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How Dead Inside Do You Have to be to Qualify as a Zombie?

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“Bottom line is, it’s a shitty dumb game and I don’t want to play anymore.” He eyed the few other passengers, conscious of swearing in front of grown ups. The bus was mostly empty, unsurprising as the destination was nearly two hours outside of any major city. In fact, he couldn’t even name a major city in the whole state. Oregon was like Saskatchewan in Canada or Pluto. Nothing but desolate wasteland as far as anyone could see.

“Aw, come on Dip. That was one round! Just ‘cause you didn’t win the first time doesn’t mean you have to give up.” His sister was fidgeting with the purple orb.

“It has nothing to do with winning or anything.” He said, getting further agitated, “It’s stupid.”

“Connect-Four wasn’t stupid until you lost. Once.” She said, “All of a sudden, it was beneath you. I think I’m recognizing a pattern.”

Dipper ran his hands through his ponytail and adjusted the worn-out tie again. Mabel looked up from the game and grinned, she had him there.

“I thought since this had a higher number in the title, it would be more stimulating to the great Dipper Pines.” Dipper laughed and rubbed his eyes again, still catching flakey bits of mascara coming off in his palms. Their mom had insisted he wear some eye-makeup today to cover up the dark circles and once she started, she got sort of carried away. Mabel had done nothing but look sick in the corner as more and more sparkles were brushed onto his eyelids.

“It looks fine.”

“It’s still coming off though.”

“Yeah, but you can’t notice it. I mean, unless someone pointed it out.”

“Shh!” Dipper whispered, he didn’t want to draw attention to himself or the makeup. The other passengers were undisturbed. “Sorry.”

“We’ll get it all off at the stop.”

She had placed extra emphasis on ‘The Stop’. Dipper nodded and held a small smile on his face thinking of what was coming. Mabel finally got the game working again.

“Okay, do you want to try again? Third time’s a charm.”

“It’s okay. You do it.” Mabel crossed her eyes to the floor, all her attempts to engage her brother so far had failed. And she was sure that after this morning’s episode, he was still feeling like… well, bad. He redid his pony tail for the fifth time and Mabel’s hands couldn’t help but run through her short hair. She had managed to convince her parents not to shave her head for soccer season but what she got wasn’t too far off. The longest strand couldn’t have come more than an inch off of her head. Dipper was lucky in that way, she supposed. At least once it was off, it was off. Mabel would have to wait another six months before she came anywhere near her former length. And even then, it didn’t look very girlish. She bit her lip and pressed the start button on the 20 Questions Sphere. She didn’t have any specific celebrity or character in mind but she started playing anyway. The game quickly got confused, with the artificial intelligence being unable to win, as there was no actual person inside Mabel’s head. It took its sweet time, all 20 questions were up before it finally started guessing. Somehow, George Washington came up first with a small banner in black and white reading: “Was I Right?”. Mabel stopped, well technically, I guess it wasn’t right. Mabel wasn’t thinking of George Washington even though she wasn’t thinking of anyone. She hit ‘No’, and kept playing. ‘Was I Right’ flashed across the screen for the third time before Mabel clicked the yes button, she had started to pity the tiny robot and it wouldn’t really be fair to claim any kind of victory. She was just cheating. It started to make the little beeping sounds in a tiny celebration and Dipper let out a breath: happy, it sounded like, to hear that the twins were even.

“There, see? I’m dumb now too.” Mabel stuffed the toy back in her backpack, fingers brushing up against the cool blade of the scissors she’d packed. It was last minute in action though the two had been planning to bring them since the trip started. It would probably be a couple days before their mom realized the scissors had been misplaced and weeks before she would suspect the twins had snuck them off to Oregon. What could they need them for?

Dipper, tugging on the ponytail yet again, was getting desperate. They had promised each other to wait at least two hours before stopping and changing. But Dipper could feel the weight of his hair on his head and the clothes in the bag underneath him were like a hot pit in his stomach. They had never done anything like this before. They’d never even dressed in public.

“Maybe this isn’t a good idea.” Mabel stated, she could feel his nerves building from across the seat.

“What?’

“You know, maybe everyone will just… be able to tell right away.” Dipper had wide eyes now, he hadn’t anticipated this. They had been laboring over every detail of the plan for weeks, cultivating every angle, ruling out all possible errors and now, his partner in crime was pulling out at the last second.

“They won’t, what makes you say that? Of course, they won’t. With my hair and some makeup-.”

“Exactly, Dipper!” She was keeping her voice down but it was clear if she could, these words would be louder. “Your hair. You’re gonna look great, but no one’s gonna believe for a second that I’m a girl with… this.” She ran her fingers through the short tufts.  Dipper reached for her knee which she drew closer into her chest, pulling the stained t-shirt over her legs.

“Mabel-”

“I’ll be humiliated.”

“Mabel, I promise if we just-”

“And what if we go swimming, Dipper!”

“We’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it and we have a plan.” Mabel’s breathing was shallow now, rapid intakes. “Where’s the sister who doesn’t give a shit what other people think?” He asked, forcing a smile, and trying to attract Mabel’s gaze.

Mabel raised her eyes, blurry and flooding and spit out,

“We both know what happened to him.” Dipper cringed upon hearing the false pronouns. Mabel very rarely misgendered herself in private, even to prove a point. “He grew up a bit.”

The year had been rough.


Mabel was right though, she used to be different when things weren’t quite as complicated: pretty impartial to what others thought of her but as puberty dawned, they both started to face some uncomfortable realities. Some that were already doing damage and some that were still waiting to hit. In early march, Dipper had gotten his period. That took several months of counseling and talking down to keep him from hurting himself.

Mabel, maturing fast for someone her age, had already found a few too many dark hairs on her legs and arms, stole her mother’s gillette Venus and gave herself enough razor burn to be faintly red for a week. Her parents weren’t pleased and had launched into the afterschool special discussion of “natural changes” and “new feelings” that they might experience. They had managed to sit through that without exploding, gripping hotly onto each other’s hands, but then there was the one-on-one discussion with each parent. Dipper had received a training bra and a “feminine” razor while Mabel was left with a stick of old spice and an advice pamphlet on dealing with ‘Sexual Fantasies’.

The two snuck out later that night and burned the items in a small pot on the roof of the town house, playing tracks from Spring Awakening on Mabel’s tiny iPod Nano.

That was March and things had only got worse as the summer neared. Pool parties, tight clothing and dresses were all becoming quite real again and it was too hot for either twin to wear sweaters anymore. School became more and more miserable and they only found comfort in coming home and locking themselves in each other’s rooms, picking out small things to try on that wouldn’t raise suspicion.

“Isn’t that Hana’s headband?” Their father asked Mabel one night as the two watched something mindless in the living room. Mabel froze, eyeing Dipper for some kind of assistance. He looked just as panicked.

“I let him wear it, Dad.” Dipper finally said after a minute of silence. “He- uh- needed to keep the hair out of his eyes.”

“You could use a haircut, bud.” Their father nodded, “Might be smart to get one before June. You’ll overheat.”

“I’m sure he’s fine.” Dipper jumped in, wishing he’d come up with a better excuse. “He can just use my bandanas and stuff!” But the damage was done, and Mabel was at the barber the next day.

What was originally intended to be a slight trim, according to Mabel, had ended up in a near buzz, shaving down the sides and losing a lot of the volume on top. She looked more masculine than ever and even on the eighty-five degree day, wore a beanie home. She ran upstairs, clutching the hat down on her head. Both Dipper and his mom gave their father a funny look as he came up after her. He simply shrugged his shoulders and Dipper followed her to their rooms.

Mabel cried a lot that night, and yelled a lot, mostly at Dipper and their parents. But by midnight, she’d worn herself out and was not curled at the headboard of Dipper’s bed, half asleep.

“This summer’s gonna suck.” The comment came out like a snore, Dipper nodded. He rubbed her shoulder and then stood up, assuming that he’d lost his bed tonight. He rolled out a yoga mat from under the bed, this happened with some frequency, and pulled a secondary cover off of Mabel. She wouldn’t miss it.

Before he could settle in, someone knocked at the door.

“Yeah?” Dipper’s mom peaked her head out from behind the frame.

“Hey.” She whispered, seeing Mabel asleep. “He staying in with you tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“How is he?” She asked,

“Seen better days, I guess.” His mom smiled sadly.

“Guys are so particular about their hair, huh? It’s a good thing the stuff grows back.” Dipper didn’t return any kind of smile. His mother didn’t waiver.

“He really doesn’t want to play soccer this summer does he?”
“No.”

“Hm.” She rubbed her eyes under her glasses and pressed her nails against the wooden frame of the bed. “I have an idea that your father might like even better.”

“What?”

“Do you remember your Great Uncle Stanford?” Dipper raised his eyebrows. “Come on, Hana, do you?”

“The crazy old guy who lives in the middle of the woods? Does he even remember us? Does he remember anything?” The words slipped out and Dipper stopped, realizing something.

No, he probably doesn’t.

“I know, he’s old and it’s an isolated town. But it could be fun for you two, at least for the first few weeks of summer-”

“We’ll do it, Mom.”

“Huh?”

“We’ll live with… great… uncle whatever. Dan will like it. I promise.” His mom looked at the sleeping girl, skeptically.

“And I’m assuming you just had a telepathic twin moment to know he’s okay with it?”

“I just know Mom, get the tickets. Call him, whatever. Just- we’ve gotta do this.” Her eyes were wide now, it certainly wasn’t the reaction she was expecting.

“Well, okay. I’ll call him tonight.” She stood up and looked back at his sister one last time, “It’ll be good for him, to have some time in the woods. Might buff him up a little.” She finished as she stepped down the stairs.

Dipper nodded, hiding the internal discomfort, he knew it wouldn’t matter soon. He had a plan.

Things had come together rapidly as the school year ended. Mabel agreed to everything, letting Dipper handle the details and focusing on the big picture herself. She was gonna get to live as Mabel for a whole summer. A whole three months of hearing her real name on everyone’s lips. The prospect was terrifying and exhilarating. While Dipper was agonizing over everything that could go wrong, Mabel was daydreaming about all the potential the situation had. Certainly no one would recognize them and as long as they played their cards right regarding any conversation between Stanford and their parents, it could work out.

Potentially.

On the morning of, Mabel grabbed the scissors from the kitchen counter and skipped off, claiming she needed to cut some select choices of construction paper for any possible art projects she’d embark on. Their parents didn’t think twice about it.

She slipped it into her backpack and the twins looked at the suitcases, stupid grins on their faces. As soon as they got on the bus, they could swap and pick out the clothes they really wanted for their first day in Gravity Falls, Oregon.


“We could say you had Leukemia.” Dipper suggested without thinking, Mabel gave him a horrified look.

“We are not saying I had Leukemia, Dipper!” She slapped his arm.

“It was just an idea!”

“A terrible one, bro-bro.” She muttered, but Dipper had a smile on his face now. Ever since he’d come out, she’d taken it on herself to come up with as many Dipper and brother related nicknames as she could. They were innumerable now, but they still made Dipper smile whenever he heard them.

“We’ll figure it out. No one’s first question is gonna be, ‘What’s up with her short hair?’, unless they’re a total jerk.” Mabel nodded and looked out the window, Dipper tapped her shoulder.

“It’s gonna work, you know?” He said quietly, “We’ve planned for everything. It’s gonna work.”

Mabel smiled and nodded. She punched her twin in the arm and got one back.

The bus was slowing down now and pulling into the tiny 7/11 style convenience store. Mabel looked at Dipper and nodded, both their stomachs were turning. This was it.

The driver put it in park and stood up slowly. He looked ancient, way too old to be operating anything this big.

“Alright folks, fifteen minutes and we’ll start up again.” He said, without emotion.

Even though they were seated the furthest back, the kids snuck through the line with their stuff and got off first. Mabel grabbed Dipper’s hand and scanned the area. Dipper’s eye caught a small space behind an icebox that could work, he gave a small gesture and Mabel nodded. They went, crouched beneath a window, obscured by brick.

Mabel reached in her bag and pulled out the scissors, she was more nervous than Dipper. After all, she could mess everything up pretty easily. She grabbed Dipper’s ponytail first, grounding her hands in the greasy tangle and looked at him for approval. Dipper, whose eyes gave away his nerves, shut them and nodded. Within a few snips, the hair was on the ground and Dipper was left with a messy bob. Then, Mabel truly went to work, cleaning the edges and bringing everything close enough to a shave that it didn’t resemble anything one would call “girl hair”.

“Okay, I think it’s good.” She said, clipping the last few long strands off his right ear and setting the scissors down.

“Good?” Dipper asked anxiously.

“Enough.” Mabel replied, grinning nervously, “You look… handsome.” Dipper beamed and opened his hand for the mirror. She pulled it out of the bag as well before noticing a thin red line on the top of her brother’s earlobe.

“Oh shoot, I totally clipped your ear.”

“What?”

“I made you bleed and stuff.” Dipper’s eyes widened for a moment.

“I didn’t feel anything.” Mabel nodded.

“I guess that means you’re okay.” She looked at the scissors again, contemplative. The cut didn’t look bad, but it would at least need a band-aid. Good thing they brought first aid just in case. Dipper always thought of everything.

“Could I…” Dipper said, impatient, “Could I see the mirror?”

“Oh! Yeah, sorry.” She handed it over and grabbed. “I have to go change, I’ll meet you on the bus in ten.” Her words fell on deaf ears, Dipper was looking at his reflection in the tiny powder mirror, covered in dust, and liking what he saw for the first time.

“I…” He started and then noticed that Mabel was gone. “Thanks Mabel.”

In the single bathroom (thank God), Mabel went through what she had practiced a million times in their room back in California. She slipped out of the shirt and pulled on the tank top and sweater she’s brought. Better to look lumpy than show off the flattest chest any girl her age was likely to have. She checked her phone. She was almost out of time. Rushing through the application of eyeshadow and blush, she took some time to cover up the choice red marks appearing on her forehead. Pulling on the skirt and socks, she emerged from the stall, shoes in hand. She didn’t even get time to look in the mirror before racing back to the door of the bus. Walking up the steps, she felt her stomach turn over what the other passenger’s might say when she reached the top. But on taking the final step, none of them were even looking at her. In fact, the only eyes that matched her gaze as she walked down the aisle were Dipper’s, awestruck by what he was seeing.

She was pretty. Mabel was pretty.

Dipper couldn’t hide his grins for long and his contagion got Mabel smiling too. By the time she reached the back of the bus, they had exploded into giggles and tears, clutching onto each other for pure joy. After calming down, Mabel whispered to her brother, “You know, we look pretty good.” which got them started all over again.

They had completely phase one, now all that was left was convincing Gravity Falls.

When they reached their stop, the initial giddiness had worn off and the twins felt nervous all over again.  There remained that very realistic possibility that their Great Uncle would see through everything instantly and call their parents, bringing what could be an incredible summer to an unwanted halt. The bus slowed for the third time and Dipper and Mabel were the only two left on the bus. They took their time lagging to the front, Mabel feeling the skirt swish around her and Dipper getting used to the lack of mass on the back of his head. He felt freed.

Their Great Uncle Stanford was dressed like he was going to a funeral for a very eccentric supervillain, eye patch and all. A ragged red fez was tilting on his forehead and the twins clutched hands, suddenly even more nervous than before. He starred the two down as they descended the stairs of the bus and one thought ran through both Dipper and Mabel’s minds, the jig was up. Frowning, he scrutinized as the bus pulled away, clicking his tongue against his teeth.

“So…” He said, finally after several agonizing moments, “You kids are my grand-niece and nephew, huh?”  Mabel’s voice was caught in her throat.

“Uh, yes sir.” Dipper made a conscionable effort to bring his voice down, resulting in a slight waiver. The older man chuckled and grabbed onto his cane, a silly looking thing with a magic eight ball attached as the head.

“Well kiddos, welcome to the Mystery Shack” He flashed a grin, “And hey! Welcome to Gravity Falls.”

 

Chapter Text

Neither one of their parents had adequately prepared them for what exactly their Grunkle Stan did in the middle of the woods in Oregon. Oh sure, he had a little store called the Mystery Shack like promised, but that wasn’t the half of it. Dipper and Mabel’s eyes widened as they looked around the tiny room, made smaller by the metric ton of tourist-y crap that lined the walls. If Stan took any pride in their open mouths, he hid it well. The older man was all business as he made his way to his assumed spot behind the cash register and began counting the bills that came while he was away. Mabel found it difficult to stop herself from touching every trinket and adorable, scratchy t-shirt. They were still gripping each other’s hands yet, nerves banging around inside them. Neither twin was certain whether or not Stan was actually buying what they were selling. Sure, he hadn’t immediately called them out and sent them home but it was a far cry from true acceptance. And he still hadn’t addressed either twin by name. That was going to be complicated.

Stan stopped and took a breath, he closed the drawer with a ‘ding’ and looked at the twins for the first time. Dipper and Mabel stared back, looking suspicious. Dipper coughed.

“Oh geez, let’s see how this goes…” Stan said, looking closely at both of them. “Alright… Daniel” He pointed at Dipper, “And Hana” he pointed at Mabel. They didn’t know what to say, Stan made a gesture as if to say, ‘Well, how’d I do?’.

“That’s right!” Dipper finally said, lowering his voice again, and nodding positively. “But, didn’t our mom tell you? Now, people are calling me Dipper- mostly.” He prompted, "Cause of the forehead thing." He pushed his hair up, showing the birthmark. Stan didn’t remember, but he also didn’t want to be thought of as a forgetful old man.

“Yeah, and I’m going by Mabel! It’s my middle name.” Mabel lied. It was actually Sherman, a family name, but she wanted to change that anyway.

Stan eyed both of them suspiciously. He would think one of these kids’ parents would have mentioned them going by different names. But hell, he was getting older, maybe one of the preparatory phone calls had slipped by him. Probably after a number of drinks.

Then again, if they were lying, who was he to break up a properly executed rouse? He lived off of those.

“Sure, sure, whatever.” He adjusted the fez’s rotation on his head and turned away from them again. “Now, do I have to ask what’s up with the hair?”

Mabel’s blood froze. What was that Dipper? They’d only ask if they were a total jerk? Well, it seemed like their Great Uncle was a total asshole.

“What- what do you mean?” Dipper stammered out. “Hair?”

“Not you, her.” He pointed towards Mabel again, and her hands went to cover up her short cut. “I didn’t think the whole ‘shaved head’ thing was popular with little girls.”

“She just-”

“Geez kid, she can talk for herself.” Stan cut him off and looked towards Mabel expectantly.

“I- uh… You see…” Mabel had the fear of God in her eyes, and looked back at Dipper for reassurance. Before he could say anything, she blurted out “I have Leukemia!”

Dipper and Stan’s eyes bulged. There was total silence in the shack. Stan, ashamed of having provoked such a response, gripped the counter and Mabel looked like she was about to pass out. Dipper coughed. Again. A tall hispanic man with a thick belly and doe eyes entered through the front door. All three turned.

“Mister Pines!” He shouted, “I found the snake family living in the walls of the Shack and one of them bit me, but I don’t think they’re poisonous but also the color in my eyes is fading a little!” He paused to take a breath before noticing the 12 year olds in the room. “Oh, who are these little dudes?”

Stan, composing himself, regained some of his initial sarcasm and responded.

“My grand-niece and nephew. They’re gonna be working here for the summer.” The man’s eyes got wider and he smiled.

“New coworkers! Sweet! Aw dudes, we are gonna get to know each other super well.” He knelt down to face the twins. “Folks call me Soos.”

“Don’t get them started on names, we’ll be here for half an hour.” Stan said, going back to the register and recounting. Dipper and Mabel blushed.

“I’m Mabel.” She extended a head and Soos took it graciously.

“Mabel, my lady. Thou art welcome in Gravity Falls.” She laughed and perked up, no one had ever called her ‘my lady’ before, even in joking. Dipper still looked traumatized by the leukemia thing. “And woah, kid, who spit in your cereal?”

Dipper sputtered and said his name as well. Soos laughed again.

“I’m just messin’ with you, dude. I understand your confusion though, because I do it so well.”  Mabel laughed again and Soos held out his hand for a fist bump which she accepted. It was clear even if Stan appeared to be somewhat of a cranky old man, Mabel already had a friend.

“What do you mean, working here?” Dipper asked Stan, getting his attention again. “I thought we were just living with you.”

“No one lives in the Shack for free, kid.” He grinned like a con man, “Gotta pull your weight. Your sister too.” Mabel was unfazed, blushing at being called Dipper’s sister. “Soos, show the kids their room, will you?”

“Yes sir, Mister Pines.” Soos put out his hands to be grabbed by Dipper and Mabel. The trio ascended the stairs with Soos remarking, “Mabel, your hair, dude. It is so hardcore. You are gonna love Wendy.”


Dipper swept terribly, hands in all the wrong places and dust going everywhere except the ‘Dust Shame Pile’ that Wendy had designated. She and Mabel were both laughing at him from the counter location.

“Keep up the good work, kid!” Wendy said, sipping on a soda and tipping back in the tall stool. The girls then went back to whispering about something. Soos had been right, Mabel and Dipper loved Wendy. She was cool and funny and actually had some self-confidence.

Dipper frowned, ears burning, that was like, the fifteenth time someone had referred to him as ‘kid’. Meanwhile, Mabel couldn’t stop getting called ‘princess’, ‘girl’, or anything else feminine. Mabel had been so worried about not getting accepted as a girl but she couldn’t be having better luck. Meanwhile, Stan was still looking at him with a degree of suspicion.

“I didn’t exactly expect to be stuck sweeping up a dusty old shack for my summer vacation.” He muttered, both girl’s hearing him.

“Come on, Dipper. It’s not that bad. Besides, you love dumb stuff like this.” Mabel pointed to the poorly constructed mermaid skeleton on display.

“This ‘dumb stuff’ is all fake.” He said, walking over to the counter and pointing out the obvious stitches. “All of it. Everything in this store is bullshit.”

“Woah, dude. Cool it with the mouth.” Wendy said, putting all four legs of the chair back on the ground.

“Aren’t you fifteen?” Mabel asked. Wendy nodded.

“But you guys are like, twelve.” She shrugged, “It’s kind of weird. Like hearing babies talk with man voices.”

“We’re almost thirteen!” Dipper protested and Wendy shrugged again, slight smile on her face.

“Do what you want, dude.” Dipper beamed. The bell hanging on top of the wooden door rang and Mabel and Dipper turned their attention. It was a kid in a hoodie, suspect in regard to the heat of the day. Wendy nudged Mabel and she blushed and giggled. Dipper looked at both of them confused.

“What?”

“Hey Mabel.” The kid walked over to them, nearly pushing Dipper over. He moved awkwardly, lumbering around.

“Hey Norman.” Mabel was seriously blushing now, eyeing Wendy who was playing with the buttons on the register, trying to keep a smile down. “You ready to go?”

“Go where? Who is this?” Dipper asked, indignant. Mabel gave him a look which Dipper returned.

“Norman lives in town, he asked me to go to lunch with him yesterday.” Norman nodded slowly, as if remembering that yes, he did do that yesterday. Dipper’s jaw opened, looking at Wendy for an explanation but she simply covered her mouth, trying not to laugh.

“Can we talk for a minute?” Dipper asked her, grabbing his sister’s arm, eyeing Norman with suspicion. “In private?”

Mabel squinted but nodded. She trailed Dipper, trying not to laugh as Wendy made faux-making out gestures behind Norman’s back. He was oblivious, concentrating on looking for his name through the available key-chains.

Dipper turned, hidden behind a swirly display of postcards, hands on hips. Mabel stared at him, unsure of what he wanted.

“So…” She started, “you don’t like Norman?”

“I don’t have any opinion on Norman.” Dipper exclaimed quietly, “I don’t know a thing about Norman. And guess what? Neither do you, because you met him yesterday!”

“It’s a first date! You’re not supposed to know everything about a person on the first date! But he’s nice… and cute!” Dipper turned and looked back at the tall boy. Pale skin and dead eyes looked back and gave a small wave and smile. Dipper didn’t return the kindness.

“How can you already have a boyfriend after three days? Isn’t that a little crazy?” Mabel squinted and shook her head.

“I think you’re making way too big a deal out of this.” Mabel pushed Dipper’s shoulder lightly but he didn’t budge. “And he’s not my boyfriend. I’m gonna go on a date, Dipper! With a guy! I thought you might be happy for me.”

“I don’t know.” Dipper shook his head, “He seems kind of shifty. And he looks at least fifteen years old.”

“What does that matter.” She brushed off. Dipper stared at her incredulously.

“That matters a lot! It’s creepy! He could be messing with you or trying to scam you or-”

“So you think he’s lying?” Mabel asked, hurt.

“I don’t know!” Dipper raised his voice. “I just think you should get to know him a little more before going off alone with some stranger.” Mabel stared at her brother, shit, he thought, now she looked pissed.

“A real human being thought I was pretty and asked me on a date.” She stated plainly. “If that’s too hard for you to believe, maybe you’re the one who's been lying to me.” She pushed past him and dramatically took Norman’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go.” They walked out with Mabel shooting daggers at her brother. Dipper looked at Wendy who raised her eyebrows and smoothed down a stray piece of hair. They both exchanged silence, Dipper fuming.

“You knew about all that?” He asked, walking towards the counter again.

“I set them up! He was hanging around the shop yesterday, looking at her and I thought! Hey, Mabel could use a guy to obsess over.” She smiled, “So, you do the whole protective older brother thing?” Now, it was Dipper’s turn to blush.

“I just… I don’t trust that guy. He seems off.” Dipper stared at the doorway.

“In Gravity Falls? Everyone’s a bit off.” Wendy said, “If he wasn’t weird, I’d be more concerned.” Dipper nodded, unsure of what exactly she was referring to. “Maybe you need some summer romance as well.” Dipper looked back at the older girl, wide-eyed.

“What?”

“Summer in a small town you’ll never come back to? Might as well have some fun.” Wendy winked at him and Dipper’s stomach turned. He’d never been much into the whole dating thing, that was more Mabel’s forte (Sort of, she had still never been on a date until now, but she had a lot of fantasies).

“I don’t think I’d be very good at that.” Wendy laughed.

“Have you ever tried?” Dipper shook his head and Wendy nodded.

“Well, there’s your problem.” She said, “Maybe you should give it a shot.”
“What do you care about it?” Dipper asked, suddenly defensive. This very pretty girl was assuming a lot about him. And even if she was pretty (which she was), what did she know about Dipper? Or Mabel for that matter? Wendy just shrugged, oblivious to the subdued anger in Dipper’s comment.

“I got nothing better to do than play matchmaker for you little nerds.” She put her boots on the counter.

“No need.” Dipper said, moving away from the counter and picking up the broom again. “We have other things to worry about.”

“Oh?” Dipper froze. Shit. He shouldn’t have said that. “Too much summer reading?” She asked sarcastically. There was no easy way out of this one. Dipper turned around to face her again, broom in hand like a sparring sword.

“I mean…” He started, “I meant-” Stan opened the door, holding several yellow planks of wood cut into arrows.

“Who wants to hang these signs in the deepest, scariest part of the woods?” He asked, Wendy didn’t look away from Dipper. Dipper stared back, not wanting to lose, but tore away after a moment. It was too tense a situation, and too risky for him to stay. The last thing he would want would be Wendy suspecting something. She was probably the stealthiest person they’d have to fool in Gravity Falls and Dipper had just given her reasonable doubt. Dipper got halfway out the door before Wendy called his name, stopping him.

“Yeah?” He turned around, preparing for the worst. She just flashed a smile and a too cool peace sign.

“Watch out for the monsters in the woods.” Dipper nodded skeptically.

Yeah, and the creep with his sister.


When Mabel got home, Dipper was locked in their room, pouring over the pages of his found object. Finding the book had laid a pit of fire in the bottom of his stomach which he couldn’t get rid of. This wasn’t the same as the stuff in Stan’s shop. Wendy hadn’t been lying. There was definitely something strange about Gravity Falls.

Mabel pushed open the door and sighed passionately. She had a wide smile on, and was silently suggesting that Dipper make up for his dullness earlier and ask how the date went. He conceded.

“How’d it go?” Dipper didn’t look up from the journal.

“Great! Thanks for asking!” She ran to hug her brother. Her anger forgotten, it was replaced by giddy, preteen romance. On the contact, Dipper felt his stomach lurch again. So it was a success, that meant he’d probably have to see Norman around again. Mabel pulled away and looked for a reaction. Dipper gave her a faux-smile that she, thankfully, didn’t see through.

“He said my hair was punk rock.” She said, lowering her voice, “And that I looked pretty.” Dipper nodded.

“He didn’t try anything?” He asked, Mabel laughed.

“Come on, Dipper, he’s only fourteen. No need to make it weird.” Dipper put his hands up in a surrendering motion.

“Okay, okay. Just making sure. Being the protective older brother, you know.” Mabel squinted with a smile on her face.

“You know I’m older, right?”

“Figure of speech.” Mabel laughed, music to his ears. He was glad she wasn’t mad at him anymore but he was still worried. Especially with what he found in the journal. A lot of the slow movements, the pale skin, the hoodie, the dead look in his eyes. It added up to a degree. Dipper didn’t want to seem like a conspiracy theorist but whoever wrote these books seemed to know what they were talking about. And like Wendy said, stranger things have happened in Gravity Falls.

“And you like him?” Mabel laughed again, giving Dipper a confused look.

“Um, of course, dummy. I said yes, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but you like him right?” Mabel furrowed her brow, still not understanding what Dipper was asking.

“Yeah, Dipper, I just told you-”

“Well, what do you like about him then?” Dipper pressed forward. Now Mabel was frowning.

“Dipper-”

“I’m just wondering.” Mabel sighed and wrapped her sweater around the ends of her hands.

“Well, he’s cute… And he’s… quiet. Pensive! More like. And… He thinks I’m pretty. He likes me.” Now it was Dipper’s turn to sigh, “And I assume you have an opinion on that?”

“Do you guys have anything in common?”

“Why are you doing this?” Mabel asked, getting up from the bed and going over to her own. “Can’t you let this be a good thing?”

“I’m just curious about why you’re going out with this guy. I really don’t understand, he seem tall, too old and stalkery. Not exactly your type.”

“We have a lot in common!” Mabel said, offended, “He told me today, he likes 90’s boy bands! How many guys are out there who like boy bands? It’s a miracle.” Dipper humphed and turned back to the journal. “What are you reading anyway?”

He shut the cover.

“I’ll tell you tomorrow.” He put it on the table beside him. “If you’re not out all day talking to some weirdo.”

Mabel looked down at her hands, fidgeting with the daisy chain Norman had put around her wrist. The petals were coming off now, leaving small silky slips in between her fingers and floating onto the rough sheets that lined her bed. It was a sweet gesture, but one that was now decaying all over her hands.

“I wish you wouldn’t be like this, bro.” She finally said, “I couldn’t believe when Norman asked me out. It was like…” She trailed off, “Someone saw me and actually thought, wow, I like her. I think she’s pretty. That’s never happened to me. I never thought that could happen to me.” Mabel had a few select tears glinting in her eyes which she didn’t wipe away. Dipper suddenly felt like a bit of a jerk. Maybe Mabel deserved something silly like this. “People usually look at me like I have three heads. But Norman… likes me. Can’t you see that?” She pleaded. Dipper, lost in thought, realized he had to respond.

“Of course I can.” He said after a moment, “But do you like him? Or are you just excited that a boy thinks you’re cute?” Mabel, still only slightly shaken, nodded.

“I like him, Dipper.” Dipper’s face was blank, inside he wanted to keep warning his sister against seeing him again, but looking at her face, he was forced to stop. He gave her a smile and a thumbs up.

“Okay.”

Mabel smiled. Okay. Dipper looked back at the journal, maybe just keeping a close eye on her wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But that was a thought for tomorrow. Even if this Norman did turn out to be a zombie in disguise, at least he boosted Mabel’s confidence while trying to eat her.


And of course, Dipper was right.

He hated being right.

Well, maybe that wasn’t fair, he was mostly right. Norman wasn’t what he seemed, but Dipper hadn’t exactly scored big on the whole zombie thing. Dipper couldn’t tell if gnomes were worse or better. For Mabel, it seemed much worse.

She had seemed okay as they came inside, away from the gnome battleground, but as they ascended the stairs she'd stopped, taking in what had just happened outside. She had been lied to, again.

“He never liked me at all.” Dipper turned and looked at her. She was frozen in the middle of a step. “He never thought I looked pretty. He was using me the whole time.” Dipper pulled the brim of his new hat over his eyes, he didn’t want to be insensitive but what could he say. That is exactly what happened.

“I think you look pretty.” Dipper said finally. Mabel looked at him, angry tears in her eyes and didn’t respond. She tore up the rest of the stairs and slammed the door on the way into their room.

Mabel was being overdramatic, Dipper thought. She just wanted some validation, she’ll come out once she realizes this whole thing was dumb and she’s great. Dipper waited outside their room for a couple minutes before heading down to the TV room and left her alone until dinner. But even then, she didn't come down. Dipper knocked on the door multiple times and called to her. He let her know about the pineapple pizza, her favorite, in a way that was only slightly angled, but there was still no answer. He sighed, okay, he had given her space but she now she needed to let him help. He squeezed the doorknob but couldn’t get it to move. Dipper raised his eyebrows. She had locked herself in. Great.

He went downstairs and asked Stan for Wendy’s number.

She came over within fifteen minutes with the promise of pizza and the opportunity to help Mabel. Entering through the back way, Wendy immediately asked where the older twin was. Dipper was surprised by the sudden focus and determination he hadn’t seen in Wendy the first three days they’d been here.

“She’d in our room, she locked herself in.”

Wendy sighed and nodded. She asked for a slice of pizza on a paper napkin and walked upstairs.

“Mabel?” She knocked on the door, holding the slice in her free hand. “Hey, dude, lemme in. Let’s talk.” The door didn’t open, Wendy knocked again. “Just you and me, Mabel. Girl talk.”

The doorknob fidgeted and slowly turned, Wendy stepped back as the door opened. Mabel, looking down at the floor. After a moment of stillness, Mabel ran to her, wrapping her arms around the older girl’s waist. Wendy raised her arms, trying not to drip pizza grease on Mabel’s head.

“Boys are jerks.” She said, smirking “Sorry I set you up with that tool.”

“You didn’t know.” Mabel said, quietly, rubbing her eyes on Wendy’s flannel. She really didn’t know at all. “I just got so excited when I thought someone might actually be interested in me. I didn’t see he was a total lame-o.”

Wendy pulled Mabel away and looked her in the weepy eyes. She remembered feeling the same way. First dates, wondering what the endgame was to this guy. What exactly he wanted from you. Mabel looked too young to be dealing with it already. But here she was, first heartbreak before she was thirteen.

Wendy knelt down, meeting Mabel face to face.

“Listen, Mabel, you’re really pretty. You are absolutely worth dating. You are funny, and weird, and awesome and wear great sweaters and have freaking awesome hair.” Mabel blushed, clutching the ends of her sweater. “Any guy would be lucky to have you, and you know I’m not just saying that.”

Mabel nodded.

“And I know, most guys are gonna be jerks. And they’re not gonna appreciate you because they’re jerks.” She said, “But honestly, don’t let jerks tell you how to feel about yourself.”

“It’s just different, you saying it versus someone who likes me. I don’t know if that can really happen!” She muttered, slightly exasperated.

“It can.” Wendy said, definitively, “You just haven’t met someone who can handle how awesome you are yet. And you’ve got time, girl!” Mabel smiled and Wendy took her hand. “I promise I won’t set you up on any more dates if you don’t want me to.”

Mabel thought about it but shook her head.

“I’m not gonna give up that easily.”

Wendy smiled, and squeezed her fingers around Mabel’s.

“Sounds cool, dude. And just making sure, guys only or girls too?” Mabel looked up suddenly.

“Wh- what? Um, guys of course. Haha.” She sputtered. “Just... guys.” Wendy rolled her eyes, smirking.

“Okay, whatever.” Wendy put her hands up and winked. Mabel felt her cheeks redden.

As Wendy stood up, she told Mabel to grab a slice of pizza. Mabel nodded, still thinking about what Wendy had said. Girls? Mabel hadn’t even thought about… girls. She was straight, wasn’t she? It should be obvious if she wasn’t. And sure, she thought girls were pretty. But in a… friendly way. ‘I mean, everyone thinks girls are pretty, right?’, she thought, suddenly scrutinizing every interaction she’d ever had with her friends.

“Oh and Mabel,” Wendy turned, “It’s a shame, 'cause I know a couple gals in this town who are totally your type.” She winked and Mabel grimaced frantically, trying to hide the sound of her heartbeat speeding up. Shit. Maybe not as obvious as she thought.

 

Chapter Text

The twins had discovered by now that their Grunkle was a) inordinately cheap, b) a criminal, and c) a terrible substitute guardian. What little time he was spending with his grand niece and nephew was usually spent hatching tax evasion schemes with Dipper or creating new monstrosities with his sister out of failed taxidermy projects, superglue and Mabel’s horrifying imagination. The latest experiment sat proudly in the middle of the Shack, some kind of deer/fish stitched together, and had been staring at Dipper every time he entered the store. The fish had been caught on their fishing expedition a few days ago and the pair had quickly gotten to work when they got back. Digging half a doe out of storage below the shack and scaring the living daylights out of Soos when he returned for work the next morning.

Mabel and Stan got along great, actually. They were just alike. Both artists, Stan in a weirder way sure but that didn’t stop Mabel from getting him in on everything artistic she did. They were dramatic and funny, they got people to like them without even trying. And they could be mean to each other. What started out as a teasing joke here or there by now had transformed into an all-out war of verbal slaughter. Stan was an endless fountain of rude jokes about Mabel’s hair, height, braces, smile, anything he could get his hands on. And Mabel would retaliate just as fiercely, never losing the smile on her face.

“Doesn’t he hurt your feelings?” Dipper asked, astonished after a recent battle. Back home, if someone had said anything alike what Stan had just laid out, he would be left comforting Mabel for days, maybe weeks, but Mabel looked totally unaffected.

“Whaaat?” Mabel responded, drawing out the ‘a’ for dramatic purposes. “Are you kidding? Grunkle Stan is just kidding around, like always.”

“Yeah, yeah. It just seems really mean.”

“Trust me, Dip, I’m mean to him too.” Mabel was smirking now, “It’s hysterical. Yesterday, I told him he looked like a balloon that got pumped up way too far and then had all the air let out very slowly.” Dipper creased his brow.

“I’m not even sure I know what that means.”

“He’s wrinkly, duh.” Mabel shook her head, “Seriously, Dipper, you have to appreciate my genius. Do you think there are any careers that revolve around insults?” Now it was Dipper’s turn to shake his head and return to the page of the journal he’d been reading. It was better to focus on something important than to try and understand Mabel and Stan’s rapport anyway.

Now, Dipper glanced at the clock in their shared room. 11:30 A.M. He’d fallen asleep reading again. Mabel got frustrated with him keeping a light on through all hours of the night, but this was definitely more important than sleep. He glanced over at her.

She was sprawled out over the bed, mouth hanging open. This was how she ended up most nights, being a restless sleeper in a tiny bed. Dipper scooted to sit up and just started to turn to get up when Stan burst through the door to their room, suspicious grin on his freshly shaved face.

“Alright kids! It’s diner time!” Mabel was immediately awake.

“Food?” She exclaimed, rubbing her eyes, “Real non-terrible food?” Stan’s smile soured into a tight frown.

“Yeah, yeah and if you want any, you two better be dressed within the next five minutes and ready to go." He smirked and couldn't resist adding, "I don’t know how we’ll make it in time if Mabel decides to brush her hair.” Mabel laughed out loud, Grunkle Stan cackling along with her. Dipper grumbled and pulled some socks on. He didn’t want to ruin their fun, but he wasn’t gonna lie either. He didn’t like the way Stan talked to Mabel. Yeah, she got him right back most of the time but still. Sure she was tough, but too much of this kind of thing could seriously mess up her self-esteem.

Mabel was still giggling to herself as Stan walked back downstairs, proud smile on his face. She’s a good kid, he thought to himself, she could run the Shack one day if she wanted to.


Dipper was still turning the bedroom scene in his mind as the trio sat at the diner. Mabel was listing everything she wanted of the menu which Stan would then shoot down. They were still going at each other, full speed. Dipper kept his eyes on his menu.

“So what can I get Grunkle Stan?” Mabel flopped back into the cushiony seat. “You’ve said no to almost everything they serve!”

“We’re not rich folks out on holiday, Mabel.” Stan replied, taking the jelly and ketchup packets and sticking them into his pockets when Lazy Susan wasn’t looking, “We each get a relatively small appetizer and be on our way. Just like planned.”

“But I want pancakes.”

“No way, kiddo. Unless you want to pay for it.”

“Well, if you let us keep our tips…”

“Absolutely not! If I let you keep all of that sweet cash, you’d probably go spend it on something wasteful. I’m just trying to teach you about good economic planning.”

They continued bickering and Dipper started to tune out. In the back of the store, something caught his eye. It was a stand that looked like some kind of pinball machine setup, but bigger. The sign at the top read; “TEST YOUR MANLINESS”. A smaller sign just below saying, “Win game! Free pancakes!” Dipper smiled, finally a distraction.

“Don’t worry you guys, pancakes are on me.” He cracked his knuckles and started to get up. Mabel and Stan both followed his gaze to look at the back of the diner. Mabel figured out what he meant before Stan did.

“Dipper…” She started, concern in her voice.

“Sure thing kid, but I’m not paying for it.” Stan turned back around, not following.

“Not necessary, Grunkle Stan.” Dipper said, “I’m gonna beat that manliness tester over there and win us all some pancakes. Like I said, on me.”

Stan looked at Dipper, back at Mabel, then Dipper again. Mabel crossed her fingers. There was a moment of silence before Stan burst out laughing, slamming his hands down on the table and gripping onto the booth for fear of falling onto the sticky, syrupy floor.

Mabel looked down. Dipper looked straight at Stan.

“Oh- hoo- oh geez. Kid.” Stan tried to control himself, wiping a few tears from his eyes. “That is the best joke I’ve heard all week. And self-deprecating too!” He grabbed Mabel, “I guess you can learn something from your brother after all!”

“What?” Dipper asked, “I could totally beat that crappy old thing. Piece of cake, or pancake, that is.”

“Listen, Dipper, no offense,” Stan started, “but you’re not exactly the manliest little nerd on the planet.”

“You don’t think I could win?” Dipper asked. Unbelievable.

“I don’t think you could register on this game, kid.” Mabel was shooting look after look at Dipper from behind Stan. Begging him to leave it alone. Don’t provoke Stan further. Dipper looked at her, just long enough to let her know he saw her and then ignored her completely.

“Why, huh? I think I am pretty manly, Stan.” Their grunkle was holding in a laugh now, lips tucked around his teeth.

“You really wanna know?” Mabel shook her head. Dipper nodded his.

“Yeah, Stan. I’d love to know. Tell me, what is so ‘not manly’ about me?”

“You know, I’m fine actually. I don’t need any pancakes at all. So there’s no problem! Dipper, sit back down.” Mabel said nervously, pointing at the seat Dipper had been occupying just before. She had a sickly feeling inside her. Stan wouldn’t go easy on Dipper, no easier than he’d gone on her. Dipper turned his gaze to his sister, some fiery energy in his eyes.

“No, Mabel. Stan clearly has something to say. Why not let him say it?” Dipper looked back at Stan, gesturing for him to continue.

“Kid, you couldn’t win a manliness contest if you were the only guy there.” Stan narrowed his eyelids, “Look at you, girly hands, hairless chin, long eyelashes. Even your voice! You could be a soprano any day!”

“Alright, guys, geez. You’re both tough, you don’t have to prove anything-”

“In fact, when you first showed up here. I had to make sure you were the boy and not the other way around!” Hah!” Stan cackled again.

Dipper’s hands were curled up into balls, just visible to Mabel from where she was sitting. Eyes still staring Stan down.

“Come on Stan, leave him alone.”

“It’s fine, Mabel.”

“No, Dipper. I don’t like this. Forget the stupid pancakes.” Dipper didn’t respond, Stan had become disinterested and was fidgeting with the jelly again.

“Is that all you got, Stan?” Stan grinned, taking the invitation wholeheartedly.

“All I’m gonna say is, at least your sister’s got balls.”

Ah shit.

Suddenly, everything started happening in noises.

That was Dipper’s fist firmly making contact on Stan’s cheek. Mabel slapping her hand to her mouth to keep from shrieking. Stan smacking the ground as he fell out of the booth. Dipper’s teeth grinding as he pulled back for another hit.

Words like ‘You piece of shit’ and ‘Son of a bitch!’ were definetly dropping from mouths, Mabel couldn’t tell if it was Stan or Dipper. Dipper punched him again. Stan’s arms were crossed in front of his face. His nose was bleeding. Time was slow.

Then, Mabel was trying to pull Dipper off. Everyone in the diner was looking at them. Lazy Susan was yelling.

Mabel pulled Dipper off after a few tugs and they landed in a pile. Mabel putting her elbow down near some loose nail and scratching herself in the process. Great, now she had to get tested for tetanus.

“Christ, kid,” Stan wiped some blood off the top of his lip.

Dipper was shaking. His hands had a bit of blood on them, right on his knuckles. From where he punched his Great-Uncle. Oh shit. He stood up and looked back at Mabel. She was rubbing her shoulder, the scratch bleeding now as well. She gave him a look, eyes giving away supreme annoyance and a few tears as well.

Dipper blushed, grabbing his hat, which had fallen off in the tussle, and looked at the damage. Everyone was looking at them in various degrees of disgust and interest, Stan looked half pissed and half proud. Mabel looked like she was going to burst into tears.

Hey, it was his first fight with anyone over sixty five.

Before anyone had the chance to say anything, Dipper ran out the front entrance. Through the shades of the grimy windows, Stan could see him run past the car and onto some walking trail leading back into the woods. He gripped onto the table and pulled himself up. Lazy Susan angrily rushed over to him, demanding that the family leave. Stan nodded, making some comment about bad service, grabbed Mabel and walked out.

Mabel was glaring at him as they stood outside the doorway, gripping the ends of her sweater and covering the cut. Stan let out a low whistle and gazed off in the direction that Dipper had run in.

“Maybe he does have some balls.” He let out, Mabel groaned and slapped him lightly on the shoulder.

“You boys are gonna kill me.” The two made their way back to the car, shuffling awkwardly with all their new bruises starting to take form.


It felt good to be alone.

Even with Mabel, sometimes things got to be too much. He wished he hadn’t punched Grunkle Stan sure. It was causing him serious embarrassment and probably would make everyone in town think he was some kind of psycho-serial killer kid, but he was defending himself. That was manly wasn’t it?

And his sister, more importantly. He had been defending her too. Even though she didn’t really need any defense.

He was trying to imagine what Mabel was doing. Maybe Soos was giving her the first aid box, or she was complaining about the stupid thing her brother did to Wendy or those two other girls who’d started hanging around her all the time. Why did she have to be so goddamn good at making friends?

He was under a tall tree, shielded by a branch from the light rain that had started to drift over the town, huge shadowy clouds had crept in overnight and brought the normally pleasant temperature down to almost chilly. Dipper pulled his arms inside his vest and shivered. He was fine, just thin-skinned.

He was pretty deep in the woods now, not so much that it would be a problem getting back but still, deeper than he had ever gone before. He was pretty sure he couldn’t yell and be heard by anyone. Totally isolated. Which felt nice.

Until the footsteps started in. Huge footsteps.

They started off as what Dipper thought were thunderclaps, but soon it became clear that these were too consistent and close to be anything like that. Dipper felt the vibrations under him and they were getting louder and louder. He gripped his bag in front of him tight, he was covered pretty well by the trees, so whatever was coming nearer and nearer might not even see him.

Pretty soon, he could see the huge furry leg step from beyond a tree. It was coming near him. A low voice cleared the area of all nesting birds.

“I smell fear.” It commanded, “There is no point in hiding.”

Dipper felt a chill run down to his bones. He followed the orders of the voice however, crawling out from his hiding spot, still holding onto the bag. What he saw nearly knocked him back down again. The creature was covered in fur, had huge horns protruding from its head and wore only a small tattered loincloth around its waist. It almost looked human, like a hybrid of some kind. Its eyes were deep black and gave no hints as to what it was thinking.

“I- I was just resting-”

“Human.” The voice rang out again, so low that the stones shook under Dipper’s feet. The creature had pointed at Dipper.

“Y- yes.” Dipper said, pointing his own hand at himself, “What are you?” He turned his hand around.

“Chutzpar.” It gestured to itself. “That is my name.”

“Oh.”

“Are you a man?” It asked, catching Dipper off guard.

“Wh- What?” He asked, hands gripping together.

“I am a Manotaur.” He stated, “We seek those who have lost their way on the path of manhood. You seem lost. I was called to you.”

Dipper’s eyes lit up.

“So I ask again, are you a man?”

“Yes!” Dipper answered, a little too eager. “Yeah, yeah. I am.” Chutzpar offered a hand to Dipper who accepted it.

“Woah.” The monster said, “I was… I was going for a high five, dude. Not a hand holding thing.”

“Oh.” Dipper felt his face burn a little. Chutzpar sighed.

“We have a ton of work to do.” He started walking further into the forest and Dipper followed, mumbling under his breath.

“Yeah, yeah. No homo, dude.”


Both Wendy and Soos perked their heads up on hearing the Pines re-enter the Shack. They were arguing, which wasn’t surprising but the stakes appeared to have been raised. Mabel was frowning, free from the contagious grin that usually held her during the fights between her and Stan. And Stan himself seemed disgruntled as well.

“I’m saying fine! You’re right! I’m impressed with the kid, he did good! You should be proud of him.” Stan said, putting the car keys back in his pocket

“Grunkle Stan! You have to apologize to him!” Mabel exclaimed, following behind him, still clutching her elbow.

“No way.” Stan said plainly, examining the register.

Mabel groaned dramatically, smacking herself on the head with her good arm.

“Okay, okay. What happened?” Wendy said, “Where’s Dipper?” Mabel and Stan turned towards each other, each expecting the other to tell the story. Finally, Mabel groaned again and said,

“Stan called Dipper girly so he punched him and ran away.” Stan started to protest.

“I was just messing around with the kid, he doesn’t have to take everything so goddamn seriously.” Wendy coughed with intention.

“Mr. Pines, what did we say about swearing in front of the children.” Soos reminded him. Stan shrugged in response.

“These children swear more than I do.” Mabel made an offended noise.

“We do not! He’s making that up!” She said, “I only swear when it is absolutely necessary to the situation.”

“Dipper does have a bit of a terrible vocabulary.” Soos thought out loud, “Must be all that teenage angst and stuff.”

“They’re only twelve.”

“Almost thirteen!”

“Can everyone be quiet for a minute!” Wendy shouted, shutting everyone else up. “Where is Dipper?”

Stan shrugged again, “Somewhere off in the woods.” He said, “He’ll be fine, probably just punching a tree or whatever little kids do to feel manly.”

“Are you sure we don’t need to go out looking for him? It’s almost dark.” Wendy was totally acting like a mom which put a slight smile on Mabel’s face. She was still feeling nervous around her ever since their talk last week. Not that Mabel had a crush or anything but it was hard not to notice how pretty the redhead was, especially when she was criticizing Stan. She had definitely shaken Mabel down to the core, something that she thought she knew so well, her sexuality, had been blown apart in the coolest of comments and most casual discussions.  

“Mabel?” She realized she was being talked at, “Yo, Mabel?” Wendy waved her hand in front of her face.

“What? Sorry.” Mabel shook her head, waking up from her mental discussion.

“Do you think Dipper will be okay?” Wendy asked her,

“I mean, I’m not sure I wanna let him alone. What if he gets into trouble or something?” Mabel said, “He’s probably in the mood to pick fights now!”

“I’m telling you these woods are perfectly fine.” Stan pressed forward, “He’s as safe as if he were in the Shack right now.”

“Right, but the Shack isn’t exactly the golden standard of safety for angry twelve year olds either.” Mabel said, slipping back into their game easily. Wendy and Soos both nodded sheepishly.

“If he’s not home by dinner, we’ll go looking. Until then, I want you to stay in the shack, understand?”

Mabel groaned but nodded. She marched upstairs in a fashion that was becoming frequent to everyone’s ears.

Stan turned and caught Wendy glaring at him, he shrugged.

“These kids and their puberty-induced insanity.” Wendy rolled her eyes and Soos got back to fixing that light bulb he’d been focused on when everyone entered.


But 7:30 P.M. came and went and there was still no sign of Dipper. Stan had wanted to give it until eight but Mabel was tired of worrying about her brother. So she strapped Soos’ cell phone to her shorts (convenience) and set off into the woods with a flashlight and extra fuzzy sweater. Unlike Dipper, she hadn’t spent all that much time in the woods that bordered the town center, preferring to meet people at the local stores and restaurants rather than galavant in the mud. Now, she wished that had taken Dipper’s offer yesterday to search for the giant eyeball bats that he had promised were a real thing. At least then she would’ve had some sense of where she was going. In the dark and slightly raining evening, there was no moon and she was left with only the last few beams of orange sun and a crappy flashlight to guide her.

“That journal would probably help.” She mumbled to herself, scraping her knees on a rock taller than herself. “Least he could have done was dropped it by the Shack before he ran off.” A howl sounded through the trees and Mabel froze. She waved the flashlight around and didn’t catch anything but trees and grass. Her heart was still pounding but she managed to calm down enough to get down off of the rock.

“Dipper!” She called, cupping her hands in a way that really didn’t help at all, “Diiiiiiip! Lord Dippington!” She had almost exhausted every quality nickname she had for her brother and was now running into repeats and emergency supplies. How long had she been out here? It couldn’t have been longer than an hour, but she was cold, bloody, bruised, and sick of this bullshit.

“Oy.” She said, the rain had made her sweater damp and exhaustingly heavy, and on top of everything else, Dipper had kept her awake all night with his stupid nerd book.

Her eyes were drifting open and shut now, she leaned back to sit on a nearby stone, slapping herself on the face a few times when she heard something move behind her. She turned her head slowly, thinking it might just be a particularly heavy raindrop or a branch falling but as she did, she heard the same noise again in front of her. She whipped her head back, now wide awake.

“H- hey.” She got up, hearing more patters that sounded like tiny footsteps. “Hey, leave me alone.” Some great number of things was gathering around her on all sides, she turned her flashlight towards the sound.

“Mabel Pines.” A gnome stood just in front of her. “In the woods alone? How terrible.” Mabel gritted her teeth.

“You guys just cannot take a hint.” She sniffed and brushed her wet nose. Great on top of everything, she might be getting a cold.

“Hey, you’re the one in our part of the forest.” Another gnome spoke, behind her. She turned. “It’s not like we showed up on your doorstep.”

“I’m just looking for my brother.” She said, trying to face everyone at once. There did seem to be an overwhelming number of them, they easily circled her over ten times. And it was dark. “Have you seen him?”

“The other one?” A gnome said.

“He was seen with the manotaurs.”

“Spotted earlier today.”

“He’s become one of them.”

“Been absorbed into their sweaty tribe.”

Mabel shook her head,

“Woah, woah, who was he seen with? What do you mean absorbed?” She asked, shining the flashlight in their eyes. “Tell me!” She demanded.

“We can tell you everything you need to know,” The first gnome said, “if you come home with us.” Mabel rolled her eyes which the gnomes couldn’t really see.

“Yeah, right. You gotta know that’s not gonna happen. Besides, you don’t even… have any girl gnomes!” She exclaimed, the first gnome stopped, scratching his beard.

“Would that… be a problem?” Mabel’s stomach turned, considering.

“Um, I guess? Maybe? I don’t know! The point is,” She said, pulling herself together, “I am not marrying all of you.”

“You don’t really have a choice in the matter.” The gnome’s eyes turned a deep shade of red and he grinned, revealing a set of fangs. “Get her boys!”

The tiny men started towards Mabel, she screamed and flung her flashlight around batting a couple of them away from her. They couldn’t get close enough at first, but pretty soon, they started latching onto her shins and knees. One bit hard into her leg, catching her in the back of her calf.

“Fuck!” She tried to shake it loose but it held on like a leech.

“Don’t bite the queen!” One gnome called out and she felt the creature remove its grip from her legs. “Come on guys, don’t get overexcited.” Now she was feeling woozy.

She kept scraping off the gnomes but the more she did, the more replaced them, tugging her down to the ground and holding her there with hundreds of small hands.

“We have to get moving, the storm is getting worse!”

“Get off me you weird little-!” One stuffed something in her mouth which she tried to spit out with her remaining energy. God, this was how she was gonna end up, wasn’t it? Married off to several hundred tiny men in some weird, polygamous shotgun wedding. Classic. She had to hope that Dipper was doing okay and that he might be able to come and rescue her before the gnomes starting getting anywhere serious with this whole ‘queen’ thing. Mabel closed her eyes, rain mixing in with tears. She suddenly heard a voice that sounded lower than any voice she’d heard before.

“Gnomes!” Everyone stopped what they were doing. “Leave the girl. She does not belong to you.”

“We found her!” One cried out, cheers of agreement echoing in response. “We should get to keep her, it’s not fair!”

“She is a human, therefore belongs to herself.” The voice called again, Mabel strained against the bodies to see who was talking. “Let her go.”

The hands let up and she heard hundreds of feet scurry away, muttering profanity and crying out in rueful revenge. Mabel struggled to sit up, pulling against the draining weight of gravity and her sweater.

“Mabel!” Dipper called, appearing beside her. He was soaked and his eyes were wet, like Mabel, she couldn’t tell if it was rainwater or tears. He pulled her up so that she was sitting with her back to a rock. He knelt next to her.

“Hey Dipper.” Mabel coughed out, “I was looking for you.”

“I was… with these monsters. These guys.” He said, “I think I was learning a life lesson.” He swallowed, “I’m sorry I punched Grunkle Stan, I’m sorry I provoked him. I was just trying to… I don’t know, prove myself or something.”

“You were being a jerk.” Mabel said faintly, Dipper looked down, ashamed. “It’s okay, Dipper. Of course I forgive you and everything.” She tilted her head to try and see the huge being behind Dipper. “Is that… your monster friend?”

“She is bleeding.” He said, Mabel and Dipper looked down and sure enough, there was blood running down Mabel’s leg, probably from the gnome that bit her earlier, stupid dicks.

“Oh shit, Mabel we have to get you home.” Dipper turned back, “Chutzpar could carry you.”

“I could.”

“Chutzpar?” Mabel sounded the name out, “Is he Jewish? We should have him over for the… high… holy days...” She was fading fast, exhausted and hurt.

The manotaur came over and picked up the siblings, carrying both in his cradled arms. Though Chutzpar would never admit it, he enjoyed the feeling of holding the children as he walked them home, something maternal springing out under all those spasming muscles.


After Mabel got cleaned up by Grunkle Stan in the bathroom, he walked downstairs and caught Dipper staring at some mindless show.

“Kid,” He started, Dipper turned and stared at Stan, exhausted dead eyes meeting exhausted dead eyes. “I’m proud of what you did back at the diner. Takes guts to stand up to sometime bigger than you. And don’t tell anyone I said this, but you got a nice uppercut in you. Really left a mark.”

Dipper grinned and Stan returned his own toothy smile.

“Thanks Grunkle Stan.”

“No problem.” Stan turned to go, debating whether or not to tell Dipper what Mabel had let slip in the bathroom. She was half conscious and probably making things up, but he it might be best to at least mention what she'd-

He turned looked back at Dipper, he was grinning from ear to ear. Stan shook his head, better to leave it. If something was up, they'd tell him. He wandered away to his office.

Dipper was left with a glowing feeling. Maybe Stan wasn’t such a dick after all. Well, he probably was, but he thought Dipper was a badass, and that was probably better than the multi-bear’s or manotaur’s approval.

If Stan thought Dipper was manly, he was inclined to believe him.