"If you want to, I can save you.
I can take you away from here.
So lonely inside, so busy out there,
and all you wanted was somebody who cares…"
"All You Wanted," by Michelle Branch
Chapter 1 – A Secret to Everybody
Dipper Pines was blinded with a ray of light as he opened his eyes for the first time that morning. Another night had passed, and with it, dreams of ghosts, monsters, and of course, tall, redheaded gingers. Of course, Dipper didn't mind any of that (especially that last part).
He sat up and yawned, stretching his noodle arms as far as he could. Again, he could not see anything in front of him due to constant whiteness covering his view. Dipper shut and reopened his eyes repeatedly, trying to regain his sight. Still, nothing but white surrounded him.
"Oh no! I'm blind!" Dipper panicked as he hopped out of bed. As he landed, the truth was revealed to him as his vision returned:
Someone had taped a piece of paper to his forehead.
Annoyed (and embarrassed of himself) Dipper ripped the paper off his head and began to read over it:
"HEY BIRTHDAY ̶B̶O̶Y̶ MAN!
THERE'S A SPECIAL SURPRISE WAITING FOR YOU AT THE GRAVITY FALLS ARCADE!
GET A MOVE ON! DON'T KEEP ME WAITING!
IT'S A SECRET TO EVERYBODY!"
Dipper sighed as he set the note on his bed. With all of the craziness during his stay at Gravity Falls, he had almost forgotten about his own birthday. Dipper remembered that this birthday was to be his most important yet. Today was his thirteenth birthday, meaning that he could toss aside the limitations of childhood and proudly call himself a teenager. This could be a whole new outlook on life!
Plus, it didn't hurt that the additional year helped close the age gap between him and Wendy…
He looked over to the adjacent bed, belonging to his twin sister Mabel, to find it messy, yet abandoned. Dipper thought to himself, "Huh? It's Mabel's big day, too. I'd think that she would be up at the crack of dawn, waking up the entire house!"
To Mabel, this day was so much more than a "mere birthday," but a celebration of when she and Dipper came into the world together. For this, she had not only christened it as "our birthday," but also a "Happy 'Us' Day, in tribute of the joyous occasion.
He then remembered the note, or more specifically, the "ME" addressed in it. Studying the note, he noticed the all-too-neat handwriting, complete with small hearts dotting the "I's."
Dipper came to the conclusion that his now teenage twin had something in mind for him at the arcade.
In a rush, Dipper changed into his street clothes and headed out towards town. Even though he appreciated whatever his sister had planned, he was still very uneasy about heading back to the Arcade. Earlier that summer, Dipper had unleashed Rumble McSkirmish to protect himself after being threatened by Wendy's jerkwad boyfriend, Robbie. Even worse, Dipper had to take a vicious beating from an out-of-control Rumble in order to save Robbie's life. Even after Rumble was returned to the virtual world, he continued to be a nuisance. Only a few weeks ago, both Dipper and Mabel were trapped in a 16-bit version of Gravity Falls, barely escaping the plight after confronting Rumble once again. Despite all of this, Dipper realized the good intentions at hand, remembering that he couldn't let Mabel down. After all, Rumble couldn't keep coming back, could he?
As Dipper entered the Arcade, his eyes adjusted to the dank surrounding; a vast contrast to the bright and breezy world outside. Slowly, he explored the arcade. It was totally quiet, except for the bleeps-and-bloops coming from the various cabinets. He peered around the corner of every aisle of machines. There wasn't a single soul around! The desk clerk had even vanished! "What is going on?" he asked himself.
Dipper continued down the aisle at a turtle's pace, waiting for someone (something) to leap out at him. At the end of the aisle, he noticed something that caught his eye.
In between the last set of arcade machines circling the back side of the room stood an older picnic table. Sitting upon of it was a small, yet delicious chocolate cake (his favorite). The cake was decorated with blue frosting, marked in a cute, yet sloppy font stating "HAPPY BIRTHDAY DIPPER!" The handwriting seemed to be the same as that in the note. In the middle, a huge "13" shaped candle stood with a single wick extending from the top.
Dipper was taken aback by the gift set in front of him. "How was Mabel able to do all of this without me noticing?" Dipper also felt a lump in his throat when he realized that he had left his gift for her back at the Mystery Shack! He took a deep breath, and decided to get this over with.
"Mabel," Dipper called out, slowly walking towards the cake. "Mabel, you can come out now…"
From behind him, a voice called out, "No, not Mabel, but you're getting warmer…"
As he recognized that voice, a huge, yet shocked smile spread across Dipper's face. He turned around, and looked up to meet his secret gift-giver eye to eye.
"What's up, dweeb?" Wendy asked, as she slid out of the shadows.
Dipper stood in a quiet awe. Slowly, he found the courage to speak. "Wendy…" he stammered. "Wendy…you did all of this?"
"Yep," she replied, her sly smile spreading further across her freckled face. She had figured that she would have totally surprised the newly-christen teen in front of her, but not like this. It was almost like she knocked the wind out of him. "So, whatdya think? I mean, the cake's a bit messy, but I'm not the best cook…"
Dipper simply remained in a stupor. Despite this, Wendy went further into detail, "Well, to be honest, it wasn't all my idea. Mabel gave me a lot of helpful advice. And I remembered that you and I had a blast the last time we were here, at least until Robbie "stole" me away…"
Dipper frowned at the unintended double meaning of Wendy's phrase.
"…and I figured you deserve a little bit of quality time; no friends to save, no Mabel to watch out for, and no Stan bossing you around. Wendy knelt down to meet Dipper and pulled something out of her pocket. She flashed them in front of his face and continued on, "Check this, two all-day passes! Unlimited credits! First dibs on every game! Heck, since I'm friends with the owner's kids, we have the entire place to ourselves!"
Dipper was astonished by the details of Wendy's plan. She had thought of everything! He tried to say something (anything) that would even begin to describe the gratitude towards his secret love, but no words came out of his mouth.
As she stood back up, Wendy's smiling face changed to that of a concerned frown. She was worried because the little teen in front of her didn't even make a sound. Dipper's heart sank as he heard her next comment:
"You don't like it, do you? This was a stupid idea…"
"Wendy," Dipper interrupted breathlessly, forcing himself to speak out loud. "I love it. Everything's perfect. I couldn't ask for more. "In his excitement, he ran up to her and hugged her, despite only reaching her waist. "I just can't believe you did all this just for me…"
Dipper stopped in embarrassment when he realized what he had just done. He looked up at Wendy and seen that she was blushing as much as he was, complete with an awkward dimpled smile on her face.
"Hey, nothing but the best for my boys!" Wendy exclaimed, gently tapping her index finger on Dipper's pink nose. "Or…" she corrected herself, "should I say "men?" Dipper forced himself to awkwardly laugh. Deep down, he was ecstatic! "YES!" he thought to himself. "Wendy thinks I'm an adult now!"
With that, Wendy reached down, grasped his tiny hand (filling Dipper with silent joy) and led him over to the table. She reached back into her pockets and pulled out an old-fashioned flip lighter. Wendy leaned over to the 13-shaped candle and lit the wick on top. She turned to Dipper while extending her arm, "Well, let's get this party started! Go ahead and make a wish!"
Dipper hesitated. This scenario that Wendy had created for him was greater than anything he could have imagined. What else could he possibly ask for today? Would it be selfish to ask for anything more than this?
Wendy gave him an encouraging push forwards, "C'mon, Dipper! Make your wish, and let's go play already!"
Dipper took two steps and paused to clear his mind. Behind him, he began to hear a gentle humming of "Happy Birthday to you!" He turned around to see that the source of the sweet song was Wendy, standing with eyes closed while softly swaying back and forth, as if she was performing a lullaby. Dipper, despite finding the scene surreally adorable, chuckled, "Not much for singing, Wendy?" She quickly responded, "Don't-push-your-luck-kiddo!" and resumed her tune.
Dipper returned his attention to the task at hand. He gathered up a single thought in his mind:
"If anything, I wish that these moments with Wendy would last forever! Here's to many more like this!"
With that, Dipper blew out the candle. He heard Wendy cheer and shortly after, she ran up next to him. "So..." she asked. "What did you wish for?"
"Uh-Uh," he countered. "If I tell you, it won't come true, right?"
"Such a doofus," Wendy sighed. She put her hands on her hips and looked down at the teenager. "Dipper Pines, what am I going to do with you? Oh, wait; I know!" Once again, she took him by the hand and steered him towards the back row of arcade games, nearly yanking him off his feet.
"Now, young man…" Wendy started again, "I expect nothing but "Top 5" scores from you today. Of course, I'm not talking the top spot." She faced Dipper with her thumb pointed at herself, "That's reserved for yours truly!" The bold statement made Dipper laugh out loud.
"Huh?" Wendy asked, raising an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well," Dipper explained. "This is coming from the same girl who claimed in our "last battle" that I cheated my way to victory?"
"What?!" she exclaimed in shock. "You must have been hearing things!"
"I don't think so…" Dipper teased.
"That's a lot of talk from such a little guy…"
"Yeah? Well, that a…big talk…*grumble* tall girl…"
Wendy, now fully egged on, bent down to meet her challenger.
"You're on, birthday boy!"
Dipper and Wendy explored nearly every game cabinet through the arcade. They had zoomed through virtually every gaming genre from classic platformers to light gun shooters to dual racers. It was a constant struggle between the two teens, with one reaching first place in the top scores, only to switch positions with the next title played.
Hours felt like minutes and minutes felt like seconds. Despite his competitive nature, Dipper truly soaked in the atmosphere. This is what he always wanted; a day alone with Wendy with no distractions at all. He thought about how the idea sounded kind of creepy, but he didn't mean it to be. It was just, at times, Wendy acted like a totally different person when concerning the other teenagers (especially Robbie). She was more prone to peer pressure, which more importantly, led to dangerous risks. Such a thing almost led to their downfall at the Dusk2Dawn earlier that summer. If only Dipper didn't ask to come along; what would have happened? He couldn't stand the mere thought of Wendy simply vanishing off the face of the earth…and he being left powerless to do anything about it.
Even though they were in the middle of a game (a 80s-co-op beat 'em up), Dipper stole a quick glance at his crush/temporary rival. He watched her expressions change, from huge, gaping smiles to shocked "O's" on her face. Though Wendy had her full attention on the game, Dipper was easily getting lost in her bright green eyes reflecting the flashing display in front of them. She never even blinked once. Suddenly, Wendy turned her attention to Dipper, still staring at her with adoration, her eyes blaring.
"Hey, dude! Focus!" She pointed at the screen. "We're getting creamed!"
Slightly embarrassed, Dipper returned his attention back to the arcade monitor. Wendy wasn't joking. He looked on as a huge green-skinned monster was hammering away at their on-screen avatars. Dipper continued to wail away at the buttons, alongside Wendy, both hoping to regain their advantage.
"Remember, Dipper," she warned. "These old school games from the '80s are super tough; at least tougher than what we grew up with. We gotta beat this guy together!"
Dipper nodded in agreement, going back to the task at hand. Without taking his eyes off the screen (lest he provoke Wendy's wrath), Dipper started up conversation again, hoping to take the competitive edge off.
"Sooo...I never did ask; how did you manage to get everyone out of my…err…our hair?"
"Easy…" Wendy responded, her attention never leaving the game. "Mabel is busy dragging your "Grunkle" and Soos all over town, and all my friends are grounded for trying to break into the abandoned hospital outside of town."
"And I suppose that you had nothing to do with the matter?" Dipper asked sarcastically.
"You know me like a book, Dipper Pines!" she laughed, showing a sly smile on her face. "I was there; it's just that I snuck away in the nick of time!"
"Didn't they get mad?"
"Nahhh! Sometimes, these things happen, and everything goes sour, but the important thing is that you never turn on each other at the end of the day. Besides, it's not like there's never been a time where they got away scot-free and I was the one left holding the check."
Her analogy made Dipper smile. For a second there, he thought that Wendy was cruel enough to leave anyone hanging without regret. But speaking of bad guys…
"What about Robbie?"
Wendy's expression changed to that of a serious one. "Well, Robbie wasn't with us. To be honest, I've haven't seen him in a few days. No calls. No texts. Nothing…"
Without looking at his secret crush, Dipper could easily see that Wendy was truly worried about his gothic nemesis. Even though that he would enjoy seeing a lot less of Robbie in his life, he didn't want Wendy to be troubled because of it. He forced himself to offer some reassurance.
"Don't worry, Wendy. I bet he was called away because of family matters…or maybe even something to do with his band…"
"Yeah, you're right!" Wendy responded, her voice changing back to her general, perky tone. "After all, he's a big boy; he can take care of himself!" Dipper smiled at Robbie's downgrade to "boy."
Dipper's attention strayed once more from the screen, noting something on the cabinet itself. Wendy had left the two all day passes against the screen. He glanced at the one she had made out for him, noticing (even admiring) Wendy's cursive interpretation of his name. When he peeked at the other card, he detected something a bit off. The second card was signed, "Gwendolyn Corduroy."
Dipper smiled at this newfound knowledge. He just HAD to use this to his advantage.
As the two teens continued their virtual battle against the hulking boss character, Dipper noticed as Wendy's character (ironically, a warrior dressed in reddish garb while his avatar in blue) was cornered by the villain. Watching Wendy's reaction out of the corner of his eye, he shouted:
Wendy's concentration shattered like broken glass. She turned to the shorten teen standing to her left.
"What did you just say?!" she shrieked with eyes wide open. Suddenly, the screen flashed with a grim tone. Wendy turned back to face the message on the monitor:
"PLAYER 2 GAME OVER! 2ND PLACE HI-SCORE!"
She looked back at Dipper, still playing the game, complete with devilish grin upon his face. Wendy looked in his perspective, in which she had left the pre-purchased passes. She easily put two and two together.
"Dude!" she complained, gently punching his shoulder. "That was a really low blow, kid!"
Dipper sighed, watching his score continue to ascend, "All's fair in love and war… And besides, I think it's a beautiful name…Gwendol…."
Dipper was interrupted as Wendy pulled the teen close to meet him face-to-face.
The smile on his face was wiped off completely. In a split second, Wendy regained her composure. "Sorry," she apologized. "That is kinda my Achilles' heel. Only my mom is allowed to call me by my legal name."
Dipper, feeling guilty, started again, "Well, all joking aside, I really do think it's a nice na-"
Wendy quickly put her index finger to his lips, silencing him. "Ah-Ah!" she interrupted again. "We really don't want to get into the matter of real names, do we, Dippy? I'm sure that's another thing Mabel would be more than happy to help me out with…"
Dipper's demeanor totally changed. He knew that Mabel would easily rat him out, especially for Wendy's sake. "Good point." he quickly agreed.
Another grim tone chimed. Wendy had distracted him long enough for Dipper to get a "Game Over" screen.
"HA!" Wendy laughed. "And justice is served!"
Suddenly, another sound echoed from the cabinet. Wendy and Dipper both looked at the newly displayed message onscreen:
"PLAYER 1 EXTRA LIFE! GET READY!"
"Oh, yeah!" Dipper exclaimed. "The streak continues!"
"BOO!" teased Wendy, jealous of her friend's good luck. She turned to look at the other arcade cabinets that they haven't played yet. Maybe while Dipper was finishing this game, she could sneak away and get a bit of practice on the next. After all, she had a reputation to maintain.
"Hey, Dipper? I'm going to get started on the next game. Meet me over there when you're finished."
Dipper nodded, his attention on maintaining his high score. "You got it, Wendy!"
Wendy walked over to the next corner of the arcade. She explored the various titles, wondering which one would be perfect in gaining the advantage over her gaming companion. Suddenly, her attention was focused on a machine that seemed to be glowing. It was as if it was calling out to her.
Wendy stopped at the machine and looked up at the title: "FIGHT FIGHTERS!" She instantly remembered this game from when she and Soos brought the twins to the arcade for the first time. This was also the game in which Dipper easily defeated her. For some reason, it seemed like Dipper was avoiding this machine. Wendy thought to herself, "This is a perfect chance for vengeance! A few practice rounds, and Dipper won't know what hit him!"
She hit the 1P Start Button and ended up at the character select screen. Wendy chose Dr. Karate, her favorite fighter, and waited for the game to load her opponent. On the next screen, the game's VS screen showed that she was challenging (ironically Dipper's preferred warrior) Rumble McSkirmish.
"Great…" Wendy sighed, and rolled her eyes in disbelief.
As the match was about to begin, Rumble began to shout "Get over here; which I mean, is right here!" He was pointing at the screen, almost as if he was talking to the player, not the selected character.
"Creepy…" Wendy said to herself. "It's like he's actually talking to me through the game…"
Wendy gasped in horror as Rumble hopped up towards the screen, staring her down face to face:
"YES! IT IS YOU TO WHOM I AM TALKING! GET IN HERE NOW!"
Rumble reached through the screen, as if there was no barrier there, and grabbed Wendy's dainty wrists. She screamed in terror as the muscle-bound pixelated warrior began to yank her off her feet, and into the gaming world. Wendy pulled back, trying to resist, but the video game character was simply too strong. She cried out, "DIPPER! HELP!"
On the other side of the arcade, Dipper had just defeated the final boss, and successfully captured the first place position. As he was entering his initials, he had heard his secret love's screams. He laughed, thinking that she had bit off more than she could chew in one of the games. "I'll be right there, Wendy!"
Wendy continued to struggle against Rumble's grip. She tried hooking her boots beneath the machine to prevent her from being taken to heaven knows where. "DIPPER!" she screamed. "WHERE ARE YOU? I NEED YOUR HELP NOW!"
Dipper again brushed off her words, unknown to him that it was a matter of life or death, "Wendy, hang on a minute! Just use another credit, and I'll be right there!"
Wendy couldn't believe her ears! Why wasn't he taking her seriously?
Dipper sighed as he finished selecting his initials. He looked with pride upon the huge "DIP" placed side by side at the first place position. The next scream he heard shattered his perspective:
"DIPPER, PLEASE! I DON'T HAVE A MINUTE! HE'S TAKING ME AW-"
Dipper was on high alert after Wendy's interruption. "HE?" flashed through Dipper's mind, as he took off like a bullet. He had an irking about what just happened, and for that, he silently prayed, "Please don't be Fight Fighters. Please don't be Fight Fighters…"
As he rounded the corner, he could see a pair of booted feet flailing in the air. Dipper ran to the glowing machine to see Wendy literally being sucked into the arcade machine. Without thinking, Dipper leaped into the air, grabbed both of Wendy's ankles, and began to yank with all of his might. He struggled to maintain his grip, but after a few moments, it was no use. As if he was nothing, Dipper was seamlessly shrugged off and Wendy was completely pulled into the accursed machine, her screams echoing through his mind:
"WENDY! NO!" Dipper sunk into his knees in bitter defeat. He looked next to him to see Wendy's trademark trapper hat on the floor. She must have lost it in the struggle. He took it in his hands, and held it close to his chest. He began to tear up with so many crazy thoughts flashing through his mind:
"What have you done? You didn't warn her! You knew this would happen! Why didn't you listen to her? You let her go! You brought this down upon her! You failed her!"
Dipper continued sobbing, still clinging on Wendy's hat. He forced himself to shake off these negative thoughts. He had to gather his wits, and fast. If not, Wendy could be lost…forever.
He stood up and faced the Fight Fighters machine, the same machine that had caused him so much misery only within the last month. The monitor attached to the cabinet was nothing but static. Bravely, Dipper took another step forwards and carefully touched the screen. He was able to move his finger past the glass barrier…
Suddenly, a horrid, yet broken laugh began to echo from the machine, making Dipper jump back in reflex.
"Well! If it isn't boy-child who fights like little girl!"
Dipper looked up at the possessed arcade machine. He'd know that tone of broken "Engrish" anywhere.
The visage of Rumble McSkirmish appeared on the screen. Dipper glared back angrily at the monitor.
"Rumble…" addressed Dipper. "What have you done with Wendy?"
Rumble laughed mockingly at the young boy's request. Suddenly, a pixelated form materialized on the screen in front of Dipper. It was Wendy. She screamed at Dipper, while pounding on the screen with her fists, "DIPPER! WHAT'S HAPPENING?! HOW CAN THIS BE REAL?!"
"Wendy!" cried Dipper as he tried to reach her hands just pass the faux screen. An electric shock was sent through his body, jolting him with great force into the wall. Dipper groaned as he continued to hear Wendy's cries:
"WHAT DID YOU DO TO DIPPER?! DIPPER, ARE YOU OKAY?!"
Dipper was helpless as he heard his crush's voice become further and further away from him.
"LET ME GO, CREEP! GET OFF ME! DIPP-"
Dipper stood up woozily, trying to regain his balance. Rumble's horrific grinning face once again was plastered on the monitor. Dipper addressed the virtual warrior once more.
"I'm surprised, Rumble. What kind of honorable warrior kidnaps an innocent girl?"
Rumble angrily pointed his muscular arm at Dipper, his 16-bit hand reaching beyond the borderline screen, just barely missing the boy.
"YOU! Little-girl-boy have no right to question anyone's honor!" bellowed Rumble. "You use trickery and little metal-mouthed girls to obtain victory! Far cry from the way of the warrior."
Dipper thought back on the last 2 encounters with the pixelated lummox. He had a feeling that Rumble was not going to make it so easy this time around.
Rumble continued on, "So, little boy wants to show he's a better hero than Rumble? Fine, Rumble is glad to make that happen. I have your ginger-freckled princess. Same one Rumble has watched little weakling make goo-goo eyes at all day today. "
Dipper blushed at the embarrassing remark. He then came to a horrifying conclusion:
"Rumble was watching us the whole time…from every machine…waiting for the chance to lure Wendy away. How was that possible?"
Dipper stood defiantly to his opponent. "So, whatdya want, Rumble? Another rematch? I gotta tell you, man that may not be a good idea. So far, you're at 0-2…"
"But this time…" Rumble challenged. "…we do not fight in your world of Gravity Falls. You WILL fight in my world, through a gauntlet of our worst! If you refuse or fail…"
With that, Rumble raised his mighty arms, an odd aura beginning to surround his body. He motioned his arms downwards and shortly following, the whole arcade began to shake. Dipper looked around as every arcade monitor flickered and became noisy static. All at once, a single image formed on every screen; an image that almost brought Dipper to his knees.
No matter where Dipper looked, he saw Wendy, panicked, with tears in her eyes, continuously pressing against her virtual prison with no prevail. He could hear through the echoes from every stereo system in the building Wendy crying out for help; crying for him to help her.
"…the girl is ours!" Rumble continued. "We will take great pleasure in draining her life essence and making her part of our world, forever! " The game warrior looked back at Dipper, "What says you? Are you a bad-enough-guy to save her?"
Dipper glanced around the room. Dozens of copies of those green colored eyes he grew to love looked to him. Those same eyes, usually bright and vibrant, now left sad and full of gloom, watched in careful anticipation of his answer.
Dipper looked down at the trapper hat belonging to his lost love. As he continued to hold it against his chest, he slowly looked up and gave his answer:
"Don't you worry, Wendy! I'm on my way!"
Rumble's image onscreen was replaced with a flashing red PLAYER ONE START button. It was similar to the one he pressed before his first battle with Rumble. Dipper, placing Wendy's hat into his vest, slowly stepped towards the flashing screen, and placed his small hand into the red button. A white light flashed before his eyes, and shortly after, he could feel himself being sucked into the machine…