"Living with a broken spirit."
Those words kept reverberating in Dipper's head for hours. He tried to picture her like that. But for some reason he got nauseated every time. And it had nothing to do with the motion of the ship, he was way too used to that by now. How could she be Mabel without all that… Mabel-ness? Her funny jokes and awkward comments, her weirdness that made her so unique? So special? How could it be?
He still remembered what his father had told him. She'd want to go back eventually, but now how could he just leave her like that? What the bloody hell had happened in the palace to make her believe she'd get her spirit broken if she stayed? Dipper needed to know. He couldn't handle not knowing something. Solving mysteries was in his nature.
But first, he needed to settle his mind. He was dang confused, struggling between what his father had told him and what she had revealed to him earlier. Could it be that she was just overreacting? Maybe that was it, but Mabel didn't really seem like the kind of girl to overreact to this kind of thing. Then again, he had only known her for 2 days, it's not like he could understand what she overreacted to or not. But his father, well he known him his whole life and Dipper knew that Roderick was usually always right. Especially considering something he had planned for a long time. Yet, her words stuck in his mind like glue.
A broken spirited Mabel? That was impossible. She was so eager, so full of energy, so positive, so funny, so cutely weird, so adorable, so happy, so… So Mabel. What on earth could break that? Nope. Nothing. She was definitely overreacting. That was it. It was the only answer, right? The only logical explanation. But alas, it wasn't something logical. Not logical at all.
Dipper was starting to get a headache. Maybe he was overthinking it too much. Like he always did when something intrigued him. He sighed heavily. No. He was not gonna do it. He was not going to overthink this. Like his father said, she'd eventually want to go back home. It wasn't worth overthink it anyway.
To try and chill out, Dipper got a book and sat by the main mast in the middle of the deck. Because that was what Dipper did to relax, he read. A habit that no one else on the ship could quite understand, but they respected, because they knew their second in command could easily punish anyone that would mock him. Dipper was once a wimp, a weak and frail boy, but he grew out of it through intense training, and even though he was not exactly bulky, but he had brains, techniques and agility enough to defeat any opponent twice his size.
He sighed and started reading. He turned a page. And another. But then, laughter interrupted him. It was a beautiful sound, sincere and not irritating to the ears, a kind of laughter he was starting to get used to. Even so, his shoulders fell as if he was annoyed. He looked up.
Mabel was standing on the taffrail. Her arms open wide to welcome the blowing wind. Dipper's jaw dropped; this girl was simply insane. Insane! She was like a kid that needed constant watching. And he's too young to take care of children. He slammed the book shut and stood up, leaving it behind.
"Mabel! Get down right now!"
"Oh, come on, I always wanted to do that. Don't you just feel free like that?"
"No, that's totally cliché. And you don't understand, you might get hurt or fall into the sea. The water bumps against the ship and it might move suddenly and you'll lose balance."
"You're talking like my aunt and the babysitters I had back in the castle. If I get hurt, I'll heal and if I fall into the ocean, you'll catch me. You need me for the ransom." The last part came out more bitter than she intended. Dipper sighed.
"Don't talk like that. It's not all about money." She didn't even bother to speak; she just crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. He couldn't really say anything else. He looked away for a moment, not really knowing what to do until he saw her hand right in front of his face. He looked up and saw that usual smile on her lips.
"Come. Join me."
"You know this is going to be stupid, right?"
"Duh. That's what makes it fun! Come and see I'm right."
He rolled his eyes but complied nonetheless. He jumped on the taffrail ignoring his danger alerts without taking her hand to help him because that would just destroy his manly ego.
It was different to stand on the taffrail instead of the deck. The floor was unsteady; it was like he could really feel the flow of the ship cutting through the water for the first time. If he looked to his right, he would only see the ocean, almost like he would be walking on water, or like he could fly. He could understand what she meant, now.
"See?" He heard her soft voice and felt her hand brushing his.
"Yeah, I guess maybe you're not as crazy as I thought. But you're much more reckless."
"I can live with that. Isn't it nice to be up here?"
"I feel like the king of the world."
"Oh, silly one. Do I have to teach you everything?" Mabel asked raising her arms and hands, inclining her head back just a little in a 'why me' pose before she turned to look at him. Her voice was joyful and serious at the same time and he wondered just how she managed to do that. "Kings and queens can't be free, so you shouldn't compare yourself to them."
"Okay, oh, wise one." He tried to imitate her voice and paraphrase her words in a mocking way. The blowing wind was quite strong and brushed his hair back and to the sides, not stopping to swing his chestnut short locks, giving a glimpse of his forehead once in a while. "What should I compare myself with, then?"
"Hum… Let me see… Maybe birds. They can fly and they're free to go wherever they want to."
"Compare myself to birds does not have the same impact to say I'm a king, you know."
"Mock if you wish, but I speak the truth."
As she finished her sentence, the seawater hit the ship with a bit more of force than usual, as Dipper predicted, and it was enough to make them lose their balance. Maybe he could manage to keep standing, after years of being on a ship, if it wasn't for a little detail that she ended up bumping into him. Both fell very ungracefully to the deck's floor. He serving as a cushion for her, since she landed right on top of him.
"Ouch. That is gonna hurt in the morning… I told you it would happen. Sometimes I hate that I'm always right…" He mumbled with his eyes closed trying to move his limbs as if he had broken something, but everything seemed quite in place. His shoulders suddenly stiffened when he felt her soft gentle fingers brush his bangs off of his forehead. His first instincts were to cover it with his hand.
"I knew my eyes weren't deceiving me. You do have something here. What is it?"
"It's a stupid birthmark."
"Is it just me or does it look like the Big Dipper?"
"No, it's not just you."
"That's why people call you Dipper?"
"Yeah…" He mumbled sitting up, so he could put his bangs back to cover it. "I didn't really have a problem until people started to make fun of me when I was a kid, that was when I started covering it up. You weren't supposed to look at it. It's ridiculous."
"That's so mean. Why would they do that?" She asked, almost angry. "You have the sky in you. It makes you unique, and maybe even special. Don't be ashamed of it just because people don't see the beauty of it."
"Are you crazy? Everyone think it's weird. And it is."
She smiled and poked both of his cheeks with her index fingers before she stood up and sauntered away. He sighed, tired and laid back down again, feeling his back hurting. He put his arm on his eyes to shelter them from the sunlight.
"So what now, Captain Ivan?" the loyal Toby Determined asked his leader.
Also known as Blind Ivan for losing the sight in one eye, the captain was usually as merciless as any other pirate. He was proud to say he always got what he wanted. But right now he couldn't really claim that. He stood in the navigation room of his own ship, drinking and thinking what'd be his next step. He was not pleased with the turns of the events.
"They said she was kidnapped by pirates, right?" Ivan asked running his hands on his chin as he was thinking. With the other hand, he was holding a bottle of rum. The captain liked how Toby could always get the information he wanted or needed.
"Yes, sir. After that ball they found a warning note for the King."
"I've heard that Roderick's ship was here two days ago…" Ivan mumbled angrily, the dots were already connected in his mind; he just had to say it out loud to confirm it.
"You don't think he did that, right? He couldn't know we would get her that night too…"
"No, but he's the only pirate I know that is both smart enough to think about it and be stupidly brave enough to actually do it… I knew we should have gotten here earlier..."
"But we had orders to get her only after the ball…" Toby's whining voice argued reasonably. "And it would be much easier to sneak inside the castle when everyone was gone and in the middle of the night. It would be too difficult to climb the walls at the beginning of the evening."
"I know, and because of that we were too late. At least there's one piece of good news about this situation."
"And what would that be?" Toby's voice was uncertain as always, raising his arms in a questioning way.
"The price for the princess head just got higher." Ivan said with a very shifty smile on his lips. "And if Roderick got her, I know exactly where we have to go. Warn the others. We're setting sail to Salus City. We're gonna get ourselves a princess."
Mabel left her room, Wendy was kind enough to bring her breakfast earlier and she was just finishing tying a cloth she found at the end of her side braided hair. She was thankful that Dipper gave her the cape last evening, the night was quite cold and she needed to use the cloak along with the cover to stay warm and cozy.
She found Dipper sitting on the deck, reading a book that was being supported by the bent knee of his right leg, while the other leg was extended on the wooden floor. He had a dark leather overcoat around him, and it suited him very well. She smiled and sauntered to him before sitting by his right side.
"I was wondering when are we going to get there?"
"Soon." Mabel wasn't mad at the fact that he didn't even look up at her, he was reading, after all.
She embraced her knees up and decided to just talk to him. She liked being around Dipper. He was nice, sweet and gentle to her, even though he tried not to show his kind nature. She also admired how strong and independent he was. And the thing she liked the most about him was that he didn't have that judge-y look on his face whenever she said or did something weird.
"Yeah, but soon when?" the girl insisted and he just shrugged.
"I don't know. I can't be sure. It depends on the weather, the wind. But I suppose around noon."
Then, after turning a page, he finally looked up from his book and grinned at her with a raised eyebrow. He extended his right leg and bent the other so he could rest the book down on his thigh and support his left arm on his bent knee.
"Why do you ask? Tired of living in a ship already? It only took you like, three days. It must be a record for someone so willing to go on adventures."
"I still am. It's just that the captain said that there's limited water supply for each person. And I kinda need to wash my hair. Do you think I can put a barrel of water in my chamber next time we set sail? I think there's just enough space near the drawer without getting in the way of the door to open. Or between the bed and the wall of the door."
"I don't think you could handle how narrow the space would be. I mean, it is already small enough, you're used to bigger quarters." Dipper pointed out.
"I can handle the lack of space, what I can't handle is dirty hair. And body, too. Does the place we're going have bathtubs? I'd like to stay in one for hours too…"
"Hum… no. Of course not." He said with an obviously-not tone of voice. "But you may take as many sponge baths as you want when soon as we get there."
"And how what's this place?"
"I already told you about the city." Dipper commented, resting his head on the taffrail behind him. The book was still open, the wind was trying to make the pages pass, but his thumb prevented it. She couldn't help but notice how beautifully deep his chestnut brown eyes looked when the sunlight caught his face after a cloud passed.
"I meant the place we're staying in."
"Oh. Well, the rest of the crew usually go to some taverns, some even stay in the ship for the night, but we're staying in my Grunkle's house."
"Interesting! Does he like having visits? Is he one of those cute old people who are always sweet?"
Dipper laughed. Stan was far from that. He wasn't mean, but he was a pirate and he was the one who taught Dipper everything he knew about piracy.
"Not at all. But yeah, he kinda does like it when we visit, so he can make me work in his shop… Usually, Wendy helps, too. And Robbie, but it's not like he has much choice."
"Robbie doesn't have a place to stay, so he stays with us as well. I mean, he could just go to a tavern or stay in the ship, but when he was younger, my dad wouldn't let him stay in those places, so it's still kind of habit for him to stay with us. He has the choice to sleep with us, but if he does, he has to work in the shop."
"Would I be too annoying if I ask why and how your father knew him when he was younger?"
"Yes, you would be."
"I'm asking anyway."
Dipper sighed, annoyed, and looked at the page of the book before shutting it.
"Fine. My dad met Robbie right after he lost his parents. He was an orphan, alone, and wanted to be a pirate. So my dad took him in as a cabin boy, who's a boy to serve the captain of a pirate ship. Usually those boys can be kidnapped and brought into service, but in his case, Robbie wanted to go. Not long after that, my dad started to teach him how to swordfight and stuff. So when my father came back to Salus City with Robbie, it was like having the older brother I never wanted."
"So I take it you never got along well?"
"Definitely not. We kinda hate each other, but in a non-life-threatening way, we can stand being around the other without anything being broken. It got worse after he got the girl I liked, though."
"The girl you liked? You mean… Wendy?" She asked in a very teasing tone, poking his cheek.
"Oh, shut up… Why the hell did I tell you that?"
"How should I know? But that just proved I'm right. You like Wendy."
"Liked. In the past. She's just a friend, now. It was a long time ago anyway…"
"And is there another girl you like at the moment?"
He was a bit taken aback by her question and he didn't expect his eyes to trace her body, every curve, every inch in a fraction of a second, landing on her eyes. Mabel's chestnut pools were looking right back into his brown ones, anxiously. He realized that he was attracted to her to some extend. But he had to push it away, so he just broke eye contact and looked back to his book, not forgetting to shrug like he didn't care for the subject.
And it was true. He didn't have any interest in anyone at the moment. Some minor attraction to the pretty girl they kidnapped and who was sitting by his side, but he refused to let it grow into something bigger. He refused to suffer like his father did all those years and like he himself did when he lost Wendy. Though he knew what he felt for the pirate girl was nothing serious, just a kid's crush. But it hurt nonetheless.
"I see…" Mabel mumbled to herself, not letting her voice betray her. She gulped, noticing how sad and happy she was at the same time.
And what was she expecting anyway, really? That he'd say he liked her and they'd both kiss and be happy for the rest of their lives? That was stupid and Mabel knew it. And it was cheesier than the fairytales stories her aunt told her when she was 5 years old. And at the same time, she was happy that there was no other girl on his mind.
There was no reason for him to like her. Or vice versa. They barely knew each other and she knew they couldn't be together. She was a princess and he was a pirate. Then why did her heart feel so weirdly heavy? She pushed it away shaking her head. Then she forced a smile on her lips.
"Hey, I was wondering, is the room I'm staying in previously yours?"
"Yeah. Why? And how did you know?"
"I noticed that the other three rooms the same size of mine are being used by Soos, Wendy and Robbie and that they're quite important, you know, they have commanding stations and so do you. So I know you wouldn't be sleeping with the rest of the crew. I suppose you're sleeping in your father's chambers, am I right? It's like the double of the size of mine so it must have enough space."
"It does. And you're right. But I don't mind. And neither does he. And it's for a short while anyway."
"So you're sending me back, after all?"
Dipper widened his eyes, realizing he said things he wasn't going to. He practically jumped where he was sitting. His heart sank the minute he heard her voice so sad and broken, as if she lost hope. Dipper snapped his head up, looking at her in a mix of regret and seriousness.
"No. I mean, I'm trying to avoid that. Unless you want to go, of course. What I meant is we're staying in Salus City for a while. And even if we set sail again, Soos can stay with his girlfriend and Stan in the city so I can get his cabin. Worst case, we can make the navigation room a room for you or something. We can figure something out, okay?"
"So don't be sad. Nothing is settled yet." He told her, but remembering the simple truth that she'd want to go back eventually.
Dipper just needed to keep her spirit up for a while, because a crushed Mabel would be even harder to stand than the happy-to-go weird Mabel. And maybe his father was really right, after all, she was already looking forward to land anyway. She probably wouldn't want to stay on a ship for long periods of time.
Wendy suddenly came with quick steps to the taffrail not far from them.
"Hey, guys, look! We can already see the city from here. We're arriving earlier than noon." She exclaimed making Mabel stand up to look at the horizon curiously. "I can't wait to get back; I miss my dad and brothers so much."
Dipper also stood up, leaning on the taffrail, resting his arms and elbows on the wood as he realized something for the first time. Suddenly what his father said made even more sense. Wendy could have the adventures she wanted, she could set sail with them but she had a family in Salus City, one that she visited often. A family to turn to when she was tired, a place to call home when she just wanted to chill out and be on land for a while. Just like him and his father, both had Grunkle Stan's place. Soos had his girlfriend. Some of the crew knew people while the majority didn't really care for those things because they left their families or lost them long ago.
However, Mabel was different. She'd have to choose. A choice between the life of a pirate or life with her friends and family... She couldn't have both. And she'd miss them so much that she'd want to go back. She only needed time to see it for herself. But then, why was the only time he saw her so sad and maybe about to cry was when she was confronted with the fact she'd have to go back? There was something fishy going on there. And he needed to find out what was it.