Mabel watched as the snow drifted softly down from the sky, sticking to the already thin layer that blanketed the forest overlooking the dual cliffs that encircled the falls. It was a perfect, quiet afternoon to just sit and enjoy the flurry. The world felt like it was mirroring the peace she felt, knowing Amethyst was sitting next to her and safe out of the horrible, toxic fusion she was in with Garnet.
The same peace she felt knowing it was all thanks to her very own cunning.
She didn’t even bother to look at her as she smiled at the thought that there was nothing wrong, that everyone and everything she cared about was secure. “It’s beautiful, right? The snow? I don’t know if you ever got to see it, but I’m glad I was able to save you so you could now.” At that, she did look at her companion, the violet Gem’s Cheshire grin fueling her own.
Amethyst laughed, but the sound of it sent something up Mabel’s spine. It was both the silly, rough laugh she’d only rarely heard and also strangely high-pitched. “So nice of you to care for some defective hunk of rock like me, Pine Tree.” Yellow slit eyes narrowed in on Mabel as Amethyst’s smile widened.
“Bill!” Mabel instantly was on her feet, a move mirrored by Bill, Amethyst’s body moving erratically. “How are you-!? Why-?! Amethyst would never-!”
He laughed his achingly high-pitched laugh, this time she could no longer hear a hint of the one she’d once tried her hardest to cause. “You really are that self-centered, aren’t ya? You really think you saved her?” He cocked Amethyst’s head to the side in a way Mabel knew wasn’t comfortable. “What a load! You couldn’t save yourself, let alone Earth Angel here.” He lurched forward, pointing a thumb at Amethyst’s chest, causing Mabel to step back. “I just felt generous and picked her up from Kindergarten for ya.” All words were lost to her as she took step after trembling step away from him, heart hammering in her chest. “And now I’m here to take what’s mine BACK!”
The ground fell out beneath her as her foot only met air in its backward path. She tumbled head over heel, a silent scream caught in her throat before she jerked to a stop. Strings were attached to her limbs by a marionette controller Bill held in his hand, cutting into them as she hung over the cliff. The snow-covered trees looked like icicles instead of the pillows she’d been imagining.
She tried to fight against his jerking her back and forth, up and down, but found that her body was no longer hers. Even her voice was taken from her, not even a scream or gasp of pain escaped her lips. It was almost worse than being a specter resigned to following him around as he abused her body in increasingly horrible ways.
She had no control.
She was helpless.
With that realization her vision blurred, her breathing shallowed, and her heart beating so fast it was almost like it’d stopped. There was nothing but his laugh and pain.
Then her name cut through it all and she came to darkness, mattress underneath her and scratchy blanket on top of her. She laid still, taking stock of every scrape and bruise and ache that Bill had given her. For that moment she simply breathed, thankful she wasn’t trapped anymore.
“Mabel!” Dipper called out and she sat up slowly, groaning. “Mabel, you were… it was-”
She winced as she turned to look at him, his expression unreadable even by the moonlight streaming in from the window. “I’m fine, it was just a nightmare.”
He shook his head. “You weren’t even moving! Just… grunting and… it was like your whole body was clenching.” She flexed her heavily bandaged hand as he waited for her to say or do anything. “That didn’t seem like a normal nightmare. Are you-”
“I’m fine,” she repeated, lowering herself back. “I’ll… I’ll be fine. Let’s just go back to bed.”
For a long moment, Dipper just stared at her as she curled away from him. A void of blackness in the middle of even more darkness. He wasn’t going to leave it at that. He couldn’t.
“But what if I’m not?” he said so softly even he wasn’t sure he’d actually managed to get the words out. He could hear her move, though. The soft rustle of blankets as she did. “What if I’m not okay? What if I need to talk about what happened? What if-”
“I just want to go to sleep, okay? We can talk later,” she interrupted.
“Later, Dipper,” and with that, once she was sure he wasn’t going to say anything, did she finally lay back down. He followed soon after, his thoughts only to the note folded up in his discarded shorts pocket by the closet.
The cool crisp air from on top of the temple statue where the washer and dryer were located made for a very brisk afternoon chore-slash-picnic. None of the four in attendance minded it, however, as Connie tuned her ukulele and Steven tuned his violin while Mabel stared off into the distance and Dipper watched his musically inclined friends play.
“The sun is bright, our shirts are clean, we’re sitting up above the sea, c’mon and share this jam with me,” Connie started, trailing off as Steven started in.
“Peach or plum or strawberry, any kind is fine, you see, c’mon and share this jam with me,” he sang, going into a solo as he continued. “I’ll do my best to give this jam the sweetness it deserves.”
“And I’ll keep it fresh, I’m jamming on these tasty preserves,” Connie added with her own solo.
Once more they played together, singing in unison, “Ingredients in harmony, we mix together perfectly, c’mon and share this jam with me…”
Connie plucked out one last note, eliciting applause from Dipper as Connie and Steven grinned at each other from how well-received their duet was.
“Nice jam session,” Steven said as he placed his violin into its case carefully.
“Don’t forget the best part!” Connie said in sing-song as she took one of the flaky biscuits smothered in what else but butter and jam, about to eat it. The two boys followed her example enthusiastically. Or they would’ve had a seagull not cawed and begun to swoop at their lunch.
The four of them in tandem drew together, screaming in terror, preparing to be pecked and rustled by it. The onslaught never came. Instead there was a bang and it cawed once more, flapping off. Everything surrounding them was a familiar pink hue and the usually pronounced background noise of the forest was muted. They were encased in Steven’s bubble, protected from anything outside.
“Wow!” Dipper said as the bubble popped. “You’re getting really good at that, huh, Steven?”
Steven flushed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Heh, I guess. Now that I know how to get rid of it it’s a lot easier… maybe I’ll get the hang of my shield next,” at that Connie and Dipper exchanged a look and twin conspiratorial grins. “What?”
“You ever think of asking any of the crystal gems to train you?” Connie asked.
“Yeah!” Dipper exclaimed. “You’re getting so much stronger and better. Maybe it’s time you try to actually buckle down and train!”
The two of them stared at Steven expectantly, even Mabel seemed interested in his answer, but he shook his head in descent. “Look, guys, I know you think I’m ready, but-”
“What if we join you?” Mabel asked, standing to join her brother and friend. They looked at her in mild shock. “Would having someone with you help make your decision?”
Steven looked to his two other friends who shook their heads hard outside of her periphery. “Uh… I’m not sure…”
“Uh, yeah,” Connie began, stepping in, hands up in a halting manner. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’d be cool, but…” she looked to Dipper who jumped in as well.
“But, uh, we’re not ones to fight!” he exclaimed, putting an arm on Connie’s shoulder. “Yup. Not fighters. We’re… lovers?” he stuck out his tongue like there was a bad taste in his mouth and then he let go of Connie, shaking his head. “No, definitely not lovers… peace…ers…? Not to mention… I, uh, don’t think you really should be… exerting yourself, Mabel…”
Mabel huffed, crossing her arms so her bandaged one isn’t in sight, “I’m fine you worrywart. Besides, this is about Steven.” Mabel looked at Steven and her expression made him feel heartbroken. There was a hint of desperation there that couldn’t be mistaken for excitement, even with her smile. “Well? What d’you say?”
“Um… I mean… if Jasper agrees that I’m ready… and she says it’s okay for you to join… sure. Why not?” His tone ended a bit more upbeat than it began as his smile slowly became more genuine.
Mabel hugged Steven, causing him to flush in mild embarrassment, but the moment was colored by the look of deep betrayal Dipper leveled at them that only Steven could see. Connie tried to cut the heavy air by patting Steven on the back encouragingly, a wide fake smile on her face.
“Now. Let’s put these clothes in to dry and then find Jasper!”
Jasper was easy to find in the temple considering how often she was away on missions. She grinned the widest grin she had, all teeth, when they relayed their idea.
“You’re finally ready to train!?” Jasper exclaimed, lifting and spinning Steven easily as a sack of potatoes. “Finally!” She hugged him close, steadying him from his mild bout of vertigo, before turning her grin to the other kids. “And you three? I’d love to see what you humans can do, too!” She put Steven down as Dipper and Connie gave her equally bashful looks and shook their heads in the negative. “Oh…”
At Jasper’s sudden crestfallen look, Mabel quickly said, “I mean, I am. If you’re cool with it…”
Jasper clapped her hands and rubbed them together, grin back and more reined in. “Yes! This is gonna be fun! I was hoping for at least one of you since you’re all about Steven’s height and that’ll definitely help later,” she waved a hand as if waving off Connie and Dipper’s shared glance of worry about that statement. Then she turned from them to crack her knuckles and neck in tandem and said, “We’ll start tomorrow. I’ll find you two some gear and set up the sky arena.”
Jasper continued to stretch her joints and muscles as she went into her room in the deeper part of the temple, leaving the kids to the rest of their day. Connie and Steven went to pick out a game in the living area, leaving the twins by the warp pad. Mabel turned to join them before Dipper grabbed her shoulder. Her bad shoulder. She winced with a hiss and he let go immediately.
“Sorry!” he winced in empathy, clutching his hands. “Sorry, I just…”
Mabel rubbed at the sore spot. “It’s fine, bro-bro. What’s up?”
“I-I-” he stammered, at a lost for how to tell her everything he felt about her learning to fight, about her getting even more hurt. So instead he sighed and said, “Be careful, okay?”
She smiled and it was genuine and it made him feel even worse. “Of course.”
He watched her head to the other two, automatically vetoing one of their games without even looking at their already pared down choices, before he joined them with as much enthusiasm as he could muster with the guilt and the worry weighing on him
The next day came too soon for Dipper but seeing Mabel up before him and eating unprompted made up for the nerves. Although their great uncle Ford wasn’t really one to cook for them, mostly due to his lack of skill in the kitchen and bouts of distraction, he made them breakfast that morning and the smell of bacon and eggs soothed Dipper even more.
At least until the twins got to Steven’s and Jasper presented Mabel and Steven with their ‘gear’.
“Tape to wrap your knuckles,” Jasper tossed the roll to Mabel who caught it easily, “a helmet to protect your head,” at that Jasper formed her ‘weapon’, her own helmet, with a grin, tossing the padded leather headgear at Steven and Mabel’s feet, “and finally…”
With a heavy air of importance, Jasper dissipated her ‘weapon’ and held out two pairs of boxing gloves towards Mabel and Steven. The two took them with wide eyes full of awe and reverence.
“…your boxing gloves. The only tool in the boxer’s arsenal.”
As they were already wearing loose fitting work out clothing in preparation, Mabel and Steven took no time in strapping themselves into their new ‘armor’. Dipper watched them closely, noticing the way Mabel favored her more hurt side and how Jasper didn’t notice the bandages and bruises. Jasper waited until they were fully equipped before ushering them into her room to begin.
It was surprisingly neat for how destructive Jasper was, though it was basically a system of caves and rivers with broken-in furniture haphazardly placed anywhere and everywhere. The main feature taking up the space immediately in front of the door, however, was a plethora of workout machines and a pile of boxing bags. One was already attached to a stand, ready and waiting for them to hit it.
“Shortly before your mom passed, Steven, I was dealing with a lot of…” Jasper trailed off, arms crossed loosely as she rubbed a spot on her elbow self-consciously, “…anger.” She coughed into a hand then immediately shook her head. “Your dad, Greg, told me about how humans let out their frustrations by boxing!” She exclaimed, doing a round-house kick to the boxing bag. Twice. Mabel and Steven gasped, Steven and Dipper applauding politely afterwards. She smiled as she continued. “So I took it up, joined the local gym, even did a few competitions in Little Beirut.
“Now, to begin, usually you’d weigh. Isn’t fair against your opponent, apparently, if you’re ‘bigger’ and ‘taller’ and ‘weight a metric ton’,” she rolled her eyes and did air quotations in emphasis. “But that’s stupid and pointless. Not to mention we’re just going to be doing the basics right now.” She walked over to the punching bag and steadied it. “You two won’t be actually fighting for some time yet. Now. Let’s begin.”
And so they did.
For a while things seemed to go well. Any misstep by Mabel or Steven was thoroughly assessed and any proper form was congratulated. Dipper and Connie, whenever she was able to join them, brought the two energy boosting snacks and cheered them on from the sidelines. Not to mention most of the actual exercises were easy as well. Simple jogs around a makeshift track, push-ups and sit-ups, easy things like that, and for a while it seemed to work for the group.
However, there was one issue. An issue that only Connie and Dipper, as outside of the situation as they were, noticed. An issue that only increased as the training went on.
“PUNCH HARDER!” Jasper yelled at Steven as he weakly punched at the bag, exhausted.
“DO BETTER!” she shouted at them as they flopped to their sides from their push-ups.
“GO FASTER!” she yelled at them as they lapped around the track, both red-faced and sweaty.
“BE STRONGER!” she shouted at Mabel as the bag barely move with the force of her punch.
On and on it went. A constant barrage defamatory phrases interspersed with cheers when they accomplished what she was berating them to do. Her manic excitement at the end of every session, and the two trainees own in response, kept Dipper and Connie confused. Confused enough to not be entirely sure if they should bring it up.
It was during one such heavy training session that Connie couldn’t keep her worries to herself.
“You think it’s weird too, right?” she asked Dipper after a particularly brutal bout of shouting.
Dipper sighed in relief, the two turning to each other from their seats away from the training in tandem. “YES. Thank goodness. I thought I was losing it. I mean, we’re not even in the firing range, and it still makes me feel bad.”
Connie rubbed at her face. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Do we… do we just talk to them? Or… or her?” Dipper asked and they watched as Jasper cheered after Steven easily got through fifty sit-ups. “They… they have to notice too, right?”
It didn’t seem so, however, because once Steven caught his breath, he practically pounced on Jasper in a hug that seemed full of uncharacteristic, unbridled enthusiasm that she mirrored. Likewise, Mabel beamed at the display, stretching her bad shoulder with a wince. It all seemed so normal. But by all accounts, it definitely wasn’t.
Connie stood as the three of them headed towards the two of them and said, “Let’s talk to Jasper. I mean, she’s gotta listen if we talk to her together, right?” She smiled feebly at Dipper. He nodded in agreement of their plan.
“I’m gonna clean up here, y’all go on ahead and rest,” Jasper said as she clapped Mabel and Steven’s shoulders, causing the two exhausted novice boxers to stumble slightly. “You deserve it.” With a grin at Connie and Dipper, she said, “They’re really coming along. It’s great to finally have some people who actually have the capability to fight!” She laughed and turned away, easily carrying weights and other such paraphernalia to their spots.
“We’ll catch up with you two later,” Connie said as she and Dipper hung back.
“Yeah,” Dipper agreed, shooting a thumbs up at Mabel. “See you at the Shack?”
Steven and Mabel exchanged a look before Mabel said, “Yeah, sure, see ya.” Steven waved absently as they exited the temple door, leaving Jasper to drop her encumberments and cock her head.
“Did you two change your minds?” she asked, arms akimbo, smiling her mild lopsided smile.
Dipper shook his head in the negative. “Actually, we, uh, I mean,” he grabbed Connie and pushed her in front of him, “Connie wants to talk to you about that…”
“Wh-” Connie barely got out before almost tripping when Dipper let go. She glared at him before she turned back to Jasper and said, “We wanna know… why you’re… being so mean?”
For a long moment the three of them were silent, Dipper and Connie staring at Jasper’s shocked expression with worry, before Jasper laughed heartily. She slapped her knee as she bent at the waist, having to steady herself just in case she fell. “Oh man, you humans,” she snorted.
“I’m not being mean,” she said once she’d calmed. “I’m just making sure they’re doing the best they can do.” She went back to cleaning up. “I know they can push it to the limits, they just gotta know it. And if that means being loud,” she shrugged as she dropped a particularly heavy piece of equipment, causing the other two to wobble where they stood, “so be it.”
Dipper rubbed at his arm anxiously as Connie said, “I mean… are you sure that’s… working?”
Jasper kneeled in front of them, placing reassuring hands on their shoulders. “I’m sure just as I’m sure they know it.” She stood and turned her back to them, conversation complete in her mind.
“But,” Dipper started as Connie worried at her lip. He didn’t continue. Jasper simply waved them off and there wasn’t much for them to do but leave.
Neither Steven nor Mabel were in sight when they exited Jasper’s room. Mabel presumably on the way to the shack and they could hear the sounds of Steven’s shower running, both in effect causing them to feel awkward enough to continue out of the temple house.
Connie headed the other direction from Dipper and waved goodbye as she did. “I’ll talk with Steven tonight if you talk with Mabel?” she shouted and all Dipper could do was nod.
Quickly, Dipper found it was easier said than done.
Every chance he got to talk with her the words just wouldn’t come. When she got out of the shower, he told himself he’d wait until she was relaxed. While they were watching tv together, he told himself he’d wait until after dinner. When Ford took their plates to clean them, he told himself he’d wait until they were both in bed. When the lights were out and the house was quiet, he told himself he’d do it in the morning when she wasn’t so tired. On and on he made excuses that sounded feeble even to himself. In the end he fell asleep to his mind running the same conversation over and over until he almost thought it’d actually happened.
It was much later when Dipper woke feeling like something was missing. Or rather, someone.
As he groggily sat up in bed, he looked over and saw the covers on Mabel’s bed awkwardly arranged. Almost like she’d tried to make it look like she was still in it. But Dipper knew what she looked like sleeping and that wasn’t it. Trying to keep from panicking, he leapt off of his bed and out the room.
Being as silent as possible to keep from waking their Great Uncle Ford, while also calling for her, Dipper checked everywhere Mabel could conceivably be. The bathroom, the living room, the kitchen, the lab, even Soos’s break room. He was about to wake up Ford despite the late hour until he heard the muffled, rhythmic sounds, nearly impossible to hear, that came from outside.
The front door creaked as Dipper left the house even with him still trying to stay quiet now that he was calmed from his mounting worry. The punching sound became more clearly just that as he followed it to finally find Mabel.
Mabel was in her workout clothes and gear, punching a bag that had hung off a tree that was deeper into the woods than Dipper would’ve liked. He kept his distance, watching her while she still wasn’t aware that he was there.
For a moment he was filled with pride as he watched her go through a routine that he’d seen her and Steven do countless times. She was performing admirably, at least to his eyes, until the bag swung in a direction she wasn’t expecting and pushed her back some. He could hear her growl lowly as she glared at the bag, going back into the routine with twice the vigor. He gasped quietly at the speed she was going. His knuckles went white at the grip he had on his hiding place behind the shack as she kept on. Just as she got to the part she’d messed up at before, something happened. She cried out and reeled back, clutching at her injured arm in pain. He barely had time to lurch towards her before the force of her punches and kicks came back at her via the bag, knocking her down to the ground in a heap.
“MABEL!” Dipper shouted as he raced to her.
Mabel didn’t attempt to get up, though she did look at him in shock. “Dipper?” He dropped down to help her sit and after a moment she took his hand, begrudgingly. “Wh-what are you doing?”
“You-you weren’t there,” he started, wincing as she did as they assessed her shoulder. “I was worried that something happened or… I don’t know.” She leaned forward to keep herself upright as they sat there on the slush damped ground. “C’mon, sis, let’s go in. It’s too cold out here.”
She didn’t fight him as he helped her stand and didn’t fight as he let her use him as a crutch. It wasn’t until they got in their room that she prevented him from helping her dress into warm pajamas. By the time she’d returned she was clearly exhausted and so was Dipper.
“G’night, bro-bro,” Mabel yawned, getting into bed.
She barely laid down before he said, “Wait, hang on…” With a groan she sat up. “Mabel, I… I don’t think you should train anymore.”
“What?” she hissed.
“Look, maybe if you let Steven heal you… or, I don’t know, let yourself heal…”
She scoffed. “Well that’s not happening. And I thought you were okay with me doing this?”
“I am! I’m totally fine with it! You were doing awesome before… y’know, but!” he sighed, gathering his thoughts. “What Jasper’s saying… all that… ‘you’re weak’ and ‘puny losers’ junk. I don’t-”
“Seriously?” she snorted a quick laugh. “C’mon, Dip, that’s just her way of being motivating.”
For a moment Dipper’s quiet. “Do… you don’t think that, do you?” He waits for her to answer but she doesn’t. “You’re, like, the strongest girl I know, Mabel. And letting yourself heal doesn’t make you weak. You know that, right?”
Dipper feels his heart drop to his stomach.
“I mean,” Mabel flicked out a finger. “I wasn’t strong enough to keep Pacifica from stealing the shack,” she flicked out another one. “I wasn’t strong enough to keep Amethyst from fusing with Garnet to save us,” she flicked out a third one. “I wasn’t strong enough to keep Bill from possessing my body and almost-” she cut off with a choking sound, clenching her fist to her chest. “I’m just not strong at all.”
She cuts him off, wiping the nonexistent tears from her eyes. “I need this, Dipper. Please.”
Almost without thought he pulls out the letter from under his pillow.
“After… after what happened with Bill…” Dipper trailed off. He was too focused on the paper and his own breathing to notice Mabel flinch at the name. “We were driving back home and… I found this.” He handed it to her and she flicked her bedside lamp on to read it. “It… it really scared me, Mabel.” A tense silence fell over them as he watched her read, noting every expression she made. At her gasp, hand automatically going to cover her mouth, he looked away. “You see why I want you to stop now? All that he did to you… you’re just-”
There were tears in her eyes as Mabel looked at him and said, “He almost killed you.”
“Wh-what?! No!?” Dipper shook his head. “He-he almost killed you! I-I didn’t even know about th-the burning!” He winced, the thought like a physical blow.
“He almost killed us, and I wasn’t able to stop him,” Mabel said, tears falling from her closed eyes. “I never want to be that helpless again.” She crumbled into herself and the letter into her hand as she let the tears flow, trying hard to keep from sobbing. “I’m sorry, Dipper. I’m so sorry. I should’ve been stronger.” Head in her knees, shoulders heaving with the effort of keeping silent, she fell apart.
There was no way Dipper could’ve prepared for that reaction, let alone know how to comfort his twin sister. His other half. So… he didn’t. All he could do was sit there, stunned, as she continued crying until she finally succumbed to apathy and inched her way into bed. She didn’t even have the energy to turn out the light. Once he was sure her aftershock hiccups were done and she was easing into sleep he turned it out, barely able to fall back to sleep himself until the first lights of dawn shown through their sinisterly triangular window.
It was the first time either of them felt as hopeless as their age made them, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Mabel wouldn’t talk to Dipper at all the next day. She ignored him at breakfast, barely acknowledged him when they traded out the bathroom for their morning ablutions, and spent the time before her training in the forest. He took it in as much stride as he could, giving her room to deal with their late-night breakdown. He didn’t even bring it up with their great uncle despite Dipper’s upset at him not even commenting on her unusual behavior.
A reprieve of his constant worry came to Dipper in the form of Connie showing up at the shack just a few hours before Steven and Mabel’s training session. Unfortunately, it only led to an even deeper fear at the look on her face and the crudely drawn flyer she shoved in his face.
“We need to stop this!” Connie stressed, letting Dipper take the flyer from her and read it. “It’s gone on too long and too far.”
Dipper’s eyes widened at it, what was presumably Steven and Mabel in a boxing ring, advertising them going toe to toe against each other that night. He could tell it was Steven’s handiwork, but wasn’t entirely sure if Steven had passed them out or something along that line. “Wh-”
“I found this taped on my door this morning, I don’t think I saw any other ones on the way here,” Connie interrupted, almost as if she knew what he was about to say. “Not that it matters, what are we gonna do?!” she shouted, rubbing her arm fast enough the friction started to burn.
“Uh-” Dipper gaped, looking from her to the flyer before the door opened once more.
Mabel gave a simple wave at Connie before heading up the stairs, all while Connie and Dipper stood shock still, then came back down with her bag of training gear. As she left, she still didn’t do much more than wave at them absently and neither did they do much but watch her leave.
They stared at the door, transfixed, before they exchanged a look and followed behind her.
She was already several feet ahead of them so by the time they entered the temple she was just greeting Steven and had placed her bag down on his coffee table. The two looked back at them as they entered, Mabel more upset compared to Steven’s enthusiasm.
“You came,” Steven enthused, running to pull them both into a hug. “I knew y’all would,” he added, stepping back, smile wide on his face. At their twin looks of worry, however, it faded. “Guys?”
Mabel pulled him away from them, sending a look at Dipper that made him shiver. “Go home, Dipper,” was all she said before Jasper opened her door, leaving it opened as she walked through. Mabel let go of Steven immediately and the two stepped towards her in tandem, almost militantly.
“You guys ready?” she smirked her crooked smile and they nodded, following her.
“Wait!” Connie cried out, unconsciously reaching out a hand. Steven looked back at her, confused. “We,” she swallowed, “I, don’t think-”
Jasper snorted as Mabel briskly passed her, Steven looking up at Jasper, still just as confused, as she crossed her arms. “Are you guys still on about whatever that was yesterday? I thought we cleared that up.” And at that she simply guided Steven through the door.
“Wh-wait,” he started, but the door shut before he could say anything else.
Connie started pacing almost immediately, hands clutching her hair, while Dipper simply stared at the door. She wasn’t sure what the sheen in his eyes was, but she didn’t like it one bit. Neither of them had any time to even begin to plan on how to get into the inner temple before the warp pad activated, it’s light enveloping the small platform.
“Ha! That was a good one, Peridot!” Lapis was giggle-snorting along with Peridot as the warp dissipated around them, Peridot holding a bubbled gem in her mechanical fingers.
“Yes, I am quiet the comedian, aren’t I,” Peridot said haughtily as she sent the bubble away.
It was then that the two of them noticed the despondent looks on Dipper and Connie’s faces.
“What’s wrong, Dipper? Are you feeling like a horse?” Lapis asked sincerely, kneeling down to his height. When all he did was blink at her, she stood in worry. “Connie?”
Connie sighed, “Has Jasper always been so…”
“Rude? Loud? Egotistical?” Lapis flicked out a finger at every word, nearly continuing her list.
Peridot snorted, crossing her limb-enhanced arms. “Yeah, that’s about right.”
Lapis kept throwing glances at Dipper as she said, “Jasper… has a lot of feelings about things. Earth, mostly, and… Rose…” Lapis sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Back during the war, she really looked up to and wanted to impress Rose. I don’t know if she ever felt she did, to be honest…”
“Well, what did she do to impress Rose?” Dipper asked, a brief relief going through Connie.
Neither Lapis nor Peridot said anything to that, which was all the confirmation Dipper and Connie needed that it wasn’t good. “Can you let us into her room?” Connie asked, causing Lapis and Peridot to look at her in confusion. “She’s been training Steven and Mabel. In boxing.”
Lapis floated over to the door to open it. “Go through mine, it’ll be the closest to hers.”
Connie and Dipper shouted their gratitude to Lapis and Peridot as they hurried through, not sparing a glance at them as they did. It wasn’t hard to follow the stream down to the cavernous space that was Jasper’s room. By the time they reached the boxing ring they were soaked and the match was just beginning. They skid in just as Jasper was counting down.
“-two… one… fight!”
As Mabel and Steven started to circle each other, Dipper and Connie immediately noticed the difference in the two’s expressions. Mabel was all steely gazed concentration while Steven looked almost scared if not just nervous. Neither, however, were prepared to throw the first punch.
Connie and Dipper made their way to the ring, nearly catching the trio’s attention before Jasper stepped between them. She simply gave them a deep look of anger before looking back at Steven.
“You two wanted to train,” Jasper said, tone brokering no discussion, “and this is the last of what I’ll be teaching you. Don’t let this be for nothing.” She cracked her knuckles and held out three fingers, beginning to count down. “Three… two… one-”
“No.” Steven said, surprising even himself. He flushed at the scrutinizing look Jasper gave him.
He glanced at Mabel, her poleaxed expression bolstering his sudden confidence. “I…I don’t want to fight. Especially not my friends. It doesn’t feel right…”
At that, Jasper looked at Mabel, almost as if she were going to ask her back her up, but what she saw there wasn’t the protégé she’d been dealing with for the past few weeks. She was looking at a small, frail human. A small, frail human who was doing little more than staring unfocused into the space in front of her without any indication of awareness.
“Please, Jasper, let’s just-”
“If you’re ever going to lead this team,” Jasper glared, “you’re going to have to learn how to do things you don’t want to do!” She seemed to be looking beyond him, through him. Like he wasn’t there. “No matter what it is, as a leader, you’ll have to bear that.” She shook her head slightly. “And that includes fighting.” Her glare deepened and he returned it full force, teeth just as bared.
“But I don’t wanna fight!”
“But you have to!”
“No! I don’t!”
“Yes! You do!”
“Why won’t you just listen to me, Rose?!”
If it weren’t for the distant sounds of waterfalls and the echo of Jasper’s yell, the stunned silence that overtook Mabel, Steven, Connie, and Dipper would’ve been quiet enough to hear a pin drop.
Jasper took a step back with a sharp inhale. “I-I, I mean…”
Without another word, Jasper turned and walked away.
She didn’t go far, just beyond another clearing that featured two waterfalls and overlooked a lake. She sat at the edge of the low cliff, oblivious as Dipper and Connie and Steven came up behind her.
It was Steven who broke the silence. “Did… did Mom make you feel… unheard?”
Jasper simply shook her head. “I was her general. Anything she needed advice on, she came to me,” she said softly, staring down as she clenched her fist over and over. “It was just… not the advice she wanted, I guess.” She looked behind at them as Mabel finally made her way over to them and the kids sat down next to her. “Maybe she was right not to.”
Steven and Connie took one side while Mabel and Dipper took the other and for a long moment the five of them took in the sounds of rushing water and let it cool and soothe them.
Jasper took in a breath before letting it out.
“So!” her voice boomed. “Maybe no actual matches. But even if you don’t want to always fight your enemies, that won’t mean they won’t want to fight you.” She pulled in Mabel and Steven with a crooked grin, mussing their hair up as she did. “So! I’m thinking maybe instead you two will just have to fight me! After more training, of course,” she laughed. It echoed through her room as the kids joined in.
There was still a palatable tension in the air, one that probably wouldn’t go away. However, it felt less like one that needed to be dealt with as it had been and more like one that would serve as a small reminder of the boundaries that were crossed and needed to be repaired. A reminder they’d need in the coming future.
Dipper watched as the snow drifted softly down from the sky, sticking to the already thin layer that blanketed the forest overlooking the dual cliffs that encircled the falls. He felt strangely light, at least for how heavy he’d been feeling for the past week, as he and Mabel turned in for bed. The attic was warm with the space heater going in the corner and cozy as they huddled under their blankets. All in all, it was a peaceful night after the tenseness of the day.
“Hey, Dip?” Mabel broke the silence Dipper had been taking in. They turned to face each other.
For a moment Mabel gathered her thoughts, the weight of them rolling around in her head. “I… I just wanted to say… thanks.” Dipper cocked his head, brow raising in confusion. “For, y’know, being there for me. Even when I didn’t want you to.”
Dipper sat up quickly and flicked on his lamp. “Mabel… I wasn’t there for you. That’s kind of the whole point.” It was her turn to look confused. “I messed up, so I had to try and fix it.”
Mabel saw the honesty in his expression and shook her head against her pillow with a weak smile. “How about we just… let Bill take the blame on this one, huh?”
Even though Dipper flinched at the reference to the demonic triangle, in the same way someone with a stubbed toe would flinch taking off a shoe, he still laughed. “Yeah, sure, let’s blame… him.”
Mabel joined in the laughter as Dipper fell back down to his bed, the effort of keeping propped up too much for his scrawny arms. They felt the oddest sense of relief at that laughter towards something that wasn’t even particularly funny. Maybe it was partially because they were giddy from exhaustion, or maybe it was just because they knew they were about to fall back into their same routine. Regardless, it died down after a moment and they basked in the comfort of it in its wake.
“… I’m ready to talk about Bill…”
The smile Dipper gave her wasn’t so much about his happiness at her opening up, but rather a reassurance for her that she could. Not only that, but she could keep whatever was too personal to tell him to herself as well. The smile Mabel gave him in return wasn’t so much about her being relieved at the fact she could open up, but rather an acknowledgement of Dipper’s reassurance. They knew well enough about each other that there wasn’t any confusion as to what those expressions meant. Their bond had been tested during this time, but it was as strong as ever as that moment attested.
Mabel, now fully able to relax without the physical pain Bill put her through, was finally able to begin healing from the emotional and mental pain he’d dealt her. And Dipper was proud to be able to be there for her as she did, the twins staying up long into the night talking about it all.