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Zen and the Art of Infinite Pizza Maintenance

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Okay, so here’s the thing: it’s not like Dipper means for it to be a dastardly master plan or anything. It’s not like Dipper means to screw over his sister. It’s just that he’s the one there, at dinner with their parents, when the hospital calls, because it’s a Friday night and Mabel’s always out with her friends on Friday nights, and most of Dipper’s friends are not exactly Friday night people. Dipper tends to gravitate toward the Tuesday afternooners of the world, or sometimes the Eating Cheese And Posting Things To Messageboards On Sunday At 6:45 PM While Listening To Conspiracy Podcasts crowd. They’re more his speed. Friday night people have this uncomfortable tendency to stare at him for a long time after he says anything and then, slowly, say, “Dude… what?”

Anyway. Dipper isn’t a Friday night person, so Dipper is there, that Friday night, when the hospital calls to say that Grunkle Stan fell in the shower. And so it’s Dipper who hears it, when his parents start to hiss things about “hospice” and “never agree to it” and “how many nurses” and “how can we afford” and it’s not like he plans for things to go the way they do. It just -- happens. Yeah. That’s it. It just… happens.

“Me and Mabel could go to Gravity Falls!” Dipper says. And then, when both of his parents stare at him: “For the summer, I mean. To -- take care of Grunkle Stan! Finals are next week and then, I mean, we don’t have anything to do until school starts, right?”

“Well,” Dipper’s mom says, after a loaded pause, “I guess I thought -- I mean, it’s your last summer before you head off to college. Do you kids really want to spend it looking after an old man?”

“I thought you were going to get jobs this summer,” Dipper’s dad says, frowning. “Save up for booze -- books! Books! I meant books, dear.”

“We can work in Gravity Falls,” Dipper says, ignoring the way his mom is glaring at his dad. “I mean, there’s plenty of jobs -- well, some jobs -- well, there have to be at least two jobs there for a couple of enterprising young kids like us! And we haven’t seen Grunkle Stan in forever.”

“That’s because the last time you spent time with Stan -- “

“We all know how that summer ended,” Dipper says quickly, cutting his mother off. “But this wouldn’t be like that -- we’re older now! Wiser! Plus, I mean, how many times could something like that even happen, really? I bet you didn’t even think it would happen the first time.”

Dipper’s mother and father give one another speaking looks over the mashed potatoes, looks that Dipper knows are saying things like, “Remember how much money we spent on shrinks?” and, “Our wonderful, normal children came back from Oregon believing in vampires and zombies and ghosts and gnomes,” and, “Let’s not forget that time Mabel was the laughingstock of the history fair because she gave her presentation on the Eighth and a Half President of the United States,” and, “Let’s not forget that other time we took the kids to that business dinner and your client said, ‘Dipper, you’re so self-possessed for a child your age,’ and Dipper said, ‘Better to be self-possessed than possessed by an evil triangle demon named Bill, am I right?’ and Mabel said, ‘So right,’ and the client ran screaming out of the room and fired you for raising our children on devil-worship.”

Dipper knows the looks are saying these things, because Dipper has been forced to attend every Rosh Hashana dinner, Yom Kippur break fast, Passover seder, and Thanksgiving meal that’s taken place since they returned from their summer in Gravity Falls six years ago. After a while, it got easier for everyone to just remember the arguments than to keep having them.

“What about those… helpers of his,” Dipper’s dad says, finally. “Wanda and Soup, or whatever their names were? Why don’t we just hire them to help Stan out?”

“Oh, no, not them,” Dipper says, inventing wildly. “Wendy is -- uh -- addicted to pills now! Yeah, pill addiction, very serious, definitely not safe for elder care. And Soos, you know, I hear he’s… um… a WWE wrestler? These days?”

As expected, both of Dipper’s parents begin to mutter darkly amongst themselves. Wrestlers, for reasons Dipper has never fully understood, are roundly hated in the Pines household.

“And anyway,” Dipper adds quickly, “my point is -- I mean obviously Mabel and aren’t, you know, trained professionals or anything, but we’re, uh. Young? And able bodied? So I bet if you sent us you’d only have to hire one nurse, and we could pick up the slack. Help him get -- meals and things. Books from shelves. You know.”

“Well,” Dipper’s mother says, after a few minutes.

Well,” Dipper’s father says, after a few minutes more.

“Let me get this straight,” Mabel says, several hours later. “You sold our summer for a trip to Gravity Falls and dad’s old El Camino?”

“Er,” says Dipper. “And $300?”

“You’re dead to me,” says Mabel. “I wanted you to hear it from me first.”

--

So: yeah. That’s how Dipper finds himself driving up the coast in his father’s ancient rustbucket of a car, with the backseat full of luggage and the passenger seat full of really angry twin in short-shorts and a magenta sweater. Mabel has, at least, declared him un-dead to her, but Dipper’s pretty sure it’s only because they’ve prided themselves for years on never having a fight last longer than three days, and she didn’t want to break the record. She is -- pretty obviously -- still angry at him, but instead of admitting to it she’s choosing to torture him with incessant complaining for the entire drive to Oregon.

Of course, it’s Mabel, so “complaining” might not be the right word.

“I could have gone Hilton Head,” Mabel says, jabbing Dipper in the arm to accentuate this point. “Do you know what they have in Hilton Head? They’ve got beaches, Dipper.”

“Gravity Falls has a beach.”

Ocean beaches,” Mabel tells him reprovingly, and jabs him again. “Hilton Head has ocean beaches, with beautiful people flitting around and drinks the size of my head! And also no sea monsters. I could have had a daiquiri the size of my head, Dipper, okay? I could have had five.”

Dipper rolls his eyes, but -- since he, unlike his sister, insists on looking at the road at all times while driving -- he’s pretty sure Mabel doesn’t notice. “If you drank five daiquiris the size of your head I think you’d die, Mabel.”

“Not if I paced myself,” Mabel says stubbornly. “Not if they were that frozen strawberry kind with the whipped cream and -- anyway that’s not even the important part! The important part is that if I died from daiquiris that would still be better than dying from being eaten by a sea monster.”

“That didn’t turn out to be a sea monster that time, though,” Dipper says, in what he feels is a reasonable tone of voice. “It was a robot.”

“Unless it was a robot that could spit strawberry daiquiris out of its butt I don’t want to hear it,” Mabel says. Both of them fall silent in contemplation of a massive robotic lizard with fruity frozen cocktails coming out of its ass.

“....I don’t think I’d actually put that past McGucket,” Dipper says slowly, after a minute. “Not… that I’d want to drink them.”

“I would!” Mabel says cheerfully, the irritation of the previous moment forgotten. “I bet they’d be delicious.”

“I bet they’d taste like motor oil.”

“Motor oil and abandoned dreams,” Mabel says, in wondering tones.

Dipper snorts, and Mabel jabs him in the arm again, but it’s a slightly lighter jab, and a few inches down from the sore spot from the previous -- er, however many times she’s jabbed him since they started driving, he’s lost count. He relaxes, sinking back into the seat; this, more than anything else, is an indication that Mabel is finally letting go of the anger, which is a relief. Mabel, as a person, is not well suited to anger, but that doesn’t actually mean she’s not good at it; it was bound to be an unpleasant summer if she stayed pissed the whole time.

He turns up the volume on the radio, and, as an olive branch, doesn’t argue when Mabel flips channels until she finds one of those old Sev’ral Timez songs. He just listens to their terrible, autotuned warbling, and Mabel’s equally terrible (but less autotuned) accompanying trills, and watches the highway stream by.

“So,” Mabel says eventually, “why did you sell our summer for a trip to Gravity Falls and Dad’s old El Camino?”

“And $300,” Dipper adds, mostly on principle.

“And $300,” Mabel agrees, amiably enough. “Though I still say you should have held out for more, Mom and Dad’s pockets are deeper than you think. But still -- why? I know we had fun last time, but, I mean. We were kids. I think we probably would have had fun anywhere. And you’ve never wanted to go back before, so, I mean… why? Why, Dipper? Why?”

She’s doing that thing, now, where she just repeats the question until he answers it, and Dipper knows if he doesn’t give her something soon this whole thing will end with her head and torso hanging out the window, screaming, “WHY, WHY, WHY?” as he tries frantically to get off the road, or convince her to get back in the car, before she falls out and kills herself and he feels bereft and guilty of twinicide for the rest of his natural life. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. But the thing is, Dipper doesn’t really know the answer to her question; it’s not like he’d had any intention of volunteering them to do this. He’d been as surprised as anyone to hear the idea come out of his mouth. In fact, he’s spent the past few days trying to figure out what, exactly, he thinks he’s going to get out of this trip, why on earth he’d risk Mabel’s wrath and Grunkle Stan’s... everything, just for another summer in a town that can’t possibly be as cool and interesting as he thought it was when he was twelve years old.

“I just think something seems fishy about the story, that’s all,” Dipper finds himself saying, eventually. “I mean -- don’t you think?”

“Not… really?” Mabel sounds doubtful. “I mean, he’s old. Old people break things. That’s kind of, you know, the whole thing about being old. Breaking things, and going deaf, and watching really, really bad daytime television.”

They both shudder, and then, with the silence and unthinking ease of long practice, give each other the secret fistbump they established years ago to mean that rather than getting old, they’re going to get increasingly weird instead. “Boink boink,” they say together -- their secret phrase meaning, “I bet if we add a secret phrase to this handshake it’ll really confuse people” -- and then continue with their conversation as if nothing happened.

“But,” Dipper says, “they said Grunkle Stan broke his hip in the shower. That doesn’t sound strange to you? Nothing about that strikes you as odd?”

“Well,” Mabel says slowly, “it is weird that he was in the shower. I mean, an odor like that -- it takes work! Commitment! It’s always burned into the couch for at least a week after Thanksgiving.”

“I’m saying,” Dipper says, grinning. “So here’s what I think: there’s something going on again, and Grunkle Stan’s all mixed up in it again, and we have to go help him out because -- I mean -- who else is going to do it?”

“Can’t be Wendy,” Mabel says thoughtfully, “I heard she’s addicted to pills.”

“Er,” Dipper says quickly, “nope, no truth to that one, definitely don’t tell her you heard that, or that I told you not to -- just, um. Forget it? Yeah. Also, Soos isn’t in the WWE.”

“Thank god! I didn’t want to have to write him off forever.”

“What is it about wrestlers that we hate so much?” Dipper says, honestly wondering.

“The singlets,” Mabel says darkly. “They speak of despair and a chafing we know not of.”

She falls asleep soon after, abruptly and with absolutely no announcement, like always. Dipper smiles a little, but the expression slips from his face after a few moments of silent contemplation: why had he sold their summer? It’s not like impulsiveness doesn’t run in the family -- hell, it’s not even the worst thing he’s volunteered himself and Mabel for -- but usually when he does something reckless there’s at least a point to it. Dipper doesn’t even do trains of thought that aren’t chugging steadily towards a final destination, and it bothers him not to know where this particular locomotive is going.

There probably is something fishy about Grunkle Stan’s hip, he tells himself, but it’s half-hearted.

--

Grunkle Stan looks… old.

It’s not like this is a new thing. Grunkle Stan looks old even in Dipper’s earliest memory of him, though admittedly in that case he also looks like a demented gremlin from hell -- Dipper’s earliest memory of Grunkle Stan is from his and Mabel’s fifth birthday party, and gave him nightmares until their seventh. In his defense, most five year olds would be terrified if a be-gutted gentleman of late middle age burst into the room with a mask over his face, screaming “BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA,” at the top of his lungs. In any family but Dipper’s, his twin would have joined him in horrified shrieking instead of bursting into delighted laughter, and Dipper would not have been labeled the family chicken until nearly age twelve.

Not that he’s still bitter or anything. Obviously.

Anyway, the old man looks old, and it’s not a shock except that it -- is, sort of. Because the thing is, before, it didn’t matter that parts of Grunkle Stan looked and smelled like they might be planning to quit on him at any time. They hadn’t yet, and so Dipper could go on believing that the sheer force of Stan’s personality would hold him together forever, here in this strange room, in this strange house, in this strange, strange town. Now Stan’s traded in his cane for a walker, and he looks -- tired, Dipper thinks, in this way he never did before.

“Wow, Grunkle Stan,” Mabel says, grinning, “they’ve got you on the good stuff, huh?”

“Ha! You’ve got no idea,” Grunkle Stan says, and pulls her into a rough, one-armed hug. “Glad one of you’s still got some sense -- your brother’s over there looking at me like I’m gonna croak any second here.” He clutches at his chest, slumping dramatically -- or, well, as dramatically as a man can slump two weeks out of hip replacement surgery -- and cries, “Oh god! My pacemaker! I’m coming for you, Beezlebub!”

Dipper, feeling like a complete asshole, says, “Hi, Grunkle Stan.”

“Hi, kid,” Grunkle Stan says, and he rolls his eyes, but he slaps Dipper on the back, too. “Nice of you two to come out here and and visit an old man, even if I did tell your parents I don’t need the goddamn help.”

“You’re planning to hang out with Beezlebub when you die?” Mabel says, blithely ignoring this. “No, no, that’s a bad idea. We read Paradise Lost in English this year and he’s a total yes-man, you’re gonna hate him.”

“Well, who in the hell do you suggest instead?” Grunkle Stan says. He and Mabel stare at each other for a full ten seconds, and then they both start snickering about that truly terrible pun. Dipper groans, and they ignore him to continue what has clearly become an A-B conversation which he should C his way out of, which, now that he actually thinks about his last summer here… huh. Seems about right.

Why did he think this was a good idea, again?

--

Wendy’s still behind the counter at the Mystery Shack, and weirdly in almost the exact same outfit Dipper remembers (surely erroneously?) her wearing for most of that summer when they were kids. The only thing that’s different about her is her hair, in a long braid she’s tossed over her shoulder. For a second, Dipper gets a pang of old feeling, that rush of confused, awkward yearning that he couldn’t know at the time completely characterized being twelve, but it’s just sense memory. When he blinks she’s an old friend -- okay, fine, a hot but unattainable old friend -- and he’s just happy to see her, see how she’s been.

“Dude!” she says when Dipper comes in, and then, “Holy shit, look at you, oh my god,” when Mabel steps into the room behind him. She does a little twirl, and Dipper grits his teeth and looks away, because -- yeah. He knows that time and puberty and whatever were… kind to Mabel, in ways they weren’t unkind to him, exactly. It’s more like puberty loved Mabel a little more than him, and it felt kind of bad about that, because it wasn’t technically supposed to, so at the last minute it threw Dipper a couple of uneven growth spurts and this one spot on his chin where facial hair will sometimes grow if tries really, really hard not to touch it. Mabel, on the other hand, looks like -- well, looks like the person Mabel is on the inside, bubbly and effervescent and utterly unselfconscious.

The Shack itself is eerily unchanged, and between that and Wendy’s familiar green plaid shirt and the way he and Mabel, almost instinctively, fall into old habits as they all catch up, it takes Dipper nearly twenty minutes to say, “Hey, where’s Soos?”

“Yeah,” Mabel says, “I brought him a present!”

“I wanted to -- you brought him a present?” Dipper turns to Mabel, distracted. “I didn’t know you were getting him a present, I would have gotten him a present!”

“It can be from both of us,” Mabel says concilatorially, patting him on the shoulder.

“Good,” Dipper says, and then, thinking about it, “Wait -- what is it?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” Mabel says. The grin she shoots him is so full of mischief that Dipper decides to table the conversation until he has more facts; it’s never good to go toe-to-toe with Mabel at less than full capacity.

Anyway,” Mabel says brightly to Wendy, “we have a gift for him. Where is he?”

Wendy shrugs. “Around. Doing his whole,” she frowns, and kind of wiggles her hand in the air, “y’know. Thing.”

“What ‘thing?’” Dipper says, and Wendy shrugs.

“You should probably get him to explain it to you,” she says, a little unhappily. “I wouldn’t want to -- I’m sure he’ll come around again soon. He’ll tell you about it.”

The Mystery Shack without Soos -- that’s a hell of a change. Dipper frowns down at the counter, wondering if this means that he's going to have to take over as handyman for the summer, and then immediately feels like a terrible person. "Is he," he says, wincing as he tries to find a good way to phrase it, "I mean, he's okay, right? He hasn't, like, I don't know -- "

"Become a WWE wrestler?" Mabel asks, eyes shining with concern.

Wendy gives her a look that straddles the line between amusement and confusion. "No, he's definitely not a WWE wrestler."

"Well," Mabel says cheerfully, hoping down from her spot atop the counter, "then we don't have to worry about it. Come on -- I wanna see if that candy I buried out in the woods is still there."

--

The next weeks pass in a blur.

In some ways, it’s like nothing’s changed at all; in others, it’s like Gravity Falls is a completely different place, one Dipper’s never even heard of, let alone lived in before. Lazy Susan’s still trying to fix the old spinner down at the diner, but it’s called Paul’s now, not Greasy’s; reassuringly, nobody seems to know who Paul is and they all seem really nervous when Dipper asks about him, so at least the general tone of the community hasn’t been altered while he was away. Then again, he runs into Toby Determined on the street one day, and when Toby’s wheezed his traditional greeting of, “Toby Determined, Gravity Falls Gossiper,” Dipper feels his heart sink a little.

“Yeah, Toby, I know. It’s -- I’m -- Dipper?” Dipper says this with some hope, and then wants to crawl into a hole when Toby continues to look at him blankly. “Uh, you know? I used to be -- twelve years old?”

“We all used to be twelve years old,” Toby says, nodding sagely. “I’ve always said, everyone’s been twelve years old at some point or another.”

“Except... people who haven’t turned twelve yet,” Dipper says. It is, admittedly, a lame thing to say, but he feels that it -- and the entire insane summer he spent here as a kid, what the hell -- deserves more than a suspicious squint a man whose face is a perpetual suspicious squint. “Toby, come on -- Dipper Pines? Stan’s grand-nephew?”

“Ah,” Toby says, enlightenment shining briefly in his eyes, “you were -- we had a -- Society -- “

“Nice to see you bye,” Dipper says quickly, and tears off towards the Mystery Shack. He keeps his head low after that; after further consideration, it’s probably better that the people of this town don’t remember exactly what passed between them years ago.

Anyway, it’s -- weird. Things are weird. Stan’s not as active as he once was, and also Dipper’s pretty sure he’s involved in some kind of horrible… sex thing… with his nurse, and so doesn’t want to spend too much time with him, in case he decides to share. Dipper could just hang with Mabel, except that after the first week, Mabel and Wendy start doing that thing that Dipper sort of remembers them doing, now that he thinks about it, towards the tail end of July and into August the first time around -- most of the time, they talk so quickly and with so much excitement that he can’t actually understand what they’re saying. And it’s good, that they’re getting so close; Dipper knows Mabel’s forgiven him for hijacking her summer but that she’s probably still a little mad, and anyway it’s not like he wants to talk about everything with her all the time. It’s fine and it’s familiar, and sure, maybe it is kind of a -- bummer, for him, maybe Mabel’s always made friends easier and Dipper kind of thought this summer would be -- anyway. It’s not like it matters. It’s not like it’s anything important.

--

They’ve been back in Gravity Falls for about a month the day Dipper finds himself wandering the forest, poking at plants and visiting old haunts, looking for adventure in a way that feels kind childish, now. It’s just -- Gravity Falls is still the weirdest place he’s ever been, of course, but it all seems less mysterious, less giant and unknowable and fascinating, than it did when he was younger. He wonders if it’s possible to be jaded at 18, and then if it’s possible to be jaded when you’re a regular poster on a website called We Gnome The Truth (It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!).

Then somebody drops out of a tree next to him, and he abruptly abandons the notion that adventure is worth finding. And maybe also screams. A little. In a manly way.

“Oh my god, take like five chill pills,” says -- Tree Girl, in a voice Dipper almost recognizes. She’s got short blonde hair, gelled into this kind of… softly spiky looking hairdo, and is wearing a t-shirt that says Polar bears are cool, beneath probably seven pounds of eye makeup. “This isn’t like, a private forest or anything, and if it was a private forest I’d totally own it, so, like, whatever. Get lost, you know? Or get away from my stash tree.”

“Your -- what?”

“My stash tree,” the girl says, and then rolls her eyes when Dipper looks at her blankly. “What are you, new? Half the trees in this forest have some kind of hidden compartment in them, and this one’s mine.” She shoves Dipper to the left and then knocks twice on the tree he was in front of, which splits in the center to reveal a little drawer. The girl pulls a pack of cigarettes out of it and lights one. “See?”

“Cool,” Dipper says, though he personally has read a few too many lung cancer horror stories to find any interest in smoking himself, and can’t help but notice that the girl looks a little green. “So, uh, you can hide stuff from your parents out here?”

Parents,” the girl says, and rolls her eyes. “Please. My parents wouldn’t notice if I ran through the house naked and on fire. My dad’s in Majorca with his other family most of the time, and my Mom’s a Cheesie, so you know she’s pretty much checked out mentally. I keep shit out here because if my golf instructor catches me smoking again he’s going to drop me, and I am so not losing an athletic scholarship to Harvard just because Septimus is a hypocrite.”

“You got a golf scholarship to Harvard?” Dipper says, and then, “Wait -- what’s a Cheesie?”

“What do you mean, what’s a Cheesie?”

“It... didn’t seem like a very complicated question.”

“I just can’t believe you don’t know,” the girl says. She gives him an appraising once-over. “I’ll make you a deal -- there’s a meeting right now. I’ll take you if you’ll, like, just make out with me a little once we get there, maybe a little over the clothes grope to really sell it? I wanna see if I can scandalize my mom out of it. Honestly, it’d just be nice to know she still has that many feelings left inside of her.”

Dipper, overcome at this turn of events, gawps at her for a long moment. When he does manage to get his vocal cords to respond, what they release is a shocked, high-pitched, “Wuh?”

“Or whatever,” the girl says, rolling her eyes again, “don’t do it, what do I care?”

“I’ll do it!” Dipper says quickly. “I didn’t mean I wouldn’t -- that I don’t -- I mean I definitely want to -- I’m! You! Yes!”

“Fantastic,” the girl mutters to herself, and starts to trudge off through the forest.

As he trails behind her, Dipper mostly tries not to talk, or cough, or breathe loudly, or do anything that might tempt fate to undo this stroke of ridiculously unlikely good fortune. He also, mostly as a way to pass the time, tries to place where he knows this girl from. He’s sure he’s met her somewhere before, and it’s itching at the back of his mind, underneath the caterwaul of excitement coming from the more reptilian part of his brain.

It doesn’t come to him until she leads him into a clearing filled with people sitting on yoga mats. There are young people and middle aged people and old people, happy looking people and sad looking people, men and women and kids. They only have one thing in common: they’re all staring at the large man in the question mark t-shirt at the front of the group, holding a slice of pizza.

“So it is created, so it is destroyed,” Soos says, and takes a bite of his infinite slice just as the blonde girl grabs Dipper’s arm, drags her over to a woman wearing huge diamond earrings, and snaps, “How about this for deporting myself like a Northwest lady?” before she shoves her tongue in his mouth.

Pacifica Northwest, Dipper realizes. She’s Pacifica Northwest. Oh, fuck.

--

“So,” says Dipper, “you’re running a cult now.”

“Yup,” says Soos.

“On purpose?” says Dipper.

“Not really,” says Soos, and shrugs. “I follow where the pizza leads, dude.”

“You do know that that isn’t a divine object, right?” Dipper says, just to be sure. “I mean, you got it because of -- from that -- you know. Time wish thing.”

“Who are we to say what is and is not divine?” Soos says, and then grins when Dipper stares at him. “Just kidding, dude. I know. But I don’t tell any of them, on account of they’re the sort of people who drop their lives to follow around a guy with a slice of infinite pizza.”

“Fair point,” Dipper says faintly. “That’s -- that’s a fair point.”

“Nice folks, though,” Soos says easily. “I miss the Mystery Shack, but Stan said he wouldn’t let me do my mumbo jumbo in there unless we charged for it, and I didn’t feel good about that. I’m just a guy with some pizza, you know? So I’m happy.”

“Sure,” Dipper says. He takes the slice when Soos offers it. It’s just like he remembers. It’s the best pizza he’s ever had.

--

As it turns out, having a secret girlfriend that you sister used to hate is kind of a good time. Not that Pacifica is Dipper’s girlfriend, exactly; mostly she’s a mean, mean girl who seems to really likes kissing, but Dipper is not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. Or a gift -- mouth -- in the mouth. Or whatever. There has not been a lot of kissing in his past, is the point, and now that there is suddenly so much more of it, he’s not going to question in for fear of scaring it away, or waking himself up.

Probably, though, he should have questioned why no one -- specifically Mabel, normally so up in Dipper’s business that it would take a crowbar to remove her -- has noticed him sneaking away to do said kissing, absolutely whenever he could, for the last… oh… month. Probably he should have put some his critical reasoning skills to use and figured out that that meant trouble.

Instead, he brought Pacifica to the lip of the Bottomless Pit and said, “Trust me,” and she was laughing as they fell, laughing into Dipper’s mouth light and amazed and, for once, like she actually liked him --

-- and now he is staring in horror at his sister and Wendy, who they collided with to shrieks and screams just seconds before the Pit dumped them all out, together, in a heap to one side of it. Wendy is bright red. Mabel is not wearing a shirt. Dipper so, so, so wants to die.

“So,” Pacifica says to Wendy, after a long pause. “You’re -- you know?”

Wendy shrugs. “Eh. Sometimes. I thought you were -- uh -- you know.”

“I wish,” Pacifica sighs. “Tragically, there needs to be a dick involved for me to rustle up any interest.”

“Tough break,” Wendy says sympathetically.

“For real,” Mabel agrees. “Life is so much better when you approach it as a smorgasboard of -- “

“Oh god Mabel I don’t want to know what kind of smorgasboard,” Dipper says in one breath, because he has seen his twin sister in a bra today and that alone was so much more information than he ever wanted to have. “Just -- you guys are -- together?”

“Yeah,” Mabel says, and sticks her chin out. “You got a problem with that?”

“No,” Dipper says, honestly shocked. “What -- because I used to -- “

“Well, yeah,” Mabel says, a little sheepish. “And you know -- I mean, bros before -- rhyming but non-derogatory words for women -- “

“We were twelve,” Dipper says, laughing. “And you’re not mad I’m -- I mean, because -- “

“We were twelve,” Mabel parrots back at him, and sticks out her tongue. “Even if I totally don’t get the appeal.”

“Do you have any idea what they’re talking about?” Pacifica asks Wendy in a pointed stage whisper.

“Eh,” Wendy says again, and grins. “I never really do. You get used to it after a while.”

--

Dipper blinks and it’s August, and he’s so startled that he actually hisses at the calendar a little, looks all over the room for Bill playing a trick before he accepts that it’s the truth. How can it be August already? Dipper remembers that summer he and Mabel spent here like it went on for years and years, and all this time he’s thought that was something about Gravity Falls, that maybe time stretched and spent here in a way it doesn’t everywhere else. It occurs to him, now, that maybe he was just a kid -- that it was his own youth distorting his perceptions, and not the town at all.

Either way, though, the summer’s almost over and he feels like he hasn’t talked to Grunkle Stan at all. He goes outside, where Stan’s sitting in his boxers and an undershirt sipping on a Pitt soda, and plops down next time him.

He means to pass the time the way they usually do -- that is, sitting in silence and grunting occasionally, in what Grunkle Stan says is The Way Of The Real Man -- but he finds himself fidgeting, shifting his weight in his seat.

After fifteen minutes of this, Stan groans and says, “For fuck’s sake, kid, I’m an old man inching towards death over here, would you spit it out already?”

“What’s getting old like?” Dipper blurts out, which is just. The stupidest question he’s ever asked. The absolute dumbest thing he’s ever said in his whole life. God, he’s such a child.

He’s braced for ridicule, so he’s surprised when Grunkle Stan’s voice is almost -- gentle, or as close to gentle as Stan ever gets. “You really wanna know the answer to that one, kid?”

“Yeah,” Dipper says, even though, really, he doesn’t. “Yeah, I do.”

“It’s like all the other parts of life,” Grunkle Stan sighs. “It happens quicker than you were expecting and differently than you’d like. Best you can do is enjoy it while it happens, try to roll with the punches. Oh, and don’t buy off-brand Pepto, trust me on that one. Most of the time, go generic, but you don’t want to mess around with the Pepto. You got that?”

“Uh,” Dipper says, “sure, Grunkle Stan.”

Stan settles back in his seat, looking weirdly -- satisfied about something. “Anything other burning questions, while you got me? I figure I’ve still got a few answers left in me before I kick the bucket, don’t you think?”

“Just one,” Dipper says. “Did you really break your hip in the shower?”

Grunkle Stan looks shifty -- or, well. Shiftier. “You want the truth?”

Dipper can’t help but grin. “Even when I’d be better off without it.”

“I broke it in a Zumba class,” Stan sighs, rubbing a hand over his face. “They told me down at the doctor’s that I should try to get some exercise, and I wasn’t so good at it.”

Staring blankly out at the forest, Dipper tries to picture Grunkle Stan in a Zumba class. After a long moment of contemplation, he says, “Oh my god.”

“If you tell anyone -- especially your sister -- I’ll stuff you and turn you into a museum attraction,” Grunkle Stan says, but Dipper hears the (very, very small) hint of affection in it. “You’re a good enough kid otherwise, but you’ve gotta learn when to keep your big mouth shut. Anyone ever tell you that?”

And something clicks into place for Dipper, this one small thought he’s been trying to work through all summer and the huge avalanche of others it sets into motion. “Yeah,” he says. “Well -- sort of. Thanks, Grunkle Stan.”

“Where are you going?” Stan calls after him, “I was gonna make you go get me a pizza!”

Dipper lingers on the stairs just long enough to hear Soos says, “I heard your call, my child,” and Grunkle Stan’s replying, “Oh, shut up with the my child stuff and give me that,” before he heads up to the attic. He’s got work to do.

--

At twilight two weeks before they’re set to drive back to Piedmont, Dipper settles down in the grass next to Mabel, amongst the fireflies. He hands her an envelope.

“Here,” he says. “I think I thought -- we’re going different colleges, Mabel. You’re going to have friends I’ve never met -- I’m going to have friends you’ve never met -- anyway. I think I thought that if we could just come back here, it could be… like it was, that summer. Like it was going to go on forever, and nothing would ever have to change.”

“Aw, Dipper,” Mabel says, smiling at him. “I’m kinda freaked about college too, but come on! We’re twins! The bond that cannot be broken! It’s totally gonna be great. We’ll Skype all the time, and we’ll see each other on breaks, and I bet you a million dollars Mom secretly flies one of us to surprise the other one so she can take those horrible ‘Surprise’ pictures she likes so much.”

Dipper grimaces. “No bet.”

“See?” Mabel says. “We’ve got to spend some time apart, you know all my tricks and I know all yours. It’d get boring if we didn’t learn new ones.”

They smile at each other for a second, until they reach the outer limit of acceptable sibling eye contact and look away, uncomfortable.

“Anyway,” Dipper says, clearing his throat, “I checked on Facebook, and your friends are still in Hilton Head, so I, uh. I bought you a ticket. I shouldn’t have stolen your summer without checking with you; I’m sorry. You should go have your death by face-sized daiquiri or whatever.”

Mabel opens the envelope in silence, turning the ticket over and over in her hands, before she looks up at Dipper and smiles, the dangerous, too-wide one. “Good thing this ticket’s refundable. I’ve got a much, much better idea.”

--

“DISNEYLAND OR BUST,” Mabel screams at the top of her lungs the next week, as they load the last of their luggage into the car. It’ll be a tight squeeze, the four of them and all this crap in one old El Camino, but they’ll make it work. “DIS-NEY-LAND! DIS-NEY-LAND! DIS-NEY-LAND!”

“She’ll be like this the whole way,” Dipper says in an undertone to Wendy and Pacifica. “Just so you can brace yourselves.”

Fantastic,” Pacifica says, but in that only half-sarcastic way she does sometimes when she actually means what she’s saying. Wendy just looks fond.

“Don’t you kids let anyone swindle you!” Grunkle Stan calls from the porch. He’s back to using his cane, only busting out the walker when he really needs to, and Dipper thinks that maybe he’ll carry on with the force of his personality yet, outlive them all on his specific brand of well-intentioned spite. “And you see any likely-looking rubes, you send them my way, you hear me? Soos keeps taking all my regulars and convincing them to give up all their possessions and live the Way of the Infinite Pizza. I need some new blood!”

“We will,” Mabel calls, “we promise!”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Stan grunts, which, from him, is probably as close as it gets to a heartfelt goodbye.

They take off down the road, Mabel taking the first driving shift and Dipper sitting shotgun, Wendy braiding Mabel’s hair and Pacifica already kicking the back of Dipper’s seat. It’s nice, and as he watches the highway stream by he feels this strange pang of sadness, like he’s leaving behind a place he’s lived in all his life, instead of two different summers right on the precipice of change. He pushes it down with a sudden swell of certainty -- he’ll be back, he knows he will. Whether it’s Bill or the town itself or, hell, even the Infinite Pizza, there’s something here, singing up to him from this strange earth. He knows that someday, it’ll call him home.