Overwhelming. Underwhelming. Some kind of whelming. Wendy couldn't place her finger on it, but it was definitely there.
She'd sat on the porch to watch the social workers leave, mostly because it was custom to assure any suits were kept off the premises completely. Her keeping an eye on them didn't seem to raise any suspicion, and if it did, there wasn't any indication of such.
Once the car disappeared down the path, she shifted her bag a bit over her shoulder and zipped up her coat. The winds' chilly bite was a clear sign she oughta head home before it got dark.
She'd barely made it a step off the porch before the front door swung open and hit the wall with a resounding thud. Wendy resisted the urge to snap that she'd patched that spot three times already.
"What?" She shoved cold hands into her pockets as Stan's figure moved into her peripheral vision. She idly wondered how he managed to move about so quickly in a suit. Judging from a flash of color beyond the black and white, he was carrying something as well.
"Look, kid, I'm sorry." Stan's words rushed out quicker than Wendy could process, and she skidded back a bit as her boss dropped a pile of lazily folded clothes into her arms. "I think these kids are a bit more trouble than I thought I could take on."
"You? Wrong? No!" Wendy kept her sarcasm at a minimal amount as she studied the garments tossed her way. Some colorful sweaters, the blue vest, all relatively clean and with only a few wrinkles. "Wait, so you really are giving them used clothes."
"Hell, it's the same with the thrift shop."
"Yeah, except they got a choice with that." She peeked up just in time to see Stan head towards his Diablo, the glint of his keys in hand. "Whoa, hold on, what am I supposed to do with these?"
"See, thing is, they got no choice but to wear those and no choice on what to eat." Stan unlocked the driver's door, jerking it open with a hard enough pull. "Give those clothes to the kids, I gotta make a food run."
"Why wait until now? And why do I gotta do it?" Frankly, Wendy would've loved to be home, even if if meant barreling through the chaos that was her three brothers.
"Procrastination, kid. It's my hobby." Stan stuck one foot into the car before pinning her with a look. "The kids are a bit more...intense than I woulda took 'em for."
"You're scared? Of a couple of ten-year-olds?" Wendy couldn't help the smirk that crossed her face. "Nice."
"They're twelve, and no I ain't scared." Stan seemed to ponder over his words for a second before continuing. "I want you to take those clothes since Dipper probably won't, ya know, sock ya or something."
"So you, a retired boxer, don't wanna face off with some scrawny little boy?" Wendy tried to muster up the image of said twin, that one kid with the dirty hood and really focused expression. She couldn't imagine such a little shrimp knocking Stan on his ass. Couldn't even imagine the kid doing so much as a push-up, really.
"I've been warned enough that the kid's really protective of his sister. And maybe seeing a teenage girl closer to his own age than some old man can put him more at ease or somethin', I dunno." Stan waved a hand, as if waving the topic away before lowering himself into his seat. "Just get those clothes in their hands, tell them they're welcome or whatever. Soos will watch over the Shack, so do that and you can head home."
"But—" Wendy broke off as the car door slammed shut, and Stan tore off down the driveway and towards town.
Resigned, she glanced again at the clothes, picking at a sweater sleeve and wrinkling her nose at the weird texture that showed Stan had barely any knowledge on using fabric softener. She didn't mind it, not entirely, and introducing herself to the newest members of the Shack was probably a good idea. It wouldn't hurt to at least let them match a name to her face.
She hoped she'd get paid overtime.
Going back into the warm Shack was a momentary comfort. Soos waved from within the living room, where he'd set about checking the child-proof makeshift locks and picking up any leftover potentially lethal items laying around. Wendy gave a nod of her head due to occupied arms before she made her way carefully up the steps.
The concept of meeting the kids seemed to hold the slightest edge of hidden danger. They weren't normal bouncy kids radiating with innocence like Wendy had controlled back in the gift shop. These kids, from what she saw, were hardened and withdrawn. She'd seen their outfits, the way they seemed to steer clear of huge patches of dirt as if their shoes barely carried out their purpose. Even the limp bright yellow sweater within the pile would be more appealing than the dusty garments the kids called their hoodies.
Wendy approached the closed door to the attic, the wood washed over with dim light from the covered window. She shot it a quick look, wondering if Soos had fixed it yet before she reached up and knocked with as much friendliness she could pour into a gesture.
There was a heavy silence that stretched on too long. Worrying just a bit that maybe the kids had somehow made a break for it, Wendy knocked harder, the noise ringing out into the top floor. She sucked in a breath, keeping her voice light as if appealing to a customer for the sake of your job. "Hey! Anyone in there?"
There wasn't an immediate answer. Something creaked within the room, and then she heard the soft careful footsteps of socked feet across the floorboards. Wendy waited, as the doorknob turned and the door slowly creaked open.
It was the boy. Wendy looked down at him, his ruffled brown hair sticking up like he'd just dragged himself out of bed, but he still barely reached her chest. He was smaller up close, and there was a panicked edge in his eyes as he turned up to her with what looked like a forced neutral expression. He lacked the dirty hoodie, wearing an equally dirty shirt that somewhat resembled the color red. It looked two sizes too big on him.
"Delivery," Wendy announced, holding up the clothes. The boy warily eyed them, leaning against the door and pressing his cheek against his hand. What she took as considerate silence, she recognized as quiet judgement. He looked her up and down, before reaching up trembling hands for the clothes.
"Here, Stan got you new—" Wendy cut off, noticing his overly bandaged fingers and sudden emotionless gaze. Unperturbed, the boy accepted the clothes and carefully hefted the pile before turning into the room. It was dark within, the space barely illuminated by the receding light as dusk fell. She wondered how he wasn't scared of the dark.
"Hey." The kid looked up and back, looking startled. His legs went rigid, and he stared at her with a look of mild terror. Regardless, Wendy folded her arms and leaned against the doorway in a picture of nonchalance. "What's your name again?"
The boy's nose wrinkled, eyes growing wide and he seemed to force his face to maintain composure, as if the simple act of frowning would warrant punishment. He swallowed hard, before tentatively answering. "Uh...it's Dipper."
"Dipper. Nice to meet you." Wendy mechanically stuck out a hand, but the kid stared at it bug-eyed as if she were about to slap him. Instead, she moved her hand back up to the door jamb. "Alright, you're not a handshake guy. My name's Wendy. I'm one of Stan's workers here at this dump he calls a tourist trap."
"Okay." The kid calmly stood where he was, as if awaiting instructions.
"You got a sister, don't you?" Wendy scanned the room, surprised to not see another little kid curled up anywhere watching the spectacle. She must've been hiding. "Where is she?"
"She's in the bathroom." Dipper didn't make eye contact, dropping his gaze to the clothes. "You can leave now, Wendy."
Somehow, the name passing his lips sounded foreign. Wendy didn't move despite the uncomfortable silence dropping between them. Dipper nervously picked at the top sweater, rolling a piece of wool through his fingers. His shoulders rose to his ears, and he looked heavily concentrated on something.
It was weird, Wendy concluded.
"Where're you guys from?" Wendy continued, taking a step into the room. With the floorboard's drawn-out creak, Dipper's head snapped up. He eyed her with evident precaution, hastily tossing the clothes onto the nearest bed. "Hey, c'mon, it's alright. I just wanna get to know you."
"I don't...wanna know you." He sounded hesitant, almost calculating in his head some type of outcome. "...please leave."
"Well, that's kinda a jerk move," Wendy insisted, and Dipper flinched. She backtracked, trying to search for something to say and coming up with nothing.
"I'm alright, ma'am." Somehow, there was a hint of a bite in Dipper's tone. His eyes flitted downward, then left, before settling back on his feet. "You know what, just take the clothes."
"...what?" Wendy glanced at the garments he wore possibly periodically, wondering if he'd even noticed the shoddy state he was in. "Don't you guys want clean clothes?"
"No. I'm alright."
"It's Stan's gift. You gotta at least try them on, man." Granted, they'd look terrible in the cheesy sweaters, but it beat rags. Wendy gestured to the clothes teetering on the edge of the bed. "Think of this as a first offering. We're making peace here."
Dipper shook his head, tremors wracking his body as he crossed his arms over his chest and gripped his forearms. "We don't want them."
"You don't want peace?"
"We don't want them."
"Hey..." Wendy took a ghost of a step forward and the boy shot backwards, staggering like she'd brandished a knife. His hand slammed against a nearby shelf, knocking useless trinkets and forgotten dust to the floor. A small whine escaped him as he dropped to the floor, looking pitiful and terrified.
"Calm down! It's okay, it's okay..." Unsure of what to do, Wendy held out a hand to placate him. Dipper pressed his head against the wall and turned away.
"Calm down...look, I'm taking it." The clothes had slipped and fallen on the floor in a heap, and Wendy slowly bent down to collect it back into her arms. She couldn't help but feel terrible as if she were at fault. In reality, it probably was.
"I'm taking them...just taking these..." Somehow, the boy looked even more fear-stricken. He'd pulled his knees to his chest, hugging himself and curling into an inconspicuous ball. Wendy reached a hand to sweep under the bed in case she'd missed one, and the boy's eyes widened. "It's alrig-"
She grabbed something that wasn't fabric, but felt very close to hair. A shriek erupted from under the bed, and the girl scrambled away from Wendy's touch, slamming her head against the bed frame in the process. Wendy tore her hand away, biting back a scream herself and probably a few of swears as well.
The girl rolled out, but Wendy didn't have time to apologize as a small body slammed into hers. She hit the floor hard, the wind knocked out of her as she fell flat on her back. Something throbbed on the side of her head.
Dipper scrambled to his feet, arms stuck out protectively, something feral in his eyes. He looked ready to tackle her again, his shoulders dropping and something akin to explosive fury shadowing his face.
The girl jumped to her feet, and in one quick movement, she'd restrained her brother. The panicked spark in his eyes lessened, but he still took on the manners of an angry bear Wendy had trespassed the grounds of. Gasping for a full breath, Wendy carefully lifted her upper body.
"Go!" The girl bellowed, hugging her brother tight as he bucked his head. Somehow, the vision of her struggling was enough to communicate the kid was stronger than he looked. "Please, just go, Wendy!"
Again, the name sounded stale, but Wendy didn't want to argue. She painfully got to her feet, Dipper's eyes still on her as she stumbled out of the room. She slammed the door behind her, staggering forward through the muted light of the covered window before she draped herself against the banister to catch her breath.
The pain exploded within her chest as she tried to level her breathing, and no matter how many times she got the wind knocked out of her, every single time it sucked.
Dipper was surprisingly strong for his state. She could feel the impact on her ribs. After finally taking a deep breath, she mentally cursed herself out. She was treading on thin ice. It was ridiculous she hadn't seen it until it quite literally ran into her.
The kids were frightened. She could accept that explanation. But Dipper seemed to portray something else and Wendy wasn't sure what it was. He was a mystery, him and his godforsaken twin. Just like everything else in the Shack. Unknown, and potentially dangerous.
"Wendy!" Soos' call rung out from the lower floor. "Wendy, are you okay? That sounded like raccoons again!"
"It wasn't raccoons!" Wendy assured. "I'm fine!"
"Are you sure?!"
"I'm not bleeding, Soos!"
"Okay, just making sure!"
Wendy carefully wrapped an arm around her tender side before heading back down the steps. She was ready to head home.
That afternoon was relatively quiet, regarding the fact there were completely new residents, and children at that. Night had fallen, and the twins remained in their room. Soos had attempted to deliver a plate of mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, but the twins has refused to open the door. The plate still sat, untouched, on the floorboards.
Soos had set about sweeping the kitchen just for the sake of something to do, and eventually Stan had returned. The front door was an indication, and Stan struggled to get inside, multiple bags in his arms spilling contents over the rug. A can of soup clattered and rolled to Soos' feet. Stan kicked the door shut, glaring at his gawking coworker by the kitchen's doorway. "C'mon, Soos, help me out."
"Oh! Yes, of course, Mr. Pines!" Soos dropped the broom and rushed to help, taking the bags and moving them to the kitchen's rickety table. "Wow, Mr. Pines, I thought you said you'd wait for the free money."
Stan grunted, removing his suit coat and completely missing the coat hanger, but he let it drift to the floor with complete indifference. "Not exactly free. The price is taking care of the runts. They come down yet?"
"Nope! Wendy talked for a bit, pretty sure she tussled with some raccoons, but the kids are still there!" Soos peered into a bag, examining the array of food and small toiletries. In another bag, colored differently, two Teddy bears sat, staring up with black button eyes and sporting matching bow ties.
"Ugh. Raccoons are back? Gotta demand a refund from the damn exterminator." Stan retreated to his couch, grabbing an can of Pitt cola on his way.
"These are for the kids?" Soos asked, gesturing towards the bags. "Are we gonna give it to them now?"
"They'll get it when they come down." Stan dropped into his seat, kicking his feet back and swiping up the TV remote. The TV flickered on, an old soap opera coming onto the screen. "This ain't a hotel."
"But...Mr. Pines, they need a friendly boost!" Soos insisted, moving into the living room doorway. "That little nudge to face the horrors of the unknown!"
"Nice way to address to my hideous old-man face. Nah, let them get settled down, I'll deal with it later." Stan chugged down a good deal of the soda, ignoring Soos' crestfallen look. "Look, if ya wanna meet them or whatever, come back tomorrow. The kids have gotta eat sometime."
"But tomorrow is so far!" Soos bemoaned.
"It's either tomorrow or never. Pick one."
"...tomorrow." Soos sadly looked towards his shoes as Stan settled on an episode of Duck-tective. "Good. It's the first day, we're all tired. Go get some rest, Soos."
Dejectedly, Soos glanced at the bags within the kitchen before reaching for his coat. "Good night, Mr. Pines," he called, giving things one last check-over before opening the door.
"G'night, Soos," Stan replied distractedly, only the illumination of the TV screen lighting up the room.
Neither twin quite understood what these people wanted from them, but they're weren't quick to find out.
The encounter with the red-headed teen had been exhausting. Just the sight of a teenager in the household had meant trouble, and despite the twins' preparation, it still felt like they'd been caught off guard. Teenagers were just as bad as adults. If not, worse, due to their skewed mentalities and drive to cause destruction at every turn. Mabel had cried at the notion of becoming a teenager in just a single year, but Dipper reassured her with the idea she could be one of the good teenagers.
"So can you!" Mabel had declared when he'd said it. "We'll both change the way things are!"
"Oh, but you'll do better," Dipper had replied, because he knew for him, being good was impossible.
The teen had brought that conversation back, and it took a bit for the wild atmosphere and raised heartbeats to calm.
Mabel hadn't been very impressed with Dipper's methods of settling the matter. Often, she remained naturally trusting when it came to certain people. "She was nice to us," Mabel had stated.
"That doesn't mean she's overall a nice person," Dipper had replied, and Mabel had looked saddened by that.
Now, that they'd been reminded about the true malice hidden in pretty much every teen ("but not us, if we try hard. We're smart," both twins had decided) they decided to try for some rest.
They'd examined the clothes left behind, but Mabel had folded them and carefully stored them in the corner, voicing her positive opinion on the gifts. Dipper had forbade her from wearing it just yet. As much as he yearned for a new jacket or something not itchy or smelly, he didn't want to let his guard down.
The two tried getting some sleep, hugging one another and keeping each other within easy reach. The other man in the household...Zeus or something along that line...had arrived to the door a whole later, knocking and joyfully informing them about dinner. Neither twin was hungry, or daring enough to believe it.
Night fell. Darkness shrouded the twins. It was Dipper's shift, and he stayed awake as Mabel's breathing became even and peaceful in her slumber. Once she'd comfortably fallen asleep, Dipper let himself relax.
The sigil was drawn. There was no noise downstairs indicating an unwanted intruder heading for their room. And most important of all, they had each other.
Dipper found himself drifting off moments later, exhausted from the days events, with the lingering effects of the anesthetic pushing him over the edge into deep sleep.
"No, no, NO! I don't wanna, I don't wanna!"
Dipper could only stare at the carpet stained and patterned with beer spills and feet marks. He screamed as loud as he could, the searing pain from the arm against his ribs enough to keep his protests endless.
The blond-haired teenager with a scruffy beard and lazy eye, who seemed to tower over the squirmy little ten-year-old, carried the kid along down the musty hallway as if it were any other day. It wasn't a tremendous feat. Dipper was light and thin and easy to carry like a good-quality suitcase. Dipper was tucked under his arm, unable to do much but squirm and yell for freedom he wasn't allowed to gain, and watch as the rug underneath turned into sleek wooden flooring.
"Don't wanna go! I don't wanna go!" Dipper kicked his legs, screeching at the top of his lungs as he was carried down the stairs. The teenager wasn't a friend. Only a foster brother, the biological kid who was evidently bitter about sharing a household with other children. The teenager had already explained his plans. That Dipper was a "scapegoat", and they were gonna do something fun, but Dipper had to remain quiet. Maybe his face would remain unscathed from any blows if he kept his mouth shut.
Dipper didn't believe it for a second.
"Mabel! Where's Mabel?!"
"My god, can't you go five minutes without asking for your stupid sister?" The teenager looked annoyed, glaring down at Dipper as if he were a complete nuisance. Yet, somehow, he hadn't let go, and Dipper squirmed and tried harder.
"Mabel! I want Mabel!"
"Say something else for once, instead of complaining all the damn time," the teenager huffed. "You're doing me a favor. You like doing me favors, right?"
Dipper never knew how to answer that. Either way he got punished. He found the smartest option was the stay silent, and that's what he did.
Dipper was yet to even learn the teen's name. He'd eventually gone to called him Liam, simply because he looked like a Liam. That was between him and Mabel, and no one else, because the boy twin couldn't imagine what would happen if he dared call the teenager that aloud.
Dipper latched onto the wall as they turned a corner, and he furiously dug his fingers against the door jamb. He still dangled from the teenager's grip, and his arms burned with the contorted position, but he didn't want to go. He didn't want to leave Mabel alone. "No!"
"Hurry up, goddammit!" The teen yanked hard, his hold too strong for Dipper to slip out. Instead there was a loud unnerving pop and a fiery pain spread through the boy's upper body. Dipper yelped, his now numb arm slipping away and the two continued down the hallway. Dipper was helpless.
"I'm taking the boy runt, Dad!" Liam called, opening the massive front door and managing to both balance Dipper in his hold and unlock all the locks. Dipper watched with quiet longing. No matter how much he tried, he could never get that dumb door open.
Liam opened it was ease, being a tall and strong teenager that could easily bend Dipper to his will. The boy twin couldn't argue, only wincing and mewling in pain as they passed through the doorway and into the front yard. They approached a grey sleek car, with its engine still running.
The window of the passenger side rolled down, and a black-haired teenage boy poked his head out, a lit cigarette between his fingers and sunglasses hiding his eyes. He moved his head to Dipper with evident scorn before turning to Liam. "There's only five seats, man. How you planning on working this?"
"He can fit on the floor!" Someone called from the back, and there was an eruption of laughter.
"Naw, the kid's small." Liam shifted Dipper, the boy still dangling from his arm, every movement setting off a shock of pain. "This is Dipper. He's my new foster brother."
The black-haired teen smirked. "Another foster kid. So when you being replaced?"
"Shut the fuck up," Liam snapped. "It's not like that." He tilted Dipper's face towards the teenager against the window. Dipper whimpered softly, catching his reflection in the guy's glasses before seeing sharp eyes beneath. "We got him a few days ago. He'll make a good scapegoat."
The teen took a drag from his cigarette and blew the smoke into Dipper's face. The boy twin coughed, choking on the acrid smoke and struggling to get away. Liam's grip was still right.
"So what's your plan? Because I'm not stuffing him in the back," the teen remarked.
"Nah, I've got a better idea." Liam shifted Dipper, and the boy was moved away from the window, the remnants of smoke clearing. "Jake, pop the trunk."
"What?! No, wait-" Dipper cried, only to get punched across the face. The fist connected hard with the bridge of his nose and he whined as Liam carried him towards the back of the car. "What the fuck?" Someone yelled from the back, and there was another eruption of laughter.
The trunk hatch was thrown up and Dipper attempted to take the opportunity to try to get away. He didn't get much wiggle room before he was grabbed from the shirt and lifted up into the air. He fought despite his throbbing shoulder, terrified screams filling the air and scaring him until he realized they were coming from himself. He was shoved into the trunk forcefully, with hardly any effort.
"No! Stop!" He wailed, his small voice drowned out as the hatch slammed shut. The sound resonated through the small space, and Dipper clapped his working hand over his ear. He was in nothing but pitch black darkness. "No!"
The car began to pull out of the driveway. Dipper pushed against the hatch, using his legs to kick, trying to make his injured arm function. He screamed until his voice gave out, the darkness around him closing in until he'd exerted so much energy, he couldn't move.
Mabel awoke with a start, forced out of slumber by an uncomfortable heat. She blinked the bleariness from her eyes, lifting her head and instantly looking towards the door, her chest heaving with stuttered breaths.
It was still closed. She strained her ears, but couldn't hear footsteps. Her breathing slowed as she realized the lack of immediate danger, but she still felt uneasy. Something wasn't right.
She gently untangled herself from Dipper, frowning at the heat that radiated off his small form. "Oh...not again, Dip Dip," she murmured, bringing her hand to his burning forehead.
Of all the things Dipper struggled with, it was personal care. With the worries and stresses of their everyday life, he hardly found time to take care of himself. It bit him on the butt more than offered him more chances for other things. It often incapacitated him, but whenever Mabel ranted, he hardly listened.
She scooted towards him, rolling up his pant leg and carefully studying the spot where the stitches had been meticulously given by the sweet nurse that smelled like honey. The gauze had gotten dirty, and as Mabel removed it, she felt her stomach drop at the sight of red and inflamed skin. The dirt and stress was the culprit for a fast infection.
She needed medicine. Some type of first-aid kit would be a miracle. If she didn't help Dipper, he'd be too slow and lethargic to keep up. Their team would fall apart, and they'd agreed to never ever let that happen at all costs.
But this meant venturing downstairs. Where Stan surely resided. It was a terrifying concept, enough to make her almost back out, but the thought of her brother urged her on.
With great effort, she removed her hoodie one sleeve at a time, trying to ignore the stiffness in her limbs. Her bruises had been treated with ice back at the hospital, but they were still prominent, purple angry spots on her skin. It was a result of attempting to block punches to the face. The bruises marred her bare arms, but since the tactic proved efficient, she didn't care. She draped her hoodie over Dipper's form.
It was their sign. A silent communication that the person who was gone was alright. It often meant there wasn't an attack, that the disappearance was due to personal need. Dipper wouldn't be happy if Mabel told him about her whereabouts, but she'd figured a few bluffs wouldn't hurt.
"Okay...okay..." Mabel's arms shook as she pushed herself off the bed. She approached the door, wishing they'd labeled their medical items, such valuable things they'd left hidden under a floorboard back at the old home. There was nothing else in those duffels besides personal belongings and some stale crackers. Which meant she'd need to look downstairs, and thoroughly, for the right objects.
"You've got this, Mabel." She stood, squaring her shoulders and reaching to open the door just enough for her to slip through. "You've got this."
It was almost pitch black on the other side.
She looked back to ensure Dipper was still asleep and in the bed, before closing the door behind her.
End Chapter 2