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Operation: Fumigation

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Wendy Corduroy’s head hurt worse than the time Marcus accidently knocked a log into the back of her head, full force. Of course, that a physical injury, was followed by apologies and care. This was from a dumb exam and was followed by pure suck. Even her friends were burnt out.

Tambry’s phone was face down by her feet, on silent the whole day, and Robbie looked genuinely disturbed for once, his nose crinkled and brows furrowed.

Lee and Nate were quiet as well, for once, leaning against each other, both pairs of eyes blank as an unused notebook.

Thompson hadn’t smiled the entire time he was there, eyes sleepy as he stared and picked at the lint of his shirt. It hadn’t even been his idea they hang out. They just found each other and sat together in the cafeteria, like the bug men told them before they started.

Despite having been on earth for a while, Wendy chose to ignore whatever they were called. At first it had been fun, rebelliously chanting, “Fuck bug men! Fuck bug men!” while punching Thompson’s mom’s mini van’s roof. It then turned to a generalized phrase, spoken while shrugging when something went wrong, like, “Fuck bug men, amirite?” Now it usually went unspoken, only used nonverbally, when the bug men came for things like exams, and some of the teens of the group would lock eyes the roll them, thinking, “God, fuck bug men.”

Laying her head on the able so it faced towards the rest of the students who had finished, a lot at that point, she searched for her younger brother. Luckily, Kevin and Gus both were still too young and were in middle and elementary school, respectively. Marcus, a little less than two years younger than her, was a Sophomore.

He also happened to be bigger than most fifteen year-olds and, if their dad was any kind of indicator, he was only gonna get bigger.

After a few seconds, she picked out his hunched over form, sitting quietly with some classmates. Wendy could feel her heart go out to him. Even though his exam wasn’t as deciding as Wendy’s, they were indicative of how well you would do in the future. Even Wendy was big enough to admit that Corduroys didn’t come from the brightest stock. Taking this test was a big enough blow to her own ego, it couldn’t have been much better for Marcus.

Reassured that he was out, Wendy let her eyes flutter shut, blocking out the light.

After what felt like half a minute, she jerked awake to the sound of the intercom being used by one of the bug men, “ –May now leave the secondary education facility and go home. Your respective transportation provided by the school–” did he mean the bus? “ –is waiting for you, if needed. Please begin exiting the secondary education facility in an orderly fashion.”

Like most public-school students, “orderly fashion” was not a phrase in their vocabulary. Despite the collective tiredness of everyone, they all pushed to the exits, excluding the seniors. The seniors all seemed to get up slowly and stretch, a mix of wisdom letting them know that clotting the exits would do nothing, privilege of having cars to get in instead of a bus, and dread that, as of this afternoon, their future had been determined.

By the time she and her friends had exited the building, minutes had passed. Once again, Wendy scanned for Marcus among the crowd, hoping he hadn’t gotten on a bus.

“Ready to go?”

Jumping a bit, Wendy turned to see her younger brother waiting by the school’s steps quietly, hands in pockets. She nodded to him, then turned to her friends.

“See you guys later? I’ll be done at the shack ‘round 7:30.”

Everyone nodded, perking up a bit at the thought of hanging out after a good nap. Wendy was, admittedly, hella jealous.

Tambry tried smiling and raised her hand a bit, murmuring, “See ya’ later, Wendy,” and was followed by a weak chorus, all repeating her, and the group split ways.

Turning back to Marcus, Wendy gave her best grin, gently jiggling the keys to her truck, “Ready? Since we got out early, I have some extra time before work and I need a snack.”

Marcus nodded and they hurried back to Wendy’s truck, one that came from her own hard earned money and repair, perfect for a Corduroy. In return for driving him to and from the high school from home, Marcus would usually help in the ever reoccurring repairs the dumb old truck needed. It worked.

As she started it up, Wendy sent out a prayer to whatever higher power was in charge of dumpy, old trucks that don’t always start. After a brief, frightening moment of ambiguity where the two Corduroy’s locked slightly wide eyes, her prayers were answered. Sweet.

As they pulled out of the parking lot, Wendy expected the usual silence to follow. Instead, Marcus started speaking, low and haltingly.

“Um… Sis? I don’t think that I… I did… that well.”

Again, Wendy’s heart went out to Marcus, and she briefly wished it wasn’t her dealing with this, but ignored that wish and started running damage control, “Dude, don’t worry about it. Like, yeah, these things are indicative, but you aren’t taking the big test for two years. For all we know, the Federation could be cleared out by then, along with all their lame bug men.”

“Yeah but,” he glanced to her, his usually stoic face creased with worry, eyes peeking through his hair, “You said that months ago… What if they don’t?”

Shit. What he lacked in book smarts, Marcus could read people pretty damn well. Wendy sighed, her fingers drumming on the steering wheel as she took a turn.

“I’m gonna be honest, I have no clue. What I do know is we gotta be hopeful, you know?” she paused before continuing, “Why are you so worried, dude? There had to be some answers you knew on the test, right?”

Marcus reddened from the notch under his neck to his hairline, “Just worried I won’t even get high enough to work as a logger.” At this point, he had turned so that his entire body was facing away from her, to the window.

Oh shit. Was he that worried?

“Trust me, Arch, you will. Plus, when you get your score back, you’ll learn your problem areas and can work on improving, if you even need to. But honestly? I think you’ll be alright.”

Wendy glanced over at him, and could see his shoulders relaxing. Good. They were almost home now. It could be quiet.

“Wendy?”

Or not. She braced herself, tightening her grip on the steering wheel just a bit.

“Yeah?”

“Do… do you think you did okay on your exam?”

Figuring this question was gonna pop up, Wendy let out a breath loosening her grip, this question haunting her ever since she filled out her last bubble, “I think I probably did well enough to join the long-standing Corduroy tradition of being a logger. That’s good enough.”

-

Under normal circumstances, Summer Smith would have been missing roughly every fifth question or so on her exam, maintaining her spot straddling the line between B and C. However, this was no ordinary exam for any ordinary class. Her future was on the line, and she intended to get the best of it.

Ever since the Federation took over and made the earth the universe’s tourism whore, everything everywhere changed. Old businesses were closed and new, alien ones opened. Streets and sidewalks were filled with tourists who thought that things like public restrooms were Odd and Cool and Great Places to Pick Up the Best of Earth’s Diseases. University admission rates dropped, even in community colleges. Graduating teens or young adults would go straight into the workforce, even if just on the job training.

If you were lucky (and smart) enough to get into the top 98th percentile in your Final Exam of senior year as a high schooler, your future options were more open than anyone else’s. Still limited, for sure, but Summer wanted to blast a wide, gaping hole to have enough elbow room and her future.

Which was why she worked harder to earn A’s her Senior year, making up for her Sophomore and Junior years where she purposely earned  B’s and C’s. Her GPA still wasn’t the prettiest, but it was much better than before. Even then, it was irrelevant. This exam was what mattered.

Which was why she felt her stomach squirm as she filled in her last bubble slowly, back and forth, making sure it was filled completely, the graphite becoming shiny as it became coated on the Scantron. Glancing at the rest of the sheet, which was filled with tiny, graphite filled holes, she wanted to throw up.

Forty-five minutes remaining.”

The exam proctor, a gromflomite who’s compound eyes seemed even blanker than all the others she had seen, had been giving time warnings like that the entire time. At first, it was every hour, but once the hour mark had been hit, it also notified that there would be reminders every fifteen minutes.

The exam took up five Scantrons, each one a different section of one hundred and twenty questions, front and back. Each section was one day, which didn’t seem too bad, until the questions themselves were revealed, calling on the high school Seniors to answer questions that, while multiple choice, were also multi-stepped and layered.

The ACT had nothing this thing.

Knowing that she had every bubbled filled as she wanted, Summer closed her booklet and set her stubby, dull pencil down in the designated indent, her hands falling to her lap, her eyes straight ahead.

The scratches of the other students’ pencils filled the silence, now that her own head was empty from equations and any other thoughts.

The proctor shuffled over and pointed for her to join the other students that had finished their exams in the senior lounge. It was with an achy back she stood up and left, clumsily grabbing her pencil, dropping if off at the desk upfront.

Last year, Summer would swear up and down that she could feel the stares of the other students, all watching her finish confidently before them, the nerdish shame branding her neck, ears, and cheeks. This year, however, Summer knew that no one else cared about who was finishing first, only that they kept working and finished themselves.

The hallways were empty from students aside from one other, who was scurrying down the hallway, towards the cafeteria with the other underclassmen who finished their own exams, different from Summers. Theirs would be more cumulative, but were also to measure how much those students learned and grew.

For just a second, Summer stood there, watching the student, most likely a freshman, and let the cool air prick at her skin, kept low enough to both counter the warm classrooms and kept students moving and aware.

Blinking, Summer started walking, rubbing her forearm as she started off to the senior lounge, taking the hallway that led straight to the second floor.

The door handle felt cool against her sweaty palm, and whispers flooded Summer’s ears when the door cracked open. One pair, a guy named Lucas with shaggy hair and a girl who looked like a 2012 scene girl rip off, were sitting in a corner, whispering to each other, with excessive eyerolling.

The only other person in the lounge so far was Nancy, Summer’s old flute partner and somewhat friend, who waved her over. Honestly? If Summer were her, she wouldn’t have been friends with Summer, especially after that party, but when aliens take control of the earth, you become less choosy about who your friends are.

“Hey, a grabbed us some bean bags, since I figured you’d be going extra hard today!”

Such had been the pattern for the past few days, Nancy always finished before Summer and snagged a seat at the comfiest spots. Today’s anomaly of the amazing eyerolling duo probably arrived after, which would explain why they avoided the comfy seats.

Plopping into the seat, Summer groaned, “God, I want to die. Like, I’m glad this was over, but this exam was the worst.”

“Yeah, this section was especially rough,” Nancy nodded, her glasses falling down a bit, “I tried my best, but physics isn’t my strong suit. I’m just hoping I got at least within the top 90 percent, you know?”

“Yeah, same,” Summer agreed, even though it felt like lying, not telling Nancy she was shooting higher, “I just really don’t want to end up in a hard labor position. I’d probably just kick it right then and there.”

Nancy’s eyes bugged at Summer’s casual mention of offing herself, glasses slipping further, before she pushed them back up, “Jeez! I mean, I get what you’re saying, but holy cow, Summer!”

Shrugging, Summer settled into her seat some more, “What, like you wouldn’t consider it? I’m just saying, if it came to a choice, I’d rather it was my own self more than hard labor being the reason I die.”

Eyes shifting to look away, Nancy shrugged, “I don’t know, that’s really extreme… I… Let’s stop talking about this whole thing. What about that new movie coming out? The one with the superhero group. I was considering going, what about you?

Summer nodded, but felt herself letting Nancy continue talking as her own thoughts floated away, like hair in a bathtub, and her body sunk further into the bean bag, like a stone in mud.

Another thing, she thought, that made this year different from last year, was she also didn’t care when she finished, only that she did, and well. How could she care about what others thought when her grandpa was in jail and she was stuck on earth?

Chapter Text

To say Wendy didn’t think about the results would be a straight up lie. To keep her Rep™ at school as the chill person she is, she didn’t advertise she was always stressed, but boy howdy, this made it even worse. Almost noticeable, even.

When Mike Hurly burst into the cafeteria at lunch time, doors clanging against the already dented wall, clutching a thick envelope, she could feel the perpetual knot in her stomach get bigger.

Exam results are back!”

And bigger.

“I just got back when the mailman delivered it! If you live along my street or before it on his route, yours is definitely back!”

After a second of stunned silence, the room buzzed, bursting into whispers and murmurs. If it were any other test, who would care? But this was an alien administered test whose results just got back. It literally determined their lives.

So dystopian, right?

Wendy took a deep breath and leaned back in her chair, no intention of leaving lunch, even to see her results. Most of the table tried following suit, bar Thompson. Of course, Thompson was Thompson, and no one would judge him (much).

Already half-standing, half sitting, he glanced up, “Should I go home and check? I don’t want to know. But I don’t want to not know. You know?”

Tambry didn’t look up from her phone, leaning against Robbie, whose arm was slung across her shoulders, “I’m just gonna have my mom open it and send a picture. I don’t care enough to leave.”

Robbie shrugged, “I can wait. I’m not letting the bug men determine my lunch.” Punctuating his sentence with a sharp jab to that day’s lunch (macaroni and cheese), he almost looked and sounded rebellious.

 Nate and Lee were both engrossed in flicking bits of food at each other, neither bothering to give a response. Wendy figured that was response enough.

As for herself, Wendy shrugged, “Man, I can wait. ‘Sides, my last hour of the day’s a free period. I can go home early if I’m really feeling it. But then I’d have to come back to pick up Marcus. So I’ll probably learn what it is a bit after 3:30. Plus, no work tonight, so there’s honestly not a rush.”

That’s what she said, at least.

On the inside, her stomach was squirming like a bunch of rotting worms on a rainy day. She wasn’t dumb, and she knew it. But she knew she sure are hell wasn’t the smartest. Clever? Yeah. Smartest? Turns out years of shirking school’s responsibilities had actual consequences. Who knew?

Tambry glanced up and nodded appreciatively, “Wendy knows what’s up. Knowing the results now-vee-later doesn’t really change anything.”

Wendy grinned as everyone around her nodded. Sure, it meant just a teeny bit less, since Tambry’s mom was going to send a picture of her results, but still. The support was definitely there, and Wendy could feel it. That’s what counted. It didn’t hurt that it turned the whole table to her perspective, even making Thompson sit down decisively.

The rest of the lunch room wasn’t as decided as the rest of them, though.

Some people filtered out uneasily, worry taking hold too tight. Others were on the phone, calling parents who happened to be home at the time. Some people claimed to not care, but, based on how loud they were about it, Wendy was calling bull. They totally cared, they just didn’t want to look lame. Wendy ignored that she was basically the same, minus the exaggerated-ness of the reactions.

The day went slowly, much to her annoyance. It just made her feel like she was waiting for even more than usual. Waiting for school to be out, waiting to graduate, waiting for summer, waiting for the twins to come back (both generations), waiting for prom to be done, waiting, waiting, waiting. Was there anything she wasn’t waiting for?

She didn’t have an answer.

Her free period was near-empty. Tambry and Robbie had split, with the former conveniently not mentioning her score. Nate and Lee disappeared sometime between fifth and sixth period. Was it because of the exam results coming back? Definitely not. Which only left…

“Thompson, my dude, you don’t have to stay here if you’d rather go home.”

Thompson shook his head vigorously, “But then you’ll be here alone! If I leave, who’ll you talk to? What’ll you do?”

Wendy shrugged, “Sit in the Senior hallway? Dude, I know you’re hung up on your results. It’s completely fine if you leave. One hundred percent.” She had no opinion. But she knew Thompson enough that he would just talk about the results obsessively or actively avoid talking about them to the point that she would know what he was doing. Dude outwardly worried in excess. Real men (as Wendy’s dad would say) internalized that shit.

Not that Wendy encouraged internalizing anxious feelings. From experience, it was crap.

He eyed her wearily, “Are you sure?”

Wendy rolled her eyes and waved him off, “Go, be free, find out the results of an exam administered by bug men. C’mon, don’t be lame and just do what you want, man.”

Thompson nodded slowly, “Okay, yeah! You know what? I should!” He started down the hallway and waved.

“See you later, Wendy! I’ll message everyone in the group chat later! Bye Wendy!”

She raised her hand in response, already turning to head to her locker. She had stuff to do. Like slack off and pretend she was gonna do her Senior Civics homework that night. Boo, homework.

Once she reached her locked, she took her time grabbing her book bag and deciding if she needed anything for the night. As she pondered taking home her Environmental Science book, footsteps echoed in the otherwise empty hallway behind her. Glancing at the discreetly as possible, she saw it was Jamie Holt and Kim Hansen, both heading to their own adjacent lockers. Great.

Not that she hated other girls. Honestly, it was more the opposite. More so when it came to Kim, last summer.

As she hurried to finish up and get to the hallway, she could hear the whispers, just barely.

“Are you and her still…?”

“No… Stopped talking last couple months ago…”

“Can’t believe you…at a bonfire…”

“…Big mistake…Hick…”

Okay, that was enough.

With a reddened face, Wendy shut her locker door as quietly as possible and kept her eyes on the floor tiles as her heart hammered in her chest. Out of all the things she needed, reliving last summer and what followed was at the bottom, a couple spots above another end of the world with fire and demons and a technicolor dreamland. It was that unnecessary.

As she passed by, the whispers stopped completely and she could feel their eyes following her. Part of her wanted to break into a sprint and hide. Instead, she straightened up and slung her backpack over her shoulder.

Letting herself become the ice pack, she took a breath in and kept her usual pace, even pulling on her usual lazy smile. No one made her do anything except herself. And she wanted to enjoy her time walking to the senior hallway. Taking a turn at the end of the hallway, she tilted her head towards the pair, catching them looking at her. She flicked a two-finger salute and continued.

No one could shake Wendy Corduroy. Not on the outside.

The small victory kept her entertained the entire period, smiling to herself as she flipped through a magazine Tambry had lent her. The simple act of reading mindless articles was cathartic, in a way. If it weren’t for the shuffling of feet and crashing of lockers, she would have almost forgotten to leave.

As she stretched, her eyes scanned for the hulking mass that was her little brother. Sure, she was definitely tall for a girl, but Marcus? Dude was massive and still had a ways to go. If their dad was any indication, that is. But she tried that equation thing and they could probably almost hit six and a half feet, each. Obviously, it was possible they wouldn’t get that tall, but Wendy would be damned if any of her brothers ended up only a couple inches taller than her.

It only took a second to find him, catching his eye (or where his eyes should have been, under that hair) and nodding for him to move out. It wasn’t until they had made their way out of the school and into her truck that she noticed how pale he was. Oh boy. Another truck talk? Again?

Starting the truck up, she leaned back nonchalantly, one hand on the wheel “So… School. How was it?”

Do you think you did okay?”

The question came out rushed, breathless, as though it was forced out by a punch to the gut. Something Corduroys were all familiar with. It came out so rushed Wendy had to take a second to take it in.

“What? Do I…? I mean, I probably did alright. Like, I’m definitely not in that top percentile scoring, but I’m sure I did fine. Why?”

She turned to him, fingers wrapped around the column shift, right eyebrow raised slightly, “Dude, are you actually worried for me?”

Marcus shrugged a little bit, his shoulders moving only a bit, bringing an end to the conversation. Sure, she could have kept trying, but what would’ve been the point? He would talk to her about that if he felt ready. Besides, they’re learn the results soon. The house they lived in now was close enough to the school, closer than their cabin ever was.

Sure enough, they pulled up to the mayoral mansion in just a few minutes, short compared to the fifteen-minute drive it was three years ago.

As mayor of Gravity Falls, Tyler Cutebiker was better approval ratings than his predecessor. Granted, the approval ratings were vastly neutral with Befufftlefumpter due to most people forgetting thy even had a mayor. His consistent reelection was also in part of that, in addition to lack of opposing candidates. Tyler himself has faced reelection once already, due to the irregularity of his own election, in 2014 and, because of that, would be in office until 2018. Well, probably. That was provided nothing happened that would get in the way of that, such as death, resignation, or recall.

It was after his and dad’s marriage in May and his reelection in August of 2014 (right before her senior year began) that they completely moved into the mansion.  The wait had multiple components, mostly the reelection and the aliens coming in, that factored in. But finally, they were all moved in and had their own rooms.

Of course, the aliens’ control of everything made the whole position to just seem like that of a figurehead, but hey, Tyler still got the mansion and the salary that came with mayorship. It wasn’t ideal, but it could be worse. Much worse.

Wendy stopped by the mailbox, sliding out the bills and two thick envelopes. Saying nothing, she waved them at Marcus and headed in. Tyler was probably out and the boys were probably walking back from the joined middle and elementary schools. Dad was definitely still at work, but he was supposed to be home by six.

Once inside, Wendy flopped on the couch, boots on, and held Marcus’s envelope, “Well, no time like the present.”

He took his envelope and the sound of ripping paper filled the living room.

The second her eyes fell on the text and found her score, she sat up abruptly, folded it messily, and looked back up at her brother, “Cool, whatever. How’d ya do?”

Marcus shrugged, “Thirty-second percentile…” His face and neck was red, as though saying it out loud made it sound even worse than in his head. Hands shaking, he tried tucking the results back in the envelope.

“Could be worse, right…? What’d you get, sis..?”

Wendy shrugged back at him, “Eh, good enough. Come a few months, and I’ll take my place in the logging camps.”

Coming out, it made her sound like she was physically incapable of caring less. But inside? She could feel her heartbeat in her throat and hear the blood rushing in her ears. Her eyes darted around and she found herself hurrying up the stairs to her room, shouting about taking a much-needed nap.

Of course, she should have guessed it wasn’t going to be good. It wasn’t a lie that she’d be able to be a logger, but that left plenty of room for guessing on her score. That day she took the exam was awful. Lukewarm oatmeal breakfast didn’t leave for much good feeling and her hands shook as she filled in her bubbles. She even remembered how sweaty she got, having to shed her flannel shirt at one point.

With the ACT so far in the past, she had forgotten how much of a bad test-taker she was.

Confidence with people was fine, you could play it off like you knew something, even if you knew squat. It’s harder to trick paper. Especially the alien kind.

Plus it was a lot of physics. She knew very little on physics.

Closing the door shut tight in her room, Wendy dropped onto her bed, wanting nothing more than to sink into the covers forever. Which would have been completely realistic, if the beeping under her bed. Beeping that became way too familiar the past few months. Without getting off her bed, she turned her body until she could hang her front half of her body off and start digging in the shoebox full of junk.

“Junk” being precious mementos such as family photos (especially ones with her mom), her corsage from last year’s prom, concert tickets, and a softly beeping gift from the Pines that didn’t quite fit.

Stan Two explained the science behind but, at the very basics, it was a cellphone the bug men couldn’t trace or read the conversations. Even the numbers used for contacting each other were longer than normal. The cell phones themselves were looked older in model and just allowed texting and calling. Though group chat was a thing, which was a blessing in itself.

A small glance told her she had missed a lot of messages. All from the group chat

 

From: Dipper

At: 3:23 PM

Message: WENDY. BIG NEWS. PUTTING THIS IN GROUP CHAT SO WE CAN ALL TALK.

 

From: Dipper

At: 3:29 PM

Message: ACTUALLY I’M JUST GONNA GO AHEAD.

 

From: Mabel

At: 3:30 PM

Message: im here too!!! but im letting dipper tell you the news ;P

 

From: Dipper

At: 3:30 PM

Message: OKAY OKAY OKAY so I’m going to calm down but! We’re coming to Gravity Falls soon! Like, soon soon.

 

From: Dipper

At: 3:31 PM

Message: As in, the next few days. Will explain once you’re home and start talking.

 

Jeez, what? Why were they coming so soon? It was only early May, and school usually didn’t get out for them till late May at the earliest. Far as Wendy knew, there was no way for them to get out of school so early. This, she had to investigate right away.

 

From: Wendy

At: 3:42 PM

Message: woah calm down. first of all why??? like im excited but this makes no sense guys

 

From: Mabel

At: 3:44 PM

Message: grunkle stan and grunkle ford are coming back!!!!! BLAAARGH IM EXCITED

 

From: Wendy

At: 3:44 PM

Message: Dude? Spill??

 

From: Dipper

At: 3:45 PM

Message: Mabel! You said I could tell her! But yes, they’re coming back! Grunkle Ford says he’s working on something to try and get earth out of this mess. He’s been working on it for the past few months, trying to find people who can all work together. He found a lead and plans on making contact tonight! Apparently, the lead isn’t a good person, but he hates the Federation and has experience in screwing with them.

 

From: Mabel

At: 3:45 PM

Message: they met while BETWEEN DIMENSIONS

 

From: Wendy

At: 3:46 PM

Message: so you guys are coming here to help or what? like I get the stanz are coming back but wont it be dangerous cus of the aliens and their tech? feeling like you guys would be tracked or smth

 

From: Mabel

At: 3:48 PM

Message: that’s the COOLEST part!!! grunkle ford gave us stuff that HIDES us from the aliens

 

From: Dipper

At: 3:49 PM

Message: What she means is he gave us some anti-tracking tech that also can hide us from cameras within a certain distance! It’s pretty complex stuff.

 

From: Mabel

At: 3:49 PM

Message: we’ll basically be SPIES!! Which means the GRAPPLING HOOK is coming back!!!!

 

Holy shit. So the Mystery Twins were really coming back early this summer? Sounds like an adventure already, if she was completely honest. The thought of those two coming back really brightened her whole mindset of the summer to come. She hadn’t even thought about-

 

From: Dipper

At: 3:51 PM

Message: I had forgotten! We got our exam results back! I scored in the top 90th percentile and am projected to improve!

 

From: Mabel

At: 3:51 PM

Message: who has two thumbs and got scored in the 81st percentile??? THIS GIRL!!!!

 

Right. Cool. So the Pines did a great job, better than her by far! Good for them. They deserve it, one hundred percent. They’re both smart cookies. So why did her stomach knot up even more? Well, she had better just suck it up and tell them her score. She had to start somewhere, and the twins were her best bet.

 

From: Wendy

At: 3:53 PM

Message: thats great guys! i did alright i guess, scored at the thirtieth percentile. probably the best in my class, lol.

 

Well, that did approximately zero help. Let it be known Wendy tried complete disclosure to help herself feel better.

Groaning, Wendy threw the phone back into the shoebox and ignored the buzzing. If anything, she felt even sicker than before. As she fell back onto her bed, she wished she didn’t have to think about the dumb test any more. Specifically, she wished the dumb bug-men would get the hell off earth, and bring all the other dumb aliens with them.

She stayed in that same position, ignoring the buzzing, even after Tyler came home. Even after her dad came home. In fact, she would have stayed the way past dinner, but Kevin banged noisily on her door shouting it as time to eat and she had to come to dinner, dad said so.

Smacking her palm against her quilt, Wendy sat up. There was no point in waiting, unless she wanted her dad to start shouting. Something not on her Christmas list.

To make sure they knew she was coming, she noisily jumped out of bed and jerked her door open. It made her come off as pissed, but what could she do? Besides, everyone in the house was noisy but Tyler, and come on. Even he shouted once and a while. Sure, it was usually something like, “Get it!” but shouting was shouting.

Dropping down the stairs with each step, Wendy made her way to the dining table. Lucky for her, everyone was still dishing up, giving her small cover as she plopped into the last empty chair.

“What’d I miss?”

Gus immediately began shouting about a disagreement there was at recess that day on whether or not the aliens were gonna stay on earth and keep controlling them or not, but was cut off by their dad.

“MARC DID GREAT ON HIS ALIEN EXAM. HOW DID WENDO DO?”

Wendy glanced at Marcus, who shrugged, then looked back at her dad, “Um, what? I mean, I’m totally proud of Marc too, but what do you mean by…?”

“HE DID MUCH BETTER THAN HE WAS EXPECTED. HOW DID MY BRIGHT DAUGHTER DO?”

Feeling sweat grow on her back (not from her father’s volume, she was used to that) Wendy shrugged, “I mean, I did pretty alright. Average. I think? Pretty much the same as Marc.”

Tyler cheered, “Got it!” and gave her a big scoop of mashed potatoes, while her brothers cheered as well.

“WEN-DY! WEN-DY! WEN-DY!”

Sitting back, Wendy had to bask in it, if just for a couple seconds. Sure, her score would be pretty shit, especially compared to others, but in her family? It was one that was well-earned and came from a best effort. Not that her family was all about that inspirational bull. They also probably thought that she would be the highest scorer of them all on the dang exam ever.

Still, she felt significantly better than before.

“THE LOGGER TRADITION LIVES ON,” Manly Dan screamed as he planted a big ole steak on Wendy’s plate. He had the biggest steak, of course. It was just a big stake in general, compared to what the average teenager would eat.

Corduroy’s ate big, drank lots, and spoke loud. The last one was especially relevant now.

After that excitement went down, everyone began speaking at once. Tyler was telling Dan and Marcus about the mayoral duties today (talk with the bug men, then a whole lot of nothing) and Gus and Kevin both launched into stories about their school days, both only pausing to take breaths. Wendy did her best to split her attention between them by eating and giving the occasional “cool” or “yikes, man.”

But her thoughts were now on food and her family, half-forgetting the likely still-buzzing phone upstairs. Heck, even her normal phone was upstairs still. Her only real distractions were the other people at the table.

For once, she didn’t feel that slight pressure in her temples, the knot in her stomach, or the beginning of sweat forming on her back.

She just felt alright.

-

Summer managed to not even think of the exam or its potential results until a month and half later, after arriving home to find the mail still in her mailbox. While not an uncommon occurrence within itself, it meant neither of her parents were home from work. Granted, home was so tense and boring these days, she understood why neither wanted to be home.

She flipped through the mail, which was slowly becoming less and less physical copies, due to the Federation’s policies on bill payment being instituted more and more. It was the second to last piece of mail she flipped to that she noticed that were her exam results, leading her to nearly drop the entirety of the small stack of mail.

Her name was neatly printed in the middle, followed by her address. In the corner, Galactic Federation was proudly printed, clearly marking itself as her Final Evaluation Exam. Right under it was Morty’s, she was sure, that envelope identical to her own.

Summer swears her mind left a body for just a second, adrenaline shooting through her body. Her future rested nondescriptly in her hands, among her family’s phone and cable bills. Her knees shook and her body swayed a bit. Part of her wanted to tear open the envelope right on the sidewalk, but another part of her wanted to wait and share this moment with her family.

She settled on compromise.

After a quick trip to the kitchen, she grabbed some juice and a letter opener, then called her mother, settling in the now empty garage, sitting at a stool by a vacant table.

“Hi, sweetie, I have a few minutes until I have another surgery. What’s up?” her mother’s word came out rushed, and Summer could just picture her mom briskly walking down the hallway at the vet clinic, cell phone cradled between shoulders as she yanked off her right glove.

“I got my exam results back.”

Summer could hear her mother stop, the bustle of the clinic shuffling around her.

“Oh! Have you opened it yet, then?” Despite the attempt at a casual tone, Summer knew her mother was almost as nervous as herself.

“Yeah, not yet. I wanted to wait until you guys got home, but I also couldn’t wait that long,” she replied, taking a sip of juice and swinging a leg to keep herself occupied.

Her mother was silent for just a second when she spoke clearly, “Well, open it! I only have a few minutes left and I want to know how far my daughter can go.” Her voice was firm, but there was just a bit of an edge to it. She wanted to know if Summer measured up to the annoyingly high Federation standards.

Back when she first took the exam, Summer thought her hands would shake too much to focus when she got her results back. Instead, the were almost frighteningly calm as she gently slit the letter open with the opener and dropped it on the table.

“Okay, envelope’s open…” she muttered, partly so her mother was updated, partly so she could keep herself grounded, “Now I just have… to…” As she spoke, she slid the thick paper from its place. Before she could even turn it over to look for any kind of words like “Congratulations!” or “terribly sorry” or “pleased” or “Average,” she dropped the paper and it flew from her fingers to under the sink, and behind the cabinet.

Shit.”

Her mother was silent as Summer got on her knees, trying to reach the results, until tentatively speaking, “Did you not do well, honey? You can tell me, you know.”

What? Oh. No.

“Ugh, no, the stupid thing fell from my hands before I could even look for see anything… God… It went under the sink and… behind the… washer. Ha!” With her last word, Summer had snagged the paper from where it was wedged, knocking another thick. folded square of paper with it.

Ignoring the other piece of paper, Summer’s eyes scanned her results as she unfolded her fancy paper, her eyes widening as she sat up straight, knocking her head against the sink.

“Ow! Oh my God, Mom, I… I scored within the 99th percentile. Shit, that hurts…”

Once again, her mother was silent before abruptly speaking, “I have to go now, Summer, but I am so proud of you. So proud. I’ll stop by the store and pick up something special to celebrate, okay sweetie? I love you, Summer, bye!”

And like that, her mom hung up, leaving Summer alone with her thoughts, her dirty knees, and the words on the page.

Taking a big gulp before continuing, Summer felt a smirk inch its way on her face and looked to what else it all said.

Congratulations on your score! Due to your results and your heritage, we at the Galactic Federation would like to welcome you to come work with us closely, so we can make sure a mind like yours is put to good use! After your graduation day, you are to be assigned a position working elbow to elbow with others who may have similar circumstances to yourself. If you have any questions on what your assigned position may hold, please contact us at…

Wait. Wasn’t she supposed to get more choices by getting a higher score? Now she only had one? That couldn’t be right, it couldn’t. The gromflomites who came in to explain the exam last may emphasized how much choice they had, telling her class that the bigger percentile you scored in, the wider your options were.

She sat there for what felt like hours when she could faintly hear Morty get home from wherever he had been.

“Sum- Summer…?” he called, his light footsteps louder than ever before, “Where are- Oh, there you are. Didn’t think I- I would find you in here.”

Her younger brother had gotten taller since Rick left, which made the image of him standing there stick out from what she remembered. Wrong, almost, but not.

Wordlessly, Summer handed the results to him.

Morty’s eyes bugged as his eyes slowly went over the words, “Holy shit, Summer, you did great! I don’t think I did that well…” He trailed off as he kept reading, getting to the part that confused Summer.

“God, I almost forgot–” Summer smacked her hand against her forehead as she spoke, pissed at herself for forgetting Morty entirely, “I left your next to the fridge. I’m sorry, I was gonna give it to you as soon as you got home but…”

Her little brother shrugged, giving a solemn look as he spoke, “Yeah, but do I even want to, now?”

“What? Morty, if you didn’t do well, it’ll tell you. It’ll even tell you what you can improve on to do better.”

“Like, you- you got a really good score, yeah? Well, it sounds like they’re planning on keeping you close so- so they can keep an eye on you. If getting a good score like yours isn’t something to want to do, what else is there to do?”

He got her there. A score like hers, even remotely, could lead to him getting in the same spot. Bombing the exam would definitely lead to one of the harder labor jobs that always lead to early death. What else was left but his spot in the comfortable middle?

Neither spoke for a while until Summer’s stomach rumbled embarrassingly loud.

Despite how serious everything else was, it gave them room to smile at each other before they both left to get something to eat.

One hour and nearly a full pizza later, the two sat watching one of the newer episode of Ballfondlers when a car pulled up into the driveway. They glanced at each other, wondering which parent had come home first.

“Bet you that last slice it’s Mom,” Morty ventured challengingly.

Summer sat back with ease, grin inching onto her face, “Deal. Can’t wait to collect. That pizza is mine.” It should have been hers anyways, since Morty had already eaten four, but she let him be a teenage boy. It was good for him.

It seemed like minutes, but was probably only seconds, when the door opened to reveal their father, as Summer had predicted. With a victorious grin directed at Morty, she snatched the pizza and took a huge bite.

“What are you guys doing up so late?” their father asked as he rummaged in the fridge, “Did happen to leave any pizza for your old man, did ya?”

“Summer’s eating the last piece,” Morty called apologetically.

“Yeah, sorry,” Summer shrugged, unapologetically.

“That’s fine!” Jerry called, though obviously slighted, “I’ll just eat some leftovers. What’s that on the table? More bills?” Despite is attempt to sound jovial, both the Smith children could see right through him. He just wanted them to think he was Cool™ and Hip™ and knew how to be casual.

“Summer got her exam results back-“ Morty started, before realizing Summer probably wanted to talk about this herself.

“Um, yeah,” Summer started, trying to figure out how to play this with her dad, “Um, I got my score back, I guess. At least, they told me what percentile I scored in.”

“Well?” their dad prodded at her expectantly, sitting in the chair to their right, forgoing food, “What’d ya’ get? Hopefully it wasn’t too shabby!”

Resisting any urge to roll her eyes, Summer sighed, “I scored within the 99th percentile.”

“That’s good,” Morty volunteered.

Jerry stared at her in shock, mouth hanging open, before finally muttering, “Wow… That’s… That’s great, sweetheart.”

It took him a second before he cleared his throat and smiled, “Guess you must have gotten a pretty good score then! Can’t beat the Smiths when it comes to brain, no sirree Bob!”

Morty and her exchanged glances, knowing if the brains came from any side of the family, it wasn’t their father’s.

“So…” he continued, “What does that mean for you, career-wise? You can do almost anything, right?

Summer shook her head, confusion coming back, “That’s the weird thing. They said the higher the score, the more choice we have, but the letter said I would be working closely with the Federation.”

If her father was worried, he didn’t show any sign of it. Instead, he beamed with pride.

“That’s great, honey! It means you’ll be working a nice cozy job with the people who are in control! That’s what matters most, in times like these. This is good! They probably just want to keep that big, Smith brain of yours up top with all the big dogs!”

“W-Well, yeah, but should we really trust them?” Morty ventured, “Rick always spoke badly of the Federation. The way he talked about them, they didn’t seem like they were the good guys.”

Jerry rolled his eyes, “Of course they the good guys, Morty! They’re the reason I have a job!”

“They’re the reason Grandpa Rick was in jail,” Summer countered.

Rick is the reasons Rick in jail,” their father argued, “The Federation was just doing their job. Need I remind you he was classified as a terrorist?”

“Because their laws are oppressive to the planets on the bottom of the pyramid.”

Sighing, Jerry shook his head, “Guys, I’ve had a long day working hard and earning money, and I’d like to just celebrate my daughter doing well! Is that really so bad?” Probably not, but when you’re Jerry Smith and can’t stop yourself from bad mouthing Grandpa Rick, yes.

Leaning back against the couch cushions, Summer pulled out her phone, done with this whole thing, “Mom had a surgery, last time we talked a while ago. She said she would pick something up on her way home. Who knows when she’ll get out, but can we just wait in silence? I’m so over this already.”

When Beth finally did come home, small ice cream cake in hand, the mood hand been killed entirely, with both Smith children off in their rooms and Jerry sitting quietly in front of the TV.

“Jesus, you think everyone would be a bit happier. Where’re the kids?”

“Upstairs.”

Setting the cake down, Beth put one fist on her hip and used the other to cup her mouth, “Kids, get down here now, please!”

Crossing her arms in wait, Beth waited patiently for the two to finally make their way down, Summer already looking tired and Morty himself looking irritated.

“I got you a little cake, Summer! How’d you do, Morty?

He shrugged, “Better than- than I expected. R-Right in the middle. I mean, some of the stuff was hard, but I think I absorbed some of what Rick was talking about, ‘cus I knew some of that stuff.”

“You can have a slice, then! Dad and I don’t need any. This is for you guys!”

Jerry looked offended and opened his mouth to speak, but was immediately silenced by a hard look from Beth, then crossed his arms, leaning back.

Turning her attention to Summer, who had taken out a knife and was slicing a large piece, her mom smiled, “Did you letter say anything else? I want to hear every single word!”

Sighing, Summer pulled her letter out and handed it to her mother, who took it, eyes skimming over the words enthusiastically.

Slowly, enthusiasm changed into confusion.

“So… The Galactic Federation wants you to work for them? I thought you were supposed to choose what you did.”

“Me too,” Summer replied grouchily, eyeing her next bite of cake.

“Dad didn’t really have that much good to say about the Federation… And they want you, his granddaughter, to work closely with them? I sorry, but doesn’t this seem suspicious to anyone else? Like, they just want to keep a close eye on Summer because of her high score and her being Dad’s granddaughter, making her a risk?”

“Yes,” the Smith children chorus angrily, looking to their father.

Jerry sat up straighter, “Hold on! Maybe it’s just that she merited this all on her own and it’s actually an honor? C’mon, people!”

“I’m not saying Summer didn’t earn this, Jerry, I’m saying they don’t trust any of our family to be smart and on their own without them watching closely!”

Summer and Morty groaned, feeling the fight grow already. It wasn’t even Sunday night, when their parents would have spent most of their weekend together and just be plain tired of the other person’s existence. This fight had more substance.

“We should just trust them!”

“My dad didn’t and neither do I!”

“Your father was a terrorist!”

“According to them!”

“They’re in charge of a ton of planets! They know what they’re doing!”

God, Jerry, you’re such a sheep!”

Feeling it wasn’t going to end any time soon, the two teenagers slowly got up, taking the ice cream cake with, planning on taking it somewhere else. Suddenly, their mother stopped them, hand in the air, halting the argument.

“Summer, sweetie, I am proud, okay? I want you to know that.”

Summer nodded and gave her mom a smile before turning to Morty and jerking her head towards the mostly sound-proof garage, grabbing the knife her mother brought in off the coffee table. The less they heard of the argument, the better.

Settling at the same barstool she sat at earlier, Summer cut two big hunks of cake, cursing when she realized they didn’t have any plates. Morty just shrugged and took a bite from his slice as it sat with the rest of the cake. Pausing, for a brief second, she followed suit.

“So, I literally have no clue what I’m gonna do.”

“M-Maybe we could go on the run? That way we- we’d be able to get some kind of leverage, not be sitting ducks, right?”

“Woah,” Summer interjected, raising her palms outwards in the typical ‘hold up’ fashion, fork still in hand, “What’s this ‘we’? Morty, I can’t expect you to put yourself in danger from the alien government for me. Especially if I was going on the run.”

Morty’s eyebrows furrowed as he replied, “Okay, yeah, I get where you’re coming from, but, also, that’s a real shitty idea. And- and I’ll tell you why. Two eyes are better than one, Summer, especially on the run. Plus, if- if you’ve got smarty brain waves, my idiot ones will balance them out and we’ll be able to hide our brainwaves, so they can’t find us that ways. Plus, I went on more adventures with Grandpa, so I know more about hiding from space and aliens. You- you- you need me along. Ch- Check and mate.”

Silence followed Morty up, giving the response he needed.

Finally, Summer spoke again, “I haven’t even decided if I was going. But fine, if I do, you can come, since you’re so good at hiding from the alien government.”

Morty nodded and picked at the cake for a second bite, chewing slowly, “Do you think you’d be able to take your car, if you did?”

“Yeah, Summer shrugged, “I think so. I mean, worse comes to worse, I go and change license plates with someone else’s car. I’ve done it before, you know.” The last part she added after a brief pause, looking at him intently.

“I know, Summer, it was all over school how you got pissed at Toby Matthews for sleeping with Kelsey Shawnsen and stole his license plate during your study hall. You’re lucky he didn’t take, like, legal action against you. Where’s you even learn that?”

“Lauren Snelling. She takes auto shop and made me feel validated and appreciated and taught me car things.”

“Woah, okay, whoop-dee-doo, Sum-” As he spoke, Morty twirled his fork, only for it to slip out of his fingers and clatter under the sink behind him, “Shit.”

“Don’t hit your head,” Summer muttered carelessly as she took another bite, Morty searching under the sink for his likely now-dusty spoon, “’Make sure you wash if off when you pick it back up. Whatever you need in life, if isn’t more dirt in your digestive tract.”

Morty was silent and still under the sink.

“Um, hello? Earth to Morty, I said not to eat the dirt.”

“Hey- Hey, Summer,” Morty called quietly, “What’s the paper? On the floor? I’ve never noticed it before.”

“What, that? My exam results flew under the sink and that piece got knocked from behind the sink when I got it from behind the washer. Why? Does it actually have something on it or…?”

“Just ‘Ford/Sixer - Gravity Falls, OR – Owes favor.’ Then again: ‘Stan – Gravity Falls, OR – Also owes favor.’ Then at the bottom: ‘plus interest.’ What do you think that means?” Morty’s head finally reappeared, eyebrows furrowed. In his right hand was the now-unfolded paper. In his left was his dusty fork.

“Let me see,” Summer held out her hand and Morty obliged, handing it over as he turned on the sink, “They both probably just owe him a drink. So, in Grandpa Rick’s head, they both owe him a couple drinks. Nothing worth anything, I don’t think. Unless… Where is Gravity Falls? I’ve literally never heard of it.”

“Beats me.”

Summer sighed, giving him the stink eye. After a few beats, she pulled out her phone and searched ‘gravity falls oregon’.”

“Small town. Almost nothing there, except some tourist thing, looks like. The Mystery Shack? Owned by… Wait, shit, Stanford Pines? Mmkay… maybe worth investigating? I don’t know, like we don’t even know if the two favors plus interest would cover… What? Hiding out? I really don’t know.”

“M-Maybe we can contact them? See what they owe?” Morty asked, then looked back to the paper, “It’s weird. The names are ‘Stan’ and ‘Ford’ but, like, the place is owed by Stanford Pines? What the hell?”

“I don’t pretend to understand people’s names, Morty,” Summer snapped, rolling her eyes. “Maybe their parents were stupid, maybe their names are just a coincidence, I don’t care. My point is what should we expect, at the most?”

Morty shrugged, looking down and raising his voice, “That’s why I suggested we contact them, Summer. If you listened instead of just being irritated.”

“It’s too late to call now,” Summer sighed, standing down, “I’d have to try in the morning. Maybe before school? At school would be too risky. The cake’s melting, bee-tee-dubs.”

Morty glanced at the cake and muttered a quick “shit.” They occupied themselves for the next couple of minutes just eating the ice cream cake, much more than it originally seemed. It would have to go into the freezer soon.

Cocking an ear, Summer realized the house was silent. Weird.

Morty took a breath, “I’ll throw away your fork and wash the knife off if you put the cake away. Then maybe we’ll-”

A buzzing erupted from inside the drawers, then “Workshop force-activation. Origin: Seattle, Washington. Incoming call.”

What the fuck.

The workshop came to life, flipping on itself to reveal all of Rick’s old gadgets and inventions. The buzzing continued, then became beeping. Not in the bomb way, but as if it were…

“Is that the Skype call?” Morty asked, dazed and uneasy, glancing around the workshop as if one of their grandfather’s inventions was going to come to life and kill him. Not a completely unreasonable worry, in Summer’s opinion.

They stared at each other as the beeping continued, eyes wide and mouths stuck shut.

Looking around, Summer breathed in deeply and cleared her throat, “Um, accept? We accept this call? Is that what this is?”

Call accepted.”

The corkboard whirred briefly before flipping once more and becoming a screen, a small light at the top signaling a camera present as well. The screen flickered on to reveal two old, identical men in a dark room.

“Hello? Hello? Who is this?” the one in the left (in a turtleneck) called, “We’re looking for Rick Sanchez.”

What?” Morty asked, his voice shrill, “Grandpa Rick? He- He- He went to space jail months ago. What- Who even are you guys? You busted into his garage, for- for what?”

“Rick’s in jail?” the second of the two old men asked suddenly, “I mean, I figured at some point, but just when we need him, really?”

The one wearing a turtle neck sighed, removed his glasses, and rubbed his eyes, “We’ll have to work with it…”

He looked up and put his glasses back on, “Forgive me. I’m Stanford Pines and this is my brother, Stanley. We both knew your grandfather at different point in our lives. And we need his help now, more than ever. It might be a lot to take in, but your grandfather was actually a freedom fighter against the federation, which is likely why he was-”

Suddenly remembering the note left behind, it clicked in Summer’s mind. Without even thinking, she stared right at the screen and blurted, “Oh my god. Your parents were complete fucking idiots.”

To quote Morty: Shit.

Chapter Text

They left during seventh period.

To backpedal a bit, Lee and Nate cornered her, begging for her help to convince the rest of the group to go camping, she was feeling it. All they had to do was convince the rest of the crew.

Thomson was easy, he sided with whatever the majority of the group wanted anyways. Tambry and Robbie were the real challenges. A girl who’s phone is all but physically fused with her hand and a guy who has no ambition for anything that doesn’t make him look edgy?

It’d be a pain convincing them.

Ultimately, it was much easier than anticipated. Wendy convinced Robbie his Edginess would go up a million percent if he tried camping while strapped to a tree. Tambry was a tougher cookie to crack, but Thomson came through with a solution that involved a couple power banks for her phone and a promise that it would be less than twenty-four hours.

Awesome.

Wendy’s Friday nights usually consist of some kind of teenage tomfoolery, but that night would have to take the cake. It was supposed to be a normal camping trip, but normal was different when aliens lived on earth. Heck, even without the aliens, Wendy was almost excited. Her friends, while rad as hell, were not outdoorsy. The closest they got was whenever they went to a music festival and walked through the woods for a shortcut.

Wendy, however, probably had roughly a grand total of six months overall spent camping in her life. She knew what she was doing.

Mark her words, this trip would have to be fun.

Forward-pedaling to the beginning, they left right after school. Wendy had everything packed in her truck and would move it to Thomson’s mom’s minivan. It’d be a tighter fit, since they had grown since they were fifteen and the gear took up space, but it’d be worth it. She had also talked it over with Marcus, who would drive her truck home. It took a twisted arm and a punch to the shoulder for her to know she could trust him, but it would be worth it.

“Is it really gonna fit?” Thomson asked, peering into the furthest backseat, where Wendy was shoving at the camping gear.

Sucking in through her teeth, Wendy shrugged, “I mean, probably. What’s the BFD anyways? We’ll be fine.”

“But we need to follow the rules of the road!” Thomson insisted, “If it’s all taking up the entire back seat, we’re gonna be short one seatbelt, Wendy! Would you be able to move it any more so we can fit everyone?”

“Um, solution,” Tambry drawled, then lightly called out, “Robbie!”

“Robbie?” Thomson asked, face twisting into a confused mess.

For once, Thomson had a point. What could Robbie do that Wendy couldn’t? He didn’t know jack shit about camping-

Without looking up from her phone, Tambry lightly pushed Robbie into the middle seat seat, all the way in. Once he sat down, she dropped into his lap, all while still texting. Reflexively, her boyfriend’s arm draped itself round her waist, and there they were. The solution to Thomson’s problem.

Oh.

Glancing up, Tambry lifted once hand and wiggled her fingers, “Magic. You three can duke it out over who sits front seat. Whoever’s left can sit in the middle seat.”

Without a word, Wendy, Nate, and Lee all turned to each other and shook their fists as chanted, “Rock, paper, scissors.”

Lee and Nate both landed on rock, while Wendy threw out Paper. Hell yeah.

As the two boys booed, Wendy slid into the front seat. Lee and Nate continued booing as they shoved their way in, and Tambry seemed to actually be glancing up from her phone every few seconds. Robbie was smiling genuinely, and Wendy had to laugh. This day couldn’t get much better. The gear was packed nicely, she was sitting up front, everyone was in a good mood, she was gonna be doing one of her favorite activities with her best friends-

“Excuse me, but where are you young ones heading with all that outdoor equipment?”

Who the fuck?

The voice came floating from behind the car next to the minivan. Thomson, who was frozen with his hand in the door handle.

A bug man came out from behind the car, revealing itself to the teens, “Should you six be out of school right now? The day has not yet ended.”

The silence weighed on Wendy’s neck like one of Kevin’s dumbbells. She had to do something or it’d move to her stomach and she’d hurl-

“We- we’re going camping-“ Thomson stuttered out, moving so he could face the bug man better, “And we’re- we’re seniors. We all checked out early ‘cus we’re allowed to, since we all handed in the senior privileges sheet.”

The bug man squinted at them ghoulishly, his eye lids green like the rest of his skin, “I suppose that’s alright. I’ll have to check your names, of course. Can’t have any instances of truancy in the Federation’s Earth. Especially not on such gleaming, upstart citizen’s records.”

Wendy couldn’t be sure, considering her Galactic Civilizations class said some species of aliens couldn’t comprehend sarcasm due to differences in communication itself, but she was almost positive he was being sarcastic.

Thomson, to his credit, managed to stay outwardly cool as he leaned on the hood of the minivan, “Brady Thomson, Wendy Corduroy, Robbie Valentino, Tambry Dicicco, Nate Scott, and Lee Michaels. We should all be in there.”

The bug man blinked and all six of their files pulled up in front of him, blinking and shimmering faintly in the sun. Time seemed to be as slow and fucky as it was in Mabel’s dream bubble. Only difference now was there was no demon trying to take over their world. This time, it was just an alien who had been part of the force to take over their entire planet.

He paused before blinking again, making the files disappear, “It appears none of you are at risk of trying to disappear, as none of your files have any ties to suspicious characters. Nor did any of you score higher than the fiftieth percentile. You are free to go.”

With that, he turned and left as abruptly as he came, walking towards another senior who was trying to leave early.

The silence that followed was different from the silence he had brought. That silence was heavy, weighing Wendy down. This silence was suffocating.

She was drowning in air.

Wendy gripped the seat with shaking hands and she leaned her head out of the window. Thomson must have noticed she needed air or something, since he started driving and she could feel the cool spring air on her now-sweating face and fill her nose. She took a deep breath and held it in.

For the next ten minutes, nobody said anything. Tambry’s phone sat in her lap, Lee and Nate were as still and quiet as church ladies on Sunday, and Robbie didn’t say a single word. Thomson gripped the wheel, sweat rolling down his forehead. Wendy herself kept breathing as they started in on the woodsier area, the familiar sent keeping her grounded. If she focused on the green, the dizziness kept itself as bay.

She almost thought no one would say anything until they arrived when Thomson, of all people, suddenly, forcefully, cried out, “Fuck bug men!”

Five heads swiveled to their driver, eyes wide. Thomson, while eighteen like most of them, rarely swore as naturally or as forcefully as any of them. Aside from that moment, Wendy couldn’t think of any other time he did.

“Thomson, dude, you oka-?” Nate started, placing his hand on Wendy’s seat and leaning forwards.

“No! I’m not okay!” Thomson shouted, “And neither are you guys! Everyone’s hurt because they feel stupid because we all scored low, most of us are shaken because the bug man called us out for doing nothing wrong because we all know that doesn’t mean anything to those sadistic insects!”

Everyone looked around, unsure what to say. Wendy even pulled herself back in from the window and started rolling it up, prepared to try and talk him down when he continued, speeding down the road.

“Tambry feels like shit because now we know that even though she’s the one who probably got the highest score out of all of us, she still scored in the fiftieth, as if we’d care. Robbie’s terrified of the bug men deciding that one of us did something wrong and decides to get rid of us or him and because he wants to make Tambry feel better, but doesn’t know how. Lee and Nate are basically a hivemind and when one gets scared, they volley it back and forth until they’re both freaking out, even without words, making the situation worse. Wendy’s practically having a panic attack.”

He took a turn way to quick, tires screeching as they got closer to the site, “And every time one of those bug men talks to us, I’m terrified they’ll decide we’re all too much trouble and they’ll split us up. I’ve been cultivating this friendship group for years, taking your guys’ abuse, only for some alien government to threaten it.”

The minivan screeched to a stop as they pulled into the parking area. They had arrived.

No one moved.

Breathing heavily, Thomson let go of the wheel, “So, no, Nate. To answer your question, I am not okay.”

Wendy watched him carefully, letting him have this. Thomson didn’t shout or have real problems often, but when he did, they tried to listen.

After a few moments of silence, signaling he was done, Wendy tried to lighten things up a bit, “I mean, I wouldn’t exactly call it a panic attack, dude.”

Thomson was still and she was almost afraid it was way too son when he chuckled a bit, giving her a faint smile, “You know what I mean.”

Lee leaned forwards, now that he had unbuckled his seatbelt, “Thomson, buddy, it’s all cool. You’re right. About all of that. All of us were spooked. But you managed to keep a level head, man, let the bug man know we weren’t doing anything wrong. Kudos to you.”

“Yeah!” Nate called, ducking under Lee’s armpit and lightly punching Thomson’s shoulder, “You were great, man! All those times getting pulled over were just training for the ultimate boss! Facing a bug man head on!”

“You did good,” Tambry said, phone now inches from her nose, a sign she was on her way to bouncing back.

“Yeah, man,” Robbie pitched in, “Let’s hear it for Thomson!”

Within seconds, everyone was punching the roof of the minivan, chanting, “Thomson! Thomson! Thomson!”

Thomson snapped back to his usual self, pleading for them to stop. Behind his whines, Wendy could see traces of a smile on his face.

The day wasn’t ruined yet.

In minutes, they had their bags and were all holding some gear, ready to go hiking and camping. Finally, Wendy was in her element. No fill-in-the-bubble tests out in the woods to tell you where you’ll end up. Only the trails and the entire forest itself.

Wendy took lead, laughing as she easily ducked through woods she knew well enough at this point in her life. Lee and Nate took up the rear, with Lee having the second-most experience camping. Tambry and Robbie walked just ahead of them, leaving Thomson to walk in front of them and behind Wendy.

Which gave the rest of the group a fantastic idea of what to avoid, since he seemed to run into most of it.

The hiking lasted for a couple hours, which everyone aside from Lee and Wendy to complain. They took a couple breaks, but forged on, for the most part. Wendy wanted to make sure they reached the spot before it got dark so they could set up properly. As far as she could tell, they had another hour or so of daylight.

They’d make it work.

Soon enough, they had reached the site. It was deeper into the woods than the others might have been used to, but Wendy could handle it. Plus, her family’s old cabin (the old, old cabin from before Wendy was even born, when her dad and mom were young) was closer by in case of an emergency. Even before the aliens came, her family kept it up-to-date in case something happened and they needed help out there.

Or needed to escape.

Not that she said that. If she told them there was a cabin with real beds out here, they’d want to go there instead. Which would be cool for all of two minutes, then it’d be boring.

Her lips were sealed.

Her hands, however, were busy putting everything together and up with ease. With her and Lee directing and helping, they were all set up in no time, with a bit of daylight left.

Which left her to give instructions.

“Guys, you all go find some firewood. Dry stuff. Lee, don’t let them bring anything back that we can’t use. Tambry, you and I will se up the fire pit and get everything in the tents. Mostly because that’s the easy job and I don’t want to do any hard work.”

“Only gossip and a little work,” Tambry offered, phone at her side. She was wrapped in Robbie’s old sweater that he finally grew out of. At this point, Wendy couldn’t tell if it gave any warmth at all, it was so worn.

“Only gossip and a little work,” she affirmed.

Plus, she had to set up a tree Robbie could actually sleep in. Making the guys leave would leave her with enough room for all the junk she needed to do. Gossip included. Especially gossip.

With more grumbling from Robbie than anyone else, the guys set off in search of firewood. Wendy waited for them to get out of eye and earshot, raising a conspiratory finger to her lips, eyebrow raised.

Tambry stared back, smile on her lips. She knew she could rely on Wendy to get them as little work as possible.

On the guys were gone, Wendy pulled some gloves on and knelt in the middle of the circle of logs (a big circle for a big family). Digging around a bit, she snagged a tarp from under a large pile of leaves, flipping it over and pulling it out of the way to reveal an already finished fire pit.

Tambry finally gave a full smile and nodded, “Sweet. Now we gossip.”

“Sure,” Wendy replied as she plopped onto the log, leaning back as far as she could, “What’s new in the underground world of shady gossip, Tambers?”

The smile disappeared and was replaced with a tired, half-hearted glare, “Kim Hansen.”

Ouch.

“Boo, gossip is suddenly boring and I want nothing to do with it. Gross. Boo.”

“No, listen,” Tambry insisted, in her own, oddly detached way, “She’s been talking mad shit, Wendy. It’s ridiculous. Not to sound all ‘Mean Girls’-y but she literally needs to be stopped.”

Wendy sighed and looked at the sky that was becoming darker every minute, “What’re we gonna doing? Unless you’re planning on a smear campaign, I don’t think there’s much we six could really do.”

In truth, their group was looked at as the troublemakers of the school. The cool ones, at least, but they weren’t what some might call popular by any means. In a place like Gravity Falls, popular was a bit skewed, but whatever it was, it wasn’t them.

Tambry let out something that could be called an apathetic growl, “Kay, but she’s acting like you’re so bad. Get real. You guys hooked up at a party, and now she’s embarrassed because she thought you would be some cute girl couple that ruled the school and you’re not interested. Like, come on. Move on.”

Sighing, Wendy examined the trees, “Yeah, like, she was alright and everything, but I kind of made it clear I wasn’t looking for a relationship then. By then, I meant that night, during a bonfire with a bunch drunk teenagers like me. If she hadn’t reacted like she did, maybe we’d be alright. But she did, she here we are.”

Tambry nodded, “Agreed. Plus, I hear she’s clingy. You aren’t really into super clingy people, right?”

“Yeah,” Wendy admitted, “Like, I don’t mind some cling, but I don’t like it right away. It needs to be grown in naturally. Like, I dunno, height? Can’t try and force it.”

“Literally makes no sense, Wendo, but good try,” Tambry replied, rolling her eyes.

They went back and forth like that for a while, not putting too much stock in the talk. Just chatting. It never felt like they could at school. Or home. Too many people with too many opinions.

Wendy managed to point out a tree that Robbie could strap himself in and they threw the remaining guys’ stuff in the slightly bigger tent. Their own stuff was neatly placed in their tent (or as neat as they could get), ready to be slept in. With the guys still gone, Wendy started gathering tinder until they arrived.

After a few minutes, after she had enough to get the fire started and keep it going for a bit, the guys came stomping through the trees.

Thomson was carrying the most firewood, with Lee and Nate tied for second (Wendy was half-positive Lee had collected most of it and just shared), while Robbie had, by far, the least. They unceremoniously dropped it in a messy heap near Wendy’s feet. How sweet of them.

“You find a tree yet,” Robbie asked, arms crossed, as he looked down at Wendy on her spot on the log.

In response, she waved her hand up to a branch nearly ten feet off the ground and grinned, “Not too bad a spot for your first time.”

He scowled and crossed his arms tighter, “Pfft, I could go higher. Check it.”

Without missing a beat, Robbie took a leap at the tree and scrambled to catch hold. He managed to keep himself up and, in a surprising show of body strength, was able to start climbing. Once he reached the branch Wendy pointed out, it was clear he wasn’t stopping there. Using that branch to gain more footing, he kept going until he was another ten feet up.

Even from twenty feet below, Wendy could see the (frustratingly) triumphant smirk across his face.

“Anything to say this this, Wendy?”

Everyone stared at her expectantly for a response. Even Tambry was looking at her with slightly raised brows, attention stolen from her phone (which had finally gotten to the point that it needed to be plugged into the portable charger).

“You wanna start your stay up there now or you gonna come down and roast some weenies?

Even from twenty feet below, Wendy could see the (satisfying) blush that consumed his pale face.

Not that she hated the guy or anything. She was typically a spot on judge of character and they went out as fifteen year olds. Wendy didn’t date awful people, really. Robbie was just the kind of guy who could irritate you one second but could warm your heart with surprising thoughtfulness the next. Make no mistake, he was no saint. But, honestly, who was? Besides, he had matured a little bit after the Oddpocalypse.

In an admission of defeat (in Wendy’s opinion) he climbed back down, face still a it red once he reached the bottom of the tree.

Lee and Nate had already pulled out the hot dogs and were well on their way to getting the finished weenies. Thomson was roasting Wendy and Tambry’s for them as they chatted on more local  gossip.

The night went by quickly as they laughed in the crackling firelight. Wendy and Lee made sure it didn’t get too big as the others grew more tired and started making their way to going to sleep.

Thomson was the first to fall asleep, almost crawling into the tent. Robbie went next, demanding help getting strapped into the tree, which Wendy did with ease. Tambry was right behind him, giving a good night kiss before turning on her heel into the girls’ tent.

Nate took a while, but as the fire grew smaller, his eyes fell lower until he mumbled a “good night” and stumbled into the tent. Which left Wendy and Lee.

Wendy didn’t mind being up, since she always stayed up late, but that was just her. She knew for a fact (based on Nate’s testimony) that Lee had honest to God trouble falling asleep at night. Which of course affected his schoolwork. Not that the teachers cared, f course. He was just another irresponsible teen who stayed up too late on purpose and used class time for sleep by his own choice. The first part was true, but the second part was definitely more Wendy that anyone else.

They sat in silence, enjoying it. Lee’s energy spiked around Nate, something everyone in their friend group was pretty much aware of. When he was with others, he was more quiet, subdued. He was at rest.

Wendy was almost surprised when Lee quietly spoke up, “So, Kim Hansen?”

She wanted to just shrivel up and die. Why? This was the second person who wanted to talk about her love life.

“Seriously? Tambry and now you? Why’s everyone dying to know about my exploits? It was months ago. She’s just talking about it now because nothing’s going on and she thought we were gonna go to prom together. I mean, come on. Aliens are on Earth. Why don’t we talk about that?”

“Old news,” Lee shrugged, “What’s left to say? ‘Sides, this is the first time I heard about you and her. You and anyone, really. You kind of lost steam in the dating game after you dated Robbie.”

Wendy shrugged, “Guess with all the stuff that happened, it wasn’t a priority any more. Why’s it matter anyways? You planning on leaving Nate for me?” Her eyebrows wiggled, signaling her lack of seriousness on the matter. Last thing she needed was another misunderstanding.

He just scoffed and rolled his eyes, which lingered on the guys’ tent, “I just didn’t know you were, you know, out. You never really liked talking about it, even with us. Well, maybe Tambry. You two have that girl friendship stuff going on.”

“I ‘unno,” Wendy shrugged, poking the fire, “Like, I don’t broadcast it, cus I’m not looking for people to stare, but I’m not hiding it, I guess? It’s…”

“Complicated?” Lee offered, taking a poke at the fire himself.

Wendy wrinkled her nose at his word choice, “Ugh, gross. Yeah. I hate it, but that’s probably exactly it.”

“It’s the lot we draw in life,” he shrugged, “Doesn’t always mean we share it. Doesn’t mean we have to. We do what we want with it.”

Wendy just nodded, not sure what to say in response. Her mind toyed with sharing this particular story. She hadn’t really even told Tambry, and she and Lee were good friends, but they weren't crazy close. But, not counting Wendy, he was the only person who was really out at their school.  Even Kim, who was embarrassed by Wendy blowing her off, was claiming too many beers made her too much of a “friend.” Liar.

Maybe Lee felt like he was drowning in isolation.

Her eyes locked onto the fire as she started slowly, “Kim was the first girl I was really with. Like, you know, with.”

Lee nodded, watching her carefully.

“I didn’t even really plan on hooking up with anyone, let alone her. But, like, at the bonfire, she was cool. Funny. Chill. We made a little bit, when everyone was heading home. Robbie was clinging onto Tambry and you and Nate were wherever. Thomson was available, but I took this as a sign or something. Maybe I should try being with a girl.”

She paused, taking a breath, “Her place was close and her parents were out of town. It was kind of perfect. I mean, the actual act was awkward, but it kind of always is. I don’t really regret anything ‘cept maybe not being upfront about everything later. I should have.”

Wendy shrugged, “Next day passed and I forgot to really talk with her. Then a few weeks passed and then school started and it was hard to do anything with those aliens around. Still is. Heck, even gossip with friends, you know?”

Lee was quiet in his spot, arms on knees, eyes lowered, “Yeah, I get ya’. Nate and I-”

The branches above them rustled and a hushed whisper shot out, “Hey!”

Both teens jumped in surprise at the sudden, new voice. Robbie peered down at them from his branch, brows slightly creased with worry.

“Your gossiping woke me up. I was sitting here, trying to fall back asleep, when I saw a light. Super spooky, right? I mean, since Wendy said there was no one really out here. So I looked a little harder and wham! It hit me. The bug men re out here. Don’t know why, but the lights were the same one we saw when they first arrived.”

What?” Wendy asked, already getting a footing on the tree Robbie was in, Lee right behind her. No one joked about the aliens, really. Not in the sense of ‘They’re coming!’ or anything like that. Not even Robbie would joke about seeing them in the woods. The woods Wendy was certain they should be darn-near close to alone in.

Wendy reached the top in no time, settling on a branch a couple feet higher than Robbie’s for a better view, Lee taking one a bit lower so he could catch the same view.

The light Robbie was referencing was actually a bunch of lights. They were off in the distance They were light blue and gentle, the same color you might see on a baby blanket. The light itself was fairly dim, so she had to squint to see it properly. She could hear Lee suck in through his teeth below her as Robbie squirmed to get a better view. The lights moved slowly, methodically.

As though they were searching.

The thought made Wendy’s legs give out and she swayed, stubby nails digging into the bark of the trunk they all held on to.

See could hear Lee gasp and his long arm shoot up behind her, ready to catch if he had to. She couldn’t let herself fall.

“We need to leave. Hide. Something. I dunno. But we can’ stay out I the open like this.”

Lee and Robbie both started at her before nodding. Maybe it was her tone, the aliens over a mile away, or a mix of both, but they listened wordlessly. They helped Robbie out as quickly as possible before scrambling down the tree to warn the others. Once they reached the ground, they wordlessly went to work.

Robbie went to the guys’ tent, Wendy to the girls’, and Lee took care of the fire.

“Tambry,” Wendy harshly whispered as she leaned in the tent, “Tambry.”

“Hm?” the shorter girl sat up groggily, squinting at her taller friend, “What…?”

“We have to go,” Wendy whispered as she crawled in, shoving Tambry’s things in her bag, “We have to go right now.”

“Why?” Tambry yawned as she pulled herself out of her sleeping bag, “Wendy, this isn’t making any sense.”

They could hear Thomson rustling around loudly in the guys’ tent. Good, he was up, Nate had to follow soon, even if he slept like a rock. They all had to get moving ASAP if they wanted to avoid the bug men.

Wendy paused abruptly, trying to give an explanation as quickly as she could, “Robbie saw the bug men over a mile out. They’re looking for something. We should leave. Like, now.”

Tambry was still and raised an eyebrow, “Seriously? How do we know it’s not something routine? Wendy, just take a breath. Pause. Would they really send bug men after us?”

“No,” Wendy groaned as she went back to work, pulling he backpack on, “But that doesn’t cancel out how shit it could be if they ran into us out here. I mean, come on, Tambry. You’ve seen them. They’re fuckin creepy. They might decide we’re prime candidates for experimentation or whatever cus we’re not as high risk and cus we’re trouble-makers.”

“Where are we even going, then? Where would we hide?” Tambry didn’t always take the role of the voice of reason, but when she did, it mattered.

Wendy sat back and paused. She hadn’t thought about it much, but looking at it logically, her only good hiding space was her family’s old cabin, about a mile-and-a-half away. They’d have to get there quick.

“I have a place.”

“What if they catch us? What if they only chase us because we’re running?”

“Tambry?” Robbie poked his head in, “Babe, I think we should go. Something about those bug men ships looked spooky. That’s coming from me.”

Tambry frowned but slowly nodded, “Fine. But only because you’re both so for going. You two never agree on stuff anymore.”

She grabbed her bag and followed Robbie outside the tent, Wendy close behind. Everyone else was ready to go, Nate hanging off of Lee, who had taken care of the fire. Thomson had his and Nate’s bag, more than capable of the task.

He bounced on his feet. “Where are we going, guys? There’s nowhere to hide. Is there?”

All their eyes fell to Wendy, as they often did.

She stepped on a bolder that was half-buried in the ground, facing her semi-circle of friends, “Alright, guys. I wasn’t completely upfront with you. My family totally has a cabin out here, ‘bout a mile-and-a-half northwest of here. The bug men are coming from the southeast. I kept the cabin a secret ‘cus I knew lot of you would rather stay there, which is totally lame and boring. But it’s a good place for emergencies and hiding, and it’s hard to find if you aren’t a Corduroy. So I’ll lead us there, just like when we were hiking, only there’s a little bit of a change. Tambry and Robbie, you walk behind me, since you both have the least experience hiking and need to see exactly what to avoid. Thomson, you walk with Nate and keep him from falling back asleep and out of trouble. Lee, you’ll bring up the back. Any questions?”

Lee raised his hand a bit, “What about your camping gear, Wendy?”

“Doesn’t matter right now. We’ll come back in the daylight. Dad and Tyler won’t mind if it’s wrecked, long as we’re okay. Anything else?”

Everyone shook their head and fell into Wendy’s planned formation.

Wendy lead them mercilessly into the woods. There was a kind-of trail she could have followed, but it wasn’t the fastest way. The fastest way was cutting across the trail, walking as the crow flies.

She could hear Robbie and Tambry gasping for air as they pressed on, twenty minutes in and she turned around to look at the group.

Robbie’s pale face was red and splotchy from the activity, and Wendy was briefly reminded that his body didn’t produce sweat and just got hot and itchy. Shit, he’d overheat soon if she wasn’t careful. Tambry was doubled over, now that they had stopped, and had her hands on her knees as she desperately tried to catch her breath.

The other looks more-or-less fine. They would be. It was the two less-than-steller athletes she was worried about.

“Just another half-mile, guys. Come one, that’s a normal walk to school for you, Tambry. Robbie, dude, I know it for you, but we gotta keep going. We can’t let them-”

Lee in the back became more of a silhouette than before, the top and sides of his blonde head turning into one with a light blue hue. Tht same light hit Wendy’s eyes and based off of Lee’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped, gasping for air, the rest of them were bathed in the same light as him.

Run!”

Wendy turned and bolted, praying to any god out there that the others would follow. Tambry left out a shriek and footsteps echoed behind her, but she couldn’t keep track. The blue light followed, but grew more distance as Wendy led them into thicker trees.

As she ran, thoughts flew by in her head, none sticking. Fragments about her brothers, he dad, Tyler, the Pines, and even Soos, came in flashes. The only thought that came in whole was the same phrase, over and over.

Stay alive for them.

The light became a bit brighter, a bit closer. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears and Wendy focused on the thumping of her feet on the forest floor. She couldn’t think. There was no room. Her panic had overtaken everything else, consuming her mind like a Californian forest fire. As they neared the cabin, the light disappeared almost completely and she felt a weight lift a bit.

The six of them ran faster than ever before, even than the time they were almost caught by Blubs and Durland at that party on Scuttlebutt Island the summer before junior year.

As they finally neared the cabin, Wendy threw herself at the door and yanked it back, hoarsely whispering, “In. Now.”

Her friends scrambled inside and she managed to count five heads, each belonging to one friend. Thomson had grabbed Robbie, carrying him like a baby, and Nate had somehow found time to get Tambry on his back. Lee brought up the rear, eyes and hair wild as the animals lurking outside.

She swung herself in with the door, giving a last glance outside before pulling it shut, locking the deadbolt and the rest of the locks her father had implemented in his youth. Never had she felt so grateful for her dad going overboard. Usually she hated it but she couldn’t help but be thankful for it this time. It was a comfort.

Even if the bug men could probably faze through the damn thing without breaking a sweat.

Wendy’s body slid down the door, he cheek and shoulder pressed against the wood. Once she reached the flood, she curled up in a ball right there, letting her long hair curtain in front of her face. She could hear Tambry and Thomson’s shaky sobs from either side of the cabin. Robbie’s heaves were harder to hear, but she was sure he was doubled over on the wooden floor near where Tambry was probably curled up.

Giving herself a minute, Wendy let her eyes flutter shut.

The cabin was safe. Dad told her it used to be haunted, but after some scientist stayed there for a few nights (it was the other Stan, she later learned), it was silent and still. It gave security. She wasn’t sure if the ghosts even existed, but in Gravity Falls, you never knew.

Wendy let herself drift for few minutes before finally finding her center and looked up, brushing her hair out of the way.

Lee and Nate, who had been quiet the entire time, were in a jumble on the old couch her mom had said was the very first couch her parents had gotten together. They were both out like a light.

Tambry and Robbie had both stilled and were sitting near each other in the kitchen corner, not quite touching. Tambry’s phone lay face-down on the old wooden floor, silent.

Thomson was in the corner closest to her, crouched on the floor, knees pulled to his chest. Eyes glassy and red, he looked away from Wendy.

Wendy sighed and stood up before disappearing into the bedroom, reappearing with dusty old quilts a few moments later. She tossed one on Nate and Lee, neither making a move of noise of recognition. They both were out.

She carried the three remaining quilts she had brought out to the rest of her friends and paused before saying, “I… There’s a bedroom here with a bed and everything. It’s kind of shit, but it’s a bed. Whoever doesn’t get the bedroom can have the quilts.”

“You guys take it,” Robbie responded without a beat, without looking up from the wooden floor, “You and Tambry. Thomson and I can take the quilts and floor. Right man?”

Thomson nodded mechanically.

Wendy looked to Tambry, who shrugged.

“Fine. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Wendy nodded, “Fine by me. We… We can all talk in the morning, if that works with you guys.”

Nobody agreed, but nobody protested either. In Wendy’s eyes, their silence was their agreement. Nobody wanted to talk right then. They were already tired, then they had to run over a mile to end up in a dusty, smelly, old cabin. Far as Wendy was concerned, they had a right to be tired. The all had earned it twice fold.

As she and Tambry collapsed on her bed, her head already drifting off to sleep, a single thought pushed its way through the mud.

Were they really that good at escaping?

-

They left at night.

In retrospect, Summer thought, hands gripping the wheel of the car she hated, it didn’t matter. What difference would day or night make to the Federation when it came to observance? Hell, for all she knew, that’s when they were most active. Leave it to her to screw over their little quest in the name of clichés.

But when she glanced over at Morty, peacefully snoozing like Snowball used to, she solidly set herself to say it was worth it.

They were really only an hour and a half out when she glanced at the gas tank and realized it was close to empty. Her sweaty palm hit the steering wheel, not hard enough to jar anything, but enough to make it sting and tingle. She hissed out a swear, long and lowly drawing it out.

Shhhhhhhhit.”

Right away, Morty’s ear caught the swear and he bolted up, eyes wide.

“Oh jeez, are- are they here? Did they al- already catch us?”

“No, God, it’s just the gas. I’ll need to fill up soon. Could you, like, look it up and see where the next place I can fill up is?”

Frustration balled up in Summer’s stomach. The car was usually good with gas, but she hadn’t even thought about filling up or even checking the tank when they first left. They hadn’t thought much at all, to be honest. Very little, actually. Maybe it was better this way, though. If they were caught at a local gas station at night, filling all the way up, it would probably set off some kind of alarms.

Morty took a couple minutes with the directions, trying to work out how to find where the nearest gas station was without using their location. If anything could screw them over, it’d be that.

Finally, he spoke up, “There’s a- a place about ten minutes after we turn, coming up. It’s a travel center, so- so it probably has gas and snacks and stuff. That work?”

Summer felt herself nod, fingers flexing around the wheel, “That’ll work. Make sure to put on your jacket and hat. Maybe you should even ditch that yellow shirt, since it’s kinda your thing. You have other colors, right?”

“Yeah, I- I got a few others I managed to grab before we left. I’ll change in the bathroom,” he decided, struggling with the jacket from under the seat belt, his hat sitting on the dash, “Wh- What about you?”

“I’ve got a blue blouse in my bag in the backseat. I’ll put on a beanie before I get out, so my ginger hair won’t screw us over right away.”

“Okay, great! Do we have enough money for some snacks? If we’re only making stops for gas, and we didn’t grab any food, we should probably get some-”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, I have, like,” Summer paused, counting the money in her wallet from memory, “Sixty-five bucks? Yeah. Gas is, what, two sixty-three a gallon? This thing’s like sixteen and a half gallons to fill up so… Forty-four bucks to fill it up, I think? That’s around twenty-one left over. You got any cash to add?”

“Um, yeah! I’ve got maybe twenty bucks?”

“Okay,” Summer hummed, drumming her fingers on the wheel, “If we each chip in like ten, that should be enough for snacks and water for sure. You wanna take care of that while I fill it up?”

“N- No problem!” Morty grinned, happy to be in charge of snacks. Knowing Summer, if she were in charge, it’d be all kale chips or some other equally gross snack. He would make it actually tasty to eat. Like Cheetos.

The rest of the ride was silent, as Summer focused on reaching the travel center and Morty on figuring out what snacks were the best. Sweet or salty? The real questions.

Finally, they pulled into the dimly lit parking lot, mostly empty, save for a few cars.

Summer pulled out a ten and tossed it to Morty before she glanced at the clock One forty-eight in the morning. Okay, she thought as she reached into the backseat, pulling out the blouse, so, maybe fifteen minutes to grab snacks, then they had to head out again. She pulled a beanie on her head and tucked her ponytail under her blouse, hopefully hiding her hair enough to avoid any peeping eyes.

By the time she was finished, Morty was already halfway in the door of the travel center, backpack limply hanging from his shoulder.

Cool, Morty.

Taking in a deep breath, Summer opened the door on her exhale, wanting to get in and out as soon as they possibly could. What would happen to them if they had a clear sighting on a camera? The thought of that alone made her shudder.

As she fumbled with the gas, she thought about what this trip meant. If they didn’t make it to Gravity Falls to meet with the old geek friend of Grandpa’s, the whole plan could go up in flames. They were carrying some of Grandpa Rick’s more difficult to acquire gadgets, inventions, and supplies. All for the possibility of freeing Grandpa and ridding Earth of the Federation. If they got caught before they made it there, the Federation would have access to all that tech, which would put them in a even worse position than before. Truly and utterly screwed.

The gas nozzle clicked and Summer snapped back to her thoughts, glancing up at the pump number before making her way inside to pay.

The door dinged as she entered and she scanned the travel center. She could easily spot Morty’s head as he hovered in the chip isle. There were two other, brown-haired heads floating in the same isle, facing away. Noting his apparent indecisiveness, Summer decided to just pay for the gas right away.

“Just gas on pump number three, please,” she said politely to the sleepy worker who nodded and rung her up. After paying, she looked back to the chip aisle, to find Morty missing.

Okay, cool.

Twisting her head, she finally found him in the back, by cold drinks. From what she could tell, the two heads from the chip aisle had followed him, and they were all talking.

Not okay, not cool.

Prepping to pull him to the register by the ear, Summer wanted to shake him and tell him it wasn’t time to make friends. Especially when they were technically on the run. Marching up closer, she could tell that the two he was with were younger than her, probably closer to his age, a boy and a girl. If it weren’t for Tammy, she probably would have written them off as “not spies.”

But nope. Tammy just had to be a space narc. Therefore, the two could not be trusted.

Just as reached the last aisle before she was at the cold drinks station, the girl playfully swatted at Morty’s arm and left out a laugh, posture and tone similar to that which Summer herself had taken many times before, at parties, if not a bit more exaggerated.

Summer’s eyebrows shot up and as she passed the other boy and spoke up, “Morty, listen, you gotta pick out the snacks so we can get going. Long ride ahead of us.”

Finally, her brother turned towards her, revealing a rather giddy face.

“Oh! Hey, Summer! I- I was just talking to Dipper and Mabel here. Turns- Turns out we can help them out, since they missed their bus to Gravity Falls.” The way he emphasized the small towns name, Summer could tell where he was going, and she knew she had to stop this, fast. One stranger hitching a ride would be shifty enough, but two?

“I mean, that totally sucks, but I don’t really think we can help.”

“Yes, we can!” Morty interjected, then turned to the two, “We’re heading that way to meet some friends of our grandpa.”

Morty.”

“Whaaat?” the girl drew out, excitement palpable, then turned to the boy, “Dipper! Car rides are better than bus rides by far!”

“No way,” the boy replied, crossing his arms, “Mabel, we have no idea who these people are, we are not riding in a car with them for six-and-a-half hours.”

“Agreed,” Summer chimed in, crossing her arms as well.

Th girl ignored the two of them and looked back to Morty, grabbing him by the elbows, “Hey! Maybe we know your grandpa’s friends! We’ve been visiting Gravity Falls for the past few summers now!”

Finally, Morty glanced back at Summer. Little jerk sure took his time actually looking to Summer for her input.

“We’re meeting with the original owner of the Mystery Shack, Stan Pines,” Summer admits, giving much more info than she would have liked, “We’ve never officially met, but he knew our Grandpa Rick.”

She did, however, withhold information, like it was two Stans, who were asking them to haul precious cargo across state lines. Hey these kids were strangers, and moves like this were totally fair game, Fair was fair.

The two faces both dropped, eyes widening, eyebrows shooting up, faces morphing into strikingly similar poses. For a second, Summer considered the likelihood of the two being twins, but dropped it. Male-female twins were almost always fraternal, save for a small percentage, so the odds of the two looking identical as twins were just a tiny bit higher than the two looking identical as siblings. Or so her high school science classes taught her. High school classes could be wrong, as she learned with Grandpa Rick.

Without even looking at each other, the two announced, “We need to talk!” in perfect unison, before huddling over behind the hot meals counter-island.

Which gave Summer time to glare at her idiot, oversharing brother.

“Way to try and get us found out, Morty!”

“He- Hey! I’m just trying to help some kids my age, Summer! It’s- It’s kind of screwed up that they’re stranded in this place so late at night, don’t you think?”

“Not our problem.”

Cold? Yes. But practical? Definitely. Staying in view of a camera for so long was making Summer nervous and the beanie she was wearing was making her scalp itch. She needed to be back on the road by, like, yesterday.

“Oh jeez, Summer, that’s cold, even for you. I mean, why do you have to be such a bitch? They’re just teenagers, just like us!”

“Just like Tammy, Morty. She’s my age. You think she didn’t have be recruited before she was younger than you?”

“You think the Federation would recruit kids like that?” Morty jerked his thumb over to the two siblings and he had a point. From the short amount of time she had seen them, the two weren’t quite “Federation-recruits” material. The guy, Dipper, was built similar to Morty in that fact that Summer could easily whoop his ass in a fight. The girl, Mabel, was built fine, but had the subtly of a guy Gazorpazorp. Summer would know.

Summer sighed.

“They act like they know something. If they offer anything good, they can ride.”

Morty grinned and Summer was reminded of how young he actually was. Fifteen was too young to be distrustful of other teenagers being spies for a galactic government. Even Summer knew that not trusting other teens who were strangers just because Tammy turned out to be awful was dumb logic. Grandpa Rick would probably say so, in different words.

Unlike Grandpa Rick, tough, Summer wasn’t ruled by logic. She was impulses and intuition, ruled by her gut.

Dipper and Mabel made their ways back over from behind the hot meals looking different degrees of determined.

Dipper spoke up, “We have a some questions for you, but just a few before we can ask anything that will actually get us anywhere.”

He paused before looking Summer in the eyes and squinted. She squinted back, harder. Dipper stared for another second, then conceded.

“Your Grandpa. Is he named Rick Sanchez?”

Summer’s eyes snapped from one brunet to another, finding Morty’s eyes as alarmed as her own. How did they know Grandpa Rick? Could they actually be spies?

After a brief second of possible terror, Summer looked back and nodded to Dipper, who sighed. (In relief?)

“The friend of his, Stan Pines, could you describe him?”

“Big ears, big nose, old, gray hair, stocky, glasses…” she trailed off before taking a leap of faith, “there’s two of them. Brothers. Stanford and Stanley.”

Dipper and Mabel nodded to each other, and the latter pulled out her phone, swiping a couple times before turning it towards them, “Do they look like this?”

Despite the seriousness that had taken over the teens, the way she asked the question was arguably overdramatic, making Summer crack a smile as she before she looked down at the phone.

The picture itself wasn’t quite recent, probably from at least a year ago, but everyone was recognizable. Dipper and Mabel were posing with the two men Summer and Morty had spoken with just the night before. They were all in front of the building Summer recognized as the Mystery Shack, from the google search made a the other night. Everyone was laughing, as though something had happened just off-camera right as the picture was taken.

“Yeah, that’s them,” Morty nodded, “The guys who hacked into our Grandpa’s garage.”

Mabel’s face split into a huge grin, revealing her straight teeth, “Those are our Grunkles! We’re on the same side!”

Dipper elbowed her and coughed, “Um, Mabel? Maybe we should be talking with them outside.”

Summer nodded, “Yeah, that’s fine. Morty just needs to get us some food for the road. Long ride and all that, you know?” She also wanted to ask what the hell a grunkle was, but it seriously didn’t feel like the right time.

Mabel nodded, “Yeah, that’s why we came in here! The bus stopped and we were both starving, so we walked over here to grab some snacks. By the time we got back, the bus was gone! Then we were like whaaat? We thought we had waaay more time than that!”

“That’s because you held us up deciding what kind of Twinkle Dip you wanted,” Dipper muttered.

Summer sighed and rubbed her temples, “Yeah, okay, cool. I’ll be waiting at the car. Morty, five minutes.”

Morty nodded and Summer headed back to the car. Dipper and Mabel held back as well, picking out their own snacks for the road (that’s what she figured, anyways). As the cool night air washed over her skin, Summer looked to the stars.

It was something she had been doing a lot of the past year. Once you fly among the stars, sitting on Earth made you restless as all hell. It was also oddly comforting, knowing that whatever was happening in her life, the stars didn’t give two shits. Despite its comfort, though, the worry still gnawed at her brain.

How were they gonna pull this off?

Morty was too trusting with people his age (especially the girls) and she couldn’t handle being a bitch like she was back there 24/7. It was way too much effort. She was used to being the casual kind of bitch, who made mean comments and occasionally injured Morty. But the kind who trusted no one and so was overly paranoid that reflected outwards? It took a lot out of her.

Leaning against the driver’s door of the car, Summer wondered how much the two siblings knew. They definitely knew the two Stans she spoke with. They knew that their “grunkles” (what even was that?) knew Grandpa Rick. But did they know about everything sitting in the trunk of the car? Probably not. Even the smarter Stan (Ford? The other Stan called him that a couple times when they were talking) didn’t know everything in the trunk.

There were lots of items in the trunk, varying in degrees of usefulness. But hidden behind and underneath everything was the most important gadget of all.

The portal gun dug up from dead-Grandpa Rick’s grave.

When Summer realized that dead-Grandpa Rick was probably buried with his portal gun, she immediately offered to use that to get her, Morty, and the other junk in Gravity Falls in just a few minutes. She was surprised when Stanford cut her off, telling her not. He then explained they had no idea if that portal gun was being monitored. If it was, it would draw attention to their locations right away, which was the last thing they needed. If they were to come to Gravity Falls, it would have to be through conventional means.

Which brought them to where they were now.

So, how were they gonna pull this off?

The only way, Summer realized, was try and trust the two strangers. It was dumb, she knew. But the act was, Summer couldn’t be a paranoid bitch like Rick and not get tuckered out. She was, at heart, an apathetic bitch. Plus, they knew about Rick and were familiar with the two guys they had met (were they family?). Summer racked her brain and faintly remembered one mentioning “the kids” coming down soon. Could it be them?

Two hands thumped on the car and Summer twisted around, heart hammering, to find it was just the girl.

“We can all talk now!” she exclaimed, palms down on the passenger side of the car roof. Dipper and Morty followed close behind, Dipper outwardly cringing at Mabel’s actions. Morty himself just shrugged it off. Being around Grandpa Rick left you unfazed for a lot of stuff, and he had spent the most time around Grandpa Rick of their whole family.

Dipper nodded, then seemed to pause “She’s right, but… Should we get in your car or…?”

Dammit. Should they?

Screw it, Summer didn’t care. If they got killed by two fifteen year-olds, she deserved to die for not being able to face either of them.

“Yeah, sure, get in,” Summer jerked her head back, trying to be chill. It was too late at night for this, honestly.

Unlocking the door, Summer slid in the car, ready to be done with it all and just drive. After buckling up, she turned her head up, expecting to see Morty. Instead, she found the seat still empty, the other three still outside. Through the window, she could see Mabel playfully shove Dipper to the passenger side front door, then snatching the spot behind him.

Summer raised an eyebrow, more curious than pissed, if anything.

The girl grinned back as she pushed her backpack in the space in front of her feet, “What better way to trust us than have us spread out? This way, you can tell we aren’t conspiring in the backseat or anything!”

She made a good point. Truthfully, Summer would have been more high strung with two strangers in the seats behind her, with her own eyes stuck on the road. But, guessing by the way Mabel was grinning at Morty, who was slipping in the seat behind Summer and pushing her stuff to the middle, it was only a half-truth.

Awesome. Their grandpa was in space jail, Earth was taken over by space imperialists, they were carrying a bunch of space technology that was probably illegal, and young teen romance was brewing. Totally what they needed.

If her brother was aware of the girl’s flirtation with him (actually a possibility, knowing Morty) he didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Instead, he was laughing and chatting with Mabel, who was seemed friendly enough to carry a conversation with anyone.

And there Summer was, stuck in front with the more awkward of the two siblings, who was hunched over a bizarre-looking cellphone that was clunky but apparently doing the job for him. Not that Summer really was feeling anything remotely flirty lately. If anything, she felt the opposite of flirty. Maybe it was all the bug aliens, but the idea of jumping into dating anyone now felt exhausting. Plus, no offence, she wasn’t into fifteen year-olds.

Feeling that the six-and-a-half hours ahead of them was going to be a long ride, Summer took a deep breath started the car.

They ended up not talking about anything important at all. Dipper kept his nose deep in a notebook he had pulled out. He used a flashlight held between his teeth for a light source until he ended up with his face pressed against the notebook’s pages, breathing softly. Mabel dominated the conversation with Morty, chattering until he ended up with his face pressed against the car window, based on the muffled snores Summer could hear in her left ear.

Which left Summer an hour deep into the car ride, trying to engage with Mabel, to keep herself from crashing the car out of boredom if anything.

“So… how old are you two, again?”

“We’re fifteen! We turn sixteen at the end of summer though!” Mabel was leaning forwards, eyes bright, straining against her seatbelt.

“We?” Summer asked, digging a bit. Were the two actually twins?

“Me an’ Dipper! We’re twins, but I’m five minutes older!”

Summer nodded, biting her lip in thought, “It’s kind of crazy how alike you two look, to be honest. Like, since you’re most fraternal, technically, you don’t have to look alike at all. It’d be like me and Morty looking alike. Unless,” she glanced back, “And I’m totally not prying, so don’t feel like you have to answer or anything. But, like, unless you’re not fraternal and actually identical?”

Shit, leave it to Summer to get too personal on accident. There she was, trying to talk like a normal human being, and it ended up her basically asking if the twins were born the same sex. Great job, Summer.

“Nah, that’s not too personal,” Mabel shrugged, then cocked her head, “And why would that be personal? I mean, it’s just genes and stuff, right?”

“I mean, yeah,” Summer nodded, “But the odds of you and Dipper being identical as a boy and a girl are crazy low. Maybe you are. But otherwise, the more likely option of you two being identical would be you two being born the same sex, biologically. Which wouldn’t always reflect your gender. Like, you get what I’m saying?”

Mabel’s mouth formed a circle, “Oooooh. I get’cha! Naw, don’t worry about it being too personal. But I think we’re just crazy odds twins?”

“Which is totally possible,” Summer added, then, in attempt to steer the conversation somewhere else, asked, “So, like, how’d you two end up taking the trip by bus? I mean, your parents are cool with their kids taking the bus how late at night?”

Mabel paused and looked out onto the road, her grin becoming more gentle, “It’s kind of just tradition, at this point. Me an’ Dipper started coming to Gravity Falls for the summer since we were twelve. The drive is crazy long for us, and even crazier there and back in just a day or two. Plus, gas is expensive. So our parents decided on the cheaper option that made it easier on everyone.”

“I can get that,” Summer nodded, “Like, a one-way bus ticket at the beginning of summer, then another at the end feels like a lot smaller hit to the bank account than paying for all that gas in just  couple days.”

Mabel looked back to Summer, then comically raised her eyebrows, “So, why are you two out so late, on the way to Gravity Falls? Like, I get part of it with your Grandpa in jail, but spill the rest!”

Summer shrugged, “It’s probably bogus, but we left at night because we figured it’d be harder for them to notice us missing right away. Plus, it’s now technically Saturday, so no school tomorrow, so they’re even less likely to notice the two grand kips of a space terrorist missing. He wasn’t really a terrorist,” she added, catching a glimpse of Mabel’s face.

“Whaaat? No…” Mabel waved her hand, as if she was trying to get rid of any awkwardness lingering like a bad smell, “Grunkle Ford told us how he fought the space government. He didn’t mention anything like being a terrorist, which I’m sure he would have, if it was real!”

“Rick disagrees with anything that restricts him to have his space adventures,” Morty’s sleepy voice murmured in the darkness, “he helped free lots of planets with his other rebel friends, but they had to do some shitty things to get them free.”

“Because of that, we’re trying to stay hidden, mostly,” Summer chimed back in, eyes flicking into the rear-view mirror to catch Morty’s eyes then back to the road, “I mean, we’re also hoping we aren’t seen on too many cameras or get caught that way. It’d kind of suck to be found out that way.”

Mabel gasped then reached forwards, grasping Dipper’s noodle arm and shaking it vigorously, “Dipper! Tell them about the cool stuff Grunkle Ford gave us to stay hidden! It’ll totally help them feel at ease, bro-bro!”

“What?” Dipper asked, squinting as he tried to respond, “It- It’s just some stuff Great Uncle Ford gave us to stay hidden.”

 “Like- like what?” Morty asked, pressing the more tired boy. In all honesty, Summer was in the same boat as him. Would whatever they had help them too? Or was it a limited deal?

Dipper groaned as he sat up, rubbing his face. With a great sigh, he reached into his backpack stuffed in front of his feet and pulled out a clunky object, that’s shape vaguely resembled the portal gun. The thing Dipper was holding was all black and gray and metallic, looking like outdated technology.

“It’s pretty complicated,” he started, before yawning, “But the things he gave us hide everything that we mark, ‘s long as it falls within five feet of the source,” he waved the gun around.

“I took the liberty of marking the car and your guys when you let us come with,” he continued, “Figured it’d save us time and conversation.”

Summer raised an eyebrow.

Morty shifted in the back seat, more awake now.

From the corner of her eye, Summer could even see Mabel shift uncomfortably, “Uh, bro-bro… We gotta talk about your manners. You can’t just do stuff like that without permission. It’s a liiiiil rude. You get that, right?”

Dipper’s ears burned red and he glanced over, away from them all, fiddling with the gadget. He was silent, not giving a reply.

Morty spoke up from the back, “Well, I mean, yeah, it was kind of rude. But, hey. Now we’re protected, right? I- I’d call that a win, but that’ just me. Summer?

Summer gave a loud sigh, hoping they’d all take the hint she didn’t want to have a conversation on the topic of giving consent to be hidden by weird technology crafted by an old man her Grandpa knew, “Frankly, in this scenario, beggars can’t really be choosers. It would’ve been great if you mentioned it, like, an hour ago. But you didn’t and now we’re here. So, you’re fine. But don’t do it again.”

Dipper nodded, face and ears still red.

Mabel cheered, happy for whatever reason. Maybe it was because their best bet for a ride hadn’t decided to kick them out for doing stuff without them knowing. Frankly, Summer had bigger concerns. Like tuning them all out.

So she turned up the radio, which was playing some lesser-known BABBA song. It must have been one of those “fun radios” that played the older hits from the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Great.

The twins seemed to dig it, and Morty seemed to enjoy it himself, strangely enough, so she left it. It was almost as though she was thirteen years old and babysitting the neighbor’s two year olds again, putting on the TV so she could do her homework. It was more for them than anything else, really.

She didn’t care. She never cared.

The next few hours were silent, as each of the younger teens fell asleep. The interstate was a bit busier at eight-thirty than it was in the early morning, but thankfully, it was Saturday. Which meant everyone was still asleep. By then, she was much closer to the Gravity Falls than when they had started, which was something, at least.

Dipper was the first to wake up, groggily yawning then pulling out his phone. He typed a at it a little bit before tucking it back in his sweater pocket.

“Breakfast?” Summer offered flatly as she turned a bag of Doritos to him, “Most important meal of whatever.”

He stared at her incredulously before taking the bag, eating a chip, “Thanks. How’re you still awake? Especially since we’ve all been passed out for the last,” he pulled out his phone again and winced, “yikes, five hours?”

She shrugged, “I’ve been thinking. Whenever I think too much, I lose a whole night’s sleep. I’ll probably crash once we reach wherever it is we’re going. Once we get you guys to the Mischief Shack, I’ll probably pull over and catch some zees. Morty’ll probably want to go with you guys or something, FYI. He’s like that.”

Dipper chewed his lip and looked away, “You don’t, uh, you don’t have to worry about sleeping in your car. Since you gave us a ride all the way from basically home, you can crash in the Shack while we figure stuff out with Morty. It’s Mystery Shack, by the way,” he added.

Summer rolled her eyes, “Whatever. And for what it’s worth?” she looked at him a bit and smiled, “Thanks.”

The younger boy stared at her a second before glancing away, cheeks red, “Yeah! Um, it’s no problem. You scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours. You know, uh, figurative-”

“She gets it bro-bro,” a soft voice yawned from the back seat, “Is that breakfast?”

Dipper silently handed the chip bag back, avoiding Summer’s glance.

“Where are we?” Mabel asked, loudly munching and leaning forwards, “This all looks familiar.” She shook Dipper’s seat, squealing, but thankfully left Summer’s alone. Summer was appreciative of that, since she knew that, while Mabel was nice, Summer was also a bitch running on almost no sleep. The result wouldn’t have been particularly nice.

“We should be about a half-an-hour out,” Summer offered, trying to lighten her tone to match Mabel’s a bit better.

Mabel let out an excited shout and fell back in her seat, waking Morty.

“Huh? What? Who?” he spluttered out before realizing they weren’t in trouble. Happy with that, he helped himself to a few Doritos, munching quietly. He almost seemed at peace with himself for once, which was nice. Morty got way too into his head sometimes, if you asked Summer. Not that he would. Summer knew her place as bitch sister, and anything resembling advice wouldn’t be taken kindly.

Minutes passed and the younger teens chatted happily, getting along as well as one could hope. Which was exponentially more than what Summer hoped. She just hoped they’d be friendly enough to not become little rats like most younger teenagers were wont to do.

When they were only five minutes out, Dipper checked his phone for what must have been the hundredth time.

“Mabel, Wendy hasn’t been responding to any of my texts. Not on this phone of the other one. You think she’s alright?”

“Dipper, she’s fine,” Mabel drawled out, eyes sparkling as she watched the woods she knew pass by, “she probably just slept in and tossed both phone under her bed. You know she hates waking up.”

“I don’t know…” Dipper trailed off, “Grunkle Stan and Great Uncle Ford have been quiet too, but that’s a given. They said they probably won’t be here for a couple more days but…”

Mabel cut him off with a shriek, “Dipper, we’re so close! I see town! We just have to drive through and then we’re basically there! Aaah!”

Summer politely ignored the conversation they were having as she rolled through the town. It was small, for sure, and she noticed that Mabel waved to almost everyone she saw, calling them by name.

“Hi Susan! Looking good! Sherrif Blubs, Deputy Durland, you’re doing great! Mayor Tyler! Still in office, I see! Toby Determined? Still using a turkey baster? Ever change, Toby!”

By the time they had pulled through, most of the town had noticed them. Which was the last thing Summer had wanted, honestly. Dipper must have felt the same way, since he was giving his sister a bit of a dirty look, clearing his throat a bit.

Morty looked petrified at the idea people were staring at a vehicle with him in it and did his best to shrink into his seat, in hopes the people wouldn’t notice him.

Finally, the moment of truth arrived as Summer pulled into the general parking of the Mystery Shack. It looked better than what the Google Maps images had shown, since it actually said “Shack” and not “hack.” It must have been fixed up a bit more in recent times.

Before they were even stopped, Mabel had unbuckled herself and thrown herself out of the car, bounding inside, backpack trailing behind her.

Dipper shifted excitedly, but politely waited for the two Smiths to get out with their own stuff, flashing a nervous smile, “Uhm, we’ll make sure you get a place to sleep, Summer.”

All Summer could do was nod mutely as she locked the car and shoved her keys in her pocket. Was it just her, or had her body and spirit been separated sometime between then and leaving the car? She couldn’t tell. Maybe her body was saying something.

As Dipper led them inside, he was suddenly picked up by a giant figure Summer only saw the back of. Not that she investigated much. Now that she had left the car, she was slipping from consciousness, fast. With little concern, she yawned and rubbed her eye a bit.

“Soos! Man, it’s great to see you! Melody, you too!”

“Engaged!” Mabel screamed from somewhere further in the Shack. A girlish laugh came from somewhere else.

“Dude, you gotta see the changes I made, it’s totally legit! Melody totally helped, man, and you can tell-”

“Soos, that’s great, but, uhm, Summer, who drove us, has been driving the past eight hours and needs a place to sleep. Do you think she… take the…?”

Summer’s eyes fluttered shut before snpping open as she forced herself to stay awake. She could do this. She had to. Just stay awake a little bit longer. Her body swayed a bit and she leaned against the wall casually.

“Ohmigosh, are you okay?” the cheerful, girlish voice asked, sounded thoroughly alarmed.

Okay, maybe not casually. Summer nodded, then shrugged.

“Oookaaay, I’ll take that as a no. You can sleep in the attic. We’ve gotten it cleaned up, since we were planning on using it as a guest room whenever the Pines visited. But you totally need it more right now,” a soft hand took gentle grip on Summer before leading her through a door, then up some stairs.

“Careful,” the voice chimed, “I’m Melody, by the way. Soos’s fiancée. I work register and make sure we’re stocked up with merch.”

Summer looked at her. She was a cheerful woman with full lips and cheeks and a rounder frame. Even in the awful question mark shirt she was wearing, she looked really good.

“Summer. I drove them here. Thanks for letting me crash,” her voice was hers and she knew she was saying the words, but it all felt far off.

They reached the top of the stairs and Melody gestured to a door, a simpler ring sparkling on her finger, “It’s honestly no problem. You drove the twins here for a while, apparently. We owe you a ton. We all love them, here. They’re awesome! Room’s right here, you can go in and pick a bed. When you wake up just come downstairs and we’ll get ya’ fed!”

Summer nodded and mumbled a quick “thanks” before dropping her backpack on the floor and letting herself collapse on one bed. She inhaled, nose pressed against the fresh, purple quilt, and was asleep by the time she exhaled.

Chapter Text

Wendy woke up in the same way she did her homework. Slowly, putting it off until she felt she absolutely had to, and then begrudgingly. She took a deep breath, eyes still closed, then coughing, dust caught in her throat.

Her hacking alerted Tambry, who barely moved, just groaned and kicked her foot on the dust covered quilt.

Had they really been so tired they hadn’t even tried smashing the dust off the bed? It had been one of Wendy’s favorite constructive uses of her fists as a child. Her mother, clever woman she was, used it to her advantage, calling for Wendy to come punch the hanging quilts outside every time spring cleaning rolled around. Up until she was twelve years old.

Wendy laid in bed, eyes still closed, arms sprawled out, her right one hanging off the bed, her left across Tambry’s torso.

“Uhm, excuse you.”

“Sorry, can’t do that. Excusing powers lie on the person not doing the shit. Can’t excuse myself.”

“Fuck off.”

Deciding to oblige her friend, Wendy rolled off the dusty quilt and tried dusting herself off. The dust was far too much, however, and any semblance of progress she made was a mere dent in the amount that covered her.

Wendy stumbled out of the bedroom and walked to the window, shielding her eyes as she checked the sun. Based off of angles and years of basing time off of the sun, she figured it had to be around eleven, maybe sooner by a bit. A glimpse of red outside, just out the corner of her eye, caught her attention. Just as her eyes snapped to catch a real look, it moved just out of view.

Alright, then.

Heart hammering and concentration pinning on that single flash of red, Wendy snatched an axe as she headed to the door, ready to knock the head off of aliens. She would one hundred percent follow through with that, if it kept her friends safe.

She gently, surely opened the cabin door, making sure it didn’t creak. Her mom had taught her the trick when she was eleven with a wink ad promises of “girl time.” Which typically consisted of the two of them sneaking out and fishing in the late night or early morning. No reason waking the boys, especially since they wouldn’t be interested, she had been told.

Peeking out, axe ready, Wendy scanned the area, eyes flitting over the guys’ pee bush (gross), the height tree(dead), Nate leaning over the grill in Lee’s shirt (odd), the barrel they like to roll down hills with whoever fits inside (fun)-

Hold up. Her eyes fells back, examining Nate’s (Lee’s) shirt. His tight, red shirt.

Jesus, man. I was ready to take your head off.”

Nate jumped from his place in front of the tiny grill, where he had been roasting more weenies for breakfast. In hindsight, they should have probably taken more than just hot dogs to eat.

Shhit, you scared me, Wendy!” His forehead had creased a bit, peaking from under his baseball cap, before disappearing entirely, “Hungry yet? Weenies are cook’n.”

Wendy nodded, “Yeah, man. I’m starved. Getting spooked like we did last night really take the food outta ya’.”

“Yeah, I think I nearly shit myself,” Nate confessed, tone light, “Thomson definitely did.”

“Guys, come on!” their friend whined as she came through the door, Robbie groaning behind him. Neither looked too hot, though they rarely did in the first place. Robbie stopped as he came out, raising an eyebrow at Nate.

“Nice shirt, dude.”

Nate looked down so quickly his chin hit his chest before he looked back up, “Oh, yeah. We figured the shirts wouldn’t feel as gross on each other as they did on ourselves, so we switched!”

Wendy paused as she stared at the shorter guy.

“That’s… Not how it works.”

“Contrary to popular belief, germs on stay on the person and don’t follow shirts.”

“That isn’t it either.”

“Sure it is!” Lee exclaimed as he came out in the cabin in a loose, black shirt (definitely Nate’s), his long, blonde hair pulled into a messy bun. He grinned as he looked at his friends, before his eyes fell on the grill.

Dude, where’d you get that?”

“Found it ‘bout an hour ago. Figured we’d all be starved so I walked back to the campsite to get the weenies and-”

“Hold up,” Wendy interrupted, hands up and her palms facing out, “Nate, tell me you didn’t go back alone. I need to hear you say that you didn’t go alone.”

“Naw, I totally went alone,” Nate laughed, before attempting to continue, “So I walked back to the campsite and-”

“What the fuck!” Robbie shouted, dark brows furrowed, “Why would you go back to the place we almost became alien test subjects?”

“Allegedly.”

“What going on?” Tambry asked as she tried scooting out the door and past the guys who were all milling around in front of it. Wendy waved her over, closer to Nate, hoping that, combined, they could talk sense into Nate to not pull that shit ever again. The situation, however, looked pretty dubious.

“Nate did something dumb,” Wendy explained as her friend joined her, “He went back to the campsite alone.”

“What the hell.”

“It was fine,” Nate called as he turned back to the weenies.

“You could have at least woken up Thomson,” Robbie said as he crossed his arms, jabbing his elbow at Thomson, as though he were to blame for the entire situation.

Thomson nodded, his chin bobbing up and down vigorously, “Yeah, I would have been glad to come with!”

Wendy had to resist rolling her eyes. With Thomson, you could practically hear the multiple exclamation points when he was talking with friends. Dude just really wanted to be included in shit. At this point, it was expected. Anything else, like yesterday, and everything is off.

Nate shrugged as he poked at a weenie, “Nah, you guys were all sleeping like babies and I didn’t want to wake any of you.”

“Not even me?” Lee asked, speaking for the first time since the revelation of Nate doing a stupid thing had come to light. Wendy briefly noted his face had fallen since he came out of the cabin, forehead creased just slightly.

“Dude, especially not you. You never get sleep. The fact you were was a miracle and no way was I ruining it.”

Lee crossed his arms and looked away as he grumbled, “Can’t believe we swapped shirts and you didn’t even tell me about all this.”

Nate turned around, shrugging defensively, “I figured you’d enjoy the surprise, man! You love weenies!”

Wendy and Tambry’s eyes met with the full force of a full-speed car crash. They stared into each other’s wide eyes, unable to step in at this point. What could they say that could get this conversational back on track? What could anyone possibly say?

“These are tainted with danger!” Lee exclaimed, gesturing wildly to the grill, “I want no part of any of these weenies!”

“Then it’ll all be for nothing!”

“Fine!” Lee shouted, stomping back into the cabin, “Then they’re purposeless weenies!”

Nate gasped, eyes wide (though not quite as wide as Wendy’s or Tambry’s) before turning back to the mini-grill, “Fine! Don’t eat! I could care less!”

“Guys,” Thomson pleaded, having finally found his voice again, “Let’s not do this, please! We just went through an awful bonding experience! Please don’t argue! Please! We need to be valuing this time we have together!”

Tambry made a face at Wendy. Wendy nodded back understandingly.

Robbie shifted on his feet, “Alright, dumbass, that was a dumb move, but I’ll forgive you for first choice of weenies.”

“Step off,” Nate snapped, then looked to the girls, “Tambers and Wendy, you two have first pick.”

Wendy rolled her eyes. Great. Nate screwed up and now everyone’s pissy. Including her. It’s not like she actually blamed the guy. Like the rest of them, he wasn’t the brightest of the bunch. His deal was he never thought about what he was doing so he just did it. Then, worst case scenario, he regrets it big time later on.

Wanting to get it over with, she snatched a plastic fork and jabbed a weenie with it, waving it at Nate, “Thanks. I’ll check in with Lee, see if he really wants one. He may just be all butthurt because you didn’t tell him you left. You know how it is for him.”

Nate shrugged, poking at the weenies, “Whatever. Not like I care or anything.”

Tambry audibly groaned, Robbie following right behind her.

Sure.”

Turning inside, Wendy realized she didn’t have her phone. Patting her pockets, she double-checked, praying she missed it or something. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The was cellphone-less for the moment. Which meant she had to search for it, since she was positive she had it after they got chased down by aliens.

Dammit.

It’s not like there were many places for it to be, she thought as she walked back into the cabin, glancing at Lee pouting in the corner. Maybe he could help.

“Hey, Lee, you got your phone right now?”

He nodded as he looked up from the scap he was picking at on his knee, “Yeah, why? What’s up?”

“Lost mine. Give it a ring?”

Nodding as he pulled out his phone, he sighed. Loudly.

“Dude if it’s that much of a chore, I’m sorry. You don’t have to help.”

“It’s not that,” Lee objected, waving her off as he dialed up her contact, “I’m just glum. Why’d Nate have to be an idiot? He could have ended up getting himself turned into some alien tween’s science fair project. A shit one.”

“Dude, just talk to him,” Wendy groaned as her phone started to buzz and she made her way around the room, “I get you hate arguing with him for more than ten seconds, but I promise you, this’ll only be like twenty if you just talk.”

Lee made a face as she searched the kitchen, Wendy making her way towards the bedroom, “Sounds dumb. ‘Sides, you wanna talk about communication?”

“Harsh,” Wendy replied airily from the doorway, “It’s louder in here. Makes sense.”

Lee followed, choosing the opposite side of the room, “Sorry, but I dunno. Like, I’m not one to speak about being smarter, but it was a dumb move, even for him.”

“Maybe it was for you,” Wendy offered, checking under the pillows, “I mean, why else wouldn’t he have involved you?”

Lee stopped, face reddening a bit before joining Wendy on the opposite side of the bed, “I think it’s down here.”

Wendy looked under the bed and there it was, louder than ever. If her guess was right, it had slid behind one of the boxes underneath from her parents’ days as young twenty-somethings. Nothing relevant nowadays.

“I’m surprised it’s still going,” Lee observed, looking at his own phone. Right on cue, her phone stopped, just as her fingers brushed against the screen.

Wendy’s eyes widened as they met his from across the underside of the bed, “Lee, dude, you’re a witch.”

“That’s one hundred percent not it.”

“It’s complete facts, dude. Swearsies.”

“You can’t tell me a fact like that about myself!”

“Sure I can.”

“Boooooo,” Lee called as he walked out of the room, not waiting for her, calling over his shoulder, “If you talk to Nate, tell him I don’t want any of his weenies. ‘Cus until he realizes how dumb he was being, I don’t wanna talk.”

“Or eat?” Wendy called out challengingly, before sighing, “And he’s gone. Great.”

Taking this time to check her phone, she realized how many texts she had gotten while under. There were lots from some randos from school that had her number, but there were only seven that mattered. Four from Dipper, two from Mabel, and one from her dad.

Prioritizing possibly having to placate her father as first, Wendy opened the message to see it was just him saying to text him when they left and to avoid the cabin if they could, since no one had been there in six months, give or take. Written less eloquently and in all caps, of course.

Figuring the twins were probably talking about the same things, she figured it’d be safe to go the Mabel route first.

 

Mabel, 11:34 PM

DIPPER SAYS YOU HAVENT ANSWERED YOUR PHONE. WEEEENNNDYYYY!!!!!! HELLOOOOoooOOOOO!!!

 

Typical Mabel text. She tended to text Wendy whenever Wendy went radio-silent. Sometimes, boys were the worst and Wendy got sick of them, so she’d only answer Mabel or Tambry. That’s probably what Mabel thought was going on last night.

 

Mabel, 8:46 AM

WERE IN GRAVITY FALLS AND IM SO EXCITED WENNNDYYYY ANSWER YOUR PHONE PLEEEAAAASSSEE

 

Wait, holy shit, already?? Maybe Dipper’s texts would explain everything better. She knew they had been heading out, but damn.

 

Dipper, 11:23 PM

Hey, you didn’t really answer any of my texts last night. Are you out with friends or something?

 

Dipper, 1:14 AM

Ugh, Mabel and I missed our bus while at a stop. We’re probably going to have to with until the next one comes and sort something out. You still out now? You didn’t answer over the Sixernet.

 

Ah yes, the dumb name they used for Stan 2’s way of communicating. The Sixernet. Sounded just edgy and sexual enough to sound like some dumb teenage messaging board. That Sixernet.

She also had to wonder briefly how they managed to actually lose their bus. They were good kids who stayed out of trouble. Missed bus at stop, what the fuck?

 

Dipper, 1:49 AM

It sounds crazy but we just hitched a ride with a brother and sister who’re coming up to Gravity Falls like us. It’s not as bad as it may sound. It’s best something talked about in-person though!

 

Wooooaaah. Woah. What? Dipper and Mabel hitched a ride with two people they don’t know who claimed to be going the same place as them? Wendy smelled a rat. If Dipper’s next text was “ahhhh help kidnapped regret so much” she wouldn’t have been surprised. Sure, Wendy’s friends had done it once or twice, but the twins? Bad idea.

 

Dipper, 8:32 AM

We’re almost in Gravity Falls. Your phone must be off or something. We’ll be at the shack, talking some things over and trying to get in contact with Grunkle Stan and Great Uncle Ford. Text us or something when you get these messages so we can touch base! Lots to tell you.

 

Holy shit, what the fuck? Wendy glanced at the time. 11:02. Dammit.

Without a second thought, she hit the contact name and tapped on the call button. The phone had barely rung once when Dipper already answered.

“Wendy! Hey, you’re alive!”

Dipper’s obvious attempt at a light-hearted joke didn’t really resonate with her after the previous night, so all Wendy could do was get to business, “Yeah, man, but what the hell? You’re I town? What? Tell me you didn’t actually hitch-hike, man. I need to hear you say you didn’t do that.”

“We didn’t hitch-hike,” he started, “but we did ride up with some teenagers. A brother and sister.”

Wendy had to stop and think for a second, “Okay, so, you’re at the Shack, which is fine. Mabel too. Great. What about the people you came with?”

“Summer and Morty?” Dipper asked, pausing, “I can’t say much about them. But he’s our age and she’s about your age. We should really talk in person. When can you be at the shack?”

Okay, she had to really think there for a second. It’d probably take the other about half an hour to get themselves together and ready to head back, and it took almost two hours the previous day, but they had been messing around a lot and taking longer breaks. They could problem get done in about an hour, if she gently pushed them. Gently.

If she didn’t go straight home, she could probably get from the campsite to the Shack in about ten minutes, providing Thomson did her a solid and dropped her off there.

Realizing she had been silent for a little too long, she spoke up, “Gimme ‘round two hours. Should be shorter, but I have to make sure my friends take it easy, hiking back. We had a rough night. I’ll tell you and Mabel when we meet up. Sound good?”

“Sounds great,” he responded, voice becoming slightly higher, “See you round one, then?”

“Yep. See ya then, Dip.”

“Bye Wendy!”

Wendy hung up and dropped to the bed, more dust flying up in the air and filling her nostrils. It descended back down slowly, softly landing on her face and clothes. Great, now she was a six foot dust-ball. And she was a couple hours out from the Mystery Twins. And she needed a shower.

Well, there was only one way to go. Onwards and forwards. As Tyler would say, get the day.

With a sigh, Wendy heaved herself up and off the bed, calling out, “Alright, guys, we’re leaving in ‘bout half an hour! Any business that might need being taken care of? Take care of it. ‘Cus we gotta get me back to the Shack in two hours.”

“I thought you didn’t work today,” Tambry drawled from the couch, eyes glued on her phone.

“Twins are back,” Wendy announced, “So I gotta give them a both a ‘Welcome back’ noogie. You eating, Lee?”

Lee shook his head as Robbie groaned, “Why are we working on the twins’ schedule? Maybe I want to stay are chill for a while.”

“Then you’ll be staying and chilling with the bears,” Wendy shrugged, “Cus Tambry probably doesn’t want to be here anymore either. Right, Tam?”

“I need artificial light.”

“Then it’s settled!” the gangly redhead announced, “Thirty minutes, guys. Tops. Preferably sooner.”

The others nodded as Wendy popped outside to check on Nate, who was currently topless. Lee’s shirt was strewn across a log Wendy remembered Marcus chopping down and dragging over for them last time they visited. Dude, seriously? Talk about petty. Thomson sat next to it, brows furrowed from what Wendy assumed was his own inner-conflict due to the group’s inner conflict.

“You two catch me from inside?” she asked, leaning against the now-closed door.

“Yeah,” Nate nodded, ha bobbing up and down, “Lee still hasn’t had a weenie. Can’t you like force him to have one? You’re basically the leader here, Wendy.”

“Call me crazy, but I don’t make habit of forcing weenies on my friends.”

“Jesus,” Nate balked, eyes going a bit wide, “I don’t think you’re supposed to joke about that kinda stuff.”

“Who’s joking? ‘Sides, Lee’s an adult, basically, weird as it sounds. Much as I’d like to, I don’t force friends to do stuff. ‘Cept maybe Thomson,” Wendy flashed a grin at their friend, “Besides, he usually gets a quarter or two out of the deal.”

“That’s true,” nodded Nate, “Can you at least offer him one? If we’re heading out, that’s at least another two hours or so till he eats. Please?”

Wendy tilted her had, “Well, since you’re being so oddly considerate for your usual self, I will offer a weenie to Lee. Should he accept is completely on him. I’ll do my best to make a case.”

“Sweet, thanks,” her friend grinned and offered her a weenie on a bun, “I added mustard and ketchup, just like he likes it. Hopefully that’ll make the idiot eat.”

Wendy saw Thomson flash a small smile as she accepted the weenie and headed inside. Why was all the conflict resolution on her? Who was she, some video game character completing weird mission objectives that Soos would love to play?

Whatever. At the point she was in her life, Wendy acknowledged people tended to look to her to fix things. Her friends, her family, disgruntled Mystery Shack customers. It wasn’t new.

Back in the cabin, Wendy marched straight over to Lee, who was already almost done packing his stuff. He had been staring at the slightly baggy, black shirt he was wearing.

“Dude, just keep it on. And eat the weenie.”

Her tall friend’s blue eyes snapped up and his mouth twisted into a slight frown, “C’mon, I said I didn’t want…”

He eyed the weenie, saying nothing. Wendy could almost see his determination breaking. Dude must really like ketchup and mustard for his resolve to be fading this quick.

“Sometimes, you just gotta let go of the beef and take a bite of the weenie, man,” Wendy offered, “No point in dwelling on some things. Just gotta eat the weenie and try to move forwards. Try and have a conversation to avoid the beef next time. Buy only weenies made from pork.”

He paused and looked up at her, eyes narrowed, “Is this some kind of metaphor?”

“What? No, it’s a weenie. What makes you think it’s a space rock hurling at us at top speed?”

Eyes still narrowed, her lanky friend slowly accepted the weenie and standing. Neither knew enough about metaphors and space rocks to actually say she was wrong, which she counted on.

“ ‘M gonna go try ad squash the beef.”

Nice.”

Time went by pretty quick after that.

Wendy made it clear that any other problems they may have had were not hers unless it directly affected her, starting from that moment until the following Monday. Using her time wisely, she gathered all her things and got it ready outside, to leave the second everyone else was ready. All the others followed suit, leaving them ready to go almost ten minutes ahead of schedule.

Nate cleaned the grill (to his best ability) before dragging it inside. He and Lee ended up switching shirts back, which Wendy refused to comment on. On the way back, he and Thomson had switched places, so it was Lee and Thomson bringing up the rear with Wendy and Nate up front.

The journey back itself took a bit longer, since they stopped back at the campsite and had to clean up to the best of their ability there. When they finally were off, they were ten minutes behind schedule, which only improved Wendy’s mood. Despite her best efforts to hide it, it was like trying to catch steam in a butterfly net.

After over an hour of walking, they finally reached the mini-van. They shoed everything in the backseat, somehow making it even messier than before.

Wendy hopped in the passenger seat, arms crossed. Her phone showed it was 1:07. So technically not too far off. Thank God.

Thomson slid in and glanced at Wendy, “The Shack, right?”

Wendy nodded wordlessly.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him tense up and she internally groaned. Despite all her efforts, the last year or so (since the big men arrived), her irritability in general had gone up. Which, in turn, made Thomson more uncomfortable. Which was definitely happening right then. Great.

The ride to the shack went quick, only taking five minutes. Thomson slowly pulled up, glancing hesitantly at her.

“Talk to you Monday?”

She nodded and looked back at them, “Yeah, Monday. You guys chill till then, alright?”

Everyone nodded back and a uniform chorus rang back, “Bye, Wendy” or “Later, Wendy.”

She slid out and took her bag from Lee, who had reached back and grabbed it for her with his long arms. Flashing a grin of thanks, she slammed the door shut and stomped up to the shack.

An unfamiliar grey car sat in one of the typically empty parking spots. They still had a month or so until tourist season picked up. One small, two second detour wouldn’t hurt, right? Just a peek.

Leaning over the window as she passed, she noticed a couple of wrinkled chip bags and candy wrappers in the passenger seat. A blue blouse was strewn across the center console and a beanie was tossed into the back window. There were some sheets of paper in the backseat, looking as though they had some equations scribbled on them. Hm…

The only way to find out more was to get inside.

Pushing the door open, she shouted, “Yo, Mystery Twins! Soos! Melody! I’m here!”

Wendy!” Two voices called out, followed immediately by rapid footsteps.

Two blurs of brown hair came at her, faster than a flicker, and two sets of arms squeezed her.

“Ah! Jeez! Calm down- I- C’mon guys-” she hugged each twin, laughter making its way from her chest. It felt good.

“Hey, Wendy!” Melody chimed, walking in with Soos. A skinny, short, brown-haired boy followed, holding back. Even he was smiling. Wendy guessed it was because of the twins, whose energy and smiles were of the most contagious kind.

We have sooo much to tellllll yooooouuu!” Mabel screamed, shaking her much taller friend.

“So much to catch you up on!” Dipper added, practically jittering himself.

Wendy just hugged them tighter. Her heart was beating fast but for once in the past year, it was in a good way. Then she put the two in headlocks.

“Aaah! Wendyyyy!”

“Bad hug! Bad hug!”

Wendy laughed and let them go, before placing her hands on her hips, “By the way, new kid? What’s your name?”

The scrawny brown-haired kid looked at her, startled, “M- Me? Mo- Morty!”

“Sup, Mo-Morty!” she grinned, but the name came back to her. Morty was the kid the twins’ age, which meant somewhere around here was-

“Wow, yeah, like he hasn’t heard that one before,” a bored voice drawled out, “Not like he has a stutter or anything.”

Face flushing, Wendy turned to the girl who was leaning in the doorway with orange hair in a tight ponytail that indicated an equally uptight attitude (also based on her response). Her casually chic white pants and pink tank top only cemented her as a the embodiment of a popular mean girl.

“Oh, um, yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” Wendy glanced to Morty apologetically, “Morty, right?” she turned to the other redhead, “Which means you must be-”

“Summer,” the shorter girl cut her off, “And I don’t stutter, so there’s no joke for you to make.”

Holy shit, what the fuck?

-

Summer woke up with a start, mind racing.

‘Ohmigod the portal gun I have to get it out of the trunk before some gromflomite searches it and the this whole trip will be for nothing all the way up to middle of nowhere Oregon only to make a dumb mistake and not take care of literally the most important item they had how stupid am I honestly-’

She was already halfways down the stairs and she didn’t stop, nearly knocking over the woman she had met earlier.

“Oh! Summer, right? Where are you off…?”

Summer ignored her and flew outside, door banging behind her. She crashed into her car, desperately trying to unlock the dumb thing. If only her parents had sprung for a key fob for her car.

Dammit,” she cursed under her breath, “Open up you stupid- Thank you.”

Opening her car door, she hit the trunk button and turned on her heel, leaving the door open. Nearing around her car, her hands immediately dove for the portal gun.

It took her a beat to realize the entire trunk was empty.

“What the- Morty!”

After a second, her rother popped his head out the window, “Holy shit, Summer, calm down! We have it for now, it’s safe. Come inside? I’ll explain.”

Summer felt her head go hot. That little… On one hand, she was happy everything was safe. On the other hand, she was pissed at herself for forgetting. Which, in turn, left Morty and some complete strangers to take care of the situation. Which definitely pissed her off even more.

Stomping inside, she crossed her arms and looked at her younger brother with narrowed eyes, “Explain. Now.”

Morty raised his hands defensively, “Hey, after you rightfully passed out, I remembered all of Grandpa Rick’s things we left in the trunk. So they opened up the basement and left us keep all the stuff in there. Apparently, the basement’s the workshop of the old science twin that hacked Rick’s garage. It’s safe, ‘cus you need the password to get in.”

Which is?”

“They wrote it down for me, just a second…” Morty patted at his pockets, eyebrows furrowed, “I think it’s somewhere around here... Shit, did I lose it or something?”

Morty!”

“Everything alright?” the woman from before (the one Summer almost knocked over) asked as she cheerily walked in.

“Everything’s fine,” Summer grumbled, looking down, “I’m just a little…”

“Brain foggy?” the woman offered, “Hah, I totally get that! Supposedly, if you nap for the right amount of time, your brain doesn’t do that, but it’s never not happened to me.”

Summer nodded, trying her best not to be rude to this nice woman.

“Um, yeah, I get what you’re saying…” she paused, “Melody?”

The woman grinned and nodded, “That’s me!”

“Yeah, I’m… brain foggy. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve had actual food,” she sniffed herself and cringed, “Or showered. Would you…?”

Melody waved her off, “Yep! Shower’s down that hallway, past the kitchen! Morty asked about having your clothes in your bag washed, so those are in the dryer! Should be out in, like, half an hour? After you get out and dressed, we’ll have some mac ‘n cheese from lunch heated up for you.”

Summer nodded numbly. She had so many questions. Who was this woman and why was she better at being a mom than her own mother, who had at least eighteen years of experience. This Melody woman was, what, maybe in her mid-twenties? By the looks of her stress-free face and the lack of screaming, she hadn’t had kids yet.

So how was she so goddamn nurturing?

After what felt like minutes of staring at her (which was probably just a couple extra, awkward seconds) Summer barely managed a, “Yeah, thanks,” before being mutely led to the bathroom.

Melody led her into the bathroom, giving a quick tour, “Shampoo and conditioner re fair game, since Soos and I don’t care that much. Turn handle left for hot, right for cold, nothing weird!”

She turned to leave, but dipped back in, head and hand hanging over the side of the door, “When you’re done, just toss your dirty clothes in the washer, it should be empty by then. If your clothes are still drying, you can just use the robe on the door. It’s not, like, gross or used or anything. I bought it a few months ago and it turns out I’m never gonna use it? I dunno, it was a total impulse buy because it has those cool ducks all over it. Crazy or what? You could also hide in the bathroom till your clothes are dried too, I guess. That’s also an option.

Summer watched the door for a full minute, then pinched herself. It honestly reminded her of the time she tried acid at the beginning of senior year party. Was this all just one big trip? The only way to find out was keep doing stuff and wait for it to wear off because, holy shit, nothing felt real at this point.

So she stripped and stepped into the shower, letting the low-pressure water run down her body. Eyes falling on the soaps kept in the shower, she got what Melody meant. There was only two sets of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash. No pumice stones, razors, or fun little puffs to wash with. Not even face wash?

God, Summer missed all her skin routine she (unwillingly) left at home.

Working slowly, Summer relished in her chance to shower. It had only been a bit over a day since the last time, but the drive had made it so much longer. No longer would she be a smelly girl.

The near-nonexistent water pressure pretty much forced her to take longer washing, but she didn’t mind. By the time she had showered up, she was dreading her current clothes, sweaty and smelly. As she stared forlornly at the sweaty heap on the floor, water dripping off her shoulders, soaking her towel, she glanced at the robe Melody left.

She said it was never used. Could she trust that? Melody was a nice woman, it seemed. Would she lie about a used robe?

Summer sighed and snagged the robe, stomach rumbling like her mother’s old car. Just for a few minutes.

Smelling the cheesy goodness of Mac n’ cheese from her place, she stepped out into the hallway. Target acquired. Now in pursuit.

Creeping slowly so not to run into anyone (more so to avoid awkward conversation she didn’t want) Summer snuck down the hallway in hopes of a quick victory. She peeped her head around the corner, into the kitchen, spotting Melody, who was singing to some pop song on the radio.

“Hand it over I’m high valued! Yeah, yeah, high valued!”

She cleared her throat, second-hand embarrassment rising. Did this woman care at all about how cringey this was?

The older woman turned around and grinned, “I’m totally in love with this song. Totally deserves its spot in the top ten. You ready for mac n’ cheese?”

Summer nodded, relieved to finally be eating, and took the chair that was empty with a plate in front, “Oh my God, I’m starved.”

Melody came over and spooned a couple heaps onto the empty plate, “Good! I actually made way too much, so I need to make it gone. I’m about to have my third serving today.”

“What?” Summer blurted out, falling back into her hair in disbelief, “How much did you make?”

“Like three boxes. Soos ate less than I thought and the twins were so excited, I think they were filled on that,” Melody replied cheerfully as she sat down in front of her own plate, “So I’ve just been chowing on it since nine, cus we didn’t have enough breakfast food.”

“But it’s like,” Summer felt for her phone until she remembered it was upstairs, then looked to the nearest clock, “Oh my God, it’s one-forty? That’s like eating every two hours or so.”

“Awesome, right?” Melody had this grin on her face Summer couldn’t even imagine arguing with. So she didn’t.

Taking a bite, she forced herself to nod, “Um, yeah, totally.”

Melody nodded, still grinning before taking her own bite, “Morty, the twins, and Soos all went downstairs to contact the Stans bout ten minutes ago. Should be out in another ten, depending how soon the make contact. Your clothes’ll be around the same time. Our drier here isn’t really that great, so I had to toss your stuff in for a bit longer.”

“That’s fine,” Summer replied, pausing, before forcing herself to try and say more, to make more conversation, “So, you and Soos? You’re dating or…?”

“Yeah!” Melody face was smiling before, but Summer’s questioned brightened her entire person, sitting up more and eyes widening, eyebrows raising, “We’ve been dating for ‘out three years, almost. Our anniversary’s in late July, so it’s creeping up!”

“Wow, three years,” Summer commented. She would have been fifteen when they started dating. The thought of being with someone since then was weird. She and Ethan were never together for more than a few months at a time and, eventually, it showed. Toby Matthews hardly looked her way at this point, especially not after going all the way with Kelsey.

Realizing she had trailed off, she snapped herself back into the conversation, “So, like, how long have you been here?”

“Gravity Falls? Three years-ish. Moved here a month or so after we started dating,” Melody started, face thoughtful.

Summer’s face must have been showing how dumb she thought that was, because she quickly added after that, “It was for a job! Not him, not right away. I came because the Shack need a cashier, after the Stans left. I moved in after, like, a yeeaaar? Whenever my lease above ended at my old apartment in town. It wasn’t as weird at that point, since we spent so much time together, so we decided ‘why not?’”

“Makes sense,” she conceded, taking another big bite.

“What about you?” Melody asked, mouth half full, “Anyone in your life?”

More time to discuss her singleness? Great.

Not wanting to be rude, she shrugged, “Not really. I had a relationship, but we were on-off and we both got sick of it. There was another guy, but he ended up dating another girl. I guess there was someone else? We talked some, but she and I just never actually did anything.”

Wow, her dating life sounded shitty after phrasing it like that.

The older woman waved her off, “That’s totally fine, dude. For real, Soos was actually my first serious relationship. Can you believe it? I was twenty-two when we met, then we started dating almost right away. We just clicked.”

Summer’s head bobbed for what must have been the millionth time that hour, unsure what to say. Congrats on the amazing relationship that couldn’t have gone better?

Instead, she focused on eating, finishing the mac n’ cheese just as the drier buzzed in the other room.

Melody stood and Summer joined her grabbing her plate.

“That’s fine-” she started, but Summer shook her head.

“It’s cool. I’ll wash our dishes. You’ve been caring for me literally all morning, so I can totally do this one thing for you.”

Melody paused, but shrugged, “Okay, yeah! Then you can get dressed. By then, Wendy should probably be here, and we can all start really talking!”

“Wendy?” The name rang a bell, it really did, but she couldn’t remember anything past a mention of a teenager who was her age. Maybe? For all she knew, she was making it up.

“Oh! Wendy, she’s another worker here. She kinda took over as handyman, now that Soos is so busy, but she also works up front like me. She’s supposed to be coming pretty soon. I think you’ll like her, she’s a ginger like you, but darker red. Super cool too.”

It sounded a bit more familiar, but still no bells ringing other than the initial one.

So she shrugged and just nodded. Melody, seemingly satisfied with the conversation, nodded back and left to grab her clothes.

Summer reached the sink and make quick work of the dishes, neatly setting them in the divider on the opposite sink, already half-full. After that, Melody came back with her now-clean clothes (from her backpack), effectively making Summer almost pass out in joy. Finally, clothes that were clean and her own. She could be rid of the tacky robe.

Starting upstairs, she froze at the realization she left her clothes in the bathroom.

Shit.”

Turning on her heels, she sped walked past the kitchen (and melody, who was back with the pop music) and slid into the bathroom. Her clothes, still in a heap from before, stared judgmentally at her.

Like she needed that in her life.

Shutting the door quickly, she tugged at the robe’s belt and shrugged it off, letting it fall to the floor.

Wrestling herself into her bra and tripping into her underwear proved to be even more uncomfortable in a stranger’s bathroom than it was at home. She pulled her tank top on and stepped into her pants, carefully avoiding the wet spots on the floor, before stepping into her shoes, originally kicked off in a fit of uncleanliness.

Finally, she stole a hair tie from the sink (it was definitely for a redhead, so probably not too big a deal if the Wendy girl was as cool as she was told) and pulled her hair up into a ponytail. Her look was complete, and she could finally be seen by the world.

Grabbing the clothes, she made her way back to the laundry room, guessing the way. Normally, she would have just asked Melody, but she was too deep in her music for Summer to feel okay about disrupting her.

As she finished tossing the clothes in the washer, shouts sounded through the Shack.

“Yo, Mystery Twins! Soos! Melody! I’m here!”

Wendy!”

The first voice wasn’t familiar, but the second two voices were distinctly twins. Curous, she followed the voices, which kept going as she walked towards them.

“Ah! Jeez! Calm … C’mon guys-”

 “We have sooo much to tellllll yooooouuu!”

“So much to catch you up on!”

“Aaah! Wendyyyy!”

“Bad hug! Bad hug!”

Other voices wre in the mix, but none were as loud as the twins. As she finally reached the doorway, she finally found the source of the excitement.

Wendy, Summer was sure it was her, based on the shouts, was definitely a redhead like her. But the similarities stopped there. Tall, thin, and pasty as a first-grader’s art project, she looked nothing like Summer.

But her voice was lower than Summer’s, sounding as she turned to Morty, who was on the other side of Wendy, across from his sister.

“…By the way, new kid? What’s your name?”

Morty looked shocked but delighted to be included, and started speaking without a pause, “M- Me? Mo- Morty!” It was probably the first time he had stuttered that much on his name in the past few weeks, but Summer cut the guy a break. He was working on it.

“Sup, Mo-Morty!”

Okay, sorry, what? What made that giant hick think she could make fun of Morty like that? It was small, sure, but tiny things like that grated on both of the Smiths whenever it happened. So what, he has a speech impediment, lots of people do. He couldn’t help it, why point it out?

Without thinking, she went on the offensive.

“Wow, yeah, like he hasn’t heard that one before. Not like he has a stutter or anything.”

The other girl, Wendy, turned back, face red, “Oh, um, yeah, sorry ‘bout that,” she looked back to Summer’s brother, looking more apologetic, “Morty, right?” she looked to Summer, giving a half-smile, “Which means you must be-”

“Summer,” she cut her off, mood sour. Normally, it’d have been no big thing, but something about Morty’s stutter being made fun of after he had been doing so well with working on getting past it pissed her off more than usual.

So she doubled down, staring this Wendy right in the eyes, “And I don’t stutter, so there’s no joke for you to make.”

The other girl’s jaw dropped, face still red, looking pissed. The others in the room stared at her as well, shocked by her sudden aggression. Morty was the first to speak up.

“Summer! I- I really didn’t mind that much, really! You didn’t have to say that-”

“It’s cool,” the taller of the two ginger teens assured him, simultaneous cutting him off. She was calm, her face less red, and she looked as though she hadn’t completely been bitched at mere seconds before. While she had looked pissed literally right before Morty spoke, she now looked cool as a cucumber.

Wendy turned to Summer and took a breath before giving a small smile, “It was totally shitty of me to make fun of his stutter. It’s not something he can control and teasing him about it was lame,” she looked Morty in the eye, “I’m sorry, man. I’ll find things you can control to tease you about later.”

She looked back at Summer, “Can you forgive me?”

It was Summer’s turn to be shocked. Back home, every bitchy remark was met with once twice as bitchy, and no one apologized. Summer herself had once told her mom in an especially heated argument she’d rather be hospitalized to see a real doctor before she’d apologize. It wasn’t one of her best nights.

But this? Someone apologizing after being called out? It was more alien to her than the Gromflomites ever were.

Nodding slowly, Summer responded, “I… Yeah. I forgive you. And…”

Cue to a stock image of someone grasping at their heart, seconds from death by cardiac arrest, and that was how Summer felt at that moment.

“I’m sorry too. For being a bitch. It…” she sighed and dropped her arms to her side as she looked away, “It wasn’t necessary. I could have been better about it.”

Morty’s eyes were wide and his mouth was hanging open enough to land Grandpa Rick’s ship in. Thinking about it now, Summer wondered if she had ever apologized to him that much back home. Probably not. Despite this little glitch in her life, apologies were for losers. And also people who were wrong about her or pulled some dumb shit with her.

Wendy nodded and grinned, “So we’re cool?”

Summer nodded and, for the first time, looked at the other girl, really.

Her green flannel was open and rolled up at the sleeve, showing off the girl’s thin layers of muscle. Her face was rounder, with freckles dusted across the entire space, a tiny galaxy resting among her skin.

Wendy walked closer to her, which was also closer to Melody and Soos, giving Summer an even better look.

Her eyelashes, upon further examination, were enviable. They were naturally long and curly and everything Summer didn’t get from her mother. Her eyes were dark green and had a certain lightness to the, as though she didn’t care. Even her nose was cute, a little button nose with a slight upturn, making Summer all the more conscious of her own bigger, straight nose.

Oh no, not only was she cool, but she was cute.

At that point, Summer had to wonder how she’d keep her place in this group at all.

Wendy spoke to the others and, just like that, they were all back to normal and heading back down, wherever that was, Melody included. Which Summer was pretty sure meant her too? She was just as a part of all of this was the next guy.

With everyone moving forwards, Wendy hung back a bit, eyes meeting Summers, and flashed a grin.

As Summer moved to join the others, Wendy held her hand out in front of her, making her stop, “Hey, listen, I wanted to apologize again. For real, like, I feel like total garbage.”

“Seriously,” Summer felt herself saying, suddenly hyper aware of the arm lightly brushing against her stomach, “You were just teasing and I got all bitchy. It’s fine.”

“No, I mean,” Wendy looked away and groaned, as though communication was a chore, then looked back and placed a hand on her shoulder, “I get it. The protectiveness. My younger brother speaks slower than most people. He’s completely average in the head, but his words just don’t come to him as fast as others. He caught lot of shit from assholes in school till he grew big enough to make them scared to. Before that, I was the one who stopped them.”

Summer’s eyes met the other girl’s for the entirety of her speech and immediately felt any animosity dissolve. Oddly enough, she didn’t feel pissed at her at all any more.

Unless that ginger bitch was lying. She’d murder her if that was the case.

So she smiled a bit and nodded, “I get it, Wendy. All is forgiven.”

Wendy nodded then placed her hand on Summer’s back, “Cool. Y’wanna check out the secret basement? Technically I think I’m supposed to be up here, watching the Shack but,” her eyes slyly glanced at the door conspiratorially, “I totally changed the sign to closed.”

Summer grinned back at her, “Seriously? Wow, such a lazy move. I dig it. Sure, I could go for secret basement time. Can’t be any different from the one my grandpa hides from my parents back home.”

“Woah, you have one at your house? Nice, we only have this one at the Shack. My family only has a basement now because we’re over in the Mayoral Mansion in town,” with her hand still on Summer’s back, she led her into the main Shack, complete with tourist trap baubles and souvenirs.

The only thig that looked out of place was the vending machine which, quite literally, looked out of place and swung open.

“Um-”

“That’s totally normal. You’ll get used to it. C’mon,” the taller girl nudged her forwards, going down into the depths of which Summer hardly knew-

“Summer! Come check this out!” Morty’s shrill voice called out from the basement, “We have all of Rick’s things here!”

Sighing, she looked back at Wendy and rolled her eyes before trudging down the stairs. Brother, was she right? One minute you’re at someone’s neck protecting them, the next, you’re wishing they’d shut their goddamn mouth for just a few minutes. Wendy chuckled as she slowly followed.

Reaching the bottom step, Summer had to admit it. The basement has Grandpa Rick’s beat in size. It was huge. Call her crazy, but she was positive there was some kind of transporter over a ways. Wasn’t Grandpa Rick the only one who had that kind of technology? He talked about it all the time when he was really drunk, how he was the only person in the galaxy who had the ability to travel wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. It was his entire thing.

Morty waved her over, next to a pile of Rick’s gadgets. There, on top of it all, the portal gun.

“We still can’t use it, right?” she asked, feeling more in her element. This, she could do. Space and science.

“Yeah, like, I thought about it pretty much the entire ride here, till I remembered one that one adventure when Rick got framed. I’m pretty sure the Council has tracking technology that’s either part of or attached to the portal guns.”

“Wait,” Summer started, hands up, “Wouldn’t that be a good thing? They could help, couldn’t they?”

Morty shook his head and wrinkled his nose, “The Council of Ricks hate our Rick. He’s the Rickest Rick, which means he wouldn’t give them the time of day. They wouldn’t help. Not really.”

Summer closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and sighed, “So, how do we work around that? If they can track, couldn’t they also theoretically be able to tell if it’s tampered with?”

Morty shrugged, “I dunno, maybe?”

Dipper, after a period of silence, finally spoke up, “Hold up. So Morty gave us a rundown on all of this earlier, but I wanna ask you too. You’re sure you couldn’t try and go in and get rid of whatever it is they use to monitor the portal guns?”

“Ha!” Summer snorted, “Listen, I know a lot about this stuff, but Morty spends more time with Grandpa. He’d be the one who picks stuff up on the portal gun. If he can’t think of anything, I’m beat.”

Soos, who was further back, rocked on his heels, “I feel like we should wait for both of the Mr. Pines to come back. We’re just a bunch of kids, dawg.”

“We have to do something!” Mabel cried, “They’re not supposed to arrive until tomorrow night.”

“At the earliest,” Dipper added, “So what do we do till then? Twiddle our thumbs?”

“What can we even do?”

Summer bit her lip as she thought. Smart Stan (as she understood him) was the one who they were relying on most, in her opinion. Not that the other guy wasn’t important, but it was Smart Stan who was the one who would be most familiar with Grandpa Rick’s work, aside from her and Morty. Without him (or heck, both of them even) they couldn’t do anything.

“Why don’t we all just rest up and chill?” Wendy suggested, “Cus, man, I need a shower and some catch up time. Then we can let those two,” she jerked her head towards Summer and Morty, “time to look over the stuff, figure what’s safe, what’s not, and let Soos and Melody get the Shack figured out before expecting company.”

Everyone paused.

“Huh,” Dipper said, head dipping to the side in thought.

“Yeah, sounds good…” Soos nodded, looking at Wendy for a long second, then jumping, “Holy cow, the store! Melody, we gotta manage the front!”

Melody gasped as they both disappeared up the stairs, right behind him, the door upstairs shutting behind them.

The teenagers were all along now.

So now what?

“Well…” Summer started, “This is all pretty anti-climactic, isn’t it? All this trouble and now we have to wait some more.”

“Yeah,” Morty agreed, “If this were writing, I’d say it’d be pretty bad writing, myself.”

“Totally.”