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A Diverging in the Wood

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The skies had shifted abruptly from bright Oregon blue to shades of red-orange, even deeper and more vivid than just the color of sunlight hitting a patch of particularly awful air pollution. Even without the twin gashes that gaped across the sky and oozed substance of colors beyond the visible spectrum, it was clearly an unnatural landscape.

Stan Pines stared skywards, a hammer and a rotted old sign still held loosely with his fingers, a look of pure resignation on his worn face. He hadn't needed to look to know what had happened, but it helped to see it. In a way. Just for that final kick in the gut.

After all these years, there it was. The memory of shrieking laughter rattled around his mind. He could already feel the telltale dimness of sensation in his extremities.

Stan opened his mouth, closed it abruptly, and checked his surroundings for overly impressionable preteens who could overhear.

(In another universe -

"Fu -"

"Mr. Pines!"

Stan jerked. The voices were distant, high-pitched with panic and fear, but... familiar. Those two girls, Mabel's friends, the ones who've been hanging around the Shack for weeks - and they were running over, he could hear their footsteps thumping on the ground. Mabel could be with them,

And they were coming here.

He clutched at his left, uh, whatever used to be his hand in a futile attempt to hide it from view. "C'mon," Stan muttered to himself. "Not right now, just a little while more. Come on, come on -"

A thought burst into their mind from somewhere he didn't know, and then words that made no sense to him were spilling out of their mouth. "Axolotl, please."

An odd sensation washed over him, like he had let out a breath he hadn't been holding. Stan stumbled, unused to the feeling of having both feet solid against the ground. He hesitated in confusion for just a moment, but he had never been the kind of person to look a gift horse in the mouth.

He straightened his back and waved his hands wildly. "Kids, over here!"

Several small figures rounded the turn and came into view. Not two, three, but he knew the moment he saw blonde hair instead of glittery sweater that his niece was not among them. Was that… the Northwest girl?

"Mr. Pines, there's monsters everywhere!" the big one boomed. The girl in the glasses added, "They are destroying all the buildings! We do not know where to go."

The Northwest girl squinted at him with some trepidation, from her position half-hidden behind the other girls. "...Where's Mabel?"

"...I don't know," Stan admitted, gut twisting in worry. "She's not with me." He sighed wearily. "Alright, look. I don't know what the he... uh, heck is going on -" A lie, but what wasn't when it came from him? "- but it looks to me like you girls need a place to go. Uh, where are your parents?" "Captured," Mabel's buddies chorused glumly. The Northwest girl flinched, and that was answer enough.

...Stanley Pines was not an ideal caretaker by any definition, and the number of times Dipper and Mabel got into life-threatening hijinks this summer probably proved it. Not that he was a fan of kids in the first place (at least that was what he was telling himself.) Especially rich little brats who messed with his niece and nephew.

Not to mention, his whole ticking time bomb issue. They had been granted reprieve, but for how long… well, that was anyone's guess. There had to be someone else in this town more suited to look after kids than a… something turned old con man.

"Look, girls, I'm sorry, but -" He hesitated. "But -"

Three looks of confusion hit him at once, feeling more like physical daggers than anything else.

Stan swallowed, hard. "You're all gonna have to share the kids' room for now," he said quickly, before logic could chase him down and beat him over the head with itself. "My jerk brother took the couch. But hey, it's pretty big, and unless I gotta fit another dozen people in that old Shack, we shouldn't do too bad on space." He coughed. "Anyways, less blabbing, more walking. You all know where to go, right?"

But in this universe -

- there were none.)

Stan exhaled deeply. "Fuckin' dammit."

There was a dull thud and a clatter of wood.

When Candy, Grenda, and Pacifica rounded the corner several long minutes later, there was nothing left to see but the scorched ground and the occasional rainbow-hued bubbles that burped out from its surface. Several unwise decisions later, the three reached a unanimous agreement that the bubbles tasted like strawberry.

 


 

"Doodly-doo, wandering through the post-apocalyptic landscape, doodly-doo," Soos hummed to himself, carefully peering out from behind his hiding tree for the telltale red beams of the giant eyeballs flying around.

It was almost like a movie! Except he wasn't trying to steal the world's biggest shiny rock, and instead of getting tackled by government agents, getting caught meant being turned into stone and being part of the world's biggest chair. So maybe not that much like a movie.

Maybe singing about what he was doing wasn't the best idea with all kinds of weird monsters over the place, trying to catch people and bring them… somewhere. But it reminded him of working in the Mystery Shack and it kept him calm, and that was the most important thing. That was what Abuelita had said, before she got turned into a really squishy looking chair with a face and everything.

There had been a lot of people running around, screaming and crying, but before Soos could get to them and tell them, "Don't worry doods, it'll all be okay!" they got floated away by flying eyeballs with batwings. Bateyes? Eyebats? ...Hey, that has a better ring to it!

"Making my way through a creepy forest, doo doo." Soos vaguely remembered this particular area in the woods. Back when he was a kid, some of the other guys in school said it was haunted 'cause someone had died there years and years ago. "Feels like something's watching me, doo doo."

One time, he had been dared to go in for three slices of cold cheese pizza. It was the easiest three slices of cold cheese pizza Soos ever got in his life, even though the other dood who went in ran out screaming. The only bad thing was that Mr. Pines made him stand outside the Mystery Shack and finish eating them before coming inside, so he had to start his shift five minutes late. Still worth it.

"Got one."

All of a sudden, a giant green hand reached down, grabbed him around his torso, pinning his arms to his sides, then lifted him up into the air - higher and higher, even above the canopy of trees, until he was face to face with a giant monster face with 8-balls with eyes. Half a dozen giant eyebats converged upon them, each waiting for the signal to shoot their eye beams.

Soos gulped. "This is not cool, dood."

What was the best position to get frozen in for the rest of eternity? There was only one answer to that, but he couldn't get his hands loose to form finger guns. Soos bowed his head and said mournfully, "I have failed you, Mr. Pines."

All of a sudden, he heard an odd sound come from outside the scope of his vision, like a bug slamming into flypaper. It was quickly followed by the increasingly distant, frantic flapping of wings and a final-sounding rustling of leaves.

Soos turned his head, just in time to see a mass of shadowy, spider-like hands - just like in his second most favorite anime, Quartermetal Philosopher - burst through the cover of trees, latch onto the rest of the eyebats, and drag them down with them into the darkness. Trees that… looked kinda ominous now, actually. Kind of hungry.

There was a kind of creepy silence, since Soos didn't really know what to do - not that he could do much, with a giant hand holding him. But it looked like the monster dood didn't know either. He swallowed hard, only half because he was feeling pretty hungry himself. Man, if only he hadn't left the infinite pizza slice case in the Mystery Shack...

The giant goblin monster that caught him stopped staring at the trees to squint at him suspiciously. "Sorry dood," Soos said apologetically. "I dunno what's going on either. And hey, can you stop holding me so tight? I'm getting all sweaty and man, you do not wanna touch me when I'm sweaty."

The monster knotted its eyebrows and opened its mouth as if to grunt something in reply - and howled. It spasmed and waved its hands around wildly while hopping up and down, one foot at a time, just like what Soos did whenever he stepped on a Lego.

"Woah, watch out dood!" Soos yelped as the grip around him loosened and suddenly disappeared. He hung desperately onto the open palm for a minute or two, suddenly very aware not just of how far away the ground was, but of how many sharp pointy branches lined the way down.

But he hadn't been exaggerating before, he was getting kinda sweaty. His hands slipped just a little and just like that he found himself falling, the air whistling past him. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw why the 8-ball dood was hurting so bad.

The same small dark hands from before were crawling their way up the monster's legs. Every place they touched began to melt and dissolve, kind of like what happened when Abuelita poured salt all over the slugs that ate up her roses. Now, he could see that the trees were shaking on their own, the wood of the trunks split to make mouths with sharp teeth and drool that bit eagerly onto anything they could reach.

In the split second before he hit the trees, Soos gulped nervously.

He felt branches break under him and, a few seconds later of falling later, saw them regrow over the Soos-sized hole in the canopy he had made. It felt kinda like jumping into a pool, without the water. Or the pool. Or the jumping. Man, metaphors were hard.

The forest was entirely dark, which was weird, because the sun was out and the sky was on fire because of the whole end of the world thing. It hadn't even been this dark when Soos was walking through it, just a few minutes ago. Then, there had been some sunlight poking through the top of the trees before. Now, not so much.

This wasn't even a normal dusky kind of darkness, like how the sky looked around dinner time. This type was thick and solid, the kind that covered up the whole world outside the windows whenever he woke up from a nightmare at three in the morning.

Soos could feel it on his skin, cool and tingly. It smelled a little like fabric softener.

The good thing was, the trees didn't try to eat him. The only weird thing was that their branches shifted and turned a little so he fell through more of them than he would've otherwise, which helped a little because he was falling kind of fast and even though Soos prided himself on being soft and cuddly, it would hurt a lot to hit the ground - which was coming up pretty fast. Aw, man.

But just a few feet away from breaking bones, something cold and smooth grabbed onto the back of Soos' t-shirt and hung on tight.

"Oh," Soos said slowly, trying to turn his head as much as he could. The mass of black hands squirmed in response. "Um. Hey doods? Please don't ruin my shirt. Mr. Pines gave it to me a long time ago and I only washed it a few times since, just so I could preserve the Mystery Shack magic, so, uh. It would really suck if you guys melted it. Or me. Heh, I probably should've said that first, huh?"

The hands let go. Soos plopped onto the ground, in a way that his butt kind of hurt from hitting the grass but nowhere else.

It took him a minute to realize that he had landed on something, and he reached down a hand to pick it up. The felt was rough but terribly familiar to his fingers, and Soos realized dimly exactly what was in his hands.

He picked himself up gingerly and squinted into the dark woods. There was no way out - both ends of the path had become shrouded in shadows and any kind of exit or entrance was impossible to see. A burning gaze fixated on his back, but when Soos turned around to look, there was nothing left to see but a fading glimpse of pale green light.

Distantly, the screeches of pain ended with a literal whimper. Soos decided not to think about what happened to the monster who had grabbed him up. Or those eyebats that got dragged under the trees. Or what was going to happen to him if he couldn't get out of here.

"Mr. Pines?" He asked aloud, holding onto the fez tightly with both hands. "Are you in here? You, um… you dropped your fez."

There was no reply. Soos chuckled nervously into the darkness. Man, this was just like that show he binge watched last weekend, Weirder Stuff - which made this kinda cool, but also bad because people died. "I might've, um. Squashed it with my butt." He paused. "Mr. Pines, if you don't want your fez anymore, can I have it?"

"It's coming out of your paycheck, Soos."

The forest rustled. Soos whipped around wildly, looking all over because even though the voice sounded really whisper-y and just a little distorted, like it was coming through the radio, it had the exact amount of old man grumpiness to be Stan's voice.

"Are you out there, Mr. Pines?" Soos asked the trees around him. Something heavy and slippery slid over his shoe and disappeared before he could react.

There was no reply. He thought for a moment and tried again. "Mr. Pines, did you say I can have your fez for free?"

"Keep dreaming, kid."

The voice sounded a lot louder now, around actual talking level. Something moved in the shadows, much bigger than a person. A lot more limbs than a person too.

Suddenly, something - or a lot of somethings, Soos thought, remembering the hands - yanked Stan's fez out of his slack grip. He lunged forward to grab it back, but it was gone too fast.

The forest lit up dimly with dozens, hundreds of pale green dots, like fairy lights that followed him as he moved. Now that Soos could see around him a little bit, he found his eyes drawn to the slumped figure that leaned against a toothy-looking tree a few meters away, head lowered, looking sadly at the deformed red pancake of felt in its hands.

The words came out automatically. "I'm really sorry about your fez, Mr. Pines."

"Don't sweat it," Stan said. His voice sounded hoarse and a little bit strained. When he looked up at Soos, a wry smile on his face, his eyes were glowing green. If Soos didn't know it was Stan, he would have looked kind of creepy since the rest of him was faded and monochrome like Abuelita's old pictures. "Probably shouldn't have left it lying around on the ground like that."

"So…" Soos started tentatively.

"Nope, it's still coming out of your paycheck. This thing's inherited, y'know," Stan muttered distantly, like he was thinking about something else. " Gonna cost an arm and a leg to get it looking right again."

"Woah," Soos exclaimed with the appropriate wonderment. Man, if it was inherited, then that meant that if Stan ever gave him his fez, he would really be part of the family! Then, almost as a second thought, he asked, "Hey Mr. Pines, did you get affected by the weirdness magic? Your eyes are glowing."

"...Uh, maybe. Well. Not exactly," Stan admitted, looking a bit uncomfortable. Soos could see right through him now, and not just metaphorically, which was kind of worrying. "Tell ya what, Soos. It's a long story. And, uh. This place isn't really the safest place to be. Honestly, we were gonna just let you pass through, but… well, we weren't about to let Bill's sidekicks make off with our best handyman."

Soos grinned. Stan's best handyman! ...Though, he was Stan's only handyman too. "Is there someone else with you, Mr. Pines?" He asked curiously. "You keep saying 'we.'"

Stan swore, for the first time since the kids moved in for the summer. "It's, uh, hard to explain. But it's just us in here - I mean, just me, but..." He shook his head. "You can't stay here, Soos. It takes a lot of self-control for me to keep this going. But the Shack is protected against… all this stuff. So how about you head on over, tell the kids that we're - going to take a while. And let our brother know that… "

Stan was quiet for a moment. "...Actually, tell him that -"

"They're not in the Mystery Shack, Mr. Pines," Soos said awkwardly. "I was actually just out looking for the little doods, and that was the first place I checked. There's some other people hiding in there but not Dipper or Mabel. Or the other Mr. Pines. So I guess they're out in town somewhere, wandering the post-apocalyptic, monster-filled landscape. If they didn't get taken away by the flying eyeballs."

He paused. "Oh, man."

There was a loud crack of wood, like a few dozen branches had snapped at the exact same time. "...Are you okay, Mr. Pines?" Soos asked tentatively.

Stan was quiet, staring into the distance with a kind of scary look on his face. When Soos looked at him really hard, he saw some kinda freaky stuff instead of Stan - kind of like those pictures that looked different depending on the angle. But it was okay because he had been helping Stan with his girdle for years now, so he was pretty used to seeing stuff that would make regular people lose their sanity.

SOOS? Stan asked, except he wasn't talking, not really.

"Yeah, Mr. Pines?"

THERE'S SOMETHING WE NEED YOUR HELP WITH

 


 

Dipper held onto Mabel's hand tightly and wished he never had to let go.

Being separated from his sister for the past few days had been bad enough, but almost losing her to Dippy Fresh and a perfect dream world had been almost unbearable. But even though they were still technically in the middle of the apocalypse and Great-Uncle Ford was still Bill's prisoner, for the first time in days, he felt like things would be okay. He had his sister back. Everything else was secondary. They would face them together, just like they did all summer long.

Ahead of them, Soos sang softly to himself as he unlocked the door to the Mystery Shack. Behind them, Wendy kept an iron grip on her axe. If there's anything that apocalypse training has taught me, she had said back when they had first reunited, it's that nothing stands up to more than a few whacks of this thing.

"Hey Soos," Dipper asked tentatively, taking advantage of the rare moment of quiet. "You said Grunkle Stan told you to come out here and find us, right? How come he didn't come look for us himself?"

The question had been in his mind for a while, but with all the walking and hiding from monsters, it had never seemed like the right time to ask. Even when Dipper had been wandering the town alone, he had rounded every corner hoping to see a glimpse of Stan's black suit or red fez. It meant… safety, like things would be normal again, even if he knew Stan couldn't do much against all the monsters flying around or even Bill himself, not like what Great-Uncle Ford could do with his cool looking sci-fi laser (though that hadn't been much, in the end.)

Mabel tensed with worry. The tinge of guilt in her expression was subtle enough that anyone else would have missed it. "Is he hurt?" She blurted out, clutching at his hand just a bit tighter. "Did Stan get taken away by Bill's monsters?

"Nah, doods," Soos said quickly, then held the door open as Dipper, Mabel, and Wendy ran in as fast as they could. "Mr. Pines is doing great! He's just busy fending off the bad guys who get too close to the Shack. Also it's kind of hard for him to move around now, so he stays in his room mostly."

"Now?" Mabel squinted in confusion. "Did Stan get caught in a weirdness bubble or something?"

Dipper shuddered as his imagination immediately went to places it shouldn't. What would an anime Grunkle Stan even look like? And he didn't want to think about the bird head bubble he and Wendy had gone through.

Then, curiosity hit. "...Wait, fending off? Like, by punching?" Stan's punches had been great taking down the zombies from that one time, but somehow he didn't think Bill or the other guys had the same weakness.

"Just a sec, doods. Gotta let everyone know the coast is clear!" Soos knocked twice on the door frame. "Hey everyone, it's me, Soos!"

The Shack was quiet for a bit. Dipper glanced around, but the place seemed completely empty.

"Password!" Came a sudden high-pitched whisper, barely audible, from somewhere far enough that he couldn't quite pinpoint from where it came.

"...Sorry doods," Soos said after a moment of scrunched-up, concentrated thought. "I kinda forgot. Gimme five minutes."

"Soos!" Dipper hissed, aghast - which was kind of mean, but he hadn't eaten anything other than a few bags of chips for days and he had been looking forward to a shower. 

Suddenly, every door slammed open with several loud bangs that made him jump. A veritable flood of people, manotaurs, gnomes, and various other creatures poured out (read: fell out) from anywhere from rooms to closets.

"Wait, you didn't even give them a password!" Dipper protested, a moment before the tide hit.

"Oh," Soos chuckled good-naturedly. "Dood, that was the password. Pretty smart, right?"

He opened his mouth to say something - because this was the exact opposite of a smart idea, really, what would everyone have done if monsters had gotten into the Shack? - only to be cut off when several figures rushed and pretty much jumped on him and Mabel. Before either of them could react, they were both being hugged, so tightly they could barely breath.

"Argh, Mabel, Dipper, I've missed you so much!" Grenda bellowed, sounding choked up despite the volume of her voice, each arm holding a Pines twin to her body. Candy stood behind a little after the initial round of hugging, along with a pink-faced blonde girl in a potato sack dress who could only be -

"Pacifica?" Dipper gasped at the same time as Mabel, though his outburst was a little less outright excited than it was completely disbelieving.

"...Yeah," Pacifica muttered, not meeting their eyes. "Look, it's not like I want to be staying in this rundown shack. But… I don't have anywhere to go, alright? All the other buildings in this town got taken over by monsters. I mean, this one did too, just not the kind that's going to eat me -"

The rest of her words were cut off when Mabel returned her earlier hug and practically lifted her off the ground with the force of it. "I'm glad you're okay!" She exclaimed.

Pacifica turned her head in a way that Dipper couldn't see her face. "...Yeah," she said slowly with an odd tone in her voice, like she was trying to sound reluctant or mad but really couldn't. "I was worried when - I mean. I'm glad you guys are safe too."

 


 

In the end, Dipper noticed the absence first. He swallowed the mouthful of protein bar. "Hey Soos, where is Grunkle Stan anyways? I thought... he would be the first one down to see us, now that we're back," Dipper asked, trying to hide the disappointment in his voice.

The Shack sounded a lot more muted than it did a couple minutes ago, as if everyone else had started speaking a lot quieter the moment Grunkle Stan got mentioned.

Soos jerked in realization. "Oh man, that's what I forgot! Sorry doods… I don't know what came over me. Mr. Pines is gonna be so mad that I didn't tell him that I found you guys the second we came in."

"But - didn't Grunkle Stan hear us come in?" Mabel asked, concerned. "Everyone else did, right?"

"Oh, yeah. Mr. Pines is probably - sleeping." Soos scratched at his chin. "It takes a lot to wake him up. He gets really grumpy when I do it, but I don't think he'll mind it this time. C'mon doods, let's go upstairs."

The stairs of the Shack were mostly the same, other than a few cracks in some steps that Soos said came from before Stan set some house rules. Apparently they weren't built to hold up manotaur weight. There were mattress pads and blankets scattered all over the floor, which made sense - there wasn't enough room in the Shack otherwise. Everywhere else looked pretty much normal, though.

Grunkle Stan's room, on the other hand, felt different. Dipper got the creeps just looking at it, even with Mabel at his side and Wendy standing behind them, a hand on their shoulders. The shadows that reached out from underneath looked almost like outstretched hands. The wood of the door bulged outwards, as if it was holding something in. Even the scattered temporary beds kept a careful distance away.

Soos knocked on the door, a sharp double rap. "Mr. Pines, I found Dipper and Mabel!" He said loudly. "...Oh yeah, Wendy's here too, and she wanted to know if the literal apocalypse counted as a valid excuse to not come in for work."

A long minute ticked by. "Did… Grunkle Stan hear you?" Mabel said slowly, a bit of worry entering her voice. "Soos, are you sure he's okay? How long has he been in there?"

"Well, it's been at least two days since I started wandering the wastelands -"

Dipper paled. "What?"

"Mr. Pines just needs some time to get himself together," Soos said reassuringly. "Besides, don't let him know I told you, but he's been falling apart without you two. Heh." He paused, as if he had just made a really bad joke. At the lack of reaction from everyone else, Soos seemed to come to a realization. "Oh yeah. There's something I should probably explain before -"

The door to Stan's room slammed open. A single gnarled hand came into view, holding unsteadily to the wooden frame, followed by a familiar black-panted leg.

Dipper stared with wide eyes as the rest of the figure stumbled out. There was the expertly tied western bow, the sharp cut of the Mr. Mystery suit, but there was something off in the jerkiness of the figure's movements, like a marionette on strings. And when Dipper looked at what should be Grunkle Stan just a bit too hard, there was something else there entirely.

Not-Stan looked stunned, then hopeful, then horrified. He shut his eyes almost immediately after the realization, but it was already too late - Dipper already saw everything he needed to see. 

"No, wait, it's - it's me, kids," the thing in front of them said quickly. "Your Grunkle Stan. We - know I don't really look like it right now, and I dunno how to prove it to ya, but… we can explain everything."

He and Mabel took an instinctive, fearful step backwards, holding each other's hands like that was enough to stave off the physical nightmare in front of them.

"Just… trust me."  Not-Stan pleaded.  "Please."

Dipper faltered. The amount of raw emotion embedded in that single word felt more real than anything he could see in front of him. But it was more than that too.  Wendy made a choking sound behind him, but Dipper felt like he had been transported back to somewhere else entirely. Somewhere dark and cold, the chill of steel underneath his fingers as his sister held the fate of the universe in her hands and -

Everything I've worked for, everything I care about… It's all for this family.

His Grunkle had pleaded back then, begged with an odd note in his voice that Dipper had never heard before. There was genuine fear there, a real exhaustion, and… just a tinge of helpless defeat, little enough that he could have imagined it.

(It hadn't been enough for Dipper then - nothing had been enough to convince him to trust Stan again until after the old man had explained that he had done everything just to get his twin back. Because… that was something he understood. It was something he understood more than anyone else.)

Now, he heard that same desperate note again.

With stunning clarity, Dipper knew that he had a choice to make. But unlike before, it took him no time at all to come to a decision. He didn't have to look at Mabel to know that she had done the same.

"Dipper?" Her voice was barely a whisper, nearly inaudible despite the suffocating silence. Mabel didn't have to say more for him to know what she was asking.

(His sister's voice, high and clear above the roar of wind.

Grunkle Stan, I trust you.)

Dipper nodded, the only answer he needed to give. A beat later, he and Mabel were running forward, arms outstretched, the same cry leaving both of their mouths.

"Grunkle Stan!"

Under different circumstances, Dipper would be embarrassed at the wetness prickling at the corners of his eyes. At least no one was seeing him except for Soos, Wendy (...oh no), and Mabel, who was doing the exact same thing he was except for a lot more crying.

"Wait, kids, don't -"

There was a split second of cognitive dissonance as Dipper put his arms around what should be Stan's gut and felt something else entirely. But just as quickly, he felt rough suit fabric bloom into existence to replace it - and under that, something warm instead of the numbing cold, reassuringly solid under his fingers.

A moment later, defnitely-Stan bent down onto both knees with a wince and swept them both into a hug, on his own terms. "...Hot Belgian Waffles," he muttered, clearly stunned at the new development himself. But he held onto Dipper and Mabel tightly, as if he was afraid they would disappear if he let go.

"It's the end of the world, Grunkle Stan," Mabel said primly. "If you want, you can say one bad word in front of us. But just one!"

Stan let out a strangled laugh. "I don't need it right now, sweetie. Maybe later."

"Um, so…" Wendy said slowly, taking a careful step forward. "I don't want to be that person but… What happened, exactly? Because I know what I saw and I know what I'm seeing now, it's just kind of hard to put the two together. No offense."

Soos shrugged. "To be honest, dawgs, I don't really get it myself. I'm not too great at explaining stuff either." He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Mr. Pines said he got mixed up with something really freaky. Kind of literally, too. But that was a long time ago, like years, and they worked something out. So, uh, they're kinda the same person now."

There was a long silence as everyone took in the new information. "Man," Wendy said finally, and gave a deep sigh. "First I miss Stan's secret twin brother coming back from another dimension, now this? This is so unfair."

"I said I would explain later, didn't I? Now quit blabbing already and get your butts over here." Grunkle Stan muttered, shifting slightly so he could hold his arms wider.

He refused to meet anyone else's look of disbelief. "Look, hugs help out with the whole corporeality thing. That's all. But, uh, this is a one time offer, you two, so don't expect - oof," Stan wheezed as another two bodies slammed into him, hard.

Dipper's legs started burning after a while standing in the awkward half-kneeling position, but he didn't want to move. None of them did, not even to reposition themselves from what was probably the worst arranged five-person hug in existence.

Finally, Mabel broke the silence. "Wait… so does this mean we have another Grunkle? Or just extra Grunkle?"

"Mabel, does that really matter?" Dipper asked incredulously.

"I need to include everyone in the annual family reunion invitations, Dipper!"

"Pumpkin, just go with whatever option that gets us more of your dad's banana cream pie," Stan muttered, eyes still clenched shut. "But uh, speaking of Grunkles… where is my jerk of a brother, anyways? There's one or two things I gotta tell him too, before things get crazy."

"Um," said Dipper. "Right when Weirdmageddon started, Great-Uncle Ford said he had a plan to beat Bill. He… kind of tried to shoot him, but he missed. Bill turned him into a golden statue and burned all of Ford's journals. He's been Bill's prisoner ever since."

There was a long silence.

Stan sighed. "Mabel, sweetie... I think I’m going to use that bad word now."