I have a week of midterms to look forward to but in the meantime, here's more Gravity Falls.
"You should have just left me behind," said Four, although he was unable to keep the gratitude out of his voice.
"Shut up. I'm almost done."
Things had not been going well for them. They had been forced to sleep on the ground for several nights, as apparently they did need sleep, and learned the hard way that there were things in the woods that would gladly take advantage of slumbering paper clones if given the opportunity. There wasn't much in the way of food, and in any case many edible things were also somewhat liquidy, so they nibbled on pinecones to alleviate their hunger pangs (which Three couldn't really believe were real). And then, while looking for a way to cross a river, Four slipped. If it hadn't been for the rusted axe that they had found stuck in a tree a while back, Three wouldn't have been able to make a hasty amputation, separating Four from his melting leg.
The problem was that Four could no longer walk, which meant that Three had to make some sort of peg leg. He had been doing this for the past two days. Carving things with a rusty axe was very, very hard. And he still had no idea how he was going to attach it to Four's leg.
Four didn't bother to point out that he had been 'almost done' for a day already and just laid silent, staring up at the obscured sky. The only sound was the careful scrapes of axe on wood.
"Do you think," Four started, "that, uh, we have, like, souls and stuff?"
"Mm," said Three, not in the mood for philosophizing.
"I mean, that copier copied everything. Except the pine tree on the hat. We're autonomous, so I guess we have a brain, and we must at least have a skeletal structure and significant mass if we don't just fall over or get blown away in the wind."
"But we're not actual people or anything. We're just, like, paper. And it's not like we're unique either, we're just…copies. Really convincing copies, but it's like, everything about us is fake – "
Three threw the finished peg-leg at Four's head. "Done. Now stop talking like that or I'll be tempted to cut off your other leg."
Four laughed nervously as he sat up, rubbing his nose. "Um. Right. So how do I put this on?"
"Well," said Three, taking off his vest, "if I twist this up a little, it might make a strong enough strap."
It took another day of practice for Four to get used to his new prosthetic before they headed off, moving a little away from the river before making a perpendicular turn.
This was, Three couldn't help but think, utterly ridiculous. The forest wasn't that huge. They couldn't be so far removed from civilization that they couldn't even hear sounds. But the forest had a way of swallowing up sounds, apparently. He could only hear twigs crunching underfoot while Four wobbled behind him.
Every few minutes, they had to stop and re-tie the peg leg. Every time, thoughts arose unbidden, how slow they were going, how much of a burden his look-alike was, how he would be better off alone, thoughts that he knew only arose during silence so he buried them in conversation.
But the forest was oppressive – the sunshine was always mottled, always muted. Their utter loneliness pressed down all around them. Every time they started up a conversation, it would die off soon after. And, more and more, all their conversations were on the depressingly philosophical side, until Three started wondering what the point was, of wandering about in the woods with no idea where to turn, trying to return to a home that was not theirs, to a life they really didn't have. By now, the reason for their existence was long gone, and whether their plan had worked or not didn't matter anymore. Perhaps if Dipper really needed clones for another scheme, then they would have a use, but it was a lot easier to just make new clones than to hide old ones, one of them injured –
"Didja hear that?"
Three stopped. "What? No." But now that he was actually listening, he did. It was quite near, and it sounded like a dull thump thump, like pounding on tough wood, and there was a subtle cracking sound…
"Look out!" shouted Four, wobbling away so fast that he almost fell over. Three saw it, saw the massive tree descending like a distressed giraffe, and he jumped away as it landed with a thud and a groan.
He was now covered in pine needles. Well, it wasn't as bad as eating pinecones, really.
Four was already struggling to his feet when a boisterous guffaw exploded from the newly-made stump. "Take that, tree," said the unspeakably manly voice, "I don't even need an axe to take you down! I got my FISTS!"
It was Manly Dan. Oh thank god. Of all the people to run into while horribly lost in the woods, a rather jovial guy that was all muscle was probably best.
It was only after he had let Four lean on him and the two of them hobbled much too eagerly towards the looming figure that Three realized that their appearance was going to be really hard to explain, but by that time, the man had already seen them and was approaching with a gait that could only be described as 'manly' because there was no suitable word for how full of testosterone that gait was.
"Ah!" the wall of rippling manliness said while Three was debating whether to quickly retreat or not. "You children shouldn't just wander the woods alone! What if that tree hit you, huh? Then I'd have to hide your bodies! Say…" Dan loomed over them. He loomed over everybody, really. Three hid the axe behind his back and almost chopped off his head with the too-swift movement. Four attempted to slide over so that his peg leg was hidden behind Three, but stumbled in the process. Noticing that Three wasn't pretending to not be Dipper, Four took off his hat, then put it back on, then almost took it off again, then settled for pulling the brim exceedingly low over his face. They both stared up at Dan as he rubbed a hand contemplatively through his beard.
"Hmmmm…I know you…"
"Uh, yeah?" Three said, failing to sound nonchalant.
Dan snapped his fingers, which was startlingly loud. Four fell over and Three dropped the axe, which flopped over and looked as innocent as a rusty axe could. "Yeah! You're those twin kids or whatever! Nipper and Bagel! Wendy talked about you two."
"Really?" Two paper hearts simultaneously fluttered, despite the mangled names.
Manly Dan nodded, mostly to himself. "Yeah, yeah…said you were cute kids."
Their hearts wavered a little. Well, 'cute' was a start, right?
"Hey, is that my old axe?"
The clones looked down at the fallen weapon of mass tree-struction. "Uh, maybe?"
"Ha!" boomed Dan as he scooped the decrepit axe up. "It is! I'd recognize that curvature of the blade anywhere!"
"If you don't mind," said Four, not even bothering to hide his lack of a leg anymore since Dan didn't seem to notice anything, "what was it doing all the way in the middle of the woods, stuck to a tree?"
"Well, when I was young," Dan replied with a misty look in his manly eyes, "I tried to throw it like one of those things you throw, like that thing in the Olympics. Wanted to see if I could cut down multiple trees like that. Then I lost it because I missed."
"…You missed a tree…in the woods."
"Yup," said Dan, never losing his nostalgic expression.
The three stood there for a few minutes as Manly Dan continued adventuring in his manly memories. With a wistful sigh, he eventually came back down to earth. "Well anyways, I better get you kids outta here. Don't want any trees hitting you."
"Yeah," said Four. "That would be great."
Manly Dan offered to lead them all the way back to the Shack, but Three insisted that he could just lead them to the road and they'd figure it out from there. The two watched the hulking figure lumber back into the forest. Pricking their ears, they would almost swear that they could hear the trees shaking in fear.
"…So now what?" said Four. "Are we just…going to go back?"
Three thought for a moment.