Chapter 1: the lost boy
The sun was hanging slightly low in the sky by the time Stan Pines had started his spitting, growling engine, and with the gas still floating off and puncturing holes in the atmosphere, he lingered inside barking orders and expectations and reminders to his great niece and nephew. They swiftly nodded, sharply paying attention, and assured their uncle that he could take off for a day or so without the business completely going to hell.
"Dipper, you and your sister make sure the Shack is spotless when I get back, got it? And hey, raid the back room for a new attraction if you can. I don't care what it is, something's gotta work back there." He aimlessly scratched the back of his head, lacking the fez that normally adorned it. "Whatever brings in money."
"I'll see what I can find." Dipper responded dutifully.
"I'll be back tomorrow around this time." Stan added. "And, uh..."
He grumbled something under his breath, and turned to Mabel.
"I left 50 bucks on your bedside table in the attic. Order your brother a pizza or something, he needs meat on his bones."
"I will feed him so much pepperoni his head will spin," She grinned. "Thanks, Grunkle Stan!"
"Whatever, yeah, just don't ever expect me to spoil ya like that ever again," He turned away. "Can't have you kids dying on me, or anything..."
"Alright, alright, get outta here, old man!" Mabel playfully shoved him, smiling and waving all the way as he sped off in his car.
There was a brief moment of silence before the older of the twins sauntered off back up into the Shack, smiling and laughing and eager to enjoy working at her own pace with the other employees present. Her brother followed slowly, cracking his knuckles and figuring he might as well get a head start on finding something decent in the dusty old room locked in the depths of the building.
Dipper's sneakers creaked on the loose boards and cobwebs disintegrated around him like pixie dust. It was no wonder Stan so rarely ventured into this room—Dipper felt as though the floor beneath him would give out at any second, sending him plummeting into the dark yonder below the enigmatic shack. In this respect, everything in the room was untouched, but there wasn't exactly much potential to go upon. There was the generic poorly-stitched chimeras that tourists so easily ate up, machines and questionable illusions scattered everywhere, all of which had an abundance of smashed parts and long greyed from neglect. The perfectionist of a boy shook his head as he judged the potential attractions, none of this would do.
He was alerted abruptly to a dull humming coming from around the corner of one of the garbage heaps. It was the sound you hear when you enter a 24/7 gas station or are stuck in a building with cheap fluorescent lighting, and he'd found noises akin to it ominous ever since a certain fallout with some ghosts at a convenience store. Steadily, he crept toward the source, curious as to why precisely this one item had been left running while everything else was long abandoned and collecting dust.
The contraption was… surprisingly normal, when he finally feasted his eyes upon it. It was out of place with the LED sign crowning it, sure, but it was just a typical fast food soda machine. A weird kind of oasis amongst the wasteland, Dipper squinted at the writing on the front of it, casting a dull glow into the darkness of the room.
"'Soda Fountain of Youth'?" He pondered.
Grunkle Stan had a good amount of weird, unexplainable material hidden in the Shack. Sifting through what was legitimately supernatural and what was tourist-trapping garbage was the fun and often life-threatening sentence Dipper had taken upon himself when he first came to Gravity Falls. Upon further inspection of the machine he noticed that, where most soda machines have a decent selection of flavours appealing to the various patrons, this one only had two—he recognized them as Pitt Cola (sans pit, of course, but those things always annoyed him…) and Dr. Seasoning.
Cautiously, he took one of the paper cups sticking out of the bottom of the machine, carefully examining it for dust or bugs and finding none. Paranoid anyways, he blew on it cartridge-style a few times and skimmed the inside with his hands to make sure it was decently safe. Dipper took a breath and pushed the Pitt button.
The liquid that resulted was the same peach-coloured fizz he was always used to, but it had an otherworldly sparkle to it that took him by surprise. He poured it to the top, and sniffed it precariously to make sure it wasn't some age-old serum that was going to give him e. coli or kill him. Besides the glittery bubbles, it seemed just like any other soda.
This is probably a bad idea... was what ran through his head. But he was thirsty, and the machine was oddly preserved, and he figured this was in the job description. I guess if it kills me I'll die doing what I love, he reassured himself. Like that helped.
"Well…" He said out loud. "Bottoms up."
Dipper took a swig of the fruity ambrosia and was almost immediately hit with a fizzy wave that bubbled through his veins. So sudden he almost dropped the cup, it ended just as fast as it came. That was weird, he thought, but the only thing that had seemed to change was the fact that the soda fountain was now just barely towering over him. Was it another adventure in height-altering properties? No, it couldn't be… He turned the corner again, remembering a dusty old mirror just barely covered by a sheet somewhere back there.
Gazing into the browned glass reflection, he jumped and dropped what was left of the soda. His facial features had softened, transforming him with even more of an uncomfortable baby face. His clothes seemed to shrink with him, but the vest he constantly wore was puffy and gave him a look akin to an inflatable toy. His brown hair was so short that the starry silhouette on his forehead was bared for the world to see, and he reflexively lifted his hand up to cover it. Dipper almost screamed, but the thought of Soos or Mabel or god forbid Wendy finding him in this state silenced him enough. He remembered the writing on the LED sign, now; right. He groaned. Soda Fountain of Youth. That makes too much sense…
Combing his memory, he realized his age had to have been at least halved, but the fact that he was still capable of decent deductive reasoning and all his memories still in tact suggested that he had kept the mind of a 12 year old. Still uncomfortable but now mystified by this strange soda and it's age changing properties, he ran back to the soda machine and found a stray box to prop himself up on. Grabbing his spilled cup, he set it under the second flavour and stood on tip toes to press the button.
"If Pitt Cola makes me younger, then maybe Dr. Seasoning will make me…"
This time, he only took a sip, nervous about getting hit by another shock wherein his blood turned to pure carbonation. It was lesser, but as a result, he realized he hadn't grown much. The machine was still barely reachable, even on the box, and so he ran over to the mirror again to check.
"Well, I'm not 6 anymore, but…" He took another sip, and blinked his eyes open to another inch of hair, looking less like a balloon. "Is the amount you drink correlated to the amount you age or de-age?"
Testing the hypothesis, he braced for the impact and took a larger gulp, and opened his eyes to the horrendous haircut he had in the 6th grade. The cringing only lasted for a short moment before he realized that his guess was correct, so he took on last small sip and was reverted back to his 12 year old self.
"Glad that nightmare's over…" He sighed, and instantly perked back up. "I gotta tell Mabel!"
The boy sat his cup down and sped out of the dark room, greeted with an empty Shack, save for his sister, laying on the floor in the summer heat with her pig next to her, both of them on their backs and staring at the ceiling. He popped his head into her field of vision, an action that would probably startle a normal person.
"Where is everyone?"
She counted on her fingers. "Soos went to go fix the window upstairs, Stan's probably robbing a bank by now, aaand Wendy's probably slacking off on the roof and going over her breaktime!"
"Have we gotten a single customer?"
"Nahh," She rolled over. "It's pretty late in the day, anyways, and without Stan here there's no one to rip 'em off."
"Makes sense. Anyways, Mabel!" He waved his arms excitedly. "I found the coolest thing in the back room!"
"Is it a magical muzzle that'll revert Waddles' oinks to people sounds? Because we really need one of those."
"Even better!" Her brother grabbed her hand, excitedly scrambling to the back room as she trailed behind him.
She rolled her eyes, used to this by now, and sighed out a playful "I'll believe that when I see it."
"So you're telling me..." Mabel said, brown eyes peering up at the machine. "...that if you press these buttons and drink this stuff, we not only get to be whatever age we want, but free soda?"
"Isn't it awesome? You could seriously manipulate your age at will!" He journeyed off into an excitable tangent. "There's nothing in the book about this! It's the discovery of a century, if we had this we could parade around as grownups all day and no one would know the difference!"
"Free soda, Dipper!" She said in a voice so intense it almost seemed as if she was mocking him. "They have Dr. Seasoning, too! When's the last time you saw a brand that wasn't Pitt in Gravity Falls?"
She ran to the machine giggling, kicked the box out of the way, and excitedly poured a cup, all the while Dipper was muttering terms and conditions into her ears that she neglected to care for. She raised the plastic to her lips, chugging down the fizzy brown liquid and being thrown off her feet when the transformation hit her.
In front of Dipper stood his sister, towering over him and from the looks of it, somewhere around 20. The sweater and skirt she was wearing had grown with her and her hair had taken on a slightly reddish tint. When she smiled, her braces were gone, and a row of perfectly straight teeth replaced them. Immediately, she noticed the changes, picking her little brother up and smooshing his face against hers.
"This is so COOL!" She squealed. "I'm a grown-up! And I have money! I can buy all the juice I want! With a credit card! Grown-ups use credit cards, right?" She hugged him harder. "Let's get a credit card! Where do you buy credit cards?"
Dipper struggled free, falling back to the floor. "Mabel, we need to eat. Don't go too overboard, I know this is exciting, but..."
"Hey," She whispered. "How come you're still little?"
"I dunno, this is cool and all, and it'd be fun to be grown-up, but..." He kicked his feet. "What real benefits would it have? I'd just kinda be a pre-teen in an adult's body..."
"Dipper, how can you be so dense!" She kneeled down and grabbed his cheeks, staring him in the face. "Don't you get it? You don't have to be just an adult or just a kid!"
He blinked, not following.
"You could be a teenager, if you wanted!"
"BLARRR! YOU COULD PARADE AROUND AS A TEENAGER AND ASK A CERTAIN TEENAGE GIRL YOU LIKE ON A DATE, STUPID!"
All the colour drained from the younger boy's face, and he stared his sister down.
He didn't speak a word, but his expression said it all, so Mabel proceeded. "Think about it, Dipper! She'd never know it was you, you could actually get close to her and have the night of your life. Nothing could stop you!"
"You... you're right, Mabel... but... I can't stay like that forever. What about when I have to change back?"
She shook her head. "This is an opportunity you might never get again, Dipper! Don't overthink the future, just go for it." Leaving it at that, she handed him her half-drank cup, her muddy eyes a mirror image of his, even through all the years she had aged.
Dipper looked down into the rippling surface of the soda, nervously swallowing. His sister was right. It was weird to think about-him taking on an alter-ego and—jeez—asking Wendy out? How could he be sure she'd even say yes? But she had a point—there was no harm in trying. If he got rejected, he could always just revert back and they could blow their money on ice cream while Mabel comforted a sulking Dipper. Weighing out the pros and the cons, he gave up on thinking at the last second, and gulped down what was left of her cup.
The metamorphosis didn't hit him too bad this time as he had not only braced for it, but was conditioned to it by this point. Instead it felt soothing, like he was becoming... stronger? He knew that when he came out of it, his body likely wouldn't be too different—considering Mabel's. So he kept his expectations low, and chalked it up to the miracle soda rushing down his throat.
His sister's hushed, excitable gasps woke him from his stupor and she was gazing giddily at him, the two of them finally at eye level. Saying nothing, she dragged him over to the mirror, unable to stop smiling, and Dipper saw his older self for the first time.
"Woah..." He whispered.
In his reflection he saw himself, a total stranger. He was wearing his normal clothes, but his face had grown somewhat elongated into one with structure, all that remained of his chubby cheeks was a slight roundness under his eyes. His hair was curly and messy and fell just above his eyes, like he was used to. The greatest change of all, however, was the badge of honour now adorning his chin.
"I have a goatee!" He beamed, exchanging enamoured looks with his sister. "I have facial hair! Hair! That isn't on my head!"
"Dude, you don't even look like you! She'll have no idea! Your voice is deeper and everything!"
"This is so surreal! But..."
"I can't do it like this, I'm like, 20!" He crossed his arms. "That's like, majorly illegal. I need to be her age, maybe a year or two older..."
Without another word, he traversed back to the machine with his sister following behind, and poured a cup of Pitt, taking a few sips until he was decently teenaged, by his predictions. His goatee had been reduced to a patch of fuzz now, and he quietly stroked his chin while he mourned the lost friend.
"Someday..." The teen whispered.
Mabel nodded at him approvingly, and grabbed his hand, leading him cautiously out of the room. "One last thing," she said. "You're not convincing anyone with those clothes. You still look like you're twelve mentally."
"I kinda am..."
"Well, who cares! We need you to act like you're 16. We're raiding every closet this place has. C'mon, I'll go on ahead to make sure someone doesn't see you." She drank the last of his Pitt until she was little Mabel again, and quickly put her plan into action.
"This is going to be the makeover of a century," The girl whispered through a wicked grin as her and her brother left the catacomb of mystery.
Chapter 2: neverland
this chapter is a literal wall of text, so my condolences. my condolences also for the existence karaoke scene.
once again, teenage dipper is forever inspired by my best friend and his mostly-female itunes collection.
as I was writing the last scene, "somewhere in neverland" by all time low came on shuffle, and while I already wrote a wenbie fic to that, I definitely recommend listening to it while you read this chapter. just put it on repeat. memorize that shit.
the art featured in this chapter is by tumblr user moringmark uvu
"Alright, lose the vest, it makes you look like a watered down Marty Mcfly."
"...I don't—I don't get it—that's not good?"
"Dipper, I love you to pieces, but you really gotta get with the times."
He groaned under his breath and removed his vest, throwing it on the bed and making a mental note to put it on before he aged back down, whenever that was. He couldn't bear to lose another one of those things.
"Alright, put these on." Mabel threw a pair of black jeans at him. "Cool kids don't wear shorts."
"Aw, man, really? But it's gonna be hot..." He whined. "These look like something Robbie would wear."
"Then you've made your case stronger, she has a type and you're dressing like it. Besides, if you can move your legs, you're probably better off than him."
He giggled. "Fine. Turn around."
She did as instructed and waited patiently while he slipped into the pants. They fit shockingly well, and Dipper was pleasantly surprised. "Alright, we're good."
His sister whipped back around and made a frame with her fingers, nodding intently. "Almost there. One last thing—get rid of the crew-neck."
"Do I get to keep anything, Mabel?"
"No." She threw a shirt at him. "Look, it's almost exactly the same colour as your usual one! V-necks just look better, it's a proven fact. Besides, you can show off that brand new chest hair of yours."
Mabel always made a convincing case, so he took his shirt off and replaced it with the one she had provided for him. It was amazing how much of a difference a couple inches of fabric made, he felt cooler both literally and figuratively.
"The baseball cap is a dead giveaway it's you, so even though it's alright, you wanna drop that, too." He frowned, but understood and tossed it on his bed with everything else. "Oh! One more thing. I found this in the closet up here. I think it'll add to the image."
Dipper caught it in his hands—it was a large flannel shirt, plaid and crimson in colour. He was used to an extra layer, so he decided it wouldn't hurt. It almost made him feel like an antithesis to Wendy, what with the green flannel she was so fond of. He liked it.
He turned to Mabel once more, saying nothing but raising his eyes upward in sort of an 'am I alright?' gesture. She squinted at him again, and jumped from the bed, handing him a small plastic container.
"Your breath smells like Waddles' butt. No offense, Waddles. Put a bunch of these into your facehole, Brotato Chip."
"Mabel, these are orange Tac-tics, they're just going to make me smell like a fruit tree."
"That's better than pig butt."
He rolled his eyes for what felt like the millionth time that hour, and popped a couple in his mouth. "These are... actually pretty good—"
"Don't chug the whole container!" She face-palmed. "You have to moderate, Dipper. Let them last a while. Anyways... Wendy's working right now. Go out the back door, enter through the front, and strike up a conversation! Just be you. She likes you fine already. Oh, and don't be a dingus and use your name, got it? Not even your birth name. Just pick a better name, okay?"
Before he could respond, Mabel was shoving him down the stairs and out the door. He took a breath, and braced himself for what would either be the best night of his life or the most painful rejection he ever had to suffer through.
This customer had been nervously pacing back and forth a few feet from the register for at least 15 minutes now, and Wendy was starting to get tired of it. She was used to loiterers, but she was more used to being one than anything. With her feet on the counter and a magazine in her hand, she let out an intentionally loud sigh and made half-hearted eye contact with the boy.
"You gonna buy something, man?"
He tensed up and tried not to stare. "I, uh... just... sorry."
Wendy shrugged. "No skin off my nose, dude, just... I gotta head out soon, and then I'm pretty sure the kids are locking up shop."
"I, actually, uh... wasn't really planning on buying anything."
"Why waste your time at a place like this dump, then?"
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Well, I..." Dang it, Dipper, you talk to this girl every day, why do you suddenly suck at it? Make something up!
She raised an eyebrow at the sputtering teen.
"I came in to browse, I guess, and then I couldn't help but notice you reading Indie Fuzz?" He smiled. "I didn't think anyone else knew that magazine existed. You have good taste in music, I'll bet."
Wendy eyes widened, and an astral sparkle immediately shrouded her. She sat up from her normal perch behind the register and set her palms down on the wooden counter.
"Woah... crazy... you like Indie stuff? What's your poison?"
"Andy Johnson Jihad, Neutral Dairy Motel, y'know..." He twiddled his thumbs. "Regular stuff." It wasn't a lie—he had gotten into a multitude of bands he'd heard Wendy gushing about, but didn't exactly know when to bring up the topic.
"Dude, that's so cool!" She was radiating enthusiasm, and Dipper was reminded of the Wendy he had grown to adore. One moment, the typical Bored Register Girl, and the next, this beautiful firecracker full of excitement. "I thought no one in this crappy town had any taste, but you just... you came out of nowhere... and..."
She stopped herself, never taking her eyes off this mysterious stranger's. There was a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach, and she brushed a lock of scarlet hair behind her ear, looking up at him with an uncharacteristically girlish charm.
He was lost in her eyes, and stuttered his way back to planet earth. "I'm, uuh, Diiii-D-Danny! My name's Danny."
She laughed at his inability to sentence and leaned back again, trying to ignore how oddly adorable she found this Danny kid. "Man, I haven't seen you around, are you new or something?"
He shook his head. "Just passing through. My parents are staying with my grandparents outside of town, and I was bored so I... thought I'd hit up the lame tourist traps. But... then I kinda saw you sitting here with that magazine and couldn't really... figure out how to say hi," He could feel himself blushing, and hoped she didn't notice. "You looked kind of intimidating."
"Nahh, dude, I just hate my job. Today was nice, though, my boss is out. I swear, if you met the guy, you'd look like that, too."
She chuckled again, and he joined in. If only she knew, Dipper thought.
"Hey, so this is... totally weird, but I was wondering if maybe you could show me around? We could just hang out. Talk about cool music... or whatever. I know there's a diner down the road, and my... sister gave me some of her money to use. We could... get some cheap food, I dunno?"
Her lack of hesitation gave him hope, and he honestly couldn't believe how easily she and him had become friends again. "Totally, man! This is just what I need, I've been crazy bored these last few weeks."
Dipper was beaming. "Awesome!"
"My shift ends in 5 minutes, but there's no old jerk here to yell at me if I check out early. You down with that?"
"Secret's safe with me." He winked. He was coaching himself, with every move he made, to be more like a teenager—think more like Wendy. It came surprisingly natural to him, and he realized every passing moment that he had loved her so much, he had committed her mannerisms to memory.
"You driving? 'Cause I kind of lack a car."
Right. Cars were a thing. He might have overlooked that. "Uh, my parents drove us here in theirs, so... I'm out of a car, too. We could walk? I mean, I dunno about you, but I'm really into sunsets. Wouldn't mind walking against the backdrop of one."
That was not entirely true. He knew Wendy loved sunsets and snuck up on the roof to watch them every single day. The face she was making only reinforced this.
Dipper grinned, walking toward the exit with her and finally noticing Mabel's eyes peering out from behind the employees only door when he looked back. She shot him a thumbs up, and he put his hands in his pockets and smiled back at her.
Wendy sipped her coffee, complete with layers upon layers of whip cream that she and Dipper had both ordered and scarfed down in mere seconds. They laughed at the mess of sugary froth on each other's faces and resumed their conversation, which had been less about music and more about... just... everything. Dipper found it hard to be vague about his interests—even though he already figured he had Wendy convinced, he was scared she would put two and two together and figure out it was him.
"Alright, favourite colour."
"Red all the way!" She took a bite of the tiny pizzas they had ordered and asked her question through a mouthful of cheese. "Favourite band?"
"It's actually not one of our bands, you're totally going to laugh at me."
"Never judge, man! I'm picky with my artists, but never a music snob."
"Pfft... okay... I really like Kitty Purry."
She nearly choked. "Aha! Oh man, you're into girly pop artists?"
"Wendy, you said you weren't judging!"
"I'm not, I'm not, just didn't expect it, is all! Sometimes she writes cool stuff, I'm sure."
He blushed again, looking down at his unused silverware.
"Hey," She leaned over the table, ruffling his long, curly hair. "I'm seriously not judging you at all. My ex was lead guitar and vocals in a local emo rock band. My god, the amount of angst I had to listen to at his shows..."
Dipper stifled a chortle before realizing he didn't really have to keep his hatred for one Robbie V a secret anymore. To his relief, she was giggling too.
"Yeah, what a nightmare that was." She looked down, dropping the pizza crust on her plate with the other abandoned scraps of bread. "You know, Danny, this is really a load off my shoulders... like... you have no idea."
"Hey, you can totally talk to me, Wendy. What's up?"
"It's just, like..." She sighed. "My friend group has been all tense lately. The guy I was dating, he was a pretty close friend of mine. And I'm totally down with staying friends, but he's really burned up and upset about all this, so he's trying so hard to avoid me, and when he can't, just... man, the bad vibes coming off the guy. I can't deal. I run on positive energy, y'know?"
Dipper nodded. "I definitely know."
"So I'm glad you showed up! I mean, I feel like we've been friends for like, ever. You're real cool."
"You're real cool too, Wendy..." He was trying not to say her name so much but he just couldn't help himself, it felt so nice leaving his mouth. Before he could give her another shot of inspirational advice, the both of them were cut off by a loud bass line and the following sound of out of tune singing. They jolted, and Wendy sunk back in her chair, laughing.
"Oh man," She slapped a hand on her forehead. "I forgot it was karaoke night."
Dipper sheepishly looked toward the makeshift stage, and she grinned like a demon at the back of his head.
"Think they have Kitty Purry?"
He whipped around, obviously distressed, and she raised her hands in a non-predatory gesture.
"I'll totally sing with you," She poked his torso. "If you're man enough, that is."
Before he could dignify her with a response, they were running to the stage excitedly as the song ended. Dipper kneeled down by the machine, skimming through the songs before she pointed excitedly and whispered "I know that one!"
He read the name of the song and the lyrics bounced through his head. His heart fluttered, and he clicked it and listened to the opening beats.
Perfect. He thought.
Wendy took the liberty of singing the first verse, stuttering at times but knowing it surprisingly well for someone who claimed not to fall victim to pop music. She threw her hair over her shoulders and gave it her best for the small amount of patrons out that Friday night.
"To you, I'm pretty
When I don't wear maa-aa-keup,
To you, I'm funny
When I screw my joo-oookes up
You really feel me,
So I don't put my walls up, uu-uu-uuup~"
Dipper picked up where her verse left off, nervous because he had never sung with this voice he had so recently equipped, but thinking it couldn't sound any worse than the last person who'd been up.
"Before I knew you
things were alright, but I
was feeling real blue.
And now I'm alive
Because you're here with me
Baby, I'm on cloud nine, cloo-ooud niiine!"
There was a moment of them harmonizing as they lead into the chorus, and it was almost tear-jerking, to the both of them, how great their voices sounded together.
"Let's not regret anything tonight,
we'll go aa-aall the way,
dancing 'til we see daylight
you and I will be young forever~
You! and! me!
We're living adolescent fan~ta~sies
the way you make me feel
i'm lo~sing~ sleep
we're running now and we'll
never look back,
we'll never look back~"
When the music ended, they took a bow, stumbling off the stage in fits of manic laughter and satiated on thrill. Dipper slapped the money down on the bill and fell out into the streetlights' glow with Wendy right next to him, sad that the night was drawing to a close.
She finally stopped giggling long enough to form a sentence, and batted at him playfully. "Dude! I can't believe how awesome that was! I never thought I'd do something that gutsy! Check that off your stupid teenage bucket list. Bam!"
He wanted to say something like "Here's to many more nights like this one," but all Dipper could manage to squeak out was "That was pretty awesome."
"Man, I'm not feeling like this night is over," She mentioned. "You up for walking around and just like, I dunno, talking?"
Dipper's permanent grin grew wider and he nodded rather shyly at her, to which she responded by quietly twining her fingers with his and leading him down the road in the cold summer air. He felt his face heat up considerably, but it was dark, and maybe she couldn't see.
She silently hoped the same thing.
"So hey... you don't talk too much, Danny, what are you into?"
Dipper nervously rubbed his bare arm where he had rolled up the sleeves of the flannel jacket previously covering them. "I dunno... I'm into some pretty kiddish stuff, you probably wouldn't be into it, ehe..."
"No, man, tell me!" Wendy nearly jumped up as soon as he dismissed the question, and remained persistent. "You're into what you're into, who cares! I just gotta know."
"Well..." He took a breath. "I really, totally, love supernatural stuff. I know its silly to believe that stuff past the age of like, 10... but I can't help but feel like there's more to this world."
"Wait... you feel that way, too?"
"I mean, yeah!" She continued walking, stealing looks back and forth from him. "I didn't always, though. Like... man, this is gonna blow your mind, it okay if I ramble here?"
"Go for it." (It was much, much more than just okay, her voice was like swan song to the boy.)
"This town... we're all a bunch of superstitious people. There are people here who would die defending the claim that they've seen every kind of horror and mystery movie creature that's ever been made. And then there are the majority telling them that they're all crazy, like, no one believes it at all... but..."
"Like, my boss has this niece and nephew who are preeetty eccentric. They work with me 'cause the man has no qualms with child labor, I guess. The girl is totally crazy, and the guy... well, he's way younger, but he reminds me so much of you? They still believe in all that junk. Society and the 'real world' hasn't beat them out of it, yet.
"So, this one time, my friends and I hit up this convenience store that rumour said was haunted. It was just a mindless adventure, you know? Making the best of the time. But it went full-on poltergeist in there. I saw ghosts. Saw them! With my eyes! It was so crazy! All of the things I'd been laughing about believing my entire life, they were all real. And that boy I was telling you about, he straight up fought them off, all on his own. It's like, he knew exactly what to do, and he just... tackled it! Because he believed, he didn't let the skepticism get the better of him, the fact that he was so into the topic let him beat the junk out of those ghosts... it was insane."
Dipper's heart skipped a beat, and he couldn't help but be overtaken by the biggest, sappiest wave of sentimentality he had ever felt. Here he was, a complete "stranger," and she had kept the secret of how he really defeated those ghosts. She could have told the truth, made the story more interesting, laughed about how this friend of hers had to humiliate himself in furry pajamas to save the lives of people he'd just met—and Dipper would have never known, as far as she could tell. But she upheld her promise, and didn't speak a word. As much of a teenager as Wendy could be—as selfish, lazy, and occasionally manipulative as she was more than capable of becoming, at the core, she was an amazing friend.
"I guess, it's just... the world throws all these things at you. These movies about grand adventures and monsters and journeys. But the real world isn't like that at all, it's beautiful, but boring... and I just... that night made me think a lot. There can't not be something more out there."
"That's it, though!" Dipper stopped walking and turned to her, staring her dead in the face. "Wendy, that's exactly how I've always felt! Like, okay, did you know that people all around the world were writing about dragons, even before communication between them was invented? And people try to tell me that there's no way they could've ever existed. And that's just the example off the top of my head! No one in their right mind can convince me Bigfoot isn't out there somewhere, or that there couldn't be a monster living in the lake down the road. I've only been here a couple times, but I've seen it, I swear!"
Wendy laughed in response, and sat on the park bench a few feet away from them. "See, even if I didn't believe a word of what you were saying, even if I was still one of those skeptics I've grown to dislike..." He sat down next to her, and she looked at the ground festooned with pine needles below them. "Your passion alone would make me want to believe, anyways. That's the coolest thing ever, Danny, you're so intense about the things you like."
Her expression darkened ever so slightly, and he was about to ask if she was alright before she answered him anyways. "Robbie was that way. I mean, about music. I kinda talked dirty about him earlier, but that was what made me like him. He'd been playing an acoustic guitar the day that I met him and man, he sucked so bad but he just loved the thing so much that something about it was admirable. We had totally different taste but the fact that he would legitimately make girly screeching noises about getting to meet and greet his favourite artists, it made me want to listen to them, just to learn what made the dude tick. I'm not the kind of person who wallows in misery about breakups, but... sometimes I just get scared, like, every new guy I date is cooler and more complex than the last, I'm afraid one day the incline will just... stop. And I'll lose the moon while I'm busy chasing after stars."
Dipper could feel the tone of pain hiding beneath the blanket of her voice, and he saw then that Wendy, who was so simple on the outside, had just as much as he did to think and worry about. He placed an extremely shaky hand on her shoulder, and mustered up his best "Hey..." as she looked over at the warm comfort resting below her long waves of red hair.
"This is kinda sappy... but... I don't think the right one will get away from you. I mean, if you can believe in ghosts and monsters, how hard can it be for you to believe in fate?"
She lightened up, and that sparkle Dipper was so fond of returned to her eyes. "Everything's just happening so fast. I'm not even a Sophomore yet and they've been throwing all these expectations on us since we were 11. Graduate, get a job, get married... like... I'm a human being," She leaned her head back and slumped in her seat, sighing. "I'm a human being and I don't want to grow up."
Dipper often wished his life was a cartoon so he could see the light bulb that so frequently popped up above his head in times like this. Instead, he settled for what he could to represent the call to action—standing up and then leaning back down so his eyes met with Wendy's, grabbing her hands excitedly.
"Wendy, there's a place I need to take you!" He didn't wait for her response. "C'mon!"
She tried to speak up but was dragged alongside him as he ran down the road and straight into the depths of the forest. There was a childish bounce to the way he raced and she struggled to keep up, but ultimately the feeling of enthrallment in her heart smothered the one of confusion.
"Where are we going, Danny?" She shouted from behind him. "I've never been this deep in the forest before!"
"You'll see soon!" He smiled. "Don't worry, just trust me!"
They kept up their abscond through the darkness, and the twigs and leaves and plethora of pine cones crunched and crackled beneath their heavy footsteps. Ducking to avoid branches, he pulled her into a more vegetated area and they trudged through sticker bushes and brambles. Dipper's footsteps grinded to a halt, and he put out his arm to stop Wendy from moving any further. He turned to her, his face mere inches from hers, and he had to hold down the blush he felt creeping up again.
"Don't make any loud noises, okay? They don't like too much noise."
"Wendy, do you trust me?"
She swallowed, and waited a moment before nodding. "Yeah."
He nodded back, and pried the bush open with his fingers. Wendy gasped, and immediately raised her hand to cover her mouth.
The leafy window lead to a clearing in the forest, a meadow shaded by trees, with a small river trickling through it. Riding the air, brushing the perfectly green grass, and skimming the water's edge were hundreds—maybe thousands—of small, glowing balls of light.
She assumed they were fireflies—but was that possible? The array of colours was shockingly iridescent; blues and pinks and purples and yellows. Every colour of the rainbow, like the entire clearing had been shot through a prism. She turned to Dipper, who smiled at her knowingly, and whispered.
"Ghosts are alright... would you believe fairies?"
Wendy's words had long since abandoned their home in her brain, and she frantically moved her gaze back and forth between the sight before her, and Dipper's grin.
"What... how did you... what is this place?"
He was waiting for it. Oh man, was he hoping that was what she'd say. That single moment was possibly the only one in Dipper's life where he knew exactly what to say, exactly who to say it to, and exactly when to say it. So he broke his gaze with her, gestured out to the vast meadow of glistening lights, and whispered again.
Elsewhere, his twin sister was four years old, and riding her pig around the yard with a tiny saddle she bought with her macaroni-and-glue-covered credit card (and several dollars.)
Wendy and Dipper were lying on an incline in the meadow with hundreds of glowing pixies blanketing the air around them. Her eyes were speeding around in her skull, unable to comprehend that wonder of this caliber existed. In contrast, he couldn't take his eyes off her, and was thankful she was far too mystified to notice. For almost an hour, they kept it as simple as that. The silence didn't bother Dipper too much, but still, he felt the night coming to a close, and had quite a few things he needed to say.
"Hey... there's some stuff I gotta tell you."
"I'm going to have to leave, soon. And after that... we're probably not gonna see each other again." He bit his tongue, and tried not to lie. "Not for a long, long time, at least."
"But... dude... you can't just disappear. Not after tonight. You don't have a phone? A Facespace account?"
He shook his head. "My... uh... my family's pretty dirt poor. It was hard enough to get out here. This is gonna be the last time in a while we'll ever see each other."
He could see that she started tearing up, and his heart instantly broke. He gently took hold of one of her hands, and lightly brushed his thumb over the top of it.
"Wendy, I didn't think I would meet a girl like you. I'm so sorry."
"How could you do this to me, though? I really like you... you make me feel like a kid again... you don't take yourself incredibly seriously or let appearances get in your way... Danny, you're the coolest guy I've ever met..." She was full on crying now. Dipper had never felt lower than he did in this single moment.
"You're the most energetic, amazing soul I've ever met. Wendy, you move me... more than you know." He had tears in his eyes too now, and he wished in his heart that she didn't think less of him for it. Was it romantic when guys cried over girls? He hoped so. "Promise me you'll never grow up."
"What if I can't, though?" She looked down. "What if life comes down on me? Some day I'll be 18 and forced to get a life."
"You get old. You don't have to be old." Dipper held her hands tighter, and continued to speak hushed encouragement to her. "I won't be the last person, Wendy. I won't be the moon. And if I am, we'll meet again some day. Fate, remember?"
She nodded through tears, and he kept speaking.
"Until then, find someone who keeps you young. Find someone... who makes you laugh. Someone who isn't afraid to be childish, even if they have a whole world of wisdom inside them. Find someone who isn't afraid to be in love with the things no one else believes in. There's other people out there. People who will make you feel like you're young forever."
Wendy was smiling now, even though the pain at her center ebbed and shook her frame with sobs. She didn't think, just grabbed the boy's cheeks softly and aligned her lips with his, lacing her free fingers through the shaggy mess of his hair. She could hear tiny wings buzzing happily around them, and combined with the lake's gentle song, she figured that if this was goodbye, it couldn't have been better.
Nearly comatose, Dipper's words were gone when the kiss broke. She ruffled his hair a second time. Wendy wasn't crying anymore. Instead, she chose to smile, and Dipper thanks his lucky stars that it was contagious. He waited a minute before regaining his rational thought, and sputtered out a final question.
"Do you need me to walk you home?"
Wendy gently rubbed her arm, casting her gaze across the meadow. "A-actually... just walk me back to the Shack. My bike's there. I'll be alright on my own."
"Yeah. Let's go."
A twelve-year-old Dipper Pines awoke that morning to his sister shaking him and reminding him that their great uncle would be home in a few hours and they they had to get going on attractions, and something he couldn't exactly make out about watermelons.
He rubbed the lack of sleep from his eyes, nodded at his always far-too-energetic sister, and kicked off the blankets he had barely used that night.
In the end, they'd unplugged the soda fountain, deeming it far too much of a power trip for either of them to keep running. A funeral was held, and they pulled one of the cheap stuffed chimeras out of the back room for display. It was a D+ effort, at best, but that was Stan's A-.
The day dragged on with an extremely sad Wendy manning the register, not talking much to anyone—not that Dipper had the guts to face her after what he held himself responsible for doing.
It wasn't until the sun started melting into the horizon and had Wendy grabbed her things and left that Dipper's instincts kicked in and he madly chased after the girl, surprised to see that she had not gone home. She was sitting out on the back deck with her hands messily ran through her hair, sighing. Dipper light-footedly walked up behind her, far too guilted by the state she'd been in to say much, and squeaked out a greeting.
She turned around, immediately struggling to keep her cool attitude, and responded. "Oh, hey, man."
"A... are you alright?"
"Yeah, I—I'm good, don't... don't worry about i—" She cut herself off, suddenly aware of how scared she was of letting down her guard. She made a mental note to act more like a kid, and buried her head in her hands, crying softly and putting the boy before her on the spot.
"Woah, Wendy, c'mon!" He sat down next to her, placing his hand on her shoulder like he'd done earlier that night. "You can talk to me."
She wiped at her eyes and gritted her boots into the dirt. "I... I just... met someone who I think might have been the coolest guy ever, and he just left. He just left me here, and told me something about not growing up, and I just... I don't know how. These seem like such adult problems, why did that have to be his advice to me? I'm never going to meet someone like him again, Dipper..."
He swallowed in response, and gathered every ounce of bravery he had left in him. "Wendy... I know it's hard, but... sometimes people come and go, you know? But it doesn't mean anyone's wrong, or that you need someone to blame, I guess... that's just life. The book isn't over. The chapter just came to a close, and, I'm just a kid... but..."
She dropped her gaze to him, and he looked up at her with hazel eyes that yielded her tears with warm familiarity.
"I think if you surround yourself with people who make you feel young, you never have to grow up. Not really. Being an adult is just... the difference between asking your mom for a juice box, and buying your own." His smile was shy and endearing, and she found a comfort in it she'd never known was so close to home. "That's how I feel, but again, I'm just a kid..."
There was a stark silence, and Wendy found it nothing but empowering.
She remembered what Danny had told her, and didn't hesitate in her next action.
He raised his head up.
"Your uncle paid me today. Wanna head to the diner and get some pie. Maybe... just... talk and goof off?"
His voice raised an octave when he finally nodded. "Totally, Wendy!"
She took on a gentle, relaxed simper when she rose to her feet, and put on the coat she'd been clutching in her hands—heavy, flannel, and dyed a crimson plaid.
Dipper could feel his heart beating like a drum, and she held her hand out before diving into the sunset alongside him.