Stan giving a loan out to anyone now,” Dipper deadpanned, taking a small, harmless jab at his uncle’s miserly ways.

“Anyway, I gotta admit, you kids gave me a bit of a scare. I almost waffled your faces!” Greg chuckled as he put the waffle iron back in the van. “What are you three doing up so late in the first place?”

“It’s only about 4 in the afternoon…” Dipper informed him.

“Oh,” Greg reddened in embarrassment upon taking a glance up at the sky to see it was still light outside and that his perception of time was quite askew. “It was a… slow day at the carwash. So… what’s up, Steven? Did you just want to introduce me to your friends, or did you wanna see you old man, pal around, learn some lessons about life?” The former rock star grinned fondly as he took his son into a headlock and gave him a gentle noogie.

Steven couldn’t help but laugh at his father’s show of affection, though he was quick to remember the important matter at hand. “No, Dad,” he said as his grin faded into a concerned frown. “We need the Light Cannons that used to belong to Mom, so we can blow up that eyeball!” he exclaimed, pointing up to the Red Eye, which was steadily growing ever closer to the earth.

“Eyeball?” Greg asked incredulously as he turned to face where his son was pointing. His eyes widened as he saw the crimson orb, and he was quite taken aback to see Amethyst flying towards it from a distance, only to bounce off of it and fall back into the forest once more. “Wait, is this a magical thing?” he asked a bit uncomfortably as he turned back to Steven. “The Gems told me not to get involved with magic stuff… It could be dangerous, or interfere with what’s left of my hair…” He frowned as he rubbed his somewhat graying mullet, which didn’t quite reach the top of his head, even though it flowed down his back quite a ways.

“But the Gems need Mom’s cannons!” Steven urged. “You gotta know where they are! Or at least one of them!”

“And if you don’t remember, then maybe we could try to jog your memory!” Mabel suggested enthusiastically. “Are they in a sparkly cave dungeon somewhere? Or what about at the top of a giant volcano, filled with lava?! Or they might be buried in a huge treasure chest at the bottom of the lake!”

“Well, I don’t know about all that…” Greg said, scratching the back of his neck. “But I have an idea about where one of them might be… Maybe…”


 

“Throw me again!” Amethyst encouraged brazenly as she emerged out of the forest, returning from her and Garnet’s latest attempt at wearing down the Red Eye. “I think I’m starting to crack it!”

Garnet was about to do just that before Pearl cut in. “I… don’t think this is working…” she said with a worried frown. “All we’re doing is wasting what little time we have left. We’ll have to come up with a different plan.”

“There’s not much we can do without those cannons,” Garnet stated plainly, knowing just as well as the white Gem that simply launching Amethyst at the Red Eye wasn’t going to do much good.

“I hope Steven isn’t too disappointed when he finds out Greg doesn’t have them,” Pearl sighed. “But it makes no sense that Rose would leave them with him without telling us, or at least me. After all, she used to tell me everything…”

“Yeah, yeah…” Amethyst said, rolling her eyes. “We know, P. You’ve bragged about how much Rose trusted you a billion times. We get it.”

Pearl was just about to send a biting retort back at the purple Gem before their conversation was abruptly interrupted. “Hey!” Stan called gruffly as he marched towards the trio of Gems, Soos trailing not too far behind. “What’s the big idea here?”

“What are you talking about?” Garnet asked calmly, even though she had an idea about what he meant.

“Don’t play dumb,” Stan accused crossly. “I’m talking about that huge red thing in the sky! Trouble follows you three around like a shadow, which means you probably know what it is, so spill it.”

“Ugh, Stan, we don’t have time for this!” Pearl said impatiently. “If you couldn’t already tell, we’re in the middle of trying to deal with it ourselves. But if you must know, it’s called a Red Eye and-”

“And if we don’t get rid of it, it’s gonna smash into the town and take us all out!” Amethyst said with mock dramatism, largely so she could get on Pearl’s nerves, which she succeeded at.

“Ha! Yeah right!” Stan laughed, thinking that this was just another of the purple Gem’s infamous jokes. “What, do you think I was born yesterday?”

“Compared to the three of us, you are!” Amethyst chuckled, fully joking this time as she referred to the long lifespans of each of the Gems.

“Amethyst wasn’t joking,” Garnet said succinctly. “Either times.”

Upon hearing this confirmation from the most serious of the Gems, Stan sobered up and took another glance up at the Red Eye, finally realizing the immense threat it posed. “But… you dudes are gonna get rid of it… right?” Soos asked the Gems nervously, hoping that they would be able to handle this danger.

“Well of course we are,” Pearl said with apt confidence, before dropping her voice down to a mutter. “As soon as we figure out how to destroy it…”

“What?!” Stan exclaimed, aghast. “You mean you don’t even know how? I thought you three were supposed to protect the town from magical nonsense like this?”

“Well, Garnet tried throwing me at it a whole bunch of times, but it’s not doing much…” Amethyst admitted with a sheepish frown. “So… yeah. We’re basically screwed. Unless Steven, Dipper, and Mabel can somehow find those Light Cannons. But the chances of that happening are… pretty low.”

“You three sent my niece and nephew off to go find some magical cannons or something like that?” Stan asked all three of them, raising a caustic eyebrow.

“First of all, we didn’t send them,” Pearl corrected pointedly. “They wanted to go look for them with Steven. Second of all, they’re not in any danger at all. They’re across town asking Greg if he has them. So you have no reason to be concerned, Stan.”

“You actually thought I was worried about those knuckleheads?” Stan scoffed, crossing his arms. “At least if they’re off bothering Greg, they ain’t bothering me for a change.”

“So, uh… What are you guys gonna do about that red thing?” Soos interjected anxiously, still frowning up at the looming Red Eye.

“We’ll think of something,” Garnet assured, even though the resourceful Gem leader herself was starting to run low on options as time began to run out. “We always do.”


 

As it turned out, Greg’s theorized location for where the Light Cannons might be stored was far from any spectacular, mythical hide-out like Mabel had speculated. Instead, it was the simple, yet sizable storage bin the former rock star rented, which was fortunately just a few blocks away from the car wash.

“Wow!” Steven exclaimed with a bright grin as the four of them arrived at the storage facility. “A magical storage unit!”

“Ha, not exactly,” Greg laughed as he searched his pocket for the key. “But some would say there’s magic inside…” He flashed a mysterious grin at the kids, though all three of them returned his dramatic statement with clueless stares of confusion. “It’s just a shed I use to keep things that don’t fit in the van. If those cannons are anywhere, they’ll be in here.”

Without any further ado, Greg unlocked the storage bin and pulled the large door up and open. The unit was a mess, to say the least; it was an unorganized cluster of boxes piled upon boxes, filled to the brim with countless items and articles that didn’t fit in those boxes and took up the sparse space in between the pile. It was clear that Greg hadn’t really had the time or energy to go through half of what he had tucked away in there, but he still grinned optimistically as they all stood before it, hardly phased with the disaster at all.

“It’d be a miracle if the cannons even fit in there at all…” Dipper said with a dismayed frown, much less ready to take on the ordeal of searching through the messy bin than Steven and Mabel were.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Mabel asked with a daring grin. “Let’s get looking!”

“Wait!” Steven stopped her as she began to lead the way towards the bin. “If we’re going in there, we’re gonna need some gear.”

Gathering the proper “supplies” from what they could salvage from near the entrance of the storage bin, Steven and Mabel managed to fashion what they deemed to be the proper gear for investigating the cluttered unit. Steven tied a flashlight to his head as something of a headlamp while Mabel took up a yardstick that could be used to poke and prod through the layers of boxes. Though Dipper turned down his sister’s offer of using a trash can lid as a shield, he did agree to being tethered along by an extension chord along with Mabel and Steven, so the three of them would be able to find their way out if they lost themselves in the mess.

“Ok,” Steven said with confidence as the three of them stood before the daunting mountain of clutter, prepared to take on this challenge. “Here we go.”

“Good luck!” Greg called after the kids as he watched them squeeze their way through the first layer of boxes. They all needed to crawl just to slip inside, but they managed to work their way in as Steven led the way, his flashlight dimly illuminating the dark, crowded space.

“Wow!” Mabel exclaimed in awe as they all got a better look of the depths of the storage bin and its diverse contents. “Your dad has so much cool stuff in here, Steven!”

“I know, right?” Steven agreed, looking around with interest. “It’s like a Dad museum in here!”

“If it was a museum, it’d be the messiest one ever,” Dipper remarked, somewhat intimidated by all of the clutter. “Mr. Universe, have you ever thought about having a yard sale? You know, so you can get rid of some of this junk and have more space?”

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to for a while now…” Greg admitted with a sheepish, somewhat guilty chuckle. “I guess I’m just a little hesitant about parting ways with some of this old stuff…”

“I can see why!” Steven said with a grin as he spotted a vague, cannon-like shape in the shadows nearby. He let out a small gasp of excitement as he pointed his light in that direction, only to find that it was simply a golf club hanging from above. “Do you golf, Dad?” he asked curiously, leaving the golf club where it was as they moved on.

“Eh, I’d like to think of myself as someone who would golf… eventually.”

“Whoa! Look at that!” Mabel exclaimed, poiting to another shadow deeper along, one that was undeniably similar to a cannon in shape. She strayed from the path a bit to reach for it, her grin widening as the features of the handheld, gun-like object growing ever clearer. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” she gushed as she picked it up, showing it off to the boys. “This has to be it!”

“It looks kinda… small to be a Light Cannon,” Dipper said with an underwhelmed frown, though Steven was much more open to the possibility that it was.

“Try it!” the young Gem encouraged heartily. Mabel did so, shooting the cannon towards the bare wall only for a rolled-up tee shirt fly out of the barrel instead of a beam of magical light.

“‘Buy T-Shirt Cannons?’” Mabel read the print on the tee shirt aloud as she unfurled it, setting the t-shirt cannon down as the trio continued their search.

“Called it,” Dipper said with a small, somewhat smug grin, though Mabel was quick to offer payback as she gave him a light punch on the shoulder.

The kids were steadily approaching the back of the storage bin as Steven caught sight of a rather interesting box along their path and he immediately recognized its contents. “Hey, Dad!” he called back to his father. “There’s a whole box of your old CDs in here!”

“So you did have a record deal!” Mabel exclaimed with satisfaction that she had been right. “I knew it!”

“Oh, nah,” Greg said with a wave of his hand. “I burnt those CDs myself way back when. I couldn’t give those things away. You know, before I ran the car wash, when I was a one-man band, I traveled the whole country.”

“We know, Dad,” Steven said with a good-natured chuckle. “I already told Dipper and Mabel all about that.”

“Heh, yeah, well…” Greg laughed in slight embarrassment at being redundant in his reminiscing. “When I came to play a concert here in Gravity Falls, no one showed up except-”

“An ALLIGATOR!” Steven finished dramatically.

“Whoa, really?!” Mabel asked, fully buying it, though Dipper merely rolled his eyes, knowing that Steven was probably joking.

“No, it was Steven’s mom, Rose,” Greg said with a small, fond smile as he thought of his late love.

“Yeah, I know!” Steven quipped as the kids continued to dig ever deeper into the bin.

“Me and Rose hit it off right from the start,” Greg continued with a contented sigh, caught up in memories long gone by. “And after I settled down here, we were always together. Until she gave up her physical form to bring Steven into the world.”

“Wait, that’s what happened to your mom, Steven?” Dipper asked, somewhat confused by this odd explanation.

“Yeah,” Steven said with a nod, though he still managed to keep up his usual cheerful attitude despite the grim subject. “The Gems told me that Mom passed her gem down to me, which is why she isn’t around anymore. I don’t really understand it that much, but she must have been really nice to be willing to do that for me.”

“She was more than just nice,” Greg smiled, the very thought of Rose filling him with wistful, happy longing. “She was sweet, and selfless, and funny, and brave, and beautiful, and amazing. I don’t know what a magical lady like her ever saw in a saw in a plain old dope like me.”

“Aw…” Mabel mused, always a sucker for sweeping love stories. “How romantic!”

Steven was so caught up in listening to his father recount details about his mother that he didn’t even notice the framed photo in his way until he heard the breaking of glass underneath his knee. “Uh oh…” he frowned as he picked up the picture, seeing that the glass of the frame had a sizable crack in it. “Um… Dad, I broke a photo… The one of you and Mom…”

That’s your mom, Steven?” Dipper asked in amazement as he stole a glance at the picture, which featured Greg and Rose blissfully side by side.

Rose Quartz was indeed as lovely as Greg had made her out to be. Her features were soft and pleasant, even though her eyes were closed, though there was a contented smile on her full coral lips. Her hair was a bewildering abundance of lofty pink curls, the somehow perfect ringlets framing her face and spinning their way long past the borders of the picture. She was clearly taller than Greg, though he stood alongside her all the same, grinning up at her with adoration despite the hot dog that was half-shoved into his mouth.

“Wow…” Mabel whispered in awe as she looked at the photo as well. “Steven… she’s so beautiful…”

“Yeah…” Steven said with a small, though somewhat sad smile as he stroked the side of the photo with his thumb. “She was, wasn’t she? Oh, but again, I’m really sorry about breaking it, Dad!”

“Don’t worry about it, buddy,” Greg reassured him, not at all angry with his son for an innocent accident. “If every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.”

No sooner had the former rock star said this than a bright, pinking glow alerted all three kids, diverting their attention to its source, which was near the back of the storage unit. At first, it was so bright and sudden that it practically blinded them, though as it faded a bit, they were all able to see the large pink cannon sitting, still emitting a soft, magical light.

“Wait… is that…?” Mabel trailed off though Steven was quick to finish for her.

“It is!” he gasped in excitement. “It’s one of the Light Cannons!”

“But where’s the other one?” Dipper asked, glancing around and noticing that this cannon seemed to be the only one there.

“Wait… they’re not together?” Steven frowned, his zeal dimming a bit. “But… I thought… If it’s not here, then where could it be?”

“Don’t worry!” Mabel encouraged. “I’m sure we’ll find it soon! For now, we should probably get this huge thing outta here. Anyone wanna carry it?”

“Uh… why don’t we just use the chord?” Dipper suggested, not to fond of the idea of hauling the most likely very heavy cannon all the way through the messy storage unit.

“Good idea!” Steven said before calling out to his father outside. “Hey, Dad! We found one of them!”

“Really?” Greg asked, actually taken aback that Rose had trusted him enough to hide one of her precious cannons away in his storage bin. “I’ll get the van!”

He did just that as the kids securely tied the cannon down with the extension cord, the end of which was still outside so Greg could latch it onto the back bumper of his van. In truth, their plan hadn’t been very well thought out, for as Greg slowly inched the van forward, it indeed pulled the cannon forward. However, doing so ended up pushing most of the tightly packed contents out of the storage bin as well, until the cannon was free and most of the boxes and clutter were in a disheveled pile right outside.

“This thing could help save the town!” Steven urged as him, Dipper and Mabel emerged from the storage bin themselves. “We’ve gotta get it back to the temple!”

“Easier said than done,” Greg said with a frown. “It’s too big to fit in the van.”

Coincidentally enough, a wagon that had once been in the storage unit happened to roll by them, giving them all pretty much the same idea. Though it took some doing and some teamwork, the four of them all managed to lift the hefty cannon up onto the wagon. Of course as soon as they gently let it down, its weight abruptly caused the bottom of the wagon to collapse entirely, leaving the cannon’s base still on the ground, though it was still surrounded by the wagon’s wheels.

“We… really should have thought this plan through better,” Dipper said, doubting that they’d be getting the cannon anywhere like this.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Mabel said with a wave of her hand, clearly not concerned. “Now come on! Let’s get this bad boy to the temple!”

Knowing they had no time to lose, everyone quickly piled into the van, Greg and Steven taking the only two front seats while Dipper and Mabel sat semi-comfortably on top of the large pile of clothes fight behind them. As the van pulled forward, the cannon dragged along behind it, tethered to the back bumper as it was still contained by the sides of the wagons, though not the bottom.

“Are you sure it’s gonna be ok?” Steven asked his dad as he glanced out the side mirror, seeing how the cannon was scraping along the bare pavement unrelentingly as they headed through town.

Greg shrugged, not really having an answer to that question as he defaulted to his usual catchphrase. “If every pork chop were perfect-”

“We wouldn’t have hot dogs!” Steven chimed in, finishing the statement.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how hot dogs are made…” Dipper remarked with a frown.

“Sheesh…” Greg muttered as he glanced up out of the window towards the Red Eye, which they were gradually getting closer to as it was getting closer to them. “That thing’s getting huge. It’s freaking me out.”

“Can’t the van go any faster?” Mabel asked eagerly, leaning forward a bit.

“This is faster,” Greg replied, somewhat ashamed over how the van could only handle going about thirty miles an hour at most.

“Don’t worry,” Steven reassured all of them with a blithe grin. “Everything’s gonna be great! We’ll take this cannon to the Gems and then we’ll hurry up and find the other one!”

“Yeah!” Dipper and Mabel agreed in whole-hearted unison, both of them resolved to do whatever they had to to help save the town.

“Hey, Dad? Mind if I put on one of your CDs?” Steven asked his father with a small grin, pulling out the copy of the single he had tucked away in his pocket back at the storage bin. “It’ll help lighten the mood!”

“Aw… really?” Greg asked, clearly embarrassed. “You guys don’t wanna hear that old thing…”

“Yeah we do!” Mabel exclaimed encouragingly. “Come on, Mr. Universe! Let’s play it!”

“Play it! Play it!” Steven cheered as he inserted the disc into the van’s CD player. The rock single blared over the speakers, rumbling the van with the loud guitar riff that opened it. The intro only lasted for a few seconds though, before the lyrics started, with Greg’s voice singing passionately to the upbeat tune.

“I know I’m not that tall, I know I’m not that smart, But let me drive my van into your heart!”

“Let me drive my van into your heart!” Steven chimed in on the song, already knowing the words from having heard it countless times. Greg chuckled, albeit nervously as he looked to the Red Eye again. The cannon still dragged faithfully behind the van as it careened through downtown, many of the ordinary residents of Gravity Falls pausing their usual activity to watch it go by in confusion, the sound of metal against cement accompanied by the ballad thumping from the vehicle.

“I know I’m not that rich, I’m trying to get my start…”

“So let me drive my van into your heart!” Steven sang along and this time Mabel zealously joined him, both of them singing along to the melody as the van turned onto the path that led to the temple.

The song continued to blast from the van even as it approached the Gems, still observing the Red Eye from the base of the hill along with Stan and Soos. At first, none of them noticed the van as they all argued amongst themselves over what to do about the incoming orb, and even from a distance, it was quite clear that the Gems and the con man were quite frustrated with each other and their situation.

“Why don’t one of you just go up there with a baseball bat or something and knock the stupid thing back up into space?” Stan proposed somewhat sarcastically, having already suggested several other actual ideas that had all been quickly shot down.

“Oh, please,” Pearl rolled her eyes at such a ridiculous thought. “That would never work. None of our weapons would even put a dent in the Red Eye; a bat would shatter into pieces upon simply striking it."

“Not if you hit it hard enough,” Stan remarked with a caustic grin.

“Hey, I’m all for hitting it with stuff,” Amethyst agreed, smiling daringly at the Red Eye. “Maybe we could throw a car or a house or something huge at it. That might work, right?”

Garnet and Pearl were both about to reject this idea before the van broke through the woods and arrived on the scene, still tugging the Light Cannon behind it. All three of the Gems stared at the pink cannon in shock, barely even noticing as Steven poked his head of out the window and offered a cheerful greeting. “Hey guys!”

“I can’t believe it…” Pearl muttered in awe. “He actually had one of them!”

“We’re SAVED!” Amethyst cheered exuberantly, overwhelmed with relief.

“Not quite,” Garnet remarked, not really needing to remind them that they were still a Light Cannon short.

“What is that thing?” Stan asked, raising an eyebrow at the cannon. “Some sort of flower gun?”

“It’s a cannon!” Steven exclaimed happily as he got out of the van and ran over to the group, Dipper and Mabel following not too far behind as Greg positioned the van and the cannon just right. “We’re gonna use it to save the town!”

“Let me get this straight,” Stan began as he gave all three kids a scrutinizing look, particularly the twins. “You three actually managed to find something that can blow up that eyesore?”

“We sure did, Grunkle Stan!” Mabel beamed proudly.

“Well, we found one of them, anyway,” Dipper corrected, well aware that there was still work to be done.

“Where’s the other one?” Pearl asked, concern overriding relief. “Didn’t Greg have it?”

“Hey, my storage bin can only fit so much!” Greg called out defensively as he continued parking the van.

“So if he doesn’t have it, then where is it?” Amethyst asked the kids.

“We… don’t really know,” Steven admitted sheepishly.

“Well you have to go find it!” Pearl exclaimed insistently. “We don’t have much time left. At this rate, there’s only about an hour or so left until the Red Eye crashes into the earth!”

“Wait… you guys are actually trusting us to go find it?” Dipper asked, somewhat taken aback at the fact that the Gems didn’t take this mission upon themselves. After all, they usually insisted on handling such daunting matters on their own, without relying on any outside help. It was quite a sudden surprise to hear them actively asking for assistance, especially with such an important task.

 “You three found the first cannon,” Garnet said with confidence. “We’re sure you can find the other one.”

“Yeah, you guys got this!” Amethyst assured. “But uh… just don’t take too long finding it. Otherwise… we’re all pretty much toast.”

“Amethyst!” Pearl scolded.

“Just sayin’”

“You dudes can do it!” Soos encouraged with a wide grin and a thumbs up.

Steven, Dipper, and Mabel all gladly accepted this optimism in the mission that had been thrust upon the, though they were more than ready to tackle it, despite not having any clear leads. However, the twins were quick to notice that the only one who was making no affirmation of confidence was, of course, their own grunkle.

“You’re… not gonna try and stop us, Grunkle Stan?” Dipper asked hesitantly, knowing how the con man felt about the Gems and their affairs.

“I don’t know if I really buy the idea that two ‘magical’ pink cannons can take that eye out,” Stan said as he crossed his arms stoically, pretending to not really care about the matter that much. “But I don’t really care as long as it doesn’t end up crashing into the shack and costing me hundreds in property damage and lost merchandise.”

“Don’t worry, Grunkle Stan!” Mabel grinned reassuringly. “We’ll knock that eye right out of the sky! Right, fellas?”

“Right!” Steven and Dipper unanimously agreed.

“Well? What are you kids waiting for?” Pearl urged anxiously, taking a nervous glance up at the looming Red Eye. “We’ll stay here and get the first cannon into position. You three go find the other one. And hurry! The entire town is counting on us!”

“And we won’t let them down!” Steven said boldly, already leading the way towards town so they could find a starting place for locating the second cannon. “Let’s go, you guys! One cannon down, one to go!”

 To be continued...

Chapter Text

 

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Stan frowned skeptically as he watched Dipper, Mabel, and Steven enthusiastically hurry off towards town, their mission to find the second Light Cannon clear as ever. Though he didn’t want to admit it in front of the kids, he did in fact have his doubts about them succeeding in this daunting task. Sure, they had located the first cannon, but since Greg had it all this time, it had been a rather easy find. But even the Gems themselves didn’t seem to have the slightest clue about where the other one might be, which was quite alarming considering the fact that the Red Eye was drawing every nearer with each passing minute. And it was only as the kids were far out of earshot that the con man turned to the Gems to voice these concerns.

“Do you three really think those kids can find that cannon?” Stan asked with a caustic frown, his arms crossed as he watched them untie the first cannon from the back of Greg’s van.

“Hey, they found the first one, didn’t they?” Amethyst shrugged, seeing no reason not to have any confidence in the kids.

“Besides, it’s not like we have too many other options at the moment…” Pearl said fretfully, harboring her own worries about whether or not they would be able to retrieve the second Light Cannon.

“You know how determined Steven can be, Mr. Pines,” Greg laughed good-naturedly, joining the group after he finished parking the van. “And from the looks of it, your niece and nephew seem to be the same way.”

“A bit too much if you ask me…” Stan mumbled somewhat disgruntledly. “But what if they don’t find it, huh? What happens then?”

“Then we’ll figure something else out,” Garnet said, though the vagueness in her calm tone was clear.

“Garnet’s right,” Pearl agreed firmly. “We’re not about to let this town be destroyed under our watch. We’ll do what we have to in order to protect it.”

“Like what?” Soos asked curiously.

None of the Gems answered this question at first as they all exchanged an apprehensive glance. In truth, none of them really knew what they were going to do if the kids failed to find the second canon. Despite their combined strength and abilities, none of them were quite strong or skilled enough to take on such an enormous threat as the Red Eye without any external force or weapon. Once again, they all silently mourned the fact that Rose was no longer with them, for certainly she would have brought both of her Light Cannons forth as soon as the Red Eye appeared in the sky. But even without the cannons, she would have been able to come up with a decisive, effective plan for eradicating it and protecting the people of Gravity Falls as she always used to do. But, as the Gems were all too painfully aware of, Rose was gone, and now, their last hope seemed to rest in the hands of three optimistic, if not inexperienced children, who were currently on a time-pressed mission with nothing but their own determination and ingenuity to aid them. In the eyes of the Crystal Gems, this certainly seemed to be an ironic twist of fate.

“Like… well…” Pearl began with relative uncertainty in her tone before Garnet fortunately cut in.

“Like combining our efforts together in order to bring it down,” the Gem leader explained simply, even if her answer was incredibly ambiguous.

 “Yeah, well as great as that sounds, it’d be better if those kids hurry up and find that cannon,” Stan said, masking his worry with sarcasm as usual. “I’m not too excited about the idea of being flattened into a pancake.”

“I think you mean Stan-cake!” Amethyst joked before breaking into a round of impish laughter, though she was largely ignored by the other Gems, who found it hard to find levity in a moment like this.

“They’ll find it,” Garnet said with clear, firm confidence. “We underestimated them before. We are not going to underestimate them again.”


 

“Okay,” Dipper began as he held out a map of Gravity Falls so that Steven and Mabel could see. They had picked up the free tourist map from the Big Donut, which was where the young Gem had insisted they start their search for the Light Cannon, if only to pick up a few donuts for the road. The trio sat together on the sidewalk of the donut shop now as they tried to come up with a good way to jumpstart their search and finish it as quickly as possible. “So as far as we know, the other cannon could be literally anywhere here in Gravity Falls.”

“Or it might not even be in Gravity Falls at all,” Steven interjected. “There are a lot of Gem places out there that the Gems and I have to use the warp pad to get to. Mom could have hid it at one of them.”

“Not helping, Steven,” Dipper said with slight exasperation in his tone, especially as he glanced up to see the Red Eye hovering overhead, serving as a reminder that time was not on their side. “But anyway, I think we should start by narrowing down a list of all of the places the cannon might be.”

“Good idea, bro-bro!” Mabel said enthusiastically. “So what kind of place would be the hiding spot for a magical pink glowy cannon?”

“Out in the forest maybe?” Steven suggested as Dipper circled the woods on the map as a place to check. “There’s all sorts of weird, cool stuff hiding out there!”

“And it probably wouldn’t be stored somewhere in town…” Dipper mused, drawing an x over most of the stores and businesses on the map.

“It’s not out near the Mystery Shack,” Mabel assumed. “I’m pretty sure we would have seen it by now if it was.”

“And it’s not at the temple,” Steven concluded. “After all, the Gems don’t know where it is, and they’d be the first to know if it was there.”

“Ok, so that leaves us with the forest, the lake, and the cliffs as being the best places to look,” Dipper said as he looked over the map with a frown. “That’s… a lot of ground to cover in not a whole lot of time…”

“Maybe we could split up?” Steven suggested, even if he wasn’t too fond of the idea to be perfectly honest. “Oh, but then how would we get the cannon back to the Gems if one of us found it…?”

“Nah, I think we should stick together,” Mabel grinned, wrapping her arms around both boys’ shoulders. “After all, three heads are better than one!”

“Still, there has to be a better way to look for it…” Dipper said thoughtfully, frowning down at the map once more. However, as he did so, a sudden idea at last came to him, one that he had actually thought of before, but only now remembered as he shifted his gaze up towards the Red Eye once more. “Wait a minute… the journal!” he exclaimed, his expression brightening, despite the fact that Mabel and Steven were a bit confused.

“You think the journal might have something about the Light Cannon written in it?” the young Gem asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Maybe,” Dipper shrugged, as he pulled the journal out of his vest. “After all, it did have info on the Centipeedle in it. Who’s to say the author didn’t know about other Gem-related things too?”

Convinced that this was a solid lead, Dipper began to leaf through the journal, brushing past pages detailing gnomes, ghosts, and gargoyles in search of anything that told of Gems or, at the very least, the elusive Light Cannon. While he had read several of its more interesting pages already, he hadn’t had time to look over everything contained within the thick, rather complex volume, including most of its latter pages. However, as he flipped through the journal’s second half, he began to notice something odd about the crinkled, browning pages, or even more specifically, their randomly varying thickness. “Wait…” he muttered in confusion as he thumbed a corner of one of the apparently thicker pages, running over a strange, small, metallic bump lining the very edge of the paper. “Are these pages… stapled?”

“Whoa…” Mabel gasped as she took the bottom of the page and felt out the rather small, barely visible bottom of the staple there. “They totally are! Weird…”

“But… who would staple these pages together? And why?” Steven asked with a frown as he looked to the contents of the page in question, which only seemed to have some basic information about a rather generic-looking monster, though it certainly did seem like the kind of beast the Gems would have encountered in the past.

“I don’t know…” Dipper said, though he didn’t hesitate to begin picking away at the staples, hoping to free the obscured pages trapped by them. “But we’re about to find out.”

 As soon as Dipper removed the staples and turned the next page, all three kids gasped in shock and amazement at what they saw. The formerly-hidden pages were covered in detailed sketches of the Crystal Gems themselves, accompanied by a variety of notes and descriptions, though interlaced throughout much of the script were codes and cryptograms in place of certain words. Each Gem seemed to have her own page, including Rose Quartz herself, much to Steven’s great surprise.

“W-what is all this?” the young Gem muttered, slightly disconcerted by the revelation that the already mysterious journal contained such specific information on the Gems.

“This is incredible!” Dipper grinned widely, immensely fascinated by all of these new facts and details about the Gems. Just by skimming over these first few pages alone, he learned that Garnet could withstand incredibly high temperatures, Amethyst could perfectly shapeshift into a person or object after only seeing them once, and Pearl could create holographic replicas of herself at a whim. “Look at all this! I knew the journal had information about Gem stuff, but I didn’t think they’re be anything about the Gems themselves! We could learn so much about them from this!”

“Yeah, but… why is all this stuff in the journal anyway?” Steven asked with a somewhat uneasy frown, feeling as though delving into such information without the Gem’s consent was something of an invasion of their privacy.

“Maybe the guy who wrote the journal was friends with the Gems,” Mabel suggested. “And so they let him write about them in his book because they’re so cool!”

“Oh my gosh!” Dipper exclaimed, simply beside himself with excitement at this possibility. “If that’s true, then that means that the Gems would know who the author of the journal is! Finding out who wrote this thing will be as easy as just asking them!”

“Uh… maybe we should focus on finding that other Light Cannon first…” Steven cut in, trying to hide the fact that he wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea of presenting the journal to the Gems now. After all, he knew better than anyone that the Gems much preferred to keep to themselves, and any unknown scrap of knowledge about them and their abilities came few and far between. And, for the most part, the young Gem was just fine with that. Yet, for some reason he couldn’t quite discern, the thought of showing them the journal and all of the information it contained about them didn’t sit well with him. What if the author had obtained that information without their permission? Certainly, the Gems would be furious upon seeing any number of their secrets being inscribed in any way, even if a lot of the notes in the journal were obscured by jumbled letters and codes. The last thing Steven wanted to do was upset anyone, especially his illustrious guardians. Which was why he was quick to switch the focus of the conversation back to the dilemma at hand, knowing that the problem with the journal had to wait compared to the impending destruction posed by the Red Eye.

“Oh yeah!” Mabel exclaimed, reaching over to flip through the pages of the journal, much to Dipper’s slight aggravation. “Let’s see if there’s something about that cannon in here!”

“I’m sure there is,” Dipper said a bit matter-of-factly as they leafed through the journal, passing pages detailing the Gem temple, the Crystal Gems’ weapons, and their group manifesto, all of which were things that he made a mental note to read over late. However, after a few more pages of various Gem monsters, the kids finally happened upon exactly what they were looking for: an image on the dual Light Cannons themselves with two pages worth of notes describing them.

“There they are!” Steven exclaimed with a relieved grin, thankful for both the information as well as the fact that they had moved away from the Gems’ mysterious connection to the author. “So what’s it say? Are there any clues about where the other one might be?”

“Let’s see …” Dipper used as he looked over the Light Cannon entry before reading it aloud. “The dual Laser Light Cannons are among the Crystal Gems’ most powerful auxiliary weapons. They appear to be powered by an internal, contained source of magic and, upon activation, they emit a conjoined beam of pure energy strong enough to tear through many manner of physical material, terrestrial or otherwise. It should be noted that the cannons can only function to their maximum capacity when they are paired together, for their power is approximately halved when they are apart.”

“Blah, blah, blah,” Mabel groaned boredly, not particularly interested in the superfluous description. “We already know all this stuff. What about where it’s at?”

“Hold on a minute,” Dipper said as he quickly skimmed over a few of the other notes about the cannons and their functionality before flipping the page to see that it had little else on it aside from what looked like a poem, with a brief description at the top. “Because of how potentially powerful the Light Cannons are together, Rose believes that it is safer to store them separately when not in use. It is for this reason that she recently entrusted me with the care of one of her cannons until the Gems have need of it. While I can’t state here where exactly we agreed to hide it, we did collaborate on a series of clues as to its location, which are inscribed below.” 

“Wow…” Steven said in awed realization, his former concerns about the Gems learning about the journal slightly diminishing in light of this. “So the Gems really did know the author! Or at least my mom did. And she must have trusted him a lot to let him take care of one of her cannons! I wonder who he could be…?”

“We can figure that out later,” Dipper said, even though he was even more curious about the identity of the mysterious author now more than ever. “For now, we should see what these clues say.”

The clues took the form of a two-stanza poem, scrawled in a handwriting that was obviously different from that of the author’s but still just as elegant. The poem itself was vague and cryptic even upon a first reading, though that only made sense, considering the powerful weapon it was meant to keep hidden:

“My cannon hides within the heart
Its key within the mind.
Go down to where the waters part
And search for gold of a different kind.”

“For those who are truly smart,
This riddle shall soon unwind.
For near the place where mysteries start,
There, magic, you shall surely find.”

“Well, that’s a pretty poem and everything,” Mabel said with a slightly confounded frown. “But what the heck does it mean? Dipper, you read a lot of nerdy mystery books and junk. Do you get any of this stuff?”

“I don’t exactly read a ton of poetry, Mabel,” Dipper frowned, rolling his eyes before looking to the riddle once more. “But this can’t be too hard to figure out, right? I don’t know what the whole part about the cannon being in the heart and the key in the mind means, but going to ‘where the waters part’ sounds promising…”

“That could mean the lake!” Steven exclaimed brightly. “But… where are we supposed to find gold down there?”

“Well, there’s only one way to find out!” Mabel proclaimed with a bold grin, already taking the initiative as she stood, motioning for the boys to do the same. “To the lake we go!”


 

The scarlet aura the Red Eye cast upon the town seemed to steadily intensify as the kids hurried for the lake, reminding them that they were on a right schedule for decoding the journal’s riddle. While Steven and Mabel took the lead, merrily conversing about a wide variety of trivial, lighthearted subjects from sweaters to ice cream, Dipper hung back a bit behind them, intently pouring over the newly-discovered section of the journal. While it did indeed contain previously unknown information on the Gems, several portions of it were frustratingly encrypted in code, as if to keep the already obscured texted hidden even more. And yet, that hardly deterred Dipper as he read through the scrambled passages anyway, trying his best to infer what they might say despite the staggering amount of cryptograms interspersed within them.

 “Early on into my investigation of Gravity Falls, I noticed a group of elusive female beings, quite possibly of some magical origin, who seem protect the town from danger. Previously, I had been unable to get close enough to get any specific details, but after finally getting the chance to converse with them face-to-face, I learned many fascinating things!”

“Since Gravity Falls is home to many potentially dangerous anomalies, it is fortunate that the Crystal Gems are here to protect its ordinary residents from them. The Gems hail from wkh idu uhdfkhv ri rxwhu vsdfh, rq d sodqhw wkhb rqob uhihu wr dv "Krphzruog". They are, in layman’s terms, a race of polymorphic sentient rocks, making them “Gems” in both literally and by name. The Gems are capable of using a wide host of magical abilities and powers, including vkdshvkliwlqj, uhjhqhudwlrq diwhu frqvlghudeoh gdpdjh, dqg wkh xqlrq ri wkhlu skbvlfdo irupv, zklfk lv dq delolwb wkh fdoo “ixvlrq”. Despite the fact that they are qrw ri wkh hduwk, they are still devoted to its protection, and, according to my understanding, wkhb kdyh ehhq grlqj vr iru wkrxvdqgv ri bhduv.”

The general explanation about what the Gems were was interesting enough, aside from being broken apart by the codes tucking away any sensitive information, the sections on each individual Gem were even more intriguing.

“Garnet is the ixvlrq ri wkh Jhpv Uxeb dqg Vdsskluh, dqg ghvfulehv khuvhoi dv ehlqj wkh xowlpdwh dpdojdpdwlrq ri oryh. She is physically the strongest member of the group, though it does seem as though the physical weight of an object has little effect on a Gem. In battle, she wields a pair of durable gauntlets summoned from her gems, and her sense of logic and iruvljkw fdsdelolwlhv, ru ixwxuh ylvlrq make her an invaluable member of the Crystal Gems.”

“Pearl serves as the intellectual strategist of the Gems, and her loyalty and devotion to Rose Quartz are without question. In fact, Rose and Pearl zhuh wkh ruljlqdo Fubvwdo Jhpv, dqg irxjkw vlgh eb vlgh lq wkh zdu djdlqvw Krphzruog ilyh wkrxvdqg bhduv djr. Her weapon is a lithe spear, which, when paired with her graceful abilities in sword dueling, provide her with a deadly set of skills for any opponent.”

“Amethyst is the youngest Crystal Gem, irxqg eb Urvh dqg wkh rwkhuv lq wkh Nlqghujduwhq (vhh mrxuqdo 1) kxqguhgv ri bhduv djr. As a testament to her more immature, carefree nature, she is innately curious about the human world, which is most likely a result of her ehlqj d qdwlyh ri hduwk khuvhoi. Despite her relative inexperience compared to the other Gems, she still possesses admirable strength and speed on the battlefield, with her summoned whip and mastery over vkdshvkliwlqj.”

And of course, there was the final entry on the individual Gems, featuring by far the most enigmatic one of them all:

“Rose Quartz is the leader and founder of the Crystal Gems. Her deep affection and commitment the human race is fhqwxulhv rog, eruq lq wkh plgvw ri dqflhqw Jhp zdu dqg lw kdv exuqhg ghhs zlwklq khu hyhu vlqfh. Rose is an incredibly powerful Gem with many different unique abilities, such as khu khdolqj whduv, skbwrnlqhvlv, and of course, her highly resistant, incredibly durable shield. A firm, yet merciful leader and a kind, dependable friend, wkhuh duh ihz lq wkh zruog L kdyh frph wr wuxvw dv pxfk dv Urvh Txduwc.”

As stinted and broken as all of this information was, it still peaked Dipper’s curiosity, perhaps even more than it had been before, especially as he once again wondered who the mysterious author was and what his apparent connection to the Gems was. Considering how admirably the journal seemed to speak of them, it was obvious that they were on good terms with each other, or at least they used to be. But if that was the case, then why had the Gems never once mentioned the journal or the author, even to Steven, who had spent his whole life around them? And even more importantly, why had the journal been hidden away on the hill near the Gem temple, for what appeared to be quite a long time? Certainly with all of the detailed information concerning them contained in the journal, they would want to keep it hidden away from prying eyes, which had been proven by the Gem pages being enclosed by staples in the first place. But hadn’t they consented to the author recording it all in the first place?

It was only as the trio approached the shores of the lake that the abrupt, somewhat disconcerting realization dawned on Dipper. Perhaps the Gems really did want to keep the information the journal contained hidden away after all. If the author had indeed vanished under some mysterious circumstances, then there was a high chance that the Gems, entrusted with the journal, decided to hide it away near their base, hoping that no one would ever happen upon it and the most likely revealing secrets it contained, even despite the staples and the encoding. Yet what they hadn’t counted on, and what they still didn’t know, was that it had indeed been found, even if Dipper knew he only happened upon it by accident. But even so, the idea of showing the Gems the journal with the hopes of uncovering the author no longer seemed like a very wise one in light of all this. After all, if its content really was confidential, then chances were the Gems, as secretive as they seemed to be, wouldn’t hesitate in confiscating it from him, a thought that practically made Dipper sick. Even though the journal had only been in his possession for a little over a week, he couldn’t imagine parting ways with it so soon. It contained so many fascinating and incredible secrets about not just the Gems, but Gravity Falls as a whole, most of which he hadn’t even had the chance to investigate yet. He wasn’t about to take a chance and give up so many potential answers to all of his questions about the strange town just so he could ask the Gems about the author, which was probably a mystery he would end up solving on his own in due time.

“Well, we’re here!” Mabel announced cheerfully as the three of them came to stand on the practically empty shore of the lake. The usually calm blue waters reflected the aura bounding off the Red Eye, which painted them an unnatural, unsettling shade of dark pink. “Guess we better start looking for gold, right?”

“Yeah, but isn’t gold usually mined up out of the ground?” Steven asked with a frown, glancing over the deserted stretch of sand before them. “Maybe if we dig deep enough, we might find some! Oh, but that would take too long…”

“Uh, guys?” Dipper cut in, placing his thoughts concerning the Gems and the journal aside to correct the two of them. “I don’t think the riddle is talking about literal gold. It said we had to find ‘gold of a different kind’, remember?”

“But that could mean anything!” Mabel groaned in exasperation. “Steven, your mom may have been super nice and super pretty, but she sure didn’t make finding her cannon easy.”

“No, she didn’t, did she?” Steven mused as he turned a slow circle, thoughtfully taking in their surroundings once more before coming up with a momentary plan of action. “But it looks like the only thing we can do around here is dig and see if we come up with any gold. And luckily for us, I happen to know a professional digger! Oh, Lion!” Though the young Gem’s call for his trusted pink companion echoed across the lake, it initially unanswered, prompting Steven to try again, especially since he knew how stubborn the fluffy creature often was. “Lion! Come on over here! I know you can hear me, wherever you are!”

“Whoa, Lion can hear you all the way out here?” Mabel asked in interest, already more than excited to get to see the adorable feline once more.

“Yeah,” Steven shrugged with a small grin. “He’s pretty great like that. Oh, and what do you know? He’s already here!”

Dipper flinched when he suddenly felt something warm on the back of his neck, prompting him to fearfully spin around to come face to face with Lion, who had his distrustful, cold glare set upon the boy before him. However, he relaxed as soon as Steven called for him once more, and the pink beast obediently followed the call of his master by coming to sit beside the Young Gem to await further instruction.

“Steven, what’s Lion’s deal with always trying to scare me to death?” Dipper asked in slight exasperation, casting an aggravated glare towards the pink feline, which was returned in full.

“That just means he likes you!” Steven answered cheerfully, giving Lion an affectionate pat on the head. “Now Lion, we need you to use your claws to dig around the beach and look for some gold that Mom hid around here. Can you do that for us?”

Lion showed no signs of compliance as he instead briefly narrowed his eyes at the young Gem before lowering himself to the ground as if offering him a ride. Steven frowned in confusion at his fluffy friend, knowing all too well that Lion didn’t always follow his instructions. “No, Lion,” he corrected patiently. “We need you to dig. D-I-G, dig!”

The pastel beast merely let out a calm, soft roar in response and stayed in place, pointing his nose towards the lake almost insistently. “It looks like he wants to take us somewhere…” Mabel mused as she approached Lion, even if her brother still kept his safe distance. “Is that true, Lion?” she asked the large feline sweetly, gently scratching under his furry chin, which was something Lion only begrudgingly accepted. “You wanna show us something?”

Lion finally offered another small roar of confirmation, his tail whipping a bit impatiently as he waited for the kids to mount him. “Well, that answers that question!” Steven grinned widely, leaping onto his pink companion’s back as Mabel readily climbed on behind him. “Aren’t you coming, Dipper?”

“Uh….” Dipper frowned apprehensively, not too crazy about the idea of willingly climbing onto the back of the ferocious feline that had nearly killed him upon their first encounter. “I… don’t think that’s such a good—Whoa!”

“C’mon, bro-bro!” Mabel encouraged, forcibly grabbing her brother by the arm and pulling him up onto Lion’s back behind her as Steven guided the pink beast to stride past him. “Don’t be such a scaredy-cat!”

“Ok, Lion!” Steven proclaimed, grinning down at the feline trustingly. “Where do you wanna take us?”

Lion let out an affirmative roar as he turned towards the lake again, not wasting any time as his paws began to bound across the sand towards the water, much to the sudden alarm of all three kids. “Lion, wait!” Steven called in sudden panic, tugging on the beast’s pastel mane in an attempt to slow his swift pace, though it was to little avail. “What are you doing?!”

“He’s gonna run right into the lake!” Dipper shouted nervously, his eyes widening in fear as Lion continued to rush for the water. “We have to jump off of him!”

Steven and Mabel didn’t disagree with this logic as all three kids prepared to do so right as Lion reached the waterline. However, right before they could jump into the water, they all stopped when they noticed that Lion had not dragged them into the lake; instead, he was running upon it. The kids glanced down at the surface of the water that the pink beast was dashing across as if it was solid ground, completely bewildered by this sudden turn of events.

“Cool!” Mabel and Steven exclaimed in excited unison, their huge grins showing just how much they were enjoying what should be a complete impossibility.

“Wha-? How…?” Dipper began to ask in immense confusion as he stared down at the water they were practically gliding upon, before quickly retracting his many questions. “You know what? I’m not even going to ask.”

Lion continued to speed across the water, his destination apparently the waterfall as they drew ever nearer to it. Thanks to the pink feline’s speed, none of the kids got too wet as they passed through the curtain of water and into the waterfall cave, where Lion finally came to a stop upon the bar of dry ground to let his passengers dismount.

“Oh my gosh!” Mabel beamed happily as her and Steven hopped off Lion’s back, with Dipper following more cautiously. “That was amazing! We literally just rode on top of the lake!”

“I know, right?!” Steven exclaimed brightly, giving Lion a rewarding scratch on the ear. “Let’s do it again!”

“First things first,” Dipper cut in, anchoring the two of them back down to the task at hand. “We need to see if we can find any kind of gold around here. Mabel, you look in the water, Steven, you check the ground, and I’ll take the walls of the cave. And don’t forget what the poem said: we’re looking for “gold of a different kind”.”

Mabel and Steven nodded in affirmation as the three of them split up to search the cave, leaving Lion to stand by and watch them with an observant, almost knowing gaze. For several minutes, their investigation came up empty, despite their best efforts. Dipper pressed against the darkened cavern walls, trying to feel out any loose rubble or hidden switch, while Steven meandered about, keeping his gaze on the gravel ground as he tried to spot the faintest hint of gold amidst the ordinary rocks. Mabel, on the other hand, waded in the shallows of the small pool, not really caring about the fact that her socks and shoes were getting soggy. She didn’t particularly expect to find anything in the water, for even if there had been something of note here, it probably would have been washed out into the rest of the lake by now. However, just as she was about to report to the boys that her search had no results when a sudden glimmer down near her feet happened to catch her eyes.

“Huh?” she muttered to herself in confusion, bending down to get a better look at the sparkling object amidst the otherwise dull stones. Upon closer inspection, she realized that it seemed as though the small, shining cap of a bottle perhaps was peeking out from the shallows. Mabel grinned excitedly as soon as she saw this, not hesitating to reach into the cool water and get a grip on the cap, even if the rest of the bottle was deeply entrenched by the rocks surrounding it. However, this hardly deterred her as she tried her best to pull it out of the bedrock, and though she had some trouble at first since it was so deeply wedged in, she soon managed to tug it out of its tight spot, stumbling back the slightest bit from the momentum before she examined her prize.

It was a much smaller bottle than Mabel had anticipated, small enough to easily fit in the palm of her hand. The glass was clear in color, yet its shape was a bit unusual, round, yet oddly bumpy, but its contents were even more intriguing. Contained within the bottle appeared to be small, delicate, shining yellow flecks, suspended in some type of clear liquid as they shimmered radiantly, even in the low light of the cave. “You guys!” Mabel exclaimed in muted amazement, cupping the small bottle in her hands carefully. “Check out what I found!”

Dipper and Steven quickly complied as they went over to her, both of them instantly fascinated upon seeing the bottle she was holding. “Oooo… What is that stuff?” Steven asked, stars of wonder in his eyes as the dim glow the flecks were giving off seemed to reflect throughout the cave.

“I dunno,” Mabel said with a small grin. “But isn’t it pretty?”

“It sort of looks like… golf leaf…” Dipper guessed, recognizing the shimmering substance from a documentary he had seen once.

“You mean that stuff that rich people put on food?” Mabel asked.

“Wait… you can eat that stuff?” Steven frowned in confusion. “I thought it was just for decoration.”

Dipper merely rolled his eyes and prepared to correct them both before he suddenly remembered an essential detail. “Wait… “gold of a different kind”… You guys! I think this gold leaf was what the riddle was talking about!”

“Uh… is your hat on too tight, bro-bro?” Mabel asked incredulously. “This doesn’t look like a cannon to me.”

“No, but it might be the key the poem mentioned,” Dipper clarified, taking out the journal to glance over the riddle once again.

“Oh yeah!” Steven said in realization, peeking over at the poem himself. “It says that “it’s key within the mind”. And you know, the more I look at it, that bottle does kinda look a little like a brain…”

“Oh, it does!” Mabel gasped, running a finger along the bumpy surface of the bottle with a wide grin. “But if this is the key, then what’s is supposed to unlock?”

“My guess, where ever the cannon’s at,” Dipper said with resolve. “Now all we need to do is find “the place where mysteries start”, wherever that is.”

“We can figure that out along the way,” Steven said as he headed over to Lion before quickly climbing on the pink beast. “We probably don’t have a whole bunch of time left, so we gotta hurry!”

Dipper and Mabel didn’t argue as they hopped onto Lion as well, making sure that the bottle of gold leaf was secure in their possession before the large feline began making a beeline for the water, easily running upon it just as he had before. As they emerged from the waterfall cave, the kids let out a unified gasp of shock upon seeing just how much closer the Red Eye had gotten, the world now drenched in its red glow as it still drew ever closer to the earth. Time was of the essence, and every second counted now, meaning that they had to greatly hurry, otherwise there wouldn’t be a town left to save at all.

“Ok,” Dipper called to Steven and Mabel over the rush of wind as Lion ran across the lake towards the shore. “Apparently the cannon “hides within the heart”, so that might mean it could be in the center of something.”

“So like what?” Mabel asked with a frown. “The center of town? Oh, but I guess people would notice if there was a sparkly pink cannon just sitting in the square…”

“Hm…” Steven mused thoughtfully, taking a glance ahead at the path Lion was taking as they reached the shore once again. They had few hints to go on, but one of them did include something about the place “where mysteries start”, and though Gravity Falls was filled with many mysterious spots, there was one location that came to the young Gem’s mind first and most prominently when he considered this clue. “The Mystery Shack!” he exclaimed in realization, even though he did arouse the shared confusion of the twins.

“Huh?” Mabel questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“The riddle said we’ll find the cannon at the place where mysteries start,” Steven explained, already guiding Lion towards the shack in question. “And to me, there’s no place more mysterious in Gravity Falls than the Mystery Shack itself!”

“Uh… I hate to break it to you, Steven, but I doubt the cannon is anywhere in the shack,” Dipper frowned, knowing that there was no way Stan could possess such a mythical weapon, especially considering his apparent distain towards the Gems.

“Wait a sec!” Mabel exclaimed as she recalled another important detail from the riddle. “The poem said that the cannon is in the heart of something, and the Mystery Shack is smack-dab in the middle of the woods! So it could be there, or at least somewhere nearby!”

“You guys aren’t actually serious, are you?” Dipper asked skeptically, still not convinced that the Light Cannon could be hidden away in a place as mundane as the Mystery Shack.

“As serious as Lion is pink!” Steven quipped with resolve.

“…Alright, fine,” Dipper relented with an exasperated sigh, casting a worried glance up at the approaching Red Eye. “But we really need to hurry up. That thing’s getting closer by the second and we can’t afford to waste time on a wild goose chase.”

“First of all, bro-bro, we’re chasing a cannon, not a goose,” Mabel joked cheerfully. “And don’t worry so much! We managed to find the key, didn’t we? The cannon will be a piece of cake!”

“Mabel’s right,” Steven heartily agreed. “We’re so close to finding it! And we will find it. After all, the Gems and all of Gravity Falls are depending on us. We won’t let them down!”

Thanks to Lion’s swift speed, the kids reached the Mystery Shack in record time, hopping of the pink beast’s back as soon as they arrived to begin their search. The area was quiet, since Stan had pretty much closed up shop upon noticing the Red Eye, yet things were hardly serene. As the crimson orb sunk closer to the ground, its proximity began to show a subtle effect on gravity itself, stirring up heavy winds and pulling lighter objects such as leaves and paper towards it. The kids knew well they probably had only about less than an hour until it was too late to do anything to stop it, which meant that their hunch about the shack had to be correct. Otherwise… well, none of them even wanted to consider what might happen if they were wrong.

“Ok, so what exactly are we looking for out here?” Dipper asked objectively, taking a furtive glance around the shack’s yard.

“I’m not sure…” Steven frowned before taking a glance to his fluffy companion sitting nearby. “Lion, you knew where the gold leaf was. What about the Light Cannon?”

Upon being asked this question, Lion hardly offered a helpful response but instead turned his nose up pridefully, as if refusing to give an answer. “C’mon, Lion,” Steven pleaded. “It’s really important. If we don’t find that cannon, then… then the whole town and everyone in it…”

“Will be crushed!” Mabel finished a bit dramatically, voicing what Steven didn’t really have the heart to say. Yet even still, Lion refused to be of any assistance, instead simply letting out a stubborn grunt as he settled down for a nap, his tour of duty over for the day.

“Well, it looks like we’re going to have to figure this one out on our own,” Dipper said in exasperation, already having a great deal less faith in the pink beast than Mabel and Steven both seemed to. “But again, I don’t think the cannon would be inside the shack; there’s no space for it.”

“Aw, come on, Dipper,” Mabel said with a wry grin. “The Mystery Shack may be a bit rough around the edges, but you gotta give this old place a little more credit than that!”

“Yeah!” Steven agreed cheerfully. “After all, if every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs!”

Almost immediately after the young Gem exclaimed this catch phrase, a bright glow from the forest caught their collective attention. It was rather dim, but it did seem to come from a definitive spot, specifically a ways into the forest directly before the shack. “There!” Steven exclaimed with an excited gasp. “That’s the same glow the Light Cannon in Dad’s storage bin had! It must be over there!”

After make the unanimous, unspoken agreement to go check it out, all three kids bounded into the woods, following the hint of pink light that was barely noticeable amidst the red glow from the Red Eye that seemed to bathe the entire area. Fortunately, their intended destination wasn’t too far into the forest, only about a few yards away from the shack actually, for they soon happened upon the source of the light. The blush glow was spilling out from a long, very thin sliver of the forest floor. For a moment, the kids stopped to stare at this rather strange sight, before at last, their collective confusion could no longer be contained.

“No way…” Dipper muttered in absolute bewilderment as they all slowly approached the slit of light. “It’s actually here?! But that’s… that’s impossible!”

“Guess it’s not as impossible as you thought,” Mabel shrugged not too amazed by this revelation, but still rather surprised all the same.

“But how is it this close to the Mystery Shack?” Dipper asked, his mind practically reeling from all of the new theories and questions racing through it. “And if it’s been here all these years, how did Grunkle Stan not know about it?”

“Well, it has been buried underground for a long time,” Steven guessed, getting down on his knees to inspect the sliver of light more closely. “Maybe my mom and the author hid it here without telling Mr. Pines about it.”

“But-” Dipper began to protest, knowing that none of this made sense, however, his sister was quick to interrupt him first.

“You don’t have time for you to conspiracy theorize, Dipper!” Mabel said, pulling the bottle of gold leaf out of her pocket. “We gotta open this thing up!”

The kids didn’t bother discussing what they might have to do with the gold leaf, as the answer seemed obvious as the sheet of pink light continued to emit from the slit in the ground. Carefully, Mabel uncapped the small, vaguely brain-shaped bottle before handing off to Steven to let him do the honors. The Young Gem let out an anxious breath as he held the bottle over the crevice, hoping that they weren’t wrong about this, even though all signs were pointing to the Light Canon being exactly below them. And, after letting his inhibitions go, Steven slowly began to pour the flecks of gold leaf upon the glowing sliver, making sure that the glimmering chips fell into the crack squarely as he walked the length of it. As soon as he was done, he stood at the other end of the line, empty bottle in hand as all three kids stared at the crevice expectantly, waiting for something, anything to happen.

“Um… shouldn’t the ground be opening right about now?” Mabel asked after several minutes of stated silence.

“I…. It’s not….” Steven stammered a bit nervously, his heart sinking as the ground remained as still as ever. “It’s not working…”

“But it has to work!” Dipper exclaimed in a sudden panic, realizing that they had just wasted their key on the wrong lead, putting them all in even more danger than before. “What are we gonna do it if doesn’t-”

He was suddenly cut off, however, by the abrupt, though initially subtle rumbling ground beneath them. All three of them were quick to leap out of the way of the suddenly shifting ground beneath their feet, the pink glow widening as the slit in the ground widened in reaction to the gold leaf poured within it moments ago. And, soon enough, the square-shaped dugout was uncovered, revealing, at long last, the treasure they had been searching for all along.

“The cannon!” Steven cheered triumphantly, dazzled by the radiance of the Light Cannon, which was an exact copy of the first one. “We found it!” Unable to contain his elation, the young Gem was quick to pull both twins into a tight, friendly embrace, both of them returning it laughingly in the midst of their shared relief and levity.

“Ok, you guys, we can celebrate later,” Dipper said with returned seriousness, remembering the matter at hand. “For now we have to get this thing back to the Gems.”

“Way ahead of you, Dipper,” Steven said with a daring grin as he turned back towards the shack. “Lion!”

Fortunately, the pink beast was quick to head over this time, apparently sensing the severity of the situation as much as the kids did. Lion indeed seemed to be privy as to what he needed to do as he came bounding into the clearing with the thick bundle of rope that had been sitting near the Mystery Shack in his maw.

“Well that’s convenient!” Mabel noted with a grin as Lion dropped the rope to the ground before them. The kids were all quick to get to work, with Steven tying one end of the rope around Lion’s stomach while Dipper and Mabel hopped down into the dugout to secure the rope to the cannon. Thankfully, the hole the cannon was hidden in had a gradual, ramp-like slope leading out of it, which had previously been concealed by the trap doors but now would serve as very helpful in getting the cannon out. After an experimental tug to make sure the ropes would hold, Lion began to pull the cannon up out of the dugout, with Steven planted firmly on his back to keep the rope in place as the twins helped push the weapon along, despite its girth and apparent weight. Yet the strong pink feline seemed largely undaunted by it as he managed to tug the cannon out of its longtime hiding place, meaning that the only thing left to do was drag it over to the Gems, who were fortunately not too far away. But even so, the kids made haste as they ran alongside Lion, opting out of riding him as not to weigh him down as he pulled the Light Cannon along their intended path with as much speed as he could muster.

“Come on, Lion!” Steven encouraged, placing a hand against his furry companion as he noticed him beginning to pant out of exhaustion. “You can do it! We’re almost there!”

And indeed they were. For soon enough, the kids were able to spot the Gems, Greg, Stan, and Soos afar in the distance, all of them turned towards the very close Red Eye and watching its deadly approach with immense concern. “Hey!” Mabel called out loudly to the observing group, somehow catching their attention amidst the high gales pulling everything towards the crimson orb. “We need some help over here!”

The entire group let out a collective gasp as they turned to face the kids, the Gems especially shocked to see that, at long last, just as they were starting to give up hope, Steven, Dipper, and Mabel had indeed succeeded in their mission, just as they promised they would. “This is incredible!” Pearl exclaimed with a wide smile of relief. “You actually found it!”

“We knew you guys could do it!” Amethyst cheered enthusiastically, rushing towards the kids alongside Garnet and Pearl to help them, with Stan, Soos, and Greg tagging along not too far behind.

“Well, what do you know?” Stan remarked to himself with a small, somewhat proud grin as the others began to untie the cannon. “Those knuckleheads actually came through…”

“Where in the world did you kids find it?” Greg asked in shock upon taking in the sight of the other Light Cannon.

“It’s a long story…” Dipper said a bit breathlessly, just as exhausted as Steven and Mabel were from running all the way over there with Lion. 

“There’s no time to waste,” Garnet said with urgency in her tone. “We have to use the cannons now.” Not skipping a beat, the Gem leader made use of her formidable strength as she summoned her gauntlets and used them to get a good grip on the cannon before heaving it up, despite the fact that she struggled somewhat under its size and weight. Even though they were nowhere near as strong as Garnet was, Pearl, Amethyst, Greg, Soos, the kids, and even Stan all did their best to help equalize its weight as they carried it together along the rest of the path. They dropped the second cannon off right beside its twin, which was already poised in the direction of the Red Eye, which was dangerously close by now and showed no signs of slowing its approach.

“So, uh… aren’t these things supposed to be blowing that eye to pieces by now?” Stan asked skeptically upon noticing that the cannons remained still even in the face of the danger they were all in.

“What should we do?” Dipper asked the Gems worriedly. “Is there like a button or a switch or something somewhere on them?”

“W-we… we don’t know how they work!” Pearl gasped in fearful realization, clearly panicking as she glanced at Garnet and Amethyst, who were clearly just as clueless. “They were Rose’s!”

“Dad, do you know how to use them?” Steven quickly asked his father, who merely sheepishly shrugged, knowing that Rose had not imparted such information to him.

“Steven, this is serious!” Pearl exclaimed in relative frustration, aggravated that the Young Gem would resort to asking Greg about how to solve this problem now. However, that quickly faded as she happened to glance down at Steven, only to notice that the winds were blowing his tee shirt a bit to reveal the gem upon his navel. “The Gem…” she gasped, her eyes growing wide with wonder as she addressed the confused younger Gem. “You have Rose’s Gem!”

“That’s it!” Amethyst proclaimed, immediately lifting Steven up, despite the fact that he really had no idea what was going on. And yet, he wasn’t able to protest very much as the purple Gem thrust him against one of the cannons, rubbing his stomach, or more specifically his gem, up and down along the length of the cannon. When this didn’t initially work, she tried again with the other cannon, only to the same fruitless results. “Aw, come on!” Amethyst shouted in frustration.

“Stop that,” Garnet ordered, her usually calm façade starting to break under the pressure as she took Steven from Amethyst and safely set him on the ground once more.

“So if Steven can’t activate them, what are we supposed to do?” Mabel asked with palpable concern.

“Let’s just forget about the cannons!” Amethyst exclaimed hotly. “Throw me again!”

“That’s not going to work,” Pearl scoffed firmly, knowing that going in without some sort of plan could cost them their lives in the minutes they had left now.

“Maybe we should just beat the stupid things until they start working,” Stan huffed impatiently, even if his apprehension was finally starting to show as well.

“Yo, dudes, maybe their broken,” Soos suggested as gently as he could to not stir up the already high emotions of the group any more. “I could see if I could maybe fix them really quick. Though I’m not sure where to put the nails or screws…”

“They’re not broken!” Pearl quipped, gripping onto one of the cannons in desperation. “We just need to… Oh, I don’t know!” she admitted once more, practically on the verge of tears. “If only Rose were here! She would know exactly what to do!”

As the adults and the Gems of the group broke down into a round of arguments about what to do about their dire straits, the kids simply stood by in absolute dismay, none of them willing to accept the fact that they had gotten so close to saving the say, but were still so far. And indeed, time seemed to be quickly running out. The Red Eye nearly encompassed the entire sky above the forest by now, drowning everything in its sinister red glow as it stared at the people down below with some unknown, malicious hidden intent. It displaced gravity even more as it got ever closer, to the point that it soon became strong enough to start pulling the cannons themselves along the forest floor, though the Gems were quick to restrain them down once again before going back to their heated debating, even if they weren’t coming up with any real solutions.

“We have to do something,” Dipper said with both resolve and fear, realizing that there was a good chance that they had worked so hard to find the cannons for nothing.

“No duh, but what can we do?” Mabel asked with a worried frown. “The cannons are too stubborn and so is everyone else! What else is there left to try?”

“Uh… well…” Dipper stammered anxiously, though neither him nor Mabel were noticing that Steven was strangely quiet as he stared at the cannons both intently and morosely. “Maybe there’s something in the journal about how to activate it! Mabel, help me look.”

Mabel didn’t protest to this plan as Dipper, after making sure that the Gems wouldn’t notice, turned and discreetly cracked open the journal, quickly flipping to the Gem section in a desperate search for answers. Both twins peered as carefully and as quickly as they could over every page, but the only information they could glean about the Light Cannons was everything they had learned before, much to their despair and dread. However, Steven was the one who put an end to this futile search as he placed his hands on both of their shoulders, giving them a sincere, yet sad expression that told them everything they already knew.

“You guys…” the young Gem muttered, his voice edged with a type of hopelessness that was so strange to hear in one so usually bright and optimistic. “I don’t think the journal is gonna help this time…”

Dipper and Mabel merely froze upon hearing this, the fear and desperation in their faces evenly matched as time itself almost seemed to slow down in the approach of what looked like their inevitable demise. And yet, even despite how bleak everything looked, Steven still had one more idea in mind, even if he wasn’t sure it would work at all.

The young Gem said nothing to the quarreling Gems and con man as he pressed back them and approached the cannons, standing in the space between them as he placed a hand on each one gingerly. “Please,” Steven began in solemn desperation, speaking to the cannons themselves. “You guys have to work, unlock, activate, go, something! Everyone’s counting on you! My friends and I worked so hard to find you both in time! You can’t just be useless! I know you can help!”

Despite this sincere encouragement, the cannons still refused to fire, much to the young Gem’s increasing despair. Greg took notice of his son’s melancholy, since he was really the only one of the group aside from the kids who wasn’t arguing about what to do. The former rock star couldn’t stand to see Steven so upset, even despite the grave situation they were all facing at the moment. “Hey, it’s ok, kiddo,” Greg consoled with a soft grin, placing a hand on his forlorn son’s shoulder. “We’ll figure out something else. Something better.”

Upon receiving these reassuring words, Steven perked up just the slightest bit, knowing that his father was rarely ever wrong about these things. “R-right,” he said somewhat shakily, wiping away the tears that had started to form in his eyes. “If every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.”

Immediately after saying this, Steven let out a surprised gasp as both cannons began to glow in tandem with each other, catching the immediate attention of the twins. “Oh my gosh!” Mabel exclaimed with newfound excitement, pulling Dipper along with her as she rushed towards the young Gem. “Look, you guys! The cannons are working!”

“What?!” the Gems all exclaimed in unified alarm, all of them spinning around to see the stiff cannons begin to unlock. Simultaneously, the muzzles of both cannons began to open up in a way that resembled the blooming of a rose. By the time they had both opened fully, the mouths of the cannons began to glow even brighter, meaning that they were starting to charge up, despite the fact that the barrels themselves had fallen without any support to hold them up. Knowing that the cannons would do them no good if they weren’t aimed towards the Red Eye, Steven quickly reached under one of them, trying his best to lift the heavy barrel up as much as he could.

“Everyone, hurry!” Dipper urged Stan, Soos and the Gems, who were clearly still stunned with shock, even as the twins and Greg rushed to the young Gem’s aid. “We have to help Steven!”

The rest of the group didn’t hesitate to comply, the Gems using their combined strength to tilt the cannon that Greg and Steven were struggling with up. Though Dipper and Mabel tried their hardest to pull the second cannon up, they didn’t make any real progress until Stan and Soos helped push it up from the back, until both cannons were aimed directly for the Red Eye. The menacing crimson orb’s proximity began to make the very ground shake, telling everyone that it was incredibly close to striking the earth, but now they were finally ready for it. The cannons muzzles were glowing radiantly by now, the pressure quickly building up within them just waiting to be released as everyone clung onto them for dear life.

“Ok, these things can fire any second now!” Stan shouted a bit impatiently, knowing well that they had all waited for this uncertain salvation long enough.

“Wait! I think this is it!” Pearl called over the din of the racing winds and the trembling earth. And indeed, the cannons themselves began to shake as a result of the untold power contained within them, the saving blast mere seconds away from being unleashed.

“Brace yourselves!” Garnet ordered firmly, though her voice was all too soon drowned out by the cannons finally letting their immense power go.

The cannons fired in perfect harmony, letting out a deafening boom as they did so. Dual bursts of pale pink light, so bright that it was practically blinding, raced forth from the muzzles, pushing the cannons back a bit from the sheer force of the blast. And yet, the entire group on the ground watched in awed silence as the pair of lights began to spiral each other, dancing beautifully as they sailed towards the Red Eye with immense speed. As they approached their target, the beams both split apart in a dazzling flash before each of the four lights morphed themselves into a vague, strangely feminine shape. Nonetheless, the beams continued to spiral towards the Red Eye until, at long last, the blast struck the orb squarely in its pupil, spreading across its surface quickly and powerfully. For a moment, the scarlet light that the Red Eye put off was completely drowned in white as the invading orb began to be torn apart by the force of the blast. And then, all at once, the Red Eye exploded.

The world returned to its normal coloration, only darkened as night had fallen, and the winds stirred up by the Red Eye went still as its large debris began to rain down upon both the forest, a few pieces even falling into town itself. Thankfully, none of the crimson shrapnel struck the group or the cannons as they watched the aftermath of the explosion, the same heavy, yet happy realization settling upon them all.

“I can’t believe it…” Dipper muttered, finally breaking the longstanding silence. “It actually… worked…”

“WOO WHOO!!!” Mabel cheered triumphantly, pulling both Steven and Dipper into a tight hug as they disbanded away from the cannons. “We did it! We saved the town!”

“But… I don’t understand…” Pearl said, still a bit shaken from shock. “How did you get them to work?”

“I just said that thing Dad always says,” Steven shrugged with a bright grin.

“That thing about the pork rinds?” Pearl asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Pork chops,” Garnet corrected, placing a hand on the white Gem’s shoulder.

Despite the fact that the conversation was focused on him, Greg’s gaze was focused on the starry skies above, where, just moments ago, the glorious light of the cannon had taken on an undeniably familiar form. “Rose…” the former rock star whispered reverently, tears forming in his eyes as he pondered that, even though Rose was gone, her loving, protective presence still somehow lingered all the same.

“Well, I don’t like saying things like this too often,” Stan began, addressing the kids with a wry grin. “But you three munchkins really saved the day by finding those cannons. I gotta admit, I had my doubts, but you proved me wrong. Good job.”

“Aw, Grunkle Stan, are you getting soft on us?” Mabel asked jokingly, even if both her and Dipper were genuinely touched by their uncle’s rare show of pride.

“No,” Stan scoffed defensively, his usual stoic manner quickly returning. “I told you I don’t get all mushy like that, didn’t I?”

“So where’d you guys find the other cannon anyway?” Amethyst asked the kids curiously.

“Oh! Well, we found out where it was from-” Steven began to explain, though he suddenly cut himself off as he glanced over at Dipper, who shook his head warningly before the young Gem could mention the journal. Even after all they had been through, he was still quite apprehensive about telling the Gems anything about the journal, even if he hadn’t had time to communicate these worries to Steven. Fortunately though, even if the young Gem didn’t quite understand Dipper’s reasoning, he complied nonetheless, if only because he was still a bit hesitant to bring up the journal himself. “Um… Lion helped us find it!” Steven ventured, hoping that it would be an acceptable excuse. “Y-yeah! He helped us sniff out its hiding place out in the woods.”

“But… I thought we read about where it was in the-” Mabel started to correct Steven out of confusion, before Dipper quickly silenced her by slapping a hand over her mouth before she could finish, bewildering her even more.

“Well, regardless of how you found it, you can’t tell all three of you how proud and how grateful we are,” Pearl smiled, speaking for Amethyst and Garnet as well, who both shared her sentiments. “We know we might have underestimated you earlier, but we were wrong. We’re sorry.”

“Yeah, you three make a pretty great team!” Amethyst chuckled, giving each of the kids a fond noogie. “We might just have to ask you guys for help next time we have a hard time fighting some monster or something!”

The group got a good laugh out of this, though the thought did excite Dipper, Mabel, and Steven as they realized that perhaps this was a turning point. Instead of being seen as three kids in over their heads, maybe now the Gems would finally see them as capable of keeping up with them. Maybe now they would take them seriously and would consider their thoughts and ideas. Maybe, just maybe, they might even let them tag along on their mystical, incredible adventures willingly, instead of claiming they were “too dangerous”. But even so, it was too early to tell. After all, the summer was still just beginning, and despite everything they had gone through so far, they knew that there was still plenty of magic and mystery left to come.


 

“RED EYE OFFLINE. SCAN FAILED.”

“Impossible! I had my best technicians calibrate that Red Eye! How are we supposed to check on the progress of the cluster now!?”

“You know, maybe I could help with that!”

“Oh, joy… Its you again… What business do you have here, demon? I thought our plans were already solidified.”

“Aw, c’mon now, Yellow! How could I stay away from my favorite Diamond? And besides, you know you love me!”

Please. Don’t make me laugh. I’m in no mood for your foolish games.

“Oh yeah, ‘cause you’re eye thing blew up, right? As much of a sucker for giant eyes as I am, I gotta admit, that thing wasn’t very idiot proof, even for you.”

“How dare you come here, and mock me, Cipher! I’ll have you know that the Red Eye was the newest model, one of the finest pieces of our surveillance technology!”

“Geez, no need to get a crack in your gem there, Yellow! You know I’m just kidding. It’s what I do!”

“You do it too much, if you ask me. So why are you really here, aside from trying to make a fool out of me, which, by the way, is not working?”

“Oh, I just came to offer you a little intel.”

“What kind of intel?”

“Eh, it’s not really important… In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not even worth your time.”

“Enough with your nonsense, Cipher! Just tell me what you need to and be gone!”

“Well, if you say so! All I wanted to tell you was that your Red Eye’s little malfunction wasn’t exactly a… ‘malfunction’, if you catch my drift.”

“What are you implying…?”

“Come on, Yellow, try to keep up with me here! I’m saying that SOMEBODY destroyed it. Intentionally.”

WHAT?! Who would dare to defy Homeworld in such a way!? Tell me who these interlopers are at once!”

“Sorry, Yellow, no can do. Gotta leave you hanging just a little bit, right?”

“Why you little-”

“But what I CAN tell you as that it’s almost time for our plans to get their feet off the ground…”

“…You’re serious?”

“Sure am! Would I lie to you?”

“I don’t believe that you haven’t before… But all the same, I need to know how my cluster is doing and so now I suppose I’ll just have to send one of my agents there to reestablish the warp stream… Always something…”

“Aw, don’t be so blue, Yellow! After all, what’s a few earthling fleshbags to all your POWERFUL forces and ADVANCED technology?”

“I don’t appreciate your sarcasm, demon. But even so, if there are indeed still rebels on Earth, then I will do whatever it takes to crush them into obliteration. I will not lose that planet again…”

Chapter Text

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It was a rather balmy Saturday, and though the Mystery Shack was bustling with weekend tourists, Stan had given his niece and nephew the afternoon off. He hadn’t exactly expressed why he had decided to let them off the hook for the day, but Dipper and Mabel assumed that it had something to do with the rather stressful series of events with the Red Eye and the light cannons the previous day. Nonetheless, the twins were grateful for the reprieve after such a near-disaster, and they had invited Steven down to the shack so that he could relax along with them. The kids had gathered in front of the TV, though they were barely watching it as they lazily reclined around the den. Steven had brought his ukulele with him and had taken to absently strumming a few of his favorite songs for fun, lightly humming along as he masterfully plucked to a rather complex tune as though it was nothing. His skill did not go unnoticed by Mabel, who recognized the upbeat pop song he was plucking out and grinned contentedly at how accurate it was, and yet somehow the young Gem managed to give it even something of a fun, lighthearted spin. And as soon as Steven finished, Mabel was the first to break the relative calm of the room by letting out an enthusiastic round of applause from her spot on the back of the recliner.

“Wow, Steven!” Mabel remarked, brightly smiling down at the young Gem who sat below her. “That was great! Where’d you learn how to play so good?”

“Well, my dad taught me the basics when I was little,” Steven said with a small grin. “But I just sorta taught myself all of the actual songs I know. Most of the time though, I just play whatever comes to me.” To prove his point, he began strumming a series of random chords that actually managed to flow quite nicely together into a coherent melody.

“I see what you mean,” Mabel noted with a smirk as she continued sewing her latest sweater. “You know, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play something. Maybe you could teach me how to play the ukulele, Steven!”

Before Steven could offer a reply, Dipper spoke up, a hint of joking in his tone as he glanced up at his sister. “Wait, Mabel, you mean you’re actually going to commit to learning how to play an instrument?” he asked teasingly. “Like you did when you tried to learn to play the violin? Or the oboe? Or the xylophone?”

“Oh, ha ha, Dipper,” Mabel laughed dryly, tossing one of the balls of yarn that she wasn’t using at her brother in retaliation. “We can’t all instantly ‘master’ the sousaphone, like some people…”

“Mabel!” Dipper protested in embarrassment, though Steven was quick to cut in before the argument could go on any further.

“Wait, wait, wait!” the young Gem called with an amused chuckle. “First of all, of course I’ll teach you, Mabel. But only if you show me a few sewing basics first! I’d love to be able to knit a sweater as good as you can!”

“You got it!” Mabel agreed cheerfully as she finished sowing a dolphin patch onto her new sweater.

“Secondly,” Steven continued as he looked to the boy sitting next to him with interest. “Dipper, you can play the sousaphone?”

Dipper shot a glare up at Mabel once more for revealing that bit of information on a talent he wasn’t exactly proud of. “Uh, kinda…” he admitted hesitantly. “I know how to play it because our parents forced me to.”

“Yeah and he’s super good at it!” Mabel goaded with levity in her tone. “I bet you guys could play an awesome ukulele-sousaphone duet together!”

Though Steven showed instant excitement at this very idea, Dipper was clearly less enthusiastic about it. “I-I don’t know if that’s such-” His protests were suddenly cut off as a mysterious chiming sound blared from the TV, catching their collective attention. While the television had been more or less background noise up until now, all three kids turned to it in curious confusion, intrigued by the rather interesting commercial playing on screen.

The first image of a handful of doves being released was soon accompanied by a voice-over and an actor who appeared to be far too overly distraught as he sobbed incoherently. “Are you completely miserable?” the voice-over asked in a deep southern accent.

“YES!” the actor answered while still crying.

“Then you need to meet…” the voice over dropped down to a dramatic whisper at this, a vague silhouette figure appearing on screen. “Gideon…”

“Gideon?” Dipper repeated, raising a confused eyebrow.

“What makes him so special?” Mabel asked with a bewildered frown.

“Oh, I know Gideon!” Steven cut in. “He’s-”

“He’s a psychic,” the voice over explained before the young Gem could. The twins exchanged an intrigued glance at this, though neither of them were quite sure if they were willing to buy such an impressive claim, even as the commercial continued. “So don’t waste your time with other so-called ‘men of mystery’.” Not surprisingly, an image of Stan himself appeared on screen as the voice over said this, the word “FRUAD” stamped onto the picture as the con man emerged from the outhouse with toilet paper still stuck to his shoe. “So hurry on over to Gideon’s Tent of Telepathy tonight for an evening of magic and delight for all!”

“Wow, I’m getting all curious inside!” Mabel exclaimed as the ad quickly listed off its terms of services. “This Gideon guy sounds pretty mysterious!”

“Steven, you said you know Gideon?” Dipper asked inquisitively. “Is he actually the real deal?”

“Er… Well, I’ve been to a few of his shows before and he seems like he’s a real psychic…” Steven shrugged a bit half-heartedly. “The Gems don’t think so though, but then again, they don’t think most of the stuff here at the Mystery Shack is authentic either. But I don’t care; I still love coming here, more than the Tent of Telepathy anyway.”

“That’s ‘cause the Tent of Telepathy is nothing but a two-bit sham,” Stan suddenly cut in as he entered the room, a rather cross expression on his face from having overheard the conversation. “Ever since that monster Gideon rolled into town, I’ve had nothin’ but trouble! He’s a no-account punk, and that’s that.”

“So… is he really psychic or not?” Mabel asked, still not having a conclusive answer.

“I say we go and find out,” Dipper suggested and Steven nodded in agreement. Stan, on the other hand, was vehemently against the very idea.

“Never!” the con man exclaimed stubbornly. “You’re forbidden from patronizing the competition! And besides, you don’t even need to go to anywhere to learn that Gideon’s a fake! He’s about as much of a psychic as I am a flamenco dancer.”

“Mr. Pines, you’re a flamenco dancer?” Steven asked in clear awe. “Wow! I’m learning so much about you guys today!”

Stan rolled his eyes as he ignored the young Gem and continued. “Long story short, you two knuckle-heads need to stay away from Gideon,” he staunchly asserted to Dipper and Mabel. “No one that lives under my roof is allowed under his roof!”

With no more to say on the matter, the con man succinctly stormed out of the room, still clearly seething over the fact that his niece and nephew would even consider indulging his longstanding rival. However, the kids were still clearly intrigued by the idea of a genuine psychic in Gravity Falls, regardless of Stan’s unyielding position on the matter.

“Do tents even have roofs?” Dipper asked caustically after Stan was out of earshot.

“Not that I know of,” Steven replied with a growing smile.

“Well boys, I think we just found our loop hole!” Mabel declared, holding up a string tied into a loop knot. “Literally!”

The kids all got a good laugh out of this as they headed out of the shack, though none of them were around to hear the Tent of Telepathy’s ad stinger as they planned to go there for themselves. “So come on down, folks. Gideon’s expecting you…”

Excited for their forbidden escapade, the kids had only decided to let in a few others to join them in their firsthand investigation of the Tent of Telepathy. Dipper and Mabel had invited Soos to come along with them, and the handyman had agreed out of his own curiosity after having heard the rumors about Gideon’s psychic prowess. Wanting to know more on the Gems’ negative position on the supposed psychic, Steven had managed to coerce Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl into coming with him, though he hadn’t exactly mentioned to them where they were going until they arrived. Upon seeing that their destination was the Tent of Telepathy, the Gems were clearly less than amused about having been duped into going there.

“Ugh, this place?” Amethyst asked with a loud groan as the collective group entered the crowded tent. “Come on, Steven, you know that Gideon kid is a fake. Why don’t we just leave and go hang out at the shack instead? At least the stuff Stan has there is actually interesting.”

“For once, I agree with Amethyst,” Pearl frowned with distaste. “There really isn’t anything of genuine worth here… Though I wouldn’t go as far as to call anything at the Mystery Shack ‘interesting’…”

“Aw, come on, you guys,” Steven urged as they all found their seats. “This place isn’t that bad. At least stick around for a while… for me? Please?”

The Gems all grumbled their dissent as they begrudgingly sat down alongside Steven, none of them really wanting to be there and yet they didn’t want to upset the young Gem. Meanwhile, the twins were glancing around the large tent curiously, knowing that despite it’s relatively simply set up, the show had garnished quite a crowd. “Man, is amazing how many people showed up for this,” Dipper remarked. “I wonder if this huge turnout has anything to do with Gideon actually being authentic or not.”

“Just for the record, he’s not,” Garnet replied in a rather deadpan tone, her arms crossed as she merely frowned in dissatisfaction.

“Shh!” Mabel quieted them in budding excitement as spotlights flooded the stage. “It’s starting!”

“Let’s see what this ‘monster’ looks like…” Dipper muttered skeptically as the crowds quieted down, wondering what could be so bad about Gideon that he was able to get even Stan so riled up.

The crowd held their breath in baited anticipation as a large, somewhat intimidating silhouette appeared behind the curtain, though it grew gradually smaller as it stepped forward. However, as the curtains pulled back, Dipper and Mabel were quite surprised to see what Gideon looked like in the flesh. In actuality, he was probably even younger than the twins or Steven was, a short, stout child with an impressively large, yet very neat pompadour of white hair. He was clad in a baby blue business suit, complete with large shoulder pads, a jade bolo tie, and a flashy cape. The child psychic flashed the crowd a winning smile as they applauded him before he addressed them in a warm, friendly greeting.

“Hello America!” Gideon greeted, his voice carrying a heavy southern drawl. “My name’s Lil’ Gideon!”

The audience cheered excitedly as the young psychic clapped his hands once, doves flying out of his touted hair on his command. “Oh come on,” Amethyst commented, rolling her eyes boredly. “Anyone can get birds to fly out of their hair. In fact…”

“No, Amethyst,” Pearl shook her head in disapproval, already knowing that the purple Gem wanted to try it out for herself.

That’s Stan’s mortal enemy?” Dipper asked in disbelief.

“But… he’s so wittle!” Mabel remarked with a gushing grin over how adorable Gideon was.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is such a gift to have you all here tonight!” Gideon announced to the crowd with cordial smile. “Such a gift! I have a vision; I predict that you all will soon say, “aww”.”

Gideon was quick to make his own prediction come true as he struck an undeniably cute pose that made the crowd unable to contain their adoration for him as they all resonated in a unanimous “Aww…”

“It came true!” Mabel gasped in awe at how accurate Gideon’s prediction had been.

“I know!” Steven replied with an equally enthused grin. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

“What? I’m not impressed,” Dipper scoffed, not as willing to buy Gideon’s cutesy charm as the rest of the impressionable crowd was.

“Oh come on!” Mabel teased. “You’re totally impressed!”

“Hit it, Dad!” Gideon called to his father, who sat at the nearby piano and began to play an upbeat gospel tune. The child psychic began to dance a jig to the melody’s intro, before he broke into a chipper song that drew the crowd in even more. “Oh I can see what others can’t see! It ain’t some sideshow trick, its innate ability! Where others are blind, I am futurely inclined. And you too could see, if you was widdle ol’ me! Come on, everybody, rise up! I want ya’ll to keep it going!”

As Gideon called the crowd up, they were all quick to eagerly rise to their feet, including Mabel, Steven, and Soos, who joined the others in clapping along to the beat. Though Dipper and the Gems were nowhere near as invested in the show and didn’t particularly want to stand, they found themselves doing so anyway, much to their shared confusion.

“Wha-? How did he-?” Dipper trailed off in bewilderment as he realized he had stood involuntarily.

“W-what just happened?” Pearl asked both Amethyst and Garnet, equally disconcerted. None of them had any time to really question it though, as Gideon carried his song down into the crowd itself.

“You wish your son would call you more,” the child psychic sang, pointing to an elderly woman in the crowd.

“I’m leaving everything to my cats!” the woman exclaimed, affirmed by the cat fast asleep on her lap.

“I sense that you’ve been here before,” Gideon predicted as he looked over to Sherriff Blubbs, who was decked out in Lil’ Gideon official merchandise.

“Oh, what gave it away!” the officer exclaimed in surprise.

“Come on,” Dipper muttered in exasperation at how Gideon was pointing out the obvious, not understanding what the crowd was so enthralled with. “He can’t be serious.”

As if on cue, Gideon soon appeared beside the twins, though they missed the incredibly short, practically unnoticeable glare he shot towards the Gems and Steven. “I’ll read your mind if I’m able,” he sang to Mabel, giving her a small wink as he picked up his cheery manner again almost instantly. “Something tells me you’re named Mabel.”

“How did he know?!” Mabel exclaimed in amazement as Gideon hurried back to the stage.

“Uh, maybe it had something to do with the fact that your name is on your sweater,” Dipper said sarcastically, glancing down at his sister’s sweater, which indeed bore her name on it in large, colorful letters.

“So welcome all ye… to the Tent of Telepathy…” Gideon sang, gearing up for his big finish. “And thanks for visitin’… widdle ol’ me!”

As the song ended, the crowd burst into a round of wild, rousing applause, which Gideon was more than happy to accept, despite the fact that the act had clearly worn him out. “Thank you!” he exclaimed as he took a sweeping bow. “You people are the real miracles! Now drive home safely, ya’ll! And don’t forget to stock up on Lil’ Gideon merchandise on the way out! Goodnight everyone!”

The audience continued to cheer for the child psychic even as he headed offstage and the show came to a conclusion. Steven and Mabel had both been caught up in this excitement as they joined the raptured applause, until the Gems announced that it was time to go.

“At least it was mercifully short this time…” Pearl said in exasperation as the group began to file out of the tent.

“Yeah, last time we got dragged into one of these, it was almost an hour,” Amethyst rolled her eyes as she stretched out, glad to be out of the tent.

“Aw, don’t be like that, you guys,” Steven said with a small grin. “Admit it: you all had at least a little fun tonight, right?”

“Not really,” Garnet said simply and honestly.

“Steven, we appreciate that you wanted us to join you, but you have to remember, we see real magical things every day,” Pearl reminded the young Gem with a gentle smile.

“Yeah,” Amethyst said with a wry grin, “Nothing phases us. Especially not some four foot tall kid with a fancy suit who can put on a little song and dance.”

The purple Gem let out a chuckle at this that Pearl couldn’t help but share in and even Garnet cracked a smile at. Even Steven couldn’t keep his amusement contained for too long as he joined their guardians in their levity, which was something Dipper and Mabel were quick to join in with too.

“I didn’t think it was possible, but somehow, that kid’s an even bigger fraud than Stan,” Dipper said with a smirk, knowing that even if he was in no way convinced that Gideon was an actual psychic, at least his show had been somewhat entertaining. “No wonder our uncle’s jealous of him!”

“If there’s anything you really can say for Gideon is that he does have quite a bit more… pizzazz than Stan does,” Pearl agreed with a small laugh.

“Oh, come on, you guys,” Mabel urged. “His dance moves were adorable! And did you see his hair? It was like, whoosh!”

“You’re too easily impressed,” Dipper remarked, knowing that Mabel found amusement in practically everything she saw.

“Yeah, yeah,” Mabel laughed, giving her brother a playful shove as the group walked off back towards the shack and the temple. However, none of them were aware of the figure that was watching them from the Tent of Telepathy as they left, who was filled with both malice and infatuation all at once.

The next morning, Dipper had taken to pouring over the journal once more, only this time with the intent of attempting to decode the cryptograms interspersed throughout the Gems’ entries. However, he didn’t get very far in his codebreaking as Mabel hurried in from upstairs, her face covered in a wide array of brightly colored sequins.

“Um… Mabel?” Dipper asked with slight concern, already more than curious to know what the explanation behind this escapade was.

“Check it out, Dipper!” Mabel exclaimed with a wide grin. “After a lot of practice and wasted sequins, I finally managed to successfully bedazzle my face! It’s just a little hard to blink though…” She frowned as the natural urge to blink came, some sequins flying off her face as she struggled to do so.

“Is that permanent?” Dipper questioned a bit worriedly, knowing well that his sister often jumped into her more dangerous creative projects without thinking.

“I hope so!” she said with excitement, though her joy was soon interrupted by the ringing doorbell.

“Somebody answer the door!” Stan called from the kitchen, too busy to do so himself.

“Oh, that must be Steven!” Mabel exclaimed, remembering that the young Gem was coming to hang out again. “I’ll get it!” Her face still dotted in sequins, she ran for the door and flung it open, expecting to find Steven standing outside, only to find another, much shorter figure standing before her instead.

“Howdy!” Gideon greeted with a warm smile, which was quick to garnish Mabel’s absolute delight.

“Oh my gosh!” she smiled with a surprised gasp. “It’s ‘widdle ol’’ you!”

“Yeah, my song’s quite catchy,” Gideon said with a somewhat nervous laugh as he scratched the back of his neck. “Now, pardon me if I’m a bit bold here, since I know we haven’t formally met, but after yesterday’s performance, I just couldn’t get your laugh out of my head!”

“You mean this one?” Mabel asked before breaking out into a slightly obnoxious laugh that managed to charm Gideon all the same.

“Oh, what a delight!” the young psychic smiled brightly. “When I saw you in the audience, I said to myself, ‘Now, there’s a kindred spirit. Someone who appreciates the more… sparkly things in life.’”

“You got that right!” Mabel heartily agreed with another chuckle, though it soon turned into a cough as she accidently choked up some of the sequins she had managed to swallow while bedazzling her face. The sequins managed to land perfectly on Gideon’s lapel, making his suit flashier than it already was.

“Enchanting…” Gideon whispered in captivated awe. “Utterly enchanting.”

 “Who’s at the door?!” Stan called from inside the house, causing Mabel to panic slightly as she remembered just how much disdain the conman had for the young psychic.

“No one, Grunkle Stan!” she replied, covering for Gideon as casually as she could.

“I’m much obliged for your discretion,” the child psychic said politely. “Stan’s no fan of mine. I don’t know how a lemon so sour could be related to a peach so sweet.”

“Oh, stop it, you!” Mabel laughed with a wave of her hand.

“What do you say we step away from here and get better acquainted?” Gideon offered. “Perhaps in my… dressing room?”

“You have a dressing room?” Mabel asked in excited amazement. “We could give each other makeovers! Oh, but wait… I was waiting on Steven to come over so he could teach me to play the ukulele! In fact, he should be here any minute now…”

“Oh…” Gideon frowned, the smallest hint of contempt in his tone, though Mabel hardly noticed it. “Well, if you’re expecting company, then I understand. I’ll suppose I’ll just be on my way then…”

Mabel bit her lip apprehensively as Gideon disappointedly turned to leave in, not really wanting to turn his kind offer down. “Gideon, wait!” she called to him before he could get too far, reaching a spur of the moment decision. After all, Steven would certainly understand if she put off their lessons until later, considering the circumstances. “I’m sure Steven won’t mind. Besides, he can just hang out with my brother until I get back, so… makeovers, here we come!”

“Why, yes indeed!” Gideon agreed with newfound verve as Mabel hurried to accompany him. The child psychic couldn’t help but flash a discreet triumphant, almost snide grin towards the Gem temple as the two of them passed by it, knowing that he had won this first, important victory. “Yes indeed…”

Steven frowned as he glanced up at the clock again, knowing that he had been waiting at the shack for almost an hour now for Mabel to come back so they could start their first ukulele lessons. He had even brought an extra ukulele that he didn’t use much anymore with him to loan to her so she could get some practice. Normally, the young Gem wasn’t the kind to be impatient; after all, he had grown very accustomed to waiting for extended periods of time for the Gems to return from their missions. But Steven had been excited about this endeavor ever since Mabel had asked about it the previous day, to the point that neither of them had wanted to put it off. And yet, it appeared that Mabel had done so anyway.

“When do you think she’ll be back?” Steven asked Dipper as the two of them sat together and watched TV to pass the time until Mabel’s return.

“I don’t know…” Dipper said with a slightly concerned frown. At first, he hadn’t thought much of Mabel randomly disappearing, as she did that all the time. However, she had been gone for several hours now, which was quite strange, since she hadn’t told either him or Stan where she had gone. “It’s not like Mabel to be gone for so long. All she did was answer the door this morning and she hasn’t been around since.”

“You don’t think something’s happened to her, do you?” Steven asked with sudden worry.

Before Dipper could even answer, the front door suddenly burst open, instantly calming both boys’ concerns. “As if on cue…” Dipper remarked to himself with a smirk as Mabel bounded into the room cheerfully.

“Hey, guys!” Mabel greeted the boys exuberantly, her ‘makeover’ surprising them both quite a bit. Her hair and been curled and was held in place with a daunting amount of hairspray, her face painted excessively with makeup, and her manicured fingernails dancing as she waved them in front of her to show them off. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Wow, Mabel!” Steven exclaimed with a smile. “You look great!”

“Thanks!” Mabel laughed cheerfully. “I gotta admit, this is even better than bedazzling my face!”

“Mabel, where have you been?” Dipper asked with a confused frown. “And what’s going on with those nails? You look like a wolverine.”

“I know, right?” Mabel readily agreed as she let out a playful roar and pawed at the air. “I was just hanging out with my new pal, Gideon. I gotta say, he is one dapper little man!”

“Wait, you were with Gideon all this time?” Steven asked, looking the slightest bit disappointed. “But… I thought you wanted me to teach you the ukulele…”

“Oh, well of course I do!” Mabel exclaimed, feeling the slightest bit guilty over how she had snubbed the young Gem without any warning. “But Gideon invited me over, and I didn’t really want to turn him down since he’s so nice! You’re not mad, are you, Steven?”

“No,” Steven shook his head, though he still didn’t smile. “We can always start our lessons later. I mean, you were just out having fun, right?”

“I sure was! Gideon’s the best! We talked about all sorts of stuff, like unicorns and summer fashions and he even did my hair!” Mabel gushed as she gave her hair a stylish flip.

“Mabel, what would Grunkle Stan say if he found out you were hanging around with his biggest rival?” Dipper asked warily.

“Well, he’s not gonna find out, ‘cause you’re not gonna tell him, right?” Mabel asked her brother a bit pleadingly.

“I guess not,” Dipper shrugged, seeing no need to cause senseless drama. “But still, I don’t trust anyone who’s hair is bigger than their head.”

“Oh, leave him alone!” Mabel said defensively. “You never wanna do girly stuff with me! You and Soos get to do boy stuff together all the time!”

“What do you mean?” Dipper asked, though before Mabel could even answer, Soos poked his head into the room, a packet of hot dogs in hand.

“Yo, dude, you ready to blow up these hot dogs in the microwave one by one?” the handyman asked with an excited grin.

“Am I!” Dipper exclaimed readily as he jumped to his feet. “Aren’t you coming, Steven?”

“Uh… nah…” the young Gem frowned, even though he normally would have joined in on such an escapade. “You guys go on ahead without me.”

“Whatever you say, dude,” Soos shrugged as him and Dipper rushed into the kitchen and began watching the hot dogs explode while laughing in amusement all the while.

“Ugh,” Mabel rolled her eyes after her brother left. “Do you see what I have to put up with, Steven?”

“Mabel, I’m sorry if you’re feeling left out,” Steven said with a sincere frown. “I know how hard that can be, since the Gems leave me out of a lot of things.”

“It’s not your fault,” Mabel said with a sigh as she took a seat next to the young Gem. “After all, even though me and Dipper are twins, that doesn’t really change the fact that he’s a boy and I’m a girl. That’s why it’s so nice to hang out with someone like Gideon for a change. He’s actually into a lot of the same stuff as me, even if he is a guy. Sorta like you, Steven. You should totally come out with the two of us sometime!”

“Uh… yeah…” Steven said with slight uncertainty before quickly changing the subject. “Well, it might be a little too late to get very far into the basics of the ukulele today, but we could always start another time. I’m going on a mission with the Gems tomorrow, but… how does Wednesday sound? We could do it up at the temple, and we can have snacks and everything!”

“That sounds perfect,” Mabel smiled as the two of them shook hands on it, both of them resolved on making it happen this time.

The sun sank low over Gravity Falls, casting a lazy warm glow on the sleepy little town. Mabel and Gideon took in this stunning view from an excellent high vantage point, namely the roof of the warehouse were the majority of the child psychic’s merchandise was stored. The new friends had spent most of the day out on a shopping trip, with Gideon happily footing the bill for any and all purchases. The pair had then decided to conclude their adventures in a relaxing way, which had led them to their current spot.

“Whoa, the view from your family’s factory is nuts!” Mabel exclaimed with an amazed smile. “It’s a good thing we both brought our…”

“Opera glasses!” they both chimed in unison as they pulled said glasses out, pointing them at each other and letting out a shared laugh.

“Oh, but seriously though, this view is incredible,” Mabel reaffirmed. “You can see the whole town from up here! And I don’t think I’ve ever been able to look down at the Gem temple before!”

“Aw, that ol’ temple ain’t nothing special,” Gideon said dismissively, before quickly changing the subject. “You know, Mabel, when I’m up here lookin’ down at all those little ol’ people, I feel like I’m the king of all I survey.” The child psychic grinned a bit ominously as his voice dropped down into a temporary whisper, before his manner turned cheerful once more. “I guess that makes you my queen, huh?”

“What?” Mabel chuckled, thinking that he had merely been joking. “You are being so nice to me right now! Quit it!”

“I can’t quit it,” Gideon said with complete sincerity. “I am speaking from the heart.”

“From the where-now?” Mabel asked as her smile lessened a bit into sudden confusion.

“Mabel, I must admit, I’ve never felt this close with anyone,” Gideon said with an endearing smile as he reached out to stroke Mabel’s hair, despite her growing discomfort. “So, so close…”

“Uh… Gideon, listen,” Mabel began with a disconcerted frown as she gently pushed the child psychic’s hand away. He was quick to reach for her hair once more, but she brushed his hand away once again, only more insistently this time. “I like you a lot, I really do, but… maybe we should just be friends…”

“At least give me a chance,” Gideon said, taking the initial rejection surprisingly well. “Mabel, will you do me the honor of going on a date with me?”

“A play date?” Mabel asked tentatively, hoping that this wasn’t what she thought it was.

“Uh uh,” Gideon shook his head.

“A shopping date?”

“Uh uh. It’ll just be one lil’ ol’ date. I swear on my lucky bolo tie.”

“Well…” Mabel bit her lip apprehensively. After how kind Gideon had been to her thus far, she knew she was in no real position to turn him down. She certainly did enjoy hanging out with him, though she wasn’t too fond of the idea of their friendship turning into anything serious. But, she reasoned, all Gideon was asking for was one simple, casual date. What’s the worst that could happen? “Okay, then… I guess one date wouldn’t be so bad…”

“Mabel Pines, you have just made me the happiest boy in the world!” Gideon exclaimed in absolute delight as he gave Mabel a sudden hug, though she couldn’t help but notice something rather unsettling as she hesitantly returned it.

“Wait…” she frowned, suddenly regretting her decision, even if she knew she couldn’t go back on it now. “Are you sniffing my hair?”

True to his word, Gideon came calling on Mabel for their date the following evening, though he did so with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance. Mabel had been quite surprised to see the child psychic arrive at the shack atop a magnificent white stallion, which they had rode to one of the finest, most expensive restaurants in town. Needless to say, Gideon had reserved the most lavish, secluded booth in the place, but what bewildered Mabel even more than that was the fact that the large steed they had gotten there on was currently drinking out of the decorative fountain only a few feet away from their table.

“Havin’ a good time, Mabel?” Gideon grinned flirtatiously. “Cause I know I am…”

“Um… sure…” Mabel said rather half-heartedly. “Still, I can’t believe they let us bring a horse in here!”

“What can I say?” Gideon asked coyly as he propped his feet up on the table. “People have a hard time sayin’ no to me…”

“Ah, Monsieur Gideon! Ze feet on ze table! An excellent choice!” the waiter complimented as he came by to refill their kids drinks.

“Jean Luc, what did we discuss about eye contact?” Gideon asked coldly, shooting the garcon a glare.

“Yes, yes! Very good!” the waiter complied, immediately looking away from the child physic as he backed away from the table with a wide grin.

As this exchange had been going on, Mabel happened to glance down at the place setting before her, noting just how elegant it was. Despite her initial hesitance on going on this date, she couldn’t deny, at the very least, that Gideon was treating her to quite the evening out. “I’ve never seen so many forks!” she remarked in amazement. “And water with bubbles in it? Ohh lala, oui oui!”

“Oh, parlez vous francais?” Gideon asked with interest, even though his simple question left Mabel absolutely confused.

“I… have no idea what you’re saying.”

Gideon simply let out a charmed laugh at this, before sobering into a coy grin directed at his date. “You know, Mabel, I can’t recall the last time I’ve had such a delightful time on a date.”

“You’ve been on dates before?” Mabel asked skeptically, not sure if she was willing to buy such a claim, since Gideon was almost certainly even younger than she was.

“Well… not traditionally…” Gideon admitted with a shrug. “But I hardly think that lil’ detail matters. After all, it only makes this first date all the more… special, don’t you agree?”

“Uh…” Mabel began, glancing away rather uncomfortably as their food arrived. She knew what the child psychic was hinting at, and she couldn’t say she was very enthusiastic about the idea. While she did view herself and Gideon as friends, she couldn’t very well imagine them being anything more than that, even with all the fancy dates and gifts he might try to impress her with.

“As far as I’m concerned, tonight’s date is turning out to be a complete success!” Gideon continued with a pleased smile. “And tomorrow’s date promises to top this one in every way!”

“Whoa, whoa, what?” Mabel cut in, sudden alarm filling her as she disregarded the still-living lobster on her plate. “You said just one date, and this was it.”

The child psychic was quick to avoid answering her concerns as he abruptly changed the subject to something that seemed rather left-wing at first. “Hark! What a surprise! A red-crested South American rainbow macaw!” No sooner had Gideon pointed out the large, colorful bird that it flew in seemingly out of nowhere, obediently coming to perch on the young psychic’s arm, despite Mabel’s startled cry. Upon a simple snap of Gideon’s fingers, the macaw began to deliver its rehearsed message in surprisingly clarity.

“Mabel! Will! You! Accompany! Gideon! To the! Ballroom! Dance! This! Websday—Wednesday!” the bird quickly corrected its error after Gideon gave it a shake, before it hacked up an invitation to the event onto Mabel’s plate and flew away.

Mabel could hardly find the words to say over this sudden, awkward turn of events, especially as the other restaurant patrons had taken notice and let out a collective “aw” over the young couple. She knew she couldn’t very well tell the truth about how she was feeling and turn Gideon down in front of so many people, especially as she turned to meet his expectant grin.

“So, Mabel?” Gideon asked hopefully, clearly playing up the factor of all of the many eyes that were watching them. “What do you say?”

“O-oh… well…” Mabel began, her eyes darting back and forth anxiously. Considering the fact that she was a hopeless romantic, she had been turned down by many a boy countless times before, which was something she was able to shake off rather easily most of the time. However, she couldn’t once recall ever having been in the position to break someone else’s heart herself. To be perfectly honest, she wasn’t sure if she had it in her to even tell Gideon the truth about how she preferred their relationship to be, even if she knew it would be for the best. “Gideon,” she started over, summoning up her resolve to let him down as gently as possible. “I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to say…” She trailed off once more, however, as she glanced over at the other patrons, all of them still on the edge of their seats over whether or not she would say yes. Mabel had never been one who liked to disappoint anyone, be it a longing admirer, or a large group of eager onlookers. Which was why she was more than thankful when a sudden memory struck her, one that she knew could save her for now all while doing the least amount of harm. “I can’t—at least not tomorrow,” she said quickly, cringing at the sighs of disappointment from the crowd as she turned to Gideon once more.

“Oh?” Gideon asked with a confused, yet not upset frown. “And why ever not?”

“B-because,” Mabel stared shakily, realizing that she was only putting the matter off. Yet she felt as though it was a necessary caution; after all, she needed some time to think. “I promised Steven that I would hang out with him tomorrow. You know him, right?’

“Ah yes…” Gideon said with a fake smile, his fists clenched tightly under the table so Mabel wouldn’t see them. “Young Steven Universe… He’s a right good fella, for sure. And where would this town be without those friends of his, the ‘Crystal Gems’ to keep this lil’ town here safe…” The child psychic held back a twitch of frustration as he continued. “And how long did you say you’ve been friends with him for?”

“Since the beginning of summer,” Mabel said with a fond, somewhat relieved grin as she gaged Gideon’s mostly amicable tone. “But anyway, Steven said he would teach me how to play the ukulele, and I really do wanna learn. I already felt bad about putting it off the other day when the two of us hang out, and… well, I just wouldn’t feel right if I made him wait again, you know?”

Gideon was only somehow managing to maintain a calm façade that hid away how he really felt on the matter. “Why, of course,” he said between a clenched grin. “Don’t fret, Mabel, I completely understand. I would be simply remiss if I made you miss what certainly sounds like quite an… important affair…”

“Really?” Mabel asked with a glad smile, even if she knew that this situation wasn’t over yet. “Thanks, Gideon. I’m really sorry about having to call our… date off.”

“Oh, now never you mind all that,” Gideon said with a half-hearted laugh and a wave of his hand. “After all, we can just push it on over to Thursday evenin’, simple as that.”

“O-oh,” Mabel’s smile instantly vanished upon hearing this. And yet, a small part of her relaxed as she reminded herself that she had time; she could use her day off from hanging out with Gideon to try and find a way out of this uncomfortable cycle she had found herself in. And hopefully, she could do so without causing the kindly child psychic too much pain. “Heh, yeah… Thursday… That sounds… great…”

“Excellent!” Gideon perked up, putting aside his former hidden distain as he held his glass of sparkling water up. “I propose a toast!” he called to the rest of the restaurant, the many patrons more than happy to follow the young psychic’s example and join in with their own glasses. “To me and my darlin’ Mabel! The happiest couple this side of Gravity Falls!”

The other patrons all cheered in support as they drank to this, the only one not joining in on the excitement being Mabel herself. Instead, she merely glanced down apprehensively, more unsure than ever about what to do. The only thing she could really think at this juncture was about how she wished she had a bit more assertive nerve to stop what was already derailing out of her favor far too quickly for comfort.

Even though Dipper had promised Mabel that he would keep her newfound rapport with Gideon a secret from Stan, that didn’t mean that the conman couldn’t find out about it through other avenues, or specifically, through the front page article of the next morning’s Gravity Falls Gossiper.

“Hey!” Stan growled in heated anger as he stormed into the gift shop, catching Dipper, Soos, and Wendy all off-guard from the mere fury in his tone alone. “What in the jackal is Mabel doing in the paper next to that crazy pickpocket Gideon?!” he harshly questioned the trio, waving the newspaper in front of him. “I thought I told her to stay away from him!”

“Oh yeah,” Wendy said as she showed a wide array of texts on her phone concerning the young couple. “It’s like a big deal. Everyone’s talking about Gideon and Mabel’s big date tomorrow night.”

“WHAT?!” Stan exclaimed, completely taken aback. “That little shyster’s dating my niece?!”

“I wonder what the new name for the power couple will be,” Soos pondered as he looked up from the magazine he was reading featuring Mabel and Gideon together. “Mabideon? Gideabel? Or what about Magidbeleon!?”

“Dipper, did you know about this?” Stan asked his nephew gruffly, still clearly fuming.

“N-no!” Dipper said defensively, even if he knew that was a blatant lie. But all the same, he wasn’t about to be on the receiving end of his uncle’s wrath when this was all because of his sister’s indiscretion. “I didn’t hear a thing about it! Plus, I told her not to!”

“Well, where is she now?” the conman asked impatiently. “I swear if she’s with that little weasel, I’m gonna-”

“She’s not,” Dipper quickly cut in. “She’s up at the Gem temple hanging out with Steven for the day.”

“Hm, well I’d rather her be up there than with Gideon of all people,” Stan scowled as he pulled his suit jacket over his shoulders. “But either way, this all ends today. I’m going down to that little skunk’s house and putting a stop to this right now!” Without another word, the conman stomped out, slamming the door behind him and leaving the three youths slightly concerned that they would have to step in to help in the likely event that he got himself into any legal trouble.

Of course, Stan disregarded most traffic ordnances and speed limits as he rushed over to the Gleeful house, making a beeline for the door as soon as his car skidded to a stop. “Gideon, you little punk! Open up!” he yelled as he pounded heavily on the door, only pausing for a brief moment as he noted the knit sign that read “Pardon this garden” nailed to the door. “I will pardon nothing!” the conman hissed in intrepid fury as he knocked the sign off the door in retaliation.

No more than a moment later, Gideon’s father, Bud, arrived at the door, a welcoming grin on his face despite the very unhappy conman standing before him. “Why, Stanford Pines!” Bud greeted warmly. “What a delight!”

“Out of the way, Bud!” Stan pushed his way past the used cars salesmen and into the house. “I’m looking for Gideon! I have a bone to pick with him!”

“Well, I haven’t seen the boy around lately, but since you’re here, you simply must sit down for some coffee!” Bud offered amicably as he placed a hand on Stan’s shoulder and guided him into the den.

“B-but I came-”

“It’s imported! All the way from Columbia!”

Stan paused for a moment, unable to deny that the sound of genuine Columbian coffee did sound enticing. “Huh… you don’t say… I went to jail there once.” Only now that his rage had subsided a bit was the conman able to notice just how spacious and well-furnished the Gleeful residence was, a far cry from the cramped, dusty nooks and crannies of the Mystery Shack. “Wow… These are some nice digs you got here. And-oh, this…” the conman’s jaw dropped at the painting of a sobbing clown hanging from the wall. “This is just beautiful.”

“Well, thank you very much,” Bud said with a humble grin as he took a seat and poured Stan a cup of coffee. “Now, I hear that your niece and my Gideon are, well, they’re singin’ in harmony lately, so to speak.”

“Uh, yeah,” Stan glowered as he remembered the reason why he had come. “And I’m against it.”

“Aw, no, no, no!” Bud shook his head, still smiling calmly. “I hardly see this as a bad thing, Stanford! I see it as a fantastic business opportunity!”

“…Huh?”

“Yes, the Mystery Shack and the Tent of Telepathy,” Bud began to explain. “Gravity Falls’ premiere purveyors of the supernatural! We’ve been at each other’s throats for far too long now, yes we have. But don’t you see? This could be our big chance to set aside our rivalry and… pool our collective profits, you know?”

Stan’s eyes widened upon hearing this, the tantalizing promise of money making him forget about his former anger towards Gideon completely. After all, if there was any way to profit from this, then he wasn’t about to turn that chance down. “I’m listening…”

“Okay, so now that the ukulele is tuned, we can start by getting the three most basic keys down,” Steven instructed as he positioned his hand over his ukulele’s strings. He glanced over with a smile and watched as Mabel did the same on the ukulele he was lending her for their lessons, though he didn’t really notice how her expression was less than enthusiastic. “Great. So first of all, let’s try one of the easiest chords of them all: C. All you gotta do is put a finger down on this third fret here and…” The young Gem trailed off as he strummed an easy, assonant C chord, his grin widening as Mabel did the same after a moment of trying to get the right fingering down. “Awesome!” Steven encouraged. “You’re doing great so far, Mabel!”

“Steven, you only taught me one chord,” Mabel said with a small laugh, unable to deny that his kind enthusiasm was cheering her up from her rather glum mood.

“Yeah, but that one chord sounded great all the same,” Steven affirmed as Garnet stepped in from the kitchen, a tray of warm, freshly-baked treats on hand.

“Cookies are done,” the Gem leader said with a small smile as she placed the try on the coffee table for the kids to enjoy.

“Thanks, Garnet!” Steven smiled as he gladly took one of the cookies, scarfing it down happily. “Your cookies are the best.”

“Well, I make sure to bake them with plenty of love,” Garnet chuckled softly as she turned to go back to the kitchen to make another batch.

“What’s the matter, Mabel?” Steven asked, his mouth full as he noticed that she hadn’t touched a single cookie, despite the fact that there were plenty. “Don’t you want one? I thought you loved cookies.”

“I do,” she said, giving him a small, somewhat fake reassuring smile. “I’m… just not very hungry…”

Steven frowned as he finally picked up on how melancholy Mabel seemed to be, knowing that it wasn’t like her to be so disinterested and solemn, especially since she had been so excited to come over a few days ago. Fortunately though, Steven wasn’t the type to let any of his friends stay down in the dumps for too long.

“Mabel, is something wrong?” Steven asked with apt concern, putting his ukulele aside for the moment to focus on the more pressing matter. “You look kinda upset…”

“I’m not upset,” Mabel said, even if she knew that wasn’t exactly true. But she reasoned that if anyone would be able to give her sound advice on this problem, it would be Steven. “It’s just… Have you ever had to disappoint someone who was really nice to you, but expected… a bit too much from you?”

The young Gem gave her a look of lost confusion, clearly not catching her drift. Mabel let out a sigh as she laid back on the couch, deciding to lay her problems out to him in hopes that he would listen. “It’s Gideon,” she began with a frown. “I went out to dinner with him last night, even though I really didn’t want to go. And when he asked me out again for tomorrow night, I didn’t know how to say no! It’s like I’m trapped in this really awkward round of dates, and I just can’t get out of it!”

“So… what’s the problem?” Steven asked, unsure if he understood the whole matter. “I thought you liked hanging out with Gideon.”

“I do!” Mabel protested. “But not like that! I like Gideon, but only as a friend/little sister! But I can’t just turn him down and break his heart after he’s been so nice to me, even if he is sorta clingy. I just need things to go back to the way they used to be. You know, friends.”

“Have you tried telling him any of this?” Steven inquired, willing to help her in any way possible.

“It’s not that easy,” Mabel groaned in exasperation. “Every time I try to work up the nerve to break things off with him, I get this weird, guilty feeling in my gut that forces me not to say no! I don’t know what I’m gonna do! I have no way out!”

“Hm…” Steven mused, unsure of what needed to be done about this problem himself. Thankfully though, one of the wisest people he knew happened to be in the kitchen just a few feet away. “Hey, Garnet!” he called to the Gem leader, who had just put another tray of cookies into the oven. “Mabel needs help with-”

“I heard,” Garnet said succinctly as she walked into the living room.

“So… any advice?” Mabel ventured, hoping that the Gem leader could be of some assistance. “I bet you, Amethyst, and Pearl deal with unwanted admirers all the time, since all three of you are super pretty.”

“We deal with them occasionally,” Garnet admitted as she took a seat on the couch beside the kids. “But most of the time, we don’t let it go too far.”

“I wish I had done that…” Mabel muttered with a sigh of regret, knowing that she should have nipped this problem in the bud when it was still small and she still had the chance.

“Mabel, listen,” Garnet began with sincerity as she placed a hand on the despondent girl’s shoulder. “The best advice I can give you is to tell Gideon the truth about how you feel. It’s not fair to him for you to lead him on, and it’s not fair for you to force yourself to keep doing something you don’t want to do. It may not be easy, and it may not feel good at first, but chances are it will be better for you both in the long run. Trust me.”

Mabel couldn’t help but smile a bit as she took this advice to heart, knowing that it was more than sound. Coming clean seemed like the only thing she really could do, especially when opposed to just putting it off and feigning her feelings. Telling the truth was a difficult solution, yes, but, as Garnet had said, it would certainly be the best one overall. Or so she hoped. “Thanks, Garnet,” she said with a resolved smile. “I guess I’ll just have to work up the courage to tell Gideon that we’re not going out again tomorrow night. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?”

“Things will turn out fine,” Garnet encouraged with a small grin. “You’ll see.”

“Wow, Garnet,” Steven remarked, clearly impressed by the Gem leader’s solid suggestion. “I didn’t know you knew so much about relationships! You’re like the romance master!”

Garnet let out an amused laugh at this as she rose to stand, casually adjusting her shades as she did so. “I guess you could say that…” she said, a hint of mystery in her tone as she returned to the kitchen once more.

“Well, that’s that,” Mabel clenched her fists in determination. “I just hope I don’t end up flaking out again when I try to explain it to him.”

“Don’t worry,” Steven reassured. “You can do this, Mabel. I believe in you!”

“Thanks,” Mabel chuckled as she picked up her ukulele again. “Now, are you gonna teach me how to rock out on this thing or not?”

“You bet!” Steven exclaimed heartily, both of them sharing a laugh as they jumped into an afternoon of enjoyable ukulele lessons, their problems and worries far behind them, even if only for a while.

Mabel returned to the shack that evening in high spirits, Garnet’s wise advice still ringing in her ears. Though she was still admittedly apprehensive about the whole situation, she knew now exactly what she had to do. The sooner she cut any supposed romantic ties she might have had with Gideon, the happier they both would be.

“Hey,” Dipper greeted his sister as she sauntered into the living room with a spring in her step. “You look like you’re in a good mood. What happened? Did you finally break things off with Gideon?’

“Not yet,” Mabel replied with an easy grin. “But never you fear, bro-bro. I plan on doing exactly that tomorrow night.”

“You’re not going to flake out and not tell him again, are you?” Dipper asked skeptically, remembering how Mabel had told him about her prior inability to come clean to the child psychic.

“Nope,” Mabel shook her head, still smiling. “I got some pretty sound advice from Garnet. She told me that the best thing to do it just tell Gideon the truth, even though it might be hard at first. But Gideon’s been pretty understanding so far; hopefully he won’t take it too hard.”

“Well, hopefully he’ll be more understanding than Stan was when he found out you and Gideon went out on a date,” Dipper said as he returned his attention back to the journal.

“I thought you said you weren’t going to tell him!” Mabel exclaimed in disappointment, looking around apprehensively for their uncle.

“I didn’t,” Dipper corrected. “He found out on his own and so he went over to Gideon’s to straighten him out. He’s been gone for several hours now, so it’s probably safe to assume that he’s been arrested by now.”

“Wait a minute…” Mabel said, her eyes widening as she ignored her brother’s sarcastic remark. “That’s it! If Grunkle Stan tells Gideon, it’s over, then that means I won’t have to! It’s like he’s doing all the work for me!”

“But I thought you said you were going to tell him the truth.”

“Hey, why put myself out there if I don’t have to?” Mabel said with a relieved grin. “I should have let Grunkle Stan know about this from the beginning! I owe him big time for this!”

“You sure do, kid!” Stan said with a broad grin as he entered the shack. Mabel spun around to face her grunkle excitedly, more than ready to give him a grateful hug, though she froze when she noticed the tee-shirt he was wearing, the words “Team Gideon” printed on it.

“Um… Grunkle Stan?” the girl frowned in slightly unnerved confusion.

“Mabel, I have some great news for you!” Stan proclaimed proudly, not at all noticing his niece’s steadily growing worry.

“Uh… is it that you told Gideon he’s not allowed to see me anymore?” Mabel asked tentatively, daring to hope that her uncle’s tee-shirt was no indication of the opposite.

“What?” Stan scoffed with a laugh, thinking that she was joking. “No! The good news is that you’re going to have to marry Gideon.”

“WHAT?!” Mabel practically shrieked in shock, her mind reeling at the very thought.

“It’s all part of the long term deal I just made with Bud Gleeful,” Stan explained. “There’s a lot of cash tied up in this thing, so don’t blow it for me.”

“B-but I-” Mabel began to protest, completely distraught in this sudden turn of events.

“Plus this merger has some immediate benefits too. Like this shirt!” the conman’s wide grin faded as he glanced down at said shirt, noticing how it emphasized his bulging stomach. “Ugh, I am fat.”

Unable to contain her abject horror over this disastrous news, Mabel did the only thing she could really think of at this juncture. Instead of expressing her complete opposition to her uncle’s newfound deal, she let out a terrified scream and hurried up the stairs to the attic as fast as she possibly could, leaving her concerned brother and confused uncle behind.

“Bodies change, honey!” Stan called out after her, misunderstanding her fear. “Bodies change…”

Dipper rolled his eyes at Stan’s tactlessness as he climbed the stairs not too far after Mabel, already anticipating the complete emotional wreck that awaited him. It wasn’t often that Mabel gave into fear or despair, but in the event that she did, Dipper knew more than enough about her unique, yet not always helpful way of coping with her most pressing problems and woes. And sure enough, his expectations were confirmed as he arrived in the attic, finding Mabel curled up into a tight ball against the wall, her arms, legs, and face tucked into her sweater as she rocked back and forth in a poor attempt to console herself.

“Oh no…” Dipper frowned with sympathy, hating to see his usually bright and bubbly sister reduced to such sorrow. “Mabel…”

“Mabel’s not here,” the girl muttered bitterly, her voice muffled thanks to her sweater. “She’s in sweater town.”

“Are you going to come out of sweater town?” Dipper asked as he headed over to her and sat against the wall beside her.

Mabel didn’t offer a verbal response as she instead let out a soft whine, clearly trying to hold back tears as she shook her head. Fortunately though, Dipper knew exactly how to break through his sister’s sweatered wall of despondency, since he had been in the practice of doing so ever since they were both little. “Come on, Mabel,” he encouraged as he placed a hand on her shoulder, even though she was quick to pull it away. “Don’t listen to Stan. You can always just end things with Gideon yourself, just like you said you were going to.”

“Ugh, it’s not that easy, Dipper!” Mabel groaned, still refusing to lift her head out of her sweater. “Talking about it is one thing, but actually doing it is entirely different! And… to be perfectly honest… I just don’t think I can do this…”

“Yeah, I understand,” Dipper sighed with a good-natured smile. “I know how much you hate disappointing people.”

“Exactly! I’m too darn nice for my own good!”

“That’s hardly a bad thing, Mabel.”

“It is in this case!” Mabel protested, burying her head even deeper into her sweater. “I just don’t know what to do…”

Seeing that his sister was clearly inconsolable, Dipper couldn’t help but feel the slightest bit of resolve rising in the midst of his pity. While this whole situation had merely been a point of amusement and skepticism for him thus far, he wasn’t about to let it continue any longer if it caused Mabel this much woe and stress. “Alright, enough is enough,” Dipper said reassuringly, catching Mabel’s attention as she peaked at him from her sweater. “If you can’t break up with Gideon, then don’t worry. I’ll do it for you.”

“Y-you will?” Mabel asked in surprise, lifting her head up a little more.

“Of course,” Dipper confirmed with a confident grin, knowing that passing the message onto Gideon would be beyond easy. “And if it makes you feel any better, I’ll take Steven with me. Between the two of us, this will be a piece of cake.”

Joy instantly exploded across Mabel’s face as she quickly pulled herself out of her sweater and nearly knocked her brother to the ground in a sudden, tight hug. “Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she exclaimed exuberantly, all of her pep and verve back as relief flooded her. “Have I ever told you that you’re the best brother ever?!”

Dipper simply laughed warmly at his sister’s excitement, his own spirits lifted upon seeing her so elated once more. “You could stand to say it more often,” he remarked jokingly, willingly taking the playful punch on the arm Mabel gave him in the midst of her celebration.

Though Steven had been there when Garnet had imparted her words of relationship wisdom to Mabel, he still instantly sympathized with her upon hearing how her situation had worsened from Dipper. Which was why the young Gem hadn’t hesitated to join the twins in going to set Gideon straight, even though Mabel insisted on waiting outside of the restaurant for the boys to return, claiming that she wasn’t sure she could even face the child psychic in light of the awkward circumstances.

“So… have you ever really talked to Gideon before?” Dipper asked Steven as they approached the largest table near the back of the crowded restaurant.

“Eh, not that much,” Steven shrugged. “I’ve only met him a handful of times. But he seems nice enough, based on how he acts during his shows, and he really seems to like Mabel, so I’m sure he won’t take this too badly.”

“Hopefully,” Dipper muttered as him and Steven made it to Gideon’s table. The child psychic hadn’t noticed their arrival as he was intently looking over his menu, patiently waiting on his date to arrive. In fact, he wasn’t even aware of the boys’ presence until Steven spoke up, albeit a bit apprehensively.

“Um… Hi, Gideon,” the young Gem greeted tentatively. Gideon lowered his menu and forced a smile as he took in the sight of the two boys, clearly having been expecting Mabel instead of either of them.

“Oh, well look who it is!” the child psychic exclaimed with feigned delight. “Dipper Pines and Steven Universe! What a pleasant surprise! Tell me, Steven, how are those magical colleagues of yours doin’?”

“You mean the Gems?” Steven asked in confusion. “They’re fine, I guess.”

“Very good, very good,” Gideon replied, masking his contempt through small talk. “So, have either of you boys seen Mabel around? It’s high time for our date to get in motion.”

“Um, yeah… Look, Gideon,” Dipper began with a somewhat nervous frown. “Here’s the thing. Mabel… isn’t joining you tonight. To be honest, she, uh… she doesn’t wanna see you anymore. She’s… Well, she’s kinda weirded out by you, no offense.”

“She was going to tell you herself,” Steven added carefully. “But she didn’t want to hurt your feelings. She just thinks it would be better for both of you if you went your separate ways. You understand, right?”

A beat of uncomfortable silence passed between them as Steven and Dipper exchanged a rather awkward glance, both of them noticing Gideon’s eye twitching in hidden anger upon hearing this news. “So…” the child psychic began, his voice low and unstable. “What you’re sayin’ is… you’ve… come between us?”

“You’re not like, gonna freak out, or anything, are you?” Dipper asked anxiously, remembering his initial distrust of Gideon quite well.

Upon being posed this question, the child psychic instantly righted himself, seamlessly reverting to his calm and collected manner. “Oh, heavens no!” Gideon exclaimed with a fake laugh and a wave of his hand. “These things happen, after all. Bygones, you know.”

Dipper and Steven were admittedly quite relieved to hear this, both of them having noticed Gideon’s earlier hints at underlying rage at this news. And yet, he seemed to be just fine with it now as he offered them both an amiable smile, apparently not bothered by secondhandedly hearing about Mabel’s rejection. “A-are you sure you’re gonna be ok?” Steven asked with genuine concern.

“Oh, don’t you worry yourself over lil’ ol me,” Gideon replied a bit forcefully, still grinning a little too much to the point that it was a bit unsettling. “I’ll be more than fine, I assure you.”

“Okay, cool,” Dipper said with a sense of finality, feeling as though their work there was done. “Again, we’re sorry, man, but uh… thumbs up, huh?”

With nothing else really left to say, Steven and Dipper decided to take their leave as they both gave the child psychic parting, albeit awkward smiles as they left. However, neither of them noticed how Gideon’s false grin instantly dissipated into a burning glare of heated rage the moment they turned their backs. “Thumbs up indeed, my friends…”

The boys couldn’t deny that they felt palpable relief as they exited the restaurant to find Mabel anxiously waiting for them near the door. As soon as she saw them exit, she didn’t hesitate to pounce an abundance of questions on them both, her dread and curiosity getting the better of her. “So? How’d it go?” she pressed, biting her lip. “Was he mad? Did he try to read your minds with his psychic powers?”

“Actually, he took it kinda well,” Steven grinned. “Better than we expected him to, anyway.”

“Oh, good,” Mabel sighed in relief. “I was afraid he might go totally ballistic on you guys or something.”

“Don’t worry, Mabel,” Dipper reassured, rolling his eyes at her baseless concerns. “He’s just a kid. He doesn’t have any ‘psychic powers’ or anything like that.”

“…I guess you’re right,” Mabel said with a small chuckle, knowing that the idea of Gideon actually possessing any genuine powers did seem a bit silly.

“So now that all that’s out of the way, you guys wanna come hang out up at the temple for a while?” Steven offered. “We still have plenty of Garnet’s cookies left over from yesterday!”

Neither twin was about to turn this offer down as they both unanimously agreed. The three of them cheerfully raced off towards the temple, heedless of the danger they had just gotten themselves into.

Gideon paced around his darkened room lividly, his footfalls heavy and tense as he muttered bitterly to himself. If there was anything the child psychic wasn’t used to, it was being told no, especially when it was concerning something he wanted this much. In the confines of his own room, Gideon didn’t hesitate to let his pent-up heated temper flow to the surface, especially when he thought of who had brought him this sour news in the first place.

“Steven Universe, Dipper Pines, you have no idea what you’ve just done!” Gideon growled, practically seething with rage as he threw his fist down on his desk. The child psychic blamed both of them entirely for Mabel supposedly “breaking up” with him right out of the blue. The way Gideon saw it, his chances with Mabel had been severely diminished if only because of Steven, of all people, somehow managing to woo her away from him. After all, she seemed to speak rather highly of the young Gem, so it would have been quite easy for him to capture her affections without even trying. The child psychic figured that Dipper, who probably supported Steven’s budding bond with his sister, had been the one to ultimately convince Mabel to break things off with him. And to add insult to injury, Steven and Dipper had conspired and callously passed this message onto him, instead of allowing Mabel to speak the truth about how she really felt on the matter.

Instead of being upset about this situation though, Gideon was filled with unbridled rage. As far as he was concerned, no one, absolutely no one would stand between him and Mabel. And fortunately for the child psychic, he had a foolproof way of getting rid of any obstacle that stood in his path.

A twisted grin crossed Gideon’s face as he gripped his bejeweled bolo tie, the green gemstone glowing brightly in response to his touch. “Those darn Crystal Gems always ruin everything…” he muttered to himself with blatant hatred. “But even they don’t know that I just so happen to have one of their secret lil’ weapons!”

Gideon let out a devious chuckle as he spun around, lifting his free arm up as the glow from his amulet transferred to his hand first, before surrounding the majority of the furniture in the room. The gemstone’s magic caused the affected objects to steadily rise into the air, levitating above the ground by Gideon’s command. And then, as the child psychic threw his arm down in rage, the furniture all came crashing to the floor in a destructive mess, creating a clamor that shook the entire room.

“Look out, boys…” Gideon said with a maniacal smirk, his revenge plan already emerging into existence. “You’ll rue the day you ever tried to tear me and my Mabel apart!”

Of course, in the aftermath of the child psychic’s loud, disastrous tantrum, his father was quick to burst into the room, startled at the broken furniture scattered all over the floor. “Gideon Charles Gleeful!” Bud scolded firmly. “Clean up your room this instant!”

“I CAN BUY AND SELL YOU, OLD MAN!” Gideon shouted furiously as he spun around to face his father, refusing to let him get in the way of his plotting.

Bud was silent for a moment upon hearing this, his expression somewhat taken aback at first, but, knowing how temperamental Gideon could be, he soon shrugged in acceptance as he left his son to his own wicked devices. “…Fair enough.”

A feeling of calm and jovial relaxation had fallen over the area surrounding the Mystery Shack in the golden light of the late afternoon as Dipper, Mabel, and Soos all reveled in it by having a good round of mindless fun. The handyman had volunteered to be the target for their merriment, tucking a firm pillow underneath his shirt as he held his arms out wide to the twins.

“Okay, dudes,” Soos said with a ready grin. “Hit me.”

Dipper and Mabel didn’t hesitate to comply as they simultaneously charged towards Soos, both of them bouncing off his padded stomach as they collided with the pillow under his shirt and laughing as they fell back onto the ground.

“Huh, feels good,” the handyman said with a satisfied grin.

“This is so nice,” Mabel said with a contended sigh as she lay back on the ground in relaxation. “I’m so glad everything’s finally back to normal.”

“Well, as normal as things get around here,” Dipper commented with a joking grin.

“I’m serious,” Mabel replied with a laugh. “It’s so nice to not have to worry about Gideon anymore. And I have you to thank for that, bro-bro!”

“Eh, don’t worry about it,” Dipper shrugged good-nautredly. “I know you would have done the same for me.”

“Ha!” Mabel laughed teasingly. “As if you could even get a date in the first place!”

Dipper merely rolled his eyes at this dig, knowing that his sister teased him about his love life, or lack thereof, far too often. Thankfully though, she wasn’t able to continue goading him as the phone soon rang from inside the shack.

“Your turn!” both twins proclaimed in near unison, though Dipper was just a second too slow to the punch, meaning that the task fell to him. He let out an exasperated groan as he rose to go answer it, ignoring Mabel as she playfully stuck her tongue out at him as he headed inside.

Mabel sighed happily once more as she stood up as well, though she remained outside with Soos, who was entertaining himself by poking himself in his cushioned belly. “You know, Soos, I didn’t use to think so, but I might be able to get used to this whole being single thing,” she said as she prepared to barrel into the handyman’s stomach again. “Especially if the alternative was being with someone who was probably a little too obsessed with me.”

“I know what you mean, dude,” Soos nodded in understanding. “I’ve been single for as long as I can remember. It gives you like, freedom, or something like that.”

“Yeah, freedom!” Mabel cheered zealously, though her excitement diminished a bit a moment later. “Still, I kinda can’t help but feel a little bad for how things went down between me and Gideon. Maybe I should have just broken up with him myself…”

“Well, the way I see it, hambone, you could either let Dipper and Steven help you out like they did,” Soos began to explain as he placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Or you could have kept on going out on dates with Gideon and just suffered silently for the rest of forever. It was your choice, so do you think you made the right one?”

“Um… yeah, I guess,” Mabel shrugged, not entirely sure where the handyman was going with this.

“Then you made the right one,” Soos concluded with an easy-going grin. “Don’t worry, dude. You’ll feel better about this soon.”

“Yeah…” Mabel said half-heartedly, remembering that Garnet had told her the exact same thing. Still, she couldn’t deny that she felt the slightest bit ashamed over how she had had handled this entire situation, but it wasn’t like she could go back and change her approach. What was done was done, and at the very least, she could take solace in the fact that any prospects of a relationship between her and Gideon had been nipped in the bud.

As Mabel was reflecting over her actions, Dipper soon emerged from the shack, an excited grin on his face as he hurried past his sister and Soos. “Yo, dude,” the handyman called out after the boy. “Where you goin’ in such a hurry?”

“The town paper just called,” Dipper explained, only pausing for a brief moment as he waved the slip of paper with an address scribbled on it that he was holding. “They wanna interview me about all of the weird stuff we’ve noticed in Gravity Falls since we got here. Can you believe it? I could fill the whole paper with all of the crazy things I’ve seen so far!”

“Or you could just fill it with how you’re a huge dork!” Mabel joked, though Dipper hardly paid her any mind as he continued on his way.

“Anyway, I’ll be back later,” he called as he headed onto the forest path. “Don’t wait up!”

Mabel merely let out a small laugh at her brother’s zeal for learning about practically everything, which balanced out her enthusiasm towards basically everything else quite nicely. “Okay, Soos,” she said with a daring grin as she turned towards the handyman once more. “Get ready for round two!”

Soos returned her confident smile as he tapped his pillow-shielded stomach, clearly as prepared as she was. “Dude, I’m always ready.”

Dipper frowned in confusion as he glanced between the address he had written down and the building it had led him to. A seemingly abandoned factory nestled atop a cliff on the far end of town certainly seemed like an odd place to conduct an interview, but he figured that it was just a more spacious place for the reporter to get better pictures of him for the paper. All the same though, he decided not to read much into it at the moment; after all, if this was just an elaborate prank, then he was more than free to just leave at his own leisure.

However, as strange as this setup already appeared to be, Dipper was even more surprised to head up the short path to the factory doors and find that a familiar face had already beat him there. “Steven?” he called as he approached the young Gem, who was quick to turn around just shy of entering the warehouse. “What are you going here?”

“Oh, hey, Dipper,” Steven greeted with an equally puzzled expression. “Are you here for the free ice cream too?”

“Ice cream?”

“Yeah! I got a call a little while ago about there being a free sundae bar here, and since the Gems aren’t back from their mission yet, I figured I’d go check it out. After all, I’m always down for a delicious sundae!”

“Um… I think you might have the wrong place, Steven,” Dipper frowned. “I’m here to meet up for an interview for the town paper; they didn’t mention anything about free ice cream.”

“Huh,” Steven took a tentative glance towards the closed factory doors. “That’s weird. But I guess there’s only one way to figure out what’s really going on here.”

Without any further deliberation, the young Gem pushed the doors open for both of them, revealing the dark, apparently empty interior of the large warehouse. The boys exchanged an apprehensive glance as they stepped inside a bit, finding no signs of reporters or ice cream, but only large crates and boxes lining the walls.

“Um… hello?” Steven called, his voice echoing through the lofty factory. “Is anybody here?”

“Well, Steven, I think it’s safe to say we’ve both been set up,” Dipper crossed his arms as Steven went unanswered. “But still, this doesn’t make any sense. Who would tell us to come all the way out here for nothing?”

As if in response to his question, the row of lights lining the high ceiling suddenly began to switch on, the door slamming shut behind the two boys. Dipper and Steven simultaneously gasped in surprise as they spun around, pulling on the doors only to find that they had somehow locked themselves tight, leaving them with no way out. Neither of them had much time to react to this sudden turn of events, however, as a familiar voice greeted them from behind.

“Hello, friends…”

Of course, both boys recognized the child psychic’s distinct southern accent without even needing to turn around, though they did so anyway. “Ugh, Gideon,” Dipper groaned in exasperation, in no mood to deal with Mabel’s unwanted ex-date.

“A-are you here for the free sundaes too, Gideon?” Steven asked innocently, though there was a hint of uneasiness in his tone.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry, Steven,” Gideon said, his voice dripping with dry sarcasm. “But there ain’t any free ice cream here…”

“So then why are we here?” Dipper asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow at the child physic, who was giving them both a rather manic grin. However, instead of answering this question, Gideon went off on an entirely different tangent completely.

“Dipper Pines…” he began, the dark shadows of the room giving his childish face a somewhat eerie quality. “How long have you been livin’ in this town? A week? Two? You like it here? Enjoy the scenery?”

Steven and Dipper exchanged an unnerved glance as Gideon looked to them both expectantly, neither of them entirely sure of what was going on. It was undeniable that there was a certain level of creepiness to this strange encounter, to the point that the tension building up in the room was almost tangible. But even so, neither of them were really understanding what the child psychic’s intent was in tricking them into coming here, even though it was clear that it was far from a friendly purpose. “Uh… Gideon?” Steven spoke up a bit anxiously, diverting his attention instantly.

“Oh, and how could I forget about you,” Gideon continued, an edge of cold anger in his tone. “Steven Universe, prodigy of the so-called “Crystal Gems”. Even you have to realize that those three ladies cause this lil’ town more harm than good.”

“No they don’t!” Steven quickly rushed to the Gems’ defense. “They protect Gravity Falls from things that want to hurt it! They’re heroes!”

“Heroes, hm?” Gideon mused with a disgusted scoff. “You poor, deluded boy. If you only knew the truth…”

“What are you even talking about, man?” Dipper cut in, just as confused as Steven was.

“Listen carefully, both of you,” Gideon said, his tone and expression both suddenly turning dead serious. “This town has secrets you couldn’t even begin to imagine and so do those Gems.”

“Huh?” Steven asked, growing steadily more unsettled as Gideon leapt out of his chair, his small stature somehow seeming quite intimidating.

“Wait, is this about Mabel?” Dipper asked caustically, wanting to get to the bottom of this. “We already told you, she’s not into you!”

“LIES!” Gideon suddenly shouted in absolute fury. “Me and Mabel belong together! She was my peach dumpin’! And she would have been all mine if it hadn’t been for you, Universe!” he exclaimed, pointing an accusatory finger at Steven.

“Me?” the young Gem asked in sudden bewilderment. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, I think you know exactly what I mean, boy,” Gideon hissed in clear jealousy. “You stole Mabel away from me! I don’t know what you did or how you did it, but you’ve got some gall to try and beguile a taken woman!”

“What?” Steven asked, suppressing a small laugh over the humorous misunderstanding. “There’s nothing like that going on between me and Mabel! We’re just friends.”

“You must think I’m pretty dumb to believe that hogwash,” the child psychic scoffed heatedly. “You snatched her affections up and you turned her against me!” Gideon exclaimed, turning on Dipper this time.

“No I didn’t,” Dipper replied defensively, though it was clear Gideon was beyond listening to any type of reason at this point. Instead, the child psychic began to approach both boys in a slow, calculated stride, gripping his jeweled amulet tightly as it began to glow with magic. “Uh… you ok, man?”

Gideon didn’t respond as he threw his free hand up dramatically, and all at once, it seemed as though the ground underneath Dipper and Steven disappeared completely. They were both shocked to find that they were levitating just a few feet above the ground, the same strange blue glow that surrounded Gideon’s amulet enveloping them both as well. The child physic didn’t keep them suspended in the air for too long though, as he thrust his arm forward, sending them both flying across the factory with a great amount of force. Thankfully, they both landed in a pile of Lil’ Gideon plush toys, but that didn’t mean they weren’t both quite shaken up in this frightening turn of events.

“Readin’ minds isn’t all I can do…” Gideon grinned ominously as he approached the two of them once more, still holding onto his magical amulet.

“B-but you’re a fake,” Dipper said, trying to hide his steadily growing fear with little avail.

“Oh really?” Gideon inquired with a cruel, sardonic smile. The glow around his amulet intensified as it lifted up several of the nearby heavy boxes, all of them quickly circling around Dipper and Steven to prevent any attempts at escape. “Then tell me, Dipper; is this fake?!”

Mabel let out a pensive sigh as she sat on the edge of the shack’s porch, her mind swimming in a myriad of thoughts as she absently chewed on a lock of her hair. Despite Soos’s earlier reassuring, she couldn’t help but still feel guilty, though for what reason, she wasn’t quite sure. After all, things never would have worked out between her and Gideon, even if she had wanted them to. And yet, she knew that by failing to break things off with him herself, she had not only shown cowardice, but also duplicity. True, things were indeed over between them, but were they really? She felt no genuine closure, no finality or assurance that the situation had been properly dealt with. And to be perfectly honest, she wasn’t sure how she could really obtain such closure now, so late after the fact.

“Hey, how’s that hair tasting, buddy?” Mabel’s musings were interrupted as she turned to see Wendy emerge from the shack and take a seat on the porch beside her with a casual grin.

“Wendy, I need some advice,” Mabel said, knowing that the teenager would probably be the best place to go to for help at the moment. She had considered going to Garnet for help once more, but she refrained when she realized she had pretty much done the exact opposite of what the Gem leader had advised her to do. “You’ve broken up with guys before, right?”

“Oh sure,” Wendy said with a wave of her hand. “Plenty of them. There was Russ Durham, Eli Hall, Stoney Davidson…”

As the teen continued to list off her past flings, Mabel began to explain her own plight to her. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I thought everything was back to normal, but I still feel all gross inside…”

“Pysche Wirley, Nate Holt, that one guy with the tattoos…”

“I dunno… Maybe I made a mistake letting Dipper and Steven do it for me,” Mabel continued, feeling as though she was finally reaching something of a conclusion. “Gideon at least deserves an honest breakup.”

“…Danny Feldman, Mark Epston…” Wendy suddenly stopped at this name as she recalled something. “Oh man, I don’t think I ever actually broke up with him. No wonder he keeps calling me!”

“I know what I gotta do,” Mabel stood with newfound resolve, confident in her decision this time. “Thanks for talking to me, Wendy.”

Still focused on her former boyfriends, Wendy didn’t offer a response, though Mabel was in such a hurry, she didn’t mind. Instead, the girl rushed for her bike, hastily climbing on it, even though she didn’t know exactly where to go. She figured she would just ride over to Gideon’s house and come clean, however, she did halt her bike briefly as she rose past the Gem temple upon spotting Amethyst standing at the foot of the path, waving her down.

“Hey, Amethyst,” Mabel greeted the purple Gem with a small smile. “What’s up?”

“Eh, not much,” Amethyst said casually. “Just got back from a mission and Pearl’s freaking out cause Steven’s not at the temple. Have you seen him lately?”

“Not since yesterday,” Mabel frowned.

“Yeah, I mean he left a note about going to get free ice cream from some factory or something,” the purple Gem said, clearly not as worried as Pearl apparently was. “So he’s probably fine. Heck, if I had been around when he left, I would have gone with him. I could go for a whole freezer right now.”

“Wait a minute…” Mabel said, focusing on one specific part of what Amethyst had said. “Did you say Steven went to a… factory?”

Amethyst nodded, though she didn’t really see the significance of this detail. “I guess. His note said it was right across town near the cliffs. I mean, he was pretty specific, so I don’t know why Pearl’s so worried. Oh wait, yeah I do; its ‘cause she worries about everything.”

The purple Gem let out a chuckle in spite of herself as a troubling realization dawned on Mabel, her suspicions confirmed thanks to Amethyst’s description of where the factory was located. All at once, her confusion about way to go dissipated, replaced with a newfound dread for both her friend and her brother, as well as deep sense of guilt that she might have just placed them both in significant danger.

“Hey, Mabel?” Amethyst broke through the girl’s thoughts, noticing her concerned expression. “You ok?”

“Uh… y-yeah,” Mabel shook her head, knowing that time was of the essence now. “I gotta go. See you later, Amethyst!”

“Oh, uh, later!” Amethyst called out after Mabel as she hurriedly rode off, somewhat confused as to what the rush was. “And if you see Steven, tell him to save some ice cream for me!”

In a matter of mere minutes, the factory had been thrown into absolute chaos. Broken boxes of merchandise were strewn all over the place, and yet Gideon still had several on hand to use as ammunition against Dipper and Steven. The child psychic laughed in twisted amusement as he threw another large crate their way, which the boys only managed to narrowly avoid by running out of its path. However, there was hardly any reprieve from the attack as Gideon launched several broken splintered shards of wood their way at a frightening speed.

“Look out!” Steven called worriedly to Dipper, as both of them ducking low to the ground as the pieces of wood flew over their heads and crashed into the nearby wall. Thankfully, Gideon decided to pause at this juncture, allowing them to catch their breath even though there were still plenty of boxes hovering precariously above them.

“Grunkle Stan was right about you,” Dipper glared at the child psychic, who stood over him and Steven with a menacing smirk. “You are a monster!”

“Your sister will be mine!” Gideon proclaimed fiercely as he flung several crates at Dipper in particular. Fortunately, Steven rushed to his friend’s rescue though, pushing him out of the way just in time.

“Thanks,” Dipper said with a grateful sigh of relief. Steven offered him a brief grin, though is expression became resolved as he rose to stand and face Gideon.

“Gideon, listen,” Steven implored sincerely. “You don’t have to do this. I mean, think about it; is hurting us really gonna help you feel better?”

“Well, of course!” Gideon exclaimed as though it was obvious. “Once you two are outta the way, no one will ever stand between me and Mabel again!”

As a show that he meant business, the child psychic used his powers to telepathically shove Steven into the nearby wall. The young Gem let out a cry of pain as he roughly collided with the wall, though Dipper was quick to hurry over to him and help him up. “You ok?” he asked with immense concern, noticing how Steven seemed to be slightly out of it after such a direct attack.

Steven weakly nodded, but before he could offer a verbal response, Gideon was already upon them again. “And besides,” the child psychic continued darkly. “With you gone, Universe, this town will have one less pesky Crystal Gem in it to get in my way!”

“What do you have against the Gems anyway?” Steven asked, his voice a bit tight with lingering pain.

“You really think those Gems are worth defendin’?” Gideon asked coldly. “Don’t make me laugh. Those three have so much power, power that no one in this backwoods hick town could ever comprehend. And what do they use it for? ‘Helpin’ people. ‘Savin’ ‘em. It’s a such a waste! If I had powers like those…” The child physic paused briefly as he tossed another box of merchandise at the boys, though thankfully it missed them by a small margin. “This town would be mine!”

Seeing that Steven’s attempt at a logical appeal wasn’t going to work, Dipper reached the conclusion that they would have to stop the crazed child psychic some other way. “Steven,” he whispered harshly, taking advantage of the fact that Gideon was momentarily distracted by one of his dolls. “We have to do something. If this keeps up for much longer, we’ll be crushed!”

“If only I could get my gem to work!” Steven frowned as he lifted up his shirt and gave his gem a small tap, though it showed no signs of response. “My shield would be a huge help right now…”

Dipper couldn’t help but agree with this, though as he happened to glance over to his right to find a baseball bat lying on the ground nearby, he got an entirely new idea. “Follow my lead,” he instructed Steven as he quietly picked the bat up, making sure that Gideon’s attention was still diverted away from them. The young Gem apprehensively followed close behind, taking up a makeshift shield composed of a panel of discarded wood as they approached the child psychic, slowly at first, though they soon broke out into a simultaneous courageous shout as they charged for Gideon. He was quick to pick up on their attack however, as he spun around with an enraged glare, thrusting his hand out towards him as his amulet shined once more. Dipper and Steven felt their bodies suddenly seize up, their grips on their weapons failing as they found themselves rising up into the air. Despite their struggling against the amulet’s hold, they found that neither of them could really move, leaving them completely at Gideon’s mercy.

“Let us go!” Steven protested firmly, still squirming fruitlessly.

“Seriously, man!” Dipper agreed, shooting the child psychic a defiant glare. “Just give it up! She’s never gonna date you!”

“That’s a lie!” Gideon hissed furiously, though a sadistic grin spread across his face as he noticed several boxes of his officially-licensed lamb sheers lying nearby. “And I’m gonna make sure you never lie to me again…”

The boys’ eyes widened in shock and fear as two pairs of shears lifted into the air, their blades separating as they hovered over Dipper and Seven, who were both helpless to escape them, even despite their struggling. Gideon’s twisted smirk widened as he prepared to clench his hand and finish the job, ready to get rid of his two foes once and for all, though fortunately, his treacherous intents were halted just in the nick of time.

“Gideon!” The factory doors suddenly burst open to reveal a very livid Mabel, her hands clenched into tight fists as she glared daggers at the child psychic. “We have to talk!”

Gideon instantly froze upon seeing Mabel, his hold on the shears fading as the clattered to the ground. Dipper and Steven let out a unified sigh of relief, even if they were still stuck suspended in midair. “M-Mabel!” the child psychic exclaimed in flustered surprise, knowing he had been caught red handed. “My marshmalla! What are you doin’ here?”

“I’m sorry, Gideon,” Mabel frowned sincerely as she walked towards the child psychic. “But I can’t be your marshmellow. I needed to be honest and tell you that myself in the first place.”

“I… I don’t understand…” Gideon said, clearly taken aback. He squeezed his amulet a bit tightly, its magic suddenly suffocating Dipper and Steven as they were still held in its grip.

“Uh, Mabel?” Dipper choked, his air supply severely cut off. “This probably isn’t the best time to be brutally honest with him!”

“Y-yeah!” Steven agreed, though he wasn’t able to say much more as breathing became quite difficult.

Mabel glanced towards the two of them, concern flashing over her face, though she gave them a small nod, assuring them that she had a plan. “Hey, but don’t be too upset, Gideon,” she offered the child psychic a small smile as she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “We can still be makeover buddies, right? Would you like that?”

“R-really?” Gideon asked, hope filling his tone as he let go of his amulet.

Mabel had been keeping an eye on the amulet this whole time, and as soon as she saw her opportunity, she took it. “No, not really!” she exclaimed, quickly ripping the bolo tie off of the child psychic’s neck and holding it up out of his reach. The boys let out cries of surprise as they fell to the ground, released from the amulet’s power at last. “You were attacking my brother and my best friend! What the heck is wrong with you?!”

“My amulet!” Gideon gasped, stunned at this sudden turn of events. “Give it back! I stole that from the Gems and I ain’t about to lose it! Er-I mean…”

Dipper, Mabel, and Steven all gave the child psychic a look of disgusted disbelief upon hearing this, shocked that he would stoop so low as to steal from the Crystal Gems themselves. But all the same, they weren’t about to let such a powerful artifact fall into his hands again. “Steven, catch!” Mabel called to the young Gem, knowing that out of all of them, he was most deserving of protecting it.

Steven successfully caught the amulet as soon as Mabel threw it to him, holding it aloft so Gideon wouldn’t be able to get ahold of it again. “Ha!” Dipper gave the child psychic a triumphant grin as soon as he was sure Steven had the amulet secured. “Not so powerful without this, are you?”

Unable to contain his rage for very long, Gideon let out a frustrated scream as he charged for the two boys, determined to get his prized, stolen amulet back. Unprepared for this sudden assault, Dipper and Steven could do nothing as Gideon roughly collided with them, startling the young Gem and causing him to drop the amulet. The child psychic was surprisingly strong for his small size, and the force of him barreling into the two boys was enough to knock all three of them back into the nearby window, which shattered upon impact.

“Dipper! Steven!” Mabel shouted in sudden fear as all three boys fell out the broken window, plummeting down the length of the cliff in a freefall. At first, Dipper, Steven, and Gideon all instinctually panicked as they fell, though even their quick descent soon turned into a skirmish as the young psychic roughly hit both of his foes. Though Steven was more concerned with the fact that there was nothing to cushion their long fall, Dipper was quick to retaliate by smacking Gideon back, setting off a mid-air slap fight that continued almost until they hit the ground.

Fortunately though, no such thing happened. For as they were all just inches away from a no-doubt fatal collision, all three of them found themselves suddenly suspended in the air. Confused, Dipper and Steven glanced up to see Mabel, holding onto Gideon’s amulet, floating slowly towards them in the light of the full moon. Her expression as firm and very provoked as her feet touched the ground, before she brought Steven and Dipper down gently and Gideon much more roughly.

“Listen, Gideon,” Mabel began as she stood over the child psychic, who was still collecting himself off the ground. “It’s over. I will never, ever date you.”

Gideon watched with dismay as Mabel handed the amulet over to Steven again, who made sure to tuck it away in his pocket for later. “The Gems will be glad to get this thing back, whatever it is,” he said with a smile.

“My powers!” the child psychic exclaimed in protest. He knew that getting the amulet back would be nearly impossible, however, as both Mabel and Dipper stood between him and Steven to keep him from even trying to reclaim it. “Oh, this isn’t over,” Gideon warned crossly as he stood, glaring hatefully at all three of them. “I’ll make ya’ll pay! This isn’t the last you’ll see of wittle. Ol’. Me…” With this threat relayed, he began to back away into the dark forest behind him, still scowling at them viciously.

“Uh… we can still see you!” Steven called with a frown, though Gideon only let out a frustrated growl in response as he stormed off in full force. The twins and the young Gem exchanged an initially tentative glance at this, though it soon turned into a round of triumphant laughter, none of them thinking that Gideon’s threat held any real weight. After all, without any of his stolen “powers”, what was the worst that the child psychic could really do?

“Ah, this is living,” Stan said with a contented sigh as he reclined back in his plush chair. He had just finished signing the last of the paperwork that would seal the deal him and Bud had worked out concerning their partnership and both men were in relatively high spirits because of it.

“Indeed it is,” Bud agreed with a smile as he took a sip of his coffee. “From now on, it’s all brand name foods and clown paintings.”

“That’s the way it should be,” Stan nodded, more than ready to live in the lap of luxury with hardly any effort.

This calm was suddenly shattered completely as the front door suddenly burst open, a very livid Gideon storming in. The child psychic’s rage only intensified when he caught sight of the conman sitting in his living room.

“Well, look who it is,” Bud greeted his son with a casual grin. “Gideon, we were just-”

“Stanford Pines, I rebuke thee!” Gideon shouted hotly as he leapt on the coffee table, pointing an accusatory finger at Stan.

“Rebuke?” Stan raised a confused eyebrow. “Is that a word?”

“The entire Pines family has invoked my fury!” the child psychic seethed. “And so have those darn Crystal Gems! You all will pay recompense for your transgressions!”

“What, you got a word-a-day calander or something?” Stan asked, still clearly not taking Gideon’s anger seriously.

“Oh, but sunshine?” Bud cut in with a nervous laugh. “What about our deal with Mabel and-”

“SILENCE!” Gideon practically screamed, his face red with fury. “The deal’s off! I want him out!”

A beat of uncomfortable silence passed, with neither man sure of how to react to the child psychic’s uncontrollable anger, though Bud soon spoke up again, this time to Stan. “Well, uh, I see that he’s taken to one of his rages again,” he said rather awkwardly. “Sorry, Stan, but I have to side with Gideon on this one.”

Stan let out a disappointed scoff as Bud tore up their contract, succinctly ending any merger that could have happened between the Mystery Shack and the Tent of Telepathy. “Okay, okay,” he said with a shrug, though an idea came to mind as he glanced over at the clown painting hanging from the wall. “I can see when I’m not wanted.”

Without any explanation, the conman ripped the painting from the wall, much to Bud’s surprise, especially as he began to run out. “Um, Stan? I’m sorry, but I’m gonna need that painting back,” he called, though with no response as Stan rushed out the door. “Stan?! Stan!

“Try and catch me, suckers!” Stan laughed triumphantly as he threw the painting into his car and drove off, satisfied that he had at least gotten something out of the failed deal after all.

It was rather late when the kids arrived back at the Mystery Shack, all three of them quite exhausted after the ordeal they had been through. Still, even if they did look a bit worse for wear, thankfully none of them had been hurt, and they had even safely claimed the amulet from Gideon, which had been no small feat. Knowing that they deserved a chance to rest, they all plopped down on the porch together, taking their much-needed opportunity to relax.

They had only been resting in silence for a few minutes when Stan’s car pulled up, the conman stepping out with his new prize and a somewhat forlorn expression. “What are you three doin’ up so late?” he asked the kids with a skeptical frown as he noticed how rough they looked. “And what the heck happened to you? You all look like you were attacked by an angry chipmunk.”

“Gideon,” Mabel responded simply and tiredly, with both Dipper and Steven echoing her with the same amount of exhaustion.

“Gideon,” Stan repeated with disdain. “Yeah, the little mutant ‘swore vengeance’ on the entire family and on the Gems too. Heh, I guess he’s gonna try and nibble my ankles or somethin’.”

“Oh yeah,” Dipper perked up with a small smile. “How’s he gonna destroy us now, huh? Try to guess what number we’re thinking of?”

“He’ll never guess what number I’m thinking of,” Mabel proclaimed proudly. “Negative eight! No one would ever guess a negative number!”

Everyone shared an amused laugh at this, though it was soon interrupted as the Gems arrived in a bit of a hurry, all of them clearly relieved upon seeing their youngest member safe and sound. “Steven!” Pearl cried with an allayed sigh. “There you are! We’ve been looking all over for you! Someone was supposed to be out looking for you…”

“Hey, I told you not to worry about him,” Amethyst shrugged defensively before turning to Steven. “So did you bring back any ice cream?”

“No…” Steven said, though excitement filled him as he suddenly remembered something. “But I do have something for you guys!” The young Gem grinned triumphantly as he held out Gideon’s bolo tie.

“Uh… Steven? That’s a tie,” Amethyst pointed out the obvious, though Garnet was able to see beyond that point as she took it for herself.

“No, it’s not,” the Gem leader said. “It’s an ancient Gem artifact with the ability to give its telepathic control over objects and people.”

“I can’t believe it!” Pearl exclaimed in surprise. “We’ve been looking for this for ages! Where on earth did you find it?”

“Gideon had it,” Dipper explained. “He said he stole it from you guys.”

“Gideon?” Amethyst asked in disbelief. “That little loser? How the heck did he get his hands on it?”

“We must have been careless with it,” Garnet concluded as she bubbled the tie before sending it back to the temple. “But that’s a mistake we won’t make again.”

“He didn’t hurt you three with it, did he?” Pearl asked the kids with concern.

“Eh, not too badly,” Steven said, making light of the situation somewhat. “He was really mad though. He said he was going to get his revenge on all of us somehow, but I don’t think we have to worry about that since he doesn’t have that amulet anymore.”

“It’s all my fault,” Mabel said with a guilty frown. “Garnet, I didn’t listen to your advice, and I ended up messing everything up. You were right; I should have told him the truth from the start. Maybe then he wouldn’t have tried to attack two guys I actually care about…”

“Like I said,” Garnet said, her tone understanding as she knelt down to the girl’s level and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Telling the truth about how you feel isn’t always easy. And though some people might not take the truth well, that’s on them. What’s important is that you did what was right for your heart. Is that what you think you did?”

Mabel hesitated in answering this at first, a small part of her knowing that she should have handled breaking up with Gideon sooner and better than how she actually had. And yet, she couldn’t deny that she felt a sense of relief that it was finally all over. She was indeed guilty that her indiscretion had nearly gotten Steven and Dipper seriously hurt, but in the end, everything mostly turned out. True, Gideon had reacted quite violently to the rejection, but as Garnet said, that was his problem, not hers. Which was why she was able to answer the Gem leader’s question with certainty in her tone, feeling more sure of herself than she had in days. “Yes. I think I did.”

Garnet simply smiled and nodded at this, satisfied in her response. Stan soon cut in, however, breaking up the moment with his usual sarcasm. “Not that this isn’t touching or anything like that,” he remarked dryly. “But you kids beds to get to and I have a painting to hang. It’s time we called it a night.”

“For once, I agree with Stan,” Pearl assented. “Let’s go, Steven.”

“Ok,” Steven grinned, hopping up from his spot on the porch to follow after the Gems. “See you guys later!”

“Bye!” Dipper and Mabel called in unison as they headed inside with Stan. For the moment, things finally seemed peaceful for both the Pines and the Gems. In wake of what had been a rather stressful week, it looked like they could all rest easy. And of course, they were all quick to forget about the threat issued on every one of them, even if there was one person who would never forget until it was completely fulfilled.

Gideon was still fuming even hours after his fight against Dipper, Mabel, and Steven. His vendetta against them and their guardians was one he wasn’t about to take lightly; after all, no one crossed him and got away with it, especially those who denied him of anything he wanted. He didn’t care how and he didn’t care when. He was going to have his vengeance on the Pines and Gems, no matter what the cost was.

The child psychic channeled his anger into crafting small, crude, wooden dolls, adding onto the collection he had consisting of a figure of nearly every resident of Gravity Falls. He made three new additions in his fury, letting his frustrations flow as he fiddled with them. “‘Gideon, I still love you,’” he said in a high-pitched voice as he waved his Mabel doll about, mimicking what he supposed his former crush nearly though. “‘If only my stupid family weren’t in the way.’”

Gideon picked up the doll he had made of Stan quite some time ago, dropping his voice down as he imitated his business rival. “‘Look at me. I’m old and smelly.’”

The child psychic let out a bitter sneer as he gathered the figurines of the Gems in his hands, holding onto them tightly as he glared at them darkly. “‘Oh we’re just so ‘perfect’!’” he mimicked the Gems with clear sarcasm in his tone. “‘Everybody loves us, even though we’re nothin’ but a bunch of goody-two-shoes.’”

Gideon threw the Gems’ figures rather roughly as he grabbed Steven’s, completely incensed as he attempted to copy the youngest Gem, whom he considered was his ultimate rival for Mabel’s affections. “‘I’m just a two-timin’, no account little girlfriend stealer!’” he satirized cruelly, violently throwing Steven’s doll halfway across the room in rage.

He mocked Dipper last as he snatched the boy’s doll, clearly unhinged in his ranting by this point, though he hardly cared. “‘Hey, what are you gonna do without your precious amulet?’”

Gideon clenched his fist tightly around the now-empty space where his amulet used to be, still outraged at how it had been so easily taken from him. But all the same, he didn’t need it. After all, he had other ways of getting his revenge.

“Oh, you’ll see, boy…” the child psychic said ominously as he closed the old book lying on his desk, a red, leather-bound volume with a golden six-fingered hand on the cover, marked with a number 2. “You’ll see…”

 

Chapter Text

WFKORXZGVH LU WRKKVI
Z HFIKOFH LU HGVEVM
DRGS HL NZMB XOLMVH
RGH SZIW GL YIVZP VEVM

 The Sea Shrine, as its name implied, rested deep at the bottom of the ocean, making it one of the most remote Gem structures on Earth. Its glass walls and high-vaulted ceilings allowed for a grand view of beauty of the deep sea, but what made the submerged temple even more interesting was the diverse collection of hourglasses lining its long, singular hall. With awed curiosity, Steven examined each hourglass from a distance, which varied in size from as big as his hand to as tall as the high ceiling, remembering Pearl’s firm warning not to touch any of them. The other Gems weren’t too far away, inspecting the other hourglasses in search of the one they had come to this ancient place for: the glass of time.

“Hey, what about this one?” Steven called to the others, pointing out a small, round hourglass that had caught his eye.

“What one?” Pearl asked as she walked over, glancing over the table of hourglasses.

“This little one right here,” Steven grinned, pointing to the tiny sphere, which was easily small enough to fit in the palm of his hand. “It’s adorbable.”

“Steven, the legendary glass of time won’t be nearly so small and insignificant,” Pearl explained, turning her nose up at the petite hourglass. “It will be beautiful and grand. Like this one!” The white Gem’s eyes were filled with delight and wonder as she looked over to another nearby hourglass, which was medium in size and very elegant in design.

“I think it’s this one,” Garnet remarked, her hands on her hips as she gazed up at the largest hourglass in the shrine. It easily towered over all of the Gems, its imposing statue not lost on their youngest one.

“Whoa…” Steven muttered in amazement as he stood in the shadow of the massive hourglass, stars in his eyes. “I’ve never seen an hourglass so huge!”

 “But how are we supposed to even get this back to the Warp Pad?” Pearl asked with a concerned frown.

“I can carry it,” Garnet affirmed, cracking her knuckles as a show of her strength.

“Garnet, wait!” Pearl exclaimed, placing a hand on the Gem leader’s shoulder to stop her. “We need to be careful about which one we touch. You remember what happened the last time we were here, don’t you?”

“What happened?” Steven asked curiously, though before he could answer, Amethyst spoke up.

“Hey guys, I’m makin’ the call!” the purple Gem shouted, picking up a rather intricate hourglass with several connected bulbs. “It’s this janky one right here!”

Amethyst!” Pearl exclaimed in a sudden panic, which only intensified as the entire shrine began to shake.

“Uh…. I guess it wasn’t…” Amethyst frowned as she looked at the hourglass she had chosen, which had apparently been the wrong one.

All too soon, sea water began to surge into the temple, pouring into the glass structure from a panel in its roof that had suddenly shattered. “Look out!” Garnet shouted, leaping into action to grab Steven and save him from the heavy deluge. The Gem leader landed squarely upon the warp pad on the far end of the temple, with both Steven and Pearl in tow “We don’t have much time before the shrine is completely flooded,” Garnet noted. “We need to leave. Now.”

“Amethyst, come on!” Pearl impatiently urged the purple Gem, who hopped up onto the warp pad herself only as Steven leapt off of it. “Steven! Where are you going?!”

“Amethyst got to keep her hourglass!” Steven called back as he ran towards the hourglass collection, slogging through the water that was already knee-deep.

“Darn tootin’!” Amethyst proclaimed with a proud grin, holding her hourglass up in triumph.

“I wanna get the one I picked out!”

“Steven!” Pearl and Garnet called out in worried unison, though the young Gem hardly paid them any mind as he approached the smaller hourglass from earlier.

“Hi there! My name’s Steven,” he greeted the spherical hourglass with a fond grin as he scooped it up into his hands. “You’re gonna come live with me!”

“Steven, come on!”

“Coming!” Steven called back as he ran for the warp pad, fully aware of the huge wave of water at his heels the whole time. Pearl let out a panicked squeal upon seeing this, but Garnet, as calm as ever, quickly shapeshifted her arm, stretching out to catch the young Gem and pull him towards the warp.

“Hurry up! Hurry up!” Amethyst urged anxiously, though thankfully Garnet managed to pull Steven to the warp pad just in the nick of time.

“Ah! Well done, Garnet!” Pearl praised with relief. There was no time to celebrate as the heavy wave rolled upon them, forcing them to warp out of the flooding shrine just seconds short of being swept away.

Unfortunately, the Gems hadn’t been quick enough to warp back without taking a majority of the massive wave with them. Water poured into the house, soaking everything in sight, including the Gems who stood upon the warp pad dripping wet, and Steven, who was more than happy to ride the wave as it flowed onto the floor.

“Woo hoo!” the young Gem cheered in merriment as he landed onto the floor, his clothes and hair sopping. “That was great! We’re doing that again, right?!”

“Unfortunately,” Pearl began in aggravation, plucking the seaweed that was stuck to her hair off. “We can’t. We’ll have to wait another hundred years for the Sea Shrine to reform all because somebody couldn’t keep their hands to themselves.”

“Oh well,” Amethyst shrugged with little concern as she held her hourglass close. “At least we didn’t leave there empty handed this time!”

Pearl cast the purple Gem a bitter scowl, though it was quickly broken with Garnet’s next statement. “You have a lobster on your butt,” the Gem leader pointed out stoically, causing the white Gem to panic once more and the purple Gem to break out into a loud round of laughter.

Likewise, Steven also chuckled in amusement at his guardians’ shenanigans, until his alarm clock suddenly sounded throughout the house. “Oh! I almost forgot about the party!” the young Gem exclaimed as he rushed to turn the alarm off.

“What party?” Pearl asked curiously.

“Mr. Pines is throwing a party tonight down at the Mystery Shack, and every kid in Gravity Falls is invited!” Steven explained with an excited grin. “Me and dad are supposed to play a few songs there so I gotta hurry down to the car wash so we can rehearse.”

“Whoa, Stan’s throwing a party?” Amethyst asked, a mischievous grin spreading on her face. “I just might have to crash it and see if he’s got any good snacks…”

“Haven’t you caused enough trouble for today, Amethyst?” Pearl asked caustically, ripping the lobster off of the back of her skirt.

“You know me, P. I can never cause enough trouble.”

“Well, I had a lot of fun, you guys,” Steven said to the Gems as he rushed to the door. “I’ll see you later!” Despite his excitement, the young Gem did pause to let the crab that had accidentally warped back with them out the door first. “After you, sir,” he said politely, before running out head into town himself. “Bye!”


 

Even though the Mystery Shack had closed early for the afternoon that hardly meant that its employees were idle. Stan had put Soos, Wendy, Dipper, and Mabel to work setting up for the party, which namely consisted of decorating the floor room with streamers, banners, and balloons. Even though their grunkle was expecting them to be working, the twins had taken to playing with the silly string for the party as soon as his back was turned, with Wendy eagerly joining in on their fun. Of course, it didn’t take Stan too long to notice their loud laughter and grow impatient with them wasting the party favors that were meant for their guests later that night.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Stan said gruffly, breaking up the fun as he confiscated the cans of silly spray from the kids. “Party supplies are now off limits.”

“Aw… Grunkle Stan, party preparing is so boooring… We were just having a little fun!” Mabel pouted, but the con man was having none of it this time.

“Yeah, at my expense,” Stan said as he put the silly string up for later. “Party stuff doesn’t come cheap, you know.”

“Didn’t you buy all this stuff at the dollar party store in town?” Dipper asked knowingly, crossing his arms.

“Who asked you?” Stan quickly snarked as he began to unroll a pin the tail on the donkey poster.

“Mr. Pines, who’s birthday is it again?” Soos asked as he continued hanging streamers.

“Nobody’s. I thought this party would be a good way to get kids to spend money at the shack,” Stan replied. “If the young people of this town want fun, I’ll smother ‘em with it!”

“Maybe comments like that are why kids don’t come to the Mystery Shack,” Dipper said caustically as he poured himself and Mabel some soda.

“Hey! What did I say about the party supplies!?” Stan exclaimed as he took the bottle of cola from his nephew and instead shoved a flyer into his hands. “How about you kids actually make yourselves useful and copy these flyers?”

“Oh boy, a trip to the copier store!” Mabel grinned with excited delight.

“Calendars, mugs, t-shirts and more! They’ve got it all at the copier store!” Soos rhymed with a smile. “That’s not their slogan; I just really feel that way about the copier store.”

“Save the trouble of making the trip all the way into town,” Stan said with a wave of his hand. “You know the old copy machine in my office?”

“You mean the one that’s being held together with duct tape and band-aids?” Wendy asked with a casual grin.

“That’s the one!” Stan grinned proudly. “I finally fixed the old girl up, good as new! And this way, I won’t have to spend extra money on that fancy, high-quality paper they use down at the copier store. It’s perfect!”

Complying with their grunkle’s need to horde money, the twins hurried to the con man’s office, easily locating the outdated, beaten up copy machine against the wall. Despite the obvious wear and tear is showed, a few lights on its exterior still flashed dully, giving them the impression that it still functioned, at least somewhat.

“Dipper, check it out! A winky face!” Mabel exclaimed cheerfully after drawing a face onto the layer of dust coating the machine with her finger.

Dipper largely ignored her as he lifted the scanner lid up. “Does this thing even work?” His question was quickly answered as he happened to rest his arm on the scanner, only for the machine to come alive with a bright green light. The machine managed to scan over Dipper’s arm before he could lift it away in surprise, and sure enough, it slowly produced a grayscale copy of the boy’s arm.

“Ha! Success!” Mabel cheered as she pulled the paper up out of the tray, holding up in the air for her brother to see. Her excitement was quickly replaced with surprise however, as the page suddenly began to shake on its own accord, prompting her to abruptly drop it. “Whoa!”

The twins watched with wide eyes as the paper inexplicably began to crinkle up on the ground before them, until, against all logic, the copied arm somehow managed to pull itself up out of the page and into existence. Dipper and Mabel let out a shared frightened gasp as the disconnected arm began to slowly and unnervingly pull itself across the floor towards them.

“Stay back!” Dipper warned, protectively pulling Mabel behind him as he grabbed her cup of soda and threw it at the still moving arm in alarm. Thankfully, this method actually worked, for as the liquid splashed onto the copied arm, it began to bubble and disintegrate, until it was nothing more than a puddle on the floor.

“Wow…” Mabel whispered in awe. “I gotta hand it to that copier; I didn’t expect it to do something so armazing! Ha!”

 Despite the fact that his initial shock was still wearing off, Dipper rolled his eyes as his sister’s rather ridiculous puns and instead focused on the oddity they had just witnessed. “Mabel, I think this copier can copy human beings!”

“No way!” Mabel gasped, her eyes wide with wonder. “Do you realize what this means?” She briefly paused for dramatic effect, but instead of offering a legitimate answer like Dipper was expecting, she suddenly pulled out the silly string she had managed to hold onto and playfully sprayed it all over him. “BLAAAHHHHH!”


 

Before hurrying over to the car wash, Steven had decided to pop in at the Mystery Shack briefly, overwhelmed with excitement for the party. It was rare for any kid-centric events to be held in Gravity Falls in the first place, but the young Gem was even more elated about such a party being thrown at the Mystery Shack, one of his favorite locales in the entire town.

 

Steven hummed happily to himself as he hopped off his scooter, setting it against the shack as he hurried to the door and discreetly poked his head inside. Though Stan, Soos, and Wendy were all too busy setting things up to notice his arrival, Dipper and Mabel weren’t as they just so happened to be returning from the con man’s office, a large stack of flyers split between them. “Steven!” the twins greeted in cheerful unison, alerting the others to his presence.

“Hi, guys!” Steven smiled as he stepped into the shack fully. “Are you ready to party tonight?”

“I am always ready to party!” Mabel proclaimed, energetically pumping her fist.

“She’s not kidding,” Dipper said with a knowing chuckle, well aware of how enthusiastic his sister was about all things party-related.

“This party’s gonna be intense, dudes,” Soos said with a wide grin. “Especially since I’m gonna be DJ!”

“Only because you begged,” Stan reminded from across the room. “And ‘cause you work for free.”

“You won’t regret it, Mr. Pines,” the handyman assured. “I even got a book to teach me how to DJ r-r-right!”

“Not encouraging,” Stan deadpanned before turning to Steven. “You and Greg are still on to perform tonight, right kid?”

“You bet!” Steven heartily agreed. “In fact, I was just heading down to the car wash so we can get some last-minute practice in.”

“Don’t you wanna stick around and help set up, Steven? I’ll let you tie the balloons!” Wendy offered, holding up a pack of uninflated balloons.

“Ooo, that sounds tempting…” the young Gem agreed, though he knew he had to resist it. “But I can’t. The party’s only in a few hours and there’s still so much to do! I’ll see you all later!”

Steven was quick to head out as the others bid him farewell, leaving them to finish preparing. “Ok, party people… and Dipper,” Stan called, gathering everyone in front of him and ignoring his nephews annoyed glare. “Let’s talk business. We already know that Soos is DJing and the Universes are gonna provide some live entertainment. So, Wendy, I’m putting you and Mabel at the ticket stand.”

“What?” Mabel asked with a disappointed frown. “But Grunkle Stan, this party is my chance to make some new friends. You can’t just stifle my outgoing personality like this!”

“Um… I could always work with Wendy instead,” Dipper volunteered a bit awkwardly, not at all minding the idea of getting to work one-on-one with the girl he had a rather sizable crush on.

Stan sarcastically rolled his eyes at this, not really thinking that Dipper was up to such a task. “You do realize that if you do, you gotta commit to staying at the ticket stand all night with Wendy. No getting out of it. Just the two of you, alone, all night. Can you promise me that you’ll stick to it?”

Dipper paused before answering, stealing a glance over at Wendy as her and Mabel used some silly string to paint a face onto Soos’s stomach. As the teen let out a bold, amused laugh, Dipper couldn’t easily hide the small, admittedly love-struck grin spreading across his own face as well. If there was any task that he would be more than happy to commit himself to, it was this one. “I promise.”


 

Steven pushed his foot off the sidewalk with gusto, propelling his scooter forward as he rode through town. The young Gem always looked forward to jamming out with his father, but this special occasion had him all the more excited, especially since they were being presented with the opportunity to entertain the whole town with their music. He pushed his scooter a bit faster as the car wash came into view, and in his enthusiasm, he barely noticed the large, wide-load lumber truck stuck in the wash entrance.

“Dad!” Steven called as he rode up to Greg, who stood beside Manly Dan inspecting the situation. “Dad! Are you ready to rehearse?” The young Gem stopped short when he finally noticed the truck, its stacks of logs jutting out of the wash awkwardly. “Whoa…”

“Uh… We’re having a bit of a day…” Greg said, stretching the back of his neck in exasperation. The former rock star cast a nervous glance over at the lumberjack, who was practically seething in rage, letting out a frustrated growl with each breath.

“Is it stuck?” Steven asked with a concerned frown.

“Yeah…” Greg nodded.

“Why does a lumber truck need a car wash anyway?” the young Gem inquired, though Manly Dan was quick to answer in his usual surly way.

“Because clean wood is TOUGHER!” the lumberjack shouted, storming over to the truck to attempt to pull it out himself.

“Mr. Corduroy, wait!” Greg called, knowing that was a dangerous idea. “Oh, sorry, buddy,” the former rock star turned towards his son with an apologetic frown. “I don’t think I’ll be able to play at the party tonight. I gotta deal with this…”

“You’re bailing on the party?” Steven asked with disappointment clear in his tone. “But the whole town’s gonna be there!”

“Steven, that’s like twenty people,” Greg pointed out.

“But what about Mr. Pines? He’s counting on us to play tonight!”

“I’m sure he’ll understand,” Greg reassured, placing a comforting hand on his son’s shoulder. “I know this stinks, bud, but I’ll be there next time. I promise.” The former rock star offered his son a consoling smile before he hurried to go help Manly Dan before he could make the situation any worse. “Wait! Mr. Corduroy, you don’t have to punch the—Oh… too late…”

Steven let out a disgruntled sigh as he hopped onto his scooter, slowly riding away from the car wash as he muttered to himself dejectedly. “Stupid truck, getting all stuck…” he scowled, blaming the truck alone for diverting his father’s attention away from what would have certainly been a great evening. “Nobody likes you, truck! I wish I could have been there to tell my dad you were too fat!”

No more than a second passed after Steven had said this before the young Gem abruptly and completely disappeared into thin air, leaving only his scooter and helmet behind. In just the blink of an eye, Steven found himself back at the car wash, much to his absolute confusion, especially as he glanced around the corner to see Greg helping Manly Dan guide his truck into the wash.

“That’s it!” Greg called confidently, waving the lumberjack on. “Just back her in! She’ll definitely fit.”

“W-what the…?” the young Gem whispered in bewilderment, before a sudden realization struck him just in the nick of time. “Dad,” he gasped, his eyes widening before he dashed out to meet his father. “Dad!”

“Hey, stoo-ball!” Greg greeted cheerfully as he turned to his son. “You excited for the party tonight?”

“Dad! Dad! Fat! It’s fat!” Steven shouted, hopping up and down anxiously. “Fat, fat, fat!”

“Rude…” Greg muttered in embarrassment as he glanced down at his own rotund stomach.

“Not you! The truck!” Steven corrected, pointing to the truck just seconds before Manly Dan backed it into the wash.

“Huh? Oh! Hey! Wait!” Greg called to the lumberjack in a sudden panic. “Stop the truck! Stop the truck!”

Manly Dan slammed on the breaks just in time, poking his head out of the window as he let out an impatient, confused growl. Even so, the car wash operator gave his son a congratulatory pat on the head. “Nice catch, Steven.”

The young Gem smiled in relief as his father went to explain the situation to Manly Dan. Now that he had a moment to catch his breath, only to feel a burst of warmth in his pocket. “Whoa!” Steven gasped in awe as he pulled the small hourglass he had gotten from the Sea Shrine out of his pocket, noticing it was enveloped in a dim glow. “The thing! You took me back in time, didn’t you? Oh man, Pearl’s gonna flip when she finds out that you’re the real deal!”

Steven’s elation was cut short as he glanced over at his father, who was trying to reason with the very incensed lumberjack. “Look, I’m sorry, but the truck’s fat,” Greg explained as calmly as he could.

“My FIST is fat!” Manly Dan shouted gruffly as he held his large fist up, prompting the former rock star to take a nervous step back. 

“Oh no!” Greg exclaimed as he noticed the lumber truck begin to roll backwards in light of Dan failing to properly park it. “Your truck!”

Before anyone could stop it, the front end of the truck crashed into a nearby telephone pole, which easily toppled over onto it. The wire immediately caught fire, which spread across the line and onto the very flammable wood on the truck bed. Steven and Greg let out unified screams of horror as the roof of the car wash itself lit up in flames, while Manly Dan simply punched the side of his truck in a heated rage.

“I gotta save the van!” Greg exclaimed fearfully as he hurried to pull his van away from the dangerous inferno, leaving Steven to watch in shock as his father’s business burned. Though he had tried to help Greg avoid disaster, he had inadvertently created an even bigger one. And yet, as the young Gem happened to glance down at the hourglass in his hand, a new idea quickly came to him, one that he sincerely hoped would work.

“I-I wish I could go back and stop myself from stopping my dad!” Steven exclaimed hurriedly. Thankfully, the hourglass complied, enveloping him in its glow and teleporting back to just moments before the accident. The young Gem took in a tight breath as he caught sight of his past self running towards his dad, and, knowing he only had a few seconds to act, Steven ran for his other self.

“Dad!” the past Steven called, though he was abruptly cut off as someone tackled him just before Greg caught sight of him.

“H-huh?” the past Steven’s eyes grew wide as he saw exactly who had attacked him, namely himself. “Are… are you… future Steven?!”

The future Steven nodded gravely, his expression serious as he began to explain the situation. “Listen, two-minutes-ago-Steven. We can’t go around trying to change time stuff. It just makes things worse.”

Before the conversation could go on any further, both Stevens’ jumped at the sound of a rough crash coming from the other side of the car wash. They both peeked around the corner to see that, as expected, Manly Dan’s truck had gotten itself stuck in the wash yet again, much to Greg’s distress.

“Oh no!” the wash operator exclaimed as he hurried to go help the lumberjack. “How did this happen?”

“Aw, man!” the past Steven let out a defeated sigh. “That’s what I was trying to prevent! This is the worst… I really wanted to play at the party. Too bad you and I can’t be in a band together.”

The future Steven frowned in sympathy, before both Stevens suddenly perked up, reaching the same exact conclusion at once. “Wait a minute!”


 

Steven pushed his foot off the sidewalk with gusto, propelling his scooter forward as he rode through town. The young Gem always looked forward to jamming out with his father, but this special occasion had him all the more excited, especially since they were being presented with the opportunity to entertain the whole town with their music. However, before he could make it to the car wash, Steven found himself suddenly being tackled off of his scooter completely out of nowhere. He landed on the pavement roughly, though he let out a stunned gasp upon seeing the two figures who were pinning him down.

“Steven!” the future two Stevens exclaimed with wide grins.

“Whoa… Steven?” the past Steven asked in worried confusion. “And… Steven? What’s going on?”

“No time to explain!” the first Steven urged.

“Wanna join our band?” the second Steven asked eagerly.

The third Steven stared at his two future selves for a moment, bewilderment written all over his face for a brief moment before he gave them a very definitive answer. “Yes. Yes I would.”

The other two Stevens helped their past counterpart up off of the ground, the first three members of their makeshift band locked in. “Oh, this is gonna be so great!” the first Steven proclaimed. “Everyone at the party is gonna love us! What could be better than a band of Stevens!?”

“Nothing!” the second Steven cheered heartily.

“But wait…” the third Steven frowned. “Isn’t Dad supposed to play with us tonight?”

“Oh, he had an emergency at the car wash.”

“Well then, we should go help him!”

“No!” the first Steven was quick to stop his past self, remembering well what had happened before. “There’s nothing we can do. The truck’s fat, trust us.”

“Okay…” the third Steven’s brows knitted together in confusion. “So who’s our fourth? We need a drummer.”

“Oh, good thinking, Steven!” the second Steven grinned. “Don’t worry. We got this covered.”

The first two Stevens smirked in confident unison as they held up their respective hourglasses, ready to head back in time once again to gather the last member of their band. “Hey, is that the time thingy?” the third Steven asked, though he received no answer as the trio of Stevens teleported to the past together.


 

Dipper smiled at his reflecting as he finished adjusting his bowtie, knowing that it would be a nice way of sprucing up his usual outfit for the party. He knew that if he was going to get anywhere with Wendy, then he had to exude confidence, which was something he admittedly normally lacked. But fortunately, Dipper had already anticipated that he might end up blundering, which was why had spent the past hour or so preparing for the evening in more ways than one. If all went accordingly, then his evening with Wendy would go without a hitch.

However, Dipper’s air of confidence was suddenly broken as he turned to see Mabel standing only a few inches away from him, startling him quite a bit. His surprised expression turned into a plaintive scowl as he noticed his sister’s broad, teasing smirk, and he could only guess that she was more than ready to poke fun at him yet again. “What?”

Mabel’s grin widened as she stepped away from her brother, lowering her voice so she could mimic him. “‘Uh, uh, I could work the ticket counter with you, Wendy! Let’s kiss!’” To top her impression off, she wrapped her arms around herself and made over exaggerated kissing noises before breaking into a round of giggles.

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh all you want,” Dipper rolled his eyes, not phased by Mabel’s antics. “But I’ve devised a plan to make sure my night with Wendy goes perfectly. And when I end up landing a dance with her, then we’ll see who’s laughing.”

“Plan? Oh, no… you’re not making another one of those over complicated listy things, are you?” Mabel asked with a frown, knowing that her brother had a tendency to overthink nearly everything, especially things like this.

“Over complicated?” Dipper scoffed. “Please. Let’s just take a look here…” He paused as he pulled what appeared to be a small piece of paper out of his pocket, though Mabel flopped down to the floor in exasperation as she watched him unfold what was actually quite a lengthy list. “Okay. Step one: getting to know each other better with playful banter. Banter is kinda like talking, only smarter.”

“Ugh… That sounds like a dumb idea for poopheads,” Mabel groaned boredly.

“Yeah, see? This isn’t banter. This is what I want to avoid with Wendy,” Dipper asserted, glancing back to his list again. “If I just follow steps one through eleven, then nothing can keep me from getting to the final step: asking her to dance!”

“Oh, Dipper,” Mabel laughed, interrupting her brother’s daydream of dancing with the teen of his affections. “You’re the only one getting in your way! Why don’t you just walk up to her and talk to her? You know, like a normal person?”

“Step nine, sister.” Dipper grinned confidently as he pointed number nine on his list, which was indeed “talk to her like a normal person”. Mabel simply rolled her eyes as she let out a relenting sigh, knowing that there was no reasoning with her brother when he had his mind set to, what he perceived, was a perfect, though far too intricate plan.


 

“Can’t you see it in my eyes?”

“I’m the one—I’m the ONE!”

“TWO!”

“THREE!”

“FOUR!”

“I’m not like other guys…”

“He’s not like anybody!”

“Well, that’s not completely right. There’s a few that I’m just like!”

“Steven and the Stevens! We’re gonna make you smile!”

“Me, myself, and I, and him, are all the same guy!”

“Steven and the Stevens! Come on, now, don’t be shy.”

“Me, myself, and I, and him-”

“That’s me!”

“Are all the same guy!”

The quartet of Stevens finished off their rehearsal in perfect harmony, the final note of their upbeat tune ringing out throughout the temple. Despite the fact that their band had only existed for a few hours, they had already succeeded in not only writing a song, but practicing and perfecting it. Of course, all of the Stevens attributed their cohesion and cooperation to all of them being essentially the same person, but even so, excitement reigned in the group as they exchanged a round of congratulatory high fives.

“Great singing, Steven!” the second Steven, labeled “Steven 2” by the original, praised his counterparts with a wide grin.

“Thanks, Steven!” the original Steven nodded proudly, glad to see his idea was working wonderfully. “Everyone’s gonna love us tonight!”

“They sure will!” Steven 3 readily agreed. “Hey, how about I sing lead this time?”

“Well, I usually sing lead when I play with dad,” Steven pointed out, his smile fading a bit.

“So do I!” Steven 2 exclaimed.

“Me too!”

“Me too too! We all do!” Steven 4 concluded. “We’re all Steven!”

“Oh yeah!” the other Stevens laughed, though the original wasn’t as amused.

“Well, we can’t all sing the lead. One of us has gotta be the band leader,” he said as the others offered a hum of agreement.

“Oh, I got it!” Steven 4 perked up. “The leader should be the original Steven!”

“The one that’s been around the longest!” the other Stevens agreed in unison.

The first Steven beamed upon hearing this as his counterparts from the past all pointed his way. “Yeah, alright,” he shrugged, passing off his role of leadership off as though it wasn’t a big deal. “I guess I can be in charge… And since I’m the leader, I say, we’re more than ready to play at that party!”

“Yeah!” the others cheered happily, raising their instruments up in revelry.

“So, without any further ado, let’s get going!” Steven urged as the rest of the group eagerly gathered their instruments and hurriedly freshened up before the party. Needless to say, they were all chattering excitedly amongst themselves as they headed out of the house and bounded down the hill towards the Mystery Shack.


 

The party had largely kicked off in full swing, with a line of zealous kids of all ages lined up outside the shack, all of them ready for a night of fun and excitement. Stan was elated upon seeing how many guests had shown up for the widely-advertised events, and at ten dollars a ticket, the con man figured that this party would turn in a generous profit. “So, can your uncle throw a wild party, or what?” Stan asked Mabel as the two of them stood together and looked out over the dance floor. The party kept up a consistent flow of activity thanks to Soos’s DJing, even if he was largely a novice at it.

“The energy! It’s electric!” the handyman called out over the mic, before turning to his keyboard to find an appropriate sound effect. Of course, instead of finding a lightning sound he went through several others that were mismatched with the techno beat playing. “Let’s see… lightning… lightning… lightning…”

“I gotta hand it to you, Grunkle Stan,” Mabel grinned up at her uncle. “This party’s a lot cooler than I expected it to be!”

“Hey, just cause I’m old doesn’t mean I don’t know how to be ‘hip with the kids’.”

“Uh… no one talks like that anymore-” Mabel pointed out, though Stan was clearly too caught up in the excitement to notice or care.

“Now, I’m gonna go see if anyone’s dropped spare change out there on the dance floor,” Stan said, rubbing his hands together greedily. “Since your brother’s on ticket duty, I guess that leaves you to ‘mingle’, or something like that. Have fun, kid.”

A huge grin spread on Mabel’s face as her uncle left to collect all of the discarded money he could, excitement filling the girl at the prospect of make new friends. “Time to go out there and be a mingle master!” she declared, rushing out onto the dance floor without delay.


 

Dipper had no problem keeping the promise he had made to Stan as he sat alongside Wendy at the ticket booth outside. While he was indeed happy to hang out with her one-on-one, he had scarcely made any conversation with her yet, though that was something he planned on changing very soon.

As Wendy was busy selling tickets, Dipper took advantage of the moment and quickly pulled out his list, scanning over it once more under the table. “Step one: casual banter,” he reminded himself with resolve. Thankfully he had already thought through several simple conversation-starters beforehand, and, after surprising his nerves, he boldly leapt right in. “Hey, so here’s a casual question!” he addressed Wendy, cringing at how forced and still his own voice sounded. “What’s your favorite type of snack food?”

“Oh man, I can’t pick just one!” Wendy grinned, and though she intended on continuing, Dipper accidently cut her off.

“No way! Mine too!” he exclaimed hurriedly, though he was quick to realize he hadn’t heard what she had said over his own rapidly racing heart.

“Wait, what?” Wendy frowned, confused at his odd answer.

“Uh… I… I mean…” Dipper stammered, knowing it was far too late to catch himself. Wendy looked to him expectantly, which was why he quickly diverted her attention away from him the only way he could think of: by shoving a large handful of popcorn into his mouth. The cashier simply shrugged casually as she got back to selling tickets, while Dipper hunched over his list in a panic once more. “New topic! New topic!”

Thankfully, the boy was saved from having to restart the conversation as a round of rowdy cheers sounded out from inside the shack. Curious, Wendy stood and glanced through the window behind them, excitement spreading on her face as she watched the party heat up. “Whoa! Sounds like the party’s getting nuts, huh?” she asked Dipper, who was quick to shove his list out of her sight as she turned to him. “I gotta get in there! Will you cover for me?”

“O-oh… well, I… um-” Dipper began, his heart sinking at the prospect of Wendy leaving, though the teen was clearly already on her way inside as she offered him a grateful smile.

“Thanks, man!” she called as she stepped into the party, leaving Dipper to run the busy ticket counter by his lonesome. The boy let out a disappointed sigh as he looked back through the window, enticed by the sight of Wendy dancing enthusiastically inside. Certainly, as busy as Stan probably was inside, he wouldn’t notice him slip away to share just one dance with the teen, right?

“I’ll be right back!” Dipper called to the large crowd still waiting to get their tickets, standing up from the table to go into the party. He didn’t make it very far however, before a firm hand grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, stopping him in his tracks.

“Hey!” Stan scowled down at his nephew, his arms crossed and his expression irritated. “Where do you think you’re going, kid? These suckers aren’t gonna rip themselves off!”

“Yeah!” one of the kids in the crowd shouted in agreement.

“B-but I was just-” Dipper began to explain, but Stan wasn’t hearing it.

“You promised, remember?”

“I did?” Dipper asked innocently, even though he did clearly remember doing so.

The con man didn’t offer a response himself, but instead let the tape recording he had on hand of the boy promising to work the ticket stand do all the talking instead. Dipper let out a defeated sigh, knowing that he wouldn’t be shirking away this responsibility so easily with the con man about. Stan returned to the party, but not without making it clear that he would be keeping an eye on his nephew throughout the night.

Realizing he was stuck at the ticket stand, Dipper returned to his seat disgruntledly, showing little interest or effort as he continued selling tickets to the eager patrons. Of course, it only irked him all the more to think that, just on the other side of the wall, Wendy was inside, living it up and just waiting for someone to come along and dance with her. “If only I could be in two places at once…” he muttered dejectedly, though his train of thought was soon broken as another customer stepped up to the front of the line.

“Four tickets to the party, please!”

Upon hearing the familiar voice, Dipper glanced up, managing a small, yet still half-hearted smile as he greeted the young Gem. “Oh, hey, Steven,” he said, though he was quick to pause as he noticed the three figures also standing at the table. “A-and Steven?”

“And Steven!” Steven 3 chimed in.

“Don’t forget about Steven!” Steven 4 added.

“Wha—Steven, since when are there four of you?!” Dipper asked, his eyes with shock after he wiped them to make sure he wasn’t seeing double.

The four Stevens all exchanged knowing, amused grins as they discreetly held out their respective hourglasses for Dipper to see. “I went on a mission with the Gems earlier and swiped this thing,” the original Steven explained. “I guess it can teleport people back in time? I’m still not really sure how it works, but since my dad had an emergency at the car wash, I used it to round up past versions of myself and make a Steven band to play tonight!”

“Pretty cool, huh?” Steven 2 asked, not noticing that Dipper was still trying to make sense of the situation.

“Wait, wait, wait,” the boy shook his head, looking between the four young Gems. “So basically, what you’re saying is… you all are essentially copies of the same person?”

“Yep!”

“Pretty much.”

“We’re all different versions of the same Steven!”

“A Steven quartet, if you will.”

Dipper didn’t respond as he gaped at the four Stevens for a moment or two, an idea budding in his mind, especially as he recalled the mysterious copy machine in Stan’s office. While different in execution, this new plan would be essentially the same as the one Steven had carried out, though instead of forming a band, the boy figured he could just as easily use it to help him gain ground with Wendy after all. “That is really cool, Steven—er… Stevens,” Dipper said rather quickly as he hurriedly exchanged their money for tickets. “Well, here you go! Have fun in there, you guys!”

“You know we will!” Steven 4 exclaimed readily.

“It’s a shame you have to have to sit out here and sell tickets, Dipper,” Steven 2 said sympathetically. “It sounds like that’s some party.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Dipper said with an unconcerned wave of his hand, solidifying his plan in his mind. “I’m sure I’ll see you all in there soon enough…”

“Well, until then, we better get on in there,” Steven urged the others as they all waved Dipper farewell and headed inside. “We only have an hour until we preform, so in the meantime, let’s go have some fun!”


 

Energy and excitement seemed to course through Mabel’s every vein as she danced freely and cheerfully, her bright laughter ringing out despite the fact that she was dancing alone. Clearly though, she had already become something of the life of the party, as quite a few people had gathered to watch her enthusiastically cavort about the dance floor, all of them appreciating her apt enthusiasm. Of course, even despite her verve, Mabel eventually found herself in need of a break so she could catch her breath, which she took as she skipped over to the refreshment table to grab a bottle of water. Her chipper mood brightened even more, however, as she encountered a familiar face there.

“Oh my gosh!” Mabel exclaimed with delight as she caught the other girl’s attention with a friendly embrace. “Connie! I’m so glad you’re here!”

“Hi, Mabel!” Connie greeted just as warmly as their hug disbanded and she finished getting her cup of punch. “How’s it going? It’s been a like a week since I’ve hung out with you guys thanks to my parents’ insistence on violin and tennis practice…”

“Aw, don’t worry about it,” Mabel said with an easy chuckle. “I’ll catch you up on everything out on the dance floor!”

“O-oh… Well… I’m not much on dancing…” Connie frowned a bit anxiously. “But maybe we could just sit and you can tell me about everything?”

“That’s fine too!” Mabel agreed as she began leading to the chairs against the wall, taking a healthy swig of her water. “I’m a little danced-out at the moment to be honest. Besides, that just makes it easier to tell you about the beautiful light canons and the crazy child psychic who has a crush on me.”

“Steven already filled me in on a few of the details…” Connie laughed as her and Mabel took a seat. “But I’d love to hear more.”

“Sure thing! Well first of all, we-” Mabel stopped short as she happened to glance over at the larger girl sitting on her other side of her, or more specifically, the lizard resting on her shoulder. “Wow!” she exclaimed in awe, catching the girl’s attention. “You’ve got an animal on your body! That’s the coolest thing I’ve seen all night! I’m Mabel, and this is my friend Connie,” she introduced herself with a friendly grin as Connie also smiled and nodded in greeting.

“Hi, I’m Grenda,” the large girl smiled, her voice surprisingly deep and masculine. “And this is Candy.” She motioned to the smaller, beglassed Asian girl sitting next to her, who waved to the other two girls, despite the forks attached to each of her fingers.

“Why do you have forks taped to your fingers?” Connie asked with a bemused grin.

Candy’s smile widened as she reached her forked fingers into the bowl of popcorn on Grenda’s lap, pulling it out with a bounty of popcorn on each finger. “Improvement of human being,” she explained simply, yet eloquently.

Mabel could scarcely contain her excitement as she realized she had just met two kindred spirits. Even upon a first impression, she could tell that both Candy and Grenda were quite unique, which was a trait she could safely say, she shared with them. “I’ve found my people…” she whispered happily, though before she could really strike up a real conversation with them, the girls were suddenly interrupted by a new arrival.

“Connie! Mabel!” Steven, the original Steven, greeted cheerfully as he ran towards the group. He had let his counterparts disband throughout the party and entertain themselves for the time being, at least until they had to regroup and preform. “Oh hey! I see you guys have met Candy and Grenda! Long time, no see, you two!”

“Hi, Steven!” Grenda exclaimed rather loudly, her voice rumbling across the dance floor despite the fact that the young Gem was right in front of her.

“Hello, Steven Universe!” Candy greeted more formally, though she still wore a friendly smile as she waved her forks.

“How do you guys know each other?” Connie asked curiously, even if she was already well aware that Steven knew practically everyone in Gravity Falls thanks to his outgoing nature.

“Aw, we go way back,” Steven chuckled fondly. “Right, guys?”

“Yeah!” Grenda heartily agreed. “Steven’s the BEST!”

“We met at the Big Donut a few years ago,” Candy explained with a smile. “And we shared a dozen delicious glazed donuts.”

“Boy, were they ever delicious!” the young Gem recalled. “And we’ve all been friends ever since!”

“That’s so cool!” Mabel gushed excitedly. “Now we can all be friends and party together! Could this night get any better?!”

Before the new group of friends could converse any further, however, they were interrupted by an announcement from Soos over the microphone as he manned the DJ table. “Remember, dudes!” the handyman called out, briefly glancing back at his DJing book before continuing. “Whoever, um, ‘party hardies’—what? Uh, they get the party crown!” Soos held up said party crown, which, despite clearly being made out of plastic, was bejeweled and quite fancy. “Most applause at the end of the night wins!”

Mabel, Connie, Steven, Candy, and Grenda all “ooed” in unified interest upon hearing this, but before any of them could see about entering the contest themselves, someone else stepped forward. A trio of girls, all of them clad in rather expensive clothing, stepped forward, the leader of them, a blonde dressed in purple, holding out her hand demandingly as she stood before the DJ table. “Party crown? I’ll take that, thank you very much!”

“Who’s that?” Mabel asked curiously.

“The most popular and richest girl in town, Pacifica Northwest,” Candy replied with a hint of ire in her tone.

“I always feel bad about myself around her!” Grenda exclaimed, glaring at the spoiled, wealthy girl.

“One time, I tried saying hi to her, and she just turned her nose up at me…” Steven frowned, though he couldn’t exactly claim to have the same harsh feelings towards Pacifica as Candy and Grenda apparently did. Mabel frowned herself upon hearing this, not liking the sound of anyone who made her friends, new or otherwise, feel bad.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t just give you the crown,” Soos explained to Pacifica as he held it up out of her reach. “It’s sort of a competition thing, you know?”

Pacifica simply laughed haughtily upon hearing this, spinning around to give a caustic look to her potential challengers. “Honestly, who’s gonna compete against me?” she asked sarcastically. “Fork fingers? Lizard lady? Glasses girl?” After slamming Candy, Grenda, and Connie, the heiress turned to Steven, her confident grin turning to a distasteful scowl. “Oh, and—what’s your name again? Sammie Galaxy?”

“It’s Steven, actually,” Steven corrected. “Steven Universe.”

“Whatever,” Pacifica rolled her eyes, clearly not caring whatsoever.

“Hold me, Candy!” Grenda exclaimed fearfully as her and Candy embraced each other for support.

“Our kind isn’t welcome here!” Candy cried morosely.

Connie and Mabel both shot the heiress an incensed glare, neither of them willing to put with such cruelty. “Where does she get off, treating people like that just because she’s rich?” Connie asked with a scoff. “Someone needs to put her in her place.”

“Don’t worry, Connie,” Mabel said with a bold grin as she stepped forward. “I’ve got it covered. Hey!” she exclaimed to Soos, standing before the table alongside Pacifica. “I’ll compete!”

Connie, Candy, Grenda, and Steven all gasped in surprise at how forward and unflinching Mabel was in this resolve, even despite the hateful scowl Pacifica shot her way. “Hi!” the girl greeted the heiress cheerfully, holding out a friendly hand for her to shake. “I’m Mabel!”

Pacifica sneered, rejecting Mabel’s handshake as she placed her hands on her hips. “That sounds like a fat old lady’s name,” she goaded coldly.

“I’ll take that as a compliment!” Mabel quipped brightly, clearly not intimidated at all.

“I don’t know how you think you have a chance at beating me,” Pacifica said, crossing her arms as she seized her opponent up. “But I guess the better partier will win in the end. Which, of course, will be me.”

Not sparing another word on her new rival, Pacifica commandingly snapped her fingers, regathering her two friends as the three of them walked away menacingly. “Nice meeting you!” Mabel called after her with a kind grin, though her smile grew daring as she addressed the others. “She’s going down.”


 

Dipper hesitated as he stood before the copy machine in Stan’s office, the potential kinks in his plans starting to become apparent. While rounding up an army of clones seemed to be working well enough for Steven, Dipper wondered if it would be the best course of action for himself, especially since his lengthy plan didn’t include anything about cloning himself. What if this all ended up backfiring on him and only failed in getting him any closer to Wendy? Or worse, what if Stan found out and he ended up getting in even more trouble? He forced himself to think past these concerns, however, hoping that, for once, everything would turn out his way. After all, if there was anyone he could trust, it was himself, right?

With a deep breath of resolve, Dipper lifted the copier head and carefully climbed up onto the scanner. Fortunately, he was just short enough for his entire body to fit onto the glass as he laid down upon it before reaching over the side to press the copy button. Another burst of anxiety ran through him as the scanner bar ran over him with its bright green flash, but he knew there was no going back, especially as the copy printed out into the tray. Dipper watched with anticipation from atop the copier as the paper slowly slipped onto the ground before it began to steadily ripple. As if on cue, the full copy of the boy began to come to life, pulling himself out of the paper and slowly, clumsily rising to stand before turning to face the original.

“Whoa… It actually worked!” Dipper whispered in awe. He offered his clone a slightly awkward smile as he jumped off the copier and stood before him. Indeed, it was like looking in a mirror, save for the fact that the copy was slightly faded in coloration, though it was hard to tell unless one was looking very closely.

“So, um…” both Dippers began in unison, though they quickly stopped short as they talked over each other. Still, they continued to do so, even if it was by accident. “Sorry, you first. No you! Stop copying me!” They let out a shared amused laugh at this, a testament to the fact that they had the exact same sense of humor.

Knowing that there needed to be some sort of method of distinction between them, the original Dipper was quick to label his clone by marking a 2 on his cap in place of where the pine tree would usually be. “I’ll call you: number 2.”

“Definitely not,” the clone dissented as he repositioned his hat. “But you know a name I’ve always wanted?”

Both Dippers exchanged a knowing smile, their wavelength in perfect harmony as they both responded in unison once more. “Tyrone!”

“Okay then, Tyrone,” Dipper began, deciding to bestow their coveted name onto him to make things less complicated. “Let’s get down to business. I’m thinking you cover for me at the ticket stand, while I go ask Wendy to dance.”

“I know the plan, buddy,” Tyrone assured him, pulling the list out of his pocket as Dipper did the same. The original took a slightly nervous step away from his clone upon seeing this, realizing that there was a certain level of unexpected creepiness in this situation.

“Hey, um, we’re not gonna get jealous and turn on each other like the clones in the movies do, are we?” Dipper asked with a disconcerted frown, thinking that this could be another way this plan could go awry.

“Dipper, please. This is you you’re talking about,” Tyrone said with a reassuring grin. “Plus, if things go downhill, you can always just disintegrate me with water!”

“Oh yeah,” Dipper said with a small smile of relief, glad that there was a simple way to abort this plan if need be. “Well, Tyrone, let’s get out there and do this!”

Tyrone nodded firmly as the two of them headed out to the party, taking care not to linger too close to each other, lest they cause unnecessary confusion. However, they didn’t make it very far before they ran into, incidentally enough, two of the four Stevens.

“Whoa, Dipper! There are two of you!” Steven 2 exclaimed with an interested grin. “Did you find a time thingy of your own too?”

“Nope,” Dipper shook his head. “I just used the copier in Stan’s office. Can you believe it can make real, living copies of people?”

“Like me!” Tyrone said with a proud grin as he pointed to himself.

“Wow!” Steven 3 gasped in amazement. “And I thought the time thing was cool! We should all get together and have a giant clone party of our own! It’ll be clone-tastic!”

 “I wish we could, Steven, but we have a plan to carry out, right Dipper?” Tyrone said, wrapping his arm around the original’s shoulder.

“We sure do,” Dipper confirmed with a confident nod. “This guy’s gonna help me score a dance with Wendy.”

“Neat!” Steven 2 smiled. “I hope you guys do. In the meantime, we should probably find the others and get ready for our performance.”

“Oh my gosh, you’re right, Steven!” Steven 3 exclaimed as he began to pull his other self away. “We’re on in only a half an hour! Good luck, Dippers! We’re rooting for you guys!”

“Thanks!” Dipper and Tyrone called out after the Stevens as they disappeared into the crowd. The two of them exchanged a knowing nod at this juncture before separating to go to their decided roles in their shared plan. As Tyrone headed outside to man the ticket stand, Dipper anxiously approached Wendy, who was taking a break from the dance floor as she enjoyed a cup of punch near the wall.

“Great news, Wendy!” Dipper grinned as he fixed his tie. “I got someone to cover the ticket booth for me! So, I’m pretty much free for the rest of the night.”

“That’s awesome, man,” Wendy smirked. “Now you can hang out with me and Robbie.”

“W-what?!” Dipper asked in alarm as he noticed the older boy standing near Wendy, his arms crossed as he shot the boy a distasteful glower.

“Robbie, you remember Dipper from the convenience store, right?” Wendy asked Robbie, who was quick to turn his nose up in a scoff.

“Uh, no,” the teen said rather crossly, quickly changing the subject as he pulled his electric guitar out. “Yo, Wendy, check out my new guitar.”

“Whoa, cool!” Wendy said, clearly impressed as Robbie skillfully played a riff on his guitar. Dipper let out a horrified gasp upon seeing this, his mind already racing over how disastrous this night would be if Robbie stuck around. Even if Robbie was unintelligent, arrogant, and largely dull, Dipper knew that he didn’t stand a chance against him when it came to competing for Wendy’s affections. Which was why the boy knew he had no other choice; he had to get Robbie out of the way; and fast.

Fortunately though, it seemed as though Tyrone had the same exact though, as Dipper found himself getting a call from his clone only seconds later. “Hey, buddy, it’s me, you,” Tyrone said over the phone as he glanced into the party through the window. “I see that things aren’t going exactly as we planned…”

“I don’t know what to do, man,” Dipper said, stepping away from Wendy and Robbie so they wouldn’t overhear his conversation. “But we gotta get rid of Robbie if I ever wanna dance with Wendy!”

“Hey, Dipper!” Wendy called to the boy as her and Robbie began to walk away. “We’re gonna go sit on the couch for a while. Meet us when you’re done!”

“H-heh, sure thing!” Dipper said with a fake smile before he frantically addressed Tyrone again. “Oh no! They’re sitting on the couch together! The couch, Tyrone! They might as well be getting married!”

“Whoa, whoa, calm down, Dipper,” Tyrone cautioned. “We just need to think of another plan; we’re good at that.”

“Y-yeah… you’re right…” Dipper let out the nervous breath he had been holding in as he glanced around the stuffed room, until he just so happened to spot Robbie’s bike propped against the nearby wall. “Wait. I think I have an idea…”

“I have the same one,” Tyrone said, not even needing it explained to him. “But we’re gonna need some help…”


 

“Ok, Stevens,” Steven addressed his copies as they all sat against the wall, their instruments in hand. “We’ll be on in just a while, so I think one more practice session is in order. After all, we wanna go up there and amaze everyone, right?”

“Right!” Stevens 2 and 3 agreed, though Steven 4 wasn’t as convinced.

“Eh… I think we already sound great, to be honest,” he said with a frown. “Why can’t we go enjoy the party a little while longer?”

“Yeah!” Steven 3 quipped. “I wanna see who wins the party crown!”

“Oh, I hope its Mabel!” Steven 2 smiled, though before the others could converse about it, the original Steven cut in firmly.

“Come on, you guys!” he urged sternly. “We need to prepare for our number! Can’t you all be serious for a little while?”

The other three Stevens merely gave him blank stares, leaving the original to let out a sigh of exasperation. “Maybe we need to set some ground rules first…” he muttered, hoping that would give his copies some focus. “Here’s how things are gonna go: Steven 2, you’re the smart one, Steven 3, you’re the funny one, and Steven 4, you’re the sensitive one and…” He paused dramatically as he swiftly combed his hair up into a quaff. “I’m the handsome one! Is everyone ok with that?”

“Okay!” Stevens 2 and 3 nodded in contented unison.

“Okie-dokie artichoke-y!” Steven 4 joked, though the original was anything but amused at this.

“Steven 4, what are you doing? You’re not the funny one; Steven 3 is!” Steven scolded.

“Well, we are all the same person, so we’re all equally prone to our own moments of hilarity,” Steven 3 mused eloquently.

“No, no! That was too smart of an observation for you, 3! You’re the funny one, remember?!” Steven asked, quickly growing frustrated.

“Wait, which one am I again?” Steven 2 asked, finding it hard to keep up.

“Dang it, Steven 2, you’re the smart one!”

“Hey, if the original Steven is the handsome one, does that mean the rest of us aren’t good looking?” Steven 4 asked with a concerned frown.

“No way! We’re all extremely attractive!” Steven 3 affirmed confidently.

“Let’s go get jobs as models!” Steven 2 quipped proudly.

“Stop it!” Steven exclaimed with an annoyed scowl. “None of you are the handsome one! I’m the handsome one, okay?!” He stopped short however upon noticing the hurt expressions his past selves were giving him, all of them clearly offended by his impudence.

“D-do you really mean that, Steven?” Steven 3 asked with a saddened frown.

“Of course he does!” Steven 4 said bitterly. “He hates us all!”

“Wait, no!” Steven clarified, realizing the situation was quickly falling out of his hands. “I don’t—I didn’t mean… We—Ugh…” He sighed in defeat as the other three Stevens glared at him coldly. “Let’s take five…”

“There’s a fifth Steven?!” the other three asked in unified horror.

“No!” Steven exclaimed in clear irritation. “I mean, let’s take a five minute break!”

“We know!” all three Stevens laughed, aggravating the original even more. Needing to clear his head, Steven left his copies to their own devices for a while, hoping that, by the time he returned, they would finally take things seriously.

“I can’t believe it!” Steven mumbled to himself disgruntledly. “I’m so… annoying! I sure hope Dipper’s having a better time with his clones…”


 

“And that’s where you come in, number 3,” Dipper finished briefing his second clone as Tyrone labeled his hat with a three. Both of the first two Dippers had agreed that the best course of action was to bring in another one, who could hopefully divert Robbie away from Wendy, at least long enough for the original to ask her to dance.

“Okay, I think I get it…” Dipper 3 said, though there was hesitance in his tone. “But what if Robbie catches me? I’ll be all alone!”

“Yeah… He makes a good point…” Tyrone agreed thoughtfully.

“Okay, one more,” Dipper nodded, knowing that if Steven could handle three copies of himself, than so could he. “Four Dippers. This is a four Dipper plan.”

The other two Dippers stood by and watched as the original pulled himself up onto the scanner again and made another copy of himself. However, the machine let out a loud, rattling shutter as it inconveniently stopped up, the paper getting stuck halfway out of the printer.

“Uh oh, paper jam,” Tyrone commented as he pulled the page out of the machine. However, something was amiss as this particular copy came to life; this clone was quite deformed thanks to the wrinkled paper he had been made on, and as he pulled himself off of it, he let out a continuous, incoherent screech.

“Yikes…” Dipper frowned with slight pity as he watched the disaster that was his newest clone cling onto Tyrone for support.

“Oh, come on, you’re seriously not gonna make me team up with him, are you?” Dipper 3 asked a bit callously.

“Shh! Don’t be rude,” Tyrone scolded before he turned to the paper jam clone, giving him a comforting pat on the back. “Hey, buddy, it’s ok.”

As Paper Jam Dipper continued to shriek wildly, the original Dipper realized that this clearly wouldn’t work. He needed two clones who were on top of their games to drive Robbie away successfully. “Okay,” he said with resolve as he went over to the copier once more. “Just one more clone.”


 

With the party crown at stake, the party had heated up intensely, with Mabel and Pacifica competing at the center of it all. The heiress had taken the stage first, throwing passion into her performance as she dazzled the crowd with her apparent charm and talent.

“Always means forever…” Pacifica sang boldly, closing her eyes as her voice rose to an incredibly high pitch for the final note of her song. “ALWAAAAAYYYYSS!” The crowd was stunned at just how high she was capable of going as she finished her number off, winking confidently at her audience as she whispered, “Forever.”

“I used to sing like that,” Grenda commented to Mabel, Candy, and Connie. “Before my voice changed.”

“And Pacifica pulls ahead!” Soos announced to the cheering crowd as the heiress headed offstage.

“Oh, that wasn’t that impressive,” Connie crossed her arms. “You can do way better than that, Mabel.”

“Thanks,” Mabel said with a confident grin, more than ready to tackle the challenge Pacifica presented to her.

“Aren’t you nervous, Mabel?” Candy asked.

“Nope,” Mabel shook her head. “Not at all. Like I said: I got this.”

Pacifica smirked challengingly as she passed the mic off to Mabel, still relishing in the crowd’s applause. “Try and top that!” she declared, though she didn’t walk off before making another offensive dig. “Oh, and Grenda? You sound like a professional wrestler.”

“I wanna put her in a headlock and make her feel PAIN!” Grenda shouted fiercely after Pacifica was out of earshot.

“It’s not over ‘til it’s over, sisters!” Mabel reassured, grasping the mic boldly. “Watch this!” Without a moment’s hesitation, she rushed onstage, grinning brightly at her awaiting audience. “Soos! Give me the 80s-ist, crowd pleasing-ist, rock battle-y-ist song you got!”

The handyman nodded as he complied, putting on a passionate, retro rock ballad, one that Mabel was more than familiar with. “Perfect,” she smiled, taking in a deep breath as she sang along to the tune with gusto. “Don’t stop un-believing! Never don’t not feel your feelings!”

The crowd cheered wildly as they all got caught up in Mabel’s clear enthusiasm, Connie, Candy, and Grenda among the loudest out of all of them. Pacifica clenched her fists tightly at her sides in anger upon seeing this, knowing that she would do whatever she had to in order to claim her crown. All the while, Mabel continued putting on a show for the crowd, spinning the mic gracefully before she shouted into it. “I’m gonna do a flip!” she exclaimed daringly, jumping as high into the air as she could before inevitably falling flat on her face. This hardly phased her however, as she lifted her head up off the stage, blowing a few stray strands of hair out of her face before calling to the audience again. “That was for YOU guys!”

As Mabel hoped, the crowd continued to show their excitement for her performance as she continued putting her all into it. In the midst of all this, Dipper, or more correctly, one of his clones, discreetly ran up on stage, passing a message onto Soos as he continued DJing. The handyman nodded as the boy hurried off, before speaking out over the microphone. “Dudes, would the owner of a silver and red dirt bike please report outside,” Soos announced. “It’s being stolen right… now.”

“Wait, what?!” Robbie exclaimed as he perked up from his spot beside Wendy on the couch. The teen was quick to rush over to the window to see that two unknown figures were indeed making off with his dirt bike. Of course, what he didn’t know was that the culprits were both copies of Dipper, who laughed triumphantly as they rode Robbie’s bike off into the woods, even as he began to give chase after them. “Hey! Come back here!” he shouted as he ran outside, giving the original Dipper plenty of time to take a seat on the couch near Wendy.

“Oh, tough break…” he said with mock sympathy as both him and Wendy watched Robbie run out. “I wonder who those two guys are who aren’t me because I’m right here.”

Before Wendy could make a comment, Soos spoke out over the mic once more as Mabel’s performance came to a close. “Up next we have our live performance by Steven and the Stevens!” he announced, reading off the card that Steven had handed to him earlier. “But first, we’re gonna bring it down for a minute. Ladies, dudes, now’s the time.”

A slow, rather romantic pop song began to play as the lights dimmed a little, giving way for couples to take the dance floor. “Oh snap, I love this song,” Wendy smiled as she contentedly swayed her head to the music. Dipper took in a deep breath as he watched her, knowing that this was the perfect opportunity. However, before he could actually work up the nerve to ask her, Mabel happened to hurry over and interrupt him first.

“Hey, goofus! Now’s your chance to ask Wen-” Dipper was quick to cut his sister off by throwing an arm over her mouth. Before Wendy could even notice, he managed to drag Mabel away from her, his patience towards her incredibly low at the moment.

“Now’s your chance to ask Wendy to dance!” Mabel finished with an eager grin. “C’mon! Go!”

“Ugh, Mabel, it’s not that simple,” Dipper frowned, glancing back at Wendy, who he couldn’t deny, looked absolutely radiant in the low light of the room. “I haven’t gotten to that part of the plan yet!”

“Who cares about your silly plan, Dipper?” Mabel scoffed. “You should just do what Garnet told me to do when I was dealing with Gideon a few days ago: be honest and just go for it! Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.”

“But this is totally different!” Dipper clarified, not wanting to admit that he just wasn’t ready. “For starters, I actually like Wendy.”

“Dipper…” Mabel groaned admonishingly, giving her brother a forceful shove back towards the teen.

“Ok! Ok! If it will get you off my back, I’ll do it!” he exclaimed, ignoring the thumbs-up his sister was giving him as he began to head back over to Wendy. Though he wanted to think that he had enough courage to ask her one simple question, it all quickly crumbled as the cashier happened to glance over at him and offer him a casual smile.

“Hey, man,” she greeted, her tone as relaxed as ever. “What’s goin’ on?”

“I… I, uh… Well, I was just…” Dipper stammered nervously, knowing he was quickly floundering. His mind desperately searched for something to say to recover, especially as Wendy’s smile faded into a look of concern. But eventually, he knew he had to count his losses this time and try again later. “Uh… I’ll be right back!”


 

“Oh, I agree; you can’t just go DANCE with her all willy-nilly!” Tyrone assented as him and Dipper paced around the attic, trying to brainstorm about what to do next.

“The dancefloor is a minefield,” Dipper said, his tone serious and slightly panicked. “A MINEFIELD, Tyrone! Literally anything could go wrong!”

“What if there’s a glitch in the sound system?” Tyrone asked, putting forth a hypothetical situation.

“Stan might get in the way,” Dipper suggested, hoping that the con man hadn’t already discovered he had abandoned his post at the ticket table.

“Robbie might come back,” Tyrone added objectively.

“There are just too many variables,” Dipper concluded. “We need help.”

“And lots of it,” Tyrone agreed, already leading the way down to the office.

In almost no time at all, eight more copies of Dipper came to be, flying off of the copier at a rapid, successive pace. Fortunately, all of them had the exact same mindset, which was, of course, to help the original finally ask Wendy to dance. With more Dippers, their already complicated plan only became more lengthy and complex, but all of them agreed that would certainly help instead of hinder them. At the end of their quick, yet productive planning session, each Dipper had been assigned a concrete roll, and all of them were ready to execute their mission, as though they were all parts of a well-oiled machine. Certainly, with so many Dippers all working together, things would go off without a hitch. Right?


 

“I just don’t know what to do, Connie!” Steven exclaimed after he finished confiding his clone troubles to the girl. “No matter what I do, they just won’t listen! They’re so stubborn!”

“Well, they are you, Steven,” Connie laughed knowingly. “And you can be a little stubborn sometimes.”

“Yeah, but not like that! Why won’t they do what I say!?”

“Maybe you were a little hard on them,” Connie suggested as her and Steven grabbed a few cookies from the snack table. “I mean, I can’t imagine establishing authority to be easy when you’re trying to reign in different versions of yourself.”

“I know…” Steven sighed in frustration. “But they should listen to me! I was the first one! I’ve been around the longest!”

“They might not see it like that,” Connie said rationally. “Maybe they think they’re equal with you, which, I gotta admit, they kind of are.”

“You’re right…” the young Gem said with a remorseful frown, suddenly regretting his past behavior. “The more I think about it, the more this seemed like a bad idea after all. I guess it’s time for me to quit the music business…”

“Don’t be so torn up about it, Steven,” Connie encouraged as she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure you can still put on a great solo!”

“I guess…” Steven said, even if he wasn’t as easily consoled. “Well… I might as well go tell the others that the gig is up. Where are they anyway?”

As if in response to his question, an ear-splitting noise resounded from right outside the shack, breaking through even the din of the party. Steven and Connie exchanged a confused glance before they hurried outside, finding the trio of Stevens practicing their act on the other side of the shack. However, instead of the light, upbeat song they had written together earlier, the Stevens had apparently composed a new tune, a hard, metallic rock song, one that was far from pleasant to the ears.

“Steven’s a big fat meanie!” Steven 3 practically screamed into the mic, bereft of melody or even rhythm, as the other two jammed out on their instruments. “A big fat meanie zucchini! Let’s chop it up! Chop-chop-chop it up! And serve it with linguini!”

Both Steven and Connie covered their ears upon hearing this terrible racket, but before the young Gem could put a stop to it, someone else did instead. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” Stan yelled over the clamor as he emerged from the shack. “What’s with all this noise?! It’s interrupting my party!”

“Yeah!” Steven agreed as he took a step forward, angrily glaring at his counterparts. “I thought we all agreed that Steven and the Stevens was going to be a light-hearted throwback to early rock and roll, not this mess of screaming into distortion!”

“Wait…” Stan interrupted, his eyes widening as he realized there was more than one of the young Gem. “There are four of you now, kid? As if one wasn’t enough of an annoyance…”

“Yeah, there are four of us, Mr. Pines!” Steven 4 proclaimed pointedly. “But only three of us are going to be preforming tonight!”

“What?!” the original Steven asked in dismay.

“Wait, what happened to Greg?” Stan asked, crossing his arms as he looked between the quartet of young Gems. “Did he find out you were actually a set of quadruplets and bail?”

“He couldn’t come because there was a problem at the car wash,” Steven quickly explained. “And I thought I could make an even better band out of my past selves, but clearly, I was wrong.”

“You sure were wrong!” Steven 3 shouted bitterly. “Especially about you being the handsome one!

“Yeesh,” Stan rolled his eyes, not wanting to be in the middle of such a strange conflict. “Listen, I don’t care how many of you there are, the folks in there are still expecting some live entertainment. So you all better sort things out and fast, or else I have to resort to letting Soos beatbox, which I’d really rather not.”

With nothing else to say on the matter, the conman returned inside, leaving the Stevens to have it out as Connie stood by, watching the confrontation anxiously. “What do you guys think you’re doing?!” Steven asked rather harshly, forgetting Connie’s advice to be patient with them.

“Look, Steven,” Steven 2 began calmly. “Steven and I were talking, and Steven agrees. Your attitude… just wasn’t working for us.”

“We’ve been a lot more productive without you,” Steven 3 said pointedly.

“We already wrote an angsty song about that time you made us feel bad for not being handsome,” Steven 4 informed scornfully.

“So you’re kicking me out of the band?!” Steven asked in disbelief. “Wait… who’s playing drums?”

“Amethyst said she’s do it.”

“Yooooo, Steven,” the purple Gem greeted with a playful smirk from her spot at the drums.

“Really, Amethyst?” Steven asked with a distressed frown. “Wait, what are you even doing here?

“Well, at first I just snuck down here to get some free snacks,” Amethyst said as she twirled her drum stick in her hand. “But then these three jokers asked me if I could drum for them, so I said sure. I’m down for whatever.”

“Oh, come on!” Steven exclaimed in exasperation, realizing that enough was enough. “Listen up! You can’t kick me out of the band! I’m the original Steven! I created you! Steven and the Stevens was my idea!”

“Um… Steven?” Connie cut in, clearly concerned, but Steven ignored her as he continued his rant.

“So either you all shape up and get smart, or… or you can all just leave!”

A beat of prolonged, uncomfortable silence followed in the wake of this harsh demand, all of the Stevens staring at the original with offended shock. Amethyst was the one who actually ended up speaking first, even if it was just a simple comment spoken under her breath. “Whoa, dude…”

Steven 2 spoke up next, a look of tranquil rage on his face as he spoke strangely calmly. “Ok. We’ll go… But if we do, then you won’t have a band at all.”

“I know,” Steven said succinctly. “And I’m fine with that if it means I don’t have to deal with you guys.”

“Well, good!” Steven 3 shouted, as him and the others set their instruments down. “Because we didn’t want to deal with you either, right Steven?”

“Right!” the other two Stevens agreed crossly as the trio headed off, not even bothering to say goodbye. The original let out a sigh of relief as he watched them go, even if he couldn’t deny that he felt the slightest bit bad for how poorly he had treated them.

“Man, Steven…” Amethyst said as she left her place at the drums to stand alongside the young Gem. “I didn’t know you could be so harsh… Well, anyway, I’m gonna go inside and raid the snack table again. Catch ya later!”

“Are you ok, Steven?” Connie asked worriedly as she placed her hand on the young Gem’s shoulder.

“Yeah…” Steven sighed tiredly. “I just wish things hadn’t gone downhill like that… We made a pretty good band when we actually got along… But at least they’re all going back to the past. And I’ll never have to deal with myself again!”

“Sure, Steven,” Connie laughed in amusement as the two of them returned to the party, hoping to enjoy the rest of the evening in peace. Of course, neither of them knew about the three figures still roaming about in the woods around the shack, plotting and planning amongst themselves.


 

In contrast with the bitter conflict between Steven and his copies, things were running quite smoothly for Dipper and his clones. All of them were at their stationed posts, preforming their assigned roles perfectly. Soos had been aptly distracted by one Dipper as another one took over his spot at the DJ table, making sure that the perfect set of music was playing. Another Dipper had taken on the task of diverting Stan’s attention, namely through the use of money, while two more had taken on guard duty to keep a steady watch out for Robbie. Once everything was in order, yet another rang the bell from the hall, which sounded down to the attic, where the original Dipper and Tyrone were waiting.

“There’s your cue,” Tyrone said. “Everything’s all set up. Now’s the perfect moment to ask Wendy to dance. Good luck, me!”

“I don’t need luck,” Dipper smirked confidently, more than assured that things would finally work out this time. “I have a plan.” With one final resolute nod, the original sauntered down the stairs, only to stop short as he rounded the corner into the hall to see none other than Wendy herself leaning against the wall.

“Oh hey, Dipper,” the teen greeted with an easy smile. “What’s up?”

“W-what are you doing here?!” Dipper asked, his eyes wide with panic. He was quick to catch himself though, knowing that he couldn’t afford to freak out in front of her again. “I… I mean, wouldn’t you rather be out on the dance floor in, uh, like exactly 42 seconds?”

“I’m just waiting for the bathroom,” Wendy said, her smile fading a bit as she nodded to the door next to her.

“O-oh, um, ok…” Dipper said, his voice tight and anxious. He broke out into a cold sweat as he quickly turned away from her, pouring over his list once more for answers. “Small talk. Make small talk!”

“So, hey,” Wendy spoke up, apparently launching into small talk first. “Let’s say everyone at this party gets stuck on a deserted island. Who do you think the leader would be?”

Dipper was too dumbstruck to offer an immediate response as he stared blankly at her, desperately trying to think of something to say. Fortunately though, Wendy continued regardless. “I think I’d go with this lunatic,” she pointed out a short, sweaty man out on the dance floor, who was hopping about to the beat rather aggressively.

Dipper found himself joining in on Wendy’s bout of laughter, and in light of this, he also found some of his nervousness fading. He took another tentative look at his list, before deciding that, perhaps, he didn’t need it after all. “I’d probably go with stretch over there,” he said, motioning to a very tall man doing the moonwalk. “Because, uh, tall people can reach coconuts?”

“Speaking of tall, wanna see something crazy?” Wendy asked as she finished around in her pocket for a moment before pulling out an old photo. “Those are my brothers,” she said, referring to the three young boys in the picture. “And I’m… boooooop.” Her smirk widened as she removed her thumb away from the picture, revealing a younger version of herself, who was quite gangly and easily towered over her brothers.

Dipper couldn’t hold back an amused laugh upon seeing this. “Ha! You were a freak!” he exclaimed, though he hurriedly covered his mouth as soon as he said it.

“Yep,” Wendy admitted with a chuckle. “Guess I finally grew into my height though. At least puberty’s good for something.”

“You know, kids used to make fun of my birthmark before I started hiding all of the time,” Dipper admitted with a small smile, though he quickly regretted even bringing it up, especially as it peaked Wendy’s interest.

“Birthmark?” she asked, raising a curious eyebrow. “What birthmark?”

“Uh, no!” Dipper exclaimed, his face lighting up in bright red embarrassment. “It’s nothing! Nothing at all!”

“No way, dude,” Wendy grinned, clearly not buying him trying to pass it off. “Now you have to show me. Show me! Show me!”

The teen continued eagerly chanting this until Dipper finally relented, hoping that she wouldn’t laugh too much. Taking in a deep breath, he hesitantly took his hat off and slowly pushed his bangs up to reveal a series of interconnected marks on his forehead, which just so happened to be arranged into a clear, familiar shape.

“The Big Dipper!” Wendy gasped in realization as she recognized the outline of the famous constellation. “So that’s how you got your nickname! I thought your parents just hated you or something.”

“Yeah, well…” Dipper said with a small, bashful grin as he put his hat back on. “Mabel’s the one who came up with the nickname when we were really little. It’s just sorta stuck with me ever since.”

“Well, hey, I guess this means we’re both freaks,” Wendy smiled broadly, clearly showing no shame in that fact. Relief filled Dipper as he shared a warm laugh with her, glad to know that, not only did they have something in common, but they were able to bond through that. For perhaps the first time ever, he was actually glad to have such a unique birthmark instead of resenting it as he had always done.

Before their conversation could continue, however, the bathroom became available as a very irritated Pacifica Northwest stormed out of it and returned to the party. “I’ll be right back,” Wendy said to Dipper as she turned to head in. “Wait here for me?”

“Of course,” Dipper nodded, more than happy to wait for her as long as he had to. After all, despite his earlier dread and worries, he had actually managed to uphold a proper, genuine conversation with Wendy, that didn’t end with him running off or making a complete fool out of himself. If he could just keep this up, then certainly, he would earn a dance with her before the evening was through.

“Hey!” Dipper’s contented train of thought was suddenly broken as he turned to see nearly every one of his clones gathered behind him, none of them looking very happy with him as Tyrone spoke up. “What are you doing up here? Number 10 has been distracting Soos for fifteen minutes with a laser pointer! He’s gonna get tired of chasing that dot eventually.”

“You won’t believe it, guys!” Dipper said with a wide smile, even as his clones continued to glare at him. “I bumped into Wendy on accident and things are actually going great!”

“That’s nice and all, but not the plan,” Tyrone said, clearly not amused. “Do we have to remind you?”

In eerie unison, the other Dippers all pulled their lists out, each of them reading a different step over each other as the original watched in slight discomfort. “Oh man, you guys sound crazy,” Dipper frowned, taking a cautious step away from his perturbed clones. “Look, maybe… maybe we don’t need the plan anymore, you know? Maybe I could just talk to her like a normal person, open and honestly.”

The other clones gasped together in shock, as if this was the most outlandish idea they had ever heard. “You bite your tongue!” Dipper 7 scolded in offense.

“Don’t you know anything?” Dipper 9 asked crossly. “Things are never gonna work out without the plan!”

“And if you’re not gonna stick to the plan, then maybe you shouldn’t be the Dipper to dance with Wendy,” Dipper 5 mused coldly as the others all consensually agreed amongst themselves.

“Oh you guys, come on,” the original Dipper scoffed, even though he knew things were quickly going downhill fast. “We said we weren’t gonna turn on each other, remember?”

“I think we all knew we were lying…” Tyrone said, his tone and expression both rather dark and unsettling. Dipper backed away from his clones once more as they all began to steadily approach him together, knowing that there was a good chance that things were about to get ugly.

“Uh, well… i-it’s been great, you guys…” Dipper said with an awkward laugh as he took a glance behind him to make sure his path was clear. “But… I gotta go! Bye!” Without another word, he turned on his heel and took off in the other direction into the party in the hopes that he could shake his obsessed clones, even as they all immediately gave chase.


 

Steven let out a pensive sigh as he trudged his way through the crowded party, quite ashamed of the fact that he now had to inform Stan that he would be playing what would most likely be a very sub-par solo in just a few minutes. He couldn’t deny that he wished that things had turned out better with his past counterparts, but it was too late for such regrets now. At least he could take solace in the fact that all of the Stevens were back in their own continuities now, giving him three less things to worry about. Or so he had thought.

“Hey, Steven!” The young Gem stopped in his tracks and spun around in shock as he heard his own voice call him out challengingly. Steven let out a gasp as he saw the trio of Stevens standing behind him, all of them looking quite angry and disgruntled as they glared bitterly at him.

“O-oh, Stevens!” the original exclaimed somewhat nervously. “What are you all doing here? I thought you all went back in time!”

“We did,” Steven 3 said vaguely, casually tossing his hourglass up and down in his hand. “And we managed to round up a few… friends…”

Steven gasped in shock as he watched even more Stevens step out from behind the original trio, each one apparently having gathered two more young Gems of their own to make up a grand total of nine Stevens. The original Steven stepped away from the incensed group fearfully, knowing that he would never be able to take them all on alone, especially as angry as they all were with him.

“Since we couldn’t keep the original band together, we all decided to go back and start Steven bands of our own,” Steven 4 explained with a mischievous smirk.

“Yeah! And we’re all gonna play the party together!” one of the countless other Stevens spoke up. “Without you.”

“Are you guys nuts?!” the original Steven asked in disbelief at this ridiculous scheme. “Do I need to remind you all that without me, there’d be no band!? You all would be nothing without me!”

“Actually, I think it’s the other way around…” Steven 2 remarked, taking a bold step forward. “Sorry Steven, but your nothing without us.”

Acting quickly, the original Steven only narrowly managed to leap out of the way as three of his copies lunged for him. “Get him!” Steven 3 ordered, the others all hurrying to comply. Knowing there wasn’t a moment to waste, Steven scrambled to his feet and bounded away from the angry mob of copies. He was admittedly surprised at how violent they were being, though he supposed it was somewhat understandable, considering how condescendingly he had treated them earlier. But all the same, he wasn’t about to be done in by himself, especially in such a literal way.

Steven was hardly paying attention to where he was going as he barreled through the crowds of party goers, which was why he was unable to stop before he accidently ran right into Dipper, who was, coincidentally enough, also fleeing from his own angry clones. Both boys bounced off each other roughly as they landed on the floor adjacent to each other, though they didn’t stay down for too long, lest their copies catch up with them. “Steven, what-” Dipper began, though Steven was quick to cut him off.

“Shh! They’ll see us!” the young Gem whispered tensely as he tightly grabbed the boy’s wrist and began to pull him away. “Follow me!”

“Wait, who will see us?” Dipper asked, checking over his shoulder to see that they had fortunately lost his clones as they emerged into the hallway.

“Me!” Steven exclaimed in a panic. “Well… not me me, but the other me’s! Our band broke up and now they’ve all gone mad with power lust!”

“Your clones too?” Dipper asked in surprise as the two of them stopped to catch their breath. “Mine all flipped out just because I didn’t wanna follow the stupid plan we all came up with! They’re completely obsessed!”

“Well, we can’t stay here for too long,” Steven said between fatigued breaths. “We gotta think of a way to stop all of our clones, before they-”

“Too late!”

A fearful gasp escaped both Dipper and Steven as they spun around to see that both groups of clones had managed to trail them and catch up with them. “Oh, hi, Dippers!” the various Stevens perked up, grinning amicably as they noticed the boy’s clones standing alongside them.

“Hey, Stevens!” the group of Dippers greeted, all of them sharing friendly grins that quickly faded as they turned to the originals.

“Do you guys mind helping us out here?” Tyrone asked the Stevens. “We’re trying to get a dance with Wendy, but we need to get him out of the way first,” he said, nodding to the original Dipper.

“Sure!” Steven 2 said eagerly. “But only if you guys help us with him-” he pointed to the first Steven. “-so we can jam out without freely, the way we us Stevens were always meant to!”

“Okay!” the Dippers agreed, boldly turning to face the originals as the Stevens did the same, their alliance solidified. Both Steven and Dipper knew they were no match for the combined forces of their respective clones, especially since both groups were equal in number and intentions.

Much to their shared distress, Dipper and Steven found that they were backed into a corner as their copies and clones pressed them, their united efforts easily overwhelming them both. A multitude of various hands from both groups latched onto them, and despite their struggling, both boys found themselves being shoved into the nearby supplies closet before they could escape again.

“Wait!” Steven and Dipper cried in unison as they rushed forward, only to have the closet door slammed in their faces. The two of them exchanged a brief, worried glance, before Dipper happened to come up with a makeshift plan that could possibly get them out of this.

“Ahh! We can’t breathe!” he called out to the clones outside, his tone rather unconvincing.

“Yes, you can!” Tyrone responded from the other side of the door, clearly not tricked.

“We even put some snacks and a coloring book in there for you so you guys won’t get bored!” Steven 2 called cheerfully. “Have fun!”

Dipper let out a defeated sigh as he promptly took a seat and opened the pack of cheese and crackers the clones had left for them, sharing them with Steven, who remained standing as he stood near the door in frustration. “I can’t believe we let them trap us in here!” the young Gem exclaimed, resting his head against the door in exasperation.

“I can’t believe they all teamed up so easily, no questions asked,” Dipper remarked caustically.

“Well, I guess it does make sense,” Steven shrugged. “After all, none of them have any reason to be mad at each other like they do for us.”

“Wait a second…” Dipper sat up, his eyes widening as he realized something important, something that could very well help them win the day yet. “Steven, that’s it!”


 

“Thanks for the help, Dippers!” Steven 2 grinned as he shook Tyrone’s hand in celebration.

“No, no, Stevens; thank you,” Tyrone said with a casual nod before he turned to address the other Dipper clones. “Okay, so now that the original Dipper, or ‘Dipper Classic’ is no longer fit for it, I nominate myself to dance with Wendy instead. I’ve been around the longest, so it should be me, right?”

“Oh, you know, he makes a good point, you guys,” Steven 2 said to the other Stevens. “That’s why I think I should be the leader of our brand-new Steven ensemble! I think you’ll find that, unlike our previous leader, I’m firm, but fair.”

The other Stevens muttered amongst themselves as they considered this idea, while the Dippers continued discussing who their respective leader would be. “You make a fair point,” Dipper 10 said to Tyrone. “But… I have a counterpoint; maybe I should get to dance with Wendy since I’ve been around her the least!”

“That makes, like, zero sense,” Dipper 5 remarked, crossing his arms.

“YOU make zero sense!” Dipper 10 retorted crossly, giving number 5 a rough shove into Dipper 6.

“Hey! Watch it!”

“Don’t shove people!”

“I wouldn’t have to if it wasn’t for-”

Dipper 5 was abruptly cut off by the sudden, incoherent screeches of Paper Jam Dipper, who had somehow managed to lumber down from the attic. As Tyrone went to quiet the disfigured clone down, the Stevens watched on as the other Dippers continued to quietly argue amongst themselves.

“Yeesh,” Steven 2 frowned as he turned back to the others. “It’s good to know we all get along here, right guys?”

The others were hesitant to agree, especially as Steven 8 spoke up. “Um… Steven? We’re not so sure you should be in charge… Or anyone else for that matter.”

“What?!”

“Well, trying to pick out a leader was what caused all this trouble in the first place,” Steven 5 pointed out. “Maybe we should all be the leader!”

The other Stevens all assented over this plan, even as Steven 2 shot them a cross glare. “Of course, even though we’re all in charge, one of us should be the most in charge,” Steven 9 stated with a sly smile. “And that should be me!”

“What? No way! It should be me!” Steven 7 argued.

“No, me!”

“Me!”

“ME!”

“Hey, you guys!” Tyrone cut through both sets of clones squabbles, a sudden realization occurring to him as he turned away from the jammed clone. “I just thought of something. If you were trapped in a closet, what would you do?”

“Break out,” all of the Steven and Dipper clones answered in unison, as though it was obvious. Of course, this prompted all of them to turn towards the closet, only to find that it was empty, the door swung wide open.

“I told you we should have locked it,” Steven 2 said to Tyrone, who could only face palm at this turn of events.

“Hurry! We have to find them before they get back to the party!”

The others all nodded as they began to fan out through the hall, keeping a close eye out for the originals. “Gee, I wonder where they could be…” one of the Dippers mused to Steven 6 inconspicuously.

“I dunno,” Steven 6 said, his manner serious. “But keep a look out. They could be anywhere…”

“Yeah…” Dipper said, surprising a sly smirk. “Oh, by the way, Steven… I was wondering if I could see that hourglass thing of yours.  I’ve been dying to get a closer look ever since you guys told us about it earlier.”

“Oh, sure, Dipper,” Steven 6 said with an amicable grin as he pulled the hourglass out of his pocket. “But be careful with it, ok?”

“Whatever you say, man,” Dipper nodded as he took the small sphere in his hands before quickly spinning around. “Steven, now!”

“Huh?!” all of the Steven’s exclaimed, though only one of them really understood.

“Hey, Dipper!” Steven tapped the shoulder of the Dipper closest to him, which just so happened to be number 7. He turned around, but before he could respond, the young Gem was quick to throw the cup of punch he had scavenged at the clone. “I’m sorry!”

As all of the copies turned to watch as the Dipper clone disintegrated on contact with the punch, the original took advantage of the moment and threw the hourglass he had claimed from Steven 6 down onto the ground. The sphere shattered into countless pieces, and as it did so, the Steven who had once wielded it let out a panicked scream before quickly dissipating into a sand-like substance. Chaos exploded among the clones as the lost two of their collective number, all of them easily singling out the originals who had managed to blend into the group.

“There they are!” Dipper 10 declared, pointing to the originals, who were more than ready to fight back.

“Get them!” Steven 4 demanded as the clones rushed forward, not sparing any brutality. Though they were grossly outnumbered, Steven and Dipper held their ground, fighting back with the same weak slaps and punches their clones were throwing out. Despite the fact that they didn’t have any more punch or water to use against the Dipper clones, they did their best to try and snatch away the hourglasses from the Steven copies, knowing that would make them disappear back to their own continuities. They weren’t all too successful with this, however, as Steven was only able to rip the hourglass away from Steven 9, only for it to be immediately reclaimed by Tyrone, who quickly handed it back to its rightful owner.

“Come on, you guys,” the second Dipper clones said as he pinned the original down. Likewise, Stevens 3 and 5 kept the first Steven pressed against the wall, immobile. “Just give up already. You’re overpowered.

“Maybe,” Dipper said with a resilient glare. “But think about it. All of us Dippers are equals mentally and physically-”

“And all of us Stevens are equal mentally and physically!” Steven added, even as his copies pushed him harder against the wall.

“And if we fight like this, then it will just go on for infinity and none of us will win,” Dipper finished, hoping that he could get them all to see reason.

Both sets of clones paused upon hearing this, none of them able to deny that he did have a point as they agreed amongst themselves. Of course, Dipper and Steven took their opportunity as the young Gem broke free from his copies’ tight hold on them, managing to snag Steven 3’s hourglass away in the process. As he stomped it under his foot, both the third Steven, as well as the seventh and eight Stevens, all instantly collapsed into dust, giving the original an exciting realization about how to get rid of the rest of his copies.

Meanwhile, Dipper managed to repel Tyrone with a rather harsh left hook, slipping out from under him as he recovered. He wasn’t sure where he was going to find enough water to melt the rest of his clones on such a short notice, but he could only hope that he could think of something. After all, he wouldn’t be able to hold them back forever.

Confusion spread throughout both groups of clones as they all began to fight each other, hoping that they would single out the originals some way or another. Order was completely left by the wayside as the various copies of both Steven and Dipper began skirmishing indiscriminately, throwing punches, pulling hair, and shoving each other about. In the tumult, several of the Stevens ended up meeting their ends as their hourglasses were accidentally broken, leaving less than half of them behind. Of course, as they were all caught up battling each other, none of them noticed the originals crawling through the quarreling crowd and start to escape. That is, until one of the Stevens happened to spot them.

“Hey! They’re getting away!”

The clones were quick to stop their senseless fighting as they regrouped and opposed their sources together. Dipper and Steven were only able to round the corner before they found themselves trapped once more, between a wall and the disgruntled clone army, all of them more than ready to finally end this struggle.

“S-stay back!” Dipper warned the collective group nervously as him and Steven pressed against the wall. They clearly had nowhere to go and nothing to get them out of this tight spot, but as a last-ditch effort, Dipper hurriedly pulled the party popper he had in his pocket from earlier out, aiming at the clones, who clearly weren’t intimidated by it.

“What’s that supposed to do?” Steven asked in distress, knowing that water or a hammer would be much better weapons against their crazed clones.

“Help, hopefully,” Dipper shrugged, clearly just as panicked as he fired the party popper off. The clones all simply laughed at this poor effort of warding them off, though none of them noticed the thin stream of smoke that rose up from the weak explosive. As the smoke reached the sprinklers on the ceiling, water immediately began to pour from them in a heavy shower, something that both Steven and Dipper considered to be nothing less than a miracle. The remaining Stevens gasped in surprised horror as they watched the Dipper clones begin to melt as the water rained down upon them from above. In the midst of this chaos, Steven charged forward and tackled Steven 4, stealing his hourglass away just in the nick of time. As he had hoped, Stevens 4, 9, and 10 disappeared entirely as he smashed the sphere, leaving him with just one more Steven to get rid of. Dipper helped him out with this, however, jumping on Steven 5 and, after a brief struggle, managing to claim the hourglass and crush it under his shoe.

Both boys let out sighs of exasperated relief as the sprinklers stopped, leaving nothing more than the watery, dusty remains of their clones in their wake. “Huh… how about that,” Dipper remarked with a relieved smile, glad to be rid of his unhinged copies.

“I guess there really is no better way to get rid of yourself,” Steven said with a small laugh.

“Stop right there!”

Despite the fact that Steven and Dipper were certain they had gotten rid of their clones in one fell swoop, they had apparently forgotten about two of them, namely Tyrone and Steven 2. The copies stood together in offense against their originals, both of them clearly seeking revenge.

“Uh oh…” Steven and Dipper said in worried unison, both of them already dreading the do-doubt violent confrontation that was about to take place.

Pure excitement pounded through Mabel’s veins as she danced her heart out, her bright smile never fading as she did her best to win the crowds over, something that was clearly working. Dancing the worm had been a huge crowd-pleaser, and she could tell every time she glanced in Pacifica’s direction that the rich girl was far from amused.

“Ok, one more song dudes!” Soos announced as Mabel took a break. “And then its time for the bestowing of the party crown! It’s gonna be the-” He paused as he hit a key on his keyboard, an explosion sound blasting over the speakers. “Nailed it.”

With an amiable smile, Mabel approached Pacifica after exchanging confident grins with Connie, Candy, and Grenda. Despite the fact that she wanted to beat the heiress as payback for insulting her friends, Mabel still wanted to be a good sport about things, even if Pacifica had no intentions of doing the same. “Pacifica, I just wanna say that, whoever wins, it’s been a super fun party.”

Pacifica ignored her show of kindness as she let out a snide sneer, her hands placed on her hips as she gave Mabel a condescending look. “Aw, it thinks it’s gonna win,” she patronized coldly. “Hey, did you hear that? People clapping for the weird girls? Yeah, me neither.”

Mabel’s bright smile vanished as Pacifica let out a haughty laugh as she sauntered off. Candy, Grenda, and Connie were quick to rush over to her and comfort her, even if Mabel wasn’t really that hurt by her disparaging comments.

“Ok, that’s it,” Connie said rigidly, fed up with the heiress’s rotten behavior. “Mabel, you have to win. If only so we can see that smug grin of her’s disappear.”

“Wow, Connie, I didn’t know you could be so… hostile,” Mabel said with a somewhat nervous smile. “It’s kinda scary honestly.”

“Well, what can I say?” Connie replied, crossing her arms as she sent a glare Pacifica’s way. “Steven’s not the only one who’s feeling feistier than usual tonight.”


 

Clearly, both Tyrone and Steven 2 were much more tactile and tougher than the other, now-disappeared clones as Dipper and Steven found themselves having a hard time contending with them. As the pair of Dippers tussled on the floor, the two Stevens grappled for each other’s hourglasses, even if neither of them were getting very far.

“Give me your time thing, Steven!” Steven 2 shouted angrily, trying to reach into his counterpart’s pocket to steal it.

“No!” Steven retorted defiantly. “Why do you need both of them so badly anyway?!”

“Just hurry up and give it to me!” the second Steven griped, even as the original shoved him away.

At the same time, both Dippers were essentially slapping each other senseless, trying to wear each other down as much as they could so that would of them could emerge victorious in the end. Despite the fact that they were an equal match, however, Tyrone was clearly inching ahead as he had a momentary advantage over the original. “Say it!” he demanded fiercely. “Say I can dance with Wendy!”

“Never!” Dipper exclaimed resiliently, not about to let that coveted dance slip through his fingers again. Though their scuffle could have continued indefinitely, it soon came to a grinding halt, however, as both Dippers caught onto the sound of a familiar laugh coming from the dance floor.

“Wendy?” they both asked in confused unison as they let go of each other and hurried to the doorway, only to see something that made their hearts simultaneously sink. Much to their shared despair, Robbie had returned, and had easily garnished the cashier’s attention as the two of them conversed and laughed together. Both Dippers couldn’t help but feel the same bitterness upon seeing this, knowing that one of them easily could have been out there with Wendy instead, if they hadn’t been so caught up with their petty battle instead.

As the Dippers witnessed this disheartening sight, Steven at last gained the upper hand over his counterpart, pinning him down and snatching his hourglass away with little effort. Fear flashed across Steven 2’s face as he looked up at the original, knowing that his end was near. Yet it was only as Steven held up the final hourglass and caught sight of his frightened copy’s expression that clarity, as well as heavy guilt struck him. “This… this isn’t right…” he said quietly as he lowered the hourglass. Steven 2 frowned in confusion, but listened as the original continued. “When Steven fights Steven, who really wins? What have we become?” Steven 2 was silent as he glanced to the side, clearly ashamed of his own previous, antagonizing behavior. “We are not the Stevens we once were. But I plan on fixing that right now.”

Steven 2 shut his eyes tightly, anticipating that Steven intended on shattering the hourglass. However, instead he extended his hand out in offering, an apologetic smile on his face as he helped his surprised copy up off the ground. “Steven, I’m sorry… I got really carried away… But I think this belongs to you.”

The second Steven smiled softly as he accepted the hourglass Steven was holding out to him. “It’s ok, Steven. And I’m sorry too. Especially about the whole, you know, trying to kill you part…”

“Well, it looks like we all blew it tonight,” Dipper said pensively as him and Tyrone joined the two Stevens. The four of them shared a tired, somewhat sad sigh as they all sat together against the wall, silence falling over them for a moment or two before Tyrone offered a suggestion.

“I dunno… You guys wanna go grab a couple of sodas or something?”

“Sure,” Steven shrugged as Steven 2 nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, why not,” Dipper said, casting one last longing glance at the party, knowing that all of his careful planning and worrying had been for not in the end. “It’s not like we’re gonna be doing any dancing tonight anyway…”


 

The party had just about reached its end, which meant the ongoing competition was also coming to a conclusion. Mabel and Pacifica stood alongside each other on the stage as the audience waited in rapt attention to see who would emerge the victor. “Let the party crown voting commence!” Soos called as he played a bell sound on his keyboard.

“Good luck, Mabel,” Pacifica remarked, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You’re gonna need it.”

“Thanks, Pacifica!” Mabel quipped blissfully. “Good luck to you too!”

The heiress simply rolled her eyes as Soos relayed the instructions to the audience. “Applaud to vote for Mabel!”

As the girl had hoped, the crowd went absolutely wild for her. Candy, Grenda, and Connie all howled their support from the front row, and even Stan stopped to clap loudly for his niece. “Let’s check the applause meter,” Soos said as the audience continued to cheer. The handyman raised his hand up, smiling as he gave the girl a confident not. “Oh, very good!”

Mabel smiled broadly, bouncing up and down on her toes in excitement over how well things were going so far. “And now, for Pacifica!” Soos called, and, compared to how they had clapped for Mabel, the audience was clearly much less enthusiastic about the heiress. Refusing to accept defeat, Pacifica shot the audience members a burning glare, her wealth and authority proving enough to get them to hesitantly support her louder.

“Uh oh, a tie,” Soos said as both of his hands raised to the same level. “This has, like, never happened before.”

Knowing that she was quickly losing ground, Pacifica glanced around the room before coming up with a quick plan that would ensure her victory. Before the crowd could simmer down, the heiress rushed over to the benches, pulling a dollar out of her pocket and waving it in front of Old Man McGucket, who lay sprawled sleeping over the chairs. The old man instantly awakened at the scent of nearby cash, and he was more than happy to let out a rowdy, wild cheer as he took the dollar, even if he had no idea what he was clapping for.

Soos frowned as he raised his hand up for Pacifica just a bit higher than Mabel’s. “Ladies and gentlemen, we… we have a winner…” the handyman said reluctantly, giving Mabel an apologetic look as he continued. “The winner of the contest is… Pacifica Northwest.”

Unsurprisingly, there was little fanfare as Pacifica greedily claimed the party crown as her own, smirking triumphantly as she positioned it on her hand. “No fair!” Connie exclaimed to Candy and Grenda, clearly incensed. “She cheated! Mabel should have won, fair and square!”

“That is just how it goes for popular girls…” Candy mused in disappointment.

“They always win!” Grenda growled bitterly, cracking her girthy knuckles angrily.

“Thank you, Jorge!” Pacifica said to Soos, not even caring that she had gotten his name wrong. “Thank you, everyone! You all are invited to the after-party on my parent’s yacht! Let’s go!”

Despite the fact that few people in the audience had wanted Pacifica to win, none of them were about to miss out on a much fancier party. The crowd chanted the heiress’s name happily as they carried her off and out of the shack, leaving the dance floor largely empty in their wake.

“Ugh, I still can’t believe she beat you, Mabel,” Connie said, still somewhat aggravated. “For what it’s worth, you totally deserved to win. You were awesome out there!”

“Thanks, Connie,” Mabel grinned warmly. “But you can’t win them all, I guess,”

“Well, it’s getting pretty late…” Connie frowned down at her watch. “My parents will be expecting me home soon, so I better go find Steven before I go and make sure he’s alright. Candy, Grenda, it was great meeting. I’ll see you all later!”

“Bye, Connie!” Mabel called as Connie left, Candy and Grenda waving their farewells. “I’m sorry I let you guys down,” the girl said as she turned to her new friends, the slightest hint of remorse in her tone. “I understand if you wanna leave.”

“But then we will miss the sleepover,” Candy said, a small smile appearing on her face.

“The what?”

“We want to call our moms and see if we can have a sleepover with you,” Grenda explained. “You’re like, a total rockstar!”

“I have magazine boys!” Candy grinned as she pulled out several teen magazines out of her backpack for Mabel to see.

“And I have nail polish!” Grenda exclaimed, taking out several bottles of polish she had stored in her pockets.

“Oh… you guys!” Mabel gushed in absolute delight.

“Maybe we don’t have as many friends as Pacifica,” Candy began as she adjusted her glasses. “But we have each other, and that is pretty good, I think.”

“It’s not just good,” Mabel affirmed as she drew her new friends into a tight hug. “It’s the best. Soos! Play another song! This thing’s going all night!”

“Way ahead of you, hambone!” Soos grinned, already setting another track up.

“This is it!” Mabel proclaimed excitedly, already taking the dance floor as Candy and Grenda joined her, cheering her on all the while. Even if she hadn’t won the competition, Mabel knew that she had won something far better: not one, but two budding friendships.


 

The last two remaining Stevens and final two Dippers had taken to the roof for a while, all of them needing to calm their nerves and blow off some steam after everything that had happened. They all sat in silence for a while as they enjoyed their sodas, watching the glowing stars high ahead in the peaceful, summer night’s sky.

“Some night, huh?” Tyrone asked, exhaustion clear in his tone.

“You said it,” Steven 2 agreed as the others nodded.

“I still can’t believe things got so crazy back there,” Steven frowned. “But I guess we all learned some important things tonight. For example, I learned that I’m really bossy…”

“Eh, maybe…” Steven 2 shrugged. “But our heart was in the right place. For the most part… I guess…”

“Hey, at least you guys didn’t end up making huge fools of yourselves,” Dipper said with a remorseful sigh before addressing Tyrone. “Sometimes it seems like we won’t ever have a chance with Wendy. I mean, she’s 15, we’re 12…”

“I don’t know, man,” Tyrone said, looking back towards the starry skies. “I hope so, but we’re making zero progress the way we’re doing it. The only good conversation you had with her was when you didn’t bother with any of that list stuff.”

“Wait, you guys actually tried using a list to get a dance with Wendy?” Steven 2 asked, cracking an amused smirk. “No wonder things didn’t work out. That’s way too complicated!”

“Says the guy who went back in time just to put a band together,” Tyrone remarked under his breath good-naturedly.

“I know…” Dipper admitted sheepishly. “Turns out Mabel was right. I do get in my own way.”

“Literally!” Dipper and Tyrone exclaimed in unison as the Stevens laughed together.

“Speaking of getting in the way…” Steven said as he pulled out his hourglass. “I guess we should give these to the Gems? Or at least one of them? I’m not sure…”

“We’ll figure something out,” Steven 2 said confidently, casually tossing his own hourglass up and down. “After all, we-” He stopped short as he accidently failed to catch the hourglass as it came down, watching with horror as it slipped through his fingers and fell off the roof and onto the ground far below. All four of them cringed as the hourglass shattered, tears already starting to fill the original Steven’s eyes as he watched his last remaining double began to dissolve into sand.

“Steven!” the young Gem exclaimed in distress, clinging onto his quickly fading counterpart as the pair of Dippers stood by watching helplessly.

“I-its ok!” Steven 2 assured with a weak smile as his lower body melted away. “This was bound to happen anyway.”

“B-but we could have played an awesome duet together!” Steven cried desperately. “We could have-”

“Hey! It’s alright! If I know me, I know you’ll find another way!” Steven 2 said as the original dropped down to his knees so they could be level with each other. “Stay cool forever, Steven.” The second Steven give his present counterpart a parting kiss on both cheeks as he began to disappear entirely. “Arrivaderchi!”

Steven’s hands were trembling as the last of Steven 2 spilled out of his hands and dissipated into nothingness. “Alas… Poor Steven…” he muttered despondently, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I knew him well…”

“Oh man…” Dipper said with a sympathetic frown as he put a consoling hand on the young Gem’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Steven…”

“Yeah, but look at the bright side,” Tyrone said with a reassuring smile. “At least he’ll always be a part of you. Or something like that…” Realizing he had failed to be poetic, the second Dipper took an awkward sip of his soda without thinking. He soon realized his mistake however, as he stole a glance down at his stomach only to realize that a hole was starting to melt through it. “Oh boy… Don’t look now…”

Steven and Dipper gasped in alarm as they watched the last clone of either of them begin to melt. “Tyrone!” Dipper exclaimed in a sudden panic. “Not you too!”

“It’s ok, dude,” Tyrone said, putting up the same kind of dignity Steven 2 had at the end of it all. “I had a good run. Remember what we talked about!”

“O-of course,” Dipper choked, accepting Steven’s hand on his shoulder as the young Gem moved to comfort him now.

“And quit being such a wimp around Wendy, ok?” Tyrone said, even if he was practically completely melted away by now. “For my sake!”

The final clone’s words still lingered even has he was reduced to nothing more than a puddle. “Oh… Tyrone…” Dipper sighed sadly. “You were the only one who understood…” As once final show of respect to the fallen clone, the boy poured some of his soda onto Tyrone’s remains before taking a sip himself. Likewise, Steven decided to pay one final tribute to Steven 2 by stomping on the hourglass, knowing that it wasn’t worth all the trouble it had caused.

“I’m really gonna miss them…” Steven said with a forlorn frown. “But at least they’re in a better place…”

“Sure…” Dipper said, not entirely convinced since both clones had blipped out of existence completely. “But all the same, I’m pretty sure this whole ordeal has scarred me for life. So you wanna go back to the party? It’s better than moping around up here.”

“Ok,” Steven agreed with a small smile. “There’s probably a few snacks left that Amethyst hasn’t stolen yet… Wait! That gives me an idea! Come on!”

Dipper nodded, letting the young Gem descend the roof first as he lingered behind for a moment and pulled his list out of his pocket one last time. As Tyrone had said, the list had done little to help him out with Wendy in any regard. It was clear that if he intended on getting anywhere, he truly had to rely on himself and his instincts instead of any overcomplicated, convoluted lists he might come up with. Which was why the boy had few regrets as he ripped the list up, watching with a small, relieved smile as its pieces scattered to the wind. “Hey, Steven!” he called out after the young Gem as he hurried down the roof himself to return to the party. “Wait up!”


 

“Can’t you see it in our eyes?” Steven sang with a bright smile as he strummed his guitar, more than happy with his newfound band. “We’re the one, we’re the—one!”

“Two!” Garnet called with a smirk, showing off her skill on the keytar.

“Three!” Pearl sung out, hitting every note on her violin perfectly.

“Four!” Amethyst shouted, beating away the rhythm of their song on the drums.

“We’re not like the other guys…” Steven continued, looking out at his rather small audience. Since most of the party goers have left with Pacifica earlier, the Pines, of course, still remained, as did Soos, Wendy, Candy, Grenda, and even Connie, despite the fact that she had to leave right after the performance. But still, the young Gem was glad to have this audience, as intimate as it was, especially as he watched everyone enjoy themselves as him and the Gems jammed out.

“We’re not like anybody!” Amethyst harmonized on Steven’s cue.

“By the way, don’t go back in time,” Steven sung, deciding to put a meaningful spin on his rewritten song. “Or you’ll destroy yourself!”

“Steven and the Crystal Gems! We’re gonna make you smile!”

As Steven and the Gems continued to perform, Stan happily counted the bountiful sum of money he had earned thanks to this party, knowing that he would be laughing all the way to the bank tomorrow. Soos worked the lights as the Gems played, giving them a perfectly-timed light show as their upbeat melody flowed through the dance floor. Mabel, Candy, and Grenda all danced to the tune in their own unique way, and though Connie wasn’t much of a dancer, she still smiled her support up to Steven as she tapped her feet to the beat. And though it couldn’t be officially called a “dance” in the way that he had wanted it to be, Dipper still succeeded in dancing near Wendy at the very least. And, considering what he had been through earlier to get here, that was good enough for him.

“I accidently created an, alternate timeline!” Steven proclaimed, not noticing the concerned glance Pearl sent his way upon hearing this. “Steven and the Crystal Gems! Come on now, don’t be shy!”

The young Gem took in a deep breath as he geared up for his big finish, even as everyone already prepared to generously applaud him. Yet that hardly mattered to Steven, who was simply reveling in the fact that he was playing with people he deeply cared about in front of people he deeply cared about. And in the end, that was all he had wanted. “I learned to say true to myself, but watching myself die…”

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Bottomless Pit

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The Mystery Cart bumped across the thin dirt road, all of its passengers, save for its driver, clinging onto its frame for dear life. Even though it was quite a short drive, Stan still found a way to drive fast and recklessly, even despite the frightened cries of his nephew, niece, and handyman. Fortunately for Dipper, Mabel, and Soos, the cart soon veered and screeched to a halt, allowing them to all relax after such a harrowing experience. Their shared relief soon turned into bewilderment, however, as they filed out of the cart only to find what appeared to be a very wide, probably quite deep hole in the dusty ground before them.

“In this land of ours, there are many great pits,” Stan said as he stood near the edge of the hole, gesturing for the others to join him. “But none are more bottomless than the bottomless pit. Which, as you can see here, is bottomless.”

“Question,” Soos spoke up. “Is it bottomless?”

The con man let out an annoyed sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Kids, can one of you try explaining this to Soos?”

“Whoa!” Mabel gasped in awe as she peeked over the side of the pit, looking into the seemingly endless black abyss below. “That’s not your ordinary kind of darkness down there. That’s advanced darkness!”

“Grunkle Stan, why are we hear again?” Dipper asked, warily staying clear of the rugged edges of the pit.

“To get rid of stuff we don’t want anymore,” Stan replied, pulling a small stack of square papers out of his sleeve before tossing them into the abyss. “So long, Mystery Shack suggestion cards!” The con man’s broad grin soon vanished, however, as he happened to catch sight of the group heading down the hill towards the shack. “Speaking of things I’d like to get rid of…”

“Hi, guys!” Steven greeted cheerfully as he sprinted towards the Mystery Shack crew, the Gems following not too far behind him. “What’s going on?”

“Hey, Steven! We’re throwing all of our junk into this pit here!” Mabel said brightly as she carelessly discarded several cards and papers into the hole. “Goodbye, creepy love letters from Lil’ Gideon!”

“Ooo, I wanna try!” Steven grinned, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a few pieces of spare change. “I wish I could get my hands on the limited edition Dogcopter boxed set, complete with special features and director’s commentary!” the young Gem proclaimed as he tossed the coins into the pit.

“Nice wish, dude,” Soos remarked as he took off his shoes and threw them into the pit. “That’s a hard find.”

“Soos, what are you doing?” Dipper asked with a confused frown.

“Throwing stuff,” the handyman shrugged as he tossed the nearby grill into the hole as well. “Everyone’s doin’ it.”

“This isn’t a wishing well, kid,” Stan deadpanned to Steven as he rolled his eyes. “It’s a bottomless pit. The only thing it can really be used for is as a giant trash can.”

“Hey, the bottomless pit!” Amethyst exclaimed as her, Garnet, and Pearl arrived on the scene. “You know I’ve always wanted to jump in there and see where it goes…”

“You will do no such thing!” Pearl quickly grabbed the purple Gem by the shoulder and yanked her away from the pit. “Who knows what’s at the bottom of that abyss!?”

“Well, it is bottomless,” Garnet cut in stoically.

“And besides,” Pearl continued. “We can’t loiter around here all day anyway. We have to track down those crystal shrimp into they get into town! If we don’t, they’ll—Mabel, what is that?”

Mabel smiled somewhat enigmatically as she paused near the edge of the pit, stopping the large, chained-up crate she had pushed all the way over from the shack. “Oh, it’s just my personal box of mysterious secrets… Nothing worth worrying about…” she said vaguely, inching the box closer to the edge before shoving it over without a second thought. “Goodbye forever!”

A beat of uncomfortable silence passed as the collective group as they all watched the curious crate tumble down into the blackened depths. “Grunkle Stan,” Dipper finally spoke up, clearly not as impressed as the others were with the intriguing pit. “Do I really have to be the one to point out that a bottomless pit is, by definition, impossible?”

“I agree with Dipper,” Pearl conquered. “The crust of the earth is only about thirty five kilometers deep, and no form of penetration, by man or nature, has ever extended to its furthest depths. Even if such a thing as a bottomless pit could exist, it would have to-”

“‘Blah, blah, blah, science, blah, blah, boring’,” Stan said mockingly, thoroughly aggravating the white Gem. “That’s all I’m hearing. Go ahead and doubt all you want. I’m telling you, this pit is as bottomless as I wish my wallet was.”

“I believe you, Mr. Pines,” Steven quipped encouragingly. “Though I guess there really is no way to know for sure whether or not it’s bottomless…”

“I can check and see!” Amethyst readily volunteered, preparing to leap headfirst into the hole just for fun.

“No, Amethyst,” Garnet admonished rationally.

“Well, I guess the secret of the bottomless pit will always be just that,” Mabel shrugged. “A secret.”

No one even had time to agree with this statement however, before a sudden, ear-splitting screech caught everyone’s attention. A horde of small, strange creatures was emerging from the nearby woods, vaguely crustacean in appearance and iridescent in color. They skittered towards the groups standing before the pit, letting out ravenous, high-pitched hisses all the while. “W-what are those things?!” Dipper asked in alarm.

“Crystal shrimp!” Pearl gasped, her eyes wide as her and the other Gems summoned their weapons. “They’re incredibly dangerous! Mere physical contact with them could be deadly!”

“Everyone, stay back!” Garnet ordered, clenching her gauntleted fists.

“Stay back where?!” Stan asked caustically. “We’re kind of standing in front of a giant endless hole, in case you forgot!”

“Uh… how are we supposed to fight these things anyway?” Amethyst called to her teammates as the shrimp slunk ever closer. “We can’t touch them, remember?”

“Don’t worry, you guys!” Steven cut in. “I can help!” After taking in a quick deep breath of determination, the young Gem spread his arms out wide, a pink-tinged orb surrounding him and Dipper and Mabel, who had been standing closest to him. “Aw, man! I thought I could make one big enough for everyone!” Steven frowned to everyone outside of the bubble.

“Oh my gosh, Steven, this is so cool!” Mabel grinned as she poked the firm surface of the pink bubble they were trapped inside. “It’s like a giant hamster ball!”

“This is another Gem thing, isn’t it?” Dipper asked, breathing a sigh of slight relief that they were out of immediate harm.

“Yeah,” Steven replied with a small smile. “We’ll be nice and safe from those shrimp guys inside this bubble, at least until the Gems can find a way to get rid of them.”

“Please. We don’t need any fancy magic bubbles to deal with these puny pests,” Stan scoffed as he pulled out his cane. “I can take care of ‘em myself!”

“Stan, wait!” Pearl warned, but the conman didn’t heed her call. Instead, he simply thrust the tip of his cane towards the nearest crystal shrimp, only for the glass-like creature to let out a rabid squeal as it reared up onto its hind legs. Startled, Stan stumbled back away from the shrimp, only to back right into Steven’s bubble by mistake. Since the bubble had no form of traction, Steven, Dipper, and Mabel were helpless to stop the orb they were in from rolling backwards, until it ultimately slipped right over the edge of the nearby bottomless pit. The trio of kids let out unified screams of terror as they fell into the dark abyss, the adults still on the ground all letting out horrified gasps. It wasn’t long before they got company, however, as the conman, still trying to catch his footing, teetered on the edge of the pit himself. Of course, he had nearly righted himself when he caught the brunt of Soos’s good-natured, knee-jerk reaction.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Pines!” the handyman cried, leaping forward to catch his boss before he fell. “I’ll save you!” Unfortunately, instead of rescuing the conman, Soos only managed to make the situation worse as he barreled into Stan, resulting in both of them backpedaling into the pit on accident.

“Hey, no fair!” Amethyst called out after the rounds of fading screams coming from the pit. “I wanted to be the one to jump in there first! Oh well, I’m goin’ for it anyway!” The purple Gem smirked daringly as her whip vanished as she leapt into the pit without another moment of delay. “Cannonball!”

“Amethyst!” Pearl practically screamed in a panic. “Steven! Oh Garnet, what are we going to do?!”

Garnet only paused for a moment, glancing between the approaching crystal shrimp and the bottomless pit before reaching a quick conclusion. “Cannonball,” she answered with a shrug, before diving headfirst into the pit herself. The white Gem gasped, though her shock was quick to turn to irritation as she knew she had no choice left herself.

“Oh… Stan’s gonna pay for this!” Pearl growled bitterly, hesitating briefly before making the plunge after the others, deep into the unknown darkness of the bottomless pit. 


 

It didn’t take long for everyone to catch up to each other, not that anyone knew it thanks to the inky blackness surrounding them. The only thing they were able to recognize were each other’s frightened screams, which lasted for quite some time as they all fell together. It was only as seconds passed on into minutes that the collective group gradually began to calm down, especially as they all realized they had not hit anything, and probably weren’t going to any time soon.

“Um… guys?” Steven spoke up through the darkness once the initial rounds of screaming had ended. “I think we’re good…”

“Are you sure, dude?” Soos asked. “Or do we need to scream some more?”

“Please, don’t,” Garnet remarked calmly.

“Where are we anyway?” Dipper asked, straining his eyes to see through the immense darkness. Fortunately though, a faint, yet still suitable light flooded the surrounding area, courtesy of the gem on Pearl’s forehead. The white Gem herself looked very perturbed, but she said nothing as she cast an angry glare Stan’s way.

“We’re somewhere where it looks like we’re nowhere…” Mabel mused, though she let out a gasp of awe as Steven’s bubble dissipated in a burst of pink light.

“Whoops…” the young Gem chuckled bashfully. “Forgot about that…”

“Yo… This place is even cooler than I thought it would be!” Amethyst grinned excitedly. “It’s so big, and dark, and echo-y!” The purple Gem paused as she let her final word repeat on the pit’s natural echo. “Kinda reminds me of my room.”

“If only your room were as empty,” Garnet said sarcastically.

“I guess this pit really is bottomless!” Mabel smiled broadly as she took a curious glance into the heavy darkness they were continually falling into.

“Mabel, please,” Dipper rationalized, fear getting the better of him. “We’re probably gonna land on something eventually, no matter how far we fall. It could be any minute now!”

As the group took a collective glance down, they all simultaneously braced themselves for a rough impact. And yet, it was an impact that never came as they all continued floating down together through the endless abyss.

“Well,” Stan began candidly. “It looks like we’re all down here for the long haul. Who wants to see some card tricks?” With a wave of his hand, the conman produced a deck of cards, which all were quick to fly up thanks to gravity as he tried to shuffle them. Even though Steven and Mabel applauded the nonexistent trick, the others were far less than amused.

“How can you be so calm about this?!” Pearl scolded, her panic quickly rising. “For all we know, we could be stuck in this Gem-forsaken pit for the rest of time! We’ll never escape! THIS is our new home!”

Realizing that the white Gem was quickly unraveling into a frenzy, Garnet quickly stepped in. “Pearl, you’re overreacting.”

“I’M NOT OVERREACTING!” Pearl shouted defensively, clinging onto her spear for support.

“Sheesh,” Stan looked away from the hysteric Gem. “Talk about a freakshow.”

“Don’t worry, Pearl!” Steven said with a reassuring smile. “I’m sure there’s a way out of here! Somehow…”

“If only I had my trusty grappling hook!” Mabel snapped her fingers. “That could get us out of here for sure!”

“Somehow I doubt that your grappling hook to reach the top of the pit,” Dipper remarked dryly. “We’ve probably fallen several hundred feet by now, and I guess there’s no sign of stopping…”

“Hey, dudes, maybe we could calm ourselves down by telling stories to pass the time,” Soos suggested. “It’s better than just falling forever in the dark, ya know?”

“That’s a great idea, Soos!” Steven heartily agreed.

“I’ve got a story,” Dipper said, his tone rather hostile as he crossed his arms. “It’s called the time Grunkle Stan got us all thrown into a bottomless pit where we spent the rest of our natural lives!”

“Sounds like a good one,” Amethyst laughed as she grinned over at Stan, who merely rolled his eyes.

“Come on, Dipper, you can do better than that!” Mabel urged.

“Fine,” Dipper sighed in relent, realizing that they really didn’t have anything better to do than simply exchange tales for the time being. “I’ll tell you a story. A story I’d like to call ‘Voice Over’…”


 

Voice Over

In the heat of the balmy summer afternoon, a water balloon battle had been waged, with Steven and Mabel on one side and Soos and Wendy on the other. Stan only narrowly avoided getting hit by of the balloons that had happened to sail towards the porch as reached for another can of soda.

“Hey, watch it!” he shouted gruffly, briefly interrupting the water war. “If I wanted to get wet, I would have taken a money bath this morning!”

“Sorry, Grunkle Stan!” Mabel called with a laugh. However, before the water balloon fight could resume, Dipper came running from the woods towards the group, clearly in a panic as he clutched his wrist tightly.

“Guys! I think I just got bit by a snake!” he exclaimed, fearfully glancing down at the two lightly bleeding dots on his hand. “I need you to get me to a hospital quick!”

Instead of offering an appropriate worried response, Stan simply burst out laughing from his spot on the porch as he heard his nephew’s voice hitch on his last word. “What’s so funny?” Dipper asked, finding no humor in the situation at all.

“Sorry,” Stan chuckled. “It’s just sorta hard to focus on what you’re saying with that squeaky puberty voice you got there.”

“My… what?”

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Dipper,” Mabel said with a growing grin. “Your voice is hilaaarious!” she squeaked, trying to imitate her brother’s voice.

“Are you saying my voice cracks?” Dipper asked in disbelief. “My voice doesn’t crack!”

“Eh… it kinda does…” Steven admitted with a frown. “Just a little.”

“Dude, no offense, but it cracks so much that we’ve already made a techno remix of it,” Soos said as he held up a tape recorder and pressed play.

Dipper gasped in appalled shock as he listened to his own recorded voice, mixed to emphasize how much it hitched, which was actually much more than he had originally thought. “Nice to meet you. My name's Dipper Pines, P-P-Pines, Pines, Pines Nice to meet you P-p-pines, Pines, Pines.”

“Do I really sound like that?” Dipper asked as the others, save for Steven, all laughed in amusement over the track.

“It’s not that bad, Dipper,” the young Gem attempted to reassure. “So what if your voice squeaks sometimes? Mine does too. Well… actually, only when I get really excited, which, to be fair, happens a lot.”

Dipper was hardly consoled by this, especially as the others howled with laughter as the tape continued. “Stop it, guys!” the recording whined, his voice sounder higher-pitched than ever. Despite his earlier empathy, even Steven couldn’t resist letting out a chuckle at that. Not wanting to risk further embarrassment, Dipper quickly grabbed the tape recorder out of Soos’s hand, hurrying off with it as everyone else continued laughing at his expense.

Dipper let out a dejected sigh as he walked through downtown, though he easily picked up on his voice cracking just the slightest bit with this simple breath. “Even my sighs sound weird…” he muttered to himself, begrudging the fact that he was, at least for now, stuck with a voice trapped between youth and adulthood.

His thoughts were interrupted by fear however, for he jumped back, startled as a familiar face suddenly peeked out from a hole in the nearby face. “Hello there!” Old Man McGucket greeted with a toothy grin, not noticing the boy’s surprise. “I couldn’t help but overhear your situation! Old Man McGucket,” he introduced, spitting on his hand as he held it out to be shook. “Part time inventor.”

“Why did you spit on your hand?” Dipper asked, refusing to meet the old man halfway out of disgust.

“I don’t rightly know!”

“Hey, I remember you!” Dipper exclaimed. “Your giant robot almost killed me and my friends the other week!”

McGucket ignored this accusation as he let out a wild laugh. “Come on! Follow me into this dark and dangerous alley!” Before Dipper could protest, the old man yanked him into the alley, which led into the junkyard on the other side of the fence. He was quite surprised to see the rather elaborate, yet rugged lab McGucket had set up out of the back of a beaten up old car. “Lately, I’ve been tinkerizing with a voice alterin’ tonic,” the old inventor explained as he began to pour a strange green liquid into a vial. “On account of my horrifyin’ voice! Youngins’ try to run away at the sound of it, but I’ll still be in their nightmares!”

“Wait,” Dipper said, momentarily disregarding McGucket’s insane mannerisms. “So you’re saying this stuff will really fix my voice?” The old inventor nodded eagerly as he handed the concoction to the boy, who took it with relatively little reservations. “Well… I guess it’s worth a try,” he shrugged as he downed the entire potion in once swig, confident that it would yield results.

“Come mornin’, you’ll sound like a new man!” McGucket called after Dipper as he headed back to the shack. “If you survive…”

The next morning, Dipper wok up as usual, hardly even thinking about the voice tonic he had taken the previous day until he stood before the mirror and greeted himself. “Good morning, Dipper!” he said, gasping happily as he heard his own voice come out very deep and masculine. “It worked! Now I have a new voice!” He let out a hearty laugh in his deeper voice, relishing the sound of it as he rushed over to Mabel to rub it in her face. “Morning, Mabel!” he cheerfully addressed his still-sleeping sister. “Who’s my favorite Mabel?”

Of course, upon hearing such a startlingly strange voice, Mabel darted up out of bed, fear overriding her common sense as she grabbed a nearby golf club with the intention of driving the supposed intruder out. She certainly wasn’t set to ease when she realized that it was her brother who had spoken in such a mismatched, low tone, which was why she didn’t hesitate to give him a good whack over the head with her club. “Who are you!? What have you done with my brother?!” she demanded as she continued to beat him with the club, despite his protests. “Dipper! Don’t worry! I’ll save you from this body switching warlock!”

“Mabel, it’s me!” Dipper exclaimed as he finally got himself out of her range. “This is my voice now!! I sound awesome. Sooooounnnd aaawwwweeeesssoooommmee.”

“I know boys’ voices change, but this is weird,” Mabel frowned uncomfortably. “Weird and bad.”

“But Mabel, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me!” Dipper argued with a confident grin. “Just listen to my voice. It’s so deep and manly!”

“Eh... Mabel no like,” she cringed as she shook her head, knowing that such an adult voice did not match her twin brother’s small, young frame at all.

“Well, that’s your opinion,” Dipper shrugged. “I’m sure everyone else will absolutely love it!”

“How are you diddly-doing, Soos?” Dipper greeted the handyman as him and Mabel emerged into the gift shop. However, much like Mabel, Soos gave his own panicked reaction to the stark, sudden change in Dipper’s voice.

“Kill it!” he exclaimed fearfully, swatting at the boy with a broom. “Kill it with fire! Everyone flee!”

The gift shop was quick to empty in light of this episode as Dipper swatted Soos and his broom away. “What gives, man?! You guys all made fun of my old voice; I thought you’d like the new one!”

“Well, at least before you sounded like a real person,” Soos frowned. “Now you sound like some weird commercial dude.”

“He does, doesn’t he?” Mabel agreed with a chuckle.

“O-oh yeah? Well, I bet Stan will like my new voice,” Dipper retorted defensively as he started to head out. “Or better yet, I’ll find Steven and the Gems! I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. You’ll see! I’ll be right back after these messages!... I mean… bye.”

It didn’t take Dipper too long to find the Gems, seeing as how they were wandering about the outskirts of downtown. “Hello, Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl! How are you all on this fine afternoon?” he asked with a wide grin as he approached them, eagerly anticipating their reactions to his vocal change. All four of them stopped in their tracks as they heard him however, the equal shock on their faces clear.

“Dipper?” Steven spoke up first, his expression awash with confusion. “What happened? Why does your voice sound so-”

“Weird?!” Amethyst cut in with a brazen laugh. “You have the voice of some creepy old dude!”

“Creepy?” Dipper repeated with a dismayed frown.

“It is a bit unsettling…” Pearl said with a bit more tact. “After all, most human males’ voices usually don’t deepen completely like that until mid to late adolescence. But in your case, Dipper, this… well, this is just…”

“Weird,” Garnet echoed Amethyst, calmly adjusting her shades.

“Not you guys too!” Dipper exclaimed. “Well, you’re just going to have to get used to it, because this new voice is here to stay!”

As if in response to this firm statement, the ground suddenly began to rumble as several strange, drill-like creatures began burrowing up from underground. “Whoa! Are these those drill guys we’re looking for?” Steven asked the Gems as he watched the quadruped monsters skitter towards them with impressive speed.

“Yes,” Garnet answered as she summoned her gauntlets.

“Finally! We’ve been searching for hours!” Pearl exclaimed. “But they only respond to noticeably rich, low-pitched sounds!”

“Which means your ‘super manly’ voice must have lured them out, Dipper!” Amethyst chuckled teasingly as she elbowed the boy playfully.

“My voice?” Dipper asked incredulously, knowing that certainly couldn’t be the cause of the monsters’ sudden appearance. “Don’t be ridiculous! Of course it’s not-” He abruptly cut himself off however as the entire group of drill monsters set their sights solely on him and began to scamper towards him, proving the purple Gem’s theory right. The boy let out a frightened cry, his deep, masculine voice only attracting the creatures even more as he took off towards town to get away from them.

“It’s ok, Dipper!” Steven called out encouragingly as Dipper hurried off. “If you just stop talking forever, maybe they’ll leave you alone! Oh, wait… hm…”

Dipper wasn’t paying much attention to Steven’s flawed advice as he rushed down the sidewalk, the crowd of drill monsters at his heels the entire time. He only managed to evade them by leaping behind the junkyard fence, only to conveniently enough find McGucket happily dancing a jig on top of a nearby car.

“McGucket!” Dipper exclaimed in appropriate anger. “Your invention was a catastrophe!”

“That’s probably why I live in a dump!” McGucket shrugged.

“My own sister didn’t recognize me,” Dipper began, realizing more and more that trying to tamper with his voice had been a terrible mistake. “I scared away crowds. And now, I have a horde of rabid, bass-loving monsters chasing me!”

“Well now, here’s your problem,” McGucket said after digging around in his makeshift lab. “I gave you the wrong drinking majiggy. That one was for voice over professionals! I’m sure I’ve got a better voice in here somewhere… But you came just in time! Come sundown, you’d be back to your ridiculous old voice.”

“It was ridiculous… wasn’t it?” Dipper asked with a remorseful sigh as he pulled the tape recorder out of his pocket. The sound of his own, old voice, even as cracking and remixed as it was, somehow sounded good when compared to all o