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It was so cold.

For the most part, it felt as though that was his entire existence. That the past didn’t matter, the future wasn’t relevant, summer – a bitter laugh bubbled in his throat, heart-burn like and raw – summer was a long-lost memory. The small figure, round-faced and messy-haired, trekked on through the snow. His arms were crossed almost painfully tight against his chest, though he was only semi-aware of how sodden his skin was. His clothes definitely felt heavier, now that he thought about it. Half-thought, really.

His eyelids fluttered. The oversized jacket draped over his head just barely kept the cold out. The whistling put Dipper on edge. But it couldn’t be a person, could it, the whistling. It was the wind, mangled by the season, not some mocking onlooker somewhere in this drift that was almost as tall as he was...

Ah, Darn it!

He’d tripped, and fluffy snow crashed into his face, up his nose. He gagged, dragging air into his lungs in one sharp gulp. Ow, ow. He didn’t need that.

He wrenched himself up, ignoring the sting in his face.

Something slipped from his person, and cluttered softly onto the snow. Dipper frowned hazily down at what appeared to be an innocent tape measure, one he loathed with all his fibres. He scooped it up, shivering vehemently, and trudged on.

How far back had he been thrown? How far forward? He had no idea, but whenever it was, the snow didn’t help. He was still in Gravity falls, that much was certain, but the snow just conveniently covered everything up, anything that would give him a clue. He tried to grit his teeth in frustration, but sneezed instead.

He couldn’t take much more of this. Had the cold not been making his head numb, he’d have been far more worried.

Anyway, this was all his fault.

Half-formed memories danced mercilessly through his head. Yes, Dipper. You made your sister run away from you. She’d heard everything, every horrible thing you’d admitted, that had been bothering your dumb, paranoid self because that’s what you were, dumb and always taking things the wrong way.

He closed his eyes. He was swaying rather alarmingly, his body appearing gofer-like under the gaudy fur coat he’d swiped. Stan would’ve put him right up there on the display again. He’d take that, over what had happened before the tape-measure fiasco to have happened.

He opened his eyes.

His thoughts dissolved.

The shack. His heat swelled, a sob rising in his throat. But no, his relief was dashed cruelly a second later. It wasn’t the shack, his Grunkle’s shack. But it was the same one, but when? There was no sign, no decorations, just wood. Plain and eerily quiet amidst the snow.

Dipper found himself walking before he knew it, peering up at the triangular window. Part of him hoped, wished painfully, that Mabel would appear there. He mentally kicked himself. Of course she wouldn’t be. Heck, there was no car, the windows were all boarded up. It looked...abandoned?

His stomach dropped at that implication, and he gave a gulp. Why would it be abandoned? Where was Stan, Soos? Was this the future? A new building, in the past, wouldn’t be boarded up.

He drew nearer the front door. After giving the handle a rattle, he found that it was locked. He rubbed his chin. A locked abandoned place?

He trudged around to the window-side of the house again, peering up. He could make that, couldn’t he? Mabel had climbed down from there once, he could manage it, right? His tongue poking out the corner of his mouth, the boy seized the beam holding up the porch-roof and began shimmying up.

He slipped multiple times before winding his scarf around it, not in the way a certain movie character did when training in the army. Not at all.

His neck prickled in protest, the hairs rising at the cold, but he ignored it. Just get in, he told himself, the cold will go away, just a little bit longer and you can stop, you can rest, you just need to get inside.

Dipper shoved his elbow over the side of the wooden overhang, heaving himself up. He shimmied along, past were the sign would’ve been, and then to the window. He tugged on the small, almost non-existent handle a few times, muttering under his breath –

Get inside, just -

It opened. He stared, perplexed for a moment, then tumbled inside. The fur coat cushioned his fall. Dipper raised his head and squinted. The attic was empty, bar a few sheet-draped furniture and a dust bed in the corner. Where his bed would’ve been.

The lump in his throat reformed in an instant when he saw there was no twin bed on the other side. The ache in his bones sank back into being now that the wind had lessened. His head felt so heavy, and he shrugged off the coat and his own hat, letting the icy garments topple to the floor. He sniffed, rubbed his eyes, and found with each growing second that the newfound warmth (closer to warmth, anyway, than outside) was making him sleepier by the second.

He glanced at the bed, unused. No one would know he was crashing in an abandoned place. It was just a little nap, he needed it. Just a little snooze.

He staggered over to the bed, flopping down onto his back. He dragged the blankets over himself, tucking his arms by his sides. His fleece was hung on the bed knob.

The creak of the mattress sent a comforting familiarity through him, and his eyelids sank down instantly. He was asleep before he knew it.

...

It had been two weeks since the less-than kindly revelation about his ‘muse’. The kitchen was cluttered, messy, every surface looked woebegone. Empty jars lay sprawled where coffee pots would’ve been; papers and maps and all assortment of blueprints were scattered about the dining table.

Ford pace back and forth, his hand rising to rub at his chin but halting halfway, as if he couldn’t bring himself to touch his own head after the – ahem, - recent procedure he’d had to perform. The side of his head felt cold and off, the skin still raw and tingling. He stopped short, tugging at the hems of his jacket instead, trying to settle the quiver in his hands.

He couldn’t hide the journals while this weather was being so –disagreeable. His plan for the first had been to bury it, he already had a spot in mind, but he wouldn’t be able to tell left from right in the gale blowing outside.

He sat down, tapping a food with simultaneously drumming his hand on the table. His face twitched into a frown. He couldn’t possibly hide one in the house, and he couldn’t dismantle the portal until he hid the journals –

He let out a curt, pinched sigh.

Bill’s continuous prods and whispers, aiming to drive him to the brink of madness, had lessened in the past few days, and in a way that was almost worse than the apparitions themselves. Ford was only semi-aware of the dry soreness of his eyes and the ache of fatigue in his back by now; he’d spent the last night waiting for the sounds but hearing nothing.

The waiting was worse, far worse. He stood up and resumed his pacing, trying to vent out the pent-up frustration and anxiety.

Then, above, a floorboard creaked. Ford stiffened, hands clenching behind his back. His face blanched.

That wasn’t the wind. That sounded like the pressure of a foot on the floor above. Slowly, his body quiet and stiff like a rabbit ready to spring, as if a sudden move would bring about some horrible attack, he reached out and grasped the crossbow lying by the table leg.

Totting an arrow into the contraption, he made his way towards the stairs. Glaring at the traitorously creaky wood, he made his way up via side-step, his coat shifting quietly. Was that a draft? His grip on the weapon grew near painful.

The attic staircase lay nearby, the door closed. Grinding his teeth, Ford approached, opening the door with growing apprehension. The stairway was darkened; the attic door closed and undisturbed.

He opened it by a crack, and saw nothing immediately. But he heard the wind whistling against the window, saw something unfamiliar bundled up on the floor below it. His eyes widened.

The door opened soundlessly. Ford stepped into the attic, lifting the crossbow up to eye-level. Some kind of...fur skin lay on the floorboards, along with a half-soaked hat of some kind. His heart hammered despite the objects being so odd yet harmless-looking.

Then, his eyes landed on the bed in the corner and his breath hitched.

A lump lay under the blankets, rising and falling steadily. In fact, it was breathing. Ford’s eyes broadened to the point they stung. What kind of creature had been sent to wait up here, perhaps until dark, saving its strength until...

It was asleep. If he was swift, if he was quick, he could end the threat while it slumbered. Jaw set, Ford inhaled sharply and stepped forward, taking aim right at the bundle.

He stopped short at what he saw.

There was a boy in the bed, the blankets up to his chin, his head sunk into the pillow. Ford blinked several times, but the image didn’t change. The child’s soft breathing filled the room, his brow twitching in his sleep, baggy eyelids closed. Deep asleep.

What struck him, though, was the thick brown hair, the familiar shape of the face. They boy, in short, looked like he had as a child, eerily so.

...Was a trick? An apparition? Ford drew closer, bending slightly to get a better look. Was Bill playing an innocent soul to get him off guard –

Ford suddenly felt like he’d swallowed an ice cube. This boy – this thing, whatever it was – it looked like he had when he was little, Like St...

He found himself lifting the crossbow again, loathing searing in his chest, cold and low. Bill must have thought himself funny, sending this apparition. He shouldn’t have mentioned Stan at all, or his childhood, not...

But this boy didn’t have glasses, his cheeks and nose weren’t as pudgy. He was paler. The resemblance was there but no, it wasn’t on-point.

The boy shifted and Ford stepped back, feeling conflicted. Doubt stayed his hand. If it was a trick, or a shapeshfiter of some kind, why would it make the boy look like his family, but then make such blatant mistakes?

The child made a small, uneasy noise in his sleep, eyelids crumbling. Ford stepped further away, sinking down into a sheet-covered chair nearby, the crossbow leaning against his thigh.

He would wait, until it woke up. He’d known by its dialog if it was a trick or not, by its eyes if it was Bill. Frowning faintly, Ford propped his arm up on his knee, not taking his eyes off the trespasser.

Half an hour.

An hour.

Even more.

Ford jerked upright, blinking furiously. Darn. Had he drifted off? Panic swelled inside of him and he glanced at the bed. The boy was still there, completely out for the count. Ford allowed his heart-rate to regulate the best it could.

The child – if he was one – turned his head, face twisting again in discomfort. Ford nipped the bud of pity inside himself. Sympathy for a trickster would get him killed. The child turned over, lips twisting, and again Ford had to refrain from any kind of sympathy.

“Hm...n-no, no...”

Ford was slightly alarmed, and wondered for a moment if the boy had awakened – but no, he hadn’t. If he was genuine, then some nightmare had taken a hold of his mind.

A flash of horror hit Ford then, at that idea. Dreaming. If Bill was present in this child’s mind, he could end up dealing with his own worst nightmare any second now. He almost leaped up to shake the child awake, when another half-formed sentence left him.

“Come back...Gr...Uncle Stan, I dunno where she went. P-please...please?” The boy’s voice became dejected, desperate, before fading altogether. He’d gone still, and when he didn’t jump up and attack, Ford decided that perhaps Bill hadn’t been the cause.

But Ford barely registered it, sinking back into his seat, horror and unease and confusion rushing through his body.

Stan.

This – this couldn’t be a coincidence, there couldn’t be.

Through his frenzied thoughts, he saw the boy’s eyes flutter open.

...

Dipper’s mind faded back into consciousness as a slow and steady rate. He registered two things; that he was warm, and still very, very tired. He would like nothing more than to drift off to sleep again, without a care in the world. He fumbled with the edge of the comforter, pulling it closer over his shoulder, pressing his nose into the pillow. A draft was coming in through the window. Dipper’s face scrunched up.

“Mabel, close the window properly.” He mumbled, half asleep.

There was no answer. Reluctantly, he cracked open an eye.

His sister’s bed wasn’t there.

Panic exploded silently within him, as the memories sunk in with a heavy thud. Mabel wasn’t there, Stan wasn’t there, it was just him, all alone. He sniffed, trying to ignore it for now, push it aside so he could focus on getting a plan, listing things out – when he saw someone sitting in a chair nearby.

Horror crashed over him like a wave, but instead of screaming he found he couldn’t move. The blanket suddenly felt like a trap, pinning him down by the shoulders; the pillow a head-vice. He gaped, blinking violently so his vision would sharpen.

Great Uncle Ford. But then again, not him. Dipper took in the sight with a sense of wonder and slight unease, seeing the man so young and...ragged. His great-uncle had always had messy hair, but this man’s eyes were baggy, he looked older than, ironically, his older self. He hadn’t shaved, his dark brown hair was a tangle, and the look on his face made Dipper want to shrink back. It was a sharp, cold, and utterly suspicious glare boring into his forehead.

Dipper’s hand lifted to cover his birthmark by pure habit. He opened his mouth.

The younger Ford pointed a crossbow at him. Dipper lifted his hand in some futile attempt to defy it, leaning back against the pillow. He was cornered, and his uncle looked on the bridge of madness – did he think he was an entity, a monster? Probably. Dipper tried to choke out a sentence, that he meant no harm, but nothing came.

“Who are you and how did you get in here?” The man snapped suddenly, and Dipper leant back further into the pillow, his hand still pressed against his forehead,

“No one! I just – I thought it was abandoned, I thought, I didn’t know-“ Ford stepped closer, eyeing him down the bridge of the weapon, and Dipper struggled to get his legs out of the comforter. They’d all tangled up.

“Don’t move.” Ford said, his voice sharp. Dipper complied, staring at him with a quickly paling face. It was all he could do to keep himself from hyperventilating. “Answer my question. Who are you?”

Should he answer that?

Stanford’s eyes narrowed. Dipper felt the tip of the crossbow on his forehead, cold and so jarring that he felt himself go still. It took him five seconds to manage a noise, and it was nothing but a small squeak.

“Don’t play games with me. I’ll know.” Ford’s face looked horribly tense, like the skin was pulled too tight. The effect was nightmarish and uncanny. “What are you?”

“D-Dipper. I’m Dipper. I’m – um.” Saying ‘human’ would probably give away that he knew what Ford was talking about – not a good idea.

“How did you get in here?”

“I climbed. Up into the window.” Dipper pointed shakily – and slowly – towards the triangular glass in question. Any sudden movements, he decided, would be his last. “I promise, I thought no one was here!”

There was a crossbow pointing at his head. It could go right through. He could die, right here, and it would be Great-Uncle Ford that did it. The realisation made Dipper feel sick.

Don’t kill me, don’t kill me. Please let him believe me.

He said it out loud before he could stop himself, his body trembling violently. “D-don’t kill me. Please.”

Ford stared at him for a long time. Dipper didn’t break eye contact, hoping the man could see his completely un-possessed pupils in the foggy light. Neither of them moved for a long time, and Dipper found himself wondering – what had happened to his uncle, to put him in this state? Sure he was paranoid, but he’d never picture Ford pointing a weapon at someone like this.

Slowly, Ford lowered the crossbow and stepped away, (Dipper breathed out,) and ran a hand down the side of his head. “Maybe you’re telling the truth, boy.” He said, the sternness in his voice unfaltering, “But that doesn’t explain why you’re all the way out here in the middle of winter.”

Dipper stared down at his free hand; the other still plastered against his birthmark. “I was – travelling.”

“Travelling.” Ford echoed, his flat tone clearly indicating that he didn’t find this a satisfactory answer. Dipper shrugged. He didn’t look up; but he saw Ford’s feet move back to the chair and the crossbow being set down by its side. He resisted the urge to breathe out.

Ford didn’t sit down himself. He paced a few steps across the room, in a fashion that made Dipper feel like he was being circled. The man’s eyes flickered to his forehead. “What are you hiding?”

“Hmm.” Dipper drew his hand away. Evading questions would put the guy on edge, but even in a room with someone who had an extra finger, he felt horribly vulnerable letting his forehead go uncovered.

Ford’s tense posture slackened just a little as he stepped closer, a spark of interest in his eye – and perhaps a ghost of smile. “The Big Dipper.” He noted, a hand on his chin, “I suppose that speaks for itself.”

Dipper stared at his hands, fiddling with the end of a nail. “Uh-uh.”

“It’s...all right.” Ford began, awkwardly but oddly sincere, one hand lifting. He wiggled his fingers, all six, and Dipper found himself smiling against his will. “I’m aware of the feeling.”

Thankfully, Ford seemed to be leaning towards believing that he wasn’t an apparition sent to steal his eyes or some other form of monster, and sat down opposite Dipper in the dusty chair. “...Did you run away from home? If so, I suppose you’d be regretting it by now.”

Oh boy.

He had no idea.

Chapter Text

Ford watched the child shrug the question off again, staring at his hands. The birthmark, an eerily perfect image of his namesake constellation, seemed very red against the boy’s clammy skin. He tried to brush off his instinctual horror at the sight of any kind of symbol for the boy – Dipper’s – sake.

“I should apologise, for the crossbow.” He said. It had been necessarily, but Ford suddenly felt uncomfortable with what he’d just done. He’d threatened a child, and though he couldn’t have know that – (he couldn’t handle anymore guilt, he couldn’t,) he felt disgusted with himself.

But the child wasn’t running away or screaming, so that was a good sign.

A runaway did seem plausible, Ford wouldn’t know the boy’s parents. He’d barely interacted with the town’s people. Getting up here through the snow couldn’t have been an easy feet, and it explained the soaked jacket on the floor.

The boy wasn’t dressed warmly at all, in fact he was wearing summer-like clothing, shorts, T-Shirt, a that on the floor. It was all very strange, but not as strange as the thing currently nagging at him.

“All right. How about I ask something else.” He began, “You mentioned – an ‘Uncle Stan’ before you woke up. Is he...someone I could call?”

‘Stan’ was a universally common name. It could just be some random Stan, another person of no connection. The boy glanced up at him, and Ford was greeted by a pair of oddly familiar eyes. Unease slid into his mind again, but he fought it off.

“Um, just my Uncle. And no, no calling.” The boy shifted uneasily, staring right into his face. “...What else did I say?”

“Nothing else, really.” Ford couldn’t escape the feeling that the boy was leaving something out. Dipper avoiding his eye again, staring at the floor instead.

They sat there, in silence, for a long while.

“What were you dreaming about?”

...

The question came so suddenly that Dipper gave a start. “Huh?” Dream – oh. He tried to act like he didn’t understand the connotations behind the inquiry; after all, Ford had no idea who he was and if he’d mentioned knowing anything he’d probably have the crossbow back in his face.

He lowered his head again; fringe tickling his nose. “My sister.”

“Nothing peculiar?” Ford pressed, his voice tilting slightly. Dipper shook his head, keeping his face entirely neutral. His heart hammered, but after a moment, his uncle-to-be seemed to buy it.

All he could think about was Mabel’s quickly vanishing back as she ran away into the forest. The colour was the thing that stood out in that image, too, the wine-red colour of the sunset, an uncomfortable, bruise-like hue on the soil. It had been windy, summer-hot, but windy. His fingers dug into the blanket and he heard someone sob – it took him a moment to realise it was him, and that something wet was dribbling down his cheeks.

“What’s the matter?” Ford sounded unsure of how to react, though still alarmed of course. Dipper sniffed, wiping his face on his short, grubby sleeve.

He shrugged again, afraid of opening his mouth in case he broke down entirely. He wanted nothing more than to hide under these blankets and never return to the outside world. Ford regarded him quietly, a hand raised towards him as if he was about to offer comfort, but thought better. “It’s all right. It can’t be all that terrible, and I’m not angry with you.” That last line, it seemed, was emphasized.  Ford sighed. “Though climbing into an unknown property no matter the assumption, is a bad idea for a child your age.”

“M’ nearly thirteen.” Dipper mumbled.

Ford chuckled a little, “I don’t think the first year of adolescence counts in this case.”

Dipper rubbed at his eyes, staring down at his hands again. His great-uncle cleared his throat. “Well...perhaps...” He was thinking. Maybe he’d send him out, on his way. But where would Dipper go from here? He couldn’t get home, he had nowhere else to go. The idea pressed in on his heart again and his fingers curled into the blankets once more. No, no, there was always a way back.

Ford watched the child stiffen and curl up with slight alarm. He had no idea how to deal with children, really. From what he could see – messy clothing, pale skin and unhealthy complexion, he’d been on his own for some time, or not doing well. Ford supposed they were alive in that sense.

“Perhaps we should have some tea, and sort this out?” Ford ventured, gauging for the boy’s reaction. Dipper shifted uneasily, contemplating it, before nodding. He climbed out of the bed slowly, rubbing his elbows. Ford, deciding that the sheets weren’t important, plucked one up and draped it around the boy’s shoulders.

They went downstairs, Dipper plodding after him, the sheet trailing behind.

As Ford went about making tea, he mulled over what to do. He couldn’t send the boy back out into the snow, but keeping him here was out of the question. If he hadn’t seen Bill in his dreams it was pure luck; perhaps the demon hadn’t even sensed him yet. That made him stop, his grip on the mug he’d pulled from the cupboard tightening. If Bill found him here, he could be putting an innocent child in horrible danger.

“It’s not safe here.” He said as he placed a cup of tea in front of Dipper. He peered into it almost apprehensively. Ford didn’t have time to enquire about this, however, and was already pacing back towards the counter. “I’m afraid you cannot stay for very long.”

“O-oh...okay.” The boy’s voice sounded oddly strained. Ford took a moment to glance over his shoulder. Dipper was peering out the window. Suspicion slid into the scientist’s mind.

“Are you being followed?”

“No.” Dipper said, drumming his fingers on the tea-cup, taking a sip far too quickly. “Just...you said it’s dangerous in here? Why?”

“It’s a complicated matter.” Ford returned, in a manner that clearly stated that he wasn’t going to elaborate. Dipper’s mouth twisted in a pout, but still he didn’t meet his eyes. Ford sat down opposite him, slowly.

A clock lay in the corner of the kitchen, but thankfully it wasn’t ticking. Dipper took another sip, looking a little tense.

A phone rang.

Both of them jumped out of their skin. Dipper almost toppled right out of his chair and Ford was sure he’d bit his own tongue. Dipper breathed out first, staring at the door to the hall. Ford excused himself and strode quickly into the living room, practically leaping. The noise rattled the entire house, loud and demanding and not good for his nerves right now. He wrenched it off the hook and tried not to sound like he was ready to get the crossbow out again,

“Y-yes?”

He waited. He could hear the ambience of the phone connection, so whoever it was hadn’t hung up. He waited some more.

...

Dipper was scared out of his wits.

Okay, he knew what where he was, when he was. He was in Grunkle Ford’s house during those horrible weeks he’d spent all alone, from what he’d heard, with nothing but an empty house and Bill to keep him company. Was Bill watching this place right now?!

Dipper slid off his seat, the urgency making him feel dizzy. Did Ford put a barrier around the house? He must have done by now, but if that was enough, why was he so on edge? And the portal –

Oh jeez, it was still down there.

Clarity came to Dipper in a wave. The portal was still down there. If – if he could stop it, or maybe change something, so it didn’t turn on when Grunkle Stan came here. Maybe Ford wouldn’t get pulled through and Bill wouldn’t get any further to world domination.

But Ford wouldn’t dismantle the portal for some reason, back then – er, right now. Dipper brought his hands up to his nose, thinking. Okay. Ford was in the other room. If he was quick, he could dash downstairs and –

No, no, no. Crossbow, Dipper, Crossbow.

But Ford wouldn’t believe he was from the future, would he? And wasn’t there something in sci-fi movies about not changing the past? Oh man, he should’ve talked to the older-him about time travel.

He strode into the room that would one day be the gift shop. As if moving around, even a short distance, would released the tension in his limbs. And he promptly knocked into a rolled-up carpet leaning against the wall.

It hit the floor and unrolled in a fluid sweep. Dipper almost yelped as the triangular image of Bill Cipher stared back at him, made out of harmless – not harmless- thread.

Dipper turned around, gripping his hair through his hat, glancing around the place frantically, side-stepping so he was out of the carpet’s radius.

Then it came to him. He smacked his palm against his forehead, shrugged the blanket from his shoulders, and draped it over the image of Bill with his lips set in a firm line. Score one-zero for Dipper.

...

Perhaps, in this weather, it was just bad connection. But no, nothing. Stanford frowned, and slammed the phone down again in annoyance. Really, he hadn’t the time for this. He strode back into the kitchen, opening his mouth mid-step to pick up the conversation were he’d left it – and found Dipper had vanished.

Paranoia festered back into being, because why would he up and vanish like that with no warning? but no, he forced himself to be reasonable. Children wandered about, didn’t they? He strode into the next room, the most logical place to check, and stopped short.

Dipper, with a shaky deliberateness, was covering up carpet- the one imprinted with the image of Bill. Satisfied that the image was hidden, he placed his hands on his hips and huffed.

Then their eyes met and Dipper froze, his eyes wide, cheeks puffed out, and horror slowly dawning on his face. Ford’s lips parted.

“...”

“...Uuuhh...” Hands kneading together and shoulders hunching, Dipper turned to him and failed miserably at smiling. “N-nice room you got here?”

Ford scowled. Dipper’s face blanched. That was it. This wasn’t a coincidence, the boy had to know what he’d just done, but how did he know? What else did he know? If he was evading things still, what else had he ‘not mentioned?’ Ford didn’t like being deceived; the idea of it made something inside his core bristle and go brittle. His fingers curled, but he forced himself to remain by the doorframe for now, his jaw set.

“Because I like to consider myself a morally inclined person.” He began, with a stern, slow tone that promised retribution if it was interrupted, “I will give you this chance to explain yourself.”

He watched the boy stand there for a few seconds, fidgeting. It was like watching a small, person-shaped volcano. Dipper turned on the spot, clenched his fists, opened and closed his mouth and muttered several times, it was like some internal battle was raging within him and he was just barely holding back.

Then, he broke. Dipper faced him, his face filled with naked terror, “You gotta dismantle the portal!”

Ford gaped.

The portal? How could he possibly – “How do you know about the portal?” His voice rose with each syllable. The boy rammed his hands onto either side of his head,

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you! Just –trust me on this, please, I’m not lying, but you gotta take it apart, like right now, just a little, ‘cause –“

He stopped, pressing his fingers over his mouth. Ford stepped forward, kneeling down and seizing Dipper’s shoulders in one swoop, giving him a sharp shake, “Look at me!”

“Ow –“

“You need to tell me everything you know, right this moment.” He was not aware, not quite, of how his grip was tightening or the pain etching itself on the kid’s face, “How do you know Bill?”

The name seemed to jar the boy into silence, and he went still in Ford’s hold. “He...I...” A shaky hand rose towards the red birthmark on his forehead, then over his eye. He was shaking, and it was then that Ford realised his nails were digging into his shoulders, and he let him go.

“...I am...I apologise, I did not mean to hurt you.” He found himself muttering, quickly. Dipper didn’t seem to hear him. “Are you all right?”

Dipper’s gaze drifted towards the sheet-covered carpet. His voice was small, Ford barely heard what he said next.

“...H-He tricked me.”

It was a horrified whisper that brought back far too many memories, memories that stung. Praise, flattery, comfort zones shattered to pieces. Quiet, skin-close horror.

“Tricked you?” He murmured, “What happened? It is of the utmost importance that you tell me, Dipper. I know it may be...?”

Hard? Some bitter part of him hollered with laughter. If Ford could barely think about it, getting this child to do so was a lost cause, but darn it, he had no choice.

Dipper rubbed his face, apparently having calmed down. His voice was thick. “I w-was...I just needed help, and he came and said he just wanted one of my sister’s puppets in return, Wait, no, I thought that was what he meant...?”

Puppets? Ford frowned, “Help with what?”

Dipper fidgeted. “Um. I was trying to find a password, for something I found, it had a countdown and he said he could help me.”

Countdown? Password? Whatever it was, perhaps it didn’t matter now. “And what did he want in return?”

Dipper finally raised his gaze. The almost apologetic, shame-filled look was so strikingly familiar, that mixture of uncertainty, fear. Lost. It struck for through his ribs to his heart, carrying hurt and pain all the while.

Stanley.

Ford blinked, and Stanley was gone, it was just Dipper’s haunted face. “A puppet.”

Apprehension replaced the hurricane of memory that had threatened to claim him. A puppet. This boy had been possessed?

“He took your body?” There was no need to clarify, but he inquired anyway, and at Dipper’s stiff, shaky nod he ran his hand through his hair. “How on earth...did you get it back?”

Another flinch. “He can’t stay if you fall asleep. My sister helped me, chased him around, tired him out. If she didn’t...” He swallowed. “He was gonna kill me, G – Sir. He was planning on it, he was gonna kill me and my sister.”

Ford didn’t miss the ‘g’. He wondered what Dipper had been going to call him, accidently or otherwise, but decided to ignore it. It occurred to him, then, that he hadn’t introduced himself.

Dipper’s words finally registered. Ford was hit by a wave of disgust. Bill had stolen the body of a child, an innocent, and – planned to kill him by the end of it? Such malice for no reason – that was the fact, there was simply no reason to end the life of a pawn of any kind, it wasn’t like anyone would believe a twelve-year old talking about a magic being, so what was Bill so afraid of, that he felt the need to deal away with him?

“I am sorry. What he did – he deserves worse than I would care to say.” Ford said, quietly. Dipper looked down at his socks – he’d left his shoes upstairs, it seemed.

“The...” Dipper swallowed again, “The password I needed. Um. It was a machine-thing.” Ford quirked a brow, wondering what kind of machine would require a password to function. Dipper was now pointedly avoiding his gaze.

“It belonged to a guy n-named Fiddleford Mgucket.”

“Fiddleford?” Stanford breathed, his voice soft with shock. Of all things, he hadn’t expected that. That would explain how he knew about the portal, more about Bill. “You know Fiddleford?”

A slow, heavy nod was his response. “He won’t be himself anymore by now.”

The certainty with which the boy said this was unnerving – he hadn’t sounded sure of anything up until now, but he seemed completely sure of that one sentence. Ford felt his heart go cold. “What do you mean?”

Dipper dug his hands into the brim of his shirt, shrugging once. “He...wanted to forget. Everything.”

Ford mulled over this, trying to pin together some form of explanation, but found none. His train of thought was like one of the spinning toys from his childhood; it ran for a few moments then cluttered to a halt – unless, of course, it was some paranoid worry. Those ran for as long as they wanted.

He was brought out of his thoughts when the boy pressed his hands to his forehead, kneading at the skin around his birthmark. He looked pale and shaken and another pang of quiet travelled up Stanford’s chest.

What had happened to Fiddleford? He felt cold all of a sudden, uneasy as it sank in. He hadn’t seen him, yes, but it hadn’t been that long at all. So it had to be something out of the blue, something that happened recently, perhaps. Perhaps the reason the boy traipsed out here?

“What happened to Fiddleford?” He asked, quietly, trying to keep his tone level. Dipper shuffled on the spot, avoiding his eye.

“He’s alive. He’s – okay. Ish. He’s not doing well. He - he wanted to forget what he saw through the portal. So he built something.”

Built something –

“Like what?” Dipper stared down at his feet again and Ford tried to convey his Ernest without making the situation tenser. “Dipper, if something has befallen Fiddleford...”

“He wiped it all away. The memories.” The boy mumbled. “He doesn’t – doesn’t remember anything.”

Ford straightened up, watching him quietly. Wondering if that included ‘me’ in the boy’s case. He looked especially crestfallen. “You aren’t a relative of his?”

The boy shook his head, rubbing his skinny arms. “No. Um, my family knew him. My uncle, too.” Again mention of this ‘uncle’. Ford sighed deeply. It seemed to get to the bottom of this he’d have to find Fiddleford – if he’d truly built a device that messed with the brain in such a way, the damage could be devastating. Perhaps it already was...

Then, suddenly, the wind outside stopped. Dipper lifted his head and peered about uneasily. “M...mister...?”

Ford felt a chill run up his spine and he reminded himself to quickly retrieve the crossbow. Having someone else here was oddly grounding; it reminded him of who was supposed to be in charge, have his wits. “Dipper.” He turned to the boy and quickly led him back into the kitchen, glancing around before tucking him into the corner. The boy didn’t seem all that bothered at being handled but Ford didn’t have time to ponder it. Outside, creaks began pecking at the walls. Ford snatched up his crossbow. “You have to stay here and not move. You’re not to follow me, or open the windows or doors to anyone. Even if they say they are me. Understand?”

“Okay.” Dipper’s voice was growing high-pitched again.

And Ford strode out of the kitchen.

Dipper sat there for a while, mind fraying with thoughts. He’d told a half-truth and yet he felt worse than if he’d lied. But Fiddleford’s bad memory was actually a godsend in this situation. Maybe it was just an animal outside causing that noise but in Dipper’s experience...that usually wasn’t the case.

The phone rang. The sound rumbled through the kitchen walls. Dipper glanced around, his stomach flipping. Slowly, he stood up and wandered into the next room. He’d know if Bill was about. He wasn’t inept like this Ford thought him to be.

The phone was one of those old-fashioned rotary ones. He picked up the slightly heavy receiver and hesitantly lifted it to his ear. “H-hello?”

A confused huff came from the other side. “Huh? Er, sorry, wrong number.”

He knew that voice. Dipper spoke without meaning to.

Because he was a complete idiot.

“Grunkle Stan?”

“...What?”

Chapter Text

Stan sounded no less haggard or raspy than he would in thirty years time. The idea was a bit baffling – and unsettling. Dipper clamped a hand over his mouth, feeling ready to hurl with mortification. “Uh, sorry, uh I got the wrong number too!” He yammered through his fingers.

Smooth.

The voice on the phone sounded as alarmed as he felt. “Heck, are you a kid? How’d you know my name?”

“Uhh...”

Dipper peered around the room; no sign of Ford, or anything. “I’m – this is Oregon.” Answer to the question he hadn't been asked.

A pause. “S-so...that’s the right number. Stanford Pines live there?” His voice was oddly hollow. Dipper swallowed as unease twisted in his guts. Stan didn’t ever mention contacting Ford before they met up. He’d gotten a – postcard, wasn’t it? Ford went looking for him...

 “Y-yeah...I got lost and found the shack.”

“He mention me?”

Dipper felt a horrible pull in his chest. The pull of total guilt. “N-no...I just – you sound like another Stan I know.”

“Seriously, kid?” The tone was deadpan and snarky and Dipper almost felt better at the familiarity.

“Hey, there’s gotta be uh...another Stan somewhere with a New Jersey smoker’s accent.”

“Hey kid, I ain’t no smoker. Well - not the excessive type...”

“Yeah...”

“So who are ya anyway?”

“Uh...I know a guy who knows the guy who lives here. Stanford Pines? An old college buddy.”

“Your dad or somethin’?”

“No, no...” Dipper kept trying to find a footing in his thoughts. If he could manage this – if he could get Stan up here before Ford was too far gone, maybe... “A family friend. My parents are in California.”

“Yeesh kid, that’s a long way.”

“Y-yeah...so uh, who are you? Guy with the same name?” Dipper’s attempt to sound humorous died. Stan grumbled curtly.

“No-one, kid. I gotta get going. Don’t – don’t tell Stanford I called, kay?”

“W-wait!” Dipper had to get him to stay on the line. If he could prevent that fight from ever happening – but how?! “Stanley. You’re Stanely, right?”

Silence.

“....Thought you said he didn’t mention me.”

“Fiddleford – I mean the guy I know did. In passing. I know he’s got a brother.”

Shaky laughter. “Kid - you’re a bad liar.”

“Please. You – you gotta come up here.” Dipper gripped the phone with both hands. Why. Why did it feel like everything would be fine if a more familiar face was here? “Stanford – he...”

“Kid?”

The window shutters were rattling. What the – was it Bill? Something else? Where was Ford?! Dipper shuddered. The younger Stan kept talking all the while.

“Kid? Kid, what’s going on? What’s up with Stanford?” Urgent, worried. Dipper bit his lip.

“I – I have to go. He’s not too bad now but you gotta call back again. Please?”

“Kid –“

No time to stick around. Dipper put the phone down and ran into the kitchen, sliding under the table. But not before snatching a large wooden spoon from the drawer. Darn it, why hadn’t he grabbed a knife?!

Footsteps sounded in the kitchen. The rattling had stopped. Dipper swallowed, sweat building on his forehead.

Ford stooped down to look under the table, brow lifting in surprise. “Ah. There you are.”

“The windows.” Dipper breathed. Ford glanced around their immediate area. His scowl was bitter.

“They’re gone. I warded them off efficiently. We should be safe for now. It’s okay to come out.”

Oh, so it wasn’t Armageddon. Dipper shuffled out, making sure to check Ford’s eyes as he did so.

“They’ll keep coming until you get rid of the portal.” He ventured again. He didn’t have much time before Bill figured out he was here. Ford looked at him in surprise.

That same glimmer of unease returned to his face.

“How much did Fiddleford tell you?”

Dipper pressed his noodle-arms against his sides. Half-truths. He really was related to Stan. “...A lot.”

The way the scientist quirked his brow entailed suspicion, but not the erratic kind. “And why would he tell you so much?”

Okay. There has to be a reasonable explanation to give him. Think, Dipper, think.

A voice that totally sounded like Stan’s came cackling into his brain. I can’t tell you two apart these days.

“When...when he started using the gun he got all weird sometimes. Sometimes he thought I was...you.”

He stared Ford right in the eye, feeling uncomfortable and loathsome. Ford stared back at him. It was a half-truth indeed. Fiddleford’s mind would be in utter shambles at the moment. He wouldn’t know a racoon from a walnut.

“...I see. He’s in such a detrimental state?”

Dipper nodded. There probably wasn’t anything that could be done, Older Ford admitted as such. He decided not to voice this now.

“He doesn’t remember his wife or – or Tate.”

Sinking into the kitchen chair, Ford ran his hands over his head. “I apologise. This is...my folly. I caused him such a devastating breakdown that he would go so far as to...”

Dipper patted him gently on the arm. Awkward nephew comfort. “It’s okay.”

“I doubt he’d say that if he saw me.” Ford smiled in a faint, sardonic manner. Dipper chewed on the inside of his lip.

“I think...I think he’d be glad to see you came to your senses.” Ford’s smile grew gentler but didn’t lose the heaviness.

“I don’t expect forgiveness.”

And the lights cut. Dippers gasped loud enough for the both of them.

“Dipper -?!”

“Mr F...”

His senses spun.

It was the most awful, sickening thing he’d ever experience. There was an itch in his brain, his skin, it felt like his eyeballs were drifting away from his head. He clamped his hands over his face.

Laughter. Trill, sing-song laughter. Oh no. Oh no.

“B-Bill?” he whispered.

“Dipper?” Ford’s voice sounded miles away and distorted, like it was coming through a broken radio. “What do you see?!”

“WELL WELL...WELL,WELL,WELL, WELL, WELL!”

Don’t open your eyes.

“WHAT’S THIS LITTLE SPECK UPON THE SPACE TIME CONTINUAM? DID SIXER CLONE HIMSELF IN A FIT OF EGOMANIA?”

“Whatever you’re hearing, ignore it, boy! Don’t look –“

“Get out of here. You can’t be in the house!”

“NOT IN THE HOUSE, KIDDO...THIS IS ALL IN YOUR HEAD.”

...

When the lights came back on, Ford discovered the boy curled against the wall and staring blankly at the tiled floor. No amount of shaking or coaxing would reach him. He was as cold as ice and quivering violently.

Ford acted quickly. Bundling him up and keeping a heater nearby on the couch and trying various researched methods to get through to him. Eventually Dipper slipped into sleep. He could not wake him.

Pacing around, the man ran his hand over his stubbly jaw. This was his fault. He should’ve taken that child back to the town the second he found him, snow be damned and now –

He breathed in to compose himself. It did not work. There might not be anything he could do for the child now.

A small groan made him start.

“Stan...? Did I fall asleep watchin’ Ghost documentaries again...?”

Ah. Perhaps...not, then. “I’m afraid you’re still in this wretched place.”

Dipper’s eyes snapped open. “Oh god.”

“What did you see?”

The boy recoiled as Ford came close again, eyes wide and far too intense. “Did you dream anything? What happened when you passed out? The details are essential.”

“Just...just voices.” Dipper rubbed his eyes, “I...kept my eyes closed. It felt like they were gonna tear outa my head or something. Just Bill.”

“What did he say?”

“I...I couldn’t really hear him. Laughing, mostly. He seemed surprised I w-was here...just laughing...”

Thanks to some blessed slack being cut by the universe, Ford believed him. He resumed his pacing and Dipper found himself watching mutely. The man had his hands clenched tight behind his back.

“You’ve already encountered him before, no doubt through Fiddleford’s association with me – Bill may not leave you be even if you flee this place.”

“I...I got that. I’ve been here all summer.” Dipper murmured offhandedly. Ford looked at him in slight surprise,

“Since summer? That’s quite a few months, Fiddleford didn’t mention...”

Got nothing to counter that. So Dipper did his best to shrug a ‘I’m just a dumb kid who doesn’t know why a grown-up didn’t do the thing’ shrug. How did Stan manage all this lying? It was like walking a tightrope with a fishbowl on your head. If Ford caught him in a lie.

But it seemed the scientist was actually beginning to trust him (Dipper felt another lance of guilt dance through his ribs) and he resumed his thoughtful pacing.

“It seems the both of us have our backs against the wall. Even if the snow falls, I doubt going back to town will keep you from Bill. That much we already know...”

Dipper watched him with growing anxiety, “But you – you have a plan, right?” Hadn’t he had some kind of plan in mind, isn’t that why he’d eventually send for Stan?

“I had something in mind.” Ford admitted, and he had that far-away look in his eye again; he was thinking hard and he wasn’t actually paying much attention to Dipper. Focused. Well, that’s good, isn’t it? “But being unable to leave puts it on hold.”

The journals, he’s going to hide the journals, but obviously Dipper couldn’t start babbling about that. “What if – what if you called for help?”

Luckily such a childish phrase didn’t strike Ford as suspicious and he sent Dipper a hard look, perhaps unintentionally, “Right now we are surrounded by supernatural beings working at the whims of a twisted mastermind – no one aside from you, Fiddleford and I know about it! We’d be risking any authority by bringing them here, and risking ourselves being tossed into straight-jackets...”

Ford stopped. His back straightened.

Uh oh.

“...Dipper. Did Fiddleford tell anybody else about what’s been going on here? Was there anyone else who might’ve known? Overheard something?”

“No.” The society that rips memories away...when did they start up? When did...Dipper tried to think but found his memories were oddly jumbled. When did they get a hold of the gun?

Did it matter? The whole point was that they forgot everything. “Nobody else came over after Tate and his mom stopped calling.” That probably wasn’t a lie and the idea made Dipper feel far more sympathetic to the insane little scientist. “I don’t think anybody would believe him.”

“You have a point.” Ford muttered, finally ceasing his pacing. He glanced up at the window. “...It’s getting late. We’re in for a rough night. If Bill tries to invade our dreams...”

“I can handle Bill.” Oh, if only his voice hadn’t dipped in a typical almost-teen fashion. Dipper coughed, knowing that of everything he’d said that was the biggest false-hood, “Not like I’m gonna be able to sleep anyway...”

Ford made no comment; but judging by his bloodshot eyes, he could say the same.

...

Dipper did fall asleep, actually, but it was shallow, empty blank spaces in the night while Ford paced, dozed off in his chair, only to jerk awake and resume his ‘say awake’ tactics.

Even with that metal plate in his head – it seemed he didn’t want to risk it.

Daylight didn’t come without a fight; it practically dragged itself over the horizon to peak through the snow.

Why wasn’t he old enough for coffee again...?

THUD.

Ford did a very impressive dive to his crossbow; eyes popping.

Dipper brandished the wooden spoon he’d been holding (and forgotten about) upwards at the creaking ceiling. Was Bill just poking the fishbowl now?!

This time Ford seemed more irritated than alarmed. “Stay here.”

Déjà-vu. It seemed the kitchen was their proverbial ‘safe space’

...And Dipper wondered...

As Ford once again left to ‘check out’ the poke, Dipper listened so hard his ears rang.

RING...

Ah-hah.

...

“Oh, its – it’s you again, kid.”

“Sorry ‘bout slamming the phone down last time.” Dipper managed sheepishly, inherently glad Stan had decided to call back ... he could hear cars honking somewhere in the background. Payphone.

“So what’s up with Stanford?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you...” Dipper glanced over his shoulder, “Uh – thing is, there’s a situation going on. Him and his friend were studying something – and turns out its way more dangerous than they realised.”

“You mean that weird stuff? What, Jersey Devil some rabid dog? Heh.”

“We’re in Oregon and, uh, not quite.” Darn it, Stan. “Look, you have to come up here. The town’s Gravity Falls, you gotta know this.” He pointed at nothing in particular, face set and serious, he hoped his actions somehow translated their seriousness into his voice, “I’m not tall enough to help out if...”

“What’s up with ‘im kid, you’re talking like he’s gonna explode or something!” Stan urged, and Dipper swallowed hard and dropped his voice, hand hovering over the receiver,

He hasn’t slept in like, I don’t know when, he’s carrying around a crossbow –“

“But why’s he actin’ kooky, kid?”

Stan had dropped his voice, too, and Dipper thought quickly, “He’s – he’s gotten into trouble with somebody, somebody powerful. Someone...sick in the head.”

Silence.

“...Damn. That’s more of my shtick.” Stan muttered. Dipper didn’t know what to say, and the two of them stood in their respective shack room and street, silence on one end, honking cars on the other. “Doesn’t ‘e have anybody else to help him? Thought Sixer would have a loada nerd pals by now.”

“He did – Fiddle, Fiddleford, but he’s not doing too good either, so...”

“Sounds nerdy.”

"Uhhh.”

“How many nerds are up there?” Something about his voice suggested he was trying to lighten the situation, and that meant Stan was worried. Maybe he’d come.

“Just me and him.” Wait, no! “I’m not a nerd!” Stan had started laughing, that familiar, teasing chortle, and for once Dipper didn’t hate hearing it.

“Nice way to put your foot in it, kid – sounds like you’re keeping the place all light n’ stuff.”

“It’s Dipper.”

“That HAS to be a nick-name.”

“It is.” The boy said through his teeth, “Look, Stan, just...please. We can’t tell the police, you can’t tell anybody, you gotta trust me on this.”

Another pause. A drumming sound appeared – Stan must have been drilling his fingers along the payphone.

“Shorty, I don’ know what you heard, but my brother and I? We’re... on pretty bad terms.”

“I know.” Dipper mentally kicked himself, but tried to sound sincere, “But you’re the only one who can help and – and I don’t think he should’ve...left it this long.”

Before, he’d tried to think of what happened to Stan neutrally.

Stan had wrecked Ford’s experiment.

But he hadn’t meant to. Stan had a bad record, he’d done things he’d never admit, Dipper knew. But thinking about him out there in the snow, and remembering the crestfallen expression the guy had held on his face when he was on his makeshift fishing boat...

And he thought of Mabel.

“...Man, getting pep-talked by a kid I don’t even know. Weird day.”

Noises in the background. A curse-word. “Look, kid, I gotta scoot – but I’ll call back, see what’s up.”

Dipper’s brows flew up, “Will you –will you come?”

“Uhh, one the fence, kid, but if he’s not doing any better – still hard to believe he’s gotten into trouble with dodgy types...”

“Help me, then, tell me what to do!” Dipper said, hastily, “Next time you call, we’ll figure out a plan!”

“Alright, alright, Help the Nerd, One-O-One. I’ll keep you posted, kid – just gotta –“

And the line went dead.

...Stan wouldn’t get hurt or anything. His life was guaranteed at this point.

Unless Dipper had messed it up by answering. His face paled as all kinds of worries flooded in...

...

Nothing.

Seems Bill had simply been messing with them.

But when Ford found the kitchen empty a newfound panic sent him practically speeding into the next room, crossbow at the ready. But again he found himself stopped by the sight of Dipper and he loitered in the hallway, brow raised as the boy...was fiddling with the phone?

“Dipper?”

The boy spun around. “No one was there.” He said, shrugging, “Do you get wrong numbers up here a lot?”

Ford moved towards the phone and plucked it out of Dipper’s hand, listening intently. Nothing. He slammed it down and the boy jumped. “I specifically told you to stay where you were.”

The boy puffed out his cheeks, awkwardly peering around. “Erm. But the – the phone was...”

And this is why Ford was useless with the youth. Sighing heavily, he tried to make his tone as stern, yet understandable, as possible.

“Dipper, you should know by now if you’ve dealt with Bill that he’s capable of any kind of trick.”

“But he can’t get into the shack, can he?”

No, he’d set up wards via unicorn hair, “Nothing is infinite.” Dipper gave him an odd look then, perhaps a worried one. Of course.

He must have sounded like a paranoid maniac. He was, in a way.

“You can’t disobey me again, boy.” He said, despite that, as Dipper avoided his eye, “Everything may seem calm and collected now, but we must stay vigilant.”

Trust no one, his mind muttered.  

And he found himself watching the boy’s reaction to his words closely again, a part of him still very, very suspicious.

Dipper sighed, with the air of someone far, far older.

“Yeah. I know.”