"Sir, I can't find the princess anywhere…" Wendy announced.
"I told you not to call her that while we're in the city." The captain countered automatically, and then realized what she had said. "Wait, what do you mean?"
"I mean that I can't find her anywhere." Wendy repeated, raising both hands and shrugging her shoulders. "It's like she just disappeared."
"Oh, great, the little brat got away. I'm gonna kick her royal butt when I get my hands on her." Robbie declared, incensed, hitting an open hand with his fist. Both he and Dipper had just come back from talking to the crew at the ship, harbor and taverns.
"You're not gonna do anything, Robbie. And we won't hurt her because we want a really large ransom, do you get it?" The captain said authoritatively.
"I know Sir, it's just that this girl pisses me off…"
"I know. That's why Dipper will go after her and not you."
"Me?" The second in command said, raising an eyebrow. "We don't even know if she really ran away or not."
"Because someone who's been captured wouldn't try to run away from her captors, right? Didn't I teach you the first thing, Kid?" Grunkle Stan told him skeptically. But Stan didn't know Mabel like Dipper did, he was the one who spent the most time with her until now. She wasn't like that, Dipper refused to believe she had really run away.
"With all of the respect, Captain, Dipper didn't really do a good job taking care of her until now…" Robbie teased.
"That's why he'll redeem himself by finding her and bring her back. Now go, Dipper."
"Aye, Captain," He replied, not wasting a second before he turned and barged out of Stan's house.
Dipper didn't understand her. But then again, he had to remind himself that she always kept doing the opposite of what he expected. He knew she didn't want to go back and he said he'd talk to his Captain to change his mind, but he hadn't failed yet, so why would she run? Why risk going into an unknown city with nothing, no money and without having means to support herself? She wouldn't last one night. It was crazy.
Where would she sleep? What would she eat? Didn't she ask herself these simple questions before she ran away? If she had, she certainly wouldn't have left because she would know she didn't know how to survive a cold night like this without food and shelter. Right?
The night was getting more and more chilly and Dipper cursed himself for not remembering to bring another vest or a coat. He even forgot to grab a cloak on his way to shelter him from the North's cold wind, but he couldn't go back anymore. He needed to find her first.
It was so icy that his breath was coming out as a gentle vapor and his fingers were getting cold and numb. He put his hands in his pockets to try to warm them. Dipper would lecture Mabel when he managed to lay eyes on her for making him go through this. He thought maybe he'd even yell at her, if it took too long. That was if he found her at all.
He was walking adrift, with no clue of where to go. It was getting later and the shops had been closed since the moment he left his Grunkle's place. Some of the taverns would still be open, but he was sure he wouldn't find her in any of those. Maybe he could search for inns around the village, but he knew she had no money with her. Mabel had nothing with her, and couldn't have filched anything from Stan, since, being so tight-fisted, he would have noticed before she even thought about it.
Lost in thought, Dipper didn't realize he was heading to the docks until he found himself asking why on earth he was there. There was no way she'd have come to this place, it was pure insanity. In a village like this, the docks were the place to find drunken men (most of them pirates) getting out of taverns and seeking a place to rest their tired bones or trying to find a woman they could pay to spend the night with. A pretty young girl like her would certainly draw attention. Especially if she didn't know how to defend herself and he was pretty sure Princess Mabel was not the kind of girl that got to learn how to swordfight. Besides, she had no place to go from here unless she entered in one of the ships unnoticed.
He sighed heavily and turned to leave, ignoring the four staggering men 15 meters away. What Dipper didn't notice was that one of them was not a man, and wasn't staggering, but was being followed by the other three. He only came to notice when he heard a commotion and the beginning of a girl's muffled scream.
His shoulders fell as he let his frustration out in a low groan, momentarily looking at the sky as if to ask 'why me?' He was not gonna turn his back; he knew deep inside he just couldn't help but butt in. Sometimes he wondered in shame why he had to be such a soft hearted gentleman. He turned in their direction with a very annoyed expression.
"Come on guys, don't do that to the girl, she obviously doesn't want it and you're wasting your time."
"Shut up, Kid. You know nothing!" One of them replied, even from afar they stunk horrifically of rum. It was too dark, but Dipper was quite sure they were some pirates who had ported a few hours after them, he heard they had raided a ship so they were doing what pirates did: spending it all on alcohol and women on the nearest shore.
"Just let her go." Dipper repeated, annoyed. He took two steps ahead, it was too dark and he couldn't see them properly, but he could tell that the hooded girl was desperately trying to escape the tight grip of one of the men's. The other two, that were previously in front of the girl just mindlessly running their hands on her, backed away and withdrew their swords.
"Make me." One of them said. Dipper couldn't help the slightly knave grin that appeared on his lips. He wasn't stupid, he knew how to fight, and he had been training for years.
"With pleasure. I was actually searching for a little fun tonight." He said as he withdrew his own sword. Dipper's cold and numb hand gripped the handle as he tried to ignore the sensation in his fingers. He might have been silly enough to forget a coat, but he wasn't stupid enough to forget his weapon. In fact, it was usually by his side all the time, even when he was sleeping the sword was within reach. Something Grunkle Stan taught him that had saved the old man's life countless times.
The first ran to attack with clumsy movements and Dipper didn't make any effort to try and hold his laugh. They were so sloshed that Dipper didn't even know how they were standing on their feet. Apparently, they didn't know the first thing: you don't get drunk and pick a fight. It was suicidal. And stupid.
All Dipper had to do was deflect a few blows and kick the men to the ground, once they were there, they didn't manage to get up so easily. By the time he was done, Dipper was closer to the girl and when he looked at her, he could see something familiar. Even with the hood of the cloak hiding her face, he recognized her. She had long, wavy chestnut hair and the cloak was the same one he had given to someone else.
"Mabel!" He was surprised he hadn't realized who it was before.
Then something in her snapped and she turned, sprinting as fast as she could. He didn't waste any time before racing after her. Until that moment, part of him actually believed she was not running away, maybe she had just gone for a walk and gotten lost or something, she wouldn't be so stupid as to just run away, right? But that belief was blown to pieces the moment she hurried away. It didn't take too long before he finally grabbed her.
He pinned her against the wall of a building without bothering to know if it was a shop, a house or tavern. Both were breathing heavily and quickly because of the short race. Dipper was holding her wrists, beneath the sleeves, against the wall and it made him very close to her, so close that their gentle puffs of breath mixed. She could tell he was mad, but even so, his grip wasn't harsh, it was just strong enough to prevent her from escaping again.
"I can't believe you just did that! Are you insane? Do you want to get yourself killed or something?"
"I heard you guys talking earlier." That statement caught him by surprise.
"Robbie said he wants the money and so does the rest of the crew."
He gulped, he was so sure she wouldn't be close by in that moment that he didn't even bother to double check. That was one of the reasons he always checked everything at least two or three times. And he should have done it then. But that didn't mean this was the end. The crew would eventually let it go over time, all they needed was a few bountiful raids and they'd be satisfied. Or so Dipper hoped. And it didn't mean he'd stop asking his father, the captain, to let her stay as she asked him.
"But-" He tried to reason with her, however, she didn't listen; she just kept talking as if he was mute.
"And I get it. You're pirates and you're in it for the money."
"I know, but we-" And he was interrupted once again.
"Even that stupid crown I was wearing when you kidnapped me wouldn't be enough to satisfy them, I mean, the ransom of the princess of the realm? It would probably be enough to give them each the value of ten crowns." She kept babbling nonstop with her head down, her hood still covering her face.
"Will you just let me spea-" He was really getting tired of not being heard.
"But I can't go back." Her voice came, breaking as if she was about to cry. Then, she finally looked up at him and the vision took the words out of his mouth and nearly broke his selfish pirate heart apart.
Dipper knew she was beautiful, but he had never seen Mabel so stunning. She looked like an angel. The dim light of the moon shone upon her and it was almost like her skin was glowing. That beautiful wavy chestnut hair framed her pretty face like the frame of a masterpiece. Her eyes were wet and pleading, the round brown pools so deep it took his breath away.
The moment he saw the silent tears racing down her cheeks he knew in his heart he'd do anything for her. A strong urge to protect her suddenly overtook him and it was overwhelming.
"Look, I-" He managed to choke out, still a little taken aback, but she interrupted him one more time.
"Can't you just pretend you never found me? Just let me go and you'll never see me again." His heart skipped a beat at her words. He couldn't imagine himself never seeing her again; he greedily wanted that pretty angel all to himself. "I just… I can't go back, not now that I'm free from… I just can't."
"But I never-"
"Please don't take me back." Mabel pleaded and then he couldn't take it anymore. While she kept mumbling and complaining, he ignored her and exclaimed, exasperated.
"Geez, Woman, will you just shut up?" He yelled in frustration and, as if she wasn't shocked enough with his outburst, he leaned in the few centimeters that separated them and did something deep down he didn't even know he wanted to do so badly. He kissed her.
Though it wasn't a deep kiss, it was just a hurried one to surprise her so she would stop talking. It didn't really have the effect he wanted because the first thing she did when they separated was to point out the obvious. Dipper slowly let go of her wrists, but he stayed close as if to prevent her from escaping again.
"You kissed me."
"Yeah. I know. I just wanted you to stop and listen, okay?" She nodded, but he could see she was scared, she was sure he'd choose the money over her. He told her himself he didn't have a problem trampling over people to get what he wanted. "I never said that the decision was final. The captain said he was thinking about it because he's trying to find a way not to take you back to the palace and so am I. The crew wants the money, it's true, and we just have to wait for the dust to settle. And it takes some time, so you have to be patient."
"But what if they don't agree with it anyway? What if the King ends up offering an enormous reward for me? Maybe even double of what you planned for the ransom? Surely they'd do something to take me back." She was so beautiful he couldn't take his eyes off of her; it was like something on her drew him in, as strong as a wave of a storm in the middle of the ocean.
"Then I'll fight them." Her eyes narrowed in confusion and a spark of hope escaped through them. "I promise I won't let them take you. I promise you'll be safe. I will not let anyone take you back to the palace."
"Are you… Serious?" Her heart felt like it was being squeezed as a wave of hope washed over her. Dipper felt himself half smiling. He'd never been so serious in his entire life. He had never been so sure of something than he was of how much he wanted to protect her now.
"Yes." He replied, raising his hands to wipe away the traces of tears left on her cheeks. She savored the soft, intimate touch. Never before had a man been so kind and gentle with her and she actually expected that the last person to give her something like that would be a pirate. And then she wasn't afraid anymore; or at least not so afraid. She breathed, genuinely relieved for the first time in days. "So don't run from me anymore, okay?"
She was about to comply but then she realized something and raised her hands to touch his. "You're so cold." Mabel pointed out, it felt like his hands were two blocks of ice.
"Of course, I've been searching for you for hours now." He tried to joke as if he didn't care, but the truth was that the weather had been bothering him since he left Grunkle Stan's place.
"I'm sorry." She choked guilty as she held his hands in an attempt to warm him up. It was cold for her as well, but she was wearing more layers of clothing then he was.
"It's okay. I can handle a little bit of cold."
"You're freezing, Dipper. What did you have on your mind to leave without a coat or cloak in this weather?"
"You." He said with a playful, yet honest, smile on his lips that made her heart flip inside her chest.
Still blushing, she took off her cloak and put it over his shoulders.
"Well, now you found me. So keep that cloak to warm you up."
"And then you'll be freezing when we get to Stan's place."
"In that case we better hurry; don't you think, Dippinsauce?" He laughed at the affectionate nickname she gave him and nodded as he let himself be pulled by her.
"I bet we can get there pretty fast, Princess… If we go in the correct direction…"
"Oh." She stopped walking. "And what would that be, oh well-directed one?"
"I'm not that, it's just that I was raised here, remember? Now come, let me lead the way."
He gently pulled her by the hand the opposite way she was heading and started to walk with quick steps. He couldn't wait to get back inside his old home, eat or drink something hot and then go straight to bed only to wake up at lunch time. Though he knew Grunkle Stan would wake him at 7 am to start working.
For a long while, all they could hear was the sounds of their steps echoing through the streets. It was so dark and silent that it was a little too eerie, so Mabel decided to talk.
"So, was I really stupid back there?"
"You'll have to be a little more specific than that." He answered not really bothering to look back, not only because he was in a hurry, but also because he knew he might want to kiss her again. And that was not a good thing to do at all. He didn't like her; there was no reason to like her. She was still a spoiled, pampered princess who he just felt the necessity of helping. That's all. He's not supposed to like her in any special way.
"Well… You know… Where I was. At the docks."
"Oh. That. Yes, it was indeed very stupid. What were you thinking?"
"I just… Didn't know. I guess I was hoping to find some mercantile ship I could sneak in and go away. I just wanted to leave."
"Well, in a city like this, the docks are always filled with men. Usually drunk men, most of them pirates, and they're all looking for a woman to have some fun. No one ever told you to be careful with those kinds of places?"
"Why would anyone say that? I barely left the walls of the castle my whole life."
"Well, then I'm saying now. Don't go wandering around the streets alone at nighttime and definitely don't go anywhere near men, especially in this city where most of them will be looking at you with dirty thoughts. It's very dangerous for a girl like you to wander around night in here, okay?"
"A girl like me? You mean someone stupid and naïve?"
"No, that's not what I meant. What I meant was that it's dangerous for pretty girls who don't know how to defend themselves."
"So… Do you think I'm pretty?" He didn't have to look to know she was smiling devilishly. He coughed to put himself together and stop blushing. He was glad that she was walking a bit behind him, so she probably couldn't see his red face.
"You know you are."
"You're right. I guess I'm just i-rres-sisti-ble!" She said the last word with emphasis moving her free hand to brush her hair in a playful manner just to joke around as always. He contained a laugh at her silly carefree way. It only showed how free her spirit was and he loved that about her.
You have no idea. Dipper wanted to say, but instead he just ignored her comment and shrugged. "But, for example, there's no problem if Wendy goes there. She's very pretty, but she knows how to kick someone's butt if she has too. You, don't. So you can't be alone in there anymore, okay?"
"Okay. I get it." Her tone of voice suddenly became sad and gloomy, and he risked quickly glancing back. She was a mix of annoyed and angry at the same time.
Mabel didn't know where that burning feeling came from that made her heart squeeze in agony the moment he said that he found Wendy very pretty while she was just pretty. And sure, Wendy had a boyfriend, Robbie, but their relationship was not what Mabel could call stable, they were often breaking up and making out in a daily basis or so Wendy once told her back at the ship.
What was going on with her after all? She was a very perceptive girl, she had realized she liked Dipper and liked being around him. He was kind, gentle and sweet, even though he tried to hide it with a tough pirate façade. But did she like him that much? How much did she like him? She had yet to discover that answer.
"Look, I'm not trying to boss you around or something I just don't want you to get hurt. Got it?"
"Okay." She replied simply.
There was a long moment of silence again, only their footsteps could be heard. But there was something Dipper had been struggling to ask her for some time now. He breathed heavily, gathering up the courage because he didn't want her to feel cornered and forced to run away again.
"Mabel, what is the reason you want to run away from the castle so badly?"
"Duh! I already told you, remember?" She said in her normal, cheerful tone again. He always found it amazing how she could change from being so gloomy to abnormally happy in a matter of seconds. "I always wanted to run away. They try to control me there, they try to make me someone I'm not and I just couldn't take it anymore."
"I mean the real reason you're running from. What are you really scared of?"
"There's nothing else, Dipper. I already told you." Her voice still came out somewhat cheerful, but with a seriousness beneath it as if to make her statement more true. It was enough to convince almost anyone.
And it probably would have worked on Dipper. After all, he had always been the stick-to-the-facts kind of guy, rarely reading between the lines, and always searching for concrete answers. Always planning the raids, scheming robberies, always plotting stuff and always the one with all the answers for any kind of mystery, and if he did find some, he'd do anything to know all the secrets, but never really noticing people's hints of feelings or problems unless someone told him.
Then why did he just not believe her?
Dipper couldn't explain how in the world he knew it; he just knew something was wrong. He couldn't even guess what it was. And he hated it. He hated not knowing something. That's why he loved solving mysteries; he hated the fact of not knowing something. Simple as that.
Sometimes he wondered if that was it; that was why he was drawn to her. She was just another mystery waiting to be solved. And that's what he decided to tell himself. Though deep down, he knew the right answer.
He might not know what was wrong in the palace, but there was something he did know. It was better not to push her out of her comfort zone. Apparently, she had been out of it for far too long. So he did what he could.
"Alright, I got it." He said as convincingly as possible, and he noticed it was enough, for she just nodded with assurance.
"We're here." He announced pointing to his old house behind Stan's shop.
Both entered to find Stan, the captain, Soos and Robbie awake and waiting for them. As Dipper closed the door and left the cold wind behind, he mindlessly threw Mabel the cape, to give it back without showing the affection he knew he wasn't supposed to have. She pushed the cloth out of her face and it left her beautiful brown hair a bit messy.
"Dude, we were getting worried!" Soos said.
"Now let's tie this royal brat up so she won't escape anymore!" Robbie demanded, swinging a half-empty bottle of rum around with one hand and holding ropes with the other.
Mabel's eyes widened and she hunched over, not wanting that at all. For a moment she had forgotten they were pirates and that was what they did, though she hadn't expected such a reaction from people that had been somewhat kind to her. Dipper felt her hand squeezing his slightly, however no one else seemed to notice.
"Robbie, I told you we're not gonna tie her up!" The captain scolded.
"But, Sir, she's so annoying! Can't we just tie and gag her until it's over?"
Before the captain could say anything else, Dipper stepped between Robbie and Mabel with an annoyed look and a sarcastic grin.
"I don't know what you're complaining about, Robbie. She's my problem and responsibility. I was the one who had to search for her for hours, not you. So just shut up and quit whining like a little baby girl."
Dipper actually didn't have the habit of messing with Robbie. They kinda hated each other in sort of a healthy way, but Robbie had always been stronger, tougher and more experienced than Dipper, and he had been into piracy since he was 10 while Dipper was only beginning to be trained by Stan. But Dipper could take a pissed off Robbie, he did it on purpose, he wanted to redirect the anger at him instead of Mabel.
He knew Robbie was drunk and had the tendency of becoming a little violent when in that state. Besides, Robbie already had enough issues with both royalty and the navy. Dipper never really knew what happened and he actually never cared to learn the details of someone he despised. But he did know that Robbie had lost his family and Dipper was pretty sure it was somehow related to the naval officers. He simply loathed anything to do with the crown and that was why he joined piracy. Therefore, he already harbored enough hate towards Mabel without ever laying eyes upon her.
"Okay, stop the fuss, I don't want anything being broken around my house." Stan announced angrily. "Now everyone to their beds, we all need some sleep..."
The captain nodded and turned to Mabel with a sad expression.
"We're not gonna tie you up, Dear, but we can't risk the chance of you running away again, so we'll have to lock you in a room for the night..."
"Please don't do this, I won't escape anymore, I promise." She pleaded and the captain ran a hand through his hair wondering, what to do.
"It's okay, Dad. I don't think she'll leave again. At least not so soon..."
"If she does I'm gonna blame you, do you get that?"
"Aye, Captain." He answered, nodding and practically pulling Mabel to the room where she would stay the night. "You'll sleep here. Close the door, and don't you dare leave or the captain will have my head, okay?"
"He wouldn't do that, he's you father."
"You know what I mean." He exclaimed in exhausted exasperation as she laughed, closing the door and wishing him goodnight.
He sighed, relieved, and went to the kitchen to eat the rest of the still warm stew before using the last depleted energy to collapse on his improvised bed.