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To Date A Cervitaur

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Cover Piece by Gravity-Light.tumblr.com

 

Dipper wasn’t about to let needless worrying keep him from exploring. He knew that, his family knew that… well, not his parents, but at this point it was probably better that they didn’t know anything at all. But the Stans and Mabel and Soos and Wendy all knew, so that pretty much covered it.

Didn’t stop them from trying though.

“Dipper!” The cervitaur turned at his name. Mabel, in the rolling tank Pacifica had gifted her, caught him at the door, a soaked piece of paper in her hand. “Dipper, it’s hunting season! It started a few days ago!”

“Mabel, hunting isn’t allowed in the deep woods. No one’s even going to be there!”

“Dip-dop, you still need to be careful! What if someone misses the markers and goes hunting where you’re looking for stuff? What if someone shoots at you?”

“Then the gunshots will probably attract the Multibear or the Manotaurs or something, and the hunter will have other things to worry about.” He shrugged. “Besides, no one hunts in the Falls except for like, Bubs and Durland, and they’d never miss the markers. And, I’ll be taking the regular path into the woods, and no one’s allowed to hunt around there. It’s fine, Mabel.”

“Kid, listen to your sister,” Grunkle Stan interjected, walking into the store. “I don’t know what we’re talking about, but I’m betting she’s right.”

“Aw yeah, Grunkle Stan!”

“Aw no, Mabel. Grunkle Stan, she’s trying to tell me not to go out today because hunting season just started. No one’s even going to be where I’ll be!”

“…where will you be?”

“By the Multibear’s. There’s some sort of sprite infestation in the lower caves, and he asked me to go check it out for him.”

Grunkle Stan leveled one glowing orange eye at him. Dipper fidgeted and scowled. “What, do you really think I’m lying?”

His Grunkle responded with a slow blink, then a laugh as the light faded. “Nah, kid. Just getting a rise outta you.” His stony face went serious for a moment. “You know I wouldn’t actually do it unless I thought it was important.”

Dipper sighed. “I know…”

Stan nodded to him, then turned towards Mabel. “Sweetie, your brother is right. No one’s going to be out where he is today. All the natives know to stay away from that area, and all the forest-dwellers know to keep out of the hunting ranges for awhile. Heck, the worst he has to worry about today are those sprites.” He swung around and grabbed Dipper in an awkward headlock, doing his best to avoid the antlers, and pulled him into a noogie. “Try not to let them pull all yer hair out!”

Dipper, on the other hand, gave a very unmanly squawk as he tried to wriggle free of his Grunkle’s literally stone-strong grip. “Grunkle Stan, no!”

“Go Stan go!” Mabel cheered, her worry temporarily forgotten as her Grunkle and twin wrestled briefly. There was no contest tho – Stan’s gargoyle strength always won out, and today was no different. Dipper just considered himself lucky that Stan knew when to stop before he was actually crushed.

“Alright kiddo, go have some fun and stay safe!” Stan waved him off as he headed back into the house proper. Dipper rubbed his sore head irritably, then looked at Mabel.

“See? It’s fine.”

She pouted. “Alright, just… just be careful, okay?” Her fingers fidgeted, and her tail whipped, splashing a bit of water over the tank sides. “It only takes one accident, you know?”

He didn’t need her to specify. “Yeah… yeah, I know.”

 

And that had been hours ago. Hours in which he had trotted briskly over to the caves and dealt with the “infestation” (it hadn’t been sprites, just a group of migratory fairies. They had been quite pleased by what they called “the welcoming committee” here in Gravity Falls, and assured him that they’d certainly be stopping here again next migration, in a few decades). Hours in which he had allowed himself the spare time to meander through the deeper woods of Gravity Falls. It was so rare he actually got to explore these days – when his other Grunkle had come back through the portal, all those years ago, his knowledge of the supernatural had begun to grow exponentially. He and Stanford didn’t always see eye-to-eye on things, especially how to deal with the supernatural, but between the two of them, they’d started something of a business or agency protecting both the humans of Gravity Falls and the peaceful creatures living out in the woods.

The former, they had failed at several years back. When the incident had blown over, and everyone became as acclimated as they could get to the situation, no one brought it up to him. Dipper had been self-conscious about it for awhile, until his twin had pulled him aside after a particularly long bought of all research and no sleep.

“Dipper, you need to stop.”

He stared at her, uncomprehending with lack of sleep. “Huh?”

She stared back at him, her eyes reflecting the dim light in a reminder of how he had failed, what she was now, how was he ever going to fix this, he had messed up so badly…!

It had taken him a moment to realize she had slapped him. More awake, he gaped at her, one hand raising to his cheek. “Huh?”

“I said you’re thinking too much, and not listening,” she snapped, before her face softened. “Dipper, no one blames you for what happened! It was an accident, no one could have predicted it. Not even you.” She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, and gave it a light, reassuring squeeze. “You need to let it go.”

“But…”

“No. No buts, bro-bro. I know it’s important to you to find a cure, or reversal, or something, but… people are getting used to it. You don’t need to kill yourself looking for it. Sleep! Eat something! I don’t know the last time I saw you without that crinkly frown that makes your eyes all scrunchy!”

Dipper frowned at that. “I don’t-”

“You’re doing it right now.” She sighed. “Look, you’re overthinking this. Even if you keep working on this, you need to do it acting less cray-cray. If you keep not sleeping, you’re gonna make more mistakes than not. When even was the last time you slept?”

Dipper thought for a moment, and then the minute stretched out for a few minutes, and Mabel frowned. “Wow, okay. New record for you. C'mon, Soos fixed you a bed that’ll work better for you in our room.” It took him a moment to remember that she meant Soos’s old break room, not the attic. Between his additional and her lack of legs, the stairs to their old room were basically impossible to navigate, so the handyman had set up his breakroom as a temporary bedroom for them until they could fix it, somehow. And Dipper had been working so hard on fixing it, but… But Mabel was right. She had a wonderful, and sometimes annoying, habit of being just that, especially whenever Dipper was too caught up in his own head. He smiled.

“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds… good.”

She smiled back. “Good. We’ll get a few full night’s rests into you, and you’ll be ready to tackle anything the Falls can throw at you!”

 

That had been years ago, and hours ago, Mabel had been right again. Because right now, Gravity Falls had decided that Dipper Pines was not allowed to be right, and had thrown a hunter at him.

It wasn’t someone from town, he knew that right away. Whoever it was had made the mistake of coming at him upwind, and while his nose wasn’t as good as Wendy’s, he could still distinguish scents fairly well. Whoever this person was, they were from out of town, and their aim wasn’t bad.

He had been walking along the path, back from his venture, when he first smelled the man. The deer part of him froze up, looking for a path, while the human part of him tried to calm down. “Just because there’s a person out here,” he mumbled to himself, “doesn’t mean it’s-”

The gunshot ended the dispute, and he bolted forward on instinct. A second shot stung across his flank as he retreated, and he winced, pained but grateful it hadn’t hit him dead on. There was a bout of cursing from behind him, and the sounds of running, and he took off, confident. That shot had sounded like a shotgun, something older and cumbersome. Not something you could fire off running, and certainly not with any accuracy. He could easily outrun this person, get far enough away and head back to the shack safely. He turned his head for just a second, to gauge just how far behind the guy was.

Which is when he ran straight into the bramble.

“Fffuck!” he shouted, the bramble tangling in his antlers and yanking his head back. He flared his ears, heard a pause in the hunter’s advance, and grabbed at the tangle of plant and bone on his head. “Fuck, fuck, c'mon, untangle!” he hissed, trying to free himself, heart pounding. It only got worse when he heard the hunter moving again, slower, steadily coming closer. “Come on, come on…!”

“Hey!”

He turned his head as far as he could, and his heart jumped into his throat. There, maybe twenty feet away, stood the hunter. His gun was shouldered, and his chest heaved with the exertion of the run. He had sandy blonde hair that nearly covered half his face, and an eyepatch, which Dipper might have found odd if he wasn’t so frantically trying to just untangle the mess his antlers were in.

A million thoughts were going through Dipper’s head – poacher, supernatural investigations, oh god what would happen to Gravity Falls if this guy got away with seeing him, it would be Karaoke night all over again, or when Stan opened the portal, dissections and quarantine and it would be all his fault and he NEEDED to get these damn brambles off!

“Shit, kid! I thought you were a deer!” Dipper froze at that, and looked back over at the guy. He was coming closer at a slow walk, looking worried and sliding his gun into some sort of carrier as he did so. That’s when Dipper saw the bush, and his heart soared.

The shrubbery in question stood between the two of them, and at this distance the hunter wasn’t able to see his lower half at all. He glanced up, and realized that his antlers probably looked just like brambles right now. If he could just get himself loose before the guy saw him… he looked back at the hunter, who was getting closer.

“St-stay back!” he ordered, less than convincingly. Surprisingly enough, though, the hunter listened, halting and raising his hands in a placating manner.

“Hey, kid, I ain’t going to hurt you,” he said. “Like I said, I thought you were a deer. I… uh…” The guy stumbled over his next sentence, looking more closely at Dipper. ‘Hurry, hurry…’ the cervitaur thought to himself, untangling the bramble more and hoping the hunter just ignored him messing with the plant. “Um… you’re very… Uh…” The hunter suddenly coughed, awkwardly, and changed whatever train of thought he had been on. “So, I didn’t hit you, did I?”

“Just grazed. I’m good.”

The guy winced. “Fuck, seriously?” He took another step closer, and Dipper felt one of his antlers come free. He was so close… “Look, I’ve got a first-aid kit… hey, are you from around here by any chance?” The last bramble was loosening… “Cuz I got… kinda lost, back awhile there…” Almost… “Why don’t I patch you up, and maybe you could give me some directions to – what the?!”

By Dipper’s count, three things happened at once. One, the hunter saw his antlers for what they really were, and gaped. Two, the last bramble finally released his antler, scraping some of the velvet off as it did. Three, Dipper bucked over the bush, no longer caring if this stranger saw his lower half. The game was up anyways. As he charged past, the startled hunter fell backwards onto his ass, and Dipper didn’t look back the rest of the way to the Shack.

 

By William’s count, four things happened at once…

Chapter Text

Dipper didn’t tell his family about the hunter. A little healing magic on his flank, a quick (and honest) story about running into some brambles to ward off Mabel’s concern for his antlers, and as far as he was concerned no one was the wiser. He was glad Grunkle Stan hadn’t asked about his excursion though – the conman had a way of getting the truth out of Dipper these days, and the young mystery hunter was not a fan. Besides, it had been one hunter, not even a poacher or supernaturalist. If the guy ran off to tell anyone, they’d probably just think he was some crazy with one too many beers out in the woods.

With all that said, though, Dipper couldn’t stop the anxiety that gnawed at his stomach that evening. All through dinner he listened with half an ear as Mabel talked about the work Pacifica was doing to simultaneously stimulate the town’s tourist-driven economy while still keeping the whole “monster-town” secret under wraps. She asked for his input a couple of times, and he gave minimal answers. It wasn’t as if Mabel and Pacifica’s work wasn’t interesting – the two of them had become close friends with the witches living in and around the Falls, and thanks to their work, a lot of residents had emergency talismans or amulets that could allow them to take human form. They only lasted a little while, though, and they needed to recharge a good deal with each use. In addition to that, they were expensive. That’s where Pacifica had stepped in.

The Pines twins were really proud of her. She had come a long way from the spoiled brat they had seen her as their first summer in Gravity Falls. Her parents, and the majority of her staff, had gone unaffected by the change that swept the majority of Gravity Falls, but she had been unlucky enough to be hanging with Mabel at the Shack when everything went crazy. She insisted that it was fine, and she’d rather have been there than off parading for her parents. The twins knew better – her hair became agitated and started hissing when she was upset. Dipper was just glad that those sunglasses kept her powers of petrification under wraps.

He hadn’t realized how zoned out he was getting until he was heading to bed. Soos, wonderful awesome Soos, had installed a ramp to allow Dipper to reach his old room in the attic. Mabel had opted to stay down in the old break room.

He was halfway up when a soft cough echoed behind him. He turned to see Mabel at the bottom of the ramp, tank slightly off track. She looked sheepish.

“Hey bro-bro, can we talk for a sec?”

“Yeah, sure.” He walked back down, settling on his back legs. “What’s up?”

“No, that’s my question. What’s up with you?” At his blank look, she sighed again, crossing her arms and leaning on the edge of her tank. “C'mon, Dipper, you’ve been lost in thought since you got back. You may be good at fooling Grunkle Stan, but you can’t slide it past me. What happened?”

Dipper felt that anxiety roil in his stomach again. He really couldn’t say what was bugging him about it, about the whole situation, but… “Its… weird…”

“Weirder than being a mermaid or an a-doe-able deerboy?” When he shot her a glare, she grinned. “Hey, I won’t be able to make puns like that for, like, three months soon, I gotta get ‘em in when I can.”

He sighed, not even wanting to think about the next few months. “Yeah, fine. Look, I… I found something, and I don’t know exactly whether or not it’s a problem, but I want to investigate more first. I’ll tell you what I find then, ok?”

She stared at him for a long minute. “Are you sure it’s not dangerous?” she asked finally.

“It’s nothing worse than five angry gnomes,” he replied. She nodded, recognizing their “danger-meter” measure.

“But it’s still got you worked up?”

“It’s… a little different than our normal situations.” She snorted at that. “Look, I’ll tell you everything tomorrow, I promise.”

Mabel considered, then slowly nodded. “Alright. But you be extra careful out there, okay?”

He nodded, relieved. “Sure thing.”

“Good, good.” She fell silent, and he was about to wish her goodnight when he noticed her posture. He moved to stand. “Mabel, no-!”

“Water noogie!” she called, lunching forward and catching him around the neck with one arm. “Mabel, nono!” He squirmed and wriggled to get away, but her grip was solid, and he didn’t want to accidentally tip her tank. He slowly relaxed, exasperated. “Fine, just get it over with.”

Mabel laughed and gave him a gentle noogie that left his hair and neck sopping wet. He grumbled halfheartedly when she let him go, shaking himself off. “Don’t think too hard, alright Dip-dop?”

He sighed, but smiled. “Alright Mabes.”

Later, as he stared up at the ceiling and replayed the day’s events over in his mind, he found himself hoping the hunter would be okay that night.

Dipper set out early the next morning, hoping to catch the hunter before anything else did. They had been in the Multibear/Manotaur neck of the woods, so as long as he hadn’t bugged either of them, there was little chance anything would have bothered him. If he was smart, he would have stayed put and waited for day. If not… well, Gremgoblins didn’t typically eat people…

He took longer than usual getting there, having packed some first aid and food for the lost hunter. He figured he’d scope it out – now that he knew what he was looking for, the hunter would have a hard time getting the slip on the cervitaur. Dipper would check out the scene, and try to determine whether the guy was a poacher or not. Worst case, he got him to stay somewhere until he could get Gargrunkle Stan and his truth vision (as worded by Mabel) to confirm one way or the other.

He had circled the territory once, becoming worried that he wouldn’t be able to find the guy, when the scream rang through the woods. Dipper startled at the sound – one of pain more than fear. He started to run towards the scream, which had begun to fade. He knew he was getting close when he began to hear muffled sniffles and groans. He sniffed the air. No scent of blood, or none that he noticed, anyway.

He approached carefully, and near silently, trying to catch a glimpse of the hunter’s situation. When he finally did, a rush of relief washed over him, followed by a dull red haze of anger.

The hunter was standing, or trying to stand, in a small clearing along an animal trail. His dark face was flushed, single eye watering. Unnaturally white teeth worried his bottom lip as another pained groan struggled free from his throat. One leg looked very near to collapsing beneath him, and the other -

The other was soundly caught in a rusty old bear trap.

Dipper took in the situation quickly – the trap didn’t have teeth, thank goodness, but the clamp it had on his leg must have been excruciating. He scanned the clearing, looking for the gun, but it was nowhere in sight. Must have gotten lost during the night, dropped or stolen or left behind, he reasoned. Then he noticed the hunter muttering to himself, too lowly for a human’s hearing, but Dipper could pick up snatches of it. “Stupid…. hunting… dumb cliff, doesn’t even… dumb, fff… stupid, fucking, trap!” He shouted this last part, leg jostling the trap and drawing another bit-off scream from him. Tears in his eye, he set about trying to undo the trap.

Poacher or no (and at this point, Dipper was willing to believe the guy really was just lost), Dipper hated those traps with a passion. No one deserved to be caught in one of those contraptions. Not to mention, his screams were likely to attract unwanted attention.

He emerged into the clearing, causing the hunter to start, sputtering. Once he got a good look at who had arrived, however, he stared.

Dipper didn’t bother wasting time. He walked briskly over to the hunter and dropped into a lying pose, focused on the trap. “You need to keep quiet,” he warned the hunter, shooting him a glance. “There’s some loose gauze in the bag if you need something to bite down on. Getting you out of here might hurt a bit.”

To his confusion, the hunter laughed at that, strained but somehow genuine. “Probably less than getting caught in the first place,” he chuckled, surprisingly good humored. He did wince when Dipper shifted the trap to get a better look at the spring mechanism. “Shit, that does hurt though…”

Dipper gave him what he hoped was a reassuring and sympathetic smile, before looking back at the trap. It was almost miraculous that the trap had sprung in the first place, he quickly realized. The spring was nearly rusted through, and probably would have been completely useless in a year or so. 'Bad luck,’ he thought to himself, 'although it makes my job easier.’ He hadn’t packed anything that could cut through something like this, but with it as rusted as it was, a little magic might just do the trick.

He looked at the hunter, brow furrowing when he noticed the very intent look the human was giving him. He cleared his throat. “Look, I can get you out of this thing, but it’s gonna take a minute and I need complete focus. I need you to be as quiet as possible, and keep an eye and ear out. If anything unnatural or predatorial looking comes into sight, you alert me. Got it?”

The hunter nodded. “Keep my mouth shut unless something that wants to eat us shows up. Got it.”

Once the hunter stopped staring at him, Dipper took a deep breath, turning his focus back to the rusted spring. He and his twin had been practicing magic for some years now, on and off. Dipper learned mostly through trial and error (which had gotten him into a lot of trouble), while Mabel tended to work with the same witches she and Paz got amulets from. Mabel was undoubtedly the stronger of the two for it, but Dipper’s experimentation had left him with a lot more flexibility in his magic. While Mabel could rattle off a spell and perform a specific task, Dipper could alter things through sheer will… so long as he could focus and had the energy for it. He had once knocked himself out for a good 18 hours, trying to show off to Wendy and her friends by teleporting a can of Pitt soda from the fridge.

Stan had grounded him for scaring everyone.

The twins’ real power, though, lay in working together. Mabel’s raw strength and directional spellwork supported the bulk of the job, and with her allowing Dipper to mold that power with his will, they were able to accomplish some fairly high level magic together.

Alone, though, Dipper was just hoping he’d have enough strength to pull this off. He closed his eyes, visualizing the spring, and moved his hand over it. He focused on simply speeding the decay, careful to rust it in places where it wouldn’t just shoot off somewhere when it gave. There was a creak from the trap, and a muffled cry from the hunter, but Dipper just flattened his ears, blocking the sound out. Breathing became more difficult, it felt like something constricting both his human and deer rib-cages, but he was getting there. The spring began to give way, and Dipper felt a dull pain growing in his chest. He grit his teeth and pushed, just a little more, before letting out an exhausted sigh when, finally, the two pieces of spring fell apart. As his focus dulled, he could feel the sweat on his brow, the heaving of his flanks as he panted, and that familiar sense of giddiness he got whenever he used magic.

With the spring gone, the trap fell open… but the hunter didn’t move. The cervitaur looked up, flipping an ear in confusion, and froze.

The hunter was staring, wide eyed and paling, off into the woods behind him. Dipper didn’t need to ask to know why.

“How far away is it?” he whispered.

“60, 70 yards? I can only see movement,” the hunter whispered back, voice steadier than he looked. Dipper listened and cursed silently to himself. Those snuffles could only be one thing.

They would need to run, but this guy would never be able to run the way his leg was, and there was nothing Dipper could do to fix that, he was already magically drained enough…

Which left one option.

He sighed. “Alright, here’s the plan,” he started. “Can you get yourself on my back?”

The man’s gaze, focused so intently on the forest, swiveled to him, eye wide and incredulous. “Like… to ride?” he asked softly, a little note of hope creeping in. Dipper rolled his eyes.

“Yes, to ride,” he hissed. “Can you or not?”

The hunter shifted his leg and winced, then nodded slowly. “Yeah, pretty sure I can.”

“Good.” He flipped his ears back towards the monster. “It hasn’t noticed us yet. Climb on and hold on tight.” As the man rolled to get onto the lowered cervitaur, he added, “And no grabbing the antlers!”

“Got it, got it,” the hunter muttered. He hissed a little in pain, but managed to settle himself on Dipper’s back, laying his hands on Dipper’s flannel-clad shoulders. “This good?”

“Yeah, that’s fine.” Carefully, Dipper got to his feat, trying not to reel from magic exhaustion. This day was going downhill fast. “Alright, we’re gonna take it slow and hope it doesn’t -”

A loud, growing growl sounded behind him, turning into a fully fledged roar as the day got worse. Dipper jumped. “Okay, new plan – hold on!”

That was all the warning the hunter got as Dipper bolted through the trees. The human gave an undignified yelp, wrapping his arms around the cervitaur’s torso as he struggled to hold on. There was a crashing in the undergrowth behind them, and the chase was on.

Dipper considered himself fast. He could outrun nearly anything in the Falls, and he certainly had enough practice at it. On a good day, escaping this thing would have been a walk in the park. But today, the extra weight on his back and the strain of magic use was really slowing him down.

There wasn’t going to be a way to shake it off on the way to the Shack, he realized, ducking under a branch and very nearly stumbling as his passenger’s weight shifted too. If he could only get it distracted for long enough, or scare it off…

That was it. He took a sharp left, wringing a startled cry from his passenger. “New… plan…” he panted. “Don’t let the light hit you.”

“What?!” the hunter shouted, alarmed. Dipper winced.

“You’ll… understand… when you see it,” he gasped. “How close… is it?”

There was a pause, then - “Thirty yards. And wow, that is terrifying.”

Dipper laughed breathlessly, then pulled up short. The grip around his chest tightened for a second.

“Why are we stopped…?” the hunter asked, panic rising in his tone. Dipper smiled.

“It’s about to have a little problem,” he replied, carefully picking his way through the crystal field to one particular crystal. “There’s a flashlight in my bag. Get it, quick!”

He felt the hunter rummage for a moment, before his hand appeared in his view, flashlight and all. “Here.”

The cervitaur took it and turned, staring through the crystal towards the woods. “Any second…” he muttered, “and…” He waited until it cleared the trees, iridescent wings buzzing in the clearing, fanged mandibles clamping between drooping lips. Black fur hung in sagging thick wrinkles over an obsidian carapaced belly. It caught sight of them immediately and roared, charging straight for them. Dipper flipped the switch. “Gotcha!”

The beast’s charge didn’t slow down in the slightest, although it was beginning to have a difficult time wading through the rapidly growing grass. Its roar dulled down to a mosquito’s whine, and it buzzed pitifully at them in rage. Dipper killed the light and watched it pause, look up at him, then flee. He grinned. “That never gets old,” he sighed happily to himself, then turned his head slightly to glance at the human. The hunter had lost some of the death grip he’d had on Dipper, but he was still locked in place, staring after the creature.

“What was that?!” he asked in a tiny incredulous voice.

“Bearbug. Not to be confused with Bugbears. They get mean when they’re big, but if they’re smaller than you, they’re pretty cowardly.” The hunter slowly relaxed, and Dipper turned. “There’s a safe clearing not far from here. I’ll let you keep riding until then, and we can rest for a bit while I look at your leg.” He started a brisk walk, wanting to get to safety before anything else could happen. “Hungry?”

“Starved.” was the immediate and emphatic response.

“I figured. There’s food and water in the bag. Help yourself.”

The hunter gave a pleased noise, and Dipper could hear the sloshing of a water bottle and the crinkle of a granola bar wrapper. He could also hear every crunch and gulp as the guy ate, and it reminded him of just another reason he hated having riders.

After a moment though, the sounds of eating paused. “So, am I dead, or just hallucinating?”

Dipper nearly turned his head, then remembered his antlers. He settled for shaking it instead. “Neither, man, why would you think that?”

“Oh, c'mon,” the hunter laughed. “I get lost in the woods for days, then a gorgeously rugged deer-boy saves my life from an enormous monster? I’m either dead or hallucinating.”

“Cervitaur,” Dipper grumbled, before the rest of that sentence caught up with him. “Wait, did you just say-?”

“Or having a really nice dream before I starve to death,” the hunter added, cutting him off. Dipper heard him take another loud bite of granola. “Then again, this food tastes pretty real. So maybe I am awake!”

Dipper grimaced as he felt a few flecks of granola on the back of his neck. “Dude, don’t talk with your mouth full!”

There was a giggle, and a muffled “'scuse me.” He sighed again. This guy was weird. No wonder he had ended up in Gravity Falls.

“So!” the hunter exclaimed, having apparently finished his snack. “Given the flashlight and the synthetics and stuff, I imagine you don’t live in a forest deer-ple village like I first imagined, huh?”

Dipper snorted. “Nope.”

“So where do you live?”

“A shack, with my family.”

“Are they deer people too?”

“Cervitaurs. And no.”

“Humans?”

“…no…”

“…bugbears?”

Dipper shuddered. “God, no.”

There was an irritated puff of air against his back. “Well, what are they then?”

“Mermaid. Gargoyle.” Dipper paused, thinking. “You’ll probably see a lot more of Gargrunkle Stan.”

“Is Gargrunkle a type of gargoyle, or…?”

Dipper laughed. “No, Grunkle is a nickname, like, great uncle. Then he’s a gargoyle now too, so…”

“Now?”

Dipper didn’t respond, and it was with great relief that he noticed a familiar sign carved in a clearing just ahead. “Thank goodness. We’re here. Ride’s over.” He considered just bucking his annoying passenger off, but then reconsidered. That would be a real dick move. Instead, he carefully folded his legs and lay the deer part of him down. “Off. Now.”

The hunter whined, but obligingly rolled off of Dipper’s back. He sat in the grass, looking around and tenderly touching his injured leg.

Dipper, meanwhile, had his pack out again, and was sorting through the first aid kit. “Could you pull your pant leg up? I need to take a look at it.

The hunter winced, then nodded, and began gingerly rolling up the leg. Dipper looked over the injury. It was incredibly bruised. Even over the man’s dark skin, one could easily see the purple markings. Fortunately, he didn’t see any skin breakage. He pulled out a jar of healing ointment (courtesy the Hands Witch). Once the bruising and swelling were down, he’d feel more confident about determining whether the bone was broken. It was pretty likely though, he thought, looking at the damaged flesh.

The hunter hissed when he began applying the balm, fist clenched in the grass. 'Yeah, definitely broken,’ Dipper thought.

“S-so…” the hunter choked out, “What’s your name, Bambi?”

Dipper paused to look up and scowl at the hunter. He was really starting to get on his last nerve. “It’s Dipper. And don’t call me that.”

“I’m William.” There was another moment of near silence, then “So do you save every hunter that gets lost this way, or am I just lucky?” His voice deepened at the end of his sentence, holding some sort of intent that made Dipper uncomfortable. He scowled again.

“You know, you talk a lot for someone whose leg is broken,” he snapped, feeling suddenly more irritable. “How about you tell me how and why you ended up here?”

He finished up with the gauze and stood, looking around for a suitable splint.

“Shit, it’s broken?” William sighed, his frown creasing his visible eye.

“Yes. The stuff I put on it will get the bruising and swelling down, but Ma- my sister will probably have to fix it. And that’s after we figure out if you’re a poacher.” He found a stick by the edge of the clearing and tested it. It would work as a temporary solution, so he walked back over and sat again. William looked confused.

“Poacher? Kid, I was just hunting deer, I- uh…” he trailed off suddenly, looking sheepish. “Sorry 'bout firing at you, by the way. I didn’t know there were deer-ple here.”

“Oh, for – I’m a cervitaur!” Dipper growled, tugging the bandage around the hunter’s leg too tightly. To his credit, the man only whimpered. Dipper quickly loosened it. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I…” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s been a long day, and it’s a shitty time of year, and I am irritable. Yes, poachers. People who wanna bag something supernatural. Who would be absolutely willing to hurt or kill my family for something that was my fault.” He hadn’t meant to say that, why had he said that? He sighed again. “Look, to be honest, I don’t think you’re a poacher,” he confessed, wrapping the leg more carefully. “I’ve seen poachers before, and you don’t seem like the type. That said Grunkle Stan will know for sure. So why don’t you tell me how you ended up here, and it’ll be easier to clear up this whole mess when we get back to the shack?

William shrugged. “Not much to tell, I think…”

Chapter Text

William was pissed. He was pissed, and tired, and lost, and hungry, and sore.

Two days ago, he had gone out hunting. It was something to do, mostly, and he did so love the trophies he got to bring back. He didn’t care much for most meats, save venison, but there was something about furs and bones and antlers and feathers that he just adored. The meats helped pay for the hobby – not that he needed support for it. He probably could have retired on the funds the old man had left for him after kicking it. Then again, he honestly couldn’t imagine living that way, with nothing to do. He couldn’t imagine that was living at all, really.

William had a sense that there was something missing in his life, some huge puzzle piece that had yet to fall into place, and he didn’t think he’d find it sitting on his ass. The doctors had all told him that this was normal, for someone with his “condition.” He was sure it was normal for all docs to be quacks. They obviously didn’t understand what he meant.

Hunting was a kind of life, and for awhile he wondered if that was what he was supposed to do. He hadn't grown bored of it, which was more than he could say of some of his other hobbies. He’d been working on this one for, what, three years now? Certainly a new record.

Of course, in terms of hobbies, taxidermy was a close second. It was fortunate the two went hand in hand so well.

He did worry for the day when he did grow bored with it. The way his hobbies had progressed, at this rate he might have to become a serial killer. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to manage that hobby. He was apparently a pretty memorable guy. Likely a result of his personality and charm, he imagined.

But for now, hunting was good, and he got a little thrill with each successful hit. And, more importantly, deer season was open. With the weather fair, and the breeze light, it was a good day to be a hunter.

And then he had hit that cliff.

It hadn’t been there before. He had hunted in this area before, it hadn’t existed. In all the years he’d been there, that deer trail had never led to a near sheer, rocky drop.

He had tumbled a few times before mercifully blacking out. He had been surprised to wake up, and even more surprised to find himself and his gear in okay shape, for having fallen so far. The cliff, oddly enough, was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t know where he was, and he didn’t know how long he’d been there, but with his gear he knew he could easily survive long enough to trek his way back to civilization. There wouldn’t be a problem.

The sun was already lowering, so he had set about finding shelter first, intent on heading out in the morning. He started by scouring the caves, but all of them seemed to have signs of bear inhabitants, and he did not feel up to tangling with that.

Hunting for food was even worse – he didn’t know where this place was, but even though the woods were alive with animal sounds, he had yet to see even one.

He was beginning to hate this forest, and hate turned to despair as a full day went by, then another. After a second night huddled under some treebrush, he was considering taking his chances with the bear. Then, he saw it.

He couldn’t be sure, looking through the brush, if it was a doe or a buck. But, that was definitely a deer.

He blamed lack of food, water, and sleep for what happened next.

He pulled out his gun, setting to one knee to balance his aim, and accidentally fired into the air instead. The deer started, and he swung it forward and quickly took the second shot. The deer made a strange noise, and bolted, apparently more startled than hurt, and he cussed. Right now, that animal was the difference between life or death, and he’d be damned if he let it get away! He took off after it, relying on sounds and the faint trail more than anything. It seemed like the world wouldn’t stay still under his feet, moving woozy and unstable. He’d never catch the beast like this, it was a lost cause… but he kept going. Even if he couldn’t catch it, the first living animal he’d seen in two days had to mean something, right?

He cleared the trees, coming into an area of brush and shrubs, and his heart jumped into his throat. There, across the clearing, was a scruffy young man in a button-down flannel shirt. His hands were up in the air, as if in surrender, fingers twisting anxiously and his eyes were wide and alarmed, like…

William swallowed heavily. ‘Like a deer caught in headlights.’

Oh, he had fucked up.

“Hey!”

The young man’s attention snapped to him, eyes widening even further. William started towards him, shouldering the gun. “Shit, kid! I thought you were a deer!” 'Smooth, very smooth,’ he thought to himself. But he was tired and hungry, and maybe this guy would forgive him once they talked and he could finally, finally get out of this damned forest.

“St-stay back!” the man ordered, and William fought off a smile. This guy was cute, even at a distance, and the stuttering didn’t help. He cleared his throat, and raised his hands passively.

“Hey kid, I ain’t gonna hurt you. Like I said, I thought you were a deer.” He took another few steps. “I, uh…”

Something was off, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Maybe the way the kid’s hands were up, or his handsome curls and trace of beard… alright, maybe he was way off. Why did he have to shoot at the good looking ones? “You’re very… uh…”

The young man’s fingers kept twisting nervously, and the look he was giving him was strange, undecided and containing a multitude. William realized he was staring. “Uh, so, I didn’t hit you, did I?”

“Just grazed. I’m good.”

William had to admire how calm the guy was from being “just grazed.” One too many accidents on a firing range gave you a pretty good idea of how much firearms hurt. He winced, trying to communicate his sympathy. “Fuck, seriously?” he asked, moving another step or two. “Look, I’ve got a first aid kit, and,” directions, ask for directions! “Hey, are you from around here by any chance? 'Cuz I got…” stranded “kinda lost, back awhile there…” don’t hit on the guy you just shot… “Why don’t I patch you up, and you can give me directions to – What the?!”

By William’s count, four things happened at once.

One, he realized that what he had mistaken for brambles or vines were actually antlers. Antlers! On this guy! Two, the actual brambles around the antlers broke, and this majestic deer boy shook his head loose. William stared, dumbfounded, as the only thought he could form was “That kid has an amazing rack.”

Three knocked him on his ass as the deer-man jumped over him (Deer legs! He had a whole deer body!) and fled.

Four hit him as he hit the ground, grinning.

He finally knew what the missing piece in his life was.

 

And then he realized his bag was gone.

 

Xxx

 

William purposefully left out number four in his retelling to Dipper, and maybe a couple of personal appearance notes. The young man hadn’t seemed super flattered by his compliment earlier. “After that, I tried to locate my bag, and when that didn’t work, I tried to follow your trail, hoping to find something. Found that deer trap instead, then…” He shrugged, gesturing to his leg. “Well, you know the rest!”

He tried to gauge Bambi’s reaction to his story, but to his frustration the guy simply looked lost in thought. He sighed. “Look, I know falling off a cliff that’s never been there before sounds implausible-”

A loud snort, followed by laughter, cut him off, and to his pleasure the deer boy actually smiled.

“The hunter said to the cervitaur,” he chuckled. “That’s pretty reasonable for around here.” The smile faded into something more earnest, but… looser than his earlier tense appearance. Obviously William’s charm and good looks were working. “Well, I believe you. Stan’ll want to grill you, but if you’re telling the truth and you just say what you told me, you’ll be fine.” He zipped up the pack, shifting to his feet. “Alright, that’s the best I can do for your leg right now.” He offered William a hand. “It’s not far to the Shack, and the way’s pretty easy. Think you can make it?”

William frowned, reaching for the hand and gingerly pulling himself up. To his surprise, his leg felt considerably better. His attempt to put weight on it, however, ended in him nearly screaming and falling.

“Shit!” William blinked, realizing he had fallen face first into the deer-taur’s chest, and that two lovely arms were wrapped around his torso, supporting him. “Sorry, thought that would be…”

“It’s okay,” he said, pushing himself up and leaning on his good leg. “If you can support me, I won’t have to put that much weight on it…”

“That’s the idea.”

“Or… I could just ride on your back again?”

“No.” The response was immediate and firm.

“Awww! Why not?” William whined, leaning more on Dipper. The cervitaur’s ears flicked back.

“Because I’m exhausted, being ridden is… weird, and it would probably mess up your leg more.”

“Sounds to me like your sister could just fix it tho.” William tried to smile winningly, but by the way the cervitaur raised an eyebrow and leaned his torso back, it must have been too much. “Please?”

“No!”

“C'moooon,” William cajoled, running one hand down Dipper’s arm. “A strong cervitaur like you, we’ll be to your place in no time at all!” He noticed the deer-person stiffen, his breathing changing slightly, and he grinned. “You’ll have to put up with me talking longer, otherwise.”

Dipper glared at him. “I’m hoping you’ll be too focused on walking. The answer is still no, and if you ask again I’m going to leave you and go the rest of the way myself!”

William thought for a moment, then shrugged a shoulder. “Worth a try. I do appreciate the ride you gave me earlier, though.”

“Emergency situations only,” the deer-man grumbled. “And don’t mention it to anyone. Mabel would laugh for days.”

“Don’t tell anyone what an amazing ride you are – got it!” laughed the hunter. The cervitaur shot him a suspicious look, but didn’t question the statement as the two of them slowly made their way back to the Shack.

 

Xx

 

Mabel and Dipper sat in the living room, waiting for Grunkle Stan to finish interrogating William. They had arrived at the Shack in one piece. Dipper found this miraculous, as the guy seemed to have no knowledge of the simple concept of shutting up, and with him on the brink of rutting season…

Well, no one was gored today, and that was a plus.

While Mabel had fixed up William’s leg with her magic, Dipper had given a (slightly abridged) account to his Grunkle. Now, he and William were talking, while Dipper gave Mabel the 'twins only’ version.

She sat, arms folded on the edge of her tank, while he talked. He expected “I told you so”s and “Alpha twin” when she heard about the hunter, and he omitted the part where William got a free cervitaur ride, but to his growing wariness she was remarkably quiet throughout the story. She just sat, looking thoughtful, lips pursed as he wrapped it up. For a moment, nothing was said.

“Mabel, the only time you’re this quiet is when you’re planning something,” Dipper said bluntly.

“Whaaa? No it’s not!” she responded, pulled from her reverie. “I was… I just…” she paused, then pushed her tank closer and pulled him into a hug. “I’m just glad you’re okay, brobro. Sounds like you could’ve gotten really hurt.”

He smiled and hugged her back. “Yeah. But, I’m here, and we’re okay.” She pulled back after a few seconds. “And I’m pretty sure William is good. I mean, he’s annoying as anything, and we’ll probably have to use the memory gun on him when he’s ready to leave town, but -”

“What?!” Dipper flinched at the shrill assault on his ears, embarrassed to realize the person he’d just insulted was standing in the doorway just behind him. When he turned to look, the hunter stood there, still in his grimy hunting clothes, looking mortified. Grunkle Stan towered over his shoulder, glow fading from his eyes.

“Oh, you two are done!” Mabel splashed Dipper as she whirled around. “What’s the verdict?”

“He’s good.” Grunkle Stan gave him a meaningful look. “So long as he never points a gun at my nephew again.”

“It was an accident!” William insisted. “And I’ve already apologized!” He looked pleadingly at Dipper. “Right, Bambi?”

The silence that followed was deafening, as if some enormous beast had sucked all the air from the room and left nothing but vacuum and the growing concern that all present were about to witness, or be a participant of, a truly terrible homicide. Mabel and Grunkle Stan both froze, looking warily at Dipper. The cervitaur just closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. He was more than a deer, he was still human too, he reminded himself. After another breath, he stood, opening his eyes and pulling his lips into a tight smile.

“Well,” he said, voice strained with barely applied chipperness, “if that’s all good, it has been a long day, and I am going to bed.” He patted Mabel’s head before he walked towards the stairs, and nodded to Grunkle Stan. He very nearly clipped William with an antler in the process. As he disappeared up the ramp, the remaining Pines let out a shared breath.

Mabel eyed William. “I’m surprised he didn’t gore you! He never lets anyone get away with Bambi in this season.”

“Yeah, word of advice,” Grunkle Stan added, “and for free too, so you know it’s good.” The gargoyle clapped one stony claw onto the hunter’s shoulder. “Between, like, end of September to mid-November? Dipper’s a time bomb. You’re lucky it’s so early in the season, but if you’re going to stick around a few days, don’t go provoking him.”

“Wait, he’s staying?” Mabel propped herself up, grinning. “Seriously?”

“On the couch, and just for a few days,” her Grunkle clarified, raising an eyebrow at her. “When he’s not dying of malnutrition and has some money or something for a bus, he goes where ever. Back to his home or something.”

“Yeah, speaking of,” William cut in, “I believe I heard something about erasing my memory then?!”

“Eh, I wouldn’t worry about it. The cult says it’s painless anyways.” Remarkably, the hunter did not look reassured by the gargoyle’s statement.

“But I’ve promised not to tell! And you know I’m not lying, right? With the… glowing eyes, and stuff?”

Stan shrugged. “Promises, deals, future statements are weird kid. You can mean them when you say 'em, then change your mind in the future. It ain’t truth, not in the way I can see it. When you’re ready to head out, we’ll take you to McGucket'n his guys, and you’ll walk out of town thinking you got mauled by a bear or something, I dunno. I’m still a little iffy on how it works.” He gently patted the human on the head, nearly knocking him over. “But hey! Like I said, they say it’s painless! Mabel, can you set him up on the couch? I’m gonna go take post.”

Mabel saluted. “I’m on it, Grunkle Stan!” She waited until he had left the room, and listened to the tell-tale sound of the kitchen door flopping shut, before turning to the human, a sly, sharptoothed grin stealing over her face. “So! I think we need to talk…”

Chapter Text

Dipper woke up feeling much better than he had the night before. Rut had always been a nasty side effect of his transformation, making him irritable at best and near murderous at worst for almost two and a half months each year. Puberty had been a near literal hell, with him picking fights every day. He had nearly gored Wendy and Stan in a fight once, shortly after he’d turned 17, and he’d only been stopped when Soos flopped on top of him. The slime/blob repairman had refused to move until Dipper had calmed down. Fortunately, it is nigh impossible to really injure blobs, a fact Dipper was very, very grateful for.

But, for all the annoyance yesterday, he was feeling pretty good about himself and his life. He had saved a guy from a horrible death, eased his conscience, and dealt with one of the nastier things in the woods all in one day. With a night’s rest to help him step back, he could see it had honestly been one of his easier adventures.

He grabbed a shirt that was pretty clean and threw it on, buttoning it as he headed out of his room. Today, he was supposed to work morning shift. Once lunch rolled around, though, he’d be free to work on research for the rest of the day, as per usual.

Mabel said he really needed a hobby. He still didn’t have a comeback for that.

He stopped by the bathroom to freshen up, splashing a little water on his face and inspecting the little bit of stubble on his jaw thoughtfully. He’d probably need to shave that soon… but maybe he’d go rugged today.

Yeah, rugged felt good.

Dipper was feeling strong and confident, and ready for the day. It was the only side effect of the rutting season he was pleased with – that sudden sense of invincibility that came with all the hormones. Maybe he’d go wrestle some Manotaurs instead of research… no, no, he’d been really making progress…

But he also really wanted to hit something.

He shook his head quickly, and splashed another handful of water in his face. Gripping the edges of the sink, he scowled at his dripping visage in the mirror.

“I’m not going to let this get to me,” he promised to himself, glaring at his reflected antlers, furry ears, and deer body. “I will not let this stupid season distract me!”

The ‘again’ echoed unspoken. His reflection glared back at him viciously, and that angry feeling suddenly dissipated. He sighed, lifting his hands to rub at his face.

“And here I am, arguing with my reflection,” he grumbled.

It only took him a moment to dry his face, and he was headed downstairs.

To his surprise, there was no one in the kitchen when he arrived. Shrugging, he moved over to the “costume cabinet” that Soos had helpfully installed.

It had been Mabel’s idea, originally. Stuff like this was why Grunkle Stan swore he was leaving the Shack to her, and letting her co-run it now. After their… changes, it quickly became apparent that running a tourist trap and staying low on the visibility scale were not really compatible.

Granted, they could have gotten amulets, but there were others in town that needed them more. That, and they were so complicated to make.

It looked like the Shack might have to take a near permanent hiatus (something Grunkle Stan bemoaned with cries of “I can’t go back to vacuum sales!” and “Conning rich tourists is all I know!”) when Mabel whipped up their costumes.

Dipper didn’t believe it would work.

Dipper had clearly forgotten how much people were willing to ignore if it meant they could keep a safe little world view.

The costumes were simple enough – stick on zippers and fake stitches, a couple of poorly designed looking wooden slats on Grunkle Stan’s wings, and ta-da! Not monsters, just people in costumes to take in the tourists.

Dipper’s consisted of a single zipper and fake, scarecrow-like legs. It hung like a belt, just around where his human torso met his deer body, looped around his legs like a harness. Mabel had had a difficult time designing it for him – as he had gotten older, and bigger, reaching his hind-side had become more of a pain. But this, he could step into and pull tight, and for all the world it looked like he was just a hassled tourist trap employee, forced into a crappy deer costume.

He mostly worked the register, since seeing his hind legs move too much might cause suspicion, but a lot of curious questions were easily deflected with responses of “animatronics” or “Myyyystery shack! Now buy some merchandise!”

The zipper was giving him some trouble this morning, and he shot a glance at the clock to see how much time he had left. Then stopped. And stared.

He turned, fussing with the zipper as he poked his head into the shop and did a quick look-over. No customers, but Mabel was over by the register. Good.

The zipper finally fell into place as he ducked into the room. “Mabel, it’s half past noon, why didn’t you…” He trailed off, staring again as a familiar blonde figure popped up from behind the counter, and Mabel’s tank, and waved. “Why is he on the register?”

“Oh hey Dip-dop!” Mabel chirped. “We figured you’d wanna sleep in, after running around so much yesterday and using all that magic,” she jerked a thumb at the hunter, who grinned and waved again “And William here needed some practice on the register, so Stan and I let him have your shift for this morning so you could sleep!”

“…Practice?”

“Yup! He’s moving into town in like, a few days, and asked Stan if he could work here! Stan was kinda iffy, but Willy’s willing to work minimum wage, so he was sold. He’ll be on the couch until his stuff gets here, but then I figured we could help him move in!”

“He… what…”

“We’re gonna be neighbors, kid!”

“I… Mabel, can I talk to you for a moment?” Dipper snapped, coming to his senses. She shrugged, pushing off the wall and rolling her tank past him. Dipper followed her into the kitchen, shooting a look over his shoulder at the hunter. To his chagrin, the guy was just standing there, staring after them and grinning.

He pulled the door nearly closed after them, leaving it open a crack so they’d hear if anything went on in the shop, and turned to Mabel. “Mabel, what the heck is going on? I thought that guy was leaving! Why is he working here? What’s this about him moving?”

She grinned at him, all pointy teeth and glinting eyes, and he shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. He had to wonder how fortune found it fair to make all of his family predatorial except for him.

“We~ll,” she started, the lilt of her voice telling Dipper that he was certainly not about to enjoy anything she was about to say, “after you went to bed last night, William and I had a nice long chat!” Well, that was harmless enough. “And he’s pretty cool!” That, that was less harmless. “You two probably have a lot in common, you know – he’s really curious about the supernatural, and was really bummed about having to forget it all when he leaves, sooooo…” She pointed a finger gun at him and winked. “I gave him some loopholes!”

Dipper stared blankly at her. “Loop… so he’s just moving here? Just, up and leaving wherever he lives now, just like that?”

“Yeah, says his “hometown” is boring. Apparently he’s from some rich family, so he just does whatever there, and it’s getting old. He also said that yesterday was the most interesting thing he can remember!” She winked again at that, much to Dipper’s growing confusion and annoyance.

“Well, that’s the Falls for you.” A thought struck him. “Okay, wait, if he’s so rich, why bother working here?”

“I don’t know~!” Mabel replied in a sing-song voice that told Dipper she certainly did know. She caught his unamused stare, ears flattened, and she deflated a little. “Look, I know this seems really weird, but I swear, William’s cool, and I have a plan.” She held up a finger, cutting off his objection before it began. “Just trust me, okay?”

Dipper hesitated for a moment, then sighed. “Is there a danger rating on this plan?”

“Nope! No angry gnomes.” She smiled, then hesitated for a moment. “Well, maybe one gnome, but not to either of us, or Stan or anything. Mostly dependent on your temper.”

Dipper sighed again, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Mabel, depending on my temper in this season is like-”
“I know, it’s tough,” she cut in reassuringly, “but I think this will actually help? Like, a lot? It’s a bit of an experiment, but trust me - ” and here she placed one sopping wet hand on his shoulder, eyes serious, “it’ll turn out well.”

He scrutinized her for a moment. Finally, he took a deep breath. “Alright. Okay. I trust you on this.” He glanced over her shoulder to see the hunter staring curiously over at them, and grimaced when the man grinned and waved. “What does it have to do with him, though?”

Another sharktoothed grin was her response. “Like I said, trust me broski. And that reminds me…” Mabel turned in her tank and poked her head back into the store. “You’re done for the day! I’ve got afternoon shift!” Dipper heard a muffled “yay!” from William. “Oooh, and hey! Weren’t you going to go do some research in the woods?” Dipper opened his mouth to respond, but Mabel had other plans. “Why not take William with you, show him around a bit, see the sights?” In a move that was honestly pretty impressive for someone in a rolling water tank, she was behind him, pushing him towards the front door. “C'mon, Dipper, go put that big brain of yours to work!”

He was on the porch, and turning to explain that his journals were still upstairs, and shouldn’t he take the afternoon shift since she had spent the whole morning training William, and even if he left he was still wearing his costume zipper -

“Go on!” Something collided with him and he staggered backwards as the door slammed shut. There was a mop of gold hair in his face, and a puff of breath against his collarbone as William chuckled.

“We need to stop running into each other like this,” he said, pushing away from the cervitaur and straightening himself out. “Then again, not like I’m complaining, eh?” He shot the cervitaur a grin and a wink (was it a wink? With one eye it was honestly hard to tell, but he sold it like a wink…), neither of which quite fit his face, and walked around him. “So! Where to first?”

Dipper heard the door click locked behind them, and grumbled. It was going to be a very long day.

 

Xx

 

Dipper was honestly surprised. He had figured that he’d be ready to murder William minutes into their walk… but the hunter had been on his best behavior so far. They were about an hour out, and they hadn’t talked a whole lot, just a few questions here and there and some light conversation about their surroundings. Dipper could tell William wanted to ask more questions – he knew that look in the hunter’s eye. He had seen it on himself more than once. But for now, the hunter seemed content to make idle comments about the weather, and their surroundings.

“So, where are we headed anyways?”

“Well…” Dipper paused, looking around. He’d stuck to some pretty ordinary parts of the woods, skirting sections of the supernatural and sticking to the Mystery Shack Hiking tour routes. “Right now,we’re not really headed anywhere. I mean, I was going to look into… eh, some stuff… but Mabel kicked us out before I could grab my notes, and I can’t really work without them, so…” He shrugged.

“Really? Mabel said you were a Grade-A Braniac. I’m surprised you couldn’t remember a few measly notes!”

Dipper’s ears flicked. “It’s more than 'a few measly notes,’ William,” he responded testily. “It’s years of research and study. You can’t just memorize all that.”

“Huh.” To his chagrin, the hunter looked nonchalant rather than impressed. Not that Dipper needed to impress him, but really, research of that magnitude deserved a little respect, right? “What are you researching?”

Another ear flick. William chuckled. “What, no response? I figured years of research, you’d be dying to talk about it!”

“It’s complicated. Like I said, years of research. It’s a long story.”

“Is it why you’re all not human?”

Dipper froze dead in his tracks, then turned and glared at the hunter, who just smiled back glibly.

“Well? I must be right, huh?”

His glare darkened. “Who told you?”

The hunter shrugged, tucking his hands into his pockets nonchalantly. “Mabel said you guys used to be human, when I asked. She said how it happened was something I’d have to ask you, though. Gotta admit, I’m curious.” His face stretched into that weird grin again. “So, feel like talking, Little Prince?”

Dipper gaped openly at him, before his face clouded. He clenched his fists and managed to grind out “Is that another Bambi reference?” Annoyingly, the hunter’s grin only widened.

“Yeah! I figured Bambi pissed you off, but I need some kind of nickn-ghk!”

Dipper moved before he even realized what he was doing, and in one swift motion he had the hunter pinned against a tree, the collar of his shirt bunched in one hand. William wiggled uselessly, his feet inches above the ground.

Dipper glared at the struggling human, fists tightening in the cloth and constricting it around his throat. He was sick of these stupid jokes at his expense, making him look foolish or young or infantile – he’s show him Bambi – that movie had failed to really convey the true savagery of -

William gurgled, hands coming up to clasp Dipper’s forearm, and the red haze clouding his vision dissipated suddenly as he realized he was strangling the guy. He let go instantly at the realization, the hunter dropping and staggering back against the tree. He gasped for air and balanced himself, Dipper staring stunned all the while.

“Fuck. Shit, William, I am so sorry, I-” The hunter cut him off with a raised hand, his eye closed as he got his breathing back. Dipper began to fume again, this time at himself. He was better than this, he reminded himself. He had had years to get used to rut, and he still messed up. They were both lucky William had snapped him out of it, albeit unintentionally. He would’ve had an awful time explaining to Mabel, not to even mention having killed-

“M'sorry.”

Dipper blinked out of his self-berating reverie. It took him a moment to register what the man had said. “…what?”

William coughed, standing up straighter and rubbing his throat tenderly. To Dipper’s absolute confusion, the hunter’s grin was back, as if undeterred by the fact that the cervitaur had just tried to strangle him. “I said, sorry,” he repeated. “Mabel told me not to push your buttons, but angry is such a cu- I mean…” He coughed again, and Dipper was fairly sure it didn’t have anything to do with his throat. “I mean, angry is a good look for you.”

Dipper’s mouth worked, speechless in disbelief. “Will, I could have killed you!” he finally got out.

“But!” and William waggled a finger in emphasis, “You didn’t!” He stepped forward, passing Dipper and patting him on the shoulder as he did. “You hardly strike me as the killing type, kid. Besides, I got warned fair'n'square to lay off the Bambi jokes, so I can’t say I didn’t deserve it.” When Dipper turned, the guy was standing a few feet away, grinning over one shoulder. “To be honest, I thought you might actually like that one. But I guess I’ll have to think up some new nicknames to try. One of 'em’s gotta be a winner, right?” He paused, tilting his head slightly and giving him a curious look. “…you called me Will.”

Dipper began to respond, but the hunter cut him off again. “I like that!” A gentler smile stole across his lips. “You’ve got a nickname for me, so it’s like we’re already friends!” He laughed. “I just need one for you that won’t make you wanna punch me, huh?”

Dipper found himself unable to respond right away, simply blindsided by the man’s nonchalance and… “Friends?”

“Mm-hm,” William hummed. “Since I’m moving into town, figured I’d need to get to know folks. And,” and his voice dropped suddenly in pitch, “I am hoping that the two of us will become. Very. Friendly.” The look that passed over his features reminded Dipper of his predatory friends and family, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. “So, you never answered my question! If we can’t go work on your research, where are we headed?”

“Oh, um…” Dipper scratched one ear, glancing around and thinking. He had been planning on checking out a cave, said to hold a spring with magical properties… maybe ones similar to the Morphluviens. But he wanted his notes on hand for that. Barring that, he’d usually be busy taking care of things for the residents of the forest, helping goods exchanges, mediating disputes, that sort of thing. Most people knew better than to come to him for any delicate diplomacy late fall, but still. They could wander the wilder parts of the woods. He knew most of them after ten years of exploring. Then again, there was the off chance they’d run into an unpleasant surprise.

But, as his gaze fell onto the hunter again, standing there looking at him with eager, wide-eyed curiosity, an idea struck.

“…are you planning on coming with me a lot? Like, in the future?” he asked hesitantly. William beamed.

“Absolutely!”

“Okay…” If he was going to be out and about in the woods a bunch, it would be good to introduce him to some of the friendlier inhabitants…

And he knew just who to start with.

Chapter Text

William was starting to grow concerned, although little showed on his face as he followed the cervitaur. It was maybe half an hour after their little tiff, and the deer boy had been rather cryptic about where they were headed. Will recognized this section of the woods. He’d only spent three days lost there.

But no, the really concerning thing was that, just a day after fleeing for their lives from a half-bug-half-bear creature, Dipper seemed determined to find the cave with the most bear prints. Maybe revenge? Aside from the anger issues he clearly suffered from this time of year, Dipper didn’t seem like the kind of person to seek revenge.

Oh, Mabel had given him the full scoop on the Rutting Season, and how to stay on Dipper’s good side… but William couldn’t deny, the cervitaur looked cute when he was angry.

He decided he’d wait until after the season to tell him that, though.

And speaking of cute, William was just dying over how oblivious the deer was to his flirting. He really had thought that “friendly” comment would have tipped him off, but instead the kid had just looked adorably confused.

He smiled despite his concern. He had kind of hoped romancing Dipper would be a quick and… passionate affair, and they could move on to the really good stuff right away… although, now that he thought about it, staring at the deer backside ahead of him, maybe it was better to play the long game. It would give him some time to do research.

“…Are you staring at my butt?”

His eyes snapped up, meeting the perturbed gaze of the cervitaur.

“Nope!” he replied quickly. “Just staring into space and thinking!”

The cervitaur raised an eyebrow, but if he thought something of it he didn’t comment. “Well, like I said, we’re here.”

The hunter looked around, actually taking in his surroundings again, and the concern returned. They stood at the foot of a path, one that followed a steep incline up the base of a mountain, and at the end of the path…

At the end of the path, an enormous cavern mouth yawned, stalactite teeth hanging snaggled from the lip, and dusty breezes ghosting from the ledge like the breath of an enormous beast.

“That looks really fucking haunted,” he deadpanned. Next to him, Dipper shuddered.

“Eugh. Nope. Haunted hangouts are something I will never do.”

Oooh, that sounded interesting. “There a story behind that, fuzzy?”

Dipper just frowned at him. “Maybe. And maybe one day you’ll hear it.” Without further ado, he started up the path.

Will kept close behind him. “So I’m guessing ‘fuzzy’ is off the list of potential nicknames?”

“And any variation thereof.”

“Noted.”

Good.”

The conversation lulled as they focused on climbing, Dipper moving with ease on his four hooves, William less so on his two feet. It took them maybe ten minutes to reach the mouth, and Will was breathing heavily by the end of it. He looked around and gulped. The whole of the cave floor was covered in bear tracks, and from deep in the recesses he thought he could hear something growling. He looked nervously over at Dipper, who looked pretty relaxed for a deer in a bear cave. He glanced back at the human.

“Ready?”

“For… what?”

Dipper smiled at him, then cupped his hands around his mouth, took a deep breath, and whistled three short notes loudly into the cave. The two listened as it echoed and distorted along the curve of the walls.

As the sound faded, William opened his mouth to ask what, exactly, that was. Before he could, however, a low rumble shook the cave mouth, and he took a quick step back. “What was that!?”

Dipper didn’t answer, just headed into the cave, motioning for the hunter to follow him. When the human hesitated, he turned an ear back towards him, paused, then glanced over one shoulder, smiling reassuringly. “Come on, Will. It’s safe, I swear.”

Will raised one eyebrow, unconvinced, and Dipper huffed in exasperation. “Dude, come on. Do you need me to hold your hand or something?”

He meant it sarcastically, reaching one hand back. He certainly wasn’t expecting the hunter’s eyes to light up.

“Sure!” William lept forward, catching Dipper’s hand in his and intertwining their fingers before the cervitaur could change his mind. “Lead the way!”

“Uh, okay?”

William fought back the urge to snicker as they started in. He really was too cute. Another rumble reminded them of their current situation, and he squeezed Dipper’s hand. He heard the cervitaur huff again, but it was becoming difficult to see as they headed deeper into the cave. Right now, he could barely see his outline beside him. He ran a thumb over the back of Dipper’s hand, thinking as he stared into the darkness.

“So, are you going to tell me what we’re doing here, or…?”

“Nope, it’s a-” A roar drowned out the rest, light from nowhere making Will blink stupidly in sudden blindness. When the spots cleared from his vision, he immediately wished it hadn’t. Bearing down on them, full speed, was the owner of the bear tracks.

'That certainly explains the number of them,’ Will thought dumbly, watching the beast barrel forward on countless paws. Dipper tugged his hand free, shoving the hunter to the side and shouting “Look out!”

He stumbled, falling to all fours before scrambling to his feet. He turned just in time to see the great furry mass tackle the cervitaur, who met him head on, antlers lowered defensively. They hit the ground, kicking up dust. In the new light, Will could see teeth snapping from the multitude of heads at the cervitaur’s legs, belly, torso, and long claws struggling to pin the cervitaur against the cave floor.

Dipper was giving as good as he got, though. His antlers kept the largest head at bay, while his legs kicked out, knocking the creature off balance as its legs were removed from beneath it. Dipper’s arms, meanwhile, were grappling with the heavy foreclaws that threatened to crush him. In a feat of strength surprising for his size, Dipper grabbed the paws and twisted, rolling the monster off of him and into one of the cave walls. He got to his feet in a flurry, standing between William and the cave-dweller, but it had recovered first. With a roar that rattled William’s teeth, it launched, engulfing the deer boy entirely and trapping him under its full weight.

“D-Dipper!” William lurched forward, looking for… There! One of the cervitaur’s arms stuck out from the furry mass, scratching at the dirt.

Then, it delivered two gentle taps to the creature’s side. With a sound like a laugh, it rolled easily off of the cervitaur, who looked a little squished but unharmed. He was smiling.

“I did not expect you to give in so quickly,” one of the bearheads rumbled, offering Dipper a paw to help him up. “You are generally more tenacious this time in the year.”

“I got some of it out of my system earlier,” Dipper replied, out of breath. He accepted the paw and stood, brushing himself off and straightening his shirt.

“That is good to hear. Were you coming to inform me on the sprite situation?”

“Partially. They weren’t sprites, fortunately. Just some migrating faeries. They’ll only be here a day or so.”
The creature hummed agreeably. “Good, good. Faeries are far better guests than sprites.” One of the heads on its backside tilted, eyeing William inquisitively. “And speaking of guests?”

William opened and closed his mouth a few times, before squeaking out, “Hi?”

Dipper walked back over to him, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “This is William, he’s moving into town. He wants to help out with my research, so I figured I’d introduce him to some of the residents around here.”

The head nearest William sniffed suddenly, making him jump. The one by Dipper raised a brow. “It is unlike you to introduce someone to me so quickly, let alone a human. Are you not concerned he will take this knowledge elsewhere?”

Dipper shrugged. “Gargrunkle Stan checked him out, and Mabel trusts him.” That earned an approving rumble from the creature, and it turned its many eyes back to William.

“It is pleasing to meet you, William. I am the Multibear. Dipper Pines and I are good friends, and I hope in time you and I can be as well.” He sniffed again, this time with several friends. “I could swear I’ve caught your scent before…”

“I, uh… I was lost, around here, the last few days,” William admitted. “Whitetail helped me out yesterday.” He caught Dipper’s ear flick out of the corner of his eye, and sighed inwardly.

“Whitetail…?” the Multibear echoed, looking confused. Dipper just shook his head.

“He keeps coming up with goofy nicknames, just ignore them.”

“Ah… I see…” The Multibear gestured a paw further into the cave. “Would the two of you like some refreshments?” William looked over to Dipper, who shook his head.

“We don’t want to take away from your stores,” he explained. “You’re going under in a few weeks, right?”

The Multibear grumbled. “Indeed. It will be too chilly for me soon.” A thought seemed to cross his mind ('minds?’ William wondered) and he perked up. “Do you think you could ask Mabel to bake some of those delicious berry tarts for me? They were the highlight of my winter wakings, last year.”

“I’m sure she’d be glad to,” Dipper said with a smile. The Multibear returned it with a myriad of mouths.

“Oh!” Eyes fixed back on William. “I have recalled where I have caught your scent before.” He began moving deeper into the cave again. “Wait there for a moment.”

As he left, the light faded after him. Will was quick to reach up, grabbing Dipper’s hand from his shoulder. He saw the cervitaur’s head turn in the shadows.

“Are you afraid of the dark?” the deer-boy asked, not sounding judging, just… curious. William shrugged, the motion carrying through to their joined hands.

“No, but I don’t particularly feel like walking into walls, or getting separated.” He squinted against the dark. “How’d he light up the cave, anyways?”

“Mabel set it up for him, actually. A few years back, she was learning some illumination spells, and he let her practice here. He always complained about how difficult it was to get good ambient lighting in the deeper parts of the cave, so as a thank you she and I enchanted the cave walls. They glow at his will, but it’s a little limited.”

“…you both did that?” William sounded awed. “I thought – I mean, I didn’t realize you were both magical.”

“What did you think broke that rusty spring, my bare hands?”

“Well seeing how you tossed Multibear, maybe!”

The cervitaur didn’t answer. William was about to add something when he finally spoke up. “He’s coming back.”

Sure enough, William could see the walls getting brighter as the Multibear returned. One of his side mouths was clamped securely around…

“My bag!” William gasped, darting forward. “You found it!”

The Multibear dropped the beat-up sack into William’s arms, who dropped to one knee to sort through its contents. “Oh, great, everything’s still here!” he exclaimed, enthused. He grinned up at the Multibear. “Thank you!”

“It was nothing,” the Multibear replied, waving one paw dismissively. “I found it at one of the cave entrances, and brought it in out of curiosity. Now I am glad I did.”

William giggled like a little kid, zipping the bag up again and slinging it over one shoulder. “Me too!”

Dipper eyed him warily. “I don’t remember seeing you with that.”

“Yeah, I left it behind when I – er…” Will fumbled over his sentence, then finally shrugged. “Eh, fuck it. I left it behind when I was chasing you yesterday. Couldn’t find it when I backtracked.”

“So… no gun?”

“Nooo? I dropped that in a stream when I was trying to find my way back.” He shrugged again. “Even if I found it at this point, all the powder would be useless. 'Sides, I already said I wouldn’t shoot at you, so don’t worry!”

The Multibear cleared his throat. “I will pretend that I did not hear that, as I suspect it has been resolved.” He nodded to Dipper. “Safe hike back, and I hope to see you again soon.” A nod at William. “And to you. A word of advice – know the lines.” And with that, he began shuffling back into the cave.

“That’s our cue.” Dipper turned and began moving towards the cave entrance, William hurrying to catch up.

“Okay,” he said, pulling up alongside Dipper. “So, I’ve got a list of things to say. First off -” and he punched the cervitaur’s shoulder, ignoring the shout of annoyance. “Warn me before you do something like that! Geeze, you scared years off me, kid!” He screwed up his face, adjusting his bag straps. “Would it really have killed you to say something like, oh, I dunno, 'Hey Will we’re going to meet my friend, he’s an enormous bear but he’s nice!’?”

He expected a snappy response, but instead Dipper just laughed. “The look on your face was honestly priceless,” he snorted. “You looked like you were gonna piss yourself.”

“I wouldn’t have, but I thought you were a goner for a second.” Bag safely adjusted, he steepled his fingers. “Second, why didn’t you tell me you were magic because that is awesome!”

“I mean… I’m not magic, I just do magic. Sometimes.” They reached the mouth of the cave and started there descent, Dipper gesturing for him to take the lead. “Mabel and I do different things, but yeah. Magic.”

“'Yeah, magic’? No no no, you don’t just…” William shook his head, giving a dramatic, world-weary sigh. “You can’t just downplay something that awesome, Whitetail.”

“And yeah, that nickname is off the books too.” William threw up his hands.

“Another one! I liked that one!”

Dipper snorted. “Well I didn’t.”

William stopped and turned on heel, catching Dipper off guard. The cervitaur pulled up short, still finding himself staring eye-to-eye with the grinning hunter. William waggled a finger at him, grin widening.

“I’ll find one that works, don’t you worry!” he laughed, turning back around and practically skipping down the rest of the path. Dipper stood, staring after him with confusion and worry, ears twisting and flipping with his thoughts. Finally, he just shook his head.

“…weirdo,” he muttered to himself, before raising his voice. “Hey, wait up!” and trotting after the man.

Chapter Text

Dipper had mixed feelings when Will was finally ready to move into his new house down the road, just a few days later. On one hand, he had started to get used to the hunter being around. When he wasn’t going out of his way to be annoying or stalkerish, he was actually pretty cool. He had a weird sense of humor, but it fit in pretty well with Dipper’s more serious nature, catching him off guard with quips here and there.

He was also a pretty good helper. Dipper had been going alone into the woods for years, but ever since his arrival, William had insisted on accompanying him whenever he went out. It had only been twice, and he had been his normal annoying self, but there was something extremely refreshing about hanging out with him. Dipper had gotten kind of used to a lot of what Gravity Falls had to offer (certainly not all of it – the Falls were notorious for throwing curve-balls of varying strength and inanity), but William was just fascinated by all of it. He listened, fixated, when Dipper talked, asked questions, some of which Dipper hadn’t even thought to ask, and was getting on well with the couple of supernatural creatures that Dipper had introduced him to.

Every once in awhile, he would ask about what made the forest-dwelling supernaturals different from the townsfolk. Dipper dodged these questions as best he could, and slowly Will got the picture to stop asking. The cervitaur had been surprised when, on their way back from checking on the faeries again, the hunter had paused. Dipper turned, curious to see what had stopped him, and found the hunter starting at him with a strange, searching look. Finally, William closed the distance between them in a few steps, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Look,” he started, and Dipper was extremely confused. “I get you don’t want to talk about it.” When Dipper just raised an eyebrow, he sighed, gesturing to his antlers and deer backside. “All of that. A curse or something, right?” He waved his other hand, as if brushing something away. “I wanna know. I won’t say that I don’t. But you obviously don’t want to talk about it yet, and that’s cool. But!” And the floating hand came down to rest on his other shoulder, and now their faces were too close and what was with William and personal space for goodness sakes! “If you ever need someone to talk to? I’m here.” He removed his hands and took a step away, and Dipper found himself breathing again. The hunter shot him that grin, the one Dipper knew the hunter thought looked winning but honestly just looked like he was about to murder you and wear your skin. “Might help you to get some outside perspective, yannow?”

And then he had walked off, heading towards the Shack, and leaving Dipper staring after him.

In addition, William also insisted on bringing his bag with him, which was a little worrisome after he had shown Dipper all of its contents. He did not want to know what someone with so many knives did in his spare time, but the guy was less equipped to protect himself, so it made sense…

And then, there were the things that drove him nuts. For instance, Will seemed to have taken up stalking in his spare time, and he obviously had no notion of “personal space.” Every time Dipper thought he was by himself, he’d turn around and Boom! Will would be right there. And the only exception to this was when he was hanging out with Mabel. Dipper didn’t want to admit it, but that was driving him a little crazy too. Not that William was spending time with someone else, of course – it was nice to get the hunter off his back now and then. No, what was nerve-wracking was how close the two of them were getting. Any time he saw them together, they’d be sitting somewhere, talking in low hushed voices to one another. They’d stop whenever they caught sight of him, giggling as he glared at them and stalked off. He trusted Mabel, he really did, but this was starting to get infuriating.

And it didn’t help that, on top of all that, William hadn’t given up on the nicknames. If anything, they had gotten worse. Dipper thought he had the patience of a saint, after that first day, trying to calmly shut down the irritating nicknames as they came. That had lasted for all of 24 hours, ending when Dipper finally slugged him when the hunter barged into his room shouting “Hey Buckbrains!”

Mabel had forced him to apologize, and he had done so. Reluctantly.

Right now, the bad was outweighing the good. Dipper, Mabel and William were all manning the shop, the former working on restocking while no one was in, and the latter two going over some kind of training. That was Mabel’s excuse, anyways. Dipper had seen William work the register. He didn’t need any help.

The “training” seemed to consist solely of sitting together and whispering. Dipper tried not to let his irritation show, but he knew his flattened ears were a dead giveaway. He was finally saved from the giggling when the shop phone started ringing. Mabel dove for it, Will dodging both the tank and the splash of water that accompanied it as a result. “Hey there, this is Mabel, mermaid of Mystery at the one and only Mystery Shack!” There was a pause, then she handed it to Will, beaming. “It’s for you.”

Dipper turned one ear towards them, curious, as Will took the phone. “Y'ellow?” There was the tinny sound of a voice on the other side. “Oh, already? Great!” More chatter. “Mm-hmm… yeah, yeah, I’ll head over right away.” He tucked the phone between shoulder and chin, looking for writing implements, and jotted something down. “Yep! …uh-huh…” He underlined something, and Mabel started snickering. When Dipper glanced at her to see what the joke was, their eyes met. He realized he’d been staring, and turned back abruptly, face red with embarrassment but unsure of just why.

“Alright, that sounds great! I’ll have that for you tomorrow morning. Pleasure doin’ business with ya!” He heard the phone drop. “Good news, guys! The house is ready, and they’ve just delivered my stuff! I’m ready to move in!”

“Finally,” Dipper grumbled to himself. Maybe now he’d get some peace and quiet for his research… at least when Will wasn’t on shift.

“That’s great! We can help you move in!” Mabel offered. Dipper groaned. ‘Or maybe not,’ he thought, putting the last of the Novelty Mystery snow globes on the shelf. 'Great.’

Later that day, Soos gave William a ride to his new place in the golf cart. The hunter told them he’d go in and look over the place, then call them over when he was ready for help.

It was Dipper’s turn on register when Soos got back. “Hey man,” he greeted. The slime man waved.

“Hey, lil’ dude. How’s the shop?”

“Quieter,” the cervitaur responded, with satisfied emphasis. “Much, much quieter.”

“Yeah, that hunter dude is pretty loud.” The slime man sludged over to stand next to him, lower body dissolving into his “resting” form. “You two seem to be getting along tho!”

Dipper rolled his eyes as hard as he was able. “Yeah, when he’s not making an ass of himself, or plotting with Mabel.” He brushed his hair out of his eyes, then paused, mid-gesture, turning towards Soos. “…you don’t happen to know what they’re up to, do you?”

“Wha, me? Hah, nuh-uh man, Mabel doesn’t tell me stuff about weird plots with strange dudes,” Soos replied quickly… too quickly. Dipper sat up, turning to face the handyman, who was, weird and unnecessary as it was, sweating.

“Soos…”

“No, seriously!” He held up one hand in pledge. “She hasn’t told me anything! I just overheard them talking about a date that one time, and that was it! …and I probably wasn’t supposed to tell you that, either, because she made promise, and…”

Dipper wasn’t listening anymore; his brain was working overtime dissecting this tiny new piece of info. A date? That wouldn’t make any sense, they wouldn’t be… after all, she and Pacifica were… unless he…

Oh, if he was, Dipper was going to kill him, legality be damned.

A slime arm looped around his shoulders, startling him from his thoughts. “Hey, dude? You’re making your terrifying murder face again. Do you need to, like, talk it out? Or rumble?”

Dipper seriously considered it, but shook his head. “No, no, I’m good… just doing a little plotting of my own…”

 

xx

 

A ringing echoed through the enormous rooms, bouncing off the perfectly framed portraits and polished furniture, before resonating off the marble tile of the adjacent bathroom. There was a soft hissing, then a dry rustle of something moving, quickly and smoothly, across the floor.

There was a click, and the ringing was cut off.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Paz,” a voice said from the phone. “I need your help.”

 

xx

 

“Welcome to my humble abode!” William shouted as Dipper approached the house. Dipper just snorted, slowing and trotting up to him.

“That would have been a lot more impressive if you didn’t look like you were about to fall over,” he informed him, taking the enormous box the human was trying to carry into the house.

“And Antlers is talking to me again!” Will beamed, ignoring Dipper’s glare. “That one’s going right into the kitchen.”

“Which is where, exactly?” he asked, kicking the ajar door open with one foreleg. William squeezed past him and headed into the house, beckoning.

“Over this way.” He led him deeper, and it took a few turns before they finally reached the kitchen. Dipper took in the house as best he could.

“This place is a lot bigger than I thought it would be.”
“Yeah, but it’s a total fixer-upper, so I got it pretty cheap. Ah, right here.” William pulled the kitchen door open, letting the cervitaur carry the box in. “So, is it just you today, or…?” A note of hope crept into Will’s voice, and Dipper forced himself not to flick his ears.

“Mabel and Soos are on their way. They had to take the golf cart 'cuz of her tank, and I ran here.”

“Awww~! You ran all the way to see me?”

Dipper shook his head, dropping the box on the dusty counter. “Whatever you want to think, man.”

William chuckled, and suddenly, again, he was standing way too close. Dipper frowned down at him, but the man seemed undeterred. “You know, I-”

“We’re Here!” shrieked Mabel from outside. Dipper took that as his cue to sidestep, moving around William and heading back out of the kitchen. In his haste, he missed the way the human’s face fell for just a moment before he followed.

“We’re in here,” Dipper called back, trotting briskly back to the front door. Soos was helping Mabel get her tank off the back of the cart, and they both waved.

“Where’s William?”

“Right here!” Will popped out from behind Dipper, grinning. “Is that everyone?”

“Yup!”

“Great! Well, the boxes are all in that truck over there – they said they’d keep it rented out to me until I could get everything loaded in, so biggest thing is… getting them… all…” William trailed off, squinting down the road. “…is that a limo?”

Dipper smirked inwardly. With impeccable timing, the limo pulled up along the three of them and the big old house, slowing to a perfect stop. Mabel’s tail flipped, splashing water, but Soos was the only one close enough, and he hardly cared.

“Why… how did she…?” she murmured to herself, before realization struck. She looked over her shoulder at Dipper, who put on his most innocent, confused face, and shrugged.

“Why is there a limo at my house?”

“Oh, hey it’s Pacifica!”

Will looked at Soos, confused. “Who’s Pacifica?”

In perfect time, a doorman hopped out of the limo, stepping back and holding the door open. With all the grace of someone groomed since birth to make perfect entrances, Pacifica stepped out of her car.

Well… stepped was misleading. Pacifica slithered all twenty feet of snake body out of the limo.

“I hope I’m not late,” she said lightly, adjusting the shades that covered her paralyzing eyes. For a brief moment, she and Dipper caught each other’s gaze, and she gave him the very slightest of nods. Dipper returned it with a quick smile.

 

Their plan was a go.

Chapter Text

“So.” Pacifica slithered over to the three of them, coiling to a stop next to Mabel. Her gaze, behind her sunglasses, seemed to be set on Will. “I heard there was a new face in town. William Hunt, right?”

The twins’ jaws dropped simultaneously, before Mabel started laughing and Dipper slowly began to chuckle.

“Is your last name seriously Hunt?” Dipper asked incredulously, momentarily forgetting his ire. William sniffed.

“What? Can’t help the family you’re born into.”

“Of course you can’t,” Pacifica added, tone light. Dipper shot her a curious look, and she shook her head ever so slightly. “I heard you were moving in today, and I figured you’d hire some help for the job… it seems I was wrong. Good thing I brought my own.” She turned, waving one hand back at the limo. “Boys?”

In near military fashion, four large men ducked out of the car and walked briskly over, standing in a line just away from the group. She turned back to William and smiled charmingly, fangs glinting in the midday light. “So, shall we get you moved in?”

“Uhh…” Dipper had rarely seen William strapped for words since their first meeting, and he had to admit – it was satisfying to see how unnerved Paz was making him. She was an expert at being sweet enough to be undetectable, while being forceful enough to get what she wanted.

That was probably why she got along with the Coven so well.

“Great. Just tell them where you need boxes put, and we can all work on unpacking together?”

“Wait, wait, hold up – no one has explained what’s going on. Who is she?” Will gestured wildly to Pacifica, then glanced over at her again. “Also, what?”

Pacifica huffed irritably, her hair curling to peek over her shoulders at the hunter. “Pacifica Northwest,” she replied, sounding almost bored. “Daughter of the richest family in Oregon, heir to trillions, and,” and she paused to adjust her glasses, staring at Will pointedly, “a Gorgon. And you are William Hunt, sole heir of the Hunt fortune, and dark horse of the wealthy socialite world.” She inspected her fingernails. “As for why I’m here, my parents heard someone of appropriately rich bearings was moving into town, and sent me over with these four as a housewarming.” Dipper was impressed, both at the lie and the amount of disdain Pacifica was throwing down. Anyone who knew anything about the Northwests knew that four measly movers and a visit from their somewhat estranged daughter were slim pickings from a family of their wealth. It was nearly a slap in the face – a token that they recognized him, but that he was practically beneath their notice. It made him wonder what, exactly, Will’s background was like.

William, for his part, seemed undeterred. “Pacifica Northwest… yeah, that name sounds familiar. You were at that shindig at McPlatnumsworthy’s place, right?” He shrugged. “I’m not really great at the whole who’s who of that stuff. But hey!” He grinned. “Thanks for the welcome wagon!”

She returned the grin, light glinting off the venomed fangs. Dipper hid his little smirk as William finally showed a bit of discomfort. “You’re quite welcome,” she replied, voice dripping honey as much as her fangs could drip venom. “So!” She clapped her hands together, slightly forced enthusiasm in her voice. “Why don’t we get started. Wesley, Arthur, Franklin, Jones, bring in those boxes and place them where Mr. Hunt directs you.”

Everyone in the group (sans Pacifica, for being too rich, and Mabel, for reasons that ought to be obvious to anyone watching a mermaid roll around in a tank) grabbed a box and started unloading the truck.

“Wow!” Mabel gasped as Pacifica pulled her tank through the front door. “This place is crazy big!”

Paz looked around, grudging approval written on her features. “Sweeping staircases, polished wood… looks like old money.”

“It’s like the Rich Man’s Mystery Shack!” Soos added, carefully juggling a box in his slime arms.

“Eh, well, it only cost a couple hundred grand,” Will replied casually, sweeping in behind them. The Mystery Shack crew gaped at him, but Pacifica only nodded knowingly. “Alright, so those go in the kitchen, those are living room, and those… just put them anywhere, I’ll figure out where thing’s’ll go as we unpack!”

The crew split up, Mabel and Will directing people in and out from the front hall. Dipper brought in his box, dropping it off in some random room deeper into the house, and was unsurprised to see Pacifica in the doorway when he turned around.

“So,” he started, crossing his arms and sitting back slightly on his haunches. “What did you find?”

She grimaced in distaste. “Nothing you’re going to like,” she admitted.

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

“As I’m sure Stanley checked, his story about how he got here all checked out – he’s pretty well known as a prolific hunter, often disappears for days at a time on trips, vanished in the woods last week, then suddenly ended up here.”

He nodded. “Yeah, he told us that too. I buy all that – it’s just we know zip about him from before.”

“Yeah, that’s when it gets weird.” His ears tilted forward in interest. “All his papers exist; birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, you name it, he’s got it. What’s weird, though, is for such an… eccentric, personality, there’s a suspicious lack of any actual records. Nothing in news, media sites, doctors’ records, nothing. That is, until about 8 years ago.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a packet of papers, handing them to Dipper. “Take a look at this.”

He took the packet. The cover was a news site printout, headline - “Amnesiac Hunt Heir makes Full Recovery?”

Pacifica nodded, gesturing for him to continue reading. He did. The news article was extensive, discussing the disappearance of the young, hermeted Hunt and his subsequent reappearance and hospitalization, nine years ago. Something didn’t sit well with him, though… “…It doesn’t sound like he really disappeared at all…” he started slowly. “There’s not much about how he disappeared, just his return and recovery. It’s like he only appeared.”
“Good, you noticed too. Keep reading.”

The next page, bits and pieces, small headlines about the declining health of Hunt Senior, ending with “Hunt Senior Passes Away; William Hunt Inherits Fortune.”

From there, the next few pages were scraps, clippings, paparazzi pieces about the reclusive young heir, how he hardly touched the wealth he had been given. Instead, he spent most of his time picking up new hobbies, mastering them, then growing bored, pursuing one after another with alarming speed. That kind of curiosity, that level of obsession,

only supported what Dipper had started to suspect.

“You’re thinking it too, aren’t you.” He looked back up at Pacifica, who looked, to the untrained eye, worried… but Dipper knew that set of her lip. It hadn’t been a question.

“Yeah…” he replied, shuffling the papers together and handing them back. “It all sounds like changeling work. Fae, or faeborn, switches out with a rich human child… or in this case, brainwashes an elderly millionaire, looks like… starts taking resources, then eventually…” He trailed off. They both knew what could happen next. Pacifica’s lip curled, baring her fangs.

“He won’t have her,” she hissed, her hair hissing in agreement. “And to be honest, I don’t think he’s only after her, either.”

That caught him off guard, one ear flopping as he tilted his head. “…what?”

“Have you seen how he looks at you? Dipper, he might spend all his time talking to Mabel, but I’ve only seen him for five minutes, and I’m telling you, the way he looks at you is positively predatory.”

He hadn’t noticed.

“Look, twins often have a lot of potency in magic, right? Maybe he’s hoping, if he can get Mabel, he can get you too.”

The thought sunk in, and anger bubbled up from the pit of his stomach at the thought, his fur pricking in terror. No one was going to use Mabel as a bargaining chip. Not for him.

He wasn’t worth it.

Without another word, he started for the door. “Hold up!” A scaly tail blockaded his path. “Down, Dipper.”

“Paz, we have to stop him now!” he insisted, snorting angrily and stomping his fore-hoof. She coiled a little, but stood her ground.

“Look, I know you want to protect Mabel. You’re the best brother she could have, and that’s a good instinct!” She was pleased to note her words had the intended effect – Dipper was puffed more in pride than in rage now, and that angry fire in his eyes had diminished somewhat. “But! We only have a theory – we need to prove it first, before we go around punching people.” He had hardly opened his mouth when she continued. “The movers I brought know not to leave them alone – between them and us, we can keep an eye on him.

“And Soos,” Dipper added, realization hitting him. “Shit, I forgot to tell Soos!”

“Well, we can clue him in along the way.” She lowered her tail slightly, but kept it between Dipper and the door. “We’re good?”

He took a deep breath, focusing on being calm. He nodded. “Yeah.”

“No punching Will until we figure out what he’s up to?”

Dipper snorted at that. “No promises. I promise not to punch him for this until we’re sure that’s what’s up, though.” Pacifica must have rolled her eyes behind her exasperated noise.

“Boys… Well, I suppose that’s the best I’m going to get.” She lowered her tail. “So, gameplan – keep him and Mabel from talking alone. If we can, separate Will and run the usual fae tests. If not, just survive unpacking and we’ll powwow later.”

“Right.” The two of them left the room and headed back to the foyer. “You’re really great, you know that Paz? I’m glad Mabel has you.”

Paz smiled gently, her hair weaving itself together in modest embarrassment. “Thanks, Dipper. I’m glad she has you too.”

xx

 

“I don’t think she likes me,” William said, watching the group head out with their boxes. Dipper, he noticed with some distaste, had gone the same direction as the snake girl. He was really hoping he wasn’t in for some competition, because if it came down to it, he’d take her on.

He just wasn’t sure he would win against someone who could turn him to stone.

“Yeah, that was all really weird…” Mabel mused, lounging in her tank. “I haven’t seen her like that since… huh, since I can’t even remember…” she paused, thinking. “I mean, she used to be pretty mean, like, hardcore teasing and stuff, but then Dipper helped her out with that ghost problem, and there was the golfing incident, and -”

“Wait, ghost problem?” William thought back to Dipper’s comment about ghosts. “What happened with the ghost problem?”

“Oh, just the usual mystery crew stuff. It was when we were a lot younger, though, so it was crazier. We weren’t all used to it.” She smiled slightly, nostalgic. “Well, Dipper was, but he took to the supernatural a lot faster than most people. I think he kind of liked all the attention he got for it, too.”

Oh, this was just getting worse and worse. “What kind of attention? What was the ghost problem?”

“The Northwest Mansion was haunted, and they were throwing this huge party and needed it not to be. Her parents called Dipper in, there were shenanigans, I was actually flirting with a bunch of people at the time and wasn’t there for a lot of it, bladah-blahdah, long story short, Pacifica saved everybody with a little help from Dipper. Since then, they were on better terms, and now they’re pretty close friends.” She beamed in the direction they had gone in. “It’s nice, you know?”

“Yeah… nice…” He scrunched his face thoughtfully, then turned, jumping when he realized one of Pacifica’s henchmen was standing not all that far away. “Yikes, how long have you been there, muscles?”

“…” The man didn’t reply, looking rather uncomfortable about having been engaged in conversation. William just sighed. “Okay, just… grab a box I guess? Aren’t you supposed to be helping out?”

“Aww Will, don’t be mean! Arthur was just waiting to ask something.” The mermaid turned in her tank, winking at the mover. “Right, Arthur?”

The man relaxed slightly. “Thank you, Miss Mabel. Sir Hunt, is there any particular room in which you would like this placed?” He tapped a large box, sitting beside him on the floor.

“Meh, that looks like furniture. Pick one of the first floor rooms that isn’t the kitchen and drop it there.” The man, Arthur, William guessed, nodded, picking up the box with terrifying ease, and heading off. “And that stands true of any unmarked box!” Will called after him. He turned back to ask Mabel a question, and jumped when he realized another mover was standing next to her. “Geeze, did you guys train as ninjas or something?”

“Hey Wesley, did you hear what William said?”

“Yes, Miss Mabel. Sir William, would you like me to do the same?”

Ugh, that Sir William crap was freaking him out. He shrugged, tossing his hands up exasperatedly. “Yeah, sure. That works.”

That was odd, though… two of the snake’s henchmen had already come back, and yet, she and Dipper had still not returned…

William was not happy with the situation.

Soos rolled up to the two of them, stretching himself back out into a human shape as he reached them. “Hey doods, I just dropped that one off. You know, there’s a really weird -”

“Did you see Dipper on your way back?”

“Uh…” Soos shared a look with Mabel, who shrugged. He shook his head. “No, man, he and Paz went off down one of the side hallways. But -”

“Keep getting boxes, I’ll be right back.” Without further ado, he stormed off in the direction Pacifica and Dipper had taken earlier. The two watched as he left.

“So, what was up with that, eh?” Soos finally asked. Mabel thought a moment, then shook her head.

“I dunno. I don’t think he and Pacifica are gonna get along all that well,” she said sadly. “I mean, I get my girlfriend won’t get along with all my friends, but I hoped she’d get along with Will.” She wiggled in her tank, as if shaking off the thought, before turning back to him. “What were you saying?”

“Right! Yeah, there’s this cool secret room, back in one of the like nice rooms, with the cool tile floor!”

“Wha? No way!”

“Yeah!”

“I wanna see it!” Mabel splashed excitedly in her tank. “Lead on, Soosmeister!”

The two of them headed further into the house, leaving the foyer deserted. After a moment, Franklin walked back in, glancing around. He paused in the empty center.

“…Miss Northwest is going to be very displeased with us…”

Chapter Text

“…do you remember the way back to the front hall?”

Pacifica glanced around the hallway. “We came from this way, but this doesn’t look right…”

“We definitely went the right way out of the room,” Dipper said aloud, mentally retracing their steps. “The door was on the right, so when we left we took a left, the hallway turned right, then we should have seen the door to the main hall on the… left…” He looked over at Pacifica. “Right?”

“Dipper, that sentence just gave me a headache.”

“Right, right…” Dipper murmured. “Sorry.” He poked his head around yet another corner, and groaned in frustration when only more hallway greeted him. “I could have sworn it hadn’t been this far in.”

“It wasn’t. It definitely wasn’t.” She slithered up beside him and viewed their two prospects with annoyance. “Dipper, we might want to split up.”

“What?”

“Look, right now we aren’t making any headway. We’ve got to be close by now. If we split up on this hallway, one of us is probably going to end up in the foyer.” Her lips twisted, as if she had smelled something foul. “As much as I hate to say this, whoever ends up in the front hall can get William. It’s his house, he should know it a little better than us.”

“I don’t know how much better – as far as I know, he’s only been here a couple hours longer than we have.” Dipper scratched on ear in thought, looking down the hallways. “That looks like our best plan, though. Which way do you want to go?”

Silence.

“…Pacifica?” He turned to look at her, only to see the empty stretch of hallway ahead. His face screwed up a little in confusion and irritation. It wasn’t like her to up and go ahead like that… but it had been her plan. And it wouldn’t have been the first time.

“Alright.” He turned and started down his own hallway, the clicking of his hooves on the wood drowning out the faint sound of someone knocking in the walls behind him…

xx

So, William admitted, he hadn’t actually seen the place in person before buying it. He hadn’t really cared that much. There were other things higher on his priority list, like learning all about Dipper from his sister, teasing him, learning about the supernatural air that permeated the entire town… despite having only explored the shack and the nearby woods. He’d have to make sure he got into town, sometime.

Anyways, point was, he hadn’t actually walked through the place before. Sure, he did a quick walk-around when he had gotten here this morning, just to make sure he knew where, like, the kitchen and the bathroom was and junk. But time had flown in that big house, and before he knew it, it was afternoon and the Mystery Shack crew had been on his new doorstep. And he still hadn’t seen all the house, but he had seen most of it, right?

Wrong, apparently. He came to yet another split in the hallways, pausing to consider his options – straight ahead or to the right?

There was no way Dipper and the Northwest chick had gone this deep into the house… they hadn’t been gone that long, but he hadn’t spotted them in any of the rooms he had passed. They could be hiding… but he discarded that idea quickly. How did someone hide a 20-foot snake girl and a dork with a deer-butt?

He made the decision, turning to the right and walking briskly along. The hallway was honestly longer than he had expected, and not well lit.

He poked his head into one of the rooms along the way, reaching out along the wall for a lightswitch. When he found nothing, he just sighed irritably, moving on. It hadn’t been super late in the afternoon, he mused to himself. And on his first round of the house, it seemed like there were plenty of windows around the house. So why was it getting so dark all of a sudden?

A sound echoed at the end of the hallway. He perked up. Finally, he must have found the cervitaur and his… snakey friend. He’d have to find a way to have a word with her, one-on-one.

There! There was a light, coming from one of the doors just a little further on. He picked up the pace, near jogging to the door in question, opening it with a “There you two… are?”

One of the movers (Frank? Michael? He couldn’t recall) blinked back at him, lowering the box he was carrying. “Sorry, Sir Hunt,” he said in the clipped tones of servitude. “I don’t think I am who you were expecting.”

“Uh… no. No you were not…” He glanced around the hallway, and an idea struck him. He stepped fully into the room. “Say, you wouldn’t mind answering a question or two for me, would you?”

xx

“Soos, this is so cool!” Mabel gushed, looping in her tank as she took in the dusty old room. “Do you think Will knows it’s here?”

“Doesn’t look like,” Soos replied, poking at a dusty desk. “Nobody’s been in here for a real long time!” The room in question had been hidden behind a wooden panel, similarly to Stanford’s old bedroom in the Mystery Shack. There was a single light, a heavily cobwebbed electric chandelier, that hung in the middle of the room and flickered every now and then, casting the room in a dull orangey light. The room had clearly been a study of some kind, with two desks, papers stacked on each, and a variety of curious nicknacks, all covered in a heavy blanket of dust.

“Yeah… reminds me of the first time we checked out the bunker.” The two of them fell silent, just looking around. “Hey, Soos?”

“Yeah hambone?”

“I just realized we can’t really touch things and investigate…”

Soos, midreach for a scrap of paper on a table, froze. “Uhh… why not?”

“Well, I’m covered in water and you’re made of slime,” she replied. “And we have no idea how old this stuff is, it could just crumble to dust on its own. Dipper would kick our butts if we accidentally messed it up.”

“Naw, it’s not that old! Look!” He picked up the piece of paper, focusing as hard as he could on keeping his hand in shape. He turned, holding it up for Mabel to see and grinning. “See? Hardly a smudge!”

Mabel applauded. “Wow, Soos! I didn’t realize you’d been practicing your control so much!”

“Heheh, yeah, it gets kind of annoying when you’re trying to do something and your shape just goes Poomf!” He waved a hand for emphasis, and the hand holding the paper liquified a little. “Whoops!” He got it back under control, smiling. “See? No problem.”

Mabel giggled. “Alright, but I still can’t touch anything. And Dipper would still have a fit if we – Soos!” The paper dissolved in the slimeman’s hand, leaving him staring in shock at where the paper had been. “Soos, Dipper is gonna… Soos?”

“Uhh…” The repair man looked at the mermaid, then at the desk, where more papers were strewn about. “Mabel, do you think a hidden, abandoned room with a bunch of papers with arcane symbols and “I will have my revenge” written on them is haunt-worthy?”

“Um… yes.”

“Then we have a problem.”

xx

“So Artie -”

“Arthur, sir.”

“Whatever. You’re telling me that Pacifica and Mabel are dating?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“And you’re sure of this?”

The servant sniffed, just mildly enough to not be rude, but loudly enough for indignation. “Certainly. It has been a longstanding matter of contention between the Miss and her parents.” He paused. “Also, the snake thing.”

William grinned. That was all he needed to know. “Great! Let’s get back to unloading then, shall we?”

“Indeed. Although, I did have one question, if Sir would permit?”

“Yeah, sure, shoot.”

The servant gently tapped the box he had placed down with his foot. “This box is marked ‘Trophies’ – considering your line of work, I’d imagine they are the mounted sort. Would you like some assistance in getting them placed, Sir?”

William frowned, striding over to stand next to the box. “Let’s see which one it is…” He pulled a box-opener from his back pocket, easilly slicing open the tape, and opened the box “And behind curtain number one is…”

A deer head stared back at him. A deer head and a pile of antlers.

Arthur looked into the box over Will’s shoulder. “A fine collection, sir.”

Will didn’t respond, just picking up one of the antlers and running his hand over it. He hadn’t thought about this… he had tons of boxes, just like these, filled with his hunting trophies… specifically, his favorite kind of game, deer.

If Dipper got into one of those boxes…

Will let the box fall closed, standing abruptly and turning to Arthur. “Look, you and the other guys, if you run into them – get any boxes marked “trophies” and put them in here. And whatever you do, don’t let Dipper see them!” He turned and raced out of the room, ignoring whatever question the Northwest’s servant called at his back.

He needed to talk to Mabel.

Xx

Dipper groaned, leaning against a wall. This couldn’t be right, he had passed that wall light maybe five minutes ago already. He knew the house was big, but this was getting ridiculous.

And was it just him, or was the light getting darker? He was starting to suspect something was off about this house… Maybe a side effect of William’s presence there?

The light flickered next to him, startling him into standing. “Or maybe something else,” he murmured, combing his mind for ideas. Old house, abnormal hallways, flickering lights, and…

Oh… Oh no…

He turned, picked a hallway, running down it. “I need to find Mabel!”

xx

Deep inside the house, between the walls, lay a long, serpentine body. It’s hair, made of many long, yellow snakes, twisted anxiously in sleep, but otherwise it lay still.

Through the pipes and the wiring, a voice whispered…

i am awake…

Chapter Text

The hallways were definitely acting strange. Will might not have explored earlier, but he had a good sense of direction. He had to – he was a hunter. So, the hallway he was standing in right now? It made no sense. He should have been somewhere by now – the kitchen, front hall, somewhere... but all there was now was unending hallways. At some point, he'd stopped even seeing doors. That had been alarming enough. What was even worse, though, was the fact that the light was steadily dimming as he moved along. If he didn't find someone soon, he was going to be alone in pitch darkness.

He couldn't help but be a little excited though. What was happening was clearly supernatural, or else a very elaborate prank. But from what he'd seen the past few days, he'd bet his soul on the former.

And what a couple of days it had been! Dipper had been a little nicer since their encounter with the Multibear, actually giving the hunter a heads up before he introduced him to the supernatural inhabitants of the falls. So far, he'd only met what Dipper had called “Friendlies,” creatures who were generally fond of Gravity Falls folks, so long as no one overstepped their bounds. There was the Multibear, the Hand Witch and her boyfriend, a handful of faeries and a large pack of eerily buff bullmen that called themselves Manotaurs. The trip to meet them had certainly been entertaining. Dipper had given him a crash course about Manotaur culture, and the two had abandoned their shirts before making the final climb to the Manotaur hideout.

Will had certainly not complained about that. The view had been... exceptional. The years the cervitaur had spent running around the forest and dealing with supernatural creatures certainly showed in the muscles of his back and torso. Will had done his best not to salivate.

It was also the first time he'd seen Dipper in a real fight. The boy had warned him on the way that Manotaurs could sometimes be a little... sensitive, about any number of things. “Kinda like you, huh?” Will teased, earning a withering glare from the cervitaur. Sure enough, however, a few hours into their visit, some sort of argument sparked up between Dipper and the Manotaurs. It quickly devolved into an all-out brawl. Dipper had kicked several of them to the curb when they started ganging up on him.

The two mystery hunters were forced to beat a hasty retreat, with a pack of angry testosterone-riddled muscle-heads on their tail. Dipper was hardly breaking a sweat when they finally abandoned the chase. Will was less fortunate, flopping down on a fallen log to catch his breath.

“What... did... you say?” he gasped, lungs aching. Dipper shrugged, trotting over to him.

“The truth. He said he could take me in a fight.” Dipper smirked mischievously. “Turns out he couldn't.”

And Will just laughed in response.

He was learning a lot about the actual town of Gravity Falls from Mabel, too. Since she was one of the heads of amulet creation, she had to be very in the know about town events and its inhabitants. He had asked her about the amulets one day after their visit to the Hand Witch.

“Heya, Scales!” he greeted, sliding behind the register to sit next to her tank. “Got a question for you!”

She glanced up from money counting. “One sec, Will. ...twenty-nine, thirty!” She grabbed a whiteboard marker and jotted a number down, before shouting past Will - “Grunkle Stan! Reg is counted!” There was a loud grunt of affirmation from the back room of the shop, and she shut the drawer with a 'ding!' “There.” She turned back to Will, smiling. “What's up? More nicknames to run by me?”

“Ah, no,” he said, rubbing his newly healed eye subconsciously. “Think I'll give that a rest, for a day or so.”

She clicked her tongue. “Told you Buckbrain was a no-go.”

“Yeah, yeah... but, I wanted to ask – Hand Witch said to tell you the next batch of amulets is ready? I asked Dipper what they were for, but he just said to ask you.” He steepled his fingers, adopting a mock-serious expression. “Also, is there any limit to just how cool you twins are? Paranormal critters, mystery solving, magic, and now mystical amulets?” He wiggled his fingers in a parody of 'magic.' “I'm learning something new about you two every day!”

Mabel giggled, splashing him a bit with her tailfin. “Nope, no limit, we're just that cool. Well,” she added, raising her voice some as Dipper walked past, “Dip-dop's a huge nerd, but our coolness is still off the charts!”

Dipper just rolled his eyes and walked off, stomping his hooves as he went.

“How come he doesn't snap at you?” Will whined once he was gone.

“He's used to me. Give it time, Will, he'll warm up to you eventually.” She stretched her tail, splashing him again. “Now, amulets! Listen up, you're about to hear it from an expert... me!” She posed, grinning, and he chuckled.

“Alright, so what exactly are these amulets for? They sounded important.”

Mabel nodded. “Has Dipper told you about the Fluventis yet?”

Will shook his head. “That's Latin for river, right?”

Mabel frowned. “Well, yeah... Here it's something specific. Basic info, the Fluventis is how we all became magical creatures and junk. Dipper will have to tell you more, he... he saw more of it. I was actually in town when it happened.” She smiled, a touch bitterly. “If I hadn't been, maybe the whole thing could have been different...”

“So you were in town when you became a mermaid?”

“Yup!”

“...what was it like?” Will knew they were getting somewhat sidetracked, but he couldn't help his own curiosity. It was fascinating to think that the people he was getting to know here in the Falls had all been human once. Granted, he'd only met the Mystery Shack crew, but he was excited to go into town after he'd moved in officially.

Mabel pursed her lips and scrunched her nose, thinking. “It was like, being stretched,” she finally said slowly. “Like it should have hurt, but it was too fast or too magical to really be painful.” She shook her head. “Really, it was just weird. But, back to my story. I was downtown, there was this big thing going on, so most of the residents were there, so most of town are, quote, 'Monster People”' she said, adding the finger-quotes. “And that's a problem. See, we're primarily a tourist town. We've got some lumber, some minor exports, but people come here for our scenic views and to spend money on our small town hospitality. And that's fine up here at the Shack – you've seen our costumes, our forms work with our gimmick and we can function fine as a mermaid, or gargoyle, or cervitaur. In town tho? That doesn't fly.”

“But I thought you guys erased people's memories of the supernatural – that solves the problem, right?”

“Unfortunately, no, for two reasons. One, we only have one memory gun, safely in the hands of the only person we trust it with. Two, the memory gun is very complex, and can erase very specific things, which is great! We don't want to ruin anyone's life by erasing all their memories of it by accident. But it's double-edged. If someone came to Gravity Falls and saw, say... Lazy Susan, at the diner, she's a cat-monster-thing... point is, they'd be terrified, and act accordingly. So then we erase the memory of the supernatural thing, ie., Susan. But, they can still remember how they acted in response to it.” She put her hands up, as if framing a screen. “You'd be surprised how reviews like “Suddenly felt like screaming in terror, can't remember why,”drive tourists away.”

William nodded slowly, processing this new information. “So then, the amulets make you... look human?”

“Kinda!” She paused, biting her lip thoughtfully. “It's kinda hard to explain in full detail without giving you an hours long crash course on magic.” Will's eye lit up in excitement, so she added hurriedly “Which I will give you at another time. But yes, it basically makes us human for a short period of time.”

“Why don't any of you have one then?” he asked curiously. “I mean, you seem to love being a mermaid, but wouldn't it be easier for you to switch back and forth? And Soos, I mean...” He shook his head. “He's a good repair-guy, considering the shack is still standing, but he drops a lot of tools when he's distracted from his form.”

“It's... not that easy, Will. See, those amulets take practically three months to make, and the process is super invasive – each amulet needs to be specifically tailored to its wearer, or disaster could occur.” She shuddered. “One of our friends, Thompson, got dared to put on someone elses' amulet. It took us days to clean him up.”

There was a pause in the conversation, and Will broke it, delicately clearing his throat. “Was... was he okay?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah!” She laughed. “Sorry, that sounded a lot more ominous than it should have. He's fine, just... had some unfortunate body experiences.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Yep. So, that takes a long time, just to gather info. Then there's actually making the amulets, then there's enchanting them... we can only make a few at a time, and there are others who need them a lot more than we do.” She waved a hand in a so-so motion. “Like, sure! It would be easier if I wasn't stuck in tanks and lakes and tubs, but we can make it work. People in town, can't.” She folded her arms back on the side of her tank. “So yeah, we don't have amulets. I'd... like one, eventually.” She shrugged. “I mean... we kinda hoped this whole thing would be more temporary, and when it wasn't, we adapted, but...” Will watched as her eyes took on a glazed, faraway look. When she spoke again, her voice was softer than he had ever heard it before. “It would be nice to have legs again...”

Will sat silently, unsure of what to say, when another question crossed his mind. “How long have you guys been like this, anyways?”

She blinked a few times, pulled from whatever train of thought she'd been pursuing. “Uh... nearly ten?” She squinted thoughtfully. “No, just over ten, this summer. Haha, wow.” She chuckled. “Time flies, huh?”

“That is...” He couldn't comprehend being stuck in a series of tanks for ten years. “That's rough, Mabel.”

She rolled her eyes, huffing. “Ugh, Will, don't get sad on me now,” she teased. “It's not so bad. In the summer I usually stay in the lake. Oooh!” She straightened up, spilling even more water over the edge of her tank. “Has Dipper shown you the lake yet? It is sooooo pretty!”

He had been focusing on not thinking about any lakes, but her divergence to the topic brought on the intrusive thoughts, the water closing over his head, tumbling him effortlessly, seeping into his lungs -

“Nope,” he got out, cutting the thoughts short and giving her a small smile, more for himself than for her. “He hasn't. Lakes aren't really my thing, though, so...”

“Awww,” Mabel sunk back in her tank. “Not much of a swimmer, huh?”

“No.” He forcefully ignored the wriggling fear in his gut. “Not particularly.”

Fortunately, Dipper had called him into the other room at that point. The mermaid waved him off, wishing him luck with his flirtatious scheme as he left.

And that scheme had been going... alright, he supposed. It had only been a few days, but the hunter had been hoping for more progress than he had gained. He'd been balancing the line between friendly and flirtatious, testing the waters before he dived right in, but the deer-boy seemed to have no grasp on the idea that someone might flirt with him; anytime Will did, it was more often than not taken as an insult.

But he was sharply pulled out of his reminiscing by a cry. Shaking himself, he realized the hall was now nearly dark, with just a faint glow illuminating the far end of the hallway. That was where the call was coming from, as well.

“Mabel? Soos! Pacifica?”

Well, speak of the horned one. Will picked up the pace, pleased to find that the hallway was finally getting lighter as he moved forward. The hallway took a sharp turn up ahead, and he took it quickly.

“Wi-Oof!” The cervitaur stumbled a few steps back as the hunter ran straight into him. The human simply bounced off him, falling onto his ass.

“Dipper!” he exclaimed, getting back to his feet. The cervitaur looked less than happy to see him, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the human.

“William. What's going on?”

“You tell me,” he replied, dusting himself off. “Hallways that lead to pretty much nowhere, lights going out, missing rooms...” he grinned at the deerman. “Sounds like something for the professional mystery hunter, eh?”

Dipper glared at him for a long moment, before reaching into his shirt pocket for something. “Here,” he snapped, tossing something at him. “Catch.”

William almost fumbled the object, and it bounced of his hands once, twice, before his fingers finally closed around it. Whatever it was, it wasn't much bigger than a quarter. He pinched it between his fingers and squinted at it in confusion.

“...a ruined bullet?” he guessed, looking over at the cervitaur, only to find him staring fixedly at the hunter. Whatever response he seemed to be waiting for never showed, though, and Dipper sighed, relaxing slightly.

“It's cold iron,” he explained, reaching a hand out. William quirked an eyebrow, but handed the lump of metal back wordlessly. “I had a suspicion about you, and that was a test, and you passed so it's...” he coughed, face flushing somewhat, and Will realized with a little thrill that the poor kid was embarrassed. “So yeah, don't worry about it.”

“Cold iron...” Will mused, unwilling to let something that flustered the deer boy drop. “That's what fae are weak against, right? Celtic faeries?” A grin started working its way across his face. “Aren't they known for being extremely attractive and luring young men and women into the wilds?” he teased.

Dipper's face reddened a little more. “Yeah...” he coughed again awkwardly. “I just... Look,” he started again, firmly. “Your house is probably haunted. Let's focus on that.”

“Oh, by all means,” Will replied, grin in full force. “But I'm sure we'll have time to discuss the fact you thought I was fae later.”

Dipper buried his face into his palms, groaning. “Fine, yes, whatever. But your house,” he pointed accusingly at the hunter, “is haunted. Probably a category 6 or 7, based on what it's been doing so far.” He dropped his hand. “We need to find the others, right away. Especially Mabel.”

“What's the rush?” He gestured to the hallway around them. “All it's been doing is rearranging the hallways, which is annoying, but...”

“Ugh, I wish I had my journal,” Dipper grumbled, only just loudly enough that Will barely caught it. Louder, he said, “This kind of activity is just the beginning. Slow build patterns. Whatever's here has been dormant for awhile, and was probably triggered into awakening when you got here. The more activity inside the house, the more active it'll become. So, if we can get everyone out of here before it becomes actively hostile, we can get some holy water and exorcise it.” He paused, thinking, then scrunched his face in annoyance and snorted. Will bit back a laugh at the very deer-like action. One of Dipper's forehoofs pawed at the ground nervously. “Look,” and the flush was back, “Paz and I were together earlier, and I looked the other way and she vanished. I thought she went on ahead at the time, but the longer I'm here...” his hooves shuffled against the wooden floor, “the more I think the ghost probably had something to do with it. We need to find them all, but we also need to make sure we don't get separated, so...” he trailed off, looking irritated, then abruptly held out one hand. Will stared at it, then at the cervitaur, then back at the hand. A light went off in his head, and his grin nearly split his face as he grabbed the brunette's hand.

“Sure! Safety in numbers, right?” he cheered, nudging the cervitaur's side with his elbow. The cervitaur just took a deep breath, one William recognized as an “anger management” sigh. He reined it in a little. “So...” He gestured to the hallway – the way he had come from and the way Dipper had been coming from were their only options. “Which way, ten-point?”

Dipper opened his mouth, either to answer or yell at him for the nickname, but neither came. Instead, a shout of alarm burst forth, both from him and the hunter, as the floor below them cracked open suddenly like a gaping maw, swallowing them both before returning silently to solid floor.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Soos helped Mabel roll her tank down the hallway, following her directions as she navigated them back to the front hall. It didn't take her long to get there... in fact, Mabel would have sworn it had taken longer to get to the study than it took to get back.

“Miss Pines!” The movers were standing around the front hall, looking more than a little confused. One spotted them as soon as they came in, and rushed over.

“Have any of you guys seen the others?” she demanded, Soos pulling her tank to a stop as the mover ran up. He shook his head.

“Arthur is the last one who saw Will,” he told them. “And none of us have seen Miss Northwest or Mr. Pines since they left the front hall.” He gestured helplessly to the hallways. “We attempted to locate them, but all the hallways just lead back here.”

“Have you tried getting outta here?” Soos asked.

The man shook his head, looking concerned. “We tried the front door – it's locked, and the windows are all stuck. Wesley tried to knock the door down, but whatever's trapped us here...” he gulped. “It's got us good.”

Mabel bit her lip, thinking hard. Something powerful enough to physically lock them into the house was not good... but it hadn't, to her knowledge, hurt anyone yet.

“We need to find everyone,” she said firmly. “And we need to find out what it wants.”

“Oh, that's easy!”

Everyone's head turned at the new voice, light and sweet, with that awful hint of echo that classically signifies a ghostly voice. Saccharine, childish giggling reverberated through the hall, and the chandelier dimmed, forcing them to notice the glow at the top of the stairs. It emanated from a young girl, no older than ten, with long braided black hair and a simple night gown.

She lifted a hand to her mouth, giggling again at their expressions, before extending it to them. She smiled.

“I just wanna play!”

 

xx

 

Paz groaned, nausea overwhelming her as she came to her senses. The sound echoed back to her, and she blinked her eyes open to see...

Nothing.

Panic gripped her, and she struggled to sit up quickly. Her forehead collided with something cold and metallic. She recoiled, hissing in pain. Reaching one hand out, with more care this time, she felt a smooth metal surface. Her palm closed around it – it was long and cylindrical, running overhead.

“A pipe?” she murmured. Carefully, she began to uncoil, stretching herself into the narrow confines of her prison. As she did so, her eyes began to adjust as well, and hundreds of tiny tongues flicked from the mouths of her hair, tasting the air around her. She could see little lines of light, very faint, but clearly marked, along the wall, like wooden paneling. The air tasted dusty and stale.

Something skittered across her tail, and she convulsed in disgust. “Eugh!” The snake girl tried to right herself, only to be stopped by the pipe again. She settled instead for simply rolling over.

“Alright, narrow space, piping, dust, light from the walls... someone's shoved me into a crawlspace or water closet...” she murmured to herself, carefully slithering forward. When she didn't meet any obstacles, she nodded. “Wall then. Okay... how did I get here? I was walking with Dipper, then...”

Then the wall was opening. Then the pale, ghostly hand that had silenced her scream. Then the pretty, childish voice whispering, “It's okay Miss Snake. I won't let Daddy see you.”

She shuddered as she recalled. Ghosts. She hated ghosts.

Pacifica started to slither through the walls, using the taste of the air and the faint light to navigate. If she could get out, she could warn the others.

Mabel... she hoped the twins were okay, and her employees. Will... well, probably Will, too. She hadn't proved anything yet, even if she didn't really like him.

“Alright,” she muttered to herself, tasting fresh air mingling with dust and decay. “Time to get out of here.”

 

xx

 

“...whoever you are, you have five seconds to get off my back.”

“...Dipper?”

“Will.”

The hunter's nervous chuckle echoed in the small space. “Well, I would get off your back, but, uh... there's no room.” He paused, listening for the anger management sigh. When it came he quickly tacked on, “Please don't murder me.”

“I... ugh. I won't murder you, Will.” The hunter heard a clunk as, presumably, Dipper's antlers bounced against another pipe. “Fff... Ugh. When we get out of this, I'm dousing your whole house in holy water and salt, and suing your real estate agent.”

“You and me both.”

 

xx

 

Everyone stood, transfixed, eyes locked on the ghost girl as she skipped down the stairs, still laughing. “It'll be so much fun!” she gushed. “We can play dolls, and house, and you!” She pointed one ghostly finger at Mabel. “You're my favorite! I'm so excited to play with your hair!” She paused, tilting her head slightly to the side. “...we'll have to dry it out first.”

Slowly, Mabel forced herself to relax. This... was not what she had been expecting. A room full of adult, business-like things with a letter swearing revenge did not add up to the ghost of a little girl.

Maybe she wasn't alone?

She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned her head slightly. Soos was gesturing to her, indicating the four movers, all standing as if paralyzed. One in particular was white as a sheet.

“Hambone, what's the plan?” he whispered, perhaps too loudly. The ghost didn't seem to notice, or care.

Mabel smoothed her ruffled fins, giving Soos a small nod. She turned back to the girl, putting on the nicest grin she could manage. “Playing, huh? That sounds like it could be fun!” There was a thump off towards the movers – she imagined one had fainted, maybe. It wouldn't have been surprising. “But, what's a little girl like you doing here, all by yourself in a big house like this?”

The little girl giggled again, standing at the bottom of the stairs. “I'm not alone, silly Fish-lady,” she replied. “You all are here!” She grinned widely. “It's been so long since I've had anyone to play with! It'll be so exciting, so many new toys!”

Ah, that was creepy. “You mean us?”

The girl nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah! I mean, sometimes I get toys like Mr. Raccoon and Mrs. Groundhog, but they don't stay really long...” She frowned, for the first time Mabel had seen her. “They don't want to play a lot, though. So I have to put them away.” She brightened up again. “Daddy always says to put your toys away when they're done! That's what good girls do, and mommy said if I was a good girl, Daddy would come back.”

Despite herself, and despite the situation, Mabel's heart lurched at that. She didn't know what had happened, who had owned this house before or why such a young child was haunting it... but it couldn't have been pretty. She vowed to clean this up as nicely as possible.

“Where are your other toys?” the mermaid asked, forcing sweetness into her voice. “I mean, its more fun to play with more toys, right?”

The girl shrugged. “I was playing with Mr. Deer and Mr. Pirate, but I got bored. They were just kind of running around, and then talking a bunch, so I put them away.” She smiled again, glowing brighter and floating towards Mabel a little more. “But you were exciting and pretty! So I decided to play with you instead!”

Mabel giggled a little at Will's new nickname, but reigned it in quickly. That was two accounted for, but... “What about... uh, Miss Snake?”

The girl's expression changed to one of worry. “Oh! Oh, don't say that too loud! Daddy doesn't like snakes, and if he came home and knew that I had one...” One of the girl's hands began fiddling with her braid. “He'd be so mad...”

“How long has your Dad been gone?” She needed to get information, get Will and Dipper and Paz out of whatever trap they were in, if she could, and get them all out of here. Without a journal or helpful legend, she'd have to get it all from the horse's mouth itself. “You know what? Why don't you tell me about yourself?” Another idea struck her, and she gasped dramatically, clasping her hands together. “Oooh, you know what? I had an even better idea!”

Her excitement was contagious, and the ghost girl perked up even more, eyes sparkling. “What? What is it?”

“Why don't we have a story-time? You know, you can tell us all about yourself, and the games you want to play, and that way we'll have even more fun when we do play!”

The little girl looked confused, but excited nonetheless. “Oh, alright!”

Mabel smiled, but it was only skin deep. The next part was the gamble. Her smile fell. “But... it isn't much fun to just have a few people listen, right?” she prodded. “Wouldn't it be better if all your toys were here?”

The mermaid probably should have felt a lot worse about how manipulative she was being, but right now, her friend's lives could be on the line. She got a feeling this girl wouldn't let them go after a little 'Playtime'... and Dipper had made her watch enough ghost movie marathons to know that this girl's playtime would probably last the rest of their natural lives... if they were lucky.

The ghost girl clapped, laughing. “Wow, you're so smart!” she marveled. In Mabel's peripheral, she saw Soos give her a thumbs up. “Yeah, I'll get them!”

For a moment, the girl's form flickered, and the lights dimmed even more. Then, with a terrifying crack, a section of the wall opened by the staircase like a huge jagged mouth, and spat out...

Mabel couldn't help but giggle at the tangle of cervitaur and hunter on the floor, although she did wince in sympathy when Dipper accidentally kicked Will's side as he tried to untangle the deer part of him.

“Mabel!” Dipper shouted, relieved as he finally wobbled to his feet and took a staggered step towards them. “There's a -”

“Don't be rude, Mr. Deer!” The ghost flickered back, standing between the two of them. Dipper pulled up short, wide-eyed. “Her name is Miss Fish!”

Dipper stared at her, then looked to Mabel. Glancing to make sure the ghost wasn't looking at her, she just mouthed “play along!”

“Uh... right...” He looked around, doing a quick headcount. “Where's Pa- I mean...” He coughed, correcting himself. “Where's Miss Snake?”

The ghost girl blinked, as if confused. “She's... I don't know.” Her form flickered a few more times, silent. While she thought, Will finally managed to get off the floor, standing next to Dipper and leaning against him, rubbing his legs. “She's not where I put her,” the girl finally admitted petulantly, “so she won't get to listen to story time!” She clapped her hands together, cheering up again. “But I still have the rest of my toys!”

The ground rippled underneath them, and Mabel could see Dipper and Will brace themselves against each other. She didn't know where they had been kept, or how exactly the ghost had transported them here, but Will looked far from happy and Dipper looked alarmed. Fortunately, the ripples just pushed all of them together, knocking the standing members off their feet to sit in front of the ghost girl. Her tank almost tipped, but fortunately Soos morphed around her, cushioning the effect.

“No worries, I got you Mabes,” he stage-whispered, giving her another thumbs up. She returned it, smiling nervously. Now that she and Dipper were both here, the Mystery Twins could really crack this case.

She just hoped story time would be informative enough...

 

Chapter Text

“Once upon a time,” the girl chirped, clearly taking the concept of ‘storytime’ to its logical conclusion, “there was a little girl!” She giggled charmingly, pointing to herself. “That’s me!” Mabel nodded and smiled, encouraging her to continue. “She lived in a biiiiig house in the woods, in a little town, with her parents who loved her very much!”

Mabel thought back to the note in the hidden study, the one Soos had read, and had to wonder. Where was her dad in all of this? If she had to guess, she would have thought that the ghost haunting this place would have been him.

Unless... her blood chilled at the thought. Unless the revenge was on behalf of his daughter.

She glanced over at Dipper, wondering how to convey this to him. He must have caught her moving in his peripheral, because he turned his head slightly, matching her gaze. She tried to smile reassuringly.

She doubted it helped.

“The three of them were very happy! The little girl -me- loved to play in the woods, and her mom’s servants made delicious things to eat, and her daddy worked in his study, so he was home to play too!” She glowed happily, appreciating the memory for a moment. Then, her smile widened to a full grin. “Then, Mr. Triangle Man came to stay!”

Will, sitting pressed against Dipper’s flank where he had landed when the floor had moved them, felt his sharp intake of breath. He looked over at him, curious, and was surprised to see him looking... scared. More than scared, even; the cervitaur’s face was filled with a growing dread.

Mabel coughed delicately, drawing his attention away. “And... what, did uh... Mr. Triangle Man... do?”

“Oh, he was so much fun! He said he was a friend of Daddy’s, helping him with the big book he was writing. When he wasn’t helping though, he would come play with me! We made so many friends...”

Dipper was looking more pale by the minute, and Mabel didn’t seem much better. Will decided to intervene. “So, how’d’ja die?”

There was a shocked gasp from one of the Northwest underlings, and the twins whipped their faces to him, Mabel with her jaw dropped and Dipper looking flabbergasted. He shrugged. “What? We all wanna know, right?”

“Will, you don’t just - ugh!” Dipper hissed between his teeth, digging the heel of his hands into his eyes. He also shuffled away from the hunter, who frowned. Before he could retaliate, however, the ghost cut him off.

“I... I got sick...” she said, quieter, dimmer. The twins turned and leveled a glare at Will, who just shrugged again. He didn’t know anything about ghost hunts, except for in the media. Wasn’t knowing how they died important or something? “I was playing with Mr. Triangle Man, and...” She sniffled. “I... I don’t think I like storytime anymore!”

Mabel lifted herself out of her tank a little bit, leaning forwards. “Shhh, shhh, it’s okay... It’ll be okay. We can help, if you tell us more. Okay?”

The girl sniffed again, eyes tearing. “I just... I just wanna be happy... Daddy made a deal with Mr. Triangle Man so I could stay here and be happy...”

Dipper, who had still been glaring at Will, snapped his gaze back to the girl, eyes wide, fur prickling. “He made a deal?” he asked slowly. “Do you know what deal he made?”

The girl frowned, rubbing one of her eyes petulantly. “Mr. Triangle Man wanted me to be happy! And play! So he made it so I didn’t have to leave! And Daddy didn’t like it... didn’t like having me around anymore...”

Dipper cursed softly. “She’s bound to the house,” Will caught as the boy muttered under his breath.

“We can help,” Mabel repeated softly, gently. She steadied herself on the edge of her tank, then reached a hand forwards. “Let us help you, okay?”

The girl lowered her hand, pouting angrily. Something about her stare unnerved Will, but it also felt...

familiar?

“No!” She stomped her foot, and the wooden floor rippled violently, sending a wave through the floor that tossed the group around. Soos stayed bunched around Mabel’s tank, keeping her balanced, but the movers were sent flying, as were Will and Dipper. As they righted themselves, she began to glow brighter again, this time with red piercing through the gold. “You wanted storytime, and storytime was a bad game! We’re going to play one of my games now!” Her gaze roamed over the group, before finally settling on Dipper, who was struggling to his feet again. “You. Mister Deer.” Her voice regained the saccharine sweetness from before, but the illusion of innocence was broken by the demonic light emanating from her eyes. She lifted her hands, and panels from the walls and floors began shredding apart from one another. “You’re funny. You get scared easy. You talk a lot, too! Like my Daddy! I bet you’d get along!

Something launched forward from one of the empty holes, bowling Dipper over. A foul stench made him gag before looking at what it was, and he let out a scream. He heard Mabel and Soos shouting his name as he crawled backwards as best he could, trying to fight off the decayed skeletal corpse that was trying to grab him. He could hardly hear anything else over the buzzing of adrenaline in his ears, but he was aware the ghost was still talking, and that hardly lessened his panic. Whatever was animating this corpse, ghostly powers or latent demonic magic, who knew, it was strong. It had a grip on his arm, and kept trying to pull him down. He jerked his hand back, but it wouldn’t let go.

The air around him suddenly chilled, and the girls voice whispered close to his ear. “Silly Mr. Deer... Deer aren’t supposed to have people heads.”

Will shouted something, but Dipper didn’t catch it. He pushed the corpse away hard, staggering back a few steps, only for the ground to collapse in chunks beneath him. His legs were stuck, and now the corpse was back, grabbing him, dragging him forward. He looked up and saw the ghost girl, and in her hands, she held...

A petrified deer head stared back at him, glassy eyes shining in the light. He screamed.

Behind him, something slammed open. Mabel was shouting, it sounded like everyone was shouting, and then the ghost started screaming, the glow intensifying -

“Dipper!” Was that Pacifica? “Anti-ghost spell thing! NOW!”

He ran on autopilot. “E-Exodus Demonus!” The screaming got louder, and he saw the deer head hit the floor. “Spookus Scarus!” Something wet splattered against his side, and he clenched his eyes shut. He hoped Mabel was okay. “Aintafraidus Noghostus! Ridere Ad Infernum!”

 

The screaming stopped. Everything stopped. Dipper lay on the ground, eyes shut tight, listening to the sound of his own breathing for a moment. A hand on his shoulder made him jump.

“Dipper? Are you okay?”

He opened his eyes. Pacifica was standing over him, brow furrowed in concern and hair twisting over itself anxiously. She was covered in dust and cobwebs, and in one hand she was hefting what looked like a big water gun. “Dipper?”

He blinked slowly, focusing on getting his breathing under control. After a moment, he nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I’m... help me up?”

With a small, relieved smile she offered him a hand, and he took it, pulling himself to his feet. He glanced around, taking stock of everything.

The double doors into the house had been blown in, probably kicked, from the looks of it. He could see the movers just outside, talking animatedly with the chauffeur, who looked as unflappable as usual. Mabel and Soos were fine, hurrying towards him, and Will...

Will was looking nervous.

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the hunter, before turning to Mabel and Soos. “Are you guys okay?”

Mabel launched herself nearly halfway out of her tank, wrapping him in a big soggy hug. “Dipper we’re fine, are you okay?” She squeezed him tightly before retreating to her tank. “That was crazy! Are you hurt?”

“No, I think I’m fine, just...” His heart was still going a million miles an hour, and now that the fear was starting to fade, that adrenaline was turning to anger. “What happened?” He spotted the deer head, still lying a few feet off, and shuddered. “Where did she even get... a...”

Will must have seen realization dawning on his face, because he shuffled forward nervously. “It was in one of the boxes,” he mumbled. “I mean...” he spread his hands disarmingly, giving the group a weak, guilty smile. “Sorry?”

Dipper saw red. “Will,” he growled, stalking slowly towards him, “you show up out of nowhere, buy a haunted house, get us all trapped inside, nearly get my head replaced with- with that, and all you can say is sorry?”

He didn’t give the hunter a chance to answer before he broke into a full blown charge, lowering his head. With a squeak, the hunter dodged out of the way, but Dipper rounded quickly and bore down on him again.

“Soos! Get him!”

One second Will was face to antler with being trampled. The next, Soos - moving more quickly than Will had ever seen the slime man move - tackled the cervitaur out of the way, engulfing him entirely. Dipper lashed out, punching against Soos’s insides, but his form held.

“One sec, guys, Dipper and I are gonna... I’ll take him out back to burn off some steam,” Soos told them, rolling out the front door, still carrying Dipper. The last Will saw of them was the dark glare the cervitaur was shooting him.

Mabel looked between the two of them, wincing. Will looked like someone had kicked his puppy, and she couldn’t imagine nearly being trampled by your crush was uplifting. She started to roll her tank over to him.

“Don’t worry, Will, he -”

“Wait a minute, Mabel.” Pacifica slithered up to her, coiling around her tank and effectively halting her. She was looking at the hunter suspiciously.

Will looked momentarily confused, then wrinkled his nose. “Oh. Oh, is this about the Fae thing again? Were you in on that?” He shook his head. “Dipper already checked. I’m not Fae.”

Pacifica just scoffed. “I’ll believe it when I see it with my own eyes,” she shot back, fishing for something in her jacket pocket. “Here.”

Will caught the chunk of metal with ease this time, squeezing it in his hand. “Cold iron, right?” He held it up between two fingers, “See? Doesn’t burn,” before tossing it back.

“Hmph.” Pacifica caught it and pocketed it again, uncoiling from Mabel’s tank. “Alright.”

“Wait, wait, what’s going on?” Mabel demanded, looking at Pacifica. “What’s this about the Fae? Why would you think Will was Fae?”

Pacifica shrugged. “It was a hunch Dipper had. He called me up the other day, saying some weirdo from the woods had moved into the shack for a bit, and that he was really fixated on you for some reason. He thought it was suspicious, and thought maybe he was some kind of Fae trying to steal you.”

“Fae like, high fairies who steal kids and maidens and disappear into their faerie realm, Fae?” She looked over at Will, and started giggling. “Fae like, extremely attractive and seductive, Fae?”

“See, that’s what I told him!” Will chuckled back, before sobering. “Though I doubt he thinks that anymore. He’s... pretty pissed.”

Mabel sighed. “He... this happens, sometimes. Not often, but it does happen. He’ll probably apologize once he’s had a chance to cool down.” She looked over at the head. “Being threatened with a taxidermied head probably really freaked him out, though.”

“I forgot I had it!” William walked over, stooping and picking it up. “I mean... I hunt! It’s what I do. I hadn’t really put the two and two together until Artie or whoever opened that box...”

“I mean... the taxidermied head itself probably didn’t phase him.” Will shot her a curious look, and Mabel clarified. “Well, who do you think does all the taxidermy work around the shop? Grunkle Stan, with those meaty claws?” She raised her own soaking hands. “Me, with these drippy mitts? Nah. Dipper does most of it.”

Will perked up a little at that. “Really? So you think he won’t mind?”

“Well, I mean,” she waved one hand vaguely. “Don’t put up deer heads specifically everywhere, but yeah.” She shrugged. “You might even be able to bond over some taxidermy, weird as that is.”

Pacifica was staring at them, a puzzled look on her face. “Hold on, I’m missing something here.” Mabel grinned.

“Oh yeah! So,” she pointed to Will, “he has a huge crush on Dipper, and he’s been flirting nonstop with brobro since he got here. And Dipper hasn’t really noticed at all.” She shrugged. “You know how he is. But yeah, I’ve been giving him lots of hints on how to woo Dipper.”

Pacifica stared incredulously at her. “And you think this guy is a good match for him?”

“Hey!”

“Oh, you’d be surprised, Paz!” Mabel winked. “They actually get along really well. I mean, Dipper even lets him get away with nicknames most of the time, and Will’s only gotten one black eye!”

Pacifica didn’t look impressed. “So trying to murder him just now...”

“Adrenaline, probably. He was worked up over the ghost thing, got angry, and Will was the easiest target.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay, speaking of the ghost thing though,” Will cut in, “What exactly happened? You,” he pointed to Pacifica, “kicked in the door and sprayed it with a water gun? And that was it?”

Pacifica smirked, leaning her water gun back against one shoulder. “Not just any water, holy water.”

“And that got rid of it?”

“No... not by itself. That incantation Dipper recited can get rid of most lower-to-mid level ghosts alone. Same with holy water. But if you combine the two, you sometimes get lucky and you can get rid of some of the tougher ones.” She paused, tapping the barrel thoughtfully with a finger. “You know, I could probably add a little salt in there, too... just for extra insurance.”

The two stared at her. “That’s... really smart, Paz!” Mabel said. “But... why do you just have a water gun filled with holy water anyways? Did you have that in the car?”

Pacifica frowned. “Come on, Mabel, you know my family history as well as I do. The Northwests have pissed off plenty of people, and we’ve run into multiple ghosts swearing vengeance against my family. I don’t go to any old house or dilapidated structure without bringing this along.”

“So why didn’t you bring it along when you walked in the first time?”

Pacifica turned to snap at Will, but was cut off when Soos rolled back up. “Uh, so... Dipper and I duked it out a bit, and then he just got frustrated and took off into the woods.”

Mabel sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Alright, he’s probably just... burning off more steam or something.” She sighed again, then looked over at Will. “Okay, so... we still have to get you moved in. We barely put a dent in it.”

He shook his head. “After today, I don’t blame you if you guys want to go home and relax, to be honest. I’m gonna keep unpacking though.”

Mabel looked over at Pacifica, who was just nodding. She nudged the snake girl in the ribs. “Ow, what?”

The two looked at each other, and Will had never seen two people communicate so well with just their eyes, especially considering the nearly opaque sunglasses the snake girl was wearing. Finally, the heiress gave an exasperated noise.

“Fine. I can send over more movers to help. But these four are going home. They’ve had a long enough day.”

Will grinned a little less than graciously. “Well, I could certainly use the help. Thank you, Pacifica.” She just shrugged, clearly not impressed.

“Back to the shack then?” Soos asked.

“Yeah, I’m gonna go relax. Paz, you wanna come with?”

Pacifica smiled softly at the mermaid. “Sure, I’ll meet you guys there.”

“Alright!” The two Mystery Shack crew rolled out, heading to the golf cart. Pacifica, however, stayed behind, watching them leave.

After they disappeared through the front door, however, she whipped back around, pulling herself up higher on her snake tail. “Now listen here,” she hissed, her hair echoing the sibilance. “Soos and Mabel trusts you, and according to what she says, so does Dipper. If you want to date him, then fine. But! If I hear one. Single. Word. From either of the twins about you hurting him, you will regret it. Mabel is... she’s mine, and Dipper is like a brother to me. You hurt either of them, and I will find you.”

Will just grinned widely, too wide for someone with his narrow face. “I have no intention of harming a hair on either of their heads,” he said pleasantly, “but it’s so good to know that they have such a good friend.” He stuck one hand out. “I know you don’t really trust me, but to be honest I think we’re pretty much on the same side.”

She looked down at the hand, then back at him. Reluctantly, she took it, and they shook. “I don’t really know what to think of you yet, but sure. As long as you don’t hurt Dipper, we’re good.”

 

Chapter Text

Dipper was panting heavily, sweating with exertion as he lay on the rocky ground. He was pinned, although at this point he doubted he even wanted to get up anymore.

A low growl rumbled through him from the mass holding him down. “Are you done now?”

Still catching his breath, Dipper nodded, eyes falling closed. With another rumble, the great furry mass rolled off of him, and Dipper took a deeper breath, feeling oxygen return to his slightly squished deer lungs. He felt the air shift near his face, and opened his eyes to see a massive paw being offered to him.

“Come,” Multibear said in his grumbly voice. “I have refreshments. It seems clear you need to talk.”” Dipper frowned, taking the paw and opening his mouth in protest. The Multibear cut him off as he lifted him to his feet - “and I will not take no for an answer.” His voice was firm, but kind - what Dipper imagined someone’s grandfather might sound like.

They walked in a companionable silence, broken only by the echo of shuffling paws and clicking hooves on the dusty stone ground. The walls around them glowed dimly, just enough for both of them to see - although,, Dipper had the better night vision of the two of them.

They came to the main cave, Multibear’s homestead. Dipper looked around with a smile. It looked a lot more cozy than it had when he’d first barged in, way back when he was twelve and bipedal. Mabel was mostly to blame for that, he thought. After that first meeting, they had struck up a fast friendship, and Dipper had brought Mabel over to meet the creature. They had become particularly good friends, with Mabel often making the hike to sit and knit in his cave while they talked. Over by the Multibear’s large pillow-bed (a gift from the Pines, years ago, just before one hibernation) lay the results of one such visit - an enormous, multicolored afghan, round with bear head patterns along the edges. She’d made it for him that first year, when she’d heard that the winter was going to be particularly cold. Dipper smiled fondly. It had the obvious wearing of something well loved.

Of course, he reminded himself soberly, she’d only been able to visit that one year. The Fluventis had made sure of that.

Guilt twisted in his stomach. His smile faded.

“Please, have a seat.” The Multibear drew him back to the present, gesturing to a number of low pillows and beanbags. Dipper picked one of the longer ones and folded his deer legs beneath him. The Multibear retrieved something from a small stone and wood pantry, before he plopped himself down on a large cushion, his multitude of faces turned to Dipper.

The cervitaur suddenly wondered what it was he wanted to talk about.

“So!” The Multibear began, breaking a piece of honeycomb and handing a chunk to Dipper. “What has gotten you so angry, this evening?”

Dipper accepted the treat, cradling it in his hands and frowning as he thought. He had been furious before, storming off into the woods to pick a fight with... anything, really. He was glad he had been right-minded enough to tackle the Multibear, instead of seeking out something more dangerous. But now that he’d gotten it out of his system, he felt a lot more conflicted... and embarrassed.

“I was mad at Will,” he admitted. “He just got his new place, down the road from the shack. We were going to help him move in today...” and he told the Multibear everything, from Will and his weird sense of humor, to how he and Mabel seemed to be glued at the hips at times, talking to Pacifica about his suspicions, the move-in day from Hell, the ghost, the deer head, and finally his attempt to murder Will before Soos had intervened.

It took him awhile to finish, but Multibear just sat and listened, prompting him occasionally with a question. When he was done, the huge bear quietly contemplated his story.

“It sounds like you are regretting some of your actions,” he finally said, peering at the cervitaur. Dipper sighed.

“I guess... it wasn’t really his fault, that the house was haunted,” Dipper grumbled. “And, he’s a hunter - it makes sense that he’d have trophies and junk. And that doesn’t bother me with other people, either! Bubs and Durland go hunting every year, and they bag deer, and it doesn’t bother me...” he rested his chin in his hand thoughtfully, then grimaced as he remembered his hands were still sticky with honey. “It just feels like he rubs me the wrong way on purpose, you know? Like, he’ pushing for something, but he won’t tell me what it is?” He straightened up. “And! He keeps laughing, just, randomly, and then he won’t tell me what he’s laughing about!” He threw his hands into the air, exasperated. “He’s got no sense of personal space or privacy - well, mostly - and he keeps calling me all these cutesy nicknames, and I just - I don’t understand what he wants!”

The Multibear blinked slowly at him, realization brushing briefly over his many features. “I... see.” He gave a thoughtful knowing hum, and Dipper wondered exactly what conclusion he’d come to. “Why do you care so much about what he wants?”

Dipper opened his mouth to answer, then realized... he wasn’t really sure. “I... he...” he shut his mouth, pursing it thoughtfully. The Multibear didn’t speak, just waited for an answer. Finally, Dipper spoke again, slowly. “At first, I guess it was because I thought he was, I dunno, up to something? But Grunkle Stan would have noticed something, and... we’ve been hanging out like, a lot, looking at stuff in the woods. He’s pretty cool, when he’s not being an asshole or doing that creepy smile. But I just -” Dipper shrugged. “I dunno what he gets from it, and I think there is something specific - he gets this really focused look sometimes when we’re hiking, or when we talk about some things, and I just... I dunno.”

“It sounds to me as if you would help him find it, if you could.”

Dipper thought about that one for a long moment. “I... guess so,” he said. “It would depend on what it was, but if I could, then yeah.”

The Multibear rumbled in a way that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle. “Perhaps, however, he simply enjoys spending time in the woods with you?” Dipper frowned in confusion, and the beast rumbled again. “Nevermind. But if you have such good will towards him, why attack him earlier?”

The cervitaur’s ears drooped, now properly ashamed. “I was... scared,” he mumbled. “And angry. The ghost mentioned... well, you know who,” (he had told the bear about the demon before) “and I was freaking out about that and the deer head, and...” His shoulders slumped. “Will was just the easiest target.”

“Sounds like you owe him an apology.”

Dipper winced, then nodded. “Yeah, I... I definitely do.” His ears flipped up suddenly. “Wait, what time is it?”

“It is likely rather late,” the Multibear replied, rolling to his feet. “You ought to be heading back soon. Let me escort you to the entrance. You’ll be able to get home safely from there, I trust?”

Dipper smiled, getting to his feet. “Yeah. Not the first time I’ve run around at night.”

Multibear’s response was a slightly disapproving grunt as they began to walk towards the entrance. They exchanged a few idle thoughts, and Dipper assured him that Mabel was working on the tarts, but soon enough they reached the mouth of the cave.

“Do be careful on your way back,” Multibear told him. “I know you are familiar with these woods, but there are always unknown dangers.”

“I know,” Dipper replied, before turning and hugging the side of the huge creature. “Thanks, man. I really needed all that.”

The Multibear shrugged, one paw returning the hug and patting Dipper’s shoulder. His main head was smiling. “What are friends for?”

They parted ways, Dipper heading down the mountain while the Multibear and his glow retreated once more into his cave. When the cervitaur reached the base of the mountain, he paused to let his eyes adjust, and looked up at the sky.

He’d gotten much better at reading the sky over the years, after countless nights in the woods. Directionals, seasonals, he could list most the constellations by heart. Right now, he looked for his namesake, circling Polaris - its position would tell him exactly how late it was.

He grimaced when he finally found it. It was around midnight, just after if he had to guess. How had it gotten so late? He grumbled to himself, taking the path that would lead him home without entering any dangerous parts of the wood. It would also take him close by Will’s new place, as well. He wondered if the hunter had chosen to stay, or if he had gone back to the Shack. He supposed he’d find out soon enough.

Idly, one hand scratched an itch near his ear. His hand followed the itch along to the base of his antler, and his musings were halted by the strange pulpy texture he found there. Slowly, he pulled his hand away, looking at his fingers in the dim moonlight. Covering his fingertips was a dark red mess of velvet and blood.

He groaned in annoyance, beginning to recognize the itch spreading through his antlers. Today was not his day.

 

xx

 

Will snapped forward, eye wide, panting as if he’d never been able to breathe before. It took him a long few minutes to get his bearings and anchor himself with reality. He focused on taking long, deep breaths, slowly relaxing, his heart lessening its frantic pumping. He closed his eye. The vision of water closing over his head played on the back of his eyelids, and they snapped open again. With a frustrated groan, he untangled himself from his sheets and reluctantly got up. He stretched, grunting as his back popped once or twice. He eyed his current bed - a pile of pillows, blankets and a large throw rug that he’d haphazardly thrown into a pile on the floor. He hadn’t cared enough to set up his bed before he’d gone to sleep. Now he wondered if he should have.

He glanced at the clock and rolled his eye. 1:30. Great. No way he was getting back to sleep anytime soon. He’d have to kiss his well-restedness goodbye.

It was weird though, he mused to himself. He hadn’t had any problem sleeping at the Shack, even on that lumpy, short little couch. Maybe he’d been too excited, or too busy plotting his next flirtatious move, to bother with having nightmares. He grabbed his eyepatch from the table nearby, strapping it over the injured socket, before wandering out of the room and into the house at large.

Unloading the truck had gone far more smoothly after they’d vanquished the ghost. True to her word, Pacifica had sent over a new crew of movers, and they’d unloaded the entire truck. They’d helped set up a couple of pieces of furniture, but when it came to actually unpacking, he’d waved them off. He knew what he liked, and he’d find some time to unpack between working at the Shack and adventuring with the Mystery Crew.

Apparently, some of that time was now.

He stumbled downstairs, rubbing the rest of sleep from his eye. The kitchen would be a good place to start. He could just order out for the rest of his life, but having something to eat on would be nice, and hey, maybe he could learn to cook something for Dipper one night.

He paused, wondering what could be considered a delicacy to a half deer person. Rare lettuces, maybe? Anything that wasn’t grass? Then again, he had seen the kid wolf down an entire bag of potato chips. His diet didn’t seem so limited...

He was almost to the kitchen when a sound caught his attention. At first, he brushed it off as wind in the trees. It had repeated a few times before his waking brain realized that, aside from the sound, the night outside was quiet.

Puzzled, he walked over to the kitchen window, peering out into the dark. The sound came again, a clacking sound, but this time accompanied by a faint, distant groaning.

He grinned. He knew exactly how he’d keep himself awake now.

He threw on a jacket and some jeans, grabbed a flashlight, slipped on his sneakers and headed into the woods.

 

Chapter Text

The forest was humming softly, in that way of millions of insects and birds and night critters each quietly going about their business builds a larger sound. Will was accustomed to it - he had spent enough nights out in the woods that it hardly fazed him. Rather, it was a comforting change. His flashlight caught one or two gleaming sets of eyes, but they scampered away before he could make a second pass. He wasn’t after them, anyways, so it didn’t matter. It was nice, though, to be in a living forest again. With all the adventuring he and Dipper had done in the more supernatural areas of the woods, he’d noticed that the air there had been different. The animal noises were still there, but they felt more like a soundtrack than actual wildlife. Here, the air was more alive.

An owl proved his point, swooping down and snatching a mouse right off the ground in front of him. There was a panicked squeal, and it died quickly. Will nodded approvingly. He could always appreciate an efficient hunter.

Like himself.

He paused, lowering his flashlight and listening to the ambiance carefully. As nice as a night stroll was, he had come out here for a reason. He didn’t want to tire himself out, and a mystery was exactly what he needed to keep himself going.

He furrowed his brow and let a short hiss between his teeth. He had forgotten before, but now he recalled he was supposed to be working the Shack tomorrow morning.

He hoped Stan would understand. He’d blame it on moving-in exhaustion.

Then again, he wasn’t sure the gargoyle would buy that. It wasn’t technically a lie, but...

Thonk.

Will’s flashlight snapped up immediately. There was that sound! Quickly and quietly, he moved further along, keeping himself low and the beam pointed ahead. He was still in the more natural area of the woods. It was probably nothing terribly exciting...

but the hunt and the curiosity made it worth it.

The same thonk sound repeated again, closer, and Will could hear the grinding sound along with it. It had to be close. He crouched and pointed the beam down, blinking a few times to adjust his eye before moving forward.

A third thonk, the grinding, and... a groan? That didn’t sound like any animal he knew... in fact, it sounded rather...

“Stupid... freaking... antlers...!” a voice gritted out, the sound echoing between each word. Will stood, leveling his light at the silhouette ahead of him, prepared to confront the visitor.

“Dipp- holy shit!” What stood in the beam of his flashlight was nothing less than horrific. The human face turned towards him, but where a human’s eyes would have flinched against the bright light, these just reflected them back at him, two glowing pinpoints on a shadowy figure. Atop its head, crowning the nestled brown curls, was a crown of death - the points of antlers cresting through the light to end in the shadows, blood and gore dripping sluggishly from them to streak the young man’s face and clothes. And all the while, those two eyes didn’t move, locked on the hunter, glowing brightly like headlights -

Oh.

He lowered the light slightly, so it was no longer shining straight into the cervitaur’s face. The deer-boy blinked and shook his head slightly in response.. Will noticed (with a certain level of morbid fascination) that a couple of globules of blood were shaken off, dropping to the ground with faint plops. Then he realized that Dipper was still staring at him, looking as if he had freshly murdered someone, and remembered that there last encounter hadn’t been on great terms.

He grinned, a little nervous. “Hey there, goin’ for a... night stroll?”

With the light pointed down, he couldn’t see nearly as well as before - but in the ambient light, he was still able to make out Dipper’s grimace. “Uh... yeah, kind of.” The cervitaur leaned towards the tree he was standing next to, tilting his head towards it. There was the sound again, and the grinding noise. Without thinking, the hunter brought the flashlight up again, focusing on the cervitaur’s antlers. The deer-man winced, squinting against the light. “Hey, do you mind?”

“Huh?” The hunter looked back at the cervitaur’s face, noticing the narrow-eyed glare being shot at him. “Oh! Sorry.” He lowered the light, but he was still puzzling over what he had seen. The tree had all these grooves in the bark, and Dipper seemed to be... rubbing up against it That seemed odd, but -

“Oh. Oooooh,” he said aloud, bringing a curious glance from the cervitaur when he started laughing with relief. “You’re shedding your velvet!” He let out a whoosh of air and grinned. He should have expected something like this - Dipper didn’t have the style of antlers that suggested they were for a lifetime, and with the season just beginning, they’d have to shed the soft skin covering them to be useful for the fall. “For a second there, I thought you might have just up and murdered something.”

A strange look passed over the cervitaur’s face, settling as Dipper looked down, uncomfortable. “Yeah, about that...” He turned his head, still rubbing the antler against the tree. “I - ugh, hold on a sec.” With more force, he headbutted the tree, and Will could see some of the velvet shake off before the cervitaur was back to grinding his antler against the bark to pull off the dead skin. “Sorry,” the deer-boy said lamely, catching him off guard. “I wanted to apologize for earlier, and I wanted it to be heartfelt? But... ugghhhhhh...” He turned nearly backwards, trying to get at a difficult spot at the base of one prong. “This is kind of bad timing... shedding’s a pain in the ass.”

“I can’t imagine,” the hunter replied, stepping closer. “You seem in a better mood overall though.”

Dipper just grunted, twisting again as he knocked his antler against the tree. “Yeah, I met up with Multibear and we... talked...” he trailed off unconvincingly, then pulled away from the tree, huffing in frustration. He shot the hunter an apologetic glance. “Like I said, I’m sorry about earlier, but I’m a little distracted...”

Will tilted his head slightly, thinking as he examined the deer-boy. An idea struck, and he turned the light to the ground, looking around for something. “Maybe I can help with that... hold up, I have an idea.”

Dipper gave him a bemused look, turning away from the tree entirely as the hunter scoured the ground. “What’s your idea?” His fingers twitched, and his ears flicked back and forth with the agitating desire to scratch.

“Just a s- ah! Here we go!” Will bent over to retrieve his prize, raising it for the cervitaur to see and grinning. Dipper just raised one eyebrow.

“A piece of branch?”

“Yup!” He walked briskly over to Dipper, stopping nearly shoulder to shoulder with him. “Now sit down... or lie down, I guess?” He bit his cheek thoughtfully. “Deer body lying, human torso upright.”

Dipper snorted, crossing his arms. “Not until you tell me what you’re gonna do.”

Will pouted, jutting his chin out like a little kid. “Aw, common, just trust me on this one!” He grinned again, shuffling the branch piece to the hand with the flashlight so he could cross an “x” over his heart. “I swear, it’s a good idea.”

He could tell that the cervitaur was conflicted, and to be honest it seemed very likely that his distrustful nature would win out... but at the last moment, something seemed to occur to him and he changed his mind. Carefully, he folded his legs underneath himself, putting his antlers just about point to eye with Will. He turned his head slowly, mindful of the hunter’s proximity to his crown. “Okay, now what?”

“Hold still.” Carefully, the hunter put down the flashlight, hefting the branch piece in one hand. “Also, sorry.”

“Huh?”

Will grabbed the base of one antler as firmly and gently as he could, reveling perhaps more than one ought to at the squishy feeling of the bleeding velvet beneath his fingers. Dipper tensed immediately, so he quickly put the second part of his plan into action, taking the branch piece and carefully running it down the antler, starting from the uppermost point and rubbing it down in short, measured strokes. The velvet fell away easily, dripping into Dipper’s hair and down his back, along with bark from the wood. Will scrunched his face.

“You’re probably gonna need to shower after this,” he commented idly, trying to lighten the mood. To his surprise, Dipper actually laughed, pulling slightly at his grip on the antler.

“No kidding,” he responded, slowly relaxing. “You know, I don’t think you actually need to grab my antler. I can keep my head still.”

“Eh, alright.” He moved his hand to the top of the antler instead, resting it behind the area he was working on to help him keep a good pressure. “How’s that?”

Dipper let out a soft humm, and Will caught his eyes fluttering shut. “That’s... really good. Much better than banging my head against a tree.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It’s such a relief. Velvet always itches so badly...”

“I can’t imagine,” the hunter repeated, wiping some gore off of his makeshift tool before rubbing at the velvet again.

The two were quiet for a few minutes, lost in their own thoughts. Will’s mind strayed back to the natural ambiance of the forest, and how, under different circumstances, meeting in the woods at night like this might be a little more... romantic.

Careful not to accidentally whack the cervitaur in the head, the hunter gave him a once-over. His neck and shoulders were still taunt, no doubt with holding his head still against Will’s firm ministrations. The rest of his body, on the other hand, looked... relaxed. More relaxed than Will could ever remember seeing. Even the man’s hands, usually clenched into fists when idle, were uncurled, resting on the fold of his front legs.

“Gee, Dip,” he commented, “This is the most relaxed I’ve ever seen you!”

A shiver of tension rippled through the deer-man’s body, but his eyes stayed closed, and his hands still. “Yeah, I don’t really get to relax much during rut.”

“I could help with that.”

He hadn’t meant it as anything but an honest offer, but it still came out with a certain level of innuendo. Dipper, fortunately, either ignored it or missed it entirely. He snorted, opening one eye slightly. “Almost everything you say ticks me off, to a degree. How is that helpful?”

“I give a mean massage,” the hunter offered cheekily. Another amused snort was his response, so he pressed on. “Seriously though, so much stress isn’t good for you. I’m all for going out and hunting down new and mysterious things, but some days you gotta take for yourself, you know?” He pulled some of the looser velvet off, going back at it with the branch. “If you ever need a breather, or someone to talk to, or like... scratch your ears or something?” Dipper turned his head slightly and shot him a look, and he shrugged. “Hey, physical contact is important to socialization and relaxation. I don’t judge.” He resumed grooming the cervitaur’s horns. “Anyways, you need something like that? Feel free to come to me, okay?” He leaned closer, grinning at the deer-boy from over his shoulder. “Sound good?”

Dipper frowned, shaking his head very lightly, although Will still felt one brush the back of his head as he pulled back. “It’s not... I’m not stressed because of going out into the woods,” he tried to explain. “It’s...” He sighed, deflating a little. “It’s hard to explain.” He raised his hands, physically grasping for his words as he thought. “The woods are like... they’re my home. And not in a “Bambi Disney animated musical” way, so don’t get any ideas.”

Will just hummed. “Didn’t even cross my mind.”

The pause told Will exactly what Dipper thought of that, but the cervitaur didn’t push it. “I’ve been here for the last ten years. I know most of these woods inside out. I could probably find my way blind through them. It’s not going out into the woods that stresses me out.”

“Then, if you don’t mind me asking... what it is it that does stress you out?”

The cervitaur made a strangled noise, burying his face in his hands. Will just waited, continuing to strip the velvet from his antlers. Dipper truly did have an excellent rack, he mused, running one hand over the newly freed bone. They had good texture, a ten point spread, and though he hadn’t seen them in action, he’d imagine they were sturdy as well. A small smile settled on his lips as he indulged a few more brushes of his fingers over the bone before moving to the next point.

“There’s two things.”

Will paused at the cervitaur’s muffled confession. Dipper lowered his hands, chewing on his lip thoughtfully, and if that wasn’t a crime against decency Will didn’t know what was. “What are they?” he asked lightly, keeping his hands busy so they weren’t tempted to move other places. Something told him that tonight wasn’t the time to make a real move.

“The one... I’ll tell you later.” Will sighed inaudibly, but Dipper must have picked up on it, because his ear flicked in response. “Sorry, I just, don’t really know exactly what it is yet either. I guess I’ll tell you when I do.”

That was acceptable. “Alright, what’s the other one, then?”

Dipper was silent for another long moment, and Will elected to stay silent, seeing it had gotten him this far. Despite the apparent conflicted nature of Dipper’s thoughts, his body was still fairly relaxed, and Will wasn’t going to push it. Not too much, anyways.

“I think... it’s time I told you about the Fluventis.” Dipper turned his head, antlers pushing Will’s hands out of the way as he gazed, eyes serious, at the hunter. “About how nearly all of Gravity Falls turned into... monsters...” He turned away again, arms crossing and shoulders hunched. The next sentence was quiet enough that Will had to lean in to catch it.

“...How it’s all my fault.”

 

Chapter Text

Ten Years Ago...

 

Mabel and Dipper Pines were twelve, that summer when their lives changed. When they'd originally been dropped off at their Grunkle's shack, the two had shared a brief, skeptical look, before putting on smiles to greet their Grunkle Stan. They hadn't been forced smiles – they were excited about hanging around a new town, meeting new faces (on Mabel's part, read: Boyfriends) and generally exploring the out-of-doors. Dipper had been a little less enthusiastic on that last part – he would have been fine playing video games, or watching mystery reruns instead.

In the end, he was glad he hadn't.

The thing was, neither of them expected anything mind-blowing for the summer. Exciting? Sure. Life-altering?

Less so.

And if it had just been one big thing, that might have been enough for most people. But most people didn't include the Pines Twins. The discovery of the Journal was only the beginning, although it was certainly the catalyst for it all. They spent the first half of the summer hunting for mysteries and making a splash in Gravity Falls – the Pines twins were practically famous in that small town, although no one could shake that sense of deja vu that came along with them.

The reason for that deja vu arrived through a wrecked portal, just after midsummer.

With the reappearance of their other grunkle, and the outing of so many secrets, the second half of their summer had a very different feel to it. There had been a week of explanations, of learning and of relearing, of trust being cradled and repaired and restored – slowly, but steadily. Mabel was ecstatic to have a new great uncle, even if they'd never really known him, and Dipper was over the moon to be able to talk to the real-live Author of the Journals.

That excitement had dimmed quickly for him. It soon became apparent that, although just as brilliant and apocalypse-adverse as his journals had suggested, his time through the portal had changed him. He refused to talk about it in front of the kids, but the kids knew he told Grunkle Stan, and grilled him for details. Mabel, unsurprisingly, was the one who broke through, pulling a resigned sigh from the old man.

Look kids, a lot of it is... definitely stuff you should be older before you hear. If ever. But the gist of it? He was fighting for his life near constantly in some horrific alternate dimension. He-” and he paused briefly, sighing and massaging his temple with one hand as he searched for his words. “He... wasn't like this when he fell in.”

This apparently referred to Stanford's aggressive stance towards the supernatural. Dipper had already gotten the impression that the Author had performed experiments on some of the supernatural beings around Gravity Falls (and he wouldn't realize exactly how messed up that was until much later, halfway through his own journal), but post-portal Stanford now only had three goals in his research – determine if its a threat, locate its weaknesses, and exterminate if necessary. After the hero worship began to wear off (in no small part helped by watching things flee the Author when they walked through the woods) he began to realize that, although he and Stanford both shared a passion for the supernatural and strange, their interest manifested itself very differently. Dipper would argue that Stanford's treatment of the forest-dwellers was unwarranted – some of them were perfectly peaceful, after all. Stanford would argue back that they were still potentially dangerous, and the only way to stay safe was to know every exploitable weakness. Mabel and Stan would have to separate them, each talking their twin down, but tensions remained high at first. Even after they began to resolve some of their differences, with Stanford slowly recovering from his time in a nightmare dimension, they preferred to adventure separately, much to their counterparts' dismay.

Dipper, he's the Author! You two have so much to share with one another, don't you?”

Ford, he's only twelve – you didn't start this kinda thing seriously until we were, what, 16, 17? You can't just let him go alone.”

So the two would head out into the woods together, to satisfy Mabel and Stan, before going their separate ways. They did watch out for one another – asking what the other was investigating, sticking to nearby areas, arranging check-in times and the like. Adventuring was a lot safer with the two of them, even if they didn't work together a lot. And Dipper did appreciate the pooled resources – Stanford was a lot more willing to give straight answers than Grunkle Stan, provided he believed you were actually you (The twins had shown him the shapeshifter, still cryogenicly frozen in the form of Dipper screaming. He'd seemed both impressed and relieved). And Dipper found himself more knowledgeable about the current native species than the new Grunkle, and was able to help Stanford navigate interactions with the more benign species of the forest. Dipper had been surprised to hear that Stanford hadn't heard of the Manotaurs or the Multibear before – they'd seemed pretty well established. Then again, it had been thirty years since he'd been in town.

After a week or two of adventuring and mystery solving, they'd gotten a little closer, bouncing ideas off one another and tactfully ignoring the differences in their research styles. Things were going really well.

Which is why Dipper was cursing himself now, as he fled for his life. He should have expected the other shoe to drop.

He stumbled over a branch, catching himself quickly and darting forward as fast as he could. Behind him, the whatever-it-was laughed, a horrible, screeching sound like rusty metal grating against itself.

Keep running,” a slimy voice faux-encouraged him, seeming to come from every direction but the one he faced. “It's good exercise before a meal!”

If Dipper hadn't been so out of breath from running, he might have sobbed in terror. As it was, all he could do was pant helplessly, noodley arms and legs pumping as hard as they could to get away. The creature just laughed more, before giving a loud, eager sniff, as if it could literally smell his fear. “Delicioussss...” Maybe it could...

His backpack thumped heavily against him as he jumped a fallen log. The weight tipped him forward, and he stumbled, falling to his knees. He expected to be caught instantly, and froze, glancing over his shoulder.

His blood ran cold as he came eye-to-eye with two glowing sockets.

Boo.”

He screamed and took off again, wishing he hadn't caught sight of that jagged maw as it opened to laugh once more. It was toying with him, he realized, chest heaving and lungs burning. It was playing with him like a cat might play with a mouse. That might buy him some time, if he could only figure out some sort of plan –

That idea died as the ground ahead of him ended. He quickly pulled himself to a stop. Before him flowed a river, blocking his path. It was broad, but it didn't look deep or fast, and right now, it was his only path... He glanced over his shoulder again. The creature following him had slowed, its eyes still glowing, although that was most all of what Dipper could see through the shadows of the forest.

Stopping so soon, child?” it purred, and the sound made Dipper's skin crawl, reminded him of every nightmare he'd ever had, every terror that had ever kept him awake at night. “I guess the chase is over, then?” Its obsidian teeth gnashed, grinding over one another and forcing Dipper to cover his ears at the sound. “Such a pity...”

Dipper looked back at the river, hesitation all but gone before taking a deep breath and plunging in.

He almost screamed as he hit the water. It was deeper than he expected, but still slow flowing – but, what made him scream was how sheerly cold it was! It took no time at all to seep into his bones, and he quickly struck out for the opposite shore, shivering all the while. The current, sluggish as it was, still pushed him downstream a little. His body ached and shivered, but he kept swimming, not daring to look back. Finally, he hefted himself onto the opposite bank, teeth chattering forcefully, soaked through and through. He looked back, to see if the monster was still following him.

His heart nearly stopped. This was the first time he'd gotten anything near a clear sight of it, and his stomach churned in terror. It looked... smaller, than it had seemed when it was chasing him, but no less terrifying. The eyes still glowed from it's bearlike face, the sockets like holes drilled and ripped into its face, flesh spiraling inwards and disappearing into that cold, white light. It's lip curled in a too-human expression, baring its jagged, uneven teeth in the process. It was covered entirely in fur, and Dipper was almost certain he could see its pelt move with life. A cockroach scuttled over one paw, confirming his theory. He watched as it scurried towards its paw, only to be caught between two of those long, shovel-like claws, and crushed.

It lingered in the shadows, though, frowning and eying the river between them critically. Dipper held his breath, waiting for it to pursue – even with its diminished size, the river would be nothing to it. The creature finally moved, reaching one long black claw down to the water, inches from the surface.

It surprised him when it finally snorted, looking up and locking its socket eyes with his. “Eh, it ain't worth the effort, kid,” it huffed, before laughing again. “Fun chase, though!” It turned away, waving one claw back towards him as it shuffled off on its hind legs. “See you around, deer.

Dipper didn't move until it was gone from sight, disappearing back into the woods. Only when it was gone did he start breathing normally again. The air felt lighter... maybe the creature had some kind of fear ability, like the Gremgoblins? That would explain why he didn't feel quite as spooked now.

He was still freezing, though. He shivered as he got up, checking to make sure his backpack was still sealed (waterproof, courtesy of Stanford's insistence on proper equipment). He was glad to have it now – his own journal would have been soaked through otherwise.

He quickly checked the time, sighing. He was supposed to meet up with Grunkle Ford in half an hour, and after his unexpected jaunt through the woods, he'd probably be running late. He would have liked to lie down for awhile, dry off and warm up in the summer sun, but it looked like he'd just have to dry off on the way.

He began trudging along the stream, shivering and shaking as he went.

As monster hunts could go, this hadn't been great.

But still, it could have been worse.

 

Xx

 

Grunkle Ford was pacing impatiently back and forth across the clearing when Dipper finally arrived, exhausted, still damn and somehow feeling colder than before. The old man was muttering worriedly to himself as he stalked, only noticing Dipper when he entered the clearing. He looked up, clearly ready to grouch at him for being so late (Grunkle Stan told the twins it was his way of worrying, and not to take it to heart), but he did a double-take when he actually saw Dipper. His brow creased in concern. Dipper must have looked as bad as he felt.

Geeze, Dipper, what happened to you? I thought you were investigating the Hide-Behind again.” Dipper sighed, then sniffled.

I got sidetra-ah-ah-CHOO!” A forceful sneeze knocked him back a step. “Ugh, 'scuze me...” He sniffed again. “Ran into something along the way. It chased me into a river, and I had to swim across to escape.”

You did, huh?” Hesitantly, the man reached forward and pushed Dipper's hair out of the way to feel his forehead. He paused, then pulled away. “Well, you're not feverish – if anything, you're too cold. Let's head back to the shack and get you warmed up. You can tell me all about what happened on the way back.”

Dipper just nodded, and the two walked off.

 

Xx

 

Sounds like you ran into a bugbear,” Stanford said when Dipper finally finished. They were just out of the woods outside the shack. “Why'd you run, though? Bugbears don't hunt or eat people.”

Dipper paused, staring flabbergasted at Ford. “It doesn't hurt people? With those teeth?” Ford turned, frowning.

No. Those things feed off of fear, it just has those to look scary. They're harmless otherwise. Just annoying. Didn't you know that? It's in the second Journal.”

Dipper sighed, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes. “No, I didn't. Grunkle Stan hasn't let me look at the other journals, much less read them.”

It was Stanford's turn to be flabbergasted. “Are you serious.” At Dipper's nod, he smacked one hand to his face, shaking his head. “That... meathead! Why would he do that?”

He said he was worried I'd go looking for something and get in over my head,” Dipper deadpanned. Stanford threw his hands in the air.

And of course, not knowing anything is the best way to do that,” he snapped to no one in particular. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “C'mon, lets get you warm and dry, and then you and I are gonna have a long talk with Stanley about this.”

Dipper just nodded, pleased. It was nice when the two of them could agree on something... even if that something was just Grunkle Stan's stubbornness.

They crossed the lawn, waving at Soos (who was repairing the 'S' on the sign yet again) before heading inside. No one was in the kitchen, but at the sound of the screen door, Mabel bolted in from the living room.

Hey bro-bro, Grunkle Ford – Heeey, Dipper! Did you go swimming without me?” She looked him over, frowning at his red eyes and runny nose. “I'm guessing involuntarily,” she added, before looking to Stanford. “What happened?”

We got separated,” Stanford lied easily, “and something chased him into a stream.” Mabel's eyes widened as they turned back to Dipper.

Seriously? Are you okay?” Dipper hardly had time to protest before she was circling him, poking him and lifting his arms to inspect for injuries. Rolling his eyes, he gently pushed her away.

Mabel, I'm fine, just tired and cold,” he insisted. Her lip set, and he knew he wasn't getting out of Mabel-Care.

Tired and cold becomes tired and sick, Dip-dop!” She hustled him to the stairs, practically forcing him up. “You go take a warm shower right now, and no buts!” she exclaimed, silencing his protests as he opened his mouth. “We'll have something warm for you to eat when you get down, okay?” She darted back into the kitchen, before poking her head through the door again. “Don't forget, we can hear the water going, so don't think you can skip it!” She vanished again, and Dipper just shook his head, a small smile on his lips. He turned and headed up the stairs, chuckling when he heard Mabel bullying Grunkle Ford into cooking with her.

He took a long, hot shower, feeling the cold seep from his bones, and finally relaxing after the stressful day. He would deny forever that he actually enjoyed showering this time, but it certainly did help warm him up. Reluctantly, he eventually turned off the water, stepped out and started drying off again. Another shiver ran through him, but he just attributed it to the cool bathroom air. It wasn't until he was dry and changing into his pj's, teeth chattering, that he realized something was probably wrong.

He threw on his warmest clothes, borrowed a sweater from Mabel's dresser, and wrapped a blanket around himself for good measure before heading back downstairs.

The kitchen smelled great when he got there, and he took a moment, all bundled up in the doorway, to take in the scent and the scene. Mabel and Stanford were by the stove (Mabel on a chair so she could reach properly), stirring a big pot and apparently in a heated debate on what spices to use. Grunkle Stan had joined them sometime while Dipper had been upstairs, and was sitting at the kitchen table, interjecting here and there with his own opinions and good-humored jibes about how long the cooking was taking. None of them noticed the young tween standing in the doorway. He smiled. This was the most “normal” he'd ever seen them all. It was nice. Almost peaceful.

He ruined the tranquility with one enormous sneeze.

Everyone jumped in surprise, turning to look at him. He just sniffled, giving them a small smile back. When they all kept staring, he frowned. “What?”

Mabel's face was creased with worry, and she jumped off the chair and scurried over to him, planting a hand on his forehead. They both flinched at the contact – Mabel presumably because of how cold he felt, and Dipper because her hand felt burning hot by comparison.

There were footsteps, and suddenly Grunkle Stan was crouched by him, too. “Kid, you look awful,” he said bluntly, putting his own hand on Dipper's forehead. Squinting in annoyance, Dipper pushed the hand away.

I'm fine!” he protested, despite not feeling it. He could tell no one believed him. Grunkle Stan looked over one shoulder at Stanford.

What did you guys say you were doing today?”

He got chased into a stream, Lee.”

Chased? By what?” Grunkle Stan stood, facing Stanford. “Where were you?”

We got separated – and it was a bugbear. Speaking of, he didn't know what it was because you wouldn't let him look at the other journals.” Grunkle Ford crossed his arms, giving Stan a firm look. “Why is that?”

Stan furrowed his brow. “We're not having that conversation now,” he said. “How did you two get separated?”

Does it matter? He's lucky it was just a bugbear – if it had been something else, he might have actually been hurt without the right information!”

Dipper wasn't feeling so lucky at the moment. In fact, he was actually starting to feel quite sick. Mabel was glancing worriedly between him and the Stans, one arm around his shoulder.

It does matter, Ford! You can't just let him run around on his own!”

Funny, I thought that's what you'd been doing the entire summer, Stan!” Stanford gestured broadly to the twins. “They've been exploring this sh- stuff all summer. They're more than capable of taking care of themselves, but they need the knowledge to do it!”

Ford, they're twelve!”

The two continued arguing, but Dipper was losing track of it. The world was starting to feel... fuzzy. He was aware of Mabel beside him, and of the Stans nearly shouting at each other, but it all felt distant, muffled. What was becoming prevalent was an ache growing in his skull, his legs, and his stomach – he must have whimpered, because the shouting suddenly stopped, and he became aware of three pairs of eyes staring at him.

Dipper?” he heard Mabel say, echo-y as if coming from miles away. The last thing he knew was a sharp, blistering pain, and then... nothing.

 

Chapter Text

Dipper was sore. Sore, but warm and snug and heavy from sleep. He sighed into his pillow, cursing the inevitability of wakefulness. After all the excitement from yesterday, he deserved a little extra sleep time. Besides, he hadn't heard the alarm yet, and -

The thought halted, and he reviewed them. Yesterday... he'd had a rough day, gotten chased, the river, getting home...

Had he blacked out?

He totally had.

What had happened then? He opened his eyes to see the bedroom wall. He didn't... feel sick. Or too cold. Just sore. And his arm was asleep. Maybe it had just been a flu?

He tried to sit up, but only managed to get halfway upright. He frowned. Something on his legs was keeping him from rolling onto his back and sitting up. He tried again, kicking at the sheets.

He froze. Something was very wrong. His legs felt... wrong.

Slowly, he let his gaze drift to his legs. There was a huge lump under the blankets. Tentatively, he tried to kick again. There was the strange sensation again, and the enormous lump spasmed.

It felt like something was caught in his throat. Trying to force down the rising dread in his stomach (and that felt weird too, now, which only scared him more), he reached out and ripped the covers from the bed.

His legs had been replaced with a deer's .

He screamed, instinctively pushing himself away in a panic, but that only made it worse as the legs – his legs – kicked and spasmed, and the body pushed itself along the bed. Something flapped in his peripheral, and he grabbed at it in a panic, yelping when his head hurt when he tugged on it and was that fuzzy thing his ear?! Clasping at the other side of his head confirmed it, and he shrieked again, twisting away from the wall.

His feet hit the floor, but there was no sensation of it aside from the force of impact. His spindly legs buckled underneath him. He barely kept himself from falling, grabbing the bedside table to right himself. Stumbling and tripping over himself, he fled towards the bathroom, tears prickling his eyes.

Mabel intercepted him as she reached the top of the stairs. “Dipper! Are you alright?”

Leaning heavily on the wall, legs sliding outward from under him, and panting like he had just run a marathon, all Dipper could do was stare at her. She winced.

Well... aside from being part deer, I guess?”

You guess?!” He tried to gesture to his legs with one hand, but quickly placed it back on the wall as he slid more. “Mabel, I'm turning into a deer what is happening? How are you so calm?!”

Dipper!” she said sharply, stepping up to him and putting her hands gently, but firmly, on his shoulders. “You're panicking. You need to take a breath.”

Mabel - !

Dipper. Breathe, okay?” 1... 2... 3...” she counted slowly, locking eyes with him, encouraging him. Shakily, he breathed in with the count, breathing out again as she counted backwards. It took a few repetitions, but eventually Dipper's breathing evened out a bit. She patted one shoulder. “See? Much better.”

Mabel, I'm still part deer.”

I know, but now you'll be able to put that big brain of yours to fixing that!” she said with a smile, tapping his forehead softly with her knuckles. “The Stans are still downstairs – Ford was freaking out pretty badly after you changed.”

What... happened, exactly?” he asked slowly, trying to keep himself from panicking again. “All I remember is the Stans arguing, then I passed out...?”

Mabel studied his face, worried. “Is that all you remember?” At his nod, she gave a sigh of relief. “That's good to know. You were screaming a lot, and we weren't sure how conscious you were for all of it.”

Dipper scowled, frustrated. “For all of what ? Mabel, what happened ?”

He regretted snapping almost instantly, because now Mabel was biting her cheek and her eyes were tearing up, and he must have said or done something awful to –

She enveloped him in a tight hug, knocking away his train of thought. “I was so worried,” she mumbled, squeezing him. “You just got this awful look on your face, then suddenly you were on the floor screaming, and your legs were just shifting like molding clay, and... and there was blood, and we didn't know what do do, and Grunkle Stan had us hold you down s-so you wouldn't hurt yourself! But then your legs just split, and...” It suddenly occurred to Dipper that, although it was freaky to wake up and suddenly be a deer, seeing it happen must have been traumatizing. He gave her a quick hug back before she pulled away, sniffling. She gave him a small, relieved smile. “I'm just glad you're alright enough to be normal, freaking-out Dipper.” She rubbed her eyes with one sweater sleeve, and took a deep breath. “Also, Grunkle Ford had to cut off the shorts you were wearing. We were worried they'd hurt you.”

He couldn't argue with that. His deer body was nearly half again his size – he would've probably ripped through them anyways. “So, do either of the Stans know why this happened, or...?”

She shook her head, then narrowed her eyes sternly. “Nope. But it did come up that the two of you haven't actually been adventuring together.” She planted her fists on her hips, giving him her most disapproving glare. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

He sighed, hanging his head. “Sorry Mabel... but we just don't work together well in the field!”

No buts before safety, Dipper!” she responded smartly, before turning. “Now c'mon – Grunkle Stan wants to hear exactly what you did today. Maybe we can figure out what caused it, and how we can change you back.” She bounced down the stairs, before looking back up at him, pausing awkwardly. “Ummm, can you get down alright?”

Dipper gripped the banister like a lifeline, slowly lowering one hoof down the stairs. “We'll see,” he replied bleakly, quickly realizing that walking straight down was no longer an option. After a few minutes of turning this way and that (with Mabel helpfully supplying encouraging comments from the bottom of the stairwell), he finally worked out a weird sideways crab-walk that got him nearly all the way down without incident. He did trip on the last step, but Mabel caught him before he could fall. He smiled his thanks, accepting her help and leaning on her as they walked into the kitchen.

Stan and Ford were sitting at the table, a mug of coffee and a glass of Mabel Juice © in front of them, respectively. They looked up simultaneously as the younger twins walked in, worry paralleled across their faces.

Oh, Dipper, you're uh.... awake...” Grunkle Stan straightened up in his chair, gesturing to the two empty seats at the kitchen table. “Have a seat.”

There was a beat as everyone realized just what was wrong with that statement, and stewed in the awkwardness it caused. Mabel took it one step farther, looking pointedly at Dipper's deer backside, then looking back to Grunkle Stan, mouthing 'Really?'

Grunkle Stan rubbed his temples, embarrassed. “Or... stand? Ugh, just, join us at the table and make yourselves comfortable, kids; we're about to have a very long talk.”

Mabel helped him to the table, where, after a moment of hesitation, he let his back legs fold, sitting on his haunches like a dog. It wasn't particularly comfortable – he was pretty sure his front legs weren't supposed to be locked like that for too long – but it gave him the appearance of sitting at the table, and he could rest his arms there to help hold himself up. Mabel had already gotten to his own chair by the time he was settled, and he looked up to see his family staring at him expectantly. He slouched a little, and felt his floppy new ears flick around in agitation. Stanford was eying them curiously, and it occurred to Dipper that, right now, he was nearly just another supernatural specimen.

He tried not to feel nervous about that.

So,” Grunkle Stan started, pulling Dipper's attention back to him. “Tell us exactly what happened today.” He shot a brief glare at his brother. “From the second you two split up.”

Dipper shared a glance with Stanford, before taking a deep breath and starting in. He told them how he and Grunkle Ford had split up from one of the safe spots, and he had gone deeper into the woods to look for the Hide-Behind again. He knew it was there (he'd checked the footage for Dipper's Guide to the Unexplained, and cameras didn't just happen to static in those patterns!), but now that he knew it existed he wanted to know more about it. He told them how, on the way, he'd been intercepted by the bugbear, which had chased him to the river, and how he'd had to swim to safety. As he was retelling this, however, a chill went down his spine. The bugbear's last words echoed in his mind.

See you around, deer.”

He'd been too relieved to be alive to have thought much of it at the time, but now he wondered...

He stopped abruptly, turning to Stanford with wide eyes. “Grunkle Ford, I just thought of something – could the bugbear be responsible for this?”

“What makes you say that?”

“It said something, right before it left – called me 'Deer.' At first, I thought it was just being condescending, like d-e-a-r dear, but now...”

The Author mulled this over, rubbing his chin. “I doubt it actually caused it,” he admitted. “Bugbears have a lot of abilities, but transforming another being like this? Unlikely.” He looked back at Dipper, eyes creased thoughtfully. “When, exactly, did it say this?”

Dipper thought back. “Uh, just after I crossed the river, right before it left. It looked like it was deciding whether it wanted to get wet or not, then it said that and went away.”

“Hmmm...” Stanford thought for a moment longer, then stood. “That gives me an idea. Be right back, I have to grab something.”

He stalked out of the kitchen, and the three remaining Pines lapsed back into that awkward silence.

“Sooo...” Mabel started slowly. “How's... fur?”

Dipper blinked at her, then at his backside, then shrugged. “Not as weird as I would have thought. Like a nice, fitting light jacket.” He carefully lifted one front hoof, bringing it down with a 'clump!' “The hooves are a lot weirder, to be honest. I can't really feel through them?”

“Wow, that must feel really weird!”

“Yep... yes it does.”

“...the spots look good on you, though.”

“...thanks, Mabel.”

“Well, this has got to be one of the weirdest conversations I've ever heard in my Shack,” their Grunkle grumbled. Mabel laughed.

“Really? Because I think anything we said when Dipper raised the dead on karaoke night probably takes the cake!”

“Or when Stanford came through the portal,” Dipper added, smiling. He was feeling a little better again. More normal, sitting here with two of his favorite people. Mabel had been right, he just needed to calm down and think this through. They'd find a way to change him back in no time.

Stanford walked back in, a scroll of paper in one hand and a couple of books in the other. He must have noticed the lighter atmosphere, because he raised one hairy eyebrow at them.

“Did I miss something?”

“Oh, we were just ranking weird conversations in the Shack!” Mabel chirped helpfully. Stanford rolled his eyes, but smiled for once.

“Well, there have certainly been a lot of those... Stan, move your mug outta the way, will ya?”

Grunkle Stan pulled his coffee mug aside, and Ford nudged his own glass away before he unrolled the scroll across the table. Dipper sat up in interest – what Ford had revealed was an enormous map, handmade from the looks of it. Across the top read “Gravity Falls.”

A giggle made him look across the table at Mabel, who had a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound. “I- I'm sorry,” she chortled at his look, pointing a finger at him. “Its just – y-your ears just went -” She laughed again, putting her hands on either side of her head and twisting them up with a “whoop!” before dissolving into giggles again. He frowned. “I'm s-sorry, it's just sooooo cute!”

“That aside,” Stanford said, interrupting any comeback from Dipper, “can you show us where-abouts you think you were when you hit the river?” He jabbed at a spot not all to far from the shack. “We started about here.”

Dipper leaned forward, looking over the map curiously. It was certainly old; one could tell simply by looking at the town that it was out of date. Likely, Stanford had made it himself while doing his own research, thirty years ago.

He turned his eyes to the forest, starting at the place Grunkle Ford was indicating. He had been heading... north, away from the mountain, then he'd gotten... hm, just so far that way, and the bugbear had chased him, if he had to estimate, to roughly about...

...that couldn't be right.

“Dipper?”

He scrunched his face in confusion, tapping a section of the map. “I think... I was about here...” he said slowly, “but, there's nothing there. No river, just more trees.” He tapped it again, then pointed further west, at a river marking. “Could I have been over there?”

Stanford shook his head. “You said it took you only forty minutes to get back, and you didn't cross the river twice – if you'd have been at that river, it would have taken you well over an hour, and you would have needed to cross it again on your way back.”

“So what are you saying, Ford?” Grunkle Stan asked. Grunkle Ford smiled, that thin, wry smile he got when he found something new to investigate.

“I'm thinking we have ourselves a magical, moving river to check out.”

 

xx

 

Dipper would have liked it if Mabel had come with them, or Grunkle Stan or Soos. Heck he'd even be okay with Wendy seeing him like this if she could have joined them. But Mabel had plans downtown with Pacifica (some sort of fashion shopping competition they'd arranged? He didn't know), Soos and Stan were fixing up the Shack while it was closed for the day, and he hadn't been able to get hold of Wendy. So it was just him and Grunkle Ford, trudging along and trying to find the river. The task was made easier by the trail of broken foliage he and the bugbear had left behind.

It was made infinitely more difficult by Dipper's lack of quadrupedal walking skill.

They finally made it, though, and Dipper flopped to the ground next to the river, feeling exhausted. Stanford seemed to understand, fortunately, and let him be. Still, he got right to work, pulling on a pair of gloves and opening the briefcase he'd brought along.

“Yeah, this isn't a natural river – thirty years wouldn't make something this big.” He pulled out a set of vials. “How deep would you estimate it?”

“Uh...” Well, it had been over his head, but only barely, from his short experience. “Maybe five feet at the deepest? Five and a half?”

“Uh-huh...” Checking to make sure his glove was watertight, Stanford dipped his fingers into the water, pulling back quickly. “Yikes, you weren't joking when you said it was cold!” Dipper eyed the water curiously.

“Do you think its safe for me to touch it again?”

Grunkle Ford didn't answer right away. When Dipper looked over at him, he found the old man chewing his lip, just like Dipper did when he was thinking. It was always unusual to see the similarities between the two of them – even though he'd only known the man for a few weeks, he was still family.

“If it's what actually changed you... maybe? Depends on if it was supposed to change you fully into a deer, or just a cervitaur.”

“A what?”

“Cervitaur. Like a minotaur, but using cervidae instead, to describe the deer part.” Stanford shrugged. “I dunno, I just made it up today.”

“Huh.” He kinda liked that. It made him feel less... freakish. “Well, it probably wasn't based on exposure, or I'd be all deer... so cervitaur sounds right.”

“That's a good point... yeah, it's probably safe. Hey, who knows? A second dip might reverse the effects.”

Tentatively, Dipper reached one hand to test the water. To his surprise, it actually felt warmer than before. “Hey, it's not so bad this time!” He stood and carefully stepped into the stream, relaxing as the cool water swirled around his legs and... deer body? Chest? Stomach? He wasn't quite sure what to call it.

He swam around a bit, answering Stanford's questions and helping out when he could, but mostly he was hoping he'd suddenly just change back.

On the other hand, he hadn't bothered bringing a pair of shorts along, and he did not like the idea of being half naked in the woods. He suddenly hoped he'd be safe at home before he transformed again.

“Well, that's pretty much all we can do here today,” Grunkle Ford said, nearly an hour later. He folded the briefcase back up, samples bolted in securely, and stood, stretching. “Ahhh... we'll take these back, I'll check them out at the lab, and we'll find a cure in no time.”

Dipper wanted to answer the affirmative, wanted to smile and be optimistic. After all, if anyone could find a cure for this, it would be the Author, right? He wanted to pretend that it would all be okay...

But as the color seeped out of the world around him, he was having a hard time feeling anything but dread.

“WELL WELL WELL, IF IT ISN'T MY FAVORITE PUPPET AND MY LEAST FAVORITE MEATSACK!”

Dipper shuddered at that shrill voice, suddenly terrified. In all the excitement of the portal, and of Stanford's return, he'd forgotten to warn the man of Bill's impending apocalypse. He turned to shout to his grunkle, a warning or something, but his heart sank when he realized the man was just as grayscale and still as the rest of the world. Bill's laugh echoed around him, but he still hadn't appeared.

“NICE TRY, PINE TREE, BUT WE'RE THE ONLY ONES IN HERE RIGHT NOW!” There was a ripple in the air in front of him, and then, lo and behold, the triangular menace himself appeared. He tipped his hat and winked (?), looking positively jovial. “NOT THAT I DON'T WANNA TALK TO HIM SOMETIME SOON, BUT I'D RATHER SEE THE LOOK ON HIS FACE WHEN YOU'RE THE ONE DOING THE TALKING FOR ME!”

“What do you want, Bill?” Dipper hissed, suddenly hyper aware that he was probably treading water, while asleep, being threatened by a very powerful demon. Said demon simply laughed.

“GEEZE, RELAX KID – I'M HERE FOR FUN TODAY, NOT BUSINESS!” He manifested his cane, appearing behind the deer-boy and tapping his back sharply. Dipper whirled around as best he could in the water. “SEE, I WAS MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS, YOU KNOW, PLANNING THE END OF THE WORLD, FUSING THIS REALITY WITH A NIGHTMARE HELLSCAPE, THE LIKE... WHEN I NOTICED YOUR PREDICAMENT!” He laughed again. “YOU GET YOURSELF INTO SOME REAL PICKLES, DONCHA PINE TREE?”

“I'm not making a deal with you, Bill,” Dipper snapped. “I learned my lesson last time!”

Bill just laughed again, this time quieter, more threateningly. “OH, DID YOU?” His body flared red for a split second, before settling back into yellow. “WELL, FORTUNATELY FOR ME, I DON'T NEED A DEAL WITH YOU.” He waved a hand, and the Dipper sock puppet manifested in it. He waved it inches from Dipper's face, giggling when the boy flinched. “TELL ME, DOES A PUPPET STOP BEING YOURS JUST BECAUSE YOU STOP PLAYING WITH IT?”

Dipper stared at the puppet in mounting horror, its glassy googly eyes staring right back in a twisted parody. Bill's laughter got louder and louder, until it resounded in his head, drowning out everything else. He was suddenly aware of darkness creeping in around them, kept at bay only by Bill's glow. When it was just the two of them, the darkness licking at his legs, the demon stopped laughing abruptly, and gave him another of those one-eyed winks. “DON'T WORRY, I WON'T KICK YOU OUT OF YOUR BODY THIS TIME. LIKE I SAID, KID – THIS ONE'S JUST FOR FUN! THE BEST PRANK THIS TOWN HAS EVER SEEN.”

He blipped out of existence then, and the darkness surged forward, suffocating him, trapping him and pulling him down. The last thing he heard before losing consciousness completely, echoing faintly through the void -

SEE YOU IN YOUR NIGHTMARES, KID!”

 

XX

 

When he woke up again, it was dark outside, and he was lying, curled up and cold, in the mud. Someone was calling his name, and he tried to respond. The only sound he could force out was a weak cry. He ached everywhere, and he couldn't remember anything, no matter how hard he tried. All he had were the sobs shaking his body, and the horrible, pervading feeling that he'd done something terrible.

He hardly noticed the nearby thump, the gruff, soothing voice over him, or the strong stony arms that carefully picked him up and took him into the sky.

 

Chapter Text

Will silently worked on Dipper's antlers through the story, clearing them as best he could while listening to Dipper retell his tale. He finished far before the story was over, but instead of pulling away, he began to massage the area where the cervitaur's antlers connected to his skull. The deer-boy seemed to like that quite a bit, unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) tilting his head towards the hunter encouragingly.

But now, the cervitaur had wrapped up his story, falling silent. Will still felt as though he hadn't heard everything, not yet.

So, what happened? After that demon guy knocked you out?”

Dipper let out a long, heavy sigh. “I had to ask Ford about that, after the fact.” That was kind of relieving to hear – he'd been starting to think that the demon thing killed the guy. After all, he hadn't met this “Stanford” yet. “Bill took over my body, and used his magic to... amplify, I guess is the best word, the effects of the river. Speed up the effects, increase potency or something. Then, he made it flood.”

Will furrowed his brow. “How'd he manage that?” Dipper just shrugged.

More magic? I don't really know. There's a lot about Bill we don't understand,” he sighed. “But he washed Ford away, and flooded the rest of the town. The only people who weren't affected were Paz's parents and all the staff – they were all safe in the Northwest's Manor.”

Yikes. That was probably rough on her.”

Yeah... but she really took it in stride. She'd already kind of thrown her lot in with the townsfolk – this sort of solidified it.” A small, proud smile crossed his lips. “And she and Mabel were crucial to the recovery afterward. Pacifica was able to get the town under lock-down, and compensate tons of people for business and houses and stuff. Just until we were ready to open back up to tourists again. She put together a relief effort, and we organized a lot of rebuilding. Then, when it became apparent that the change was... semi-permanent, she and Mabel were the ones who talked with the Coven and helped develop the amulets.”

Yeah, Mabel told me about them. She didn't really say much about the Coven, though...”

Yeah, I'm not surprised. They're pretty secretive... basically, there's a group of witches scattered through Gravity Falls and the surrounding woods.. Usually, they work alone – and you've already actually met one, the Hand Witch, she's one of the more social ones – but in times of trouble, they band together and form the 'Coven.'” He added the air quotes with his fingers, but his tone was sincere. “Mabel and Pacifica were the ones who convinced them to convene for the residents of Gravity Falls. I don't know how they did it, since I'm not allowed up there, but... they did.”

The lapsed into a comfortable silence, and Will mulled over the new information. There was still one thing that was really bugging him, though. “What happened to Stanford, then?”

Mmm?” Dipper replied sleepily, leaning his head slightly further into Will's hand. “What about him?”

Well, you said he got swept away, and I haven't met him. Is he...?”

Oh. Oh!” Dipper sat up a little straighter. “No! No, he's alive and well. He and I just... don't get along, super well.” He fidgeted, uncomfortable. “We had a long talk after the flood – I thought he'd be really mad about the Bill thing, but... he was actually very understanding. Turns out, he'd had some... similar experiences. We got along a lot better for awhile after that, but then... puberty hit, and we got into this... huge fight during rutting season...” He shook his head slightly, accidentally dislodging Will's hands. “I don't really wanna get into it, but long story short is, some things were said that couldn't be unsaid, and we decided it would be best if he went away during rutting season from then on out. He flies out to different parts of the world and does supernatural research there.” He tilted his head slightly. “It actually kinda works out, tho; he enjoys getting to see how the world's changed, and gets to do his research however he wants, and we get along much better in the off-season if we haven't spent all fall fighting.”

He got hit by the river too, right? What's he, now?”

Dipper opened his mouth, then clamped it shut. “You know, he'd actually kick my ass if I told you.” At Will's look of confusion, he elaborated: “One of the things he takes great pleasure in is making people guess what he is. If he found out I'd spoiled you for that, he'd kick my ass.”

Seriously?”

Seriously.”

Will pouted, but decided not to press it. “So, since the river flooded, you've all been like this? Have you tried studying the river again?”

Dipper's expression became so dejected that Will almost wished he hadn't asked. Almost. “That's the problem though – because of whatever it was Bill did, or maybe as a property of the river – the Fluventis – itself, it vanished after it flooded. Completely. Just, poof!” He emphasized his sound with a little 'poof!' hand gesture, before slumping a little. “There's nothing there to study. I've done the best I can to research phenomena similar to it, but...” He buried his face in his hands. “None of it has been all that useful .”

A thought clicked into place. “That's the research you were talking about, wasn't it? When we went to meet Multibear?”

Yeah. I've looked into moving streams, disappearing and reappearing springs, and any natural body of water that has any sort of magical properties. Any data helps, but nothing's been... conclusive.”

And you've been working on this for years?” Will asked, not bothering to keep the awe out of his voice. That level of dedication was impressive – he had problems keeping a hobby for more than a few years... though that might be a fault of his own.

To his surprise, Dipper responded with a depreciating laugh. “Yep. Ten years spent running in circles, trying to fix my own mistakes.” Will frowned.

Your mistakes?” He shook his head. “Kid, it sounds like you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time!” he protested.

Yeah, that's what Mabel says too...” Dipper mumbled before jerking up sharply in alarm. “Shit. Mabel. Uh...” He looked over at the hunter, nervous. “Don't... don't tell her I said any of that, okay?” He bit his lip. “She... she gets upset, when I say stuff like that.” When the hunter didn't answer right away, he gave him a truly pleading look. “Please?”

At that, Will had to give in – who could've said no to those big, beautiful brown eyes? “Alright, I won't,” he agreed. “But, I stand by what I said earlier. You were in the wrong time at the wrong place.”

But if I hadn't made a deal with him in the first place, I-”

You still would be a deer, or outcomes would be so different that it doesn't even bear worrying about!” Will interrupted. “You were young, and people make mistakes. Whatever! You're doing a good thing, trying to help people live the life they wanna lead, normal or not. You and Mabel and Pacifica – heck, even Soos and Stan too, from what I can tell – but you're already doing all you can, and beating yourself up over it ain't helping anybody. Actually, it'll probably make it worse in the end.”

Dipper stared at the hunter for a long moment, and Will stared right back, trying to forcefully convey sincerity through his gaze. He wasn't sure whether or not he succeeded, but laughter was certainly not the response he expected.

Mabel was right.”

Excuse me?”

Mabel was right. About you, that is.” The cervitaur's chuckles tapered off, and he smiled at the hunter.

Oh really? What did she say?”

She said that you were cool, and she thought we'd get along.”

Will gave a mock-scoff. “Well, I hope you're not just realizing this right now!” he joked. Dipper laughed again.

Sorry, man, I'm a little slow on the uptake sometimes.” He scratched one ear a little self-consciously. “I'm not a people person like Mabel, but I trust her judgment.”

Well, I can assure you, her judgment on this is sound.” Will smiled, nudging Dipper lightly in the ribs. “I'm glad you cheered up, tho. I may be cool, but I won't stand for any self-flagellating pity parties!”

Dipper rolled his eyes, smiling wryly. “No, that's cool too.” He paused, then looked up at the night sky and sighed. “Ugh, it's almost three. When did it get so late ?” He emphasized his last word with a stretch, bending his torso back with his arms over his head. Will caught a glimpse of his stomach as his shirt rode up, and noted how the fur formed something like a happy trail where it connected to the rest of his body. With a sigh, the cervitaur dropped his arms and turned back to the hunter, who tried to look as if he hadn't been staring. “You know, I might actually take you up on that back massage sometime. You're, uh...” he flushed a little. “You're pretty good with your hands.”

Will grinned widely and 'winked.' “Well, the offer is always open to you, Deerper.”

Ugh, and we're back to the nicknames,” Dipper grumbled halfheartedly before getting to his feet. He offered the hunter a hand up. “Sorry for keeping you out this late.”

No, I'm glad we got to talk.” Will accepted the hand and was pulled to his feet. He did a little stretch of his own. “Ugh, that morning shift tomorrow is going to suck though...”

Dipper winced sympathetically, but then looked thoughtful. “I could cover for you, if you want.”

...seriously?”

Sure! I mean, you probably wouldn't have been up this late if we hadn't run into each other, and you helped me out with the shedding, so... call it a thanks.”

Will grinned. He didn't have the heart to explain that he probably would have been awake all night regardless, but he wasn't about to look a gift deer in the mouth. “That would be great.”

Cool!” The cervitaur grinned, and the two stood for a moment, slowly feeling more awkward as the silence dragged on. “So uh, thanks again, and, I guess, I'll see you tomorrow bye!”

Will blinked in surprise as Dipper near literally vanished from sight, barely catching a glimpse of his white tail bobbing away through the trees. He chuckled, turning away and starting the walk back to his house.

The night hadn't gone nearly as he'd expected. It'd been much better. Not only had they gotten past the “almost murdered you” fiasco, but Dipper had opened up to him! He'd learned quite a bit, this evening. His story definitely explained his reaction to the “Mr. Triangle” that the ghost had mentioned. If he'd had that kind of experience, he'd be pretty wary of triangular demons too.

He frowned as he walked back into the house, putting the flashlight aside and washing the blood off his hands. He also got the feeling, and he'd bet his money he was right, that a lot of the bravado the cervitaur usually had was part of a cover-up. Not that Will doubted the cervitaur had the abilities to live up to his bluster, no... he just thought that, maybe, Dipper didn't think too highly of himself.

Well, that's got to change,” he muttered to himself, wiping his hands on his shirt. “Someone that self-sacrificing can't go around badmouthing himself.” He walked out of the bathroom, meandering around the house and still thinking out loud. “Explains why he's so touchy about the deer thing, though, if he really blames himself for it. Also, strangely secretly shy. It's cute. Then again, that could just be his personality when he's not affected by rut, so – Hello, what do we have here?”

He pulled up short next to a door in the hallway, stooping to pick up the shred of paper on the floor. He squinted, inspecting this.

...yeah, I've got no idea what this says,” he said flatly, reading over the arcane-looking symbols. “Looks like magic, though...” He looked at the door, standing slightly ajar. “Hmmm...” There was a wooden panel sitting loose next to the narrow door, presumably one that used to cover it. He pushed the door open, and the hall light cast an eerie pallor across the room inside. There was a bookshelf, two desks, stacked in paper, and a scattering of notes across the floor. He noted water and slime tracks – Soos and Mabel must have found this place earlier.

The ghost's words replayed in his mind. “ He said he was a friend of Daddy’s, helping him with the big book he was writing!

This must have been his study,” he mused aloud, picking up one of the papers on the floor. As he looked over it, an idea occurred to him, and he grabbed a full stack of notes, flipping through them.

Now that he was in the know about Gravity Falls, maybe it was time to start his own research...

 

 

Chapter Text

Even running home, with the shower he so desperately needed, and drying all his fur, Dipper still didn't get to sleep until five. Exactly two hours later, he dragged himself out of bed, threw on a shirt, and stumbled downstairs.

Mabel was waiting at the kitchen table for him.

Morning, bro-bro,” she said, smiling innocently and pushing a glass of Mabel juice towards him. Too tired to care about where his caffeine was coming from, he accepted it, chugging the pink monstrosity as quickly as he could. He lowered the glass with a grimace, wishing he could bleach his taste buds. He just hoped he didn't have glitter stuck in his teeth again. “You're up early, for being out so late last night.” He gave a noncommittal hum. Mabel frowned at his lack of response. “Hey, you know Will has the morning shift? I know you two had a rough time yesterday, but since you're awake I thought maybe you could -”

No, he doesn't,” Dipper cut in, still a few steps behind in the conversation. “He doesn't have the morning shift. I'm covering it.”

She stared at him, confused. “When did you two decide that?”

He and I talked last night.” Whoo, Dipper already felt worlds better. That Mabel juice really delivered. “I ran into him in the woods, on my way home.”

Mabel only looked more puzzled, before her eyes widened dramatically. “Dipper, you didn't murder him, did you?”

What? No!” Dipper protested. “I mean... I know why you'd think that, but no. I went to Multibear's place and hung out, and on my way home...” he tapped one antler. Mabel glanced them over, understanding lighting up her eyes.

Oh! You shed your velvet!” She paused, then narrowed her eyes. “In less than a night?”

I had help. On my way back, I ran into Will, who...” he frowned. “I actually don't know what he was doing out there, remind me to ask. But, you'll be glad to know I apologized for yesterday, and he offered to help me out with the shedding, and we just... talked. A lot.” He fidgeted slightly, fore-hoof pawing gently at the floor. “And, I told him about the Fluventis.”

Mabel's tail stilled, and she leaned forward. “And?”

And... he was really cool about it.” He smiled at his twin. “You were right.”

Mabel grinned broadly at him. “Good to hear it! Sounds like you two are buddies now! Is that why you took his shift?”

Not exactly... It was like, three am when we split up – I'm used to working the shop with little to no sleep, and he was only up that late because we were talking.” He shrugged. “Just seemed like the nice thing to do.”

Aww, Dippin'sauce,” his sister cooed, “you're such a nice person.” She glanced over at the clock. “But you better get in costume – we open soon.” She spun in her tank, rolling over to the fridge. “You head on out, I'll bring your breakfast out to you.”

Gratitude swept through him. “Thanks Mabel, you're the best!”

I know!”

He retrieved his fake zipper and headband and walked into the shop, taking his place behind the register. Grunkle Stan arrived a few minutes later, looking over at his nephew curiously.

I thought the new guy was on shift this morning.”

I offered to take it – he's probably still tired from moving in and stuff.”

The gargoyle scratched behind his ear with a delicate claw. “Huh. Alright, as long as someone's here and no one's slacking off.” Stan stretched, wings flaring and creaking in the empty shop. “It's probably going to be lousy with tourists today, so I need you to restock these shirts and buckle up. You're on register all day. You know the drill.”

'The drill' referred to the fact that Dipper had to keep his back half completely still to maintain the illusion of falsity. That meant no breaks, no heading out to the bathroom, no moving unless the shop was completely clear of out-of-townees. Grunkle Stan must have seen the despair on his face. “Don't worry, kid, I'll make sure this place is cleared out during tours – that should give you a couple breaks. Now here! Get these up, we open in ten!” He plopped a box of t-shirts down on the counter, heading into his office to prep the day's register tray. With a sigh, Dipper started hanging the shirts. This was going to be a long morning.

And he wasn't wrong. It certainly was busy, and Dipper stood there and smiled and rung up purchases like he didn't have an enormous itch on his side that he was just dying to scratch. Two women called him 'a-doe-able,' and he just grit his teeth and kept smiling. It tended to be easier to ignore with customers – they didn't mean it personally – but really, he was still too tired for this stuff.

And it had been going on like this for almost two hours when the door flew open, clattering loudly against the wall. He turned, ready to yell at whoever was trying to break the door, when he was met by the wild, grinning face of Will Hunt.

Dipper you will not believe this – 'scuse me...” The hunter nudged the lady currently at the front of the line out of the way, racing around to pop up behind the counter. “Last night I was in my house, and I found this, and I was reading it and I stayed up all night working through it, and it's not even the only one but it's fascinating and I think it could help your research, so -” and he kept going, waving a dusty, old-looking book in the cervitaur's face, eyes wide with excitement, grin even wider and bags under his eyes that surpassed his own. The customers looked dumbfounded, and Dipper was right there with them. Will was a talker, sure, but right now he was going a mile a minute.

Will.” The hunter didn't take notice, still rambling – his sentences were starting to fall into fragments, just bits and pieces of thoughts that weren't even making sense at this point. “Will.” Still no response, but the scene had caught the attention of Grunkle Stan, who was looking over at them, eyes questioning. Dipper shrugged helplessly, gesturing to the sleep-deprived hunter. His grunkle narrowed his eyes in annoyance and stomped over. Will was cut off mid-sentence with an “eep!” as the gargoyle lifted him by the back of his collar, dragging him out the back and into the house. Dipper resumed register duty, though he subtly twitched one ear, managing to catch “Will, you look terrible and you're scaring my customers. Take a nap. You can talk to Dipper when he gets off the clock at noon.”

There was a thump, then faint snoring. Dipper finished up with the last of the customers as Stan reappeared. “Ladies and Gents, please head out front! The tour's about to begin!”

The two Pines waited, watching the people filter out, before Grunkle Stan leaned towards Dipper.

Alright, you go ahead and take a quick break – I'll flip the away sign.” He glanced back at the door to the house. “Also, keep an ear out for Will. He's scarier sleep deprived than you.”

No kidding,” the cervitaur mumbled, heading into the house while his grunkle walked out to the waiting group. He poked his head into the living room – Will was splayed out across the couch, snoring lightly. The book he'd been waving around lay on the floor next to him, along with a bag that was only half zipped, as if hastily packed. As he watched, the hunter rolled towards the back of the couch, curling inwards.

Hesitantly, Dipper stepped forward silently, reaching over the hunter to grab one of the blankets lying atop the couch. Doing his best not to wake the man, he carefully draped the blanket over him. The hunter let out a small, content sigh, and snuggled deeper into the couch. Dipper snuck out just as quietly, but not before eying the book. It was so tempting to pick it up now, just go read it while he worked the register, between rushes... but in the end, he decided against it. Stan would get mad if he caught him researching at the register again, and Will had seemed awfully excited to tell him about it...

He left to take the rest of his break. He'd wait for the hunter to wake up, first.

 

xx

 

Noon could not roll around fast enough. Between the residual Mabel Juice in his system and the curiosity of what Will wanted to show him eating at him, he was a fidgety mess. After Grunkle Stan had flipped the sign to “Closed for Lunch” and charged the stragglers his exit fee, Dipper took off for the living room.

The hunter was right where he left him, sound asleep, but he had company. Mabel was curled up in her larger, less mobile tank next to the couch, and Pacifica was coiled around that, a good portion of her tail draped into the tank, where Mabel was using it as a pillow.

As he walked into the room, Pacifica shifted, turning her face towards him.

Oh, hey Dipper,” she yawned, sitting up a little.

Hey Paz. What's with the midday slumber party?”

Pacifica rubbed her eyes carefully behind her sunglasses, and Dipper averted his gaze. Just in case. “Blame Mabel, she kept us up late watching old romcoms.” She yawned again, venom dripping from her fangs. “She tried to get me up this morning, but I wasn't having that. Then when I finally did get up, she'd crashed in here.” She nodded over at the hunter. “What's his story?”

Not sure. From what I can gather, he stayed up all last night reading something, and came over this morning to show me. Grunkle Stan kicked him out of the shop, and he just passed out.”

Huh.” She raised one eyebrow. “Did you two make up then?”

He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Yeah, we talked last night. It was actually really good.” Pacifica “hmmm”ed, not sounding convinced. “I was wrong, about the Fey thing, by the way.”

I know. I checked after you left.”

Of course she had. Pacifica was nothing if not meticulous. “That's good.”

They sat in silence for a moment, Dipper fidgeting more and more with the desire to wake Will up and see what he wanted to share. Pacifica sighed quietly in exasperation.

Look, just go ahead and wake him! But take your studying somewhere else, okay? We're tired.” She emphasized this by twisting herself to rest on her coils again, getting comfy.

Dipper smiled fondly. “Alright.” He reached out a hand to shake Will.

Oh, and Dipper?”

He paused, looking back over at her. She was still lying, but her gaze was clearly focused on him. She looked... concerned, if he had to guess.

...yeah?” he prodded, waiting for her to continue. She scrunched her nose, thinking.

If... if you ever have any problems with him, you can feel free to come to me. Got it?”

He blinked, slightly taken aback by the intensity she put in her statement. “Sure, yeah. I mean, I probably won't, we talked it out and I'll try not to get that mad again, so-”

No, not that. I meant...” she shook her head, annoyed. “Just... if he does something to you, and you need someone to talk to. I'm here.”

Dipper, now a little more confused, just nodded. “Alright, Paz. Sure thing.”

The snake-girl stared at him a moment longer, then settled back down. “Good. Have fun with your research.

Uh, right...” Dipper turned away from Pacifica and Mabel, reaching out a hand to stir the hunter.

Time to see what Will had uncovered...

 

Chapter Text

Will was sleeping soundly, which was a rare enough experience for him. Rarer still, he was having a nice dream, a lovely walk through a forest, miles away from any water, gun slung over his shoulder and eye out for any good hunting. So, when something gently shook his shoulder, whispering his name, he just tried to bury himself deeper into his blanket, rolling away from the source and trying to hold on to the dream. The illusion was somewhat broken when his face smashed into something soft.

His mind started pulling away from the dream, recalling back to his body as he woke up. That voice was still calling to him, and the shaking was growing more insistent, and how did someone get into his house, anyways?

Oh. Oh, right! The previous 'night' and his long reading binge came back to him, and he started to stir, recognizing the voice as Dipper's. He rolled away from the back of the couch, careful not to fall off, and peered up blearily at the cervitaur. The cutie was staring back down at him, eyebrow raised expectantly.

“Sleep well?” he whispered, the hint of a smile on his face. Will nodded, getting his thoughts back in order. “Good. Looked like you needed it.”

Will squinted up at him. There was a lot more light coming through the windows – how long had he slept? Long enough to feel more awake and alert now. “You look like you might need some, too,” he replied in a whisper, noting the darkness under the cervitaur's eyes. Dipper just rolled his eyes.

“That's pretty much a constant,” he sighed, resigned.

“Also, why are we whispering?”

Dipper pointed over to the other side of the living room. Craning his neck awkwardly around the arm of the couch, Will peered over to see Mabel and Pacifica cuddling together, as best as a gorgon and a mermaid could. “Aww,” he cooed softly. “That's adorable.”

“Yeah.” They watched the girls for a minute, before Dipper bent over, scooping up the book. “So, you wanted to show me something, right?” he asked, holding it aloft.

“Yes!” He caught Dipper's wince at the rise in his volume, and lowered his voice again quickly. “Yes. I brought over the books and notes and stuff, but if you're done in the shop, we can head over to my house and I'll just show you in person.”

“Sure. You can tell me on the way, too.”

Will grabbed his bag, and the two snuck out of the shack. After making sure no tourists were meandering the grounds, they cut into the woods, Will taking the lead.

“Did you honestly run here this morning?” Dipper asked, noting the hunter was wearing the same outfit he'd been in yesterday. Ahead of him, Will stumbled over a root.

“I was excited,” Will whined in explanation. “I spent all night reading this stuff, then waiting for the sun to come up, then waiting for it to be a decent hour. I was gonna wait until you finished your shift, but I got impatient.” He tripped over another root, catching himself just in time. “Sonnova-!”

“Still tired, I take it?”

The hunter grumbled. “A little.” An idea struck him, and he turned, grinning widely at the cervitaur. Dipper just raised an eyebrow.

“What's that look for?”

“You know,” Will started, adopting a more persuasive tone, “we'd get there faster if you gave me a lift.”

Dipper's ears flattened instantly. “Not happening.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Two reasons: One, because if Grunkle Stan ever found out that I was willing to give rides, ever, he'd find a way to monetize deer rides.”

“Ah.” That was a good point. Will had only known the conman for a few days, but the man's desire for money was evident. “And the second?”

“Two, giving rides is just...” The cervitaur paused, his face scrunching up in disgust. His flanks shivered a little. “It's just weird. It feels weird.”

“Weird how?”

Dipper’s ears flattened further. “Just, weird. Look, I don’t want to argue this. It isn’t happening.”

Will was dying to press the issue, but determined not to... right now. He’d only just gotten back into Dipper’s good graces - he didn’t want to upset that too quickly. So he just rolled his eyes and gave a dramatic sigh. “Fiiine.”

The two walked in silence for a moment, before Dipper asked, “So, are you ever gonna tell me what you found, or are you just going to leave me in suspense the whole way to your house?”

“Right, right... Did Mabel or Soos tell you about the secret study?”

Dipper pulled up short, face clouding in mild confusion. “The what, now?”

Will gestured for the cervitaur to keep following. “I guess not, then. So, after I got home last night, I was walking around and found this room I hadn’t noticed before.”

“Okay?”

“So I go inside, and I realize that it’s actually a secret room, because the door is part of a panel that’s pushed aside, and the place is. Packed. With papers and books and weird scraps of paper everywhere, and I don’t have anything better to do than stick my nose into stuff, so I start reading.” He grinned over his shoulder at the cervitaur. “Do you happen to remember what that ghost said, about her father’s research?”

“...she said that Bill was helping him...”

“But she didn’t mention the topic.” Will grabbed the book from his bag again, holding it aloft. “This? It’s a book I found open on one of the guy’s desks. It’s a compilation of his research, and I think you’ll find his focuses of study veeeeery interesting!” He offered it to the cervitaur, who took it wordlessly, opening it up and flipping through it. “And that’s just one book! This guy has a whole study of books and arcane looking texts and mountains of his own notes, and...” he trailed off, realizing he couldn’t hear the soft ‘crunch’ of leaves behind him. He turned to look at Dipper.

The cervitaur had stopped walking, flipping furiously back and forth through the book, his eyes scanning each page with a gaze that grew more and more intense the longer Will watched. The hunter raised an eyebrow.

“Dipper?”

The cervitaur snapped his head up, looking at Will, mouth opened slightly in surprise, as if he’d forgotten the hunter was standing there. “This... this is all about Gravity Falls anomalies...” he said quietly.

Will grinned inwardly. He certainly had gotten the deer-boy’s attention. “Yep.”

“And, there’s a whole room of...?” Dipper raised the book in one hand.

“Yep! I was only able to go through that and some of his notes. He might have research on other supernatural stuff, too! I bet it’d take weeks to sort through all of it.”

Dipper seemed to be salivating at the thought. He took a few steps forward, pulling up even with the hunter. “...how much farther is it to your house?”

“Uh... another ten minutes walk, I guess? Why?”

“I’m... rethinking my stance on giving you a ride...” When Dipper saw the scarcely contained excitement flit over Will’s face, he rolled his eyes. “Just once. And you can’t tell anyone.”

Will grinned, trying and failing not to look as excited as he felt. He crossed an ‘x’ over his heart. “I swear. You can count on me.” Not like he had to lie about that, either. The idea of Dipper bending his rules just to include him was satisfying. The idea of Dipper being ridden as part of a Mystery Shack attraction? Not so much. He’d prefer to have this experience all to himself.

“Alright.” The cervitaur bent his legs underneath him, lowering to the ground. “Hop on.”

Despite his eagerness, Will was careful as he straddled the cervitaur, adjusting the bag on his own shoulders before settling on Dipper’s back. He wanted to make sure Dipper wouldn’t regret letting him do this, if he wanted the chance for it to happen again. After some brief deliberation, he placed his hands on Dipper’s shoulders. He desperately wanted to wrap himself around the other’s torso instead, but it was too soon. He’d work his way up to that.

“Ready?” Will affirmed that he was, and Dipper carefully stood. Will’s grip tightened slightly, keeping himself balanced. He was glad for the extra support when Dipper took off. Will ducked his head slightly, staying mostly behind the cervitaur’s torso, grinning in exhilaration. This was so much better than he had even remembered! Granted, last time they’d done this, they were running for their life, and his leg was broken, and he’d been starving, but still...

Dipper was fast, and the ride had adrenaline pumping through the hunter’s veins, and he thought he might have let out a whoop of excitement. But it was over too soon. Mere minutes later, he could see the outline of his house through the trees. Dipper slowed as they approached, walking by the time they got to the door. The cervitaur tilted his head, craning his neck to look back at the hunter without clocking him with an antler. To the hunter’s surprise, there was a smile on his face. A small, shy one, but a smile nonetheless.

“Alright, you’ve had your fun - ride’s over.” The hunter slid off the cervitaur’s back, stumbling a little when he hit the ground. Fortunately, Dipper caught his arm, supporting him as he steadied himself. “So, let’s see this study!”

They headed in, Will taking the lead as he guided them to the study. As he entered the dark room, he flicked the small lamp on, illuminating the space.

“Ta-da!” he presented with a smirk, turning to see the cervitaur’s reaction.

Dipper didn’t disappoint. His eyes were wide as they ran over the bookshelves, the papers and notes and mounds of research. Will’s smirk widened. Deer-boy looked like someone had brought Christmas early.

Dipper gently picked up a notebook, flipping through the pages. Will recognized it as one of the ones he’d looked through. “...demons...” Dipper muttered, before grabbing another one. “...locational anomalies...? That’s...” He put them back down, heading over to the shelf and scanning the titles. “Will... half of these aren’t even in English... some of them might be, like, original manuscripts or something!” There was a breathlessness to his voice, an awe that permeated his statements as he continued to search the room. Will just stood in the doorway, feeling like the cat that had caught the canary. If this didn’t get him in good with the cervitaur, he didn’t know what would.

Finally, Dipper turned back to him, eyes absolutely ablaze with exhilaration. “Will, this... this is...” He grasped for words, before finally just shaking his head, looking amazed.

Will clapped his hands, rubbing the palms together schemingly. “Well, ten-point, this is your research project!” he chimed, a sharp, angular grin spreading across his face. “Where do we start?”

 

Chapter Text

The next few weeks flew by. There was hardly a dull moment for Will, his time occupied either with working at the Mystery Shack or helping Dipper with his research. He wasn’t much of a bookworm himself - he much preferred to get his hands dirty. When they’d started, he’d resigned himself to spending hours in the musty old study, helping the cervitaur pour over all the documents stored there. And for the first few days, they did - Dipper had thrown himself into the research with a vigor that surprised the hunter, sitting with four or five books open around him, taking notes and making observations in his own private notebook.

There were certain perks that came along with it, though. Will quickly found out about Dipper’s insomniac tenancies, and ordered an enormous cushion for the cervitaur to sleep on after finding Dipper flopped, snoring, atop a pile of papers one morning.

“If you’re gonna sleep over, you may as well do it in comfort,” Will had said when he’d shown the addition to Dipper. The cervitaur had managed to look both exasperated and grateful.

And while there were many long nights of study, there were plenty of days out in the woods as well. To Will’s great excitement, Dipper was as focused and passionate about fieldwork as he was traditional bookwork. And there was never a slow moment doing fieldwork in Gravity Falls.

There were plenty of dangerous ones, though.

“What did you say to them?” Will shouted. He and Dipper were running through the woods, Dipper leading and the hunter hard on his heels. Behind them, an enormous swarm of pixies buzzed and hissed angrily.

“I tried to say we were friends!” the cervitaur replied, ducking a branch.

“Just friends?” Will teased back, before something pinched his backside and he yelped. “Looks like your pronunciation needs some work, buck-brains!”

“Will, do not even start that right now, I swear to god!”

“Fine, fine... how much farther?” Will chanced a glance back, grimacing at the sharp grins the little menaces were giving him. “Dipper?”

“Few more feet... here!” The cervitaur skid to a halt, the hunter running into his backside as he tried to do the same. Behind them came the satisfying plink of pixies hitting something. The two of them turned, panting, to see the irate fairy-wannabes furiously pounding on an invisible wall. They shared a grin, before Will leaned over, resting his hands on his knees.

“I never expected research to be so physically taxing!” he laughed, the ache in his lungs subsiding.

“That’s Gravity Falls for you,” Dipper responded, bending down to scoop up a large stone and inspect the glowing symbol carved into it. “The new protective rune worked great, though!”

“I’m glad for that - it would have been nasty if it hadn’t.” As if to affirm this point, one particularly large pixie charged at the ward, bouncing off with a resounding thud. “How long do you think it’ll take them to give up?”

The cervitaur shrugged, settling down, legs folded under. Will took that as his cue to sit as well. “Dunno. Probably not long - they don’t have long attention spans.” He replaced the stone and pulled his notebook out of a small sidebag. “Gives us a chance to relax, though.”

Will hummed in agreement, leaning back on his hands. His gaze turned from the angry swarm of pixies to the cervitaur, writing intently in his book. He was a puzzle.

Will liked to consider himself classy, but he had no illusions that subtlety was his thing, not for something he really wanted. He felt he’d been pretty obvious with his affection - he’d scratched the kid’s ears, dropped overtly-friendly compliments and innuendos... heck, they’d even fallen asleep practically cuddling in the study! But despite all of that, the deer-boy seemed as oblivious as ever.

‘Maybe it’s a deer thing?’ he wondered to himself, taking in Dipper’s focused expression. ‘How do deer show interest and affection, anyways? I’m much better at killing them than matchmaking...’

“...what are you staring at?”

Will blinked, realizing the cervitaur was staring right back at him. “Oh, just admiring the scenery,” he replied smoothly. Dipper raised an eyebrow, looking as if he might press the issue... then lowered it with a shrug. Will smiled, screaming internally. If only Dipper was as interested in delving his depths as he was divining those of Gravity Falls...

Mmm, the idea of Dipper delving his depths...

No, no, Bad Will, he chided himself. There would be plenty of time for that later.

“Um, alright...” the cervitaur said slowly, again interrupting Will’s less-than-clean train of thought. “Hey, looks like the pixies are starting to clear out.”

Will turned his head, and sure enough, the swarm had thinned significantly. The remaining ones hovered at the border of the protective circle, scowling angrily at them. Will flippantly flipped them the bird, grinning. He heard Dipper choke back a laugh, before managing a somewhat disapproving cough.

“Don’t encourage them, Will,” he half-chuckled. Will just rolled his eye.

“What are they gonna do, bang their heads against the barrier more?”

“Well, yeah. And the longer they do that, the longer we’re stuck here.”

Will eyed the stone they’d marked with the rune. “Couldn’t we take that with us? Move it along as we go?”

The cervitaur tapped one finger thoughtfully on the pages of his notebook. “Hypothetically, yes... the rune and the magic binding it is technically attached to the stone, not the area. But, with area of affect magic, they tend to be stronger where they were originally woven. The further we move away with it, the weaker it could get, and it might break before we got away from the pixies.”

Will flopped backwards onto the ground. “So, no moving until the little pests go away, then?”

“Mm-hm...” Dipper had resumed his writing, and Will craned his neck to look over.

“What are you writing now? We didn’t even reach the spring you wanted to look at.”

“Oh, just some stuff... mostly about the protective rune. I’ll have to remember to update the other safe spots. Protective shields are much better than visual cloaking.”

“Yeah, explain that to me, again?” Will sat up again, shuffling over to Dipper so they were shoulder to shoulder and he could read what the cervitaur was writing.

“Sure!” Will smiled as the deer-boy flipped backwards through his book. Dipper was always so excited to explain things, it was absolutely adorable. “So, you remember this rune here? It’s what Stanford and I carved into stones around the forest before. We called those areas safe spaces - unless you knew they were there, you could stand near the stone and its magic would basically camouflage you until it was safe. The downside of that, of course, is that something could stumble through unknowingly, or if you were being followed and whatever’s chasing you sees you disappear, it’ll put two and two together and you’re toast anyways. But, if you’re fast and can lose them, this works just fine.” He flipped forward again, to the more recent pages. Will caught snatches of notes from the last few days, things like “form altering properties?” and “demon traps,” before Dipper settled on a new page with a very different rune. “This one, on the other hand, works like a protective circle. You add certain marks here,” and he jabbed at part of it, “to denote different people, and those people can come and go as they please. This part,” another jab “allows non-threatening entities to pass through without noticing. And this -” he planted his finger square in the middle of the rune, “keeps anything hostile from entering.”

“I see...” Will looked over the rune, comparing it mentally to the one from earlier. “But, how does it know whats threatening and what isn’t?”

“See, that’s the interesting part. It’s not actually written in, so it comes from the secondary part of rune magic - the casting itself.” Dipper waved a hand in a so-so gesture. “Generally, its about a fifty-fifty split between the rune itself and the intention behind the casting that creates the final effect of the rune. It’s like... Hm...” he trailed off for a moment, thinking. “Well, I guess you haven’t seen this yet, but you know how Mabel casts spells, right?”

Will rolled his eye. “Yeah, ten-point, she only healed my leg that one time.” He paused. “And my black eye that other time.”

Dipper snorted. “Keep up with that nickname crap and she’ll have to do it again,” he said, notes of humor laced through his tone. “But, Mabel is capable of actual spellwork - stuff that’s based on words and incantations. My magic, on the other hand, is forged solely through will and experience. So, her stuff is stronger, but mine can be more finely tailored.”

“Okay?”

“And if we work together, we can combine the best of those two - work a spell that is incredibly powerful, but vague, then fine-tuned to do exactly what we need.”

Will nodded slowly, starting to get the picture. “So, you’re saying runes work the same way. The rune itself is Mabel’s work, the raw power and the general purpose, and then the caster’s work is like your tailoring?”

“Exactly!” The cervitaur looked over towards their pursuers again. “Looks like the pixies have cleared out! Time to head on back!”

“Sure, sure...” They stood and started to head back, Dipper chattering along the way about the pixies and magic theory. Will only listened with half an ear, still trying to remember how deer showed affection for one another. He seemed to recall that some species made kissing sounds at one another, but that seemed too obvious. He’d rather Dipper figure it out himself without giving him an obvious clue - playing mind games with the kid was just too much fun, even if it was taking longer than the direct approach. He didn't think he'd be getting tired of that puzzled expression Dipper made anytime soon.

While Will became more involved in his own thoughts, Dipper kept rambling. Unbeknownst to the hunter, however, the cervitaur was doing some contemplation of his own.

Dipper shot a furtive glance over at the hunter, quickly noticing that he wasn't paying much attention to what he was saying. “...so then, aliens came down from the sky, and taught everyone how to mambo,” he added conversationally, rolling his eyes when the human failed to respond.

Will was a strange person, he mused to himself, lapsing into silence. He was something of a cannonball, personality-wise, always charging in with fanfare and oomph... something that wasn't always useful when dealing with the supernatural. But on the flip side, he did have an awful lot of charm, for someone who could be so over the top and annoying. All in all, though, Dipper had become quite fond of him in these past few weeks. He was a good research partner, he didn't seem to mind listening to Dipper ramble on for the most part, and the ideas he came up with... he was certainly someone who liked to be outside the box.

No wonder he'd taken to Gravity Falls as well as he had.

And yet, for all his bluster, the hunter did have his quiet times. The two had enjoyed some serene moments in the quieter areas of the forest, taking in the greenery and fantastical life that populated the forest. And it was times like that... times like now, Dipper thought, shooting the hunter another glance... that Dipper had the feeling that there was still something to Will that seemed... unsettled. Wanting, maybe, was a better word. Like a melancholy that would briefly drift over the hunter and his thoughts, only to be shaken off again by that enormous trademark grin of his as they embarked on whatever venture they had planned for that day.

Dipper wanted to pry – curiosity was his fatal flaw, he knew – but he held his tongue. Will had given him the benefit of waiting for him to be comfortable enough to share his problems, something he had greatly appreciated. He'd give Will the same courtesy.

The hunter started suddenly, looking over at the cervitaur with an apologetic look on his face. “Sorry, did you ask me something?”

Dipper shook his head. “No, you were off in your own little world.”

Ah. My bad.” The hunter did look a little guilty, so Dipper hurried to reassure him.

No worries. I was just kinda rambling.” They were almost to the hunter's house. “What's on your mind?”

Huh?”

You looked like you were thinking pretty hard just then. Anything you wanted to talk about?”

To the cervitaur's surprise, Will just laughed. “No, nothing like that. I was just trying to remember some stuff.” When Dipper quirked an eyebrow, the man shook his head, grinning. “It's nothing big. And I think I got it anyways, so,” he gestured back to the cervitaur. “What were you saying, before I so rudely went off into my own head?”

Dipper shrugged. “Honestly, I don't even remember at this point. I kinda got lost in my own thoughts too.” Something caught his eye ahead of them. “Oh! We're already back at your place.”

The hunter peered through the trees at his house. “So we are.” He shot the cervitaur a sly glance, a smirk settling over his face. “So, are you going to come in for some more studying?”

Dipper sighed. “Unfortunately, no. Grunkle Stan is pretty peeved that I keep trading out shifts to Mabel to go into the woods, so he's put me on restocking for, like, the next week .” He snorted petulantly. “I probably won't be staying over for the next few days.”

Will nodded sympathetically – restocking a cluttered place like the Mystery Shack was a pain. The two of them paused at his back porch, Will standing on the lowest step so he'd actually be eye-to-eye with the deer boy.

So...” Dipper felt a shift in the air, and he wasn't exactly sure what it was – Will seemed to notice it too, or maybe he was the cause of it, because he had this strange, determined expression on his face that looked borderline demented. “Are you... still game for checking out that color changing spring tomorrow?”

Will didn't answer right away. Instead, he seemed to be studying the cervitaur's face thoughtfully. Dipper fidgeted, starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Had he said something wrong? “Look, I mean, if you don't - ”

His words choked to a stop as suddenly, there were hands on either side of his head, fingers gently digging in behind his ears and scratching. His eyelids fluttered involuntarily, and a stuttered “Whu-?” tumbled out over his lips, before...

Before Will rubbed his cheek over Dipper's in one long, slow stroke. Dipper's jaw hung loose in absolute confusion, a flush lighting up his cheeks, either from embarrassment or something else, he wasn't sure.

Will's... nuzzle? That was probably the best word... William's nuzzle lasted only a few seconds before he pulled away. His grin was wide, but the expression in his eyes was more reserved. “I'm always game for hanging out with you, Rudolph,” he said with a quiet snicker, before turning and heading into his house. “See you tomorrow!”

Dipper stood like a deer in headlights as the door shut, face burning red, jaw still hanging open, before he shut it with a snap. Without a second thought, he turned and bolted away through the woods.

Will watched from a window, peeking through the shades, and let out a shaky sigh. “If that didn't get through to him, I'm not sure what will,” he grumbled. “Either way, the ball's in his court, now.”

He just hoped he hadn't messed it all up...

 

Chapter Text

Dipper ran home as fast as he was able, hoping to outpace the thoughts running through his head. He wasn’t as successful as he would have liked. Mostly, he was berating and defending himself in a vicious cycle.

“He’s literally called you ‘cute’ and ‘handsome’ and ‘attractive’ multiple times, dumbass!” he groaned inwardly. “How on earth did you miss that?”

“But it isn’t my fault!” he protested. “I didn’t know he like, liked me. I just thought he was being a jerk!”

“A jerk who gets in my personal space and ruffles my hair and scratches my ears and oh my god we were actually cuddling that one time! How? How did I not realize this sooner?”

“I didn’t know he was into guys! ...wait, shit, am I into guys? I don’t... Ugh!”

“How long has he been even doing this?”

By the time he got home, he was nearly hyperventilating. He staggered into the kitchen, where Grunkle Stan was relaxing with the paper, drinking a beer in his boxers and wife-beater. He looked up at the cervitaur as he entered.

“Hey kid... something chase you home again? You look like shit.”

Dipper took a minute to catch his breath, shaking his head. “No... just... felt like running,” he finally managed to get out. “Where’s.... Mabel?”

“In her room.” Stan took a sip of his beer. “But you’ve got restocking to do first, Dipper.” He gave the cervitaur a pointed look.

“Grunkle Stan, I swear I’ll do it tonight, I just need to talk to her for-”

“You said that about the last three shifts I gave you. The ones you traded to Mabel.” He took another, deliberate sip of his drink, his intense gaze not leaving his nephew for a second. Dipper began to fidget under its weight, but he was determined.

“Grunkle Stan, Will has been flirting with me for who knows how long, and I’ve only just noticed, and I really really need Mabel’s advice right now!”

The two men stared at each other across the kitchen, Dipper trying to convey both his panic and determination, while Stan’s disapproving gaze had given way to something more taken aback.

Finally, Grunkle Stan stood with a grunt. “Head on into the shop and start restocking.”

“But Stan-!”

“I’ll go get your sister and you can talk to her there. Heaven knows I’m not qualified to give that kind of advice,” he grumbled, heading into the house.

Dipper stood dumbfounded for a moment. “Oh... Thank you, Grunkle Stan!” he called after the gargoyle.

“Get on it, kid, those shelves ain’t gonna stock themselves!”

Dipper went into the shop, grabbing the inventory list from its spot on the wall. He focused on doing the restocking - if he thought too hard about something else, he’d end up going in circles until he went crazy.

It was maybe ten minutes before Mabel rolled in. “Wassup, brobro? The Gargrunk said you called?”

“Mabel!” Dipper nearly dropped the box of t-shirts he was carrying. He quickly deposited it on the counter, rushing over to her tank. “Mabel, how long has Will been flirting with me?”

Her first expression was one of surprise, and Dipper’s heart leapt - maybe he hadn’t been alone in not noticing? - but his elation was short-lived as his twin began fighting the smile making its way across her face.

“O~ooh?” she asked, voice strained by the effort. “Do you want the answer you wanna hear, or the truth?”

“Mabel! How long?!”

She took a deep breath - and lost the battle. A huge, excited grin split her face. “Pretty much since he saw you,” she squealed, hiding her smile behind her webbed fingers. “Dip, you’ve gotta give me the scoop - what tipped you off? Are you two a thing now?” She reached out, grabbing his hands. “You gotta tell me everything. Did he just come out and say it? What happened?”

Dipper stared at her, aghast. “The scoop?” Mabel, I - we’re not a thing, I just...” His head dropped, and she ducked, mindful of his antlers. “I feel so dumb!” he admitted, head hanging. “He’s been flirting with me this whole time? And I haven’t noticed?” He lifted his head again, face red in embarrassment. “He must think I’m an idiot, and - and how am I even supposed to respond?”

“Dipper. Dipper, calm down.” Mabel squeezed his hands. “You’re over-thinking, I promise you are.”

“And you knew!” his brow creased in distress, his voice taking on a pleading note. “Mabel, you knew and you know I don’t... I... why didn’t you tell me?”

Mabel floated in her tank, mulling over her answer and feeling just a little bit guilty at her twin’s obvious distress. “I... thought it would be best for you to figure it out on your own,” she admitted, “or at least for Will to tell you outright. Will and I talked a lot about it, and -”

“Wait, he just told you?”

Mabel snorted. “Well, I figured it out right away - match expert, remember?” Dipper just groaned helplessly, and she frowned. “I didn’t think you’d be this upset...”

Dipper pulled his hands away from hers, gripping his hair. “I don’t... Mabel, what am I supposed to do?” I don’t even know if I like guys, much less...” he swallowed heavily. “I mean... we’re good friends... I don’t wanna...”

“Dipper, he likes you. A lot. He has explicitly told me this. A lot. And while I encouraged his pursuit, I doubt he’d throw a hissy-fit and leave just because you don’t wanna date him.”

Dipper’s jaw dropped a little at that. “...encouraged - Mabel, why would you encourage him? I mean... I’ve never even shown any interest in boys!”

She rolled her eyes. “Dipper, ever since Wendy, you haven’t shown any interest in anybody! And I am an equal opportunity encourager!”

“Okay, well, if he likes me so much, and wants to date me so bad, why didn’t he just say something! Why bother waiting so long?”

“Two reasons - one, he told me outright, is that he thinks you look attractive when you figure something out.”

Dipper’s ears lifted slightly. “...really?”

Mabel nodded. Dipper didn’t need to know that the hunter’s exact phrasing had been “a-fucking-dorable,” so she didn’t add it. “He was thinking of asking you out about a week ago, but decided not to. The second reason was, I suggested he take things slow.”

Dipper raised one eyebrow. “Seriously?” His twin nodded. “Mabel, you never took romances slowly.”

“But you aren’t me, bro-bro. And if I’m gonna give some guy advice for dating my twin, I’m gonna make damn sure the person is in it for real, and not just some creep!”

Gratefulness swelled in Dipper’s chest, and he smiled weakly at his sister. “Thanks, Mabes.”

She winked, pointing finger guns at him. “I always got your back, Dipdop.”

They shared a few seconds of chuckling, before Dipper sobered once more. “Okay, so, still - what do I do now?” Mabel shrugged.

“Honestly, that’s up to you, Dipdop! If you like him, great! If not, that’s great too!” she patted his shoulder. “Trust me, Will’s a pretty chill guy - he’ll understand.” A sly look came over her face. “Buuut... I’m pretty sure you like him back, anyways!” she giggled.

“Mabel! I don’t even know that, how could you?” Dipper whined, stomping a hoof. Mabel stiffed another giggle.

“Alright, alright. But I will say, for the record, I think you two have great chemistry already. You’d make a really cute couple.” She smiled at Dipper, who still looked hesitant. “Feel a little better?”

Dipper scuffed at the floor with one forehoof. “I guess... he mumbled. “I just... I need to think, for a bit.” He turned to pick up the box of t-shirts again, then hesitated. “Do you... mind not telling Will about this? I know you two talk a lot, but... I need some time to think, and I don’t really want to avoid him until then...”

“Smart!” She put a finger to her lips and winked. “I won’t say a word. I’ll just play dumb if he asks.” Dipper smiled in relief. “Thanks Mabel, I-”

There were three sharp knocks at the door.

The twins stared in mirrored confusion at the door. “Mabel, were you expecting anyone?” Dipper asked, voice quiet.

“No... and it’s too late for any tourists,” she replied, sharing a puzzled glance with him. “Maybe it’s Will?”

Dipper shook his head. “Will doesn’t know the meaning of knocking.” He walked over to the door as quietly as he could, ears alert and pricked forwards. There were three more knocks, and he heard the brief scuffling of feet outside. He looked back at his twin, who shrugged. He reached for the door, and pulled it open.

“Sorry, the Mystery Shack is... closed?” The empty front yard, deep with shadow was all he saw. He glanced over his shoulder. “Mabel, there’s no one ouUGAUGH!”

He yelped as a large shadow emerged, bolting for him from his peripheral and jumping him at the door. He had time for an alarmed cry before something huge and furry tackled him. His alarm was short lived as a familiar scent hit his nose.

“Wendy!” his sister cheered, safe in her tank and not staggering under the flying hug their older friend had just delivered.

Wendy helped Dipper stabilize, squeezed him in a great big hug, and pulled back with a grin. Dipper returned it.

“Rrrhow’s rrmy favorite pair of twins?” the werewolf asked, shifting from her full werewolf form to a smaller, more humanoid one. She looked just as Dipper remembered, reddish-brown fur, partially shaved in her human and near-human forms into an attractive undercut, tail swishing happily behind her as she went to give Mabel a big hug too.

“We’re good! How’s Portland? How long are you visiting? What have you been up to? Oooh it’s so good to see you!”

Dipper laughed, shutting the door. “Mabel, let her get a word in!” he teased, settling on his hind legs next to them. “How are you, Wendy?”

“I’m great! Its been same old, same old with the job, but they’re giving me some extra time off, so I decided to come home to visit!” She patted their shoulders. “So! What’s new? Hey, Dipper - Any new discoveries?” She tapped his antlers. “These came in nice, this year!”

He pushed her hand away with a smile. “Thanks, man.” His eyes lit suddenly, eager to tell her all about the research he’d been getting into. “Actually though, we -”

“DIPPER!” The three twenty-somethings jumped when Stan’s voice came bellowing into the room. “I HEAR A LOT OF TALKING AND NOT A LOT OF RESTOCKING!”

The two girls shot him a sympathetic glance, and Wendy chuckled. “Sounds like you’re busy. I only came by tonight to let you guys know I’m in town, anyways - we can catch up tomorrow, ‘kay?”

“Ooh, ooh, we can catch up though!” Mabel pushed her tank backwards, towards the kitchen. “C’mon, we can talk in here while he finishes up.”

“Okay, okay.” Wendy gave Dipper one more one-armed hug. “I’ll catch up with you later, ‘kay?”

“Sure, sure...” Dipper watched the two of them leave. As Mabel was rolling through the door, however, she looked back.
‘Can I tell?’ she mouthed at him, a small grin on her face. After a moment of thought, he slowly nodded. She gave a little squeal, rolling out of the shop and letting the door fall shut behind her.

He stared at the closed door, sighed, and picked up the box of t-shirts, a small smile on his face. Seeing Wendy always cheered him up, but...

He sighed again. He needed to figure out what he was going to do about Will...

 

 

Chapter Text

“So. You and Will, huh?”


Dipper nearly bit his pen in half with surprise, looking up from his books. He was sitting by one of the runestones in the woods, reading in the clearing. Across from him, Wendy stood at the edge, arms crossed and smirking at him. He squinted at her, taking the pen out of his mouth. “How did you sneak up on me?”

“You’ve got your nose in a book - you’re easy to sneak up on.” She walked over and flopped on her stomach next to him, resting her head on her arms. “Now you answer my question!”

“What, me and Will?” He shut his book and slid it into his bag. “That’s not a question.”

“You know what I mean, Dipper.” She poked him in the flank. “What are you going to do?”

He sighed. “I’m... not sure,” he admitted. “I’m still thinking about it.” And he had been thinking about it quite a bit, these last few days. Wendy had been hanging out at the shack in most of her free time, which had certainly helped keep him from panicking or over-thinking the whole situation too much. But every night, he’d find himself stuck in the same circle of thoughts, going over and over and over again before eventually passing out.

He hadn’t been sleeping all that well. But, what else was new?

Will had been over the usual amount, as well, but to Dipper’s great relief, the hunter hadn’t mentioned “the event” (as Dipper dubbed it in his mind) at all. There had been more looks, though, and more casual touches... and, once or twice, Dipper had caught the human staring at him, looking... worried, or nervous, maybe. It was only ever a second or two - every time Will noticed Dipper looking back, his usual grin would split his face. It never made it up to his eye.

All in all, it just made Dipper even more embarrassed for not noticing sooner. “I just... don’t know what to do?”

“Hm. That a statement, or a cry for advice?”

“Yes.”

Wendy laughed. “Alright.” She rolled over onto her back and sat up. “So, you know what your answer is, right?”

“Uh... no... not really.”

Wendy gave him a strange look. “Seriously?” He scowled.

“Yes! I’ve never been in this situation before!” He tugged on one ear, a nervous tic. “What do you even do when somebody likes you? How do you figure out if you like them back?” He bit his lip, and honestly Wendy couldn’t remember seeing him this distressed over something for a long time.

“Hey, hey!” She wrapped an arm around his shoulder, pulling him in. “It’ll be okay, alright? It’s just another puzzle to figure out, and you’re great at that. We can even talk it through, if you want.”
The deer boy took a deep, shuddering breath. The werewolf patted his head sympathetically. “This has really been eating at you, huh?”

He nodded. “Will’s been... really cool. He’s kind of annoying, sometimes... okay, a lot of the time, but I guess I’ve gotten used to it. And doing research with him is great, and he and Mabel get along... and I really don’t want to mess that up! If I don’t actually like him, he -”

“He’ll get over it,” Wendy cut in firmly. “Or he’ll have to deal with me, and Mabel, and probably the Stans and Soos, too. Besides, if he stopped being friends with you just because you didn’t want to date, what kind of friend would he be anyways?” She didn’t leave enough time for Dipper to answer. “A pretty shitty one, that’s what.” She ruffled dipper’s hair, and he flattened his ears in mock annoyance. “So, don’t worry if you want to say no. You can just tell him you’re not interested, and if he gives you trouble, we’ll work it out. What next?”

“...what if we do date, and he decides he doesn’t like me? Or I mess it up? I mean, I haven’t actually dated anyone.”

“Well, if what Mabel told me is any indication, I don’t think you have to worry about the first thing. Besides, you two spend a lot of time with each other already, right?” Dipper nodded. “So, it’s not like he’s gonna get tired of seeing you. He already enjoys hanging out. As for messing things up?” She paused, thinking. “...I guess all I can say is, communication is key.” She thumped his shoulder for emphasis. “Trust me, I’ve dated a lot of people in Portland, and a lot of the messier cases? Coulda been cleared up by talking to them.”

“Right...” Dipper replied slowly. “Because I’m so great at communicating.”

“It is tough at first, I won’t lie,” Wendy said frankly, “but it’s worth one awkward moment to avoid huge, upsetting misscommunications. And it will get easier as it goes on.” Dipper still looked unconvinced, so she switched tactics a little. “It’s not just Will, either - you communicate with us, too!”

Dipper looked over at her, brow furrowed in confusion. “Huh?”

Wendy grinned. “Yup. Dating is supposed to make people happy, right? If you’re not happy, it’s not something you should be doing. It’s hard to tell sometimes, though, and you’d be surprised how much it can help to talk to people close to you.” She squeezed his shoulders in a one-armed hug. “Sometimes you gotta get out of your head a bit.”

Dipper chuckled at that. “Yeah, don’t I know it...” He was breathing easier now, feeling a little more confident with the problem. Wendy was always great at cheering him up - he’d worried once, back when he was twelve, that he’d never be close to her like he’d wanted to be. But, fortunately, he had matured. He’d accepted his crush for what it was, and allowed himself to just be friends with the redhead again. And that decision had paid off a thousand fold. He was really lucky to have her. “So... do you think I should... go out with him, or whatever?”

“Eehh...” she scrunched her muzzle. “That’s a tricky one. Really, it’s up to you. But, I can listen if you need to talk it out to yourself. What are the pros and cons of dating him?”

“Well, con, he’s annoying,” Dipper deadpanned. “And doesn’t know the meaning of personal space, or privacy, or generally any social norm ever.”

“Does he whisper about how he wants to date you under his breath?”

Dipper flushed. “Wendy!”

“Haha, sorry, that was mean. Okay, so con 1, he’s a weirdo. But you love the weird, too.”

“Yeah... I guess, pro that he’s always just as pumped about the supernatural as I am.”

Wendy nodded slowly. “Shared interests, that’s good. What else?”

“Uh... he’s always pushing my buttons, and trying to get a rise out of me?”

“...is that a con, then? Sounds like the annoying thing.”

“No, no...” Dipper leaned back slightly, thinking. “It’s... its weird. I think I’ve actually been less angry, this rut season? Because he’s always ticking me off, then turning around and calming me down.”

Wendy raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Wow, really?” She whistled. “That is something. I thought Mabel and Soos were the only ones who could get you down from a murder-rage.”

Dipper grimaced. “It’s not a ‘murder-rage,’” he protested. “But, yeah... when he’s not being a dick, he’s... good for me? Or something?”

“Okay, so pro. People who help you feel better are always good people to hang with.” She leaned in and waggled her eyebrows. “How about looks?”

“Huh?”

She laughed. “C’mon, Dipper, do you -” and she poked him in the chest “- want to get in on that blondie action?”

Dipper’s mouth worked soundlessly for a minute, his face flushing a deep pink. “I... I hadn’t thought that far, yet,” he huffed, crossing his arms and glancing away. Her grin widened.

“You’re lying!” she sing-songed. “No worries, though - I don’t need to know. It’s just something to think about, you know?” He rolled his eyes at that, but the flush didn’t go away. “You sound like you’re feeling better, though. No hyperventilating, or anything.”

Dipper hesitated, before slowly nodding, a relieved smile slipping over his face. “Yeah, I guess so. You know, I... I think I might be able to figure it out from here?”

She slugged him (gently) in the shoulder, smiling with the full force of her canines. “Atta boy, Dipper! You got this!” She stood up as he rubbed his sore shoulder, offering him a hand up. “Now, c’mon - Mabel sent me out here to get you for a reason.”

He took the offered hand, letting the werewolf pull him to his feet. Standing next to each other, he actually had to look down a little to meet her eyes. It was still a weird thing, even after a few years, but he knew she’d be taller than him in full werewolf form anyways.

Which probably should have been weirder to him. But such was his life.

“What’s Mabel need me for?” he asked curiously, stooping to collect and shoulder his bag. He followed as she took the lead back towards home.

“She needs an extra few pairs of dry hands for an art piece she’s working on. She’s already enlisted me and Will.”

“What about Candy and Grenda?”

“She says they’re both busy. Not sure what Candy’s doing, but I hear Grenda is out with her boyfriend. Is she still dating Manny What’s-his-face?”

“Marius something. Yeah, she seems to really like him. And he doesn’t seem to mind that she’s a mer-octopus.”

“Sounds like a keeper!”

They laughed and chatted the rest of the way back to the shack, and Dipper felt himself relax, even as the prospect of confronting Will lingered in his mind.
He could do this.

 

xx

 

He couldn’t do this.

It had been two whole days now... and the cervitaur still hadn’t said a single thing to him.

He thought he’d be okay. He’d been fine before, without anyone. Before he’d come to Gravity Falls, he’d been alone most of the time. Sure, there had been the old man, but after he’d passed away, most of the servants had left, and those that stayed had trickled off over the years once they realized the new heir wasn’t just going to splurge his money on staff like his predecessor. Will had liked the solitude, the forest, being away from people.

He wasn’t sure what had caused him to change. Dipper certainly wasn’t the first person he’d found attractive... he had some experience under his belt, after all. But he was the first person Will had been both physically and emotionally attracted and attached to. Sure, it had started purely physical, but the more he’d gotten to know the deer-man, the more he admired the passion the kid had, the drive, the minute insecurities hidden just out of sight... the full package was even more appealing than its cover.

And he didn’t know what he’d do if Dipper said “no.” He... hoped he’d take it gracefully, but he didn’t know himself well enough to tell for sure. He’d always gotten who he wanted in bed, but disappointment was still something he knew - it was a hunter’s burden. Sometimes you just missed that shot.

‘Alright, stop using hunting metaphors about your deer-crush,’ he scolded himself. Not that he’d tell them to anyone, anyway. Not that he’d had a chance to even tell anyone in the last few days, even if he’d wanted to.

William was out of the loop, and he did not like it. At all. He’d asked Mabel if her twin had told her anything, but her answer had simply been a poorly hidden grin and an over-exaggerated shrug. She had caught him glaring at Wendy, though, during the first day. A quick talk had put an end to that. Mabel swore up and down that Dipper and Wendy were best friends, and that was the extent of it. He’d kept a close eye on her, when he had been able, and he admitted, begrudgingly, that she was right. That didn’t mean he had to like all the time Dipper had been spending with the werewolf, instead of him.
The hunter had been a little irritable today, which didn’t help. He had barely slept, between the usual nightmares and this sudden plague of anxiety. Ever since Wendy had shown up, their research had been put on hold so that the twins could hang out with her more. That, unfortunately, meant Dipper was staying at his own house, rather than crashing at Will’s.

He had never heard of someone whose presence could ward off nightmares, but he hadn’t heard of a lot of things before arriving in Gravity Falls. Since Dipper had stopped saying over, his night-terrors had come flooding back... literally, he supposed. He still made himself sleep - he enjoyed being well rested, and he’d be damned if he let a few measly nightmares keep him down, but...

They had never been this bad before. When he’d first come out of his coma, all those years before, he couldn’t close his eyes without seeing the dark, racing water, ready to drag him down. Over the years, he’d slowly fought them, forcing them down and away, to the point that they only truly bothered him once or twice a month at most. He’d thought he was fine in Gravity Falls, too, but whenever he slept alone in his house, they came back with a vengeance. And the worse part was, he was now beyond the fun, hyper-energized part of sleep deprivation, and well into the shitty, sluggish abyss. Which was making it difficult to keep up with the current conversation.

“Will, keep your hands up! It’s sagging!”

He blinked laggardly at the mermaid, who was staring determinedly back at him, gesturing to his hands. It clicked suddenly, and mechanically he raised his arms slightly higher. They were starting to ache.
From the looks of Wendy and Dipper, they weren’t doing much better. Although, he had to admit, he and Wendy were lucky they didn’t have antlers to work with, too.

“Mabel,” Dipper asked, voice sounding strained. “What... exactly, is the point to this?” The three of them were standing one of the spare display rooms, holding up an enormous network of yarn, strands of it looped around their hands and arms (and antlers) in seemingly random patterns of color. Mabel was standing off at a distance, inspecting the design and instructing them on how to move. Occasionally, she’d add or remove a strand here or there. When she was satisfied, she’d move over to her camera, snap a picture, and they’d get a chance to lower their arms for a moment.

Then the whole thing would start all over again.

“Dipper, trust me - it’s gonna look awesome,” she assured him, peeking through the camera lens. “And this is the last one, too.”

The three of them sighed in relief, and she sat up, frowning disapprovingly over her camera. “No sighs of relief yet! It’s drooping again!” They lifted their reluctant arms again, and she looked back to her camera. “Alright, hold that for just a second...” The camera clicked. “And we’re done!”

Will dropped his arms, heaving a sigh of relief. The strings attached to his hands tugged on Dipper’s antlers, forcing the boy to jerk towards him.

“Hey!” The cervitaur stumbled, rearing his head back and pulling the staggered hunter forwards. “Watch it!”

A little slow to the uptake, the hunter just blinked at him, a lazy smile crawling over his lips. “Sorry, buck-tail,” he teased halfheartedly. “Not all of us have such great arm stamina.”

The cervitaur snorted, disentangling some of the yarn from his horns. “That is literally your worst nickname yet. It doesn’t even make any sense.”

Will rolled his eyes, rolling his shoulders helplessly. “Look, I try and try with the nicknames. You think you can come up with a better one?”

“That wouldn’t be hard.”

A flash of irritation went through the hunter, but he squashed it down. “Alright then,” he shot back, “you suggest one!”

Dipper opened his mouth, then closed it, an odd expression flitting over his features. Will smirked, about to comment that it wasn’t so easy, now was it, but Dipper beat the sleep deprived hunter.
“How about... boyfriend?”

Something hit the ground by Mabel as the mermaid dropped it. Will stared at Dipper, jaw dropping. The cervitaur wouldn’t look him in the eye, blushing just slightly, still covered in yarn as he fidgeted with a few strands on his arms. There was a stifled giggle from the werewolf as she darted around Will.

“We’ll just... give you two a moment,” she grinned, grabbing Mabel’s tank and pulling it out of the room. As the door shut behind them, Will barely registered the sound of Mabel letting out a tiny squeal, footsteps and tank wheels fading as they moved away.

He was still staring at the cervitaur, still stunned. Dipper met his glance for a second, then reddened even more, pawing at the ground with one hoof.

“...what?”

Will slowly blinked, understanding coming to him at a glacial pace. Bit by bit, his lips turned up, a grin starting to light up his face.

“...really?” he asked, taking a step towards the cervitaur. Dipper continued to paw at the ground, hind legs joining in here and there, ears twisting anxiously.

“I mean... yeah, if you want to...” the deer boy mumbled, still not meeting his eye. The hunter’s grin grew wider by the second, practically beaming by the end of the stuttered sentence. “You really want to?” He crossed the distance between them, and Dipper had to tilt his head up to avoid his gaze.

“Yes. That’s what I said, right?” The prancing only got worse as he approached. “If you want to, then...”

Dipper seemed at a loss for words, whatever confidence that had seized him to make a move in the first place seeping out of him. Will decided to provide them for him. He reached up, placing a hand under the man’s jaw to direct his gaze down at him. Dipper allowed him to, meeting his eyes only briefly before glancing away again. Will’s grin could have split his head in two, if it had been any wider.

“Oh, I certainly want to,” he said, leaning in. The way Dipper’s ears perked up, his eyes locking on Will’s face, lips parting nervously, was so worth the weeks he’d spent working up to this. He smiled, tilting to peck Dipper on the cheek.

And promptly passed out.

Chapter Text

Laughter echoed through the forest, jovial and painfully familiar. Will ran, ducking under branches and jumping logs, breathless and gleeful, for a reason he didn’t quite understand. He slowed, coming to a halt amidst the trees, panting. The laughter was louder now, and he swore he could place it, if only he could hear it better, if he were closer... but it echoed off the bark, through the limbs, distorting and twisting both the sounds and its source. Like a parody of its origin, whatever or whomever that might be, it left Will dying for answers, for knowledge. He picked a direction that felt right, and kept running.

To his pleasure, the sound became louder, more clairvoyant as he ran. He laughed along, and it redoubled in reply. The forest seemed to be getting darker around him, but ahead, where the peals of mirth resounded, the trees were aglow.

His limbs began to feel leaden and dull as he entered the light, and his movement was slowed as some force began pushing against him. Still he pressed on, eager to see who was laughing so heartily.

His pulse skipped a beat. The laughter trailed off. Before him, standing in a perfect circle of trees, stood a cervitaur.

“Dipper!” Will tried to call. His voice echoed uselessly in his own throat, dying before it had even breached his lips. He settled instead for wading forward through the light, taking in the cervitaur’s appearance.

His back was turned to the hunter, tail lowered and posture relaxed. His unclad shoulders and back seemed tanner, more defined than he might have guessed, and he appreciated the chance to ogle a little, even despite the odd circumstances. He tried to call again, and this time, a quiet, wordless cry broke free. Dipper’s ear flicked back to him in response, but the deer-man was otherwise motionless.

It was then that Will noticed the light, golden, seemed to emanate from between the man’s antlers. He hesitated, starting to think that perhaps something was... wrong.

“Dipper?” he asked again, softer, and this time, his voice was unhindered. He stood just off the cervitaur’s shoulder. He was so close, he couldn’t back down now. He’d come too far...

He suddenly realized that, with Dipper’s laughter gone, the woods were now deathly silent. Even his footsteps made no sound. He swallowed heavily, reaching a hand for Dipper’s shoulder.

Dipper’s head whipped around before he could even touch, and Will staggered back. What faced him now was clearly not Dipper.

Where the man’s face should have been, he had none - just smooth skin, broken by a single enormous eye-socket that sat empty below his forehead. His hair blew wildly, revealing a mark that Will couldn’t make out, thanks to the source of the glow -

Over Dipper’s forehead floated a blinding, golden triangle.

Will tried to scream as an eyelid swept across the empty, gored socket, lifting to reveal an abyss. The... thing, pretending to be Dipper, reached an arm towards him. Will struggled to move away, but the force that had slowed his approach was now hampering his escape. Words, in a garbled voice he now recognized as Dipper’s but also not, rang through the clearing as it crumpled around them. He grit his teeth, his head pounding with the force of it. The thing had his arm now, and was still booming at him with that awful mockery of his love’s voice, and he just wanted to escape.

It pulled him in.

. . . y o u . . .

“Wake up!”

 

xx

 

Dipper flushed more, though he doubted he could get any redder at this point. The hunter leaned into him heavily, and he braced his legs, holding the two of them up.

“That’s... uh...” he stammered, ears twisting nervously. His knees felt particularly weak, and he wasn’t quite sure why. The hunter’s head was resting on his shoulder, his lips inches from his neck, breathing softly. The hairs on the cervitaur’s neck prickled, and he tried to swallow his anxiety. He hadn’t known quite what to expect, but he hadn’t expected Will to be so forward -

Wait.

Dipper lifted one ear, turning his face slightly towards the hunter. Had he just...?

The hunter let out another soft snore against the cervitaur’s neck, and Dipper just stared at him, disbelieving.

“Did you just fucking fall asleep on me.” He knew the answer before the question finished leaving his lips, and he sighed, rubbing his face with one hand and moving the other to support the deadweight hunter. “Oh my god.” Unbidden, a small smile bloomed on his face - why, he wasn’t sure. “I guess you haven’t been sleeping well either, huh?”

Will’s response was to lean closer, mumbling something as he nuzzled into Dipper’s neck. A pleasant shiver went down Dipper’s spine.

“Okay, well... sleeping here is not good... so -”

A loud bang on the door made him jump. “Dip-dop, I’m proud of you, but if you two are gonna make out, can you do it in your room? I need to clean up the yarn!” Mabel hollered from the other side.

Dipper went tomato-red, clutching at the droopy hunter. “We- we’re not making out!” he (nearly) squeaked. Mabel must have taken this as the OK to enter, because a few seconds later and she was rolling in.

“Are you sure? ‘Cuz that looks like necking to me~!” She rolled past them to the enormous mess of yarn, leaning precariously over the edge of her tank to scoop some of it up. “Seriously tho - get a room, you lovebirds!”

“Mabel seriously, he -” The hunter slid down a little, and Dipper was quick to catch him. “We’re not making out, he -”

Will snored again, this time loudly. Mabel paused, slowly slipped back into her tank, and turned to stare at them.

“Did he just...?”

“He fell asleep. That’s what I’ve been trying to say.”

His twin’s eyebrows raised. “Oooh...”

The two of them stood in silence, Mabel just looking at them with an odd expression, and Dipper flushed, but calming down. Mabel slowly reached for her camera.

“Mabel, no...”

“Mabel, yes!” she grinned, snapping a quick photo of the two. “That one’s for the scrapbook!” Dipper rolled her eyes, and she shrugged. “Well, he said he wasn’t sleeping well, so I guess it’s not surprising that he crashed... but what awful timing, huh?” She set the camera down, lowering her voice. “So, did he say anything before he passed out?” Her grin would have unnerved the stoutest of hearts, all sharp teeth and manic eyes.

Dipper, however, was used to it, and he sighed awkwardly, trying to buy himself time.

“Um, just that he... I mean, that we’re... dating?”

He was surprised that Will was able to sleep through the resulting squeal from his twin.

“Dipper, I’m so happy for you!” She clasped her hands together. “I really think you two will be good for each other.”

He smiled weakly. “Yeah... yeah, I think so too.” The hunter in his arms shifted again, and he steadied him. “He should probably lie down - I’ll go drop him off on the couch, then I can -”

“Dipper Pines!” He startled, nearly dropping Will at Mabel’s accusing tone. “You are not about to just dump your new boyfriend on a couch!”

“Mabel, where else would I put him?”

“You still have the spare bed in your room, right?” At his nod, she made a shooing motion with her hands. “Put him there! And stay with him ‘till he wakes up, he’ll appreciate that.”

“But, don’t you need help with the yarn?”

Mabel swiped something from the table, hefting it with a smirk. “No worries, Dip-dop! Me ‘n Chompy here,” and she clicked the dino-headed grabber for emphasis, “got this.”

“You sure?”

She smiled. “I’m fine! Go take care of your boyfriend!”

So Dipper had picked up the hunter gently (read: slung him over his shoulder as soon as he was out of Mabel’s sight) and carried him upstairs, and laid him out on the spare bed. It had been Mabel’s, once upon a time, but she had moved downstairs with her tank, and he hadn’t really had the heart to change much of her side of the room. In the end, they just kept it as a guest bed anyways.

He looked over at his own bed, an enormous cushion, covered with faint coffee stains and fur and beaten from long years of use. He scuffed his hoof on the floor, looking over at his desk. It was even more messy, three or four mugs (some only half empty) sitting around, open notebooks, chewed pens and pencils... he wrinkled his nose, sparing a glance at Will. He never really bothered to clean up here, but now, Will was here, and he was feeling antsy, just waiting for the hunter to wake up... so Dipper did the unthinkable.

He started cleaning.

He tried to stay quiet at first, but it quickly became apparent that nothing short of shouting in his face was going to wake Will up. So he hummed a little to himself as he worked, dumping the coffee out the window and putting the mugs by the door, sorting through the notes on his desk and tucking them away, and tossing the ink-blotted scraps. The only place that didn’t need much work was his bookshelf, but he tended to keep that near immaculate. He replaced some of the books that had been lying open on his desk.

He wasn’t aware of when it started - once he got into the groove of cleaning, he sort of lost track of his surroundings, and his humming kept him from hearing it right away. But at the end of a particularly robust hummed rendition of Dave Brownie’s “Waltzing on the Avenue,” a sound caught his attention.

He glanced over at Will to see him roll over, and reddened. Was he awake? He hadn’t seen any of that, had he?

“Will?” he asked softly. The hunter didn’t respond, just twisted again in the bed, and Dipper realized he was still asleep, just tossing. His expression was... not panicked, but certainly strained as his head turned back and forth. His hands clenched and unclenched, grabbing for what, Dipper wasn’t sure.

But he did know the signs of a nightmare when he saw them.

“Will, you’re okay,” he soothed, settling down on the floor next to the bed. What had Mabel done when he’d had nightmares? “You’re okay, just calm down...” hesitantly, he reached out, patting the hunter’s head awkwardly. It occurred to him then that the man was still wearing his eye-patch, and he wondered if he should have removed it. “It’s okay.”

Will leaned into his touch, which was good, but his expression became even more strained, his teeth showing and his eye clenched shut. He started to whimper, and Dipper started to panic.

“Will, seriously, you’re okay, you’re just dreaming.” He tried to pet the hunter again, but the man twisted out of the way, curling in on himself, shaking. “Will? Will, you’re fine, it’s just a dream...” That hadn’t helped him with his nightmares, now that he thought about it... There was always the tried and true method.

He grabbed Will’s shoulder, as gently as he could - the hunter still flinched, whining again - and shook him. “Will, wake up. Wake up!”

 

xx

 

Will’s eyes shot open, and the first thing he saw was a wooden ceiling and an alarming number of cobwebs. The second thing he saw was Dipper’s face, leaning over him anxiously.

“Will? You okay?”

The memory of his nightmare was still fresh, but now that he was awake, it was fading quickly. “Yeah. Yeah, I...” Even now, he couldn’t remember exactly what had spooked him so. He remembered a forest, and he thought Dipper had been there, so it wasn’t one of his standard night terrors, but... “Just a... bad dream...” He blinked up at the cervitaur, who somehow managed to look relieved and nervous, and smirked. “I could get used to waking up to that face, though.”

His words had the intended effect. Dipper went bright red, pulling away and muttering something to himself. Will chuckled, sitting up and looking around. He didn’t recall passing out in this room. The last thing he remembered was...

“Oh. Oh man.” He rounded on the cervitaur, eye alight. Dipper leaned back slightly. He grinned. “We’re boyfriends.”

Dipper seemed to tense for a second, then relax slowly, glancing away and rubbing the back of his head. “Uh, yeah... we are.” His gaze flitted to the hunter, then down again. “So, uh...”

Will launched into Dipper’s chest, laughing as he tackled the cervitaur in a hug. The deer-man yelped, bringing his hands up as he went down, legs flailing. “Yes!” the hunter cheered, snuggling into him and hugging tighter. “Yes, yes yes yes!”

Dipper looked down at the blonde, calming down from the initial affectionate assault, and grinned weakly. “Yup. You’re... happy.”

“I have been waiting for this since I laid eyes on you, Bambi, of course I’m happy!” He sat up, unintentionally straddling Dipper’s waist, and looked around. “By the way, where are we?”

“My room.” Dipper was trying his best to ignore how Will was currently seated on him. He knew he could probably get the human off... that is, off of him! Not... Not like...

Dipper was quickly realizing he was doomed to awkwardness.

Fortunately, Will didn’t seem to notice his internal monologue, and instead bounced up off of him, striding around the small room and inspecting it. “Wow, really? You’ve never invited me up here before!” He marveled at a specimen on his bookshelf, a preserved bug-like thing that Dipper was nearly certain related to the Hide-Behind. Distantly, probably. “Huh.”

Dipper rolled over, getting back to his feet. “What is it?”

“You’ve got two beds.” Will sat down on Dipper’s bed, wrinkling his nose in amusement at the puff of fur that resulted.

“Yeah, Mabel used to stay up here, when we were little. After the Fluventis, she moved downstairs, and that,” he gestured to the vacated bed, “became the guest bed.”

“Hm.” Will looked like he wanted to ask something else, but a yawn stopped him in his tracks. “Ugh, I guess I didn’t sleep long, huh?” he asked jokingly.

“About that... what were you dreaming about? Seemed really nasty.”

Will patted the bed next to him, looking up expectantly at the cervitaur. Dipper sighed, walking over and lying his deer half down next to the hunter, forelegs folded off the side of the bed. “Funny thing - I can’t actually remember!” Will shrugged. “I think you were there, and -” It was probably not best to mention his other nightmares. Not just yet. Will figured he could handle them for now, and if his theory was right, and Dipper was repelling them, he might never have to handle them again! “And that’s about it.” Dipper looked a little apprehensive, but didn’t pry. “So, how long was I out?”

Dipper glanced at his old radio-alarm clock. “Only about half an hour, but it’s pretty late in the afternoon. If you’re really tired, you should probably go home and sleep.”

Will rolled his eye, unseen. He could do that, sure, but he’d much rather stay here. “Maybe later. If it’s only the afternoon, I can hold out for a little longer. Besides!” He poked Dipper gently in the side, grinning. “I wanna hang out with my boyfriend!”

Dipper smiled again, this time more comfortably. “O-okay. What do you want to do?”

Oooh, Will could think of a few things, right off the bat... But, looking at Dipper and his shy little smile, he decided to hold off. The time would come, soon enough, and he aimed to wreck the man, but for right now...

Well, for right now he wanted to enjoy this.

 

Chapter Text

Will woke up, for once not covered in a cold sweat, or cuddled up to a cutie cervitaur. He blinked at his bedroom ceiling, groggy and confused. It was still dark outside, so daylight hadn't woken him.

He rolled over, squinting at the clock on his bedside. 4:47. “Ugh.” He rolled back, rubbing his eye and yawning. He could try to go back to sleep – he certainly needed it, after this busy few weeks. He smiled, thinking about his boyfriend, and his boyfriend's research. There had been an abundance of cuddling and hanging out. Life was good.

Something rapped against the window. He sat up sharply. His bedroom was on the second floor, and there weren't any trees close enough to the house on this side for it to be a branch. That left either someone throwing rocks, or something... supernatural.

There was another clattering sound. He grabbed his eye-patch, strapping it on as he climbed out of bed and stumbled for the window, grumbling. If it was a prank, he was running out there with his oldest, rustiest shotgun to teach them a lesson.

A traumatizing lesson. Will needed his beauty sleep, for goodness sake.

A third clunk rung out as he reached the window, and he scowled, throwing the curtains open, and staring down into his yard.

He stopped. He stared. Slowly, he closed the curtains again, turned, and walked back to his bedside. After fumbling a moment over the bedside table, he grabbed his cell, dialing quickly.

He waited a moment, tapping his fingers against the wooden tabletop as he listened to the phone ring. After three, there was a click, and some faint mumbling. Finally, the receiver spoke.

Ungh... Will, what the fuck...” Dipper grumbled over the line. Will heard a rustle, and another groan. “It's like, 5 AM.”

Will smiled sympathetically at his boyfriend's voice. “Sorry, love. But there's a glowing, legless hobo throwing rocks at my window.”

He could practically hear the gears turning in the sleepy cervitaur's head. “There's a... what ?”

A glowing, legless hobo,” Will repeated helpfully. “Throwing rocks at my bedroom window.” He peeked through the window again, and the apparition waved cheerfully at him and grinned a dentally-unsound grin. “It's got like, a ghost tail instead of legs. You know anything about it?”

He could hear Dipper's breath, the tell-tale grunt of a stretch, then, “I dunn- wait. Ugh, does he have a long nose? Bandaged arm?”

Will checked again. “Yup! You know him?”

Dipper sighed, and Will could practically see him in his mind's eye, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Yeah... it's McGucket.” He heard some more rustling, and Dipper's voice was temporarily muffled. “I'll be right over.

Wait!” Will heard a questioning grunt. “Is he... safe?”

Dipper snorted. “McGucket's harmless, just eccentric,” he replied, sounding more awake. Will sighed in relief. “Just, don't stand downwind of him.”

Alright – wait, what?”

I'll be right over.” The line went dead, and Will was left with a dial-tone, staring out at the glowing hillbilly.

Alright then.”

McGucket's grin hadn't abated, and he was now gesturing for the hunter to come downstairs to meet him. Will deliberated for a moment, then shrugged. Dipper had said it was safe, so he might as well. He waved back at the apparition, tugging the curtains closed again. He pulled on some pants and threw on a shirt, nearly tripping down the stairs as he did. He reached the door safely, and opened it up.

McGucket, still standing over by the window, scuttled over (which was both unnerving and impressive, considering his lack of legs and general scuttling motion). “Well hey there, William!” he shouted, slapping one hand over a non-existent knee. Thankfully, he kept his distance, floating just downwind of the hunter.

Will raised an eyebrow, taking in his appearance. He seemed squat, but not in a fat way, more like a tightly wound coil, ready to spring at any second. The curled, ghostly tail that started at his waist and trailed in a spiral behind him only reinforced that appearance. He had a long beard, an enormous, wide-brimmed hat, and what Will could best describe as “crazy eyes.” But certainly the weirdest thing was the strong orange glow around him, like the glow of metal under high temperatures. It made him think of a sci-fi movie he'd seen once, about robots. “How do you know my name?”

McGucket's grin was nearly bug-eyed. “I don't know!” He hooted and laughed, and Will took a small, careful step backwards. “But I do! And I know some about you! But most importantly!” And he sobered so suddenly that Will startled. The expression of the man in front of him was so serious, so grave, he could hardly believe they belonged to the same man... person... ghost...? thing. “Most importantly, I know about your future! And I'm here with a Grave Warning!

Will stared down at the strange man, beginning to feel unnerved by his unwavering stare. He opened his mouth to respond, before closing it mutely.

He was saved from the awkwardness by the sounds of hooves on dirt, and Dipper trotted out of the trees, looking crotchety.

McGucket's serious demeanor evaporated immediately, turning and waving jovially to the cervitaur. “We-hey there, Dipper! What brings you here?”

You, actually,” Dipper deadpanned. “Will just called me.” He pulled up next to Will, who oh so subtly leaned into him. Dipper oh so less subtly leaned back. “You realize it's too early in the morning for this, right?”

The eccentric, ghostly-looking man shrugged. “When I see things, I see thing!” He winked, floating a little closer to nudge the young cervitaur with one elbow. “Also, word is that Willy's your new boyfriend, huuuh?”

Will grinned, and Dipper blushed a little, then frowned, confused. “Wait, who's saying that? No one from town has been up at the shack recently.”

It was... uh... hm...” McGucket pulled of his hat, scratching his bald dome in thought. “Now, who was it?” he mumbled more to himself than the two. Will shot Dipper a curious look, but Dipper didn't catch it, just shook his head and sighed. McGucket put his hat back on, looking a little lost. “Well, I guess it was just the voices again. But they're right, right?”

Yeah, they're right... But don't go shouting it everywhere?” Will gave Dipper a hurt look, and this time the cervitaur noticed, and hurried to amend, “I mean, I want us to have like... some privacy?” Will rolled his eyes, but smiled. “But really – why are you at Will's house at five in the morning?”

Follow-up question for the new person in town – what are you?” Will added. “Also, why do I feel like I've heard your name before?”

Oh, right... Will, this is Fiddleford McGucket,” Dipper introduced them, and McGucket swept his hat off and 'bowed,' grinning once more. “He's a scientist, specializes in mechanical engineering. He's also an Oracle.”

Oracle?” Will frowned. “Like, Greek mythology oracles? I thought they were humans, though.”

Nope!” McGucket cut in. “People may have been the vessels, but the oracles” (and he pronounced them or-ay-culls, to Will's chagrin) “were actually gas-like spirits that used the people as hosts to tell the future!” He did the non-existent knee-slap again. “I dun' need a body, fortunately, but doesn't mean it don't happen every now and then!”

Okay... so, you can see the future?”

Right as raccoons!”

...sure...” Will looked over at Dipper again, and the cervitaur just shrugged.

He's never been wrong, so far. He's been cryptic, but I think that's less of him and more of just being an oracle,” the cervitaur explained.

Will huffed. “Well, that leaves me with more questions than answers, but I guess the pressing thing is, you said you had a warning for me?” he asked, turning back to McGucket. The oracle turned serious again.

That I do, sonny-bob!”

The two twenty-somethings waited. And waited. Dipper coughed softly as the silence began to drag on. “So...?”

McGucket stared back. “So what?”

What's the warning?”

Oh! Right!” McGucket turned back to Will. “I came to warn you that... uh...” He scratched his cheek, looking puzzled. Dipper let out a loud, exasperated groan, burying his face in his hands.

Oh my gosh... did you forget?”

Uh... well, it's sure to come back to me sometime soon!” McGucket said, looking embarrassed. Will could hear Dipper mumble some less than savory words under his breath, before the cervitaur sighed, straightening up.

Alright. Sure. It'll probably come back to you. But if it's not here now, maybe go back home and let us sleep?”

McGucket seemed completely oblivious to Dipper's rising murdertones, but Will suspected that was partially thanks to his incorporeality. The man just grinned. “Great idea, young'un! I'll come back tomorrow when I remember it!” He started to head out, with a movement akin to a floating crabwalk, but not before he waved once more. “Good morning, you two! See ya around!”

The two stood and watched him vanish down the road. Will looked up at Dipper's face, biting his lip to stifle the snicker at Dipper's 'I am so done' expression.

Do you wanna just sleep here, since you're already over?” Will reached over, running one hand down the cervitaur's deer back.

Dipper sighed, and Will could feel the tense muscle relaxing under his hand. “Yeah, that would be great,” the cervitaur mumbled, sounding tired once again. “McGucket is usually a lot better about stuff like that. I'm surprised he woke you up.”

You know, I swear I've heard his name before tonight,” Will replied, leading them back into the house. They followed the familiar halls as they talked. “Like, awhile ago.”

I don't know when, I don't think I've ever...” Dipper trailed off thoughtfully, then snapped his fingers. “Oh. I know. Right when you came into town, I think Stan mentioned McGucket. He's the one who handles the memory gun, since he invented it. If you hadn't stayed, we would have sent you over to him, you'd have gotten your memory erased, and you'd have left town none the wiser.”

Will shuddered. “Well. I'm certainly glad that didn't happen.”

The cervitaur surprised him by wrapping one arm around his shoulders, pulling him closer. “...yeah, me too,” he admitted quietly. Will grinned and nuzzled closer.

You know,” he started as they reached the study, where Dipper's deer bed (now with even more pillows, to accommodate the hunter) sat, “I just realized – aside from the people at the shack, I don't really know many people here in the Falls.”

Hmm.” Dipper settled himself down on the bed, his eyelids already starting to droop. “Yeah, people don't usually come up to the Shack with their amulets, unless they need something from Mabel.” He yawned. “But some days they shut stuff down in town to let the locals walk around without fear of being discovered. Maybe I could take you down to one of those soon.”

Will settled himself in next to the cervitaur, scooting until he and Dipper were side by side. “It's a date,” he said, craning his neck to give Dipper a small peck on the cheek. The cervitaur smiled, stretching one arm over the hunter's chest and pulling him closer.

Sure thing...” he mumbled back, falling back asleep. The hunter stayed awake a little longer, enjoying the warmth and comfort of his toasty deer boyfriend. He had a good thing going, here, but he was a little worried. McGucket's words played through his mind, and he couldn't help but wonder what kind of grave warning the oracle had in store for him.

Despite all that, however, the comfort of his boyfriend snuggling him won out, and soon, he too was once again fast asleep.

 

Chapter Text

A few days later, the chance to head into town finally arrived… and once again, Will was the last one to know about it. He was worried that this was becoming a theme to his life - sure, he hadn’t lived here that long, he knew he’d be a little slower on the uptake for awhile, but it seemed every time there was a new development, he was the last person to hear it.

Then again, the only people he regularly associated with all lived in the same house…

So, when he walked over to the Mystery Shack that morning and saw the Pines family assembled out front, he tried to be only a little surprised.

“Great, what memo did I miss this time?” he joked, jogging the last stretch to join the group.

“We’re closing the Shack today,” Grunkle Stan rumbled, passing Will and walking around behind the house. Will shot the twins an inquisitive glance.

Mabel grinned back. “The tourist hotspots are all closed today, so it’s safe for us to go into town and see everyone!” It was then Will noticed that, aside from her normal waterproof top, Mabel had added a mid-length skirt to her outfit, as well as some bangles and earrings. He was pretty sure he could see some cockleshells woven into her hair, too.

“Well, you’re all dressed up for the occasion!” he laughed, nudging her with an elbow. “Does someone have a daaaate?”

Dipper chuckled, and Mabel could barely hold back her excitement. “Ooh, you got me, Will! Paz is taking me to a fancy restaurant! They’re supposed to have the best seafood!”

“Just don’t end up on the menu!”

She winked back, a lecherous look in her eye. “If I’m on any menu, it’ll be Paz’s. She just loves her seafood!”

“Mabel!” Dipper yelped, scandalized and bright red in under .2 seconds. Will and Mabel burst into laughter.

“So, what about us, Deer?” Will asked, sidling up to Dipper, who rolled his eyes and flattened his ears. “Are we on a date too? If I’d known, I would have dressed up.”

“…do you want it to be a date? I was going to show you around,” Dipper responded haltingly. His knees seemed to be shaking slightly, something that Will had been noticing more and more often when he was around the cervitaur.

“We could do that and go on a date too. Maybe catch a movie, or-”

“No!” the twins shouted in unison. Dipper looked embarrassed, and Mabel was hiding a smile.

“Dipper’s been banned from the local theater,” Mabel said with a giggle, making mock antlers with her hands. Will giggled right along.

“Seriously, Bambi?”

Dipper’s ears flicked back again, and Will rushed to sooth his wounded ego, reaching up to scratch behind furry ears and between antlers. “Hmmm… you know you can’t get away with nicknames just because you scratch my ears…”

“Maybe.” Will dug his nails in a little harder, and Dipper nearly melted under his hand. “Seems to be working so far, though!”

“Mmm, I’ll just have to punch you faster next time,” Dipper sighed contentedly.

Will might have responded, but a roar of machinery made them all jump. Driving far too quickly for the short distance, Stan rounded the corner in an enormous pickup truck. And, as if that wasn’t enough to get their attention, the gargoyle wailed on the horn, too.

“Everyone in!” He opened the door and hopped out, slamming it behind him with a flick of his tail. “Dipper, help me get Mabel’s tank into the truck bed. Will, you take shotgun.”

Will gladly hopped into the cab, peering into the rear view mirror to watch the two Pines struggle with the tank.

“Dipper, lift your side higher!”

“I am doing my best, Stan - it’s your end that’s uneven!”

“Whatever… careful, tip it over the lip!”

“Mabel, can you swim forward just a bit… Look out!”

Will watched with amusement and mild concern as Mabel’s tank tipped dangerously forward… then crashed back, settling in the bed of the truck. A small wave of water splashed back towards the two men, and although he couldn’t see them from the cab, Dipper’s dismayed yelp told him everything.

A few moments later, Grunkle Stan and a sopping wet Dipper were climbing into the cab - Grunkle Stan in the driver’s seat, modified without the back so that his wings would fit, and Dipper lying across the back seat, head awkwardly stuck out the window. Literally everyone looked uncomfortable, and Will knew the backseat was likely going to smell like wet deer for some time to come.

“I’m guessing car rides aren’t too common?”

“I hate car rides,” Dipper replied flatly, voice muffled from out the window.

“Eh, it’s good every now and then - keeps me in practice.” One stony claw threw the car into gear. “Buckle up!”

Will looked around his seat, with no luck. “Uhh, where are the seatbelts?” He felt a damp hand on his shoulder, and glanced back to see Dipper’s grim face.

“It’s a figure of speech, kid!” the gargoyle laughed, revving the engine before the whole car launched forward. “Hold on tight!”

 

Xx

 

They somehow got to town in once piece - Will wasn’t quite sure how, and Dipper had more than a few twigs stuck in his antlers (on the upside, his hair was dry now). Will stumbled out of the car, getting his footing back while Dipper and Grunkle Stan got Mabel back off the truck bed, before looping his arm through Dipper’s and dragging the cervitaur away.

“Good luck with your date, Mabel!” he called.

“You too, boys!” she shouted back, waving her pink tail at them.

“So, where to first, lover-buck?” Will asked, tugging Dipper further into town. He grinned at the pained groan.

“Your nicknames keep getting worse, Will,” Dipper grumbled back, pulling them to a stop. “I was thinking - we ought to stop by McGucket’s first, see if he remembered what he was going to tell you.”

Will’s enthusiasm evaporated somewhat. “Really?”

“Well, yeah. Don’t you want to know what he saw?”

“Yeah, sure, but to be honest? That guy kinda… weirds me out.”

Dipper’s ears drooped slightly, before he caught himself, lifting them. “Oh… okay.” He bit his cheek thoughtfully for a moment, before his eyes lit up. “Oh! Why don’t you explore a bit?” He gestured to the town around them. “It’s your first time here, you can get to know the area a little better. I’ll go talk to McGucket, and we can meet up after a while. Then, we can grab lunch somewhere, and have, like, a date?” His voice pitched up at the end, and he ducked his head, shy.

Will smiled. “That sounds fine.” He leaned over and gave Dipper a peck on the cheek, making him blush. “How are you gonna find me, though?”

“That won’t be a problem, I’ll find you.”

Will tilted his head, curious. “How? Magic?”

“Nooo…” Dipper’s blush deepened a little, this time from embarrassment. “I can… smell you out.”

Will blinked in surprise. That hadn’t been the answer he’d expected. “Really? I didn’t think I smelled that bad!” he joked.

“You don’t!” Dipper hastened to reassure him. “You actually smell really good! I mean-” Will grinned as the cervitaur groaned in exasperation, dragging one hand down his face. “I’m always going to have my foot in my mouth talking to you, aren’t I?”

“It’s sweet!” Will gave him another peck on the cheek, scratching behind the other ear quickly. “You go see McGucket, I’ll be around.” He turned, waving as he picked a direction. “Smell you later!”

He heard Dipper snort, then the fading sounds of hooves. With a grin, he plunged into the crowd of monster people.

Time to meet his neighbors.

 

Xx

 

For such a small town, there were certainly a lot of characters here. It was to be expected, he guessed - you didn’t live in a town filled with mythical and supernatural species and not come off a bit odd. But even so, the townsfolk had more of a rustic town quality to them than anything or anyone he’d met out in the woods. He could really tell the difference between them and the few forest-dwellers walking around. He thought he caught a glimpse of a pair of manotaurs arm wrestling with some giant, bigfoot-like people all wearing flannel, and he was pretty certain they were townies, not “real” bigfoots.

They were also pretty friendly. McGucket had apparently been telling the truth when he’d said that their relationship status was the talk of the town. Will had met several people only because they’d walked up to him and started making subtle queries about his involvement with Dipper while making smalltalk.

Frankly, he was starting to think that not much would surprise him anymore. Sure, everyone in town was a monster, but they were all still people, still living mostly by human social norms (with the exception of clothing, but he figured no one wanted to have to tailor to every kind of body type in town). It was a bit of a disappointment to think about, so he was pleasantly surprised to be wrong when a two-headed dragon in a cop uniform rounded the corner and spotted him.

He moved to walk around the scaly creature, nodding to it, only to be cut off when it blocked his path with a lift of its stubby wing.

“Well, hey there, Buddy,” said the squatter of the two heads, adjusting its sunglasses with a claw. “Don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”

“Y’ain’t runnin’n’screamin’ like a normal person, neither,” chimed in the lanky, large-snouted head. “So I reckin’ y’ain’t a tourist.”

For a moment, Will wondered if he should have stuck with Dipper. Were there any rules about humans walking around town? He was the only one out on the street right now… he’d seen a couple of amulets tucked away in purses or pockets, but it made sense that people wouldn’t use them unless they had to, so Will stuck out like a sore thumb. What if they thought he was an outsider, and tried to take his memories?

But the dragon (dragons? Was it plural if there were two heads?) seemed relaxed and friendly, and besides, McGucket was in charge of actually erasing memories, and he knew the hunter was okay. Will allowed himself to relax a little.

“Nope, I just moved in a few weeks ago,” he replied. “But this is my first time actually in town. Figured I should get to know my way around, right?”

The lanky head leaned slightly closer, cocking to one side to get a better look at him. “Say, you’re that new hunter fella that’s dating Dipper Pines, aincha?”

“Guilty as charged.” He stuck one hand out. “Will Hunt. And you officers are…?”

“Sheriff Blubs,” the squat head replied, taking his hand in one enormous claw. “And this is my Deputy, Durland.”

“Good to meetcha!” Durland shook Will’s hand with the other claw.

“Same.” Will dropped his hand and looked to them expectantly, waiting for whatever they’d stopped him to say. But they just stared curiously at him. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they were inspecting him for something. “So, you two welcome every new townie by staring?”

“Oh! Sorry!” Blubs chuckled. “We don’t usually get new folks ‘round here, much less other humans.”

“I can’t imagine - I know Dipper was set to wipe my memory and send me outta town the first day I was here.”

“The Pines have been very serious about keeping this whole thing a secret, yes.” Blubs frowned a little. “Rumor is, they’ve had trouble between the supernatural and the US Government before, and they’re looking not to repeat the experience. Normally, I wouldn’t be too pleased about hiding something like this from the government, but…” he shared a glance with Durland. “Well, the safety of the people of Gravity Falls comes first. And if the government found out, well…”

“We’ve seen enough of them sci-fi filmies to know what happens next.”

There was a solemn silence between the three of them, for just a moment. Will cleared his throat. “Well… for what it’s worth, you guys have a beautiful town here, with lots of very interesting folks. I don’t plan on doing anything to ruin that.”

They stared at him, their expressions were difficult to read. Probably because of the lizard face. Finally, Blubs smiled again. “Well, if the Pines twins think you’re alright, you’re good in our book. Say, since this is your first time in town, maybe we could show you around? Durland and I actually do a little hunting ourselves, and it’s been awhile since we’ve had a third hunting buddy.”

Will considered it, briefly. “You know what? It’s been awhile since I’ve had any hunting buddies too.” He grinned. “Lead on!”

 

Xx

 

And that was how Dipper found him, half an hour later, regaling the two officers with hunting stories at the donut shop.

“So there I was, answering nature’s call, when the buck I’ve been chasing all season comes waltzing out of the woods in front of me. My stuff is sitting like, ten yards away, it’s the middle of rut, and this guy catches me with my pants down. I figure, I’m dead - this stag is gonna catch my scent and run me down, if I’m lucky. Instead!” He waved an arm for emphasis. “Instead, this jerk of a deer just trots out to the middle of the clearing, turns to stare at me… then just starts grazing! Like it’s no big deal I’m standing there!”

The two officers laughed, and Will grinned. “So, he stands there for maybe twenty minutes, and ever time I make a move to leave, he looks up and paws the ground at me. Eventually, the prick gets bored and walks off.” He leaned back in his chair, snagging one of the donut holes. “Joke’s on him, tho - the next morning, I got up real early, set up post, and just as he’s flirting with this sweet little doe, I line up my shot and - Dipper!”

The cervitaur smirked at him, and Will hastened to straighten up, reddening a bit. How much had he heard, walking up behind him like that?

“Well hey there, Dipper!” Blubs saved him from an awkward response. “Haven’t seen you in town much, lately!”

Dipper smiled politely at the cops. “Yeah, it’s been pretty busy at the Shack. End of tour season, lots of research to do, the usual.”

“Fair enough. Say, does your Grunkle still want us to drop some of the usual off this year?”

“Yeah, he’d probably like that.”

“Then we will do.” The sheriff glanced between Dipper and the very embarrassed looking hunter, one brow raised from behind his shades. “Well, we’ll just leave you two lovebirds alone then,” he said, nudging Durland’s head with his. The two shuffled their body out of the tiny booth, lifting a wing so that Dipper could slip in instead. The cervitaur settled himself, hind legs on the bench and forelegs on the ground, and the dragon waved at them. “Don’t be strangers, you two!”

Dipper waved back at them, and Will just shoved another donut hole into his mouth, chewing furiously as he stalled for time. He and Dipper hadn’t really talked about the whole ‘hunting’ thing since the ghost incident… he’d been a little worried about bringing it up.

“So, looks like you made some friends!” Dipper smirked at him from the other side of the table, before grabbing a donut hole and popping it into his mouth. “How was exploring?”

“It was good.” Will couldn’t meet Dipper’s eyes, and settled on staring just out the window instead.

“That’s good.” Will squirmed inwardly as the cervitaur let silence fall over the conversation, just the two of them eating donut holes. He’d almost had enough of it when Dipper finally asked, “So, how did that story end?”

“What?”

Another donut hole vanished. “That story you were telling Blubs and Durland. It was about hunting, right?”

Shit. “Eh, it wasn’t important. What did McGucket have to say?”

Dipper raised an eyebrow at him. “You know, I don’t mind if you hunt, Will.” He ate another donut hole. “I mean, so long as you aren’t hunting me. You don’t have to worry about my feelings.”

Will stared at him. “…seriously?” He rested his head in one hand. “I would have thought you’d be… I dunno, sensitive about it.” He dropped his hand, fidgety. “I mean, after the whole ghost trying to replace your head thing.”

Dipper shuddered. “Okay, wow, no, that was about getting my head ripped off.” He folded his hands on the table. “Look, Mabel and the Stans and Wendy are all carnivores, and Soos… well, Soos eats anything, so there’s not much to be said about that. But as long as the gun isn’t pointed at me? I don’t mind if you go hunting for some normal animals.” He leaned back a bit. “Besides, deer are jerks. I tried talking to them once - Mabel can talk to some fish, so she convinced me to try and talk to some deer. The does are pretty nice, but the bucks are all assholes.”

Will just sat, digesting that information. “So… it’s actually okay if I hunt? You won’t be upset?”

Dipper shrugged. “I mean, I’d probably rather not hear all the details, but… yeah. If you wanna go hunting with Blubs and Durland, don’t let me being a deer stop you.”

“Huh.” That had gone… much better than he had expected, honestly. “Alright then… So, what did McGucket say, by the way? Did you get to talk to him?”

It was Dipper’s turn to look uncomfortable. “Yeah… nothing, uh, great, unfortunately.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a little scrap of paper, handing it to the hunter. “I wrote it down - I was worried I’d forget it otherwise.”

Will unfolded it, nerves making his stomach flutter. In Dipper’s less than neat handwriting, scrawled across the page, read:

 

Living stone awakens terror,

Appearance, Life and Past in error-

Rushing waters will decide

Whether your fate is justified.”

 

He read over it twice, confusion adding to his nervousness. He glanced up at the cervitaur, whose ears were flicking back and forth agitatedly.

“Is that it?”

The ears froze, then drooped slightly. “Yeah. I tried to get him to elaborate, but…” Dipper sighed. “No luck.”

Will read it over again. “What do I do now? What does any of that even mean?” Most of it seemed like gibberish, but he wasn’t fond of the “rushing waters” or “awakened terror” described.

“Look, I don’t know. But, I do know that McGucket tells us everything he can. He can’t say everything, I think just as part of being an oracle. But whatever that little paragraph means… it should be enough to avoid the worst of whatever he thinks is coming.”

“And until then, I should just, what, watch out for living stone?” He squinted at the paragraph, then leaned back with a sigh, letting the paper drop onto the table. “Knowing that little bit is almost worse than not knowing what he was going to say at all!”

“I think you’ll be surprised. We didn’t really put much stock in McGucket at first either - he kinda had a habit of crying wolf, and we’d ignore him, which was fine until you realize that he’s right. And his prophecies are usually pretty easy to decipher once they start rolling, so once the first piece falls into place, the rest should too…”

“And until then I just wait.”

Dipper shrugged. “That’s really all you can do.”

Will sighed dramatically, sinking further down into the booth. “Well that sucks.”

“Yeah, I know.” Will heard the scuff of hoof on floor, and raised an eyebrow questioningly at the cervitaur. “We could still have our date, tho, if you wanted?”

Something outside caught Will’s eye. “I’d love that, but… is that Mabel?”

“Huh?” Dipper turned, looking out the window where Will was staring. “Isn’t she supposed to be on a date with Paz right now?”

“That doesn’t look like much of a date,” Will replied dryly.

“C’mon, let’s go see what’s up.”

The two left the shop, Will quickly dropping a twenty on the table to cover the bill, and hurried over to Mabel. The mermaid was sitting out by the fountain, draped miserably over the side of her tank, tail hanging limply as she peered sullenly out from under her long hair.

“Mabel, aren’t you supposed to be on a date?” Dipper called as they walked up. Her head whipped up, and Will winced. Bad choice of words, on Dipper’s part.

Mabel looked like she might be about to cry, lip trembling and eyes more watery than usual.

“Paz stood me up.”

 

Chapter Text

The plan had been haphazard, at best. Completely slung together out of nothing, at worst.

Will was betting on the latter.

It had been two weeks since their visit into town, and in that two weeks, Pacifica had managed to miss not one, not two, but three whole dates.

It’s not like her!” Dipper complained quietly to Will one day, listening in as Mabel talked to Pacifica over the phone in the living room. “Pacifica never forgets stuff like this… actually, she might have someone she pays to remember stuff for her…”

“Sounds like she needs to hire someone new,” Will muttered.

“Yeah, seriously.” Dipper perked his ear again, listening to Mabel. “Hold up, I think they’re almost done talking.”

They darted into the kitchen, trying to look innocent and not like eavesdroppers when Mabel rolled into the kitchen. A minute later, she followed, still looking down.

“So, uh, what did Pacifica say?” Well, so much for subtly, Will thought, giving the cervitaur a small kick under the table. Dipper winced and shot him a dirty look.

Mabel didn’t seem to notice, fortunately; she just heaved a great sigh, slumping against her tank wall. “Well, apparently her parents called her off to do something, and that’s why she missed our last date.” Dipper scowled at that, though whether it was at Paz or her parents, Will could only guess. He hadn’t exactly heard the best things about them, so he figured it was the latter. “But, the other thing is, we were supposed to go meet the Coven this evening - you know, sort out amulet junk, work on some spells, plan for the next month… But she says the weather is supposed to get really nasty, and she doesn’t want to take the risk of me going up in the tank, so…” She sighed, dejected, and slumped further into her tank, submerging completely. Will patted the glass sympathetically, looking over to Dipper, who-

Oh no. Will knew that look. That was the plotting look.

“Mabel?” The cervitaur walked over to the side of the tank, bending forward to peer over the glass. Mabel said something in reply, but all that came up were bubbles. “Mabel, come on up for a moment.”

Reluctantly, the mermaid resurfaced, pushing her wet hair back from her face. “What?”

Look, I know this has been really stressful for you, but I’m sure Paz has a good reason for… whatever is going on.” Will raised one eyebrow. That hadn’t been what he’d expected Dipper to say. “Since you can’t make Coven night tonight, why don’t you and I have a twins only marathon? Duck Detective, Grandpa the Kid… Just eat a ton of snacks and watch a bunch of old cartoons and movies. That might cheer you up in the meantime.”

Mabel’s expression remained downcast. “I dunno…”

Dipper seemed in conflict with himself for a moment, before breaking out into a somewhat forced looking smile. “I could get some Smile Dip?”

Will didn’t know what ‘Smile Dip’ was, but apparently they were the magic words to get Mabel’s attention. She perked up immediately, eyes going wide. “No you couldn’t… I thought our stash was gone…?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure Ma and Pa still have some at their store, and it’s not like that stuff ever goes bad!”

“Yeah, but they’re not just gonna hand it over, bro-bro.”

“I know! I mean, I have… a way… of getting some.” Dipper shot a nervous glance over at Will, then quickly looked away. Will stared back blankly, wondering what he had in mind.

“Ooh, so you’re gonna do the Lamby-Lamby da-”

“Mabel!” The cervitaur tried to cut her off, but not fast enough. He glanced over at Will, whose lips were turning upwards in a slow, wicked smile.

“The Lamby-Lamby Dance, you say?” Mabel clapped a hand over her mouth.

“Oh. Oops?” She grinned sheepishly at her twin, who just sighed.

“Yes. That was the plan,” he deadpanned. “They love that stupid dance.”

“Awww.” Mabel lowered her hand, giving Dipper a sweet, sharp-toothed smile. “You’d really do the Lamby-Lamby dance to get Smile Dip to cheer me up?”

“…Yeah, of course. You’re my twin, Mabel.” He gently punched her shoulder, smiling. “What kind of twin would I be if I didn’t try to cheer you up? So! You on board for Twin Marathon Movie night?”

Mabel grinned back, the first full, excited grin either of the boys had seen in the last few days. “Absopositivlutely!”

“Great! Why don’t you go and pick out the movies and snacks for tonight. I’ll run out and get the Smile Dip, then when I get back we can party?”

She shot him two thumbs up. “Sure thing, bro-bro!” she called, before flipping around in her tank and rolling out to the living room. She’d barely turned her back when Dipper grabbed Will’s arm, dragging him along as he headed out of the house. They were almost out when Mabel called, “Ooh, Will should join us too!”

“Uhh… Will’s got plans! Anyway, be right back bye!” Dipper shouted, dragging them outside and kicking the door shut behind him.

“I’ve got plans, eh?” Will grinned at his boyfriend, patting his deer-back. “So, what exactly are they?”

Dipper was fishing around his vest pockets for something. “You are gonna- oh, there it is.” He pulled out his cell, and started dialing. “You are gonna go with Paz, and see if you can’t figure out exactly what she’s up to.”

Will blinked, processing, then pulled a face. “Really? I don’t think she even likes me, much less -”

Hold on.” Dipper shushed him with one finger, putting the phone to his ear. Will could hear the ringing from the other end.”…Hey, Pacifica? Yeah, it’s Dipper. Listen, I…” He paused, listening to something. “…No, I’m not actually calling about that.” Will didn’t have to puzzle over which that Dipper was referring to - right now, there was really only one thing. “I actually have a favor to ask you. Could you take Will on your trip to meet the Coven? I know Mabel said she couldn’t go, because of the weather, but Will shouldn’t have a problem.” He paused again. Will waved a hand in his face, mouthing ‘This won’t work’ as best he could. Dipper just gave him a pleading look, before turning his attention back to the phone. “Oh, well he’s just so interested in learning magic, and I figured meeting the Coven would be good, both for him and them, since he’s here long term.” He scuffed at the ground with his hooves, waiting for the answer. Will scrunched up his face in irritation, although now it was more for appearances’ sake. The mere mention of learning magic had done wonders to his opinion of this trip. “Actually, we don’t have plans for the night. I mean, I’m having a party with Mabel to cheer her up. And I can’t miss that.”

Will waved in his face again, and Dipper glanced over at him. “Your bitterness is showing,” he half mouthed, half hissed. Dipper wrinkled his nose, but nodded. Then, Pacifica must have responded, because his ears perked up.

Great! I’ll have him meet you…” he paused one last time, nodding. “Mm-hm, I’ll tell him to meet you there. Thank you, Pacifica.” He shut the phone with a click and a sigh.

Will crossed his arms, tapping one foot and looking expectantly at the cervitaur. “So. Now that my plans have been made, do you mind maybe telling me what your plans are?”

Dipper sighed. “Look, I’m sorry for pulling you into this without asking-”

“As you should be.”

-but, Mabel is miserable over this, and we’ve got to do something, and I’m not really allowed up there because.. well…” He sighed, scratching one ear. “Apparently, the witches have something against demons - something I respect, 100%. But having been possessed by a demon, I’m…” He rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed, “...not actually welcome to the Coven meetings. I’d go if I could, and see if I could get something out of Pacifica, but I don’t have a good reason, and Mabel needs a pick-me-up anyways.”

“And that’s why you’re sending me.”

Dipper gave him the widest, most pitiful pleading eyes he could manage, and Will had to stifle a giggle at the sight. “Please? You’d get the chance to learn more about magic, too… heck, the Coven witches are the ones teaching Mabel and Pacifica, maybe they’d be willing to teach you, too?”

Will contemplated the offer, watching as Dipper tried to look more and more cute and pitiful in an attempt to get his favor. He chewed his lip to stop himself from grinning, and tried to turn it into a conflicted expression. It didn’t work. Dipper smiled hopefully.

“So…?”

Will took a deep breath. “Alright. I’ll do it. But!” He raised one finger, grinning near evilly. “Only if I get to tag along and see this ‘Lamby-Lamby Dance’!”

Dipper groaned. “Really?”

Really. It sounds adorable, and I wanna know all about it.”

Dipper stomped his hooves and heaved an exaggerated sigh. “Fine. Fine.” He turned. “Hop on, and we’ll head over to Ma and Pa’s convenience store. After that, you’ll meet up with Pacifica.”

Will gladly climbed onto the cervitaur’s back, carefully adjusting himself as he prepared to ride.

Secret plots, magic, spy-work, and a cute dance?

Today was shaping up to be a good day.

 

xx

 

And now, he was just doing his best just to keep up.

“Keep up. We’re going to be late if you don’t pick up the pace.”

Will glared up at the gorgon, who was coiled on the outcropping of rock above him, arms crossed as she looked down her nose at him. It was impressive how she managed to look so snooty, despite wearing sunglasses at night.

“Don’t look at me like that - you were the one who wanted to come along!”

“Yeah, but not with you,” Will griped under his breath, grabbing the next handhold and carefully shimmying up the rock face.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.” He wheezed, finally pulling himself up onto the ledge. He flopped to the ground, exhausted by the climb. “Geeze, how does Mabel manage to get up here? She’s got a whole tank to work with!”

“We usually take the chopper.”

There was a long moment of silence. Will slowly turned his head, narrowing his eyes at Pacifica.

“Are you saying. That you made me climb a mountain. For two hours. In the dark. And we could have just taken a helicopter?”

She just stared back, lips twisted in annoyance. “There’s no reason to take the private helicopter if there’s no one who needs it. Climbing up here isn’t even that hard.”

“Maybe not, if you’re a giant snake person!” he grumbled, getting to his feet and dusting himself off. She just scoffed, pulling herself higher on her tail to be taller than him, to his chagrin.

“Whatever. That’s the hardest part anyways. The rest is pretty much just a hiking trail up to the meeting place.”

“Great. Excellent.”

Pacifica took the lead, and they began the final trek up the mountain. Will had hoped that the gorgon would be more open and talkative, but no such luck - she’d been short and grumpy the entire way so far. He’d just have to make conversation himself.

“So, how long have you been training with the Coven?”

“...about six or seven years.”

Will let out a low, impressed whistle. “Wow, really? You and Mabel must be great at magic, then!”

He noted that she stiffened slightly at the mention of Mabel’s name, before just shrugging. “Yeah, I guess so. She’s always had more skill at it than I.”

“Oh really? That must be pretty hard for you to admit!”

Her hair turned and hissed at him. “What makes you say that?”

Will grinned. “I just did a little research on you. I mean, you knew so much about me before we met, figured I’d return the favor!” He kicked at a pebble, feigning watching it skitter off into the dark as he kept his eye on her reactions. “Pacifica Northwest isn’t exactly known for being number two, am I right?”

Pacifica scoffed, but Will could tell he’d struck a nerve. “That was then. It’s different now.”

“And who brought about that change, the twins? Mabel?”

Her expression softened a little. “...they’re good people,” she replied, her voice a little quieter.

Mm-hm, good people who are having a little bit of a rough patch, from what I can see. Mabel’s all upset, and I can’t imagine what could be causing that, huh Paz?”

She was probably glaring at him now, but the sunglasses made it hard to tell. “That’s not really any of your business.”

His grin widened. “Ah, but you see, it kind of is my business? And you made it my business.” He picked up the pace, pulling alongside her. “See, I don’t know much about ‘Pacifica-then vs. Pacifica-now,’ but I do know that Pacifica-now really likes Mabel-now, and vice versa. And yet… that’s not really coming through right now, you know?”

Her hair was hissing, and he sidestepped a drop of venom that flicked off one of the serpent's fangs. “I still don’t see how it’s your business.”

It’s my business because we had a deal, Pacifica.” He paused, mulling over his choice of words. Maybe too dramatic… “Or something akin to one, anyways. And that was, we’re on the same side when it comes to protecting the twins. Something you-” and he nudged her with one finger, “have been doing an abysmal job with.”

She scowled at him, and he just grinned cheekily back, feeling accomplished in making his point. That feeling slowly trickled away as she schooled her face. “Dipper put you up to this, didn’t he?”

He was somewhat taken aback by that - it hadn’t been the answer he’d expected. “What makes you think that?”

“This sounds like something he’d do,” she sighed, running a hand through her hair. “What, did he tell you to spy on me or something? See if I was running around behind Mabel’s back?”

Will wasn’t fond of the sudden, depreciating tone she’d taken, so he tried to lighten the mood instead. “Well… to be honest, you and Mabel aren’t really built to do any running.”

She frowned, brow furrowing in confusion for a moment. “Wait… wh-” The joke hit her, and her jaw dropped. “Did you really just…?”

“I mean… no legs, no running, right?” Pacifica’s expression was caught somewhere between anger and laughter, so he pressed on. “But no. Dipper figured you had a good reason, and wanted me to figure out why you wouldn’t tell either of them.” Pacifica crossed her arms, raising one eyebrow. “Seriously. He trusts you, he just doesn’t know what would be important enough to treat Mabel like this.”

That pained look was back, now. “I’m… I am really sorry about missing our dates. They really were accidents…”

“Once is an accident. Twice is bad luck, maybe. Three and four times?” Will shrugged. “Not so accidental.”

“I just overextended myself,” she insisted.

“In what?”

“It doesn’t matter!” she hissed, agitated.

“Well that’s clearly not true, or you wouldn’t ignore Mabel for it.”

Her hair was now making a steady static of hissing. “Fine, it's important. And tell Dipper that if I could tell him, I would! But Mabel knows how to get information out of him, he can’t possibly keep a secret from her, and this needs to be a surprise!”

She pulled up short, her tail slithering to block Will’s path. He nearly tripped over it, catching his balance and just barely managing not to step on it. “Hey, what- ooh!”

The path ahead was dimly lit by a series of glowing symbols, etched into stones lining the path. They pulsed faintly, colors shifting through a series of purples and pinks in cascade. A faint oceanic green shimmer hung over the pathway like a veil, mingling with the runes’ luminescence and forming a tunnel of light along the path up the mountain. Will looked on in awe as Pacifica explained:

“This is the last stretch to the Coven meeting place - the runes are only active during the new moon, so normally this whole place just looks like any other hiking path. They are protective runes, though - they root out anything or any energy that might seek to harm the Coven or abuse its powers. So, if you’ve got any magical artifacts or demon possessions you want declare, I suggest you do so now.”

“I’m guessing admission is canceled if I have either of those?” Will commented dryly. Pacifica sighed.

“Unfortunately, yes. Mabel and I would love for Dipper to meet the rest of the Coven, but they’re… pretty tight with their security.”

“So you know about triangle guy too?”

Pacifica snorted, indignant. “Of course. Dipper and Mabel keep me in the loop.”

Alright. Well, I don’t have any artifacts on me, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a demon before in my life, so…” He lifted a foot to take the first step. “...On we go!”

 

 

Chapter Text

Will passed through the barrier easily, as he knew he would. But, as he and Pacifica walked along, there was a prickling sensation across his scalp, and he couldn’t shake the rather unnerving sensation that he was being watched.

“Does the Coven monitor this path up?” he asked Pacifica, looking around for anyone who might be spying.

“Not really. The runes do most of that for them. If something tripped them, they might watch, but its either something big that can’t get in at all, or its something inconsequential so they don’t bother with it.”

“Oh.” That prickling feeling still wouldn’t go away, though - and now, it was joined by nervous butterflies that he tried to squash with a vengeance. “So, what can I expect from this meeting? What’s the witch-tinerary?”

Can you try not to butcher the English language in front of them?” she snapped.

“I make no promises.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. He raised his hands defensively. “Hey, look, I’m just asking so I don’t accidentally make a fool out of myself and embarrass you!” He grinned. “And definitely not because I have the ulterior motive of figuring out what you’re hiding from the twins.”

“How very upfront of you,” she replied dryly.

“Hey, you’re smart, Blondie - I don’t see myself pulling the wool over your eyes anytime soon. You and I both know that Mabel’s upset, and Bambi doesn’t-”

“Stop.” Pacifica turned suddenly, blocking the path forward and cutting him off. Will froze in place, blinking up at the gorgon as she pulled herself up on her tail, towering over him.

“…what?”

Stop with these stupid nicknames.” He didn’t need to see her eyes to know she was glaring down at him - her tone was enough. “Do you even understand what they do to the twins?”

“Uhh…”

No, you don’t. Because You’ve only been here for a few weeks.” Her face darkened even more. “Do you know what they’ve had to give up? Before the Fluventis, Mabel was the most independent, free-spirited person I had ever met. Then, suddenly, she’s a mermaid. She’s got no legs, she’s stuck in a tank, dependent on everyone around her. She couldn’t get anywhere without someone carrying her for the first few months. All that freedom? Gone. Do you know what that does to someone like Mabel?”

“I…”

Don’t answer that - I know you’re smart enough to figure it out. And yet, on top of all this, despite the fact that she’s twelve, the first thing she does is work to make sure everyone else is okay.” She scowled down at the hunter. “Imagine having your life just turned on its head in one afternoon. Imagine having your freedom taken away like that, by your own body. Imagine never being able to go back to your loved ones, because an event has changed you so irrevocably, that there is no way they can understand or accept it.” She paused, and this time Will stayed quiet. “Now imagine some jackass comes along, who knows nothing about any of that. And the very thing about you that changed? The very thing holding you back? He sees that, and sees it as a nickname. A novelty. A joke.” She swayed even higher on her tail, leaning forward, hair hissing along with her words. “And it’s not just Mabel, either. Dipper’s told you about the Fluventis, and I don’t know if it’s escaped your notice, but he blames himself for it all. He sees it as his biggest, personal failure. He hates those nicknames - he told me himself! And you know why I think that is?” She leaned further in, and the hunter had to lean back. He could see himself reflected in her sunglasses. “Because every time you do, he remembers what happened. To him, and to the whole town.” She fell silent, swaying slightly before him, like she was coiled to strike. For a tense moment, Will thought she actually might, but then she coiled back slightly, dropping to her regular height.

Will stared at her, still a little shocked. He realized that he had actually shrunk back a little, and straightened up. She remained silent, staring at him, and he realized he probably ought to say something. “I… never really thought about it that way.”

“Of course you didn’t. All of this is novel to you.” Her tone was marked with resignation now, apparently having gotten her frustrations out in that last angry burst. She pressed a palm against one temple. “I… didn’t actually mean to go off on you like that. I’ve just… there’s been a lot going on.” She dropped her hand and sighed. “Look, let’s just, go to the meeting. We’ll get this over with, and pretend this never happened.”

Sure, Will thought, they could do that. Or he could be his normal nosy self and pry. But in the end, he decided on the middle ground - he didn’t exactly want to get bitten, and she still seemed a little on edge. He could ask about it later. Besides… he really hadn’t thought of the nicknames that way. Maybe he should even be grateful that she spelled that out to him.

He had a lot of thinking to do, later.

“Alright.” The two continued in silence. Up ahead, he could start to see the end of the rune-lit tunnel. Soon after, he could see the opening, then the wide open circle on the mountain-side, open to the brilliant night skies. The constellations seemed to sparkle with vibrant force, especially prominent in the night sky. As they exited the path, Will could see figures sitting at equal measures around the circle - nine in total, shrouded by a darkness that seemed to exist just around them, allowing only their eyes to glow through. They watched as he and Pacifica entered the circle, alight, curious, and ominous.

“Will Hunt.” Will turned his head to look at the gorgon. She stared forward into the circle. “Welcome to the Coven.”

 

Xx

 

The Coven meeting, Will decided, was the most paradoxical thing he had ever been present for. So far, half of the proceedings ran like an old ladies’ PTA meeting, and the other half ran like something out of an 80’s Halloween special. One moment, the Hands Witch was offering him a cookie, the next, they were slaughtering some kind of small feathered creature (it was not a bird, Will knew birds, he hunted them, and this was. Not . A bird). It only stayed “dead” for a moment or two, before apparently pulling itself back together and scurrying off into the night.

“It’s hiding for next time,” Pacifica (unhelpfully) explained.

Following this “opening ceremony,” the darkness surrounding the witches (known as the Gravity Falls Nine, he learned) dissipated, and they greeted the two of them, formally inviting them to join the meeting. They didn’t seem all too surprised to see him there, and he supposed that shouldn’t have surprised him.

He still couldn’t shake that creeping feeling, though.

“Parchment Witch, what is the first item on the itinerary?” one witch called. (”The Huntress Witch,” Pacifica whispered. Will nodded approvingly.)

Another, presumably the Parchment Witch, pulled a scroll from the air, and it unraveled as it levitated in front of her. Will grinned. That was the kind of magic he was here for!

“…The same thing that’s been on the itinerary for the last ten years, Huntress Witch,” she snapped back, making the scroll vanish with a snap of her fingers. “The amulets.”

Huntress Witch snuffled, sullen. “No need to be mean, Parchy.”

“I’ve said the same thing every new moon for ten years, Huntress - I don’t think it bears repeating.”

“It’s the principle of the thing!”

“Witches!” Another cut it (“Sand Witch,” Paz hissed. Will tried not to laugh). “Back to the matter at hand. Pacifica?”

Paz slithered to the center of the circle, carefully avoiding the blood-stains from earlier. “The last batch of amulets went out a month ago are all working fine - no one has had any trouble switching between forms, and no one accidentally ate their amulet this time.” There was a smattering of polite applause. “The collection of ingredients for our next batch is underway. Everyone has their assigned person, right?”

There was a murmur of agreement from the Nine, then one called out: “But what about the amulet you are working on, Pacifica?”

“It’s…” she faltered, glancing back at the hunter. He smiled back toothily. “It’s going fine.”

“Well, show us.”

“Yes, let us see your progress.”

‘Ah, she doesn’t want me to see it,’ Will thought as she shot him another glance. He smiled wider. ‘Maybe this amulet has something to do with what she’s hiding.’

The Nine were still calling out encouragement when she finally sighed, reaching into her purse. “Here.” She slithered over to one of the Nine, holding something out to her. The witch accepted it with silver-laden arms. Will craned his neck to get a better look, and caught a sliver of aquamarine light reflecting off of it.

There was a long moment of silence as the Coven waited for their sister to finish inspecting the amulet. Will couldn’t see her expression, but Pacifica’s tail twitched, and her hair twisted nervously. Finally, the old witch nodded.

“Petrified shell, with mother of pearl,” she commented, tracing a finger over the outside. “Lots of focus, lots of time spent. Lots of good, solid, magic.” She handed it back to the gorgon, smiling. “I’m sure Mabel will love it.”

“Thank you, Silver Witch.”

A light went off in Will’s mind. “Oh. Ooooh!” He grinned at the gorgon, who was giving him a stern stare, and the rest of the witches, who were looking curiously at him. “Heh, don’t mind me, I’ve just figured something out.” The look Pacifica gave him promised that she would be speaking to him later about this. He didn’t really care - now that he knew what was up, he understood the snake-girl’s need for secrecy.

“Actually, now that we’ve finished on the topic of amulets,” Huntress Witch started, “I am rather curious as to why Will has joined us this evening.” A murmur of agreement ran through the Nine, and they turned expectantly to Will. He glanced over at Pacifica, but she just gestured for him to take the floor.

“Ah. Well, one reason I’m here is that the Pines twins were getting worried about Pacifica, seeing as she’s missed several meet-ups with Mabel this past month.”

“I was working on the amulets,” Pacifica defended. “It takes a lot of energy to make them, and I kept oversleeping. I even tried to arrange the dates at night, but… I worked too long.”

Will nodded, more sympathetically. “The other reason was…” He leaned forward, eager. “Dipper told me that you might be willing to teach me magic, like you do for Pacifica and Mabel.”

There was dead silence. None of the Nine moved, just sat in their spots, eyes glowing as they stared at him. He looked from one to another, trying to gauge their expressions, see if maybe, one of them would be willing. They didn’t look hostile, but he had an uncomfortable sense that one or two expressions denoted… sympathy.

“I’m afraid we cannot.” Huntress Witch’s voice shattered the silence. “For two reasons - one, the Coven has already taken on two novices, Pacifica Northwest and Mabel Pines. Even those two were only permitted because of the emergency nature of the Coven’s formation. We do not have the time or resources to support another student, who simply wishes to learn magic for the sake of learning magic.”

Will frowned. “How do you know I-”

“The runes tell us much about those who would enter our circle, William Hunt. And trust me when I say, I am sorry that we cannot take you on.” She peered forth from her cloak, and he swore he could see rings of color glow around her pupils, see a hint of fang and fur, before it disappeared back into the illusion of an old woman. “I feel as though we would have been kindred spirits. But, even if we could take you on, there is still the other issue.”

Will waited for a moment, but she didn’t add anything. “…What’s the other issue, then?”

Those sympathetic gazes were back. “You have no magic.”

It took Will a minute to understand what she was saying, and another, longer moment to process it. “Wait, I… don’t have any magic? What does that mean, is it because I’m human?”

“We were all human at one point or another,” Silver Witch cut in, the bangles on her arms clinking as she crossed them. “Nearly every living thing holds a little spark of magic in them, enough for the potential to grow. In humans, however, there is a chance that they will be born without any magic at all. It is uncommon, but not unheard of.”

Will’s jaw worked silently, taking this in. Pacifica looked just as flabbergasted. “Wait, so… So I can never learn magic? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Oh, you could learn it,” one of the Nine soothed. “The theory and the workings, but actually utilizing it? That would be beyond your abilities.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “You would likely still be able to use magical items, or channel magical current… but you couldn’t call up anything yourself.”

“…oh…” Will deflated somewhat, shoulders drooping. He knew he shouldn’t be too upset - after all, he hadn’t even known magic existed just over two months ago - but, he had been so looking forward to it. The idea that something that amazing would be just out of his grasp, for something as simple as not having the “spark” he needed, was… kind of crushing.

The witches murmured in sympathetic unity, before turning their attention back to Pacifica. Will didn’t really pay attention to the final minutes of the meeting, still reeling from the revelation. He was startled back into attention when the witches disappeared simultaneously with a flash of light and a clap of thunder. Only he and Pacifica stood in the circle now, and it was clear that with the Nine gone, so was the magic the circle held. The runestone path lay dark, and the skies above, while magnificent, lacked the vibrant glow they’d held earlier.

“…ready to head back?” Pacifica asked. He slowly got to his feet.

“…yeah, I guess…”

The walk back was long and quiet - neither really tried to make conversation with the other, and Will was too caught up in his own thoughts to do much else but follow. Only when they had reached the bottom of the mountain, and Pacifica’s car, did she stop them.

“Hold on, I have something I need to do really quick.” Will leaned against the car as she turned back towards the mountain, interest piquing as she moved her arms and mumbled something that sounded sinister and arcane. Then again, he thought, that could just be the hissing.

“Arcnam electra… hydrogenous cadent… Ego esse.” She snapped her fingers, and a clap of thunder echoed overhead. Will held out one hand, catching a few drops of rain. Pacifica turned. “Alright, let’s go.”

They got into the car, and the ride started as silent as their walk down the mountain. Will was drawn out of his own musings a few times by Pacifica’s hair, which kept hissing. She would smooth it down, but a few minutes later it would start hissing again. She kept fidgeting, too, which made him curious - what did she have to be anxious about, anyways?

He almost smacked himself when he remembered. Right. The amulet.

“I’m not going to tell the twins, by the way,” he told her.

“What?”

“About the amulet. You’re making her an amulet, so she can have some of her freedom back, right?” Pacifica didn’t answer, just stared. “You’re right, Dipper can’t keep a secret from Mabel, and Mabel would appreciate this much more as a surprise. But, I can keep a secret from both of them. And Dipper will trust me when I say that you have a good reason.” Pacifica sunk back into her seat slightly, relaxing. Will leaned in slightly. “But you have to promise me something.”

That hard set of her lip was back. “What’s that.”

“You have to come back with me to the Shack, and spend the evening with Mabel to make up for missing those dates.”

She tilted her head slightly, lip and eyebrows quirking into a bemused smile. “Seriously? That’s it?”

“Yup.” He leaned back, grinning. “Besides, it probably won’t be all that tiring. I mean, they’re just marathoning old movies and snacking.”

“Ugh, you’d be surprised,” she said, laughing a little. “Dipper can be really intense about old movies.”

“Well, I’ll deal with him,” he blink/winked, and Pacifica rolled her eyes, “and you work on patching things up with Mabel. Deal?” He stretched out one hand.

She shook her head, smiling wryly. “Sure. Deal.” She took it, and they shook, before settling back into their seats. “You’re quite the active business partner,” she joked.

“What can I say? Deals help me know where I stand.”

The conversation lulled for a moment, before she added, “I’m sorry about the magic thing, by the way. I didn’t know that was something that could happen.”

He shrugged, masking his dampened mood. “I’ll get over it. I mean, I’m like, one of a handful of trusted people living in a magical town - I’m pretty lucky in the magic department already.”

She nodded slowly. “Yeah, I’d say so.” She looked down, inspecting her nails. “You know, you should stop being so introspective,” she said dismissively. “I might actually come to like you, or something.” The slight smile on her lips told him she was joking.

“Heaven forbid,” he laughed. She laughed back. “I hope the twins still have snacks left over when we get there. I’d love to try that Smile Dip, or whatever it was.”

“Yeah… wait. What.”

 

xx

 

“Hrrblar… Fffor the kingdom of… Mushtarp!” Mabel groaned, flopping over the side of her tank in a half-hearted attempt to charge. Pacifica pushed her back in easily, and she sunk to the bottom, giggling bubbles.

“I swear, I’m going to kick Dipper’s tail for giving her Smile Dip,” the gorgon growled to the hunter, who was trying to wrestle his boyfriend up to his room.

“I dunno, it’s kinda cute,” Will chuckled. Dipper was practically falling over, arms thrown around the hunter’s shoulders and legs wobbling.

“L’p vfduhg...” he mumbled into Will’s shoulder, pressing his face against the human’s shirt.

“That’s a mouthful,” Will laughed, ruffling his hair. There was a clunk from down the hall as Pacifica finally managed to get Mabel’s tank into the mermaid’s room.

“Finally.” The gorgon looked over at them. “Do you need any help getting Dipper upstairs?”

“Nah.” Will looped one arm around Dipper’s back, and ruffled the cervitaur’s hair with his other hand. Dipper let out a pleased sigh. “I think we’ll be good.”

“...Alright. Well, good night then.” And Pacifica disappeared into the room, her tail flicking the door shut.

It took Will longer than he’d thought to get Dipper upstairs on his cot, and the deer-boy refused to let him go the entire time, mumbling nonsense as they went along. When they finally got to Dipper’s bed, the cervitaur tugged him down with him, and Will just went along. It had been a long day, and he was exhausted. Some cuddles sounded just right.

Dipper snuggled into his chest, apparently ignorant of his antlers - Will gently rearranged them so they were spooning, Dipper’s human back to Will’s chest, and Dipper’s head tucked down.

Lv Eloo frplqj edfn?” Dipper mumbled. Will sighed, content.

"Sure, kid. Whatever you say."

 

 

Chapter Text

“…Hey. Dipper.”

“Mmm?”

Will tapped the pencil thoughtfully against his lip. “What is… an eleven letter word… for “dealing dirty?”

Dipper leaned against the couch, chin resting on the arm as he stared at the TV, thinking. Mabel switched a button. “…treacherous?”

Will tsk’d. “It’s got an “e” as the fourth letter, and a “d” at the end.”

“Shoulda said that first.” Dipper’s eyes fell shut as he thought it over again. “Underhanded?”

A moment of silence, then the sound of lead scribbling on paper. “Yup!” The hunter’s hand landed gently on his head, scratching behind his ears. “Good one, Dip.”

Dipper sighed, pleased, and turned his head to one side just a bit to allow for better access to an itchy spot on his ear. The hunter’s hand moved as he wished, and he sighed again.

“What’s a fourteen letter word for unscrupulous?”

“That’s not fourteen letters?”

Will counted. “Nope, just twelve. Any thoughts?”

“Not off the top of my head. What letters do you have?” He heard another click from the remote, a burst of static, and a new channel as Mabel switched it again.

“It’s… blank-blank-blank-o, two more blanks and a c, then four blanks, an i, and the rest are blanks.” The hand disappeared, and the cervitaur could hear the tapping of the pencil again. Dipper snorted in annoyance.

“I dunno.” He tilt his head back towards the hunter, nudging him with an antler. “Moooore scratching, less crosswords…”

He heard the hunter chuckle, and the hand returned, ruffling his hair before scratching that one spot behind his ear again. He practically melted. “I can do both, kid.”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“Bleh, there’s nothing good on TV,” Mabel griped, flipping quickly through a few more channels before turning the TV off. Dipper caught the sound of the remote hitting a pillow as she tossed it to the couch. “What else is there to do?”

“Relax?”

Dipper got no answer. Reluctant, but curious, he opened his eyes, peering over at his twin. Her eyes were narrowed, lips scrunched up.

How are you so relaxed? You’re never like this this time of year.”She paused. “Actually, I’m not sure you’re ever this calm ever.

Oh. Dipper knew why he was so much more relaxed this year, but… it wasn’t really something he wanted to talk with Mabel about. So he just shrugged, closing his eyes again. “That’s not true, I’m calm off season. So I learned how to take it easy in the fall, too. Big deal.”

“Yeah big deal! I wanna know your new secret!”

He sighed, knowing he was going to get no peace on this. “Why do you need to know all of a sudden?” he asked, looking over at her.

She flopped over the side of her tank, dangling limply. “Because I’m bored and curious, and it’s a dangerous combination with me!” She reached as far as she could to poke him. He leaned easily out of the way, dislodging Will’s hand in the process.

“I just found another way of de-stressing, it’s nothing.”

Will snickered, writing something down in his crossword. “’Nothing’ isn’t what you said last night, ten-point.”

Mabel tilted her head, confused, then her eyes widened, almost comically so, as she her stare shifted from the cervitaur to the hunter, then back again. Dipper’s heart sank with annoyance. “Ooooh! You guys started doing the horizontal tango!”

“Mabel.”

“Well, actually I meant I gave him a massage last night.” Will frowned at his crossword, erasing something, before smirking back up at Mabel. “But yeah, we’re banging too.”

Will!”

“What?” The hunter reached over to scratch his ears again, but Dipper swatted his hand away, ears flat. “It’s not like it’s a secret, or anything! We’re dating!”

Gee,Dipdop, I’d have set you up ages ago if I’d known all it took to get you to calm down was getting laid.”

MABEL!”

Will and his twin grinned widely. Dipper’s stomach sank at the sight, and he swiftly rose to his feet.

“Hey Dipper, what’s an eleven letter word for “mind blowing sex”?” Will called teasingly after him as the cervitaur trotted quickly out of the room. “Begins with an ‘f’?”

“Fuck you, Will!”

“Only if you ask nicely!”

Dipper rolled his eyes, trying to ignore the giggles from the living room as he headed towards the kitchen. He stalked over to the cabinet, grabbing a glass before turning to the sink. Despite his exasperation (and embarrassment), he was still in a pretty good mood, for him.

His ears flattened in annoyance as he drank, shooting a dirty look at the doorway to the living room. He kind of hated that he couldn’t even be mad at either of them - it was so different from his usual experience, where if someone made the mistake of teasing him in rut, they got a set of hooves in the face. At the same time…

It was… nice. Pleasant, to be able to tease and joke back and forth like this, even in the rutting season. He still played indignant, he didn’t want them to know he was enjoying it (that would only have encouraged them). He looked down into his drink, lost in thought. “Is this what it might have been like, if the Fluventis hadn’t flooded?” he wondered to himself, before shaking his head firmly. That kind of thinking was the way to madness, self-guilt and depression, and he couldn’t allow himself to - to…

Oh wow.

Will really had been good for him, if he was thinking that way.

He turned back to the sink, filling up his cup again and trying to fight down the flush dusting his cheeks. Introspection wasn’t really his thing… and he didn’t really want to get lost in his own thoughts and feelings on the hunter.

He was saved from his own emotions by a ringing. He trotted over to the wall phone and answered.

“Mystery Shack, this is-”

“WHO IS IT?”

Dipper winced at his sister’s shout from the other room. “This is Dipper,” he finished.

“Hey Dipper, it’s Pacifica.”

He smiled, and peered into the living room. “Oh, hi Pacifica!” He raised his voice slightly, so he knew his twin would hear. “What’s going on?”

“Um, not a lot. Is Mabel there?” On cue, his twin rolled into the kitchen, Will ambling along after her.

“Ooh, ooh, give me the phone!”

Dipper stuck out his tongue and grinned. “Mabel? I dunno. Hey, Will, is Mabel here?”

Will rolled his eye, grinning. Mabel just frowned. “Come on, stop being a dork, give me the phone!”

“Sorry, Paz,” he chuckled, rearing back a little as Mabel made a swipe for the phone. “I don’t think she’s here!”

“Dipper, I can hear her in the background, just give her the phone.”

“Hmmm… nah.”

Mabel threw her hands in the air. “Oh my god, Dipper, don’t be a jerk just because you’re embarrassed!”

“Dip, just give her the phone.”

Will watched with amusement, leaning against the door frame. Dipper was playing a pretty good game of keep-away with his sister, and even over Mabel’s protests and and Dipper’s retorts and both their laughter he could hear Pacifica over the line, voice getting louder and louder.

Finally, Mabel pulled back, a determined grin on her face. “Alright, Dip’n’sauce, you asked for it!”

Dipper waved the phone tauntingly, just out of reach. “Oh really?” His giddiness turned quickly to apprehension when Mabel’s hands began to glow pink.

“Mosezum Aquoram!” Will jumped as the water in Mabel’s tank suddenly surged forward, glowing pink and flooding over the side of her tank. Dipper had time for one alarmed yelp before he was completely drenched. Within seconds, the water rebounded, hitting the cervitaur again before flooding back into Mabel’s tank.

The whole thing only took two seconds, but now there was an extremely soggy cervitaur standing in the kitchen, his hair and fur completely flattened. The only dry part of him was the hand that held the phone, and when Mabel reached her hand out, he wordlessly offered it to her.

Thank you, Dip-dop!” she said. Will burst into laughter at the door, and Dipper looked over at him, eyes obscured by his hair. The hunter just giggled, wiping a small tear from his eye.

“Drip-drop,” he managed to whisper, before busting into laughter again. The cervitaur snorted, smiling wryly at the pun.

“Hey Paz! Sorry, Dipper’s being a dork.” Dipper snorted again, walking out past Will to go get a towel. The hunter followed him, still laughing. “What’s up?”

“Hey!” She heard some hissing in the background, and a muffled “shush!” from her girlfriend. “What are you, uh, doing? Today?”

Mabel frowned, concerned. “Nothing, actually. It’s been really boring here. Are you alright? You sound kinda… wound up.”

“I’m fine!” But it was too quick, and there was more hissing in the background. Mabel raised an eyebrow, draping her arms over the side of the tank.

“Oooh-kay… So, what’s up?”

“Um… can I come over? I have something I want to… give you…”

Mabel smiled, a hint of worry still lingering on her expression. “Aww, that’s nice! You can come over anytime, you know that!”

“…yeah.” It was that little voice that Pacifica used, the one she described as her “Really, how did I end up with someone like you, Mabel Pines?” voice. “Right. So, I’ll be right over.”

“Great! I’ll see you soon!”

“Yeah. …I love you.”

It was said so quickly, the line went dead before Mabel could parse what the gorgon had said, much less respond. It still sent a shiver down her spine, and set her smiling as she hung up the phone. Now that she was done talking, she could hear the sound of Dipper’s hairdryer upstairs, and his boyfriend’s laughter. She considered rolling back into the living room, but decided not to. Pacifica would probably come in through the kitchen door, so she might as well wait here.

She was excited to see what Pacifica had for her. If it made the gorgon stutter so, it had to be good.

 

Xx

 

“She’s got a surprise?”

Mabel looked at the hunter, suspicious. He seemed more excited than she was about this. “Yeah. Why, do you know something about it?”

“Nooooooope~!”

“…you’re a terrible liar, Will.”

He grinned at her. “Only when I want to be. Besides, does it matter if I know? You’re gonna know in a few minutes anyway!”

“Know about what?”

Mabel and Will looked up as Dipper walked into the kitchen, awkwardly rubbing a towel over his hair.

“Paz is coming over, and she has a present for me!”

“Oh really?” Dipper shot Will a questioning look, and the hunter just grinned ‘innocently.’

“Yup.” She giggled at his waterlogged appearance. “Sorry about dousing you, by the way.”

“Nah, I had it coming,” he grumbled good-naturedly, joining them around the table.

He’d just sat on his haunches, when a knock came at the door. “Come on in!” the twins chorused.

“You guys have to stop doing that,” Will snorted. The door opened, and Paz slithered in, carrying a bag.

“Hey Mabel - oh, everyone’s here.”

“Yup!” Mabel draped over the side of her tank, leaning out towards the gorgon. Paz slithered over, and the mermaid gave her a sweet peck on the cheek. “So! What’s the surprise?”

“Well, it’s two parts.” She lifted the bag. “First, open this.”

Careful not to accidentally soak the bag, Mabel plopped it down onto the kitchen table, pulling out the tissue paper and finally pulling out… “A skirt! No, wait…” Mabel inspected the pink garment more closely. It looked nice, Will thought - lots of frills and some ruffles, with a flat band at the waist. He wondered how this led up to Pacifica’s other surprise, though. If it wasn’t what he thought it was going to be, he’d eat his gun.

“…It’s a skort?” Mabel looked up at Pacifica, confused. Dipper looked equally puzzled, tilting his head to one side. “Why…?”

“So that’s the first part,” Pacifica cut in. “You have to close your eyes for the second part.”

“Um, okay?” Mabel obediently closed her eyes.

Will bit his lip, grinning, as Pacifica pulled out the shell amulet. Dipper looked at it, puzzled for only a moment, before his eyes lit up in understanding.

“Oooh-Ow!” he yelped as Will elbowed him in the ribs. Pacifica glared at them both, and Will held one finger up to his grinning lips.

“Can I look now?” Mabel asked, brow furrowed with curiosity.

“Not just yet. You’ll know when.” Paz moved to face her. “Alright, now hold still…!”

Will wasn’t sure what to expect - he’d never seen anyone put on or take off their amulet before, only seen them with their magical disguises. So, when the amulet flashed, glowing purple across its aquamarine and cream-colored surfaces, he just watched, amazed and too transfixed to blink. He heard Dipper gasp next to him as the purple light swept across Mabel, lighting her entire tank. Aside from the rush of water moving, it was quieter than he thought it would be, and quicker too. The light slowly began to fade, still glowing across the mermaid’s skin…

Well, former mermaid.

Mabel had opened her eyes some time through the process, and was now just staring, wide eyed, down at her amulet. She raised her eyes to Pacifica’s face, who smiled nervously, her hair winding about itself.

“Surprise?”

Aaaaahhh!” Mabel screamed with glee, throwing her arms around her snake girlfriend and pulling her into a tight hug. “Oh my god oh my god oh my god!” She kicked her legs, laughing wildly as the water splashed around her. “Oh my god, Paz! I have legs! I have legs!

Paz hugged her right back, a slow smile spreading across her face. It warmed Will’s heart, watching the two of them, and he was enjoying the touching sight when Dipper shouldered him.

“Dude,” he whispered, “stop staring at my sister, she doesn’t have pants on!”

Will blinked slowly, realizing that this was, in fact, true. “We should… probably give them some space…” he whispered back.

Yeah…” The two snuck out into the living room, allowing the girls their moment.

 

Chapter Text

Water flooded his mouth when he screamed, cutting him off with a choke and a sputter. He forced himself to the surface again, trying to cough the liquid up while gasping for another breath, only to be submerged once more as a choppy wave hit him from behind. He could hardly see, his good eye shut tight against the water, but he could tell his eye patch had been ripped away at some point, and he could feel the water flowing in and out of the empty socket - somehow that was even worse than the sensation of it forcing its way into his lungs.

He knew he was dreaming, it had to be a dream, he’d never let himself get so close to the water, never again… but this fact didn’t help, just made it worse to know that even in his own mind, he was helpless against this onslaught. He could wish himself away all he wanted - the only thing for him here was the terrible flood…

Something grabbed him, by the back of the neck. He had only a second to marvel in the new development before whatever - whoever it was yanked, pulling him above the surface again. He gasped, spluttering as water drained from his eye, running over his lips. The force shifted to under his arms, lifting him from the water as he hung limp, stunned that his nightly terror was suddenly changing.

It could be changing for the worse, but at this point, he’d take just about anything, just for novelty’s sake. And what could his subconscious throw at him that was worse than water, anyways?

Whoever had him pulled him close, arms wrapped protectively around him, and he found his face pushed against a familiar flannel.

Oh. Well, if this is what his nightmare wanted to throw at him, he was more than okay with that.

He nuzzled into the fabric, taking a deep breath and enjoying Dipper’s familiar scent. The arms around him squeezed reassuringly, and he let his eye fall closed. He didn’t know where they were, but he wasn’t in the water anymore, and even now the warm, golden sunlight was drying his clothes, warming him…

Wait… golden? Oh no.

He opened his eye to a slit, trying to peer up at the cervitaur’s face, but from where he was, all he could see was flannel and a little bit of antler. He could tell that the glow wasn’t sunlight, though - instead, it seemed to emanate from Dipper’s crown.

Fuck. This was better than the flood, but he wasn’t ready for the oncoming headache.

He sighed, closing his eye again and pulling back against the arms holding him. They resisted but a moment, before yielding, allowing him to step back. He took a deep, steadying breath, somewhat comforted by the hands that had shifted to rest on his sides, before he opened his eye.

He wasn’t blinded, the way he’d been the first few times he’d had similar dreams, but he still had to blink and squint against the light shining golden triangle hovering between the creature’s antlers. Not-Dipper’s face was the same as ever, that enormous hollow socket similar to his own. It blinked, the emptiness becoming endlessness, then blinked again, flashing images like a broken television screen, things that flew by too quickly for the hunter to catch. That pounding started in his temples, spreading to the rest of his brain. The fingers on his sides dug in, gripping just shy of painfully into his skin, that terrible voice echoing and reverberating through the black void they stood in. He felt like it was trying to tell him something, something important. Whatever this mockery was, it wasn’t dangerous - but he couldn’t figure out what it wanted. He tried to focus, listen, hold onto the words…

 

“ g r q r w z r u u b “

 

“ K h l v r x u v “

 

“ N h h s k l p f o r v h “

 

I don’t understand,” he grit out through his teeth, fighting against the urge to squeeze his eye shut against the light and the pain.

 

“ Y o u w i l l”

 

A sharp intake of breath, then the hunter found himself staring at the attic ceiling, breathing heavily, his bangs plastered to his forehead with sweat. He sighed, frustrated, covering his eyes with his forearm. Even now, he could feel the dream trickling away from his grasp, fading from memory. He felt rested, but there was that lingering uncertainty… and that awful headache that was still thudding through his brain.

Someone stirred next to him, and he opened his eye, looking over at Dipper. The cervitaur was curled partially around him, antlers a careful distance from the hunter, one arm folded under his chin and the other reaching out to Will. Normally, he’d be under that arm. He must have rolled away in his sleep.

He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. The amber light of the autumn morning was just starting to trickle through the window, throwing blots of light against the far wall. Aside from its ambient glow, the room was dark. Comfortably so.

His headache was starting to fade, whatever scraps of the dream he’d had vanishing alongside it. He grumbled to himself, rolling back towards the cervitaur, running a hand along his shirtless back, down to his flank. He wasn’t fond of being awake so early without a reason. He needed his beauty sleep, dammit.

Dipper sighed at his ministrations, slowly stretching. Will pulled his hand back - he didn’t want to wake the deer-boy up prematurely - but apparently he’d already done so.

“Mmm, why’d you stop?” the cervitaur mumbled, words punctuated by a yawn. Will chuckled, and resumed his petting.

“Didn’t want to wake you up,” he murmured back, sitting up a little as his hand ran over a knot in his boyfriend’s lower back. He applied a bit more pressure, and received a grateful groan.

“Ahhh… too late for that.”

“Looks like.” Will kept massaging, rolling over to straddle the connection between Dipper’s torso and deer body. Dipper flattened himself against the bed cushion, folding his other arm under his chin and sighing contentedly.

Will worked over Dipper’s back for a few minutes, taking in the sighs and groans of enjoyment, before Dipper had woken up enough to ask, “What time is it, anyways?”

Will glanced over at the clock. “About 8. Why, you going anywhere?”

Dipper outright moaned as Will pressed down on a particularly sensitive spot. “Not if I can help it,” he replied, a little more breathless than before. “What about you?”

“You couldn’t get me to leave if you tried,” Will grinned. Satisfied with his work on Dipper’s torso, he slid back further, working on the front part of Dipper’s body. It was harder to get at it all, from this angle - his legs were all tucked under him, his muscles bunched at his sides - but Dipper was nothing if not appreciative.

“If that’s the case,” the cervitaur purred, shifting slightly underneath him, “I have a suggestion for an activity…”

“Oh, really?” The hunter was still a little achy from last night’s romp… but, Dipper was pretty persuasive. “And what’s that?”

Dipper wiggled more, and Will lifted himself off of him, allowing the cervitaur to roll over. One hand came up to cup the back of the hunter’s head, tugging him down.

“Why don’t you come down here and I’ll tell you?”

Will gave in without a fight, grinning as he leaned down for a kiss.

 

Xx

 

Mabel grinned widely, doing a little twirl in her bare feet, giggling at the way her skirt billowed out. Pacifica had given her a couple of outfits to go with her new legs, including some fantastic tights that she was just so excited about showing off. Everything had fit perfectly, too (Pacifica admitted to having to guess some of her measurements, but she and Dipper shared their habits of meticulousness - it wasn’t surprising they’d been spot on). And now, she was sporting one of her pink skirts, with pastel, kitten-patterned tights and one of her signature sweaters. And, of course, her amulet.

That, she tucked carefully under her sweater. She would love to show it off, but there was always the risk of it getting broken, and she absolutely could not let that happen. Especially not after all the work Pacifica had put into it.

Outfit complete, she gave herself one last once-over, before darting out of her room, sticking out her tongue childishly at her tank and laughing.

It was the month of Halloween, and for the first time in ten years, she had legs.

And she’d come up with the perfect twin costumes for her and Dipper. She just had to get his approval, then make them. And that would be a walk in the park.

She bounded up the ramp, almost slipping at one point, unused to the steep incline and unpracticed at walking in general. But like a pro, she caught her balance, passed her Grunkle’s room and headed up to the attic.

She knocked as she opened the door, grinning at surprising him with a personal wake-up call.

“Rise and shine, Dipper, I’ve got-”

M-MABEL!

“Wha-?”

Mabel’s greeting stopped dead in its tracks, and it took her mind a second to catch up with her eyes. Hurriedly, she turned, slamming the door behind her and trying to mentally scrub what she’d seen from her memory.

She honestly never wanted to know that much about her twin’s love life. Through the door, she could hear Dipper and Will.

“Oh my god…”

“Mabel I am so sorry!”

“Ten point, we are kind of in the middle of something here…”

That drew a startled laugh out of her, which slowly became more genuine as the ridiculousness of the situation hit her. The two fell silent on the other side of the door. A minute later, she finally got control of herself, wiping a tear from her eye.

“Oh man…” She gave the door another knock, and she swore she could hear Dipper jump. “Haha, you two finish up in there and come down to the kitchen when you’re done, okay? I wanna ask Dipper something.”

A moment of silence, which, knowing Dipper like she did, was tangibly uncomfortable.

“We’ll be down in… a few,” Dipper managed weakly.

“Give us like 10 minutes, Mabes.”

Mabel heard Dipper hiss “Will, oh my god!” and she headed back downstairs, still chuckling.

 

Xx

 

Fifteen minutes later, they were finally assembled at the table. Will looked admirably nonchalant, in Mabel’s opinion. Dipper looked like a freshly ripened tomato.

“Aww, c’mon Dip, it’s not the end of the world,” she teased. He, miraculously, reddened further.

“Can we just never mention it? Or talk about it? Ever?” he muttered, not meeting anyone’s eye. Mabel smiled, sympathetic.

“Sure, consider it forgotten.”

“So, what did you want to ask me?”

She planted her hands on the table, grinning near maniacally. “It’s Halloween month! And I have the perfect costume idea.”

Dipper snorted before she could continue. “Mabel, you always have the costume idea down, like, months in advance. We’re going as the Stans this year. I didn’t forget.”

Mabel rolled her eyes. “Okay, yeah, that one is good, but I have legs now, so I thought of something even better, and I wanted your opinion on it!”

“Do you guys dress up together every year, or something?” Will asked, chin propped up in one hand.

“Yeah, its something of a tradition. Mabel comes up with the costume ideas, we make the costumes-”

Mabel coughed.

Okay, Mabel makes the costumes, because I’m awful at clothes - and we throw a party here at the Shack.”

“Every year?”

“Yup!”

“Huh.”

“So what’re are new costumes going to be?” Dipper asked, turning back to Mabel. She pulled a notebook out of her sweater.

This!” She pushed it towards Dipper, who took it. Will peered over his shoulder. “Since I can be out of water this year, I figured I should have a costume that takes advantage of that. And then I thought how cool it would be to have a switch-up, with like, our supernatural themes!”

“A faun and a kelpie?”

“Dipper, trust me, its perfect.” She leaned over the table, tapping the drawing in the notebook. “See? I’d have these little legs, and the flower crown and panpipes. Then for you, I designed this!”

‘This’ appeared to be a long, scaly coattail that would cover the cervitaur’s arms and front legs, dangling back over his hindquarters and ending in a fish-like tail. It included a mane of seaweed, and a horse-like mask, with holes for his antlers. Dipper raised an eyebrow.

“That looks… pretty complicated, Mabel.” He looked up at her. “Do you think you could get it done in time?”

Mabel waved her hand dismissively. “Psh, who do you think you’re talking to, bro-bro? I can get it done.” She sat back a little, leaning on the table. “So? What do you think?”

“I think they look great, Mabel.” Dipper grinned. “It’s a really cool idea!”

“What is a kelpie, anyways?” Will asked, gently pulling the notebook from Dipper and looking closely at the cervitaur’s proposed costume. “It kinda just looks like a sea-horse thing…”

“They’re from Scottish mythology. Mabel’s actually met a few, when she was visiting Mermando.”

Will blinked, staring at Dipper. “…Mer…mando?”

“Yeah, don’t ask.”

“He was Dipper’s first kiss!”

Dipper went bright red once more. “He was not ! It was… reverse CPR, or something. Not a kiss.

“Yeaaah. Suure!”

“And kelpies?” Will asked again, bringing them back to the original question.

“Oh, right. So, kelpies are these horse-like shape-shifters. They live in the water. Some of them were known for taking pure-hearted children on adventures to far-off lands or miraculous underwater palaces.”

“Those legends are true, by the way,” Mabel cut in.

“But, most of the legends are about them luring unsuspecting people into the water, onto their backs, and then dragging them down and eating their entrails after they drown.”

“Those legends are… also true, unfortunately.”

“…” Will stared down at the proposed costume, fighting down the irrational fear that briefly clawed its way up his throat. “Oh.” Dipper must have sensed his discomfort, because he patted the hunter’s shoulder comfortingly.

“I mean, there aren’t any in Gravity Falls, so I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said, giving the hunter’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

“Right, right…” Will put a smile on his face, handing the sketchbook back to Mabel. “Because they’re in Scotland?”

“Well, that ocean. And we’re nowhere near that!” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “A few of them come around to the west coast using some really crazy magic underground channels, straight through the US, but only in the summer months. They’re usually really deep in the ocean, anyways.”

Well, that was good to know, he guessed. “That’s lucky,” he said, throwing in a chuckle for good measure. “Wouldn’t wanna get caught by one!”

“Yeah, no kidding!” Mabel stood up. “Alright, I’m gonna go get working on these. You guys have plans for the day?” She leaned forward slightly, waggling her eyebrows. “Aside from the obvious?”

Dipper sighed, exasperation apparent. “ Actually , we had some research we were working on last night, so we’ll probably work on that today.”

Mabel giggled. “Sure, research .” Dipper flushed again, ears flat. Will patted his side in attempted sympathy, grinning. “Hey, if you guys go out into the woods, if you swing by the crystal grove, will you nab me one of the non-magic ones? I’m gonna need it for this costume.” She bounded out of the room before they could answer.

Dipper sighed again, and Will chuckled, running one hand over his deer back. “Let’s get on that research , huh?”

Dipper covered his face with his hands. “Will, not you too…” he groaned, dragging his hands down when the phone started ringing. “Ugh, what now?” he snapped, turning to pick it up. “Hello, Mystery Shack.”

“Dipper?”

“…Wendy?”

Dipper, it’s an emergency. I need your help.”

 

Chapter Text

Will was still chuckling over the “research” gag as Dipper listened to Wendy over the phone. Teasing Dipper hadn’t lost its luster over the last few months, fortunately - and these days, he had more ammo then he knew what to do with. As for what their real plans for the day were, actual research had been the goal. They’d decided it last night - there was a little spring, mentioned in one of the tomes the former owner of his house had left behind. According to legends, passed down by the native people of the area, anyone who appeased the spirits and bathed in it would be able to take on a new form.

Of course, the book hadn’t had a map, but there were enough landmarks described that Dipper had a pretty good idea of where in the forest to look. And as soon as he got off the phone with Wendy, Will figured they’d be on their way out.

“Wendy, slow down, you… what?” The cervitaur paused, listening to whatever his werewolf friend was saying on the other end of the line. Will was only half paying attention now, looking over at the old coffee maker and contemplating making himself a cup. He was pretty comfortable where he was sitting, but it was still pretty early - he could honestly use a cup. Dipper would probably want one too… but he wasn’t sure the cervitaur needed the extra energy these days. His backside was sore enough at the current level of energy, and he’d heard enough horror stories about hunters being accidentally humped to death by regular deer.

He decided to go for some orange juice instead.

“Wait, wait,” he heard Dipper say as he poured himself a glass, “So, what you’re saying, is-” Another pause. Will turned around, taking a sip of his OJ. Dipper looked mostly confused. “Oh.” Will raised one eyebrow, watching the confusion on Dipper’s face melt into concern, then terrified realization. “Oh, that’s… Okay, I see. Where are you now?” The cervitaur looked over at Will, waving at him. Will waved back, and Dipper gestured to the calendar on the far wall. Catching the hint, Will went over to get it, and brought it back to the cervitaur, who looked over it carefully, one finger running over the days, cradling the phone in the crook of his shoulder.

“…that’s two weeks from now…” Dipper mumbled to himself, then to Wendy, “And, the same night as the party, so you’ll be here anyways. …yeah, yeah that’s a good idea. Okay, I’ll… go talk to Mabel, we’ll work on a plan, and I’ll call you back as soon as I can, okay?” He waited for just a moment, before lowering the phone, dropping it back on its hook and burying his face in his hands with a frustrated moan.

Will frowned, looking down at the calendar. A single date was circled with red marker, in the final week - the 27th. Next to it, scrawled in Stan’s atrocious handwriting, was “Halloween party.” In pencil, he’d added “raise ticket prices this year.” Will frowned - the 31st fell on a Saturday this year. It seemed odd to host a party in the middle of the week when Halloween was so conveniently timed.

“Alright, alright, we’ll just…” Dipper muttered to himself, dropping his hands a little and peering into space, eyes narrowed as he thought. “We need like, three plans. And three more backup plans. At least.”

“For what? What did Wendy want?”

Dipper jumped a little at his voice, as if he’d forgotten the hunter was there. “She… Okay, before I tell you anything, you have to promise me something.”

Will blinked, a little taken aback by Dipper’s sudden grim attitude. “Okay, sure. What is it?”

“You have to promise that Stan hears about none of this.” Will blinked again, and Dipper hurried to explain. “Somethings gone wrong, and we can probably handle it - but if Stan hears about it, something… really, really awful could happen. So you have to swear you won’t breathe a word to him!”

“Yikes! Okay, okay, ten-point!” He’d never been in the Boy Scouts (or if he had, no one had ever told him), but he threw up the three-fingered salute. “I swear. Not a sound will leave my lips to Stan, concerning… whatever it is we’re worried about.” Dipper seemed satisfied, relaxing just a little - but his ears still flicked back and forth nervously. “So, what are we worried about?”

Dipper glanced around, and took a deep breath. Leaning in, he whispered “Wendy’s amulet is broken.”

Will stared back, uncomprehending. “Okay? So?” He shrugged. “She’s a werewolf, right? Its not like she looks like a wolf all the time, right?”

Dipper tugged his ear, twisting it a little and frowning. “You’re not getting it. Yeah, she can look like a human or like a wolf… half-wolf… whatever, wolf-like, when she wants to… except for during the full moon.”

“Okay, but - you said she’ll be here, right? So it’s not like, anyone who isn’t in on the whole, ‘monster town’ thing will see her.”

Dipper half-growled with frustration, grabbing Will’s shoulders. “Will, it doesn’t matter who sees her! What’s the one big thing about werewolf lore that everyone knows?”

“…if they bite you, you become a werewolf?”

“…” Dipper sighed. “Okay, the other piece of werewolf lore.”

Will raised an eyebrow, thinking. “Umm… they… go berserk?” he asked, voice pitching up in his hesitation.

“Exactly!” Dipper pulled away, beginning to pace the kitchen. “Usually, the only time Wendy actually needs her amulet is during the full moon - it keeps her human the whole night, and then she can go back to shifting at will afterward. But apparently, some jerk broke into her apartment, and it got smashed.” He ran his hands over his face again, fingers digging in at his temples. “If we can’t figure out a way to stop it, she could go on a rampage and potentially…”

He trailed off, and Will took this as his cue. “So what’s the plan for a potentially rogue werewolf, then?” Dipper paused his pacing, facing away from the hunter, ears downed and shoulders up. “…you don’t have one, do you?”

“I mean… we have the old one?” Dipper turned back towards him. “But the last time we used it was 8 years ago. I don’t know if it will still work!”

“What’s the difference between then and now?”

“Well, first off-” Dipper started, then froze at a scraping sound from upstairs. Will could hear the tell-tale thumps of Stan getting up, accompanied by the usual faux-curses. He and Dipper locked eyes

“…my place?” Will suggested. Dipper nodded, glancing nervously at the ceiling again.

“Yeah, good idea.”

 

Xx

 

Dipper explained more on the way, Will shivering and clinging as closely as possible to the cervitaur as he carried them through the cool October morning. Apparently, after the town’s original transformation, the adaption had gone just about as well as could be expected, for most of the residents. Of course, there were always situations that were particularly bad.

Wendy had been one of these.

Thanks to her human form, she’d been able to help the other townspeople a lot, but as it got closer and closer to that first full moon… things started to get rougher.

“So what happened when the first full moon hit?” Will asked curiously. Dipper shook his head, mouth a grim line.

“It went about as well as you could expect,” he bit out. “And that’s really all you can say about it.”

He went on to explain that, after that first night, measures had been taken to ensure everyone’s safety on the full moon.

“People locked themselves inside their houses, and Wendy… well, we had to chain her up in the woods. It wasn’t a great solution, but it lasted until we got her an amulet.”

“So, why can’t we just lock her up again?”

“That’s probably going to be our first plan… but, we’re going to need backups, too. See, during the full moon, werewolves function like animals. But they are scary smart, and extremely strong, and learn fast. We chain her up, she learns to pick the lock with her claw. We arrange it so she can’t reach, she breaks through the chain. We make a stronger chain, she dislocates something to squeeze out.”

“I get the picture. So, we need to put as many roadblocks between her and everyone else - keep her busy, is that the idea?”

“Yes. But, I’m hoping we won’t need to.”

“And why is that?” They were approaching his house now, and not a moment too soon - even with his hands in his sleeves, the hunter’s fingers were starting to go numb.

“For starters, we’ve never had to deal with a broken amulet before. I doubt its likely, but maybe Paz and Mabel can just fix it.”

“You really think they could?”

“I don’t know. Honestly, you’ve been up to the coven meeting, you probably know more about the amulets than I do at this point.” Dipper sighed, hopping up onto the porch and holding still as Will disembarked and unlocked the back door. “They are pretty potent magical items, though - I’m surprised one could be broken so easily. I’d be even more surprised if they could be repaired easily, too.”

“Yeah, that sounds like it’d be too simple,” Will replied, rubbing his hands together to warm them up as he walked in the door. “Do you want coffee? Or hot chocolate? Something warm?”

“Coffee sounds great.” The two headed for the kitchen, and Dipper hung out in the doorway while Will made himself busy.

“So, if they can’t get the amulet fixed, what’s the plan?”

“Well, I was thinking,” Dipper started thoughtfully, “if we actually managed to find that spring we were looking for, we might be able to change her back for good - then it’d be a moot point.”

“But that’s also a risky plan, since we don’t know exactly where it is or how it works,” Will reminded him.

Dipper frowned. “Yeah, I know. But, its still an option. And we have two weeks to try and figure out a solution.”

Will shrugged, leaning against the counter with his arms crossed, waiting for the coffee pot to start. “Two weeks is a long time. We’ll have a solution by then, one way or another.”

Dipper didn’t look convinced, his shoulders still a little hunched and his ears down. But, at Will’s assertion, his ears lifted slightly, and he managed a small, less worried smile.

“Yeah, I hope so.”

“Don’t look so anxious, Dip-dop. We’ve got this.” Will gave him the most reassuring smile he could manage (Dipper hardly flinched at this one, which either meant he was getting better at emoting properly, or his boyfriend was just getting more accustomed to his expressions). He walked over to the cervitaur, ruffling his hair as he walked past him to grab their notes from the study. “Alright, ten-point. Lets get to work!”

Chapter Text

They had to cut off the search for the spring about a week in, due to Dipper’s unorthodox research methods and, surprisingly, a little help Will got from Stan.

Will stared up at the ceiling, eyes heavy from lack of sleep, but unwilling to drift off just yet. He was convinced by now that Dipper was keeping his night terrors of drowning at bay, and he’d be damned if he didn’t take advantage of that. But with this “emergency” situation, Dipper had thrown himself into his work with a vigor Will hadn’t thought possible of a human being.

Granted, Dipper wasn’t exactly human, but he was close enough. Even deer-people needed sleep, right? He sighed, getting up from Dipper’s bed. The cervitaur hardly even noticed, just flicked an ear in his general direction as he continued reading whatever he was working on. Will left the room quietly, but not before noting the time. Nearly 3 AM. And he’d hardly slept a wink.

He slipped downstairs as quietly as he could, intent on grabbing a drink of water. He’d tried to convince the cervitaur to come to bed awhile ago, and had almost convinced him, too… but they’d had very different ideas of what they were going to do in bed.

Dipper’s idea won. Will was a sucker for a good roll in the hay.

Then, after his “break,” Dipper had pulled himself out of cuddling… and gone straight back to his book.

At this point, Will was too exhausted to argue, and just started staring at the ceiling. He’d dozed off once or twice, but images of water always forced him awake again. And now he was down in the kitchen, in his boxers, drinking water and wondering how to get Dipper to go the fuck to sleep.

“What are you doing up?”

He wasn’t sure right away that he’d actually heard anything. He was tired enough, maybe he was hallucinating. But the heavy footsteps behind him and the grinding sound of stone over wood sounded a lot more real than the gravely voice.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Will replied, fighting of the yawn that threatened to break the sentence in two. He managed, but only barely, and his jaw cracked in a silent yawn. He dropped the cup off in the sink and turned around, forcing himself not to jump at the glowing yellow eyes that met his.

It hadn’t been the first time he and Grunkle Stan had run into one another in the middle of the night - Dipper’s sleeping habits lent itself to midnight snacks, and Grunkle Stan seemed to have a sixth sense about people moving around the house at night. Will figured it was a gargoyle thing. He’d meant to ask Dipper at some point, or maybe Stan himself, but had never really gotten around to it. Outside of work, he hadn’t really talked much to the old gargoyle.

Grunkle Stan sighed, walking past him to the fridge, where he grabbed a beer. “Dipper still up, then,” he grumbled, more statement than question.

“Yeah.”

The gargoyle gave an exasperated sigh, popping the tab on his drink. “That kid will never learn, I swear.” He walked back over to the table and plopped down, the chair groaning pitifully under his weight. He gestured for Will to join him in the other chair, and he obliged, collapsing into it. “How long has he been awake this time?”

“Uhhh, ffffour days? I think?” He rubbed his temple, leaning on the table. “He may have taken a nap three days ago…”

“Eh, that’s not quite as bad as usual.”

Will shot him an incredulous look.

“I’m serious. Every few months, he usually goes into this huge research binge. It’s still about the whole monster-river thing, right?”

…well, it was about Wendy being a werewolf, so that was technically true. Will nodded.

“Yeah, so he’ll get really into it for about a week, crash, swear he’ll never do it again, and then a few months later…” he waved a clawed hand at the ceiling. “He does it again.”

“Well that’s fine for him,” Will grumbled irritably. “He seems to function fine with less sleep.”

“Yeah, I thought maybe that was a deer-person or supernatural thing at first, but these days I think it’s just that Dipper honestly doesn’t need sleep like normal people do.”

Will rested his chin in his hand, drumming his fingers thoughtfully against his cheek. “Do you ever sleep? You always seem to be up whenever I come down.”

Stan rolled his glowing eyes, grinning. “Gargoyles don’t need to sleep, which is great. I can turn to stone for awhile if I get tired, but that’s kind of a pain, and I hardly get really tired.” He tapped his forehead with one claw. “Also, gargoyles have this sixth sense about when bad things are going down in their territory, or something like that.”

Will grinned slowly, pleased his theory had been confirmed. “I knew it.”

“Yeah? Well, don’t tell the twins - it still drives them crazy!” They shared a chuckle over that, before Stan pointed at him. “You know, I don’t think I’ve said this before, but you’re alright.” He took a swig from his beer, and Will waited for him to continue. “I was a little worried, when you decided to stay - this supernatural crap is dangerous, and the last thing I needed was some rich guy disappearing and causing a stink. Not to mention, while riling Dipper up is a favorite past-time of mine, you really know how to push the limit.”

Will just shrugged. “That’s fair.”

“But, you’ve done good in the shop, you’ve done good on the tours, and most importantly-”

“I’ve done good with the supernatural?” Will cut in, thinking he saw where this was going. Grunkle Stan paused, seemingly thinking, then shrugged, moving to take another sip of beer.

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”

They sat in amiable silence for a period of time (the clock only changed by a few minutes, but the way Will was coming in and out of that dozy sleep, it felt much longer). Will didn’t bother to move - where was he going to go, anyways? Dipper was no doubt still working upstairs, he didn’t want to bother with the couch, and he already had company here.

He was dozing off again, head slipping forward, when Stan’s can hit the table with a loud clunk. He startled, blinking in confusion at the gargoyle.

“You know,” he was saying, “you should probably go to bed. You look like you’re gonna pass out any second.”

Will shook his head. “I would, but… it’s hard to go to sleep while Dipper’s working,” he said, twisting the truth just a little. Getting to sleep while Dipper was working was easy. Staying asleep, now that was the difficult think.

Stan must have caught on, because the glow in his eye intensified, for just a moment - but fortunately for Will, he didn’t press the issue. The gargoyle sighed, slinging the empty can across the room. In a well-practiced arc, it bounced gently off the wall and into the recycling. “Well, it’s not good for either of you if you can’t sleep. C’mon, let’s see if we can talk some sense into him.”

“Uh, I’m not sure if he’d-”

“Too late! I’ve made up my mind, you coming or what?” Grunkle Stan was out the door before Will could voice another protest. It took him a long minute to process, and when it finally clicked, he smacked his forehead, irritated with himself.

As he dragged himself upstairs after the gargoyle, he hoped Dipper didn’t have anything telling out in the open.

Stan was waiting for him outside the attic door, eyes gleaming with mischief. Despite himself, and despite the potential disaster this situation could become, Will felt a sort of kinship with the old con-man. He returned Stan’s grin wickedly.

 

Xx

 

Twelve hours, and the best sleep Will had gotten in a while later, he found himself sitting with the twins and Pacifica around his kitchen table, far from the prying eyes of Stan. He got the feeling Dipper wasn’t all too happy with him about that, either - when he’d woken up, the cervitaur had already been gone, and had been acting stiff and aloof all day. Even now, when they were sitting next to each other, he seemed to be making a concentrated effort to not look over to him.

He hadn’t even offered him a ride on their way over to Will’s house.

“Alright!” Mabel clasped her hands together, leaning over the glass of her tank as she beamed at her twin and their respective significant others. “Now that we’re all well rested -”

(Dipper sunk down lower, embarrassed, as Will and Pacifica shot him a knowing look.)

“-let’s get everything on the table. Dipper!” The cervitaur startled, straightening up. “How’s work on finding that spring? Is that still a solution?”

Dipper sighed, crossing his arms. “At this rate, even if we managed to find it, which I doubt we could before next week…” he scratched his ear, a worried expression on his face. “…I don’t think we’d know enough about how it works to use it safely. So, not an option anymore.” He looked over at Pacifica. “How about the amulet? Any chance it can be fixed?”

Pacifica nodded slowly. “There is a chance. Mabel and I split up and talked to a couple of the Coven one on one - Huntress Witch sends her regards, by the way,” she added to Will. He grinned. “The general consensus is that a damaged amulet might be repaired, with a little work. It wouldn’t take us more than two days, if we could get some help from the witches, and Hands Witch told us her schedule is free.”

Dipper’s ears perked up. “Really? That’s-”

“That’s not all, though,” she interrupted. “The thing is, how broken is Wendy’s amulet?”

“Uhh… she described it as “smashed”?”

“If it’s actually smashed, we won’t be able to repair it. If it’s just broken into two or three pieces, it’ll be a few days, but we can do it.”

“And we won’t know until Wendy gets in today?”

“Not until Mabel and I can look at her amulet, no.”

“So… if there’s no spring, and no amulet, what’s our plan C?” Will asked. Dipper’s ear flicked in his direction, but when he spoke, he addressed the group.

“So plan C is… we know what will hinder a werewolf - weaken it, or slow it down. We need a gauntlet of that, something in the woods that will keep her occupied through her entire transformation.”

“And how long will that be?” Will asked.

“Almost twelve hours, 8PM to 7AM,” Dipper replied grimly. “And knowing Wendy, she’s not going to be easy to keep. We’ll need a lot of weight, a lot of mental tricks, probably some charms, and a lot of antique silver.”

“Why antique?” Pacifica asked, tilting her head thoughtfully.

“I’m not sure why, but the older the silver is, the stronger its effects on werewolves. It might be a chemical thing, or some weird magical loophole… but the longer it’s been purified, and the fewer times it’s been reformed, the better.” He looked hopefully at the gorgon. “Do you think you’d be able to get us some? Even a little goes a long way, and anything that’s not… chewed up or destroyed, you can take back afterward.”

Her hair twisted itself. “I’m not sure I can get you much,” Pacifica admitted. “Most of the silver in the house is my parents, and they’d kill me if I just took it. I might be able to buy some from somewhere…”

A thought struck Will, and he stood. “One second, I think I’ve got something.” Mabel and Paz nodded slightly, but Dipper still didn’t react beyond another flick of the ear. The hunter rolled his eye and turned, heading out of the kitchen.

“Dipper, what’s up with you and Will?” he heard Mabel stage whisper as he left, and he rolled his eye again, this time with a smile. Trust Mabel to notice what’s up and have his back.

He headed for one of the spare parlors. Over the last few months, he’d done some unpacking, but with all the supernatural investigation and working at the Shack, not everything had gotten done. He didn’t care much though - he’d unpacked what he needed day to day, and the majority of his things were rich people decorations and tapestries and material goods used to gloat over other people. And he was all for a good gloating, but there wasn’t much need for it in Gravity Falls. The only person he could think of that would actually care was maybe Pacifica and her family, but as wealthy as his family was, he still didn’t measure up.

So in the end, he’d put the unpacked boxes in the spare rooms of the house. They were basically just a ton of useless antiques he never used. “Including,” he said aloud to himself, grinning as he found the box he’d been looking for, “plenty of antique silver!”

It took him considerably longer to lug the box back to the kitchen, and when he arrived they were sitting silently around the table. Mabel looked frustrated, staring at Dipper, who refused to look at him as he walked in, arms crossed and ears flattened. Paz was the only one who acknowledged him, looking up at the hunter and shrugging, head shaking just a little in silent sympathy and helplessness.

Will dropped the box on the table, more solidly than he’d anticipated. The silverware rattled and clanked, and the box hit with a loud thump. Dipper shot him a dirty look, rubbing one ear.

Will just shrugged one shoulder. “Sorry.”

Dipper shook his head. “Whatever. What’s that?”

“Glad you asked, Dip! This-” and he tipped the box forward, spilling out the old, pure silver cutlery, “is the answer to our silver shortage.” Pacifica nodded, eyebrows raised in approval, while both the twins looked simply flabbergasted. “And! There’s more where that came from.”

“Will, are you… sure? That’s… that’s an awful lot of silver!” Mabel whispered, awed. Will laughed.

“Nah, I don’t ever use this stuff - it’s supposed to be for fancy shindigs, but I haven’t been host to one of those since the old man died. And the same goes for most of the rest of the silver I own.” He gestured grandly to the scattered silverware. “If it can be used for something besides looking pretty, go for it!”

He snuck a quick glance over at Dipper, who looked (begrudgingly) impressed. “With this much, we stand a much better chance of holding her in one place…” The cervitaur looked thoughtful, then glanced over at Paz. “If the amulet is broken beyond repair, can you and Mabel maybe cast some enchantments on silver chain instead?”

“If you can get it into a chain first, it shouldn’t be a problem,” she replied, “but you’ll have to tell us what kind of enchantments you need.”

“And, if you want something specific, you may have to pitch in,” Mabel added.

“Well, hopefully I won’t need to,” Dipper said, finally, finally looking over at Will. “You and I have to actually work on the place we’ll be holding her, so…”

Will sat back down, steepling his fingers. “Wait, so, when you say “where we will be holding her, do you mean…?”

“We won’t actually be there!” Dipper clarified quickly. “We’ll keep tabs on it from afar - some kind of surveillance. But if all goes well, there’s no reason to be anywhere nearby.”

“And if things don’t go well?” Pacifica ventured. Dipper turned back to the group, expression somber.

“Then we go to Plan D.”

“And, what’s Plan D?”

Dipper’s ears flicked, once back then forward. “I’ll let you know when Plan C falls through.” There was a brief hush over the group, and Will could tell that Mabel was dying to break it, ask the obvious question. But Dipper beat her to it, smiling suddenly. “But, I actually think with this much silver, we have a pretty good chance with Plan C.” He stood, shaking the stiffness out of his hind legs. “So, Wendy will be at the Shack in a few hours. If Stan asks, she’s just visiting early. You guys need to meet her and see if anything can be done about her amulet. Meanwhile, Will and I will go scout out the caves - we could probably use her old, uh… well, where we used to chain her up, but its not the best idea, so we should find a new one if we can. We can start planning the gauntlet for Plan C, and we can reconvene here when we get back. Everyone got it?” There was a round of assent from the group. “Great. Will, you’re with me. Paz, Mabel - see you two and Wendy later.” He headed for the door.

Will stood to leave with him, but paused when Mabel called, “Hold on a sec, Will. I need a word with you.”

Dipper turned slightly, looking back at them. The mermaid gave him a pointed look.

“One on one, if you don’t mind, Dipper?”

Dipper huffed, crossing his arms. “Anything you want to say to him, you can say to me too.”

In his entire time here, Will hadn’t seen any evidence of psychic communication or telepathy from anyone… but watching the stare-down between the Pines twins, he had to wonder briefly if maybe they didn’t have some sort of psychic link, just from the way they seemed to communicate through absolute silence.

After a tense moment, Dipper sighed, throwing his hands up in the air. “Fine! Fine, whatever,” he growled. “Will!” The hunter turned sharply towards him at the tone. “I’ll meet you out back.” And with that, he turned away and stomped out.

Mabel stared after him, eyes narrowed. Pacifica just sighed.

“He was doing so well this year,” the snake-girl lamented.

“Yeah, until whatever happened last night,” Mabel mused, turning back to Will. He held up his hands defensively.

“Look, I swear, that wasn’t me,” he insisted. “That was all Stan.”

She waved off his explanation. “No, it’s all Dipper being a jerk,” she replied, exasperated. “But that’s still pretty normal for him. What I’m worried about,” and she dropped her voice suddenly, forcing Will to lean in just to hear what she was saying, “is that he’s hiding something.”

Will stared blankly at her. “…something aside from everything in this town?” he asked slowly. “Mabel, your whole family seems to be in the business of keeping secrets!”

Mabel’s tail swiped anxiously in her tank, and she bit her lip. “Maybe, but not from each other! Not for years!”

“The Pines have a pretty big ‘No Secrets in the Family’ policy,” Pacifica added. “Ever since their other Grunkle showed up.”

“And we’ve stuck to it. Dipper and Ford had a hard time, and Stan I think had forgotten what were lies and what weren’t for awhile, but after we got it all straightened out…” she trailed off.

Will took his chance to cut back in. “So, you’re worried that if he’s keeping secrets now…”

“There’s got to be something wrong,” she affirmed. “I don’t know if it’s something big, or if it’s something little that Dipper’s blown out of proportion to himself. But, either way, it’s probably not good.” She reached over, grabbing Will’s shoulder with a wet, finned hand. “Keep an eye on him, please?” she asked the hunter, eyes big and full of worry. “If you figure out anything, let us know?”

He gently removed himself from her grasp, then shot her a salute. “I always keep an eye on him,” he said, smiling. “And if I find something, and it’s something I can tell you-”

“Sometime this century, Will!” shouted the cervitaur from the backyard.

“-I will do so,” Will finished, a little less enthused. “But sounds like I have to run. See you two later!”

Chapter Text

The rest of the day, and the next, was spent building the “Gauntlet,” as Will cheerfully called it. The silver was sent into town to the local, old-time smith, and Will and Dipper scouted out a cave with the help of some gnomes. It had been Will’s first time meeting the famous/infamous gnomes, and to be honest, it was rather… underwhelming.

“Don’t be fooled,” Dipper told him after Jeff and his cronies had scampered off. “They’re dangerous when they get riled up.”

After hours of hard work, they’d gotten a call from Mabel - Wendy had arrived, and the amulet was broken beyond repair.

“We’re gonna pick up the chain later. We’ll meet you two at the cave, and we can talk enchantments.” Mabel’s voice echoed on the cell speaker in the cave.

Dipper looked pretty grim. “Alright. How’s Wendy?”

“Worried, but I told her we’ve got it under control.”

“Good. And Stan?”

“…busy with tourists. Didn’t even see Wendy.”

“Great. Keep it that way, and we’ll see you in a bit.”

“Roger that!”

Dipper hung up, slipping the phone back into his jacket pocket. “Alright… back to moving boulders,” he sighed, rolling his shoulders. Will gave an appreciative wolf-whistle, grinning. Dipper just scowled.

“What?” Will shrugged, arms opening to the side. “Can’t I appreciate the great view?”

Dipper snorted, turning away. “Whatever. Just help me with these boulders.”

Will gave a sigh of exaggerated exasperation, giving Dipper a little smile to show he didn’t really mean it. The cervitaur didn’t notice, and his smile soured. He turned back to the stones he was supposed to be moving.

The idea was, they would chain Wendy up in the far back of the cave, using the silver chains. Then, they would build these little rock barricades to keep her busy for awhile. Dipper said they’d probably go back and enchant them, too - direct magic might not work on a werewolf, but indirect magic from, say… boulders enchanted to weigh 30 times their actual weight?

That would slow her down.

“Why are you so worried about Stan finding out, anyways?” Will grit through his teeth, hefting one of the large stones and nearly falling backwards with the weight. “Seems like he’d be really helpful with this part of prep.”

He wasn’t looking at Dipper, but he heard the clatter of hooves on the floor pause, just for a second. “It’s none of your business.”

“Or Mabel’s huh?” He got an irritated snort in response. “So, a secret.” He turned around, sill gripping the stone and smiling as openly as he could, while also lifting something that was probably heavier than anything he ought to be carrying. “Come on, Dipper, I’m your boyfriend! You can trust me!”

Dipper dropped the rock he was holding onto the blockade with a sigh of relief, wiping some sweat off his forehead with the back of one hand, before looking pointedly over his shoulder at the hunter. “Really? ‘Cuz, you did a great job not dragging Stan into it last night.”

“Is that why you’re so mad? Okay, tell me this - how functional would you be today after five-plus days of not sleeping?” Dipper pulled a face, and Will pressed on, not allowing him to interject. “You’re more helpful to your own cause if you’re fresh and well-rested!”

“Yeah, well…” Dipper turned away again, trotting over to the pile of unused stones and hefting another one. “You still shouldn’t have told him to come up.”

“Well for the record, I tried to get you to go to bed myself, and that didn’t work?”

Dipper looked over at him, brow furrowed. “…when did you try that?”

“At like, one in the morning!” Will dropped the stone alongside Dipper’s, and threw his hands up. “I finally got you into bed, we had a lovely roll in the hay, and then, not ten minutes later, you’re back at your desk!”

“It was important! I had to see if we could find the spring!”

“Important, sure. But again, how helpful are you going to be if you’re absolutely exhausted?”

“I’d be fine! I’ve gone longer without sleep!”

“I’m pretty sure most people die around nine days, Dip.”

“Well, good thing I’m not most people, then,” Dipper grumbled, turning back to the task.

“You were trying to eat your shirt at one point! You can’t tell me that’s not odd.”

Dipper whirled back around. “I did not!”

“You totally did!” Will jabbed an accusatory finger. “And when I asked what you were doing, you totally got all flustered about it!” He paused. “Actually, it was pretty cute.”

Dipper flushed, ears flattening. “Th-that’s-!”

“You made that face, too.” Dipper stammered incoherently for a moment, face bright red with either rage or embarrassment, Will wasn’t sure. “Look, if it makes you feel better, I didn’t tell Stan anything. I just said you weren’t sleeping, and he got the idea to come up all on his own. It was his idea, not mine.”

Dipper took another few seconds to get himself back together. “No, that doesn’t really make me feel better,” he grumbled, getting back to work.

Will scoffed, disbelieving. “Well then, what?” Dipper shot him a look, eyebrow raised. “Then what am I supposed to do, here? What will appease the mighty cervitaur, and prove that I’m being sincere?”

“Well, maybe drop the sarcasm, for one!”

“I would, if you’d just give me some options here!”

“Alright, here’s an option - how about you help me finish these blockades so we don’t have a werewolf chewing our faces off in a few days?”

“Is that the mysterious thing you’ve been so worried about?” Will demanded. “Because honestly, I don’t think anyone in this town would fault you for that!”

“No!”

“Then what? What is so bad that you can’t even tell your twin?”

Dipper’s mouth opened, twisted with anger, and for a split second, Will thought Dipper might actually just come out and say it, distracted by his rage. But the moment passed, and Dipper, incredibly, closed his mouth again, taking a deep breath through his nose.

“Will, it’s really none of your business,” he said again, teeth grit. “Mabel doesn’t need to know either - she’d just worry, and right now we don’t have the time for that.”

“…she’s worried anyways, ten-point.”

“…well, when this is over, we can all stop worrying.” With that, Dipper turned away purposefully, going returning to lifting rocks. Will watched for a little while, before finally sighing and going back to work himself.

The secret of what was eating at Dipper would clearly have to wait.

 

Xx

 

They made surprisingly good time on the Gauntlet, especially after Mabel and Pacifica arrived. Will had been surprised when Mabel rolled up in her tank, Pacifica towing her.

“We got the silver to the smith. She said making the chain will take two days, after we stressed the need for speed. That gives us about a day and a half to enchant them, then we can set them up.” Pacifica coiled next to Mabel’s tank, breathing a little heavy from carting her girlfriend’s tank. “How’s work going here?”

“As well as can be expected,” Dipper said with a shrug. “The cave is pretty low, which is good - we’ve got about a wall and a half of stone up, with openings large enough for Wendy to get back there. I’m thinking if we can enchant them with extra weight charms, maybe a little bit of fire on the second one, they’ll slow her down a lot. But, we should get as many of them up as we can. Even if she breaks out, if she’s worn out, that may be enough.”

“Don’t worry, Dip - sounds like we’ll have plenty of time!” Mabel lifted herself up on the side of her tank, leaning forward and peering into the cave. “If you guys already have that much done, the rest should be easy!”

“I dunno about that,” Will said, resting on a rock just outside the entrance. “I don’t know how long enchanting takes, but moving all these rocks is gonna take awhile. Not to mention-” he gestured to the depleted pile, “we’re gonna run out, eventually.”

“Oh ye of little faith!” Mabel trilled cheerfully. “You haven’t seen anything yet!”

Will raised a curious eyebrow, then looked over at Dipper. “If I find out that we’ve been moving boulders all day for no reason…”

Dipper rolled his eyes. “No, Will. She just has a spell to make them a little lighter for a bit.”

“…and we were lifting them this whole time at full weight?!” Will whined. Mabel chuckled.

“Yeah, sorry we weren’t here sooner, but it should be easier going from now on,” Mabel assured him.

“We won’t be able to enchant them and help you out the whole time, anyways,” Pacifica cut in. “We have to work on the blockades themselves. Not to mention the silver chain. Silver isn’t easy to enchant, so we’ll need to save our strength.”

“That’s true,” Mabel said, rolling up her soggy sleeves, “but for right now, I’m pretty sure we can spare this!” She pointed over at the pile of rocks and let out a strange, dolphin-like series of clicks.

Will watched in awe as the pile started to glow, pink and sparkling (he recognized it as Mabel’s magic, from the times she’d healed him in the past) and shimmering like the surface of the ocean. Slowly, they began to shift against each other, vibrating just slightly, before settling. Mabel’s magic faded away, dissolving into the air.

“There! Try lifting one of them now!”

Will hesitated, before bending to heft one of them. He hardly touched it, and it shifted, rolling off the pile. The hunter gave a low whistle, impressed, reaching down and plucking it off the ground, single-handedly. “Nice! This is much easier!”

“Thanks! Mermando’s Queen taught me that one! They use it for underwater construction.” She reached into her pouch, pulling out her amulet. “Makes it a lot easier to move materials without sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately, I can’t make those noises with a human mouth.” She slipped her amulet on, glowing purple briefly before becoming human, her skirt billowing around her in the water. “Gimmie a hand, Paz?”

Pacifica propped herself up on her lower body, reaching into the tank and fishing Mabel out. Mabel clapped her hands together, grinning.

“Alright guys, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, so let’s get to it!”

 

Xx

 

The next few days passed in a similar way, with the four of them working together on setting up the Gauntlet. Will had the unique privilege of finally getting to see all three of them working magic together, which was quite the spectacle, with Mabel and Pacifica’s pink and purple magic doing the bulk of the work, tied together with a thin stream of deep blue that wound through the air with a sense of purpose, making adjustments to the spellwork.

He felt a little down about not having magic of his own, at those times… but, sadness hardly suited him, and it would pass quickly.

They met up with Wendy, too, one afternoon. She’d bought them lunch at Greasy’s Diner, to-go, and brought it over to Will’s house.

“So, how’s it going?” she’d asked Dipper as they all eagerly chowed down on the greasy, fatty food.

Dipper swallowed a chunk of pancake. “Pretty well. We’ve got some stuff set up to keep you in, and the chain we’re using will hopefully be done tomorrow. We might actually be over-prepared, at this rate.”

“Haha, seriously? Wow, that’s great, especially coming from you!” The werewolf took a huge bite of her steak and cheese, practically swallowing it whole. “So, how’s the party planning going then?”

 Dipper, about to take another bite, froze. “…what party planning?”

“The Halloween Party, dude! I’m surprised Stan hasn’t been on your tail about it, it’s one of the Shack’s biggest events!”

Dipper slowly lowered his fork, staring across the table at his twin, mirrored horror on their faces.

“…we forgot about the party…”

 

Xx

 

“Alright, so!” Dipper was pacing back and forth, going over an enormous list. Wendy, Mabel and Will each had an abridged copy of their own, and they sat in Will’s kitchen and watched as he went in circles. “Grunkle Stan didn’t kill us, which is good, but now we have two days to finish doing the enchantments, get our costumes together, and get the party set up. Wendy, you can’t really work on the Gauntlet… could you work with Stan on the decorations? He already has the invitations and everything sent out, all he needs is to actually set it up.”

“Soos is helping too, right?” Wendy asked. Dipper nodded. “Great. Sure thing, I can help out there.”

“Good, good. Just, make sure you don’t mention anything to Stan, okay?”

Wendy frowned, and opened her mouth to ask… but then, realization dawned. Slowly, she shut her mouth, nodding. “Gotcha.”

‘So, Wendy’s in on it too…?’ Will wondered to himself, watching as the werewolf trotted out. ‘I wonder…’

“Will.” The hunter snapped out of his thoughts. “You should probably go with her, too. Mabel’s working her magic with all our costumes, and Pacifica and I have the enchantments, but since everything’s already built, you’d probably do better with party prep.” The cervitaur looked around, seeming to finally realize Pacifica wasn’t there. “…where is Paz, anyways?”

Mabel raised a hand. “She went to go pick up the chain.”

“That’s good. I’ll text her to meet me at the cave. You two should head back. I’m gonna put some final touches on the gauntlet.” He rolled up the list, slipping it into his pack. “Remember, we’ve got just 48 hours now.”

Will and Mabel watched him go, before turning to one another.

“Did you see the look on Wendy’s face? She’s in on it.”

“Right there with you, Will.” Mabel cracked her knuckles. “Let’s go find out what she knows.”

 

Xx

 

“What?” Wendy looked over at them, confused. “Secret? I dunno about any secret.”

“Oh come on,” Will prodded, keeping his voice low. “Dipper doesn’t want Stan to know about your broken amulet, and I think you know why.”

Wendy stiffened, then looked away. “…”

“That’s not a no I’m hearing. So, do you know or not?”

“Please, Wendy?” Mabel joined in, rolling up. “Dipper’s been so secretive, and it’s really worrying us!”

“…yeah, I know,” Wendy admitted, tail tucked between her legs and ears back. “It’s… about before I got my amulet. I, uh… don’t really want to talk about it.” At the groans from the others, her ears perked up again. “But, the good news is, I can honestly tell you it doesn’t matter! From what you guys have said, it sounds like the Gauntlet is pretty me-proof. And I know Dipper isn’t going to do anything crazy because of it, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Mabel narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure.”

“Yeah, Mabes, I wouldn’t lie about that. Dipper’s important to me, too. If I thought he was going to do something stupid, I would let you know.”

“Alright. I trust you.”

“Wha?” The girls looked over at Will. “That’s it? No answer to the secrets? No big realization?”

“Dude, sometimes that’s it. You just gotta trust people.” Wendy shrugged. “Even in Gravity Falls.”

 

Xx

 

“So, we’ve got everything ready. The party, the punch, the snacks, the costumes, and Wendy is safely chained up in the Gauntlet.” Dipper rubbed his hands together, looking over at his twin and their significant others. “Am I missing anything?”

“No, I think that’s all of it,” Will replied, leaning against the door frame. He had an impressive devil costume on, complete with a cape and fancy horns that Mabel had magicked up for him, and a wicked looking pitchfork in one hand. He grinned. “We’re ready to party!”

“Whoo!” Mabel cheered, punching the air and tapping her fake hooves. “Hall-oh-ween! Hall-oh-ween!” She wrapped one arm around Pacifica’s shoulder, careful to avoid rumpling the gorgon’s Glinda costume. “C’mon Paz, chant with meee!”

“Absolutely not,” Pacifica laughed, “you big dork.” Mabel just grinned wider.

“Hall-oh-ween!”

“I’m not going to-”

“Hall-oh-ween!” Dipper chimed in, winking at Will. The human grinned, adding his voice.

“Hall-oh-ween!”

“Hall-oh-ween!”

“Oh my god, all of you-”

“HALL-OH-WEEN!”

 

Xx

 

Deep in the woods, the full moon shone down upon the entrance to a cave. Inside, the faint snarls of some beast could be heard, muffled by the rocks covering the entry. There was the sound of metal scraping against metal, the grind of claw over rock, the hiss of fire and the grinding of stone. It lasted for hours.

But finally, there was silence.

 

A red shadow slid from the entrance, pointed its snout to the moon, and announced its presence to the world.

 

Xx

 

Dipper sat on the back porch, exhausted, but happy. The party had gone off without a hitch, and so far, he hadn’t heard a thing from the forest. The moon was starting its descent from the sky, and in a few short hours, the sun would rise.

Everything had turned out fine.

And now he kind of felt like a dick.

He knew Will meant well, and after their little fight in the cave, things had been… tense. Dipper hadn’t been in the best mood, and that had really put a strain on them. And, they hadn’t had a chance to talk about the “Stan” thing since their fight, either, but he knew it was eating at Will. He caught him staring every now and then, like he had before they’d started dating, like he was a puzzle to be solved. It had irked Dipper then, and it irked him now.

 Tonight had been better. They’d danced a little, made jokes, but Will seemed kind of… put off by the cervitaur’s costume. He’d ditched it after the party, and had bid everyone goodnight, but Will had vanished sometime between. He wasn’t sure where Will had gone off to. Home, he assumed. He hadn’t been upstairs when Dipper had gone up to change.

Mabel and Paz had gone to sleep, too. Mabel had asked if he planned to keep watch the whole night, had made a polite offer to stay up with him… but they both knew she’d be conked out in just a few minutes. And he was sure snuggling with her girlfriend out of water was still a novel experience.

He shivered, pulling his jacket tighter around his shoulders as the wind blew. “I could use some snuggles myself,” he muttered to himself.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice next to him murmured playfully, “Ask, and ye shall receive!”

“Will!” he hissed, face flushing in embarrassment. The hunter grinned, makeup and costume gone, and plopped down next to the cervitaur. “Where- How did you sneak up on me?”

“You were pretty deep in thought, ten point,” Will replied, leaning against him. “Now, what was that about cuddling?”

Dipper sighed. “I didn’t think anyone would hear.” Will nuzzled his shoulder. “Besides, I’m keeping watch.”

Will took a deep breath, enjoying the smell of Dipper’s coat. “What for?”

“Just in case Wendy breaks out.”

Will lifted his head. “Do you think she will?”

“Well, I haven’t heard anything so far - I asked the gnomes to keep an ear out, just in case. But we’ve got two hours till moon-set, and there’s been nothing so far. So, we might be good.”

“Mm-hmm,” Will hummed sleepily, shifting so he could lean his head on Dipper’s flank. Dipper sighed again, peering over his shoulder at the drowsy human.

“Hey, Will?”

“Mmm?”

“I’m… sorry for being… a jerk, I guess, this week. It wasn’t your fault Stan got involved, and even with that, you still helped as much as you could, so… I’m sorry.”

Will chuckled. “Yeah, me too.”

“Huh?”

Will yawned. “I shouldn’t have pushed the issue. If you told me I didn’t have to know… then I probably didn’t. I’m curious by nature - I wanna know everything. But, I should have known when to quit. So, I’m sorry too.” He patted the cervitaur’s rump. “I guess that’s the end of our first fight, eh?”

Dipper laughed. “I’m pretty sure we were fighting before we started dating.”

“Nah, but this is our first real couple fight!” Will sat up again, scooting over to wrap one arm around Dipper’s shoulders and lean in conspiratorially. “You know what that means?”

Dipper leaned in too, smiling. “What does that mean?”

“It means once you’re off watch, you and I are gonna head back to my place, and have a round of some excellent, mind-blowing make-up se-”

“Awwoooooooo!!!”

The two jumped, staring wide eyed at one another.

“…did you hear that?” Dipper whispered, ears up at full alert. Will nodded, wide-awake.

“So uh… what was plan D, again?”

Dipper stood quickly, helping the hunter to his feet in the process. “Uh well… Plan D is basically Plan Don’t tell Mabel this, but I’m going to go distract her for the rest of the night?”

Will stared, mouth agape. “That was your Plan D? Run into the forest with a werewolf?!” he hissed.

“Look, I didn’t say it was a good plan-”

“Good, because it’s not.

“-but I know these woods better than anyone, and, more importantly, I’m fast. I’ve been relaxing and partying all evening, and Wendy’s been struggling with silver and fire and rocks that weigh thirty times what she ought to be able to move.”

“But she moved them anyways, what makes you think she won’t surprise you with this?”

“I always beat her when we race!”

“I’m pretty certain she’s not trying to eat your face then!”

Dipper’s ears flicked back once, annoyed. “Look, I’m not asking you to like it.”

“I don’t.”

Another howl broke over the treetops. Dipper flinched. “I need to get out there. With the noise she’s making, she might even unpetrify Stan. She won’t howl if she’s hunting.”

Will stared at him. “You’re really serious about this.” He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Okay, okay. But, if you’re gonna go through with this, you have to let me help.”

“Will, I’m not putting you in danger-!”

“No, no buts! I have a backup plan of my own, too!” Will told him, hoping up on the cervitaur’s back. “We can stop by my place, I can pick it up, then we can see if we can find her.”

He expected Dipper to protest more, but to his surprise, the cervitaur seemed… placated. “…alright,” he conceded, and took off, full speed, for Will’s house.

They reached it in record time. “Wait here,” Will called, vaulting off his back and running into the house. “I’ll be right back.”

It didn’t take him long to reach what he was looking for - he had gotten it out earlier in the week, after all, just in case. He threw it on quickly, before running back outside.

“Alright, ten point, let’s… get this…” He trailed off, slowing down as he took in the empty yard. A set of fresh hoof prints shone in the dirt under the full moon, heading deeper into the forest.

Will glared into the darkness. “Dipper, you dumbass,” he snarled, plunging into the night.

 

Xx

 

It hadn’t taken Dipper long to find Wendy… or the other way around, he wasn’t certain. The change from hunting to hunted had been immediate, with the werewolf catching his scent in seconds. She’d turned, and that was all the warning he’d needed before he took off.

He led her on a careful chase, taking her through terrain that was easy on hooves, but harsh on paws, hoping to slow her down. He had marginal success with that, heard yelps that made him wince as she crossed the rocky ground.

“Sorry, Wendy,” he panted to himself, taking a sharp turn that caught her by surprise. He bought himself a few more seconds, could hear her stumbling to turn behind him as he got further away.

He was right, he told himself. He knew these woods like no one else. And outrunning her, winded and fatigued as she already was, wasn’t much of a challenge thus far.

He just needed to survive another hour and forty minutes.

“Dipper!” A voice echoed through the trees, catching both his and Wendy’s attention. He heard her pause, and he paused too, looking back at her. She looked off in the direction of the shout, then back at Dipper. The cervitaur gulped. Those eyes, glowing the color of rotting graveyard bouquets, burned with a vicious intelligence… not that of his friend, however, but that of a cold, calculated killer… and he was not the optimal choice. The red beast turned, and disappeared into the forest, heading for Will.

“Dammit, Will,” Dipper growled breathlessly, taking off after her.

 

Xx

 

“Dipper!” Will shouted again, keeping a careful ear out. He’d followed the tracks for as far as he could see, but as he progressed into the forest, the trees blocked the moonlight and the tracks intermingled with others. The wood was eerily silent, likely thanks to the supernatural predator stalking through it.

He hoped he heard it before it reached him.

Something rustled at a distance from him. He whirled around, hand at the ready. The rustling grew louder, and he crouched, prepared…

…but not for Dipper to burst out of the foliage, sweeping him up and dumping him on the cervitaur’s back.

“You… Stupid… Idiot!” the cervitaur wheezed, hardly slowing. Will, awkwardly draped over his back, hung on.

“Me?” he gasped back, winded by the motion. “You’re the one who ran off!”

“I can’t… exactly run my best… with you on… my back!”

“You won’t have to if my plan works.” Will worked to right himself, nearly pulling Dipper over in the process. Behind them, a furious howl sounded in the night. “You know, this reminds me of when we met.”

“Yeah… how romantic…” Dipper hissed, leaping a fallen log and staggering a little on the landing.

“Could we use the crystals? Like we did for the bugbear?”

Dipper shook his head. “Werewolves… resistant to… direct magic…” he wheezed.

“Alright.” Will looked over his shoulder. “Uh… ten-point?”

“Not… now… Will!”

“No, no I think this is a now thing. She’s not behind us anymore.”

“What?!” Dipper slowed to a trot, turning his head to look behind them. Will ducked. “Where…?” He took a long deep sniff, ears flickering to and fro. “Do you think… we lost her?” he panted, catching his breath.

“I mean, I didn’t see her at all,” Will whispered back, looking around. He clutched at his holster, nervous. “Was she close behind you?”

“No… but I thought she would get closer, with you on my back…” Dipper kept moving, keeping an ear out. The woods around them were still. “That’s weird, if she wasn’t hunting, we’d hear her… and if she was hunting something else, we’d… well, probably also hear heAUGH!!”

Will grabbed on for dear life, wide-eyed, as Dipper reared back. Like a bad Halloween decoration, Wendy bounced up from the dark foliage of the forest before them, snarling and flecking them with saliva. He could feel the breath of her howl… He expected it to be rancid, but instead, it smelled kind of like toothpaste.

They were dead.

But then, Dipper made some sort of motion with his hand, twisting away, and Will watched, astounded, as a trail of blue magic moved with haste, winding up from the forest floor, and nailing the werewolf in the face with a new-grown pine sapling.

And then they were off again, darting through the night as fast as Dipper’s legs could take them. Wendy’s stunned howl sounded a moment after, and when he looked back, he could make out her form bounding through the trees behind them.

“How’d you do that?!” he yelped, craning his neck to try and see past the werewolf.

“Do what?” Dipper leapt over a log, and Will threw himself down on the deer’s back in surprise. The cervitaur managed to stick the landing, but not without a grunt of pain. “Quit moving!”

“She’s gaining on us!”

Dipper didn’t respond with words, just a high pitched whine of despair that clawed its way up his throat.

“I don’t suppose you have a plan E?”

“N-no…” Dipper gasped, flitting between the trees. “Th- the moon…!”

“Isn’t low enough, Dipper. So, if you don’t have anything, then I guess I’ll put my plan into action.” And from his hip, he pulled the pistol.

Dipper’s ear flicked up, and he carefully glanced back at the hunter. His eyes widened in alarm. “You can’t… shoot her!”

“Its fine, I’m not going to hurt her. Run straight, so I can get a good shot,” he ordered, twisting and measuring the shot.

“Will, normal bullets… will just… piss her off! And… silver bullets… might kill her!”

“Good thing this isn’t either of those!”

“Will…”

“Dipper, save your breath for running.”

“But-!”

“You know, Wendy said something to me today that really made me think. You know what it was?” Will lined up the shot, squinting down the sight as best he could.

“What?”

“Sometimes, you just gotta trust people.” He cocked the hammer. “Even in Gravity Falls.”

He fired.

An anguished yelp sounded from behind them, followed by a crash of flesh hitting dirt. Dipper skid to a stop, causing Will to lurch forward, colliding with him. They landed in a tumble of hooves and limbs, Dipper staggering to his feet as quickly as possible, staring back at the werewolf.

Wendy, in her full berserker form, lay prone on the moonlit ground.

Dipper took a step towards her, then turned back to Will. “Wh-what did you do?” he whispered, horrified. Will groaned, slowly sitting up and rubbing the back of his head.

“Ugh… don’t worry, she’ll be fine,” he told the cervitaur, wincing at a tender spot on the back of his head.

“But what did you do?!” Dipper asked again. Will blinked, clearing his vision, then grinned up at the cervitaur, holding up his pistol.

“Modified hunting pistol. Armed with elephant tranquilizers.” He slid it back into its holster, standing and stretching the kinks out of his back. Dipper stared at him.

“But… but they wouldn’t have pierced the skin…”

“Ah, but did I mention? Silver tipped elephant tranquilizers!” He fished in his pouch, producing some of his extra ammo. “See?”

Dipper took them carefully, looking them over with a dumbfounded awe. “And…”

“Yeah, you can be impressed,” Will joked, grinning. His grin vanished when Dipper’s legs collapsed under him. “Whoa, hey!” He ran to the cervitaur’s side, righting him. Dipper was shaking under his hands.

“Sorry, sorry… running on adrenaline, I guess it gave out…” Dipper murmured. “But… why did you order elephant tranquilizers? Where did you even get these?”

“I uh… just had ‘em lying around?”

Dipper stared at him, disbelief and amusement written on his face. “Are you serious?”

“Ah, yeah. Absolutely.”

Dipper set the ammo down, putting his face in his hands. To Will’s surprise, he started laughing. “And you just… you just had them. Of course you did.” Will wrapped an arm around him, attempting to offer whatever comfort he could for this strange outburst. “You’re so weird.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” he said dryly. “Hey, I bet I’m the weirdest person in town!”

Dipper laughed again. “Yeah, maybe…” He looked up again, over at Wendy. “So, she’s just out?”

“Far as I can tell.” They watched for a moment, and the werewolf’s side rose and fell in a slow rhythm. “We should probably keep an eye on her.”

“Yeah…” Will flopped backwards, snuggling up to Dipper, who shot him a weird look. “And what are you doing?”

“Some of us need our beauty sleep,” Will told him, “and there’s no way in hell I’m leaving you alone out here, so I’m just gonna make myself comfortable.” He paused, looking up at the cervitaur. “Will you be okay for watch?”

Dipper snorted. “I’ll be fine. Like I said, I don’t need as much sleep as most people.”

Will stared at him for a long moment, before smiling. “Good to know that’s a useful trait, sometimes,” he sighed, laying back down. “Wake me if you need anything, okay?”

Dipper ran a soothing hand over his back. “Sure thing, Will.” Soon, Will’s even breathing joined Wendy’s, and the sounds of the night forest slowly resumed. “Sure thing.”

Chapter Text

…hey… hey, Will, wake up!

Will grumbled, rolling away from the voice and into something that felt like a furry branch. He chose to ignore both of these distractions, instead curling slightly, trying to get back to sleep.

…okay, not dead, that’s good…” the voice muttered, moving away. “Dipper? Dipper, what about you?

Will heard the cervitaur yawn, felt something press against his head - Dipper’s stomach, he realized. “I’m fine, we’re good,” the cervitaur mumbled back, shifting. Will grunted with irritation as his pillow and source of warmth moved away from him.

Are you sure he’s okay? He’s not, like… getting up or anything…

Nah, he’s just like this in the mornings. He gets cranky if he doesn’t get enough sleep.

Oh, now that was just not going to stand. He was a paragon of personality - cranky should never be used to describe him. He opened his eyes, prepared to let Dipper know exactly that -

And came face to face with the werewolf.

To his credit, he didn’t scream, but the ensuing yelp did have Dipper chuckling and Wendy rubbing her ears sorely.

“C’mon, dude, that was not necessary,” she griped, shaking her head, ears flopping. “I don’t scream at you when you’re hung over.”

“That would be the tranquilizers,” Dipper sighed, getting to his feet behind Will. He offered the hunter a hand up. Will reluctantly took it, despite the stain the cervitaur had cast upon his stellar personality.

“Tranquilizers? Dude, I didn’t know that was part of the plan.”

“It wasn’t, originally.” Dipper gestured to Will, who busied himself getting all the pine needles off of him. “Will thought it up - tranquilizers tipped with silver. They put you right out.”

“Okay, but… why was I out to begin with? I mean, I figured that gauntlet was going to hold me.”

“Yeah, funny story about that…” A small bearded man with a red hat stepped into the clearing. Dipper frowned.

“Hello. I thought you were watching the cave.”

“We were. Until a group of manotaurs came by, and decided that having a good old game of punt-pass-and-kick with gnomes was a good idea.” Will knew the gnomes all had individual names - Dipper had spoken to a couple of them over the week - but they all looked so similar, he had a hard time telling if this was one of the ones they’d talked to before. “Needless to say, we taught them a lesson… but, uh, you got out while we were away.”

Wendy’s face fell. “I didn’t…”

“You didn’t,” Dipper hastily assured her. “We heard you, over from the Shack, and came out to distract you.”

“Eeh! Wrong!” Will buzzed. “Dipper came out to distract you.” He hefted the pistol, grinning. “I came prepared.”

He could see the cervitaur rolling his eyes at his melodramatic flair, but Wendy at least seemed impressed, instead of angry. “So, no one else was out here?”

“Just us Gnomes,” the creature chirped. “But uh… thought you’d want that update. I’ll be on my way.” And he scurried off on all fours, like a squirrel.

Dipper watched him go, squinty-eyed, and muttering under his breath. “…last time I trust them with watch…”

“Hey, you said you guys were at the Shack, right?” Wendy asked. Will nodded. “So, Stan didn’t hear, or anything, either, right?”

Will threw himself into a full body sigh. “Here we are, with the Stan thing again! Look, if you don’t want me to know, stop bringing it up. Stan didn’t hear anything, he was stone on the roof for at least an hour before you started howling.”

“And if he had heard, he would have come running…” Dipper added, looking back over at the hunter, brow furrowed thoughtfully. He shared a glance with Wendy. She shrugged. “Look, Will, about the Stan thing…”

“Don’t say anything if you aren’t going to tell me what it is,” the hunter huffed, crossing his arms irritably. The last thing he needed, on top of a lack of sleep was the lack of satisfaction to his insatiable curiosity.

“Actually, I was just about to, but if that’s your attitude, then-”

“No no no nonono tell me! Tell me please?”

Dipper rolled his eyes with a smile. “You’re so easy to please, you know that?”

Will didn’t miss a beat, “winking” right back. “So are you, if I push the right buttons,” he said, waggling his eyebrows. Dipper flushed.

“Oooh, haha, you walked right into that one, Dipper!”

Will grinned. “So, now that my mood’s been improved - what’s with this whole thing and Stan?”

“Hey, can we walk back to the Shack while we talk?” Wendy cut in. “I would kill for an ice pack right about now. I’m sore everywhere.”

“Sure thing.” The three of them started off in the direction of the Shack. “So, Will, it basically boils down to this,” Dipper explained. “What do you know about gargoyles?”

Will stared at him. “I know that I hope it doesn’t boil down to my knowledge, because I know very little about gargoyles. They’re… on churches? Made of stone?” He thought about the lunch break Stan had taken with him the other day, and shuddered. “…they can eat literally anything?”

“All true. But the reason people originally built them on churches was for protection - they were supposed to be godly creatures so fearsome, that they would scare any evil away from the sanctuary.”

“Huh.” Will pictured Stan, trying to scare something away from a church. It was not easy to imagine. “Okay, go on.”

“At some point… or maybe before humans started building them, its hard to tell - living gargoyles began to appear, and flocked to churches. When they picked a place to stay, they’d petrify during the day, and roam at night, scaring away any who would do harm to their congregation. There are a couple of cases of “unsolved” murders, and Grunkle Ford and I think that they may be linked to gargoyles protecting the people they think are “theirs.” The stronger the tie between a gargoyle and those it protects, the more violent it becomes when they’re threatened.”

“…I think I’m starting to see what you’re getting at. Stan’s “congregation” is the Shack, right?” Dipper nodded, pleased, and Will took that as a cue to continue. “So, if that’s the case, if anyone threatened you, or Mabel, or someone who was part of the group… you’re saying he’d turn violent?”

He caught Wendy wincing out of the corner of his eye. “Very violent.”

He frowned. “But I don’t understand - Wendy was working at the Shack at the time, right? So she’d be part of his group, or whatever. So if she went berserker werewolf mode, if someone tried to hurt her, he’d have her back, right?”

“Depends on who I’m trying to hurt,” Wendy said softly. Dipper looked away.

Will looked at Wendy, then at Dipper, then back again. “Oh. Ooooh. So, you went berserk, and attacked Dipper?”

“Almost attacked,” Dipper protested. “It was… pretty scary. We were still new to the whole monster thing, and I was out later than expected… no one had even checked to see if there was a full moon. Since she could shift back and forth at will so easily, we assumed it wasn’t an issue. We… were not correct.”

“Dipper honestly remembers more of it than I do,” Wendy admitted. “I kinda… go fuzzy in full crazy werewolf mode. But, basically, I tried to… attack him, and Stan arrived just in time. And tore me a new one.”

“He almost ripped her head off, Will,” Dipper said quietly, horror still present, after all these years. “It was terrifying.”

Will imagined it - a young, newly deer-ified Dipper, running from a teenage werewolf: tiny, scared, alone. Unable to escape from his own best friend. Experiencing the emotions of prey before a predator. And then, just when he thought he was about to be caught… in comes his uncle, to save the day.

But, instead of just stopping his friend in her tracks, he tries to kill her.

“That’s… pretty heavy,” Will admitted, shivering as a chill ran down his spine. “How did you get him to stop?”

“I was really scared,” Dipper admitted, ears falling flat in sheepish embarrassment. “I was basically crying really loudly, and once Wendy stopped moving, he turned his attention to me.” He crossed his arms and ducked his head. “I thought he’d be mad at Wendy the next morning, but I think he felt bad, too - we were all running on instinct, and we just got lucky that we all came out of it alive.”

“So, you didn’t want him to know, because…?”

“Because, I was worried he’d try to interfere,” Dipper said firmly. “And if he did… there was always the chance that someone would end up dead.”

Will let that sink in. “Okay, I think I understand…” Then, in a flat tone, “So your backup was to be the one who might die instead.”

“What?” Wendy turned around, a shocked expression on her face. “What do you mean?”

Will jerked a thumb towards the dumbfounded deer boy. “His back-up plan was to lead you on a merry chase through the woods until you turned back. An idea that, if it had failed even the slightest bit, would have ended with him dead.” He turned, jabbing a finger at the cervitaur. “I’m starting to think you have some kind of danger complex.”

“Oh, and you don’t?” Dipper snapped back, finding his voice. “You’re the one who wanted to come with me. I was perfectly capable of outrunning her myself!”

“At least I had a plan!”

“That may not have worked!”

“But it was better than-!”

“BOYS.” The two men jumped at the bellow, meekly turning their heads towards the werewolf. She stood, hands on her hips, glaring at both of them. “You both did stupid things last night. And yes, it worked out, but you’re not going to be lucky all the time,” she snapped.

The shared a glance, wondering what to say - then were caught in a surprise hug, one furry arm looping around each of their shoulders.

“Be more careful, guys,” she said quietly. “There’s a lot that happens here in the Falls - Dipper, you’re like a little brother to me.” She pulled back and ruffled his hair. “A really cool little brother. And you-” she rounded on Will. “You’re not bad yourself. But please, try to be more careful?”

“I make no promises,” Will said. Dipper elbowed him.

“We always try to be careful,” he started, but she rolled her eyes.

“Okay, how ‘bout this? Stick to the “no secrets in the family” rule. Mabel was worried about this, and honestly… we probably could have told her, without an issue. I mean, I didn’t want to, because it’s… embarrassing and kind of traumatizing, to think you almost killed one of your best friends, then almost got killed by your boss. But, maybe things would have gone smoother if she’d known.”

Dipper’s head dropped. “Yeah,” he agreed, kicking at some leaves with his fore hoof. “You’re probably right…”

Wendy nodded. “Alright. So we agree to try and be more careful, and keep light on the secrets?”

“Again, I make no- Ow!”

“We agree,” Dipper said, glaring at the hunter, who was hopping on one foot.

“That was unnecessary,” Will hissed, leaning against the cervitaur as he alleviated the pressure from his injured foot.

“You were being a dick.”

“I was telling the truth! I don’t do promises!”

Dipper rolled his eyes. “You do when they suit you!”

“Okay, but not on keeping safe. I am clearly a walking accident.”

Wendy started laughing. “Yeah, that seems about right.” Will beamed. Dipper frowned.

“Wendy, don’t encourage him,” he groaned, but the hunter just laughed.

“Too late, she’s on my side!” He nudged the cervitaur in the side again. “Hey, you should give me a ride back. Since you injured my foot.”

Dipper went red, and Wendy’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh my god, Will I barely stepped on your foot,” he hissed, looking away.

“C’mon, what’s wrong with one little ride? Please?” He could hear Wendy laughing.

“Oh my god, I knew he was your boyfriend, but… giving rides in the middle of the forest? Really, Dipper?” she teased. He went full scarlet.

“Not that kind of ride!” he spluttered, his boyfriend and friend laughing at his expression.

“Right, sure,” Wendy chuckled. “C’mon, lets get back to the Shack.”

 

Xx

 

“…was it on fire when we left it?”

“I’m… I’m fairly sure it wasn’t.”

“Oh man, that must have been some kind of party,” Wendy whistled, eying the small fire on the roof and the piles of confetti deep enough to hide a body in. “Bigger than Mabel’s Big Summer Blowout. Kinda sad I missed it, now.”

“This definitely wasn’t here when the party ended last night, though,” Dipper said, wondering if he could will some water to condense over that fire… it was starting to move dangerously close to his room.

“Maybe a Halloween prank?” Will suggested.

The three of them jumped when the door slammed open.

“Hi! So, Dipper, I know what you’re thinking…” Mabel started, smiling as charmingly as she could, amulet glowing faintly around her neck. “You’re thinking… gosh! What kind of awesome spell was responsible for this enormous pile of cool confetti?”

“Mabel, the roof is on fire.”

“Haha, yeah, that’s the spirit!”

“No, Mabel,” he pointed. “The roof is literally on fire.”

She scrambled over, squinting at the roof. “Oh. Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen.” She muttered something, and a small raincloud appeared over it. The flames began to sizzle. “Problem solved! Now, help me clean all this confetti up before Stan unpetrifies! Or I’ll never be allowed to practice magic in the house again!”

The three of them groaned, but went inside to grab cleaning supplies. It was gonna be a long day.

But, at least, they were all safe.

Chapter Text

Will didn’t know how his bad eye had gotten the way it was now, but he didn’t remember having two to begin with, so he’d adapted quickly. The doctors told him horror stories when he’d been in the hospital, about patients who had never recovered full visual understanding again, who’d had endless trouble defining what was near and what was far, and even comprehending simple objects. And more horror stories followed that, about patients whose eyes had regressed from recovery, decaying and rotting in their own skulls.

Well, to be fair to the doctors at the hospital, they’d only told him those stories because he’d overheard one of the orderlies mention something like that, and he’d demanded to hear them, and had listened with grim-near-gleeful fascination that had probably lent credence to the idea that he ought to be in a mental hospital rather than a solely physical facility. He hadn’t been sent to one because of his… connections.

But that was neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is, despite all odds, William could see perfectly fine with one eye. He had no trouble differentiating near and far (although that one time with the Bearbug had been a little confusing), new objects didn’t give him any grief, and, well…

You only really needed one eye for a scope.

He licked his dry lips, filled with anticipation as he eyed his target through the cross-hairs of his rifle. A soft, deep brown flank crossed his vision, and he moved up the body, away from the white tail, up towards the head. He had the high ground, and though it was still dim, the sun had been steadily rising the past few minutes - he couldn’t have asked for a more perfect shot.

His target’s head lifted, and the stag peered around, ears flickering. Will forced himself to control his breath, to not instinctively hold it. That was a mistake he’d made in the past - if you held your breath, more often than not you’d end up scaring off the deer when you gasped for air.

The best option was cool, steady control.

The stag sat, still, ears still swiveling to pick up any sound. It was looking dead in his direction, might have seen him if it thought to look up.

Will lined up his shot, and with a pull of the trigger, a bullet landed right between the stag’s eyes. It was dead before it knew what had hit it.

There was a low whistle behind him that he only just caught as he pulled the ear plugs. “That was a pretty good shot,” Blubs said, patting him on the shoulder. Will grinned back. The sheriff had his amulet hanging around his neck, one half of what looked like a wooden friendship necklace, complete with “best” written on his half of the heart. “But, why’d you aim for the head? Most hunters go for the chest - makes for an easier kill.”

“I’m a good shot,” Will bragged, getting to his feet and rolling his shoulders. He tried not to look down from the hunting post. “I wouldn’t have missed. Besides, if you hit the head, it’s over quicker.”

“But if you miss-”

“I wouldn’t have missed. Trust me, I’m a crack-shot.” He looked around. “Where’s Durland? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two apart before.” Not that he could have in their dragon form, but they’d shown up that morning wearing their amulets, human-formed, when they’d picked him up for a day of hunting. It had been so long since he’d actually had a chance to hunt, he didn’t have work that day, and Dipper said he was going to be busy anyways, so their timing had been perfect.

“He’s checking some of the cameras. One of them went down the other day - deer got too close and knocked it over.”

“Huh.” He looked at the cop, then back down the tree, where his hunting post was. “…how’d you get up here so quietly, anyways? I didn’t even hear you.” He gestured to the messy, decapitated corpse below. “And he certainly didn’t notice you.”

Blubs laughed. “Well, that’s a secret of the trade,” he said. “But, I will say this - it’s hard to keep dragon magic suppressed.” He gave the hunter a smile, and for just a second, Will thought he caught a glimpse of the enormously sharp teeth he had in his dragon form.

“So what, you magicked your way up here?”

“Something like that.”

“Neat!” He looked back down at the deer’s body. “Hm, I should probably get that.”

“Yeah, that’d be best. Before it attracts anything else,” Blubs agreed, scooting aside so Will could squeeze by him to the ladder down.

“Something like… supernatural?” Will asked, lowering himself.

“Nah, nothing like that. Most of that crowd knows to stay outta this neck of the woods when its hunting season. You get a few critters that aren’t smart enough to know that, but those… well, you can usually tell them apart from the deer, and most of them don’t like meat anyways.”

“Well, that’s good.” Will made a beeline for the body, ducking under branches as he approached. As he reached it, he slowed, tilting his head to one side as he considered it.

“That’s messier than I thought it would be,” he said aloud to himself. The skull had been shattered by the impact, and there was some splatter of viscera around the body. “The antlers are still in tact, though… and all the meat on the body.”

“You were right about it being a quick kill,” Blubs said as he caught up to the hunter. “Messy, though.”

“Yeah, I was just thinking that…” He glanced hopefully at the officer. “I don’t suppose you’d help me carry it back to the truck…?”

“Maybe, if you get the head cleaned up.” The officer perked up at a sound behind them.

“Aww, ya’ll got started without me,” Durland said, coming out of the bushes. “I heard the gunshot over a ways, and… eww…”

“Heya, Durland,” Blubs said, giving the taller man a one armed hug. “Will got started - I was still setting up.”

“But that’s your one for the day, isn’t it?” Durland asked Will, pointing at the deer. “I mean, you don’t wanna have to carry two in one day.”

Will shrugged. “It was too good a shot to pass up on, he walked right by me, and he didn’t match the description for any of your pics, so… I took the shot.” He grinned. “Besides, now I can spot for you two and relax! It’s been a bit since I’ve been able to just kick back.”

Durland just hummed thoughtfully. “Well, a’right,” he said slowly, “but, you’ve got to get that back to the truck first. It’ll scare the deer off, all that blood.”

Will waved a hand at the concern. “I’ll get it cleaned up - besides, I used a silencer too. I doubt any of the deer in the area spooked. We get this back to the truck, spray the place with doe estrus, and we’ll be set.” He walked over to the deer, careful to step over the splatter. He reached into his pack and pulled out some heavy plastic wrapping, and pulled it around the head. “See? Nice and tidy.” He smiled at the two cops. “Mind helping me carry this to the truck?”

 

 

“So, you’ve been adjusting to town alright?”

Will took a sip of his beer. He was sitting, back against the tree trunk, watching out for deer while the two officers finished setting up their own posts. It was unusual to have so many hunters in one spot, but Blubs and Durland had insisted - said they were more interested in spotting today, anyways, and that they’d get their bucks a little later in the season.

He kinda wished he’d known that earlier, but they told him he was welcome to join them anytime, regardless of if he was going to join in or not. That was pretty nice.

“It’s been… easier than I expected, actually,” he admitted. “I thought it would be really hard to accept everything, but… the Pines have all been really nice about explaining things… well, mostly,” he added, thinking back to Halloween. It had only been a few days ago, but at this point, it felt like almost a month. How time flew. “And, when everyone around you acts like it’s normal, it’s pretty simple to just go with the flow, you know?”

“We wouldn’t know about that,” Blubs said. “It was pretty crazy when it all started out - nobody knew what was going on. Dipper was the one who usually worked with this kind of stuff, though, so a bunch of the town-folk went up to the Shack to ask him to help.”

That piqued Will’s interest. “What happened?”

Durland was the one who answered. “Boy was in no shape to be helpin’ anybody, that’s what,” he said decisively. “So we got the townsfolk back to their houses, an’ started trying to figure out the problem ourselves.”

Will let out a low whistle. That must have been a real feat. “How’d you manage that?”

Blubs chuckled. “You’d be surprised how hard it is to say ‘no’ to a two-headed dragon cop.”

“Nice. So, what happened next?”

“Life went on,” the chubby cop replied. “Miss Pacifica and Mabel started working with the witches on the mountain, learning magic and making these neat amulets for us. Dipper wanted to help, at first, but… well, that boy doesn’t seem to have the knack for magic his sister has.” He scratched his head thoughtfully. “Which is odd, because I seem to remember him mentioning using spells before… but I never saw him do it.”

“Yeah, he told me he can’t use ‘em,” Durland added. “Just, uhh…” he snapped his fingers, searching for the right word. “Will!” William jumped, but the cop kept talking. “Will magic, that was it. Where you like…” He made a wiggling motion with his fingers. “An’ stuff happens.”

“That’s right!” Blubs smiled over at Durland. “That’s exactly what I was talking about.”

Durland smiled back, and William subtly glanced between the two of them, one eyebrow raised just a hair. He hoped he and Dipper weren’t that obvious… though, knowing them, they probably were.

“That kind of magic is tricky stuff, though,” Blubs added, finally turning away from his deputy. “I know Dipper’s been to the ER… or, what passes for it, nowadays, at least once while experimenting with it. You overdo it, and it has some nasty kick-backs.”

“Like an angry mule,” Durland added. He nodded towards Will. “Pass me a beer?”

Will reached into the cooler, pulling out a beer and popping the tab before handing it to Durland, who nodded gratefully. “What was he trying to do that put him in the ER?” he asked.

“The first time, I think…” Blubs stared into the air, thinking. “It was… teleporting, I think. I guess he thought it was sound in concept, but it didn’t really pan out in practice. From what his sister said, he tried to teleport something from the fridge to him. In the end, he was comatose for nearly twenty-four hours.”

“There was another time, too,” Durland cut in, taking a long swig of his drink. “That one was nearly three days, remember?”

“Oh yeah… his Grunkle - Stan, not Ford, I don’t know if you know him yet - anyways, Stan needed an exhibit or something, and asked Dipper to stand in for a day or two, maybe do some magic. Dipper tried to do something big, a light-show or something - ended up knocking in a wall and passing out for a few days, thanks to some… internal damage. Needless to say, Stan didn’t ask again after that.”

“Wow…” Will’s brow furrowed in concern. He never realized how much of a toll magic took on the cervitaur. He always seemed to handle it well when the hunter had seen him work, but… now that he thought about it, he never seemed to actually do very much. Just little things, here and there, and his fine-tuning work with Mabel and, occasionally, Pacifica. Or when he’d freed him from that bear trap, when they’d first met - according to him, that had only been a little thing, but it seemed to take a lot out of him.

And then, there was that sapling, when they’d been running from Wendy. Will’s frown deepened. Wouldn’t something like that take a lot more effort?

“Have you guys ever seen him, like, grow something?” Will asked, picking the officer’s brains for answers. “Like, say… flowers, or a tree?”

Durland laughed. “Yeah,” and Will’s heart lifted, “because something like that wouldn’t be a huge use of energy.” And it sank.

“No, I can’t say we have, Will,” Blubs added. “Like I said, magic takes its toll on Dipper, so he usually only uses it in emergencies. And I don’t know about a tree, but I made the mistake asking him about, uh… life magic, for… personal reasons…” he seemed to get a little flustered, looking away from him and glancing furtively towards Durland, “and I got a long lecture about how any sort of magic influencing growth or vitality would be incredibly difficult, if nigh impossible, without some sort of spell.”

“Hmmm…” Looked like he’d have to go straight to the source, for that one.

“Enough about that, though.” Will glanced up at the sheriff, who was giving him a look of… not concern, per say, but a certain degree of interest in his well-being. “You say you’ve been settling in well?”

Will nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah. Everyone’s been really nice, there’s no lack of interesting things going on, and… I dunno, it just feels… very much like home…”

“Hm. So, you plan on staying long term, then?”

Will looked at the sheriff like he’d grown a… well, you know. “Uh, yeah. Not going anywhere anytime soon, if I have my way.” He tilted his head, squinting his eyes suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no big reason. Durland and I just like to check in on new folks - some of them take longer to get acquainted with the local culture than others, and it seems to help if we keep tabs on ‘em.”

“Well, I mean… how many others have there been, right?” Will chuckled, trailing off when the two cops didn’t join in. “Right? Guys…?” A horrible thought struck him. “They’re all still alive, right?!”

“Huh? Oh yeah, yeah… well…” Will’s gut dropped. “There is that one guy who moved in two years ago - he’s kinda a crackpot, but harmless. We see him every few weeks at Bingo, but he doesn’t get out much.”

Dread turned to utter confusion. “Wait, what?”

“Yeah, he ran off into the woods after he got here, screaming about “demon-folk” and “the wrath of god has fallen upon us.” Apparently, he woke up a small sect of vampires, and they turned him to shut him up.” Blubs shrugged. “We hadn’t had a chance to talk to them yet, about the “no drinking people” rule, so it’s not like we can blame them. But, after that, he acclimated pretty well. I think he probably likes being a vampire more than a human anyways.”

Will stared blankly at him through the story, trying to wrap his head around it. “Whelp.” He sat back, shaking his head. “Every time I think Gravity Falls has run out of surprises…”

The officers did laugh at that. “Yeah, don’t count on it,” Blubs said with a smile. “Even before our little town changed, it had its secrets.”

“I reckon they’ll be finding them long after we’re gone,” Durland added. Will lifted his beer in the deputy’s direction.

“To secrets and surprises, then,” he cheered, grinning. Durland toasted him back.

“To you settling in,” Blubs added, reaching for his own beer and toasting with them.

“Thanks.” Will raised his beer, then took a long swig, giving a sigh of satisfaction at the end. “It’s good to be here.” 

Chapter Text

“Sorry, Shack’s clos- oh, hey William!”

“Hey, Stan,” Will greeted, strained. He adjusted his grip on the bag in his arms. “Got a present for you guys, where can I put it down, it’s heavy.”

“Just a sec…” The gargoyle counted out the last few bills, nodding to himself as he shut the drawer. “Alright,” he said, walking around the counter and plucking the bag easily out of his hands. “What do we have here?”

“First buck of the season - Blubs and Durland said you and Mabel might like it, and uh… not to bother with the butchering.” In the hunter’s opinion, the gargoyle’s grinned response was far too excited for someone getting deer meat, when his nephew was practically one himself.

Then again, he was dating said deer-boy, and he still went hunting.

…there was a lot more gray moral ground than he’d originally thought about, here in the Falls. But, he’d think about that later.

A clap on his shoulder nearly knocked him over. “Nice! I’ll go ahead and put this in the freezer downstairs.” He started to head out of the shop, but someone cleared his throat, stopping him. Will looked towards the sound, and found a sleepy looking Mabel hanging out in her tank, off to the side. He hadn’t even noticed her when he’d walked in - surprising, given how active she normally was. “Oh, right… Thank you, Will.”

Mabel nodded approvingly as her Grunkle slipped through the doorway, then yawned. “Hey, Will, w’ssup?” She rubbed at one eye, then folded her arms over the edge of her tank, resting her head on them.

“Not much, just got back from hunting with the cops.”

“Mmm, did you have fun? How are they?”

“They’re good. We didn’t do a whole lot of hunting, mostly just shot the breeze.” He gave her a look-over. “You look exhausted, though - you alright?”

“Mmm-hmmm…” she hummed lowly, head nodding… before jerking upright again. “Oh! Yeah. I’m fine.”

Will gave her a critical look. “Have you been adopting your brother’s sleeping schedule, Mabel?”

That got a laugh out of her. “Haha, no, absolutely not,” she giggled. “I’m just… tired. It’s a fish thing.” She waved an arm, gesturing to the window and the frosty gray day outside. “It’s cold out there, and there’s only so much magic I’m willing to put in to keep my tank warm. Wintertime is just… very slow for me.” She sighed, resting her cheek on her arms again. “Dipper thinks that maybe, merpeople hibernate in cold climes, but I really don’t wanna be out for weeks. So, I do my best to stay awake. Then, in January, I usually go on a trip south, to visit Mermando and his wife.” She yawned again. “She’s really nice,” she murmured, eyes slipping shut. “’N it’s warmer… there…”

He waited for a moment, to see if she’d continue, but when a small, snuffling snore left her lips, he snapped his fingers. She jumped up again, blinking at him, and he smiled apologetically.

“I didn’t think you’d wanna be sleeping out here,” he said by way of apology. “And besides, it’s late - why not just go to your room and call it a night?”

“Oh, Candy and Grenda invited me over for a sleepover tonight.” She reached into her soggy hoodie pocket, and fished out her amulet. “I’m gonna go two-legged, so I can slumber party like a beast. But-” Yet another yawn interrupted her. “But, I need it fully charged so I can go over the whole night, so I had to stay fishy all day.”

“Ah, I see…”

“Yeah, they’ll be here… any moment…”

“So, where’s the other half of the dream team?” he asked, noticing she was falling asleep again. He nabbed one of the stools from behind the counter and sat himself next to the tank - he had nothing better to do at the moment, may as well help keep her awake ‘till the octoperson and the fox girl arrived.

“Huh? Oh, Dipper? He went out this morning. Said he thought he’d finally figured out the location of something or other, and was gonna check a few places.”

“Oh really?” The only thing they’d been looking for recently was that spring, the one they’d hoped to use on Wendy. They hadn’t had a whole lot of luck, given that the map and directions had been written years ago, and the land had changed… not to mention, these weird locational anomalies that his house’s former owner had been studying. He still wasn’t able to quite wrap his head around those. “Did he say when he was gonna get back?”

Mabel didn’t answer right away. For a moment, will almost thought she’d fallen asleep again, but then she began to chuckle, sly. “Aww, you guys haven’t even been apart for 12 hours and you’ve already got separation anxiety,” she teased, smirking at him.

He rolled his eyes. “No I don’t.”

“Ah ah ah, he who denies it!”

“I’m pretty sure that saying is about gas, Mabel.”

“It’s probably true about relationships, too.”

He let out a deep sigh. “Look, did he say when he’d be back or not? Because if he’s gonna be back soon, I figure I’d stay here, but if not, I was gonna-”

The door jingled behind him, and he almost turned around, hoping it was Dipper, when a heavy voice rang through the air.

“Who’s ready for a PARTY?!” Grenda bellowed, pulling herself forward with her tentacles. He wasn’t sure why Mabel needed a tank when the octopus girl clearly didn’t, and the one time he’d asked Dipper, the cervitaur had just given a helpless shrug, and the excuse that “I can’t figure out everyone’s biology, Will!” So he’d dropped the topic.

Just behind Grenda, running in on all fours and skidding to a stop beside Mabel’s tank, was Candy. The tiny Korean girl grinned wickedly at him, sharp needle-like teeth glinting in the fluorescent light of the shop. “Hey, William,” she greeted, licking her lips in a way he was sure she hadn’t meant to be hungry. Then, her nose wrinkled, ears flattening to her head. “Eugh, what is that smell?”

Grenda and Mabel both took long sniffs, and shook their heads. “What smell?” Grenda asked. Will shook his head.

“As I was about to say, Mabel, I was gonna go home and take a shower.” He gestured at himself. “We had to spray an area down with doe estrus, and it kind of… spilled.”

“…so you smell like deer piss,” Candy deadpanned, nose wrinkling further. Will rolled his eyes.

“Oh come on, it’s not that bad.”

“Maybe not for your weak human nose,” she said, proud despite the fact that she was now covering her nose, narrowing her eyes at him. “But to me, you stink!”

“Well, we’re gonna be on our way out anyways!” Grenda cut in. “So, you won’t have to smell him too much.”

“Yeah! Just let me get this on, and -” Mabel was putting her amulet on when the door jingled again, and the group turned to see Dipper walking in, looking pleased with himself.

“Hey - oh, wow, it’s a party. Hey Candy, Grenda,”

“Hey Dipper!”

“Hello, Dipper!”

Dipper smiled, and made to move past the group… then paused. He lifted his nose, sniffing and looking at them, curious. He took a step closer, and took a deeper sniff… right next to Will, who was quickly realizing that, in the future, just because he couldn’t smell it much didn’t mean he should assume about those around him…

And then the cervitaur smiled. “You smell really nice, Will,” he said, before pressing a quick peck to his cheek. “I need to run something upstairs really quick - wanna hang out when I get back down?” He lowered his voice a little, so the girls wouldn’t hear him. “Mabel’s gonna be out of the house, and Grunkle Stan goes to sleep early… we’d have the whole house to ourselves…”

He didn’t really wait for an answer, just walked out… which was good, because Will wasn’t really prepared to give him one, jaw working silently as he put together what had just happened. Mabel looked like she was about to cry, trying not to laugh, Grenda had one fist in her mouth, and Candy was falling to the floor in silent bouts of laugher, rolling to and fro. He couldn’t help the grin that started to spread over his own face, though he did his best to school it into something stern.

“Not a word to him about that,” he said, failing to hide his mirth, “Or he’ll be too embarrassed to ever compliment me again!”

 

 

Dipper heard about it in the end - none of them were particularly good at keeping secrets, but Will was the worst when there was something funny about it. The cervitaur had asked him again by the end of the night, what that alluring smell was, and Will had been unable to keep it from him. Days later, he was still snickering to himself about it, much to the cervitaur’s intense embarrassment.

“Will, I swear to god, if you don’t stop…” he grumbled, pushing ahead on the trail, face red. That, unfortunately, just made the hunter giggle harder.

“S-sorry,” he snickered, not sorry at all. “It was just… it was so perfectly timed, is all.” Dipper grumbled, but didn’t say anything. Will decided to change the topic, for now. Maybe if he got his mind of of it, the cervitaur would relax a bit. “So, you found the spring?”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve found the spring,” Dipper said, sounding relieved. “It was a real pain - the “single oak” that the book described was just a stump, which wasn’t super helpful, and I think some of the rock formations have changed over time… either because of wear, or maybe one of the out-of-towners.”

Will hummed to show he was listening, when something off the path caught his eye. He paused, looking down at the small pine sapling, peeking up from between the foliage of the forest floor. Ahead, Dipper was still talking about his efforts to find the spring, and what made him think that this one was the same that the books had described…

“Hey, Dipper, can I ask you something?” Will called after him, hurrying to catch up. The cervitaur turned, ears flicking back at the interruption.

“Sure, what is it?”

“There was something you did, while Wendy was chasing us…” and he explained the sudden sapling that had grown, and saved their lives, just for a few seconds. As he spoke, Dipper’s expression went from confused to incredulous.

“That’s impossible,” he finally said, when the hunter had finished. Will’s eyebrows shot up.

Really? That’s what you’ve got to say about that?”

“I mean, it is!” the cervitaur protested, arms out in a helpless shrug. “I mean… I can’t do magic like that!”

“Have you ever tried?”

“I’ve tried enough stuff to end up in the hospital, yes!”

“No!” Will waved that aside. “Blubs and Durland told me about that, and sure - you can’t teleport things, or do magical light shows.” Dipper went a little red at that, but the ears said embarrassment, not anger, so Will pressed on. “But different magic works differently, right? And Mabel’s got mermaid magic, and Grunkle Stan has… well, a whole slew of supernatural abilities that might as well be magic…” He held out a hand to the cervitaur. “What’s to say something like nature magic isn’t in your domain?”

“I feel like I would have noticed that, Will,” Dipper replied stiffly, ears flicking back and forth anxiously.

“But you haven’t really tried it, have you?” Dipper’s silence spoke for him. “How ‘bout this - why not give it a try after we get back from the spring? Just something small, nothing like… dangerous. Just to test it out.”

Dipper looked up at him, eyes narrowed slightly. “…why does this interest you so much?” he asked, not sounding… quite suspicious, but pretty close.

The hunter shrugged. “Blubs and Durland were telling me about how you used to be able to do lots of magic, back before the Fluventis - not that they’d seen you,” he assured at the shocked look on Dipper’s face, “Just, that they’d heard rumors. And…” His face fell a little. “Well, as someone who can’t do any magic… I mean, maybe your species change just moved your magical potential from one thing to another = and hey, if there’s something that you’re good at because you’re a cervitaur, why not use it, right?”

Dipper seemed somewhat taken aback by that, and took a long moment to reply. “…alright,” he finally said, to the hunter’s excitement. “I’ll… try something when I get home. But!” And he waggled a finger under the hunter’s nose. “If I end up passing out or anything like that, I’m blaming you.”

“Blame accepted!” Will trilled cheerfully.

Dipper shook his head, a small smile on his lips. “You’re so easily excited, you know that?” he said, sighing. Then, realizing his mistake, shook his head harder - “Will, no-!”

But it was too late - the hunter was already ‘winking’ at him. “You’re easily excited too,” he teased, bringing back the joke from Halloween. Dipper just groaned, burying his head in his hands and turning around.

“I walked right into that one, too,” he grumbled to himself, before adding, louder, “Let’s just find this spring.”

“Lead the way!” Will fell into step beside him, running a gentle hand over the cervitaur’s flanks. “Just lead the way.”

Chapter Text

They found a spring. Whether it was the spring the book had mentioned or not… they weren’t quite sure.

“It fits the description,” Will said, standing a good measure away while Dipper carefully inched around the pool. The library had described a wide, shallow body of water, maybe only an inch deep at the most, fading almost to level ground, with just a small lip at the edge, and that was all there, as described. What they weren’t sure about was the middle of the spring, which was described as a “bottomless well,” about four feet wide, that sat in the center of the fifteen foot pool. Neither of them wanted to get too close, but…

“Well, what’s the worst it could do?” Dipper finally asked, craning his neck as he tried to see into the center of the pool. “Change my species?”

“According to this, yeah,” Will said, flipping through the book. “But… I’d honestly be more concerned about the well. Bottomless shafts of water? Pretty intimidating.” And he was pretty sure that was true, even for those who didn’t have a severe phobia of drowning.

But one of them had to check it out, and Dipper, sensing Will’s discomfort, had volunteered. He was nearly halfway around the pool, now, pressed as tightly as he was able to the wall, still trying to get a look without touching the water.

“Any luck?”

“…almost…” The cervitaur took another few careful steps forward. “Ah! Yeah!”

Will perked up, despite his gut dropping. “You see it?”

“Yeah! There’s a little glare from the cave mouth, but right here… I can see the well! This is what we’re looking for!”

Will grinned, still a little nervous. “That’s great! So, what now?”

“…” The hunter could see Dipper turn his head, awkwardly thanks to his antlers, to look back at him. “Well… now I walk backwards out of here, I guess… I don’t really want to make the full trip around…” He took a few, careful steps back, before getting something of a rhythm. “I can’t just jump in, either - we don’t really know what it’ll do, aside from the descriptions in the book, and all those are pretty vague.”

“And I’m guessing there aren’t many people who would volunteer to throw themselves in and see what happens,” Will said dryly. Dipper chuckled, and it echoed through the rounded cave.

“No, I’m fairly sure everyone in town has had their share of species changes.” His antler scraped against the wall roughly, and he hissed in annoyance.

“Then what do we do?”

Dipper didn’t answer right away, and Will waited with a small measure of patience as the cervitaur finished his way back around the edge of the spring, stretching his legs out as he got back to level, open ground. “There’s not a whole lot we can do,” he said, sounding disappointed as he looked back at the spring. “Sure, we found it,  but… until we know it does what the books say it does, we can’t do anything with it.”

Will blinked at him. “But, you were totally willing to use it on Wendy?”

Dipper’s face rounded back to the hunter. “No! I mean, yes, but, only if we found out what it does!”

“So you’ve got a way to do that, or else you wouldn’t bother looking, right?”

Dipper went a little red, at that. “Well… honestly, I was just going to… toss a beetle in, or something…” He rubbed at his arm, self conscious. “I figured that would give us an idea, and then we could go from there.”

“What I’m hearing, is that we’ve spent over a month looking for this thing, and now that we’ve found it, there isn’t anything we can actually do with it.” Will wrinkled his nose. That sounded more accusatory than he’d meant it to. “Sorry, that came out… wrong. But, we don’t have any way to tell what it does, aside from tossing something it?” He gestured towards the forest with his thumb. “Because, given everything that runs around out there, I’d be a little worried about what would come out if we tossed a beetle or something in there.”

“…you know what?” Will raised an eyebrow, displaying clearly that he, in fact, did not know what. “That’s a good point.” He gestured back to the pool. “This is a wide open area - the river was too, but it was only there for a little while. If this has been here since the old owner of your house was here, then a lot of things could have walked right in, but…”

Will waited, but Dipper had trailed off into his own thoughts. He frowned. “Well, who’s to say nothing did?” he asked. “There’s plenty of weird stuff that could’ve been human, or animal, once-”

Dipper nodded slowly. “Right, that’s true too… but you think there’d be fewer regular animals, then, too. After all, why be a… a deer, I guess, when you could change species and be some kind of predator?”

“Maybe the new species scare off the original species? I don’t know,” Will said, getting a little irritated. “But you’re getting away from the main point - do we or do we not have a way of figuring out what the spring does?”

Dipper grimaced. “Well… we do, but…”

“But?”

“But, it’s Ford’s equipment,” he said, dragging out the words with distaste. “It’s complicated stuff, and I know how to use it, but he gets… kinda cranky of someone else messes with it.”

“Yeah, but when does Ford get home?”

“What’s today?”

“The… twentieth? Nineteenth? Something like that.”

Dipper hummed. “He won’t be back for two more weeks or so.”

“That’s a long time. And if you’ve found a fix for the Fluventis, isn’t that important sooner rather than later?”

Dipper gave him an odd look. “You’re pretty passionate about having a human boyfriend all of a sudden,” he said.

“That’s not what I meant!” Will snapped back, before realizing the deer boy was joking. “Sorry. But, this is what you wanted, right? To… undo what the Fluventis did to everyone?”

“Yeah…” Dipper trailed off.

“That doesn’t sound too sure.”

“No, I really do! I just… want to make sure it goes right, you know?” His ears flicked. “Last time Ford and I tried to look at something like this, I ended up changing the whole town, thanks to… well, you’ve heard the story.”

“Yeah, I know.” He stepped closer, giving the cervitaur a one-armed hug. “Are you worried he’s going to try something again?”

“I’m honestly not sure how he could make it worse,” Dipper admitted, “but he’s got a track record of proving people wrong, on that account. And if something went wrong, while Ford wasn’t here… he knows the most about Bill, he had to deal with him the longest. If we were prepared beforehand, we could probably make sure everything’s going well, but until he gets back…”

“We’re basically at a standstill?” Dipper nodded, and Will let out a long breath through his nose. “Okay then. But hey! At least we found it, so when your other Grunkle gets back, we can all just go and check it out! …right?” He added the last bit, more uncertain as Dipper’s ears flattened.

“Maybe. Ford gets weird about his research sometimes,” the cervitaur huffed. “But, we’ve done this one pretty much mostly on our own, and if we could find some way to figure out what it does, I’d say forget Ford, let’s go ahead and check it out.”

“Okay. Then why don’t we just use his equipment, if you know how to do it?”

“Like I said, he gets annoyed when someone messes with it. And I don’t want to be on bad terms with him the second he gets back.” The cervitaur held out a hand for the book Will was holding, and the hunter wordlessly returned it. He stuck it into his bag. “We should mark the location and head back, and then… I dunno, I guess find something else to do with ourselves the next two weeks?” A thoughtful, greedy expression flitted over his face, and he looked at Will, considering.

Will knew that look, and deflected it. “Well, we do need to look into your deer-powers!” Dipper groaned, but he was smiling.

“Please tell me you’re not going to start calling them that,” he said, gesturing for the hunter to hop on his back, which Will did.

“Only until I think of something funnier or more appropriate,” the hunter chuckled, hands on Dipper’s shoulders.

“Of course.” Dipper’s tone was resigned, but the way he was holding his ears and tail, Will could tell he really didn’t mind. “And you’re really gonna make me do it as soon as we get home?”

“Yeah! What else are we gonna do?”

“I can think of a few things,” Dipper replied suggestively. Will mock-gasped.

“Dipper middle-name-here Pines!” He gave him an admonishing pat to the shoulder. “How scandalous!” Then he giggled, leaning in close enough for his lips to brush the cervitaur’s ear, and whispered, “Obviously, I’m a bad influence.”

He grinned at Dipper’s sharp breath. “You really, really are,” the cervitaur breathed back.

 

 

Dipper complained that it was too late to do any sort of magic when they got back to the Shack, and that besides, Mabel was out, Stan was already petrified on the roof (fortunately not over the attic, thank goodness), and really, wouldn’t it be nice to unwind after a long day of hunting and walking around the woods?

William agreed entirely.

The next day, Dipper and Will were working alternating shifts at the Shack, and with Mabel still over at Grenda’s house, there was absolutely no reprieve from the flood of tourists still coming in, even this late in the year.

“We close in December, so there’s usually a rush towards the end of the year - people think it’ll be ‘cheaper!’” Stan laughed. “As if!”

Needless to say, by the end of the day they were both exhausted, Will from running around restocking and Dipper from standing absolutely still behind the register for hours on end. Will hadn’t even asked about cervitaur magic that night, and they just fell into bed, asleep before they knew it.

The third day came, and went, and Will was starting to suspect that Dipper was putting off this whole “trying new magic” thing, because he said he was still stiff, and too tired from the day before to do anything, but the hunter had given him enough massages by this point to know what stiff cervitaur felt like. But, he didn’t press it.

On the fourth day, Will knew that Dipper was putting it off. They were both off work at noon, the schmuck-load (quoted from Grunkle Stan) had been light, and Dipper seemed pretty gung-ho about getting off the clock… until Will tracked him down on the back porch, and reminded him of his promise.

“Can’t we try it tomorrow instead?” Dipper whined, looking up from his book. Will frowned.

“You said that yesterday. And the day before.” He bent over and leaned in, and Dipper leaned back, not meeting his eye. “Why are you avoiding this?”

“Avoiding what?” The two straightened up as Mabel came strolling out onto the porch, armed with hot chocolate, and plopping down on the couch.

“Dipper said he’d try to do some deer-ple magic, and he’s trying to back out.”

“Seriously, deer-ple is what you’re going with now?”

Mabel quirked an eyebrow at them, taking a long, satisfying sip of her hot chocolate. “What’s Deer-ple magic?”

They both opened their mouths to explain, then froze, realization hitting them at the same time. Mabel still didn’t know about what had happened on Halloween - the chase that had led to the weird sapling growth that Will had seen. And, as they glanced at each other to confirm, it was probably best if she never found out.

“It’s, ah…” Dipper stumbled over a few aborted sentences. “It’s like, um… nature magic?”

“Neat!” If she had noticed the awkward exchange of glances, she didn’t show it. “So, what, you’re gonna grow something little? Don’t wanna over-do it, huh?” Her voice became teasing. “Not like the Pitt-cola incident, right?”

“I’m never gonna live that down, am I,” Will heard him mutter under his breath, ears flat. Then, louder, “I was thinking about trying it later - I mean, it’s pretty cold out here - getting something to grow would be tough…”

“Aww, don’t be like that! There’s plenty of hardy grass and stuff around, you can do it!”

Yes! Mabel was on his side! Will grinned. “Yeah, Dipper-deer! Give it a shot!”

“Guys…” But it was too late. Mabel had started up a chant of “Dipper! Dipper!” And Will, being Will, had joined in. Dipper sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Fine. Fine, guys you can stop chanting, I’ll do it!” he said, raising his voice to be heard over the chanting. His twin and his boyfriend cheered.

“Just remember to take it easy, Dip-dop!” Mabel called as he put his book down and stepped off of the porch.

“But do something really awesome!” Will added, throwing himself down next to Mabel to watch. She squeaked as the couch bounced. Dipper shook himself out, trying to focus.

“No hospital trips, though!”

“No, no hospital trips!”

Dipper gave them a look of irritation over his shoulder. “Is the peanut gallery done?” he asked dryly. They just laughed.

“Yeah, yeah we’re done!”

“Get to it, Bambi!”

Dipper was grateful to Mabel, who smacked Will’s shoulder at that comment, and he turned back, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. After a moment’s thought, he folded his legs underneath him. It would be easier to work if he was closer to the ground. His hands felt out in front of him, coming to rest on what felt like a pretty solid patch of grass. So, no big. He’d just focus some magic into growing this just a little, show Will that whatever he’d seen in the woods was a fluke, and then it’d be done.

He took a deep breath, and channeled his magic.

 

 

Will and Mabel were watching closely from the porch as Dipper settled himself down on the lawn. “Aw man, he’s blocking the view,” Mabel grumped, settling back and taking another sip of her hot chocolate.

“Nah, I think there’ll be a good view anyways,” Will replied, eager. She looked at him curiously.

“You think it’s gonna be big?” She shrugged. “I mean, before we changed, Dipper did some pretty neat magic - he actually raised the dead once.”

“Yeah… wait, what?!”

“Yeah, during a karaoke party we had.” She giggled. “It was actually pretty funny - the one thing I asked him not to do that night was raise the dead, and then…” she shrugged again.

“…I’m gonna need that full story later.”

“Sure, as soon as Dipper’s done growing the grass.” Their attention turned back to the cervitaur, who was just… sitting there. “Uh, Dipper? Any chance you - whoa!”

Neither of them could see his face from this angle, just the forward tilt of his head - but, from under his hand, deep green began to spread through the lawn, slow at first, then picking up speed as it headed out from Dipper.

“Holy…” Mabel almost dropped her hot chocolate, but gripped it at the last moment. “Dipper, slow down! You’re gonna-”

“Holy shit!” Will squawked. The green had reached the porch, and had climbed up the side in the form of rich moss, seeping between the cracks of the floorboards, and slowly coming to a halt, just a foot in.

The rest of it didn’t stop, though; and what was more miraculous was the colors that were appearing within it.

The November day was gray, with low, oppressively gray skies and barren trees mixed with pines, and the ground had been graying grass and brown leaves. But now, the leaves were simply dissolving into rich earth, and from them sprung-

“Flowers?” Mabel said aloud, awed.

Movement caught Will’s eye, and he looked up. “Oh my god.”

The trees at the edge of the clearing were starting to bloom again, and branches - full branches - started growing in earnest, reaching in towards the cervitaur, like Dipper was the sun…

And looking at him, he may well have been - Dipper was alight with the deep blue of his magic, glowing all over him, hand still planted forward on the earth… but now his head was lifted, and he was looking around him, jaw hanging open. Will caught just a glimpse of his eyes - both lit blue.

“That’s enough!” He was jarred out of the sight by a harsh shout next to him, and was surprised when the cup of hot chocolate spilled, and suddenly Mabel was barreling towards her brother, who looked… lost. “Dipper, stop! You’re gonna hurt yourself!”

Will felt a chill down his spine when the cervitaur turned, eyes pupil-less with light, expression one of wonder… but no recognition as his sister ran towards him. As if his boyfriend were somewhere else entirely. But then, his sister half-tackled him in a hug, and he blinked, slowly… and came to. The light faded, the greenery stopped spreading, and everything settled.

And he hugged his twin back.

Chapter Text

It took Mabel and Will a long few moments to coax Dipper out of… whatever funk he had been in. But, once they had?

He wouldn’t shut up.

“It was amazing!” he said, for the third time in ten minutes. “Will, you - you were so right, I-” He stuttered off again, waving his arms vaguely as he searched for the words to describe what had just happened. “It was amazing!

“So you keep saying,” Will replied with a small smile.

“But are you okay?” Mabel asked again, shaking his shoulder gently and looking him over. “You’re still awake, so that’s-”

“I’m great!” Dipper got to his feet, and the other two followed suit. Dipper’s hooves danced a little underneath him, as if he was burning off bottled up energy. “I feel fantastic! Whoo!” He whirled suddenly, wrapping his arms around Will, who found himself being spun around in a tight hug. Dipper was laughing, bell-like, and the lighthearted sound so unusual coming from the usually more solemn cervitaur. “Thank you!”

“You’re welcome!” Will laughed back, wobbling a little when Dipper set him back down.

“So, you’re really okay…?” Mabel asked once more, looking a little less wary and a little more curious. “At the end there, you kinda… weren’t all there…”

“I know!” Dipper didn’t seem phased at all by this, and the two raised their eyebrows at that. “I mean…” He took a deep breath, settling down… a little. “I know, it took me a moment, to remember where I was… but!” And he did a little jump, forefeet then hind, that Will remembered seeing a fawn do once. “That’s because of the other part of what happened!”

“What other part?” Mabel and Will shared an amused glance as the words came out of their mouths simultaneously.

“Well, I grew all this, right?” Dipper asked, gesturing to the rich green grass, the bright swaths of wildflowers cropping up around them. “But I didn’t just grow them, I… I knew them!”

He got blank stares. “You… okay, define what you mean by knew them. Are we talking like… biblically?” Will asked. Dippers nose scrunched up.

“Okay, no, Will. I mean, like…” He looked around, and pointed to one patch of flowers. “There. Those flowers, right there - the purple flower in the middle. That’s a Pinkfairy, or… ugh, Deerhorn Clarkia, scientific name Clarkia Pulchella. They originated in California, and slowly spread north and east, and variations of it currently exist in some northeastern states, too. They’re actually endangered because of how they pollinate, which… I won’t go into, it’s complicated. And, apparently, they can amplify magic that’s focused on making connections or strengthening relationships. But, the really interesting thing to take from this is -” he gestured to the foliage around them, “-I learned all that, and more about these other flowers, in less than a minute.”

There were more stares. “So… wait, you… okay.” Will held up his hands. “I’m confused.”

“Me too,” Mabel added.

“No, it’s really not confusing, look -” Dipper leaned forward, and with a twirl of his wrist and another flash of deep blue, one of the purple flowers blossomed, and he plucked it, lifting it up for them to see. Will had never seen him use magic so casually… and even Mabel and Pacifica were very purposeful when they did any. “When I did that magic, as each thing grew, I started to learn about it. And, the longer I did magic and the more that grew, the more I learned!”

“So… when you went all dead eyed…” Mabel asked slowly, starting to understand. Dipper nodded.

“It was… kind of an overload, I guess? A really, really big information rush. But, once it was over, and I had a minute to process…” He looked around him again, a giddy smile floating over his lips. “This is really cool.”

Mabel looked around too, the wariness fading completely as she took in what her brother had done. “Yeah, that… that is pretty cool…”

“Are you kidding?” The Pines twins looked over at the hunter, who waved his arms towards the rest of the area. “This is awesome!” He grabbed Dipper’s hand. “Think about it! If you do nature magic on something, you learn about it, right?” He leaned in closer, practically nose to nose with the deer-boy. “What if you could do it to a body of water, maybe, say…” He grinned, and ‘winked,’ “a certain spring?”

Dipper’s eyes searched his face for a second, not understanding… then they widened, and his jaw dropped as realization hit him. Will’s grin stretched. “Oh my god…”

“Wait, what spring- Oh my gosh! You guys found the spring?” Dipper turned towards his twin, and Will managed to duck just in time.

“We think so, just a few days ago. We’re not sure, but…” He looked back at Will, who ducked again. “But with this…”

“If it works, you’d know,” Will said. He crossed his arms and looked smug. “And who didn’t want to do the deer magic, again?”

Dipper didn’t even look irritated, just laughed. “That was all on me,” he agreed.

“So, tomorrow…?”

“Tomorrow we’ll go back and check it out,” Dipper agreed. “And, if it does what we think it does…” He grinned to Mabel. “We’ll all be human again!”

 

 

“Poor Mabel,” Will mused to himself as they walked. “Stuck at the Shack all day…”

“Eh, it’s not so bad… I mean, we all have to take those solo shifts sometimes, and Stan thinks it’ll be a slow day.” Dipper was walking alongside him, in excellent spirits. Every now and then, Will caught him subtly reaching a hand down to the foliage, a few navy sparks falling to the path alongside them, sprouting green. When a flowering red ivy followed them for a few feet, he snorted.

“Having fun with your new toy, Dipper?” he teased.

Dipper went red. “Magic isn’t a toy, Will!”

“Maybe not, but…” The hunter pointed behind them - a clear trail of green followed where they’d walked. “You may be overdoing it a little?”

Dipper’s ears drooped, and he chuckled, self-conscious. “Ah, yeah… maybe a little…”

Will caught one hand in his own. “Eh, it’s fine, I’m just teasing you.” He tugged at it, and they started walking again. “After all, when you’re human again, you’ll be back to your old magic. You’ll be able to do spells again, though, so that’s cool!”

Dipper hummed thoughtfully. “Yeah… I could probably still do specialized magic too, which is good…” He side-eyed the hunter. “By the way, are you sure you wanna walk?”

Will tried not to wince. “Yep. Absolutely.”

“Because… you may not have many more chances…”

Will sighed deeply. “I had considered that,” he admitted, “but given the current state of my backside…” It was Dipper’s turn to wince.

“Ah. Right…” They were silent for a beat. “Sorry…”

“Quit apologizing,” Will scolded, giving him a sharp admonishing pat on the shoulder and grinning. “My sex drive is almost as much to blame as yours!”

They both laughed at that. “Well, for what it’s worth, when this is all over and done, your backside will probably get a nice rest.”

“But not for too long, right?” Will winked his good eye, and Dipper snorted.

“You’re insatiable. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were the one in rut!”

“Ah, but we do know better.”

Dipper didn’t reply, and they fell into a comfortable silence as they kept on. It was a much longer walk without just taking Dipper’s offer for a lift, but neither of them particularly minded. Will was glad for the chance to stretch his legs a little, and Dipper wanted to take his time for his potential last walk as a quadruped. So, by the time they actually reached the spring, it was afternoon.

“Hm, if this doesn’t work, you should really ride back,” Dipper said, looking up at the sky. “Otherwise, we won’t be getting home until really late.”

“You never sleep early anyways,” Will grunted, stretching his back.

“But you do,” Dipper pointed out gently. “What was that you said, about needing your beauty sleep?” Will stuck his tongue out at the cervitaur, who rolled his eyes. “Oh, very mature.”

“Thanks!”

“Not a complement, Will,” Dipper chuckled. “Here, can you hold the backpack?”

Will took it. “Why?”

“Well, I’m not exactly sure what will happen, using this magic on a water source,” Dipper said, shaking his hands out. “I figured it would be best for you to stand back, in case it splashes or anything. And if you’re standing back, you should probably hold onto the backpack with the books in it.”

A disconcerting thought occurred to Will. “You don’t think it’ll, like…” He didn’t quite want to say it, for fear of the effect it would have on Dipper.

“Flood?” Fortunately, the cervitaur was on the same page. “I don’t think so.” He smiled over his shoulder at the hunter. “Even if it did, it’s no river - I think the worst it would get would be a little stream down the rocks, and if you stood to the side of the cave mouth, it would miss you entirely.”

That level of optimism was unlike the cervitaur, but Dipper missed the narrowed look Will gave him, already turning back to the spring. “Alright - let’s try this.”

“Little steps, remember!” Will called, taking a few careful steps back. Dipper nodded.

“Little steps,” he repeated - and then deep blue flowed from his fingertips, moving like animated ribbons, seeking the ground and moving over it. Will was impressed by just how quickly he’d gotten control over this new magic. There were hardly any trails of green sprouting after the blue tendrils of magic, and it moved with purpose to the surface of the water, hesitating with a breath of caution at the edge, moving out along the lip of the spring, before reaching down to skim the water, skating lightly over the surface…

A deluge of water knocked Dipper off of his feet, and Will jumped to one side, glad he’d been standing back.

The air was filled with screeching, echoing off the rounded walls of the cave, amplifying into a single cacophonous noise, and Will ducked down, clutching his ears and wincing. He squinted into the cave - Dipper was drenched, but looked unhurt, staggering back to his feet and coughing, and behind him, floating up from the water…

Oh, no. Not floating. Flowing up, was a woman made entirely of water.

And she looked pissed.

“Excuse me!” she snarled, baring teeth that elongated in her anger, before flowing back to a speakable size. “Fucking rude, using magic on someone’s spring, don’t you think?!” Will could only imagine that the look on Dipper’s face matched his own, completely bowled over by this new development. “I let you come and go the other day without a problem, and this is how you repay my generosity?!”

“S-sorry!” Dipper spluttered, ears dripping, lifting a hand to push his soggy hair from his eyes. “I- I didn’t realize-!”

She focused her glare at him, and her eyes went taut with rage. “I know you - I know your kind! You’re one of those awful cervitaurs, aren’t you?” The two adventurers startled, glancing at each other. Dipper opened his mouth to speak again, but she waved a hand, sending up another defensive wall of water, and they darted to the side to avoid it. “Don’t try talking to me!” she roared. “I know all about you and what your kind do. You think the whole forest should be yours on a platter! That you have some gods given right to everything in it!” She snarled again, wordlessly, dropping her hands to her sides, palms forward, fingers curled up. Dipper recognized the position. He’d seen it often enough when Mabel or Pacifica was preparing something big. Her smile turned saccharine sweet. “You want a taste of my spring, then? Well, try some of this!”

A wall of water shot for them, and they split up to avoid it, Dipper dodging to one side and Will to the other. Will turned around to see the wall turn in its tracks, as if rebounding off an invisible wall, roaring after Dipper.

The cervitaur disappeared in a deluge of water, which flowed swiftly back to the spring. As it did, Will managed to catch a glimpse of a hand, and the top of Dipper’s crown, as he vanished.

The nyad was still standing on the surface, laughing as she looked down at the black waters of her spring, bubbles sprouting to the surface over the well. Will looked between her, and the spring, horrified.

“Give him back!” he bellowed, with a force he hadn’t known he possessed. She turned her attention to him, and he flinched.

“Heehee, you’re still here?” she asked, covering her laughter with one hand in a lady-like manner. “I wouldn’t stick around, if I were you - You’re not gonna like what happens next.”

“I-” He faltered for a moment, the ripples of water lapping at the lip of the basin, fear in his heart…

And then he saw the bubbles had stopped.

“I’m not leaving without him!” he snapped at the nyad.

“Oh, I’m not taking him forever,” she snapped back, good demeanor vanishing instantly. “You should be happy! Cervitaurs are bad news, for humans and spirits alike!” She grinned, and it was not kind. “I’m doing you a favor. I’ll even give you another chance at a head start!”

There was another burst of bubbles from the water - Will knew he was running out of time. “I’m not leaving,” he said again. “Let. Him. Go!”

She sighed, her entire body swelling and ebbing with the movement. “Suit yourself. Your funeral… not mine.” Her form dissolved, and water rose once more… this time, depositing something in the shallow pool of the spring. Will’s heart jumped with hope… then slowly sank. Something was… very wrong.

“…Dipper?”

 

 

water, water everywhere, he couldn ’t breathe, the water was pushing him down, holding him, his nails scraped at smooth stone, the flow pulling him further, further down, he tried to buck his head and antlers met stone. He screamed and air, precious air escaped, and he clamped his jaw shut, holding the last of it as best he could

But there was so much water

And he was so cold

So … so… cold…

The flow of water reversed - he knew where the surface was, knew he was rushing towards it, gasped gratefully as he broke through, blessing the air in his lungs, but still

So cold

And

There was a gnawing at his stomach, a painful ache that he knew was endless … but must be sated.

He was cold

And so, so, hungry.

He opened his eyes.

Chapter Text

“Dipper?” Will asked again, taking a small step forward. It didn’t look like Dipper, but, the spring was supposed to change a person’s species, so that didn’t mean all that much. “Dipper, are you okay?”

The gray shape heaved, hacking up water, and he took an instinctive step back. He couldn’t see Dipper’s face, but he certainly cut a different shape now. His hair, and a swath of wiry fur that ran down his back, had frosted to a winter gray. He was curled in on himself, smaller too - No hind legs, Will realized suddenly. But, he still had the antlers… even if those had changed, too, from their usual brown and white coloring to ebony, thinner and thorny with far too many tangled tines. One hand shot forward, fist uncurling as Dipper steadied himself, and Will swallowed heavily. Those claws did not look friendly.

Then Dipper looked up.

“It’s only temporary,” Will heard the nyad’s voice faintly over the pounding in his ears. “But if I were you, I’d get a head start. Wendigos are pretty fast, after all!

Dipper lurched towards him, ice-silver slitted eyes locked on him, predatory. Black lips peeled back, baring jagged teeth and diseased gums in a smile.

“Hey, Will,” Dipper rasped, voice like sandpaper over silk, catching every strand and shredding it as it moved. “Looking good.”

Will stepped back, and the former cervitaur’s smile twisted, lips tightening into a snarl before coming back under control. The silver eyes narrowed at him, but the smile was still sweet. “Aw, don’t be like that. Come here, Will.” He pushed himself up a bit with a grunt, reaching out with one black-clawed hand. “Help me up?”

Shaking his head, Will stepped back again. “I- I’ve gotta say, I have to go with my gut on this one, Dip,” he said, trying to joke as he moved further away, hands feeling behind him for the edge of the cave. “And my gut is saying… that you’re not the safest person to approach right now.”

The look Dipper gave him was almost mournful, and Will caught sight of his ears, still fuzzy and deerlike, but now ragged and worn looking. “Will, please,” he begged, shifting further upright. His hind legs had vanished in the spring, simply leaving him with two deer-like forelegs that bent at weird angles, and he managed to prop himself up on his knees with them. “I- I can’t get up…” He looked up at the hunter again, eyes wide, helpless. “Please, help me.”

The words were a stab to his heart, but Will’s stomach still churned at the idea of approaching this… creature. He shook his head. Dipper tried to pull himself to his feet, his hooves, but only fell, inching closer as he did. When he looked up again, there were tears pricking at the edges of his eyes. “Please.

Will couldn’t make himself move, one way or the other. Paralyzed between the need to help, and the need to run, he sat frozen as Dipper struggled towards him, hand stretched out to him plaintively, with him unable and unwilling to take it.

“Dipper, I- Shit!” He stumbled backwards with a curse as Dipper lunged sharply at him, teeth snapping and claws swiping far to close for comfort. He managed to get his own feet under him-

- and quickly realized that the only reason he was still alive, was that Dipper could not.

The wendigo snarled again, struggling to get to his feet, only to overbalance and fall. “Nothing personal, Will,” he growled softly in that awful voice, eyes nearly slits in his face. A purple-and-black tongue slipped out over his lips, and licked them in the same way a starving man does. “But, when I catch you - I’m going to rip your throat out.

Will didn’t wait another second. He turned and bolted, chased by the howl of anguish behind him, the clatter and scrape of hooves and claws fighting for purchase on the ground. He could get a head start, he realized - get far enough away from the cave before his boyfriend got his bearings, and maybe he wouldn’t be able to find him before he changed back. The nyad had said it was only temporary, and it had taken Mabel at least an hour or so to even walk without assistance… and she wasn’t dealing with hooves.

He had reached the foot of the hill and the beginning of the forest when a triumphant cry rang out from the cave above him. He chanced a glance back, and saw Dipper, black-and-silver furred, scanning the area, looking for him. The air seemed to frost around him, and Will could see heated puffs of breath hanging on the air in front of him. Then, Dipper’s eyes were upon him, and the wendigo smiled.

There goes my head start,” Will thought to himself grimly as he turned and fled.

 

 

Mabel sat, head in her hand, swinging her legs and humming a tune that she was making up on the spot. Today had been absolutely dead at the shack. Not a single person had walked in the door, which was unusual for this late in the season. And, she was running out of things to entertain herself with.

You could only land so many rings on the Jacked-alope’s horns before your ring-toss skill made it boring.

The bell over the door rung, and she perked up as Soos rolled in. “Heya Soos!”

“Aw hey, Hambone.” Soos dropped his toolbox over in the closet, sludging over to where she was sitting. “It’s crazy empty out there. I think the change in the weather scared all the tourists off.”

“Change in the weather?” Mabel glanced out the window. Gray clouds were beginning to gather in the sky, and the windows were starting to fog over slightly in the cold. She gasped. “Oh man, do you think we’re gonna get snow tonight?!” She jumped up. “That would be awesome! I can’t wait to have a snowball fight, and, and make snowmen, and do all that other snow stuff!”

“Well, the weatherman didn’t predict it this morning… but, he also said it was gonna be sunny and clear all day, so, maybe!”

“Yes!” She pumped one fist in the air. “Snowday for Mabel!”

“I wonder if Mr. Pines’ll want me to salt the parking lot…” the handyman mused to himself. “We probably won’t get a lot of customers…”

“You can ask him when he gets back. And in the meantime, you can hang out with me!” She patted her hands on the counter excitedly. “It’s been so boring in here, Soos, you have no idea.”

“Ha! Like there’s ever a boring day in Gravity Falls!” he chuckled. “But, where’s Stan? Wasn’t he going to run tours today?”

“Meh, he was going to, but he said he had some” she added air quotes, “’sudden business,’ to attend to.” She shot the door a petulant glare. “And it didn’t pop up until after the boys left, so I’ve had to take one for the team.”

“Sorry to hear that, Mabes.” Soos very carefully patted her on the head. “Wanna see how many displays we can add glitter to before Mr. Pines gets home?

Mabel grinned. “Would I ever!”

 

 

 

Will couldn’t remember a time he’d run faster. His lungs were aching with fatigue, he could feel his chest hammering out of his ribcage, knew his eye patch was slipping and his hair, slick with sweat, was sticking to his forehead just over his remaining good eye, threatening his vision… But he didn’t dare to slow down. He could hear the sounds of hooves echoing through the woods behind him, felt the supernatural chill that seemed to radiate from the wendigo, affecting even the weather, the skies darkening into a murderous gray above him.

He was going to die.

He was out of shape, with so much time spent riding on Dipper’s back instead of walking. Dipper knew these woods, knew any path he would take, and, though he might have the disadvantage of his lack of easy bipedal coordination, that advantage would only carry Will so far.

Dipper was gaining, and Will was failing. And they both knew it.

“Hey!” The voice made Will nearly trip in shock, stumbling a little before he gained his footing. Dipper had no such issue, and gained a few inches on him. He’d have cursed, if he could, but he didn’t have any breath left.

“Hey, down here!”

He glanced down, and almost did a double take at the gnome, bolting on all fours alongside him, keeping an easy pace. He didn’t think it was one he recognized, but then again, they all looked pretty similar to him.

“Looks like you’re in a bind, huh?” He couldn’t answer, of course, but he does shoot the tiny man a dirty look, because, clearly, his current situation is far from ideal. What with death looming large on the horizon and whatnot. “I happened to be passing through and noticed your predicament,” the gnome continued in a conversational manner. Will almost missed ducking a branch, and avoids it just in time. He hears a snarl behind him as Dipper’s antlers become tangled for just a moment, and he decides to make a point of aiming for low cover. “Want me to go see if any of the rest of your crew are available to help?”

It takes him a long ten seconds to realize that the gnome running with him is waiting for an answer, and another long ten seconds to store up the breath it takes to gasp out a desperate “Yes!” between his already failing pants.

“Gotcha. Well, good luck!” the gnome calls out, bearing off the path.

Will had to wonder if he hallucinated the encounter - it’s starting to get so cold, and he’s so tired and dizzy already…

He stumbled again, and this time, it took him longer to recover. He had just gotten his footing underneath him again when the claws hit, low on the leg across the back of his thigh. Will screamed, lurching forward and loosing his footing again for just a moment, and he could feel Dipper’s breath behind him-

So he did what anyone should have done in that situation. He turned around and socked Dipper in the nose.

The wendigo howled, rocking back, and Will is hobbling away now, as best as he can with his injury…

It’s cold, and something wet is dripping down his leg.

It’s cold, and there are sounds behind him.

It’s cold, and he knows he’s going to die.

He knew he wouldn’t get far, but it still came as a shock when Dipper caught him, knocking him to the ground and forcing him on his back. A hiss of air he didn’t know he still had escaped him, drawn out by the burning pain radiating from his leg.

That was probably a lot of blood.

Dipper looked down at him, and Will decided he’s never seen anything more beautiful… or more terrifying. Black and gray hair, skin pale against the gray sky, two icy eyes fixed on him like he’s the only thing in the world…

The clawed hand pressed down on his chest. He couldn’t breathe. He knew he should be fighting back, but wasn’t sure what more he could do. The hand was so cold, and as it pushed harder against his chest, he could feel himself shiver.

Dipper bared his teeth and drew back.

to the right…!

Will summoned whatever control he still had of his body, and threw himself to the right, dislodging the claws on his chest. Dipper half lunged, half fell forward, missing his mark, Will’s vulnerable neck…

Will felt the jaw clamp around his shoulder and tear.

He was hardly aware of his screaming now, only conscious of the burning cold in his lungs, the fire in his shoulder, and he writhed weakly. Dipper pulled back above him, eyes blazing with hunger as he swallowed the unintentional morsel.

“Shhh, shhh Will,” he hushed, though the hunter couldn’t hear him over his own screams. “Don’t struggle - it’ll all be over soon.”

He leaned in, salivating, towards Will’s neck.

And then, something huge and gray slammed into him, and Will found himself staring up at the canopy of trees in a pool of his own blood.

And then nothing.

Chapter Text

Will didn ’t know what was happening.

This was starting to become a regular thing, he realized, and giggled, because that ’s what it felt like he ought to do. The sound he made hardly sounded like a giggle at all.

Somebody giggled back.

He blinked once, then opened his eyes and immediately wished he hadn’t. If the view of the sheer drop below him wasn’t enough to make him hurl, the crazy speed at which he was flying through the air and the dizzy lightness in his head was.

Someone had him, cradled to their chest, warm and soft - and he could hear wing-beats, steady above him, flapping a rapid tempo. He tried to move, but the arms holding him tightened warningly.

“Don’t,” a hoarse, matter-of-fact voice told him. “You’ve already lost a lot of blood. You’ll just make it worse.”

Will weakly craned his neck to look up at his rescuer, trying to remember what had happened last. All he could see was the brown leathery coat he was held against. “D-Dipper…” he croaked.

“Dipper… will be okay,” the voice promised, sounding less than sure of itself. “Stanley is handling it.”

Will wished he could ask more, but a familiar darkness was creeping in at the edge of his vision, and he was out like a light again.

“Haha, wow, we’ve really done a number on ourselves, huh?!”

Will blinked, staring up at the golden-green canopy above him. This was… different.

“You bet your ass it’s different! Not every day we have a near death experience!” The light shifted, the gold creeping closer overhead. “Then again, we hadn’t had any before we were UNCEREMONIOUSLY TOSSED INTO THIS FEEBLE FLESHY CELL!”

“Uh-huh.” Will rolled over, carefully pushing himself to his feet. Even hear, in dream, his arm and leg stung where they had been injured. Small favors, though - his usual headache was gone. “So, this is the part where you speak in loud angry code, normally.”

The faceless cervitaur stood before him, unblinking. He frowned. “What, no quick response?”

“HEY! My eye is up here!” The golden triangle between the antlers blinked suddenly, a white expanse with a black pupil rolling into existence. It eyed him, gleeful. “Or rather, OUR eye is up here!” He blinked. “Or, actually, one of our eyes is here. I guess you have the other one.” It turned up again. “Hey, between the two of us, we’ve got a regular fleshbag!” It laughed again, and William recognized it as the giggle from before.

“What are you?” The triangle stopped cackling, and an eerie silence fell over the dream clearing. Its pupil elongated, and Will could feel a sense of unease settle over the clearing. The cervitaur pawed at the ground with one hoof.

Will, oddly enough, felt reassured.

“Well, technically, you already know the answer. But, given the circumstances, we’re not in a position to be cagey with one another.” The eye bent upwards again. “I’m YOU!”

Will narrowed his eye. “How?”

“Good! We’re not even questioning the WHY or the WHO or the WHEN, because we already know. No, we’re gonna question the HOW of the situation. WHICH WE ALSO ALREADY KNOW!!”

Will winced at the screech, glowering at the shape. “What happened to not being cagey? I liked the sound of that.”

“Of course you do. You’re used to knowing everything, and playing games with lives like chess pieces, and generally not having uncertainty in your life. Ooh! Did you know, Pine Tree is scared to death of uncertainty?!

“Pine Tr- Dipper. You mean Dipper.”

“Hahahaha-No. You mean Pine Tree.

There was something hanging at the edge of his thoughts, just out of grasp… and he knew he had to figure out what it was. “You keep saying “we”,” he started. The eye stayed fixed on him. “And… you say I’m supposed to know these things already, right?”

The triangle rolled its eye. “Geeze, could we be any slower on the uptake? I mean, I know we’re working with that GREASY PAIR OF FATTY LOBES in your cranium, but MAN.”

Will rolled his eye right back, ignoring the insult and following his train of thought instead. “If I’m supposed to know this stuff already… you called Dipper “Pine Tree,” and I knew who you were talking about, with no other clues…

Something occurred to him, and a trickle of information became a flood, and he stared at the triangle with awe and realization.

“I’m you…”

The eye widened.

“And you’re…”

It upturned, jovial.

“I can see you’ve got it.” It ‘winked’ at him. “The name is Bill Cipher, William. And BOY! Do we have a lot to catch up on!”

Three hours later, Will blinked his eye open again. The ceiling of the shack filled his vision… the living room, he figured, realizing he was on the couch. He could feel the remnants of sleep slip from his mind, along with the vague memories of some sort of dream…

And then two wonderful, familiar faces popped into his view. Granted, both the mermaid and the slime man were dripping somewhat, but it was so good to see a friendly face after the day he had.

And he didn’t even ache as much as he thought he would.

“Hey, guys,” he tried to say, but it came out as a dry croak, and he coughed instead.

“Thank god, you’re actually awake!” Mabel leaned back a little. “Will, I’m so sorry, they brought you and Dipper in and you had already lost so much blood, and… and I did what I could, but…”

“Mabel, keep it cool,” Soos said gently, putting a sludgy hand on her shoulder to steady her. She nodded, but Will could see tears in her eyes. He tried to push himself up, and immediately, wet hands pushed him back down.

“Will, no!” He grunted in protest, but Mabel was insistent and, more importantly, stronger than him. “Right now, your body is recovering. It took a lot of magic to get you to this point, don’t make it worse again!”

“She’s right, dude,” Soos chimed in. “You lost like, a lot of blood. I’m talking like a record amount of blood.”

Will frowned. He knew he had been badly injured, and he remembered quite a bit of blood outside of his body, where it was not supposed to be… but he didn’t feel all that injured. He felt achy all over, and his shoulder and leg still stung, but it was mild in comparison to earlier. He tried to speak again - “Whhhh… whhhh-at h-happ-?”

“Will, don’t talk,” Mabel shushed him. “You were badly injured… do you remember?” She bit her lip. “Ford brought you in, and Stan brought Dipper…”

‘Who the hell is Ford?’ Will wanted to ask, but only managed another weak cough.

“Will, really, no talking. You were in real bad shape - I had to use a lot of magic, and… well, the results weren’t…” she looked down. “Weren’t perfect…”

He stared at her, confused, but she wouldn’t meet his eye. He turned to Soos instead.

“Well, thing is, most magic is for like, healing individual wounds, right?” The slime-man rubbed the back of his head. “But, you’d already lost a lot of blood, so even if the wound healed, you’d still be dying of like, I dunno, shock or blood loss or something? So, Mabel had to fix that first.”

“You two are never investigating something like this on your own again!” Mabel hissed suddenly, with ferocious intensity, before tears welled up in her eyes again. “I’m… I’m so glad you’re alive!”

So was he, even if he couldn’t manage to get a word out. He opened his mouth to try again anyways, but froze under Mabel’s stern, watery glare. Instead, he just mouthed “Dipper?”

She stiffened, and looked away. A sense of dread began to weigh in his gut, thinking back on the incident. Dipper had been about to kill him, and something had tackled him, and stopped him…

And Stan had brought Dipper in. And Will didn’t know exactly where he ranked on Stan’s Protect-o-meter, but he suspected it was high enough up to fight off his newly-wendigo’d nephew.

“He’s… okay…” she finally said slowly, drawing his attention back. “Stan… well, Grunkle Stan really did a number on him, but, whatever he is now, he seems to heal pretty fast, and it was more important to keep him from killing you.” She met his eye. “He’s tied up right now, in another room. Ford’s been trying to figure out how to change him back.”

“Without much luck, I’m afraid.” Will recognized the voice immediately - it was the same as the person who had flown him away from the fight. He turned his head, watching as a man walked in. He was the spitting image of Stan, if Stan wasn’t made of stone, didn’t have wings or claws, and was apparently entirely human.

‘Ah, right. Ford is Stan’s brother.’ He recalled Dipper mentioning him a few times before, but had never really thought about it. But… He squinted at the man. If he was really Stan’s brother, he would have been there when the Fluventis flooded, and become something non-human too. Which begged the question, why did he look human?

He squinted harder as he thought, and then his eyes widened as Ford’s shape shimmered, like heat waves through the air over desert sands. When it stopped, Ford still stood there… only now, with furry paws crossed over his chest, and a flicking lion’s tail and ears, and an enormous pair of tawny wings folded tightly over his back.

“Whoa,” he managed, temporarily forgetting Mabel’s ‘no talk’ rule. Ford nodded, seeming impressed.

“I see my glamor doesn’t fool you - I guess that’s a result of you living here so long.” He talked in a brisk manner, walking over to stand beside Mabel. “You were very lucky today. Stan and I were just flying over when Stan felt your distress.”

Will wasn’t sure what to make of that - sure, it was true that he was alive when he probably shouldn’t have survived… but, his boyfriend had also tried to eat him, and that felt distinctly unlucky. Not to mention, once Dipper changed back, they’d be back to square one on his research. He couldn’t imagine the cervitaur would be happy about that.

“Mabel, it’s just one question!” Will startled a bit, realizing that while he’d been thinking, the other three had been talking.

“One question or not, he’s not in any condition to answer!”

“What he knows could help us change Dipper back! Do you want him to stay a wendigo?”

Mabel bared her teeth. “You know I don’t, don’t even ask-!”

“Doods, he could probably answer yes or no,” Soos intervened, breaking up their argument. “That wouldn’t be too taxing, right Mabel?” The mermaid looked irritated, but nodded. “And you’d get the information you need, right Mr. Stanford?”

“Just Ford, Soos, I keep telling you.” Ford frowned and adjusted his glasses. “But yes, that would work.”

“Okay. Good.” Soos turned back to Will, who was slowly trying to sit up without Mabel noticing, which was now impossible, as every eye in the room was on him. “Will, think you can manage some quick yes-no questions?”

He wished he could convey to them that it was really only his voice that didn’t work… but as he sat up and nodded, a short wave of vertigo hit him. It passed quickly, but not before Mabel noticed.

“Soos, could you…?” She gestured towards some pillows on the chair. Soos stretched out one arm to retrieve them, and Mabel slipped them behind the human, giving him something to prop himself up on. He smiled gratefully at her.

“So, William, right?” He turned his attention back to the sphinx (he figured Ford was a sphinx. I mean, what else had lion features and wings?). He nodded at the query. “You and Dipper went out to look at a spring, right?” Another nod. “What happened?”

“Ford, that’s not a yes or no question!”

“Sorry, sorry…” Ford muttered. Will raised an eyebrow. “How about this - you saw Dipper getting turned into something else, right? Something other than a cervitaur?”

Will nodded.

“Do you know why, or how?”

He hesitated, but responded with another nod.

“Okay…” He’d made the mistake of asking two questions in one, and Will felt an unusual sense of smugness and familiarity as Ford struggled a moment for his next question. “So… do you know if it’s permanent?”

Will nodded.

“…wait, is that a ‘yes, it’s permanent,’ or a ‘yes, I know’?”

Will rolled his eye, and held up two fingers. A twinge went through his arm, and he winced.

“Use your other hand, Will,” Mabel said helpfully.

“So, is it permanent?” Ford pressed on, ignoring his discomfort or Mabel’s comment.

Will shook his head. The three monsters heaved a simultaneous sigh of relief.

“Oh, thank goodness for that,” Ford muttered under his breath.

“Will it wear off?” Mabel asked, perking up a little. Will nodded, and she finally smiled again, for the first time since he’d woken up.

“Any idea when?” Will shook his head again, and the sphinx sighed. “Well, looks like we’ll be waiting it out, then.” He turned to leave.

“Www-wait!” Will managed to cough out the word, and the other three looked at him with varying mixtures of curiosity and concern. “H-he’ll be… okay…?”

Ford’s response was a wince. “Stan’s keeping an eye on him right now. Thing is, Wendigos are pretty much immortal, once they’ve eaten human flesh, but they’re also cursed to stay in that form permanently. But, most legends specify that they have to kill their prey as well in order for that to happen. Since Dipper didn’t kill you, there’s a chance that… well, that he won’t be stuck as a wendigo, regardless of what magic made him that way in the first place.” He turned away again. “We’ll just have to see,” he finished, before disappearing into the hallway.

It was a tense night. Mabel and Soos stuck with Will the whole time, getting him back on his feet. Mabel outlined the process she’d taken to heal him, starting with sealing the wound as quickly as possible, which had lead to what she considered her personal failure.

“I had to get it sealed as quickly as possible,” she explained, wringing her hands together as he inspected the frankly incredible scar tissue on his shoulder, dipping in quite a lot from the rest of the area. “If I’d had time, or if you hadn’t lost so much blood already, I might have been able to restore more of the muscle and tissue there, but…”

“But you had other things to do, like keeping me from going into shock,” Will finished for her, flexing his arm and wincing. It would be a long time before he could use that arm again properly, if ever. “I understand, Mabel. It’s okay.”

She nodded, but didn’t look convinced. “I just wish I could’ve…”

“Mabel!” He patted her on the shoulder, reaching with his good arm. “I was gonna die! You kept me from dying!” He grinned at her. “I’m way too grateful over that to be bothered by a little something like this,” he gestured to his shoulder. “After all, what’s life without some scrapes, right?”

“This was more than just a scrape, Will,” she sniffled, and he winced. “You were really hurt…”

“Well, I’ll take more care in the future to- oh.” He cut himself off as Stan appeared in the doorway, expression grim.

“Good news, kids.” The three perked up. “Dipper changed back, a few minutes ago.”

“That’s great!” Soos and Mabel echoed the hunter’s sentiments. “Can we see him now?”

“Ah, that’s the bad news…” Grunkle Stan ran a clawed hand over his face. “See, he’s… uh, not feeling too good, what with being an herbivore, and eating a chunk of raw meat like that…” He glanced over, down the hallway, making a face. “It’s uh… probably best if we let him get it out of his system, first.”

Chapter Text

Two weeks later

 

Dipper was avoiding everyone, and Will didn’t know what to do. The Shack had closed after their venture into the forest - Stan had said something about it being the end of tourist season anyways, and wanting to catch up with Ford and get ready for the holidays. Dipper had fallen into a bleak sort of pattern. He did his chores, and disappeared up into his room. Will had tried to go up and talk to him there, but the door was locked, and there was never an answer when he knocked.

Will knew why he was avoiding him. He knew Dipper well enough to know the cervitaur was suffering a guilt trip thousands of miles long, and he wished he could help convince him that it wasn’t necessary. He was still here, still alive, and honestly, he still wouldn’t trade his time in Gravity Falls for anything.

After the first day, he decided that the cervitaur needed some time alone.

After the first week, he didn’t know if they were still even dating. Pacifica and Mabel tried to help him, but it didn’t have much of an effect. Mabel’s quiet conversations with Dipper always ended with him trudging back upstairs, and Pacifica’s more aggressive methods just ended with him escaping to the woods.

And Will quickly learned that if Dipper didn’t want to be found, you wouldn’t find him.

He even enlisted Grunkle Stan to intervene on his behalf, with mixed results. The gargoyle had called Dipper into his office to talk to him, and on his way back out, Dipper had stopped in the kitchen, where Will was taking his break, and for a split second, Will thought Dipper might actually say something to him.

But when their gazes met, the cervitaur had quickly turned away, and hightailed it up the stairs.

Around them, the season was changing, and rapidly. Dipper’s transformation had brought a small, localized snowstorm to the Shack, but as November faded into December, the weather only got worse. At one point, Ford mentioned offhand that he theorized the continued bad weather might have been caused by a chain reaction, starting at the storm caused by Dipper’s wendigo form.

Will theorized in return that Ford just liked hearing himself talk. But, he kept that to himself.

Back when Dipper had first told him about the second Grunkle, he’d been excited to meet the guy, but now that he was actually here, as time went on he found himself less and less enthused about getting to know him. There was nothing big, either, just… lots of little things that added up. Like, for instance, blaming weather patterns on his nephew, when he clearly already had enough on his plate as it was. Or grilling his nephew’s boyfriend for information on their research. Or not getting the hint from the hunter that maybe, maybe, since Dipper was the one doing most of the actual research, they should wait for him to feel better, or Ford should just ask Dipper himself.

He didn’t dislike him, though. Just, didn’t really care for him. After awhile, he got the sense that the feeling was mutual, though that may or may not have been as a result of calling him “sixer” one too many times. And he thought Dipper was touchy about nicknames.

The thing that bugged him the most about Ford, however, was the way he seemed to watch the hunter. Will could never actually catch him in the act, but whenever the sphinx was in the room, he could feel feline eyes, watching him. It annoyed him to no end. He’d been living in Gravity Falls for nearly half a year, by this point - and yet, he was still being treated with suspicion! He voiced his concerns to the remaining Pines. Grunkle Stan told him not to worry about it, that was just how Ford was these days, and Mabel simply frowned and shook her head sadly.

And, on top of all this, his sleep had been… more than restless, as of late. Sure, he wasn’t waking up every night from dreams of turbulent waters, which was a plus. He was worried the first few nights of being avoided that they would come back with a vengeance, now that his own personal cervitaur-shaped nightmare deflector was gone. But they hadn’t. The downside of that was…

Well, he wasn’t sure if he could really call it a downside. He went to bed, he slept, he woke up, and that would be fine, if it weren’t for the niggling feeling in the back of his mind, that told him he was missing something. Each morning he remembered bits and pieces, but they evaporated quickly in the light of day, and never added up to much.

Between that, Dipper ignoring him, Stanford watching him like a hawk, and the other Pines busy with their own things (Mabel was preparing for some sort of party with Pacifica, and Stan was working on attractions), Will was pretty finished with the whole situation. So, when late December rolled around, he felt he needed the break.

Fortunately, he had a yearly tradition that would give him a little time away from the Pines.

 

 

“You’re doing what?” Mabel asked, her face a mask of incredulity. She was sitting in the kitchen, working on some sort of paper project, and wearing one of the biggest sweaters he’d ever seen… which was pretty impressive, given that during her time as a human, she’d started making them like the world was ending. This one had a rather nice design… and then he remembered she was talking to him.

“A hunting trip,” he repeated, shouldering his bag on his good arm. “It’s something I do every year, right before Christmas. I figured -”

“Will, it’s like ten degrees outside.”

“So?”

She stared blankly at him, then out the window, where the snow was piling up, then back at him. He shrugged.

“It’s not that bad.”

“Will, it’s bad. And we both know it - I know Ford’s been talking to you about -”

“Ugh, don’t talk to me about Ford,” he said with more annoyance than he meant. “He keeps bugging me about Dipper’s research, and I’m tired of it.”

“Okay, but he’s been talking about the weather, and -”

“I’ll be fine. I’ve gone out in worse. Like I said, its kind of a tradition for me.”

She didn’t look reassured. “Well, are you at least going with anybody? Blubs and Durland, maybe?”

“Nope. Just me.”

Mabel sighed, head clunking against the kitchen table. “Could you at least pretend you’ve given this any thought?” she grumbled.

“Well, I’m telling you that I’m going, so clearly, I did!”

She grumbled more, then lifted her face again. “Will, what about your arm? Is it really healed enough to-”

“Yes, it is. And you know that, because you fixed it. And did a wonderful job fixing it.” She flinched a little, and he tapped the tabletop with his left hand. “No, no feeling bad about good things, Scales. See?” He drummed his fingers over the flat surface, flexed his arm, then lifted it, before finally rolling his shoulder with only the smallest of winces. “All good!”

She still didn’t look convinced. “Look, Will, even if your arm is fine, and this is some big tradition for you, you can’t just leave.”

He crossed his arms. “Why not?”

“Well…” She gestured up the stairs. “You and Dipper still haven’t made up yet! I’ve never seen him like this, we have to do something to snap him out of it.”

Will sagged. “Mabel, I’ve tried everything I can think of. I’ve tried talking to him, I’ve tried giving him his space, I’ve thrown snowballs at his window, I’ve slid notes under his door… he just doesn’t want to talk to me. And I don’t know what he tells you, but… well, if you haven’t been able to do anything, I’m not sure there’s much the rest of us can do for him.”

She frowned at him, biting her lip, then sighed and nodded, downcast. “Alright, alright… how long are you gonna be gone?”

He snorted. “Probably a day or two… three at the most, if I go straight home instead of coming back here.”

She snorted back. “I mean, you’ve practically been living here anyways,” she said, a teasing note falling flat in her voice. She glanced back at the stairs again. “Could- could you just try? One more time, before you go?”

He followed her gaze to the steps, faltering as he weighed his options. He knew there wasn’t anything more he could do, he had already tried so many things… but, his resolve faltered when he turned back and met Mabel’s pleading stare.

He sighed. “Okay. I’ll give it one more shot before I leave.” He carefully dropped his bag next to the table, leaning it against the chair. “I don’t think it’ll really help, at this point, but…” He poked Mabel’s shoulder, trying to get some of her playful attitude back. “You’re lucky I can’t say no to you, Shooting Star.” And as he headed out of the kitchen, he called back, “Nice sweater, by the way!”

He didn’t notice her staring after him, before glancing down at her pink sweater, with a rainbow shooting star emblazoned in knitting across the front.

 

 

“Hey, Dipper?”

Dipper flinched from his reverie at the loud knock at the door, followed by a painfully familiar voice. He doesn’t say anything, just takes a deep breath and tries to go back to what he’s doing.

Unfortunately for him, Will has other plans.

“Dipper, I know you’re in there.” Dipper flattened his ears against the side of his head, trying to deaden the sound. He wanted to go talk to Will, he really, really did… but, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Ever since that night, every time he’s looked at the hunter, all he’s seen is that face

Another knock thankfully pulled him out of that memory. “Look, I know… you probably don’t want to talk to me.” That’s not true, but Dipper can’t say that, and just bites his lip instead. “But, I just wanted you to know… everything’s okay, alright?” There’s a pause from the other side of the door, and for a second, Dipper thought he might be finished. “I’m alright, you’re alright… well, aside from those, uh… stomach… you know what, never mind that!” Dipper grimaced at the reminder. The taste of flesh had been alluring, when he was a wendigo.

Coming back up from a deer stomach was far less pleasant.

“So… you haven’t talked to me in like, two weeks now…” Had it really been that long? Dipper hadn’t been keeping track of the days… he’d kind of just kept himself cooped up when he could, throwing himself into whatever book he could distract himself with that day, and the few times he had actually been outside, well…

He was quite adept at hiding, these days. Being able to control the foliage to cover your tracks really helped, even in the snow.

But if it had really been two weeks… Dipper felt another twist in his gut. Christmas was coming up… Yule, too, which most of the locals in the woods celebrated. He wondered if Mabel was going to go out to some party with the Coven. She might have told him, at some point… if she hadn’t been trying to convince him to just talk to Will.

“And, I think I can understand part of why. Look, if you’re mad at yourself… we’re good, I swear. And if you let me in, maybe I can convince you too?” There was a hopeful silence at the end of that, and Dipper turned towards the door, considering it, ears lifting… then drooping as the moment passed, and Will sighed on the other side of the door. “If you’re mad at me, though… I mean, I’m no mind reader, ten-point, you gotta give me something here.” There was another, deeper sigh, then a thump that Dipper quickly identified as Will leaning against the door. “Look, I’m… going out for a trip. I’ll be back in a day or so, and didn’t want to up and leave without you knowing. I guess… I’ll see you when I get back?” Dipper bit his lip, and didn’t answer. One last sigh. “Alright. See you around, buck-o.”

Dipper waited for the hunter’s footsteps to fade, before settling himself back on the floor. He looked around, taking it in.

He was pretty sure none of the others in the shack would recognize it anymore, covered in greenery and moss as it was. It had started accidentally - he guessed that, now he knew he had it, it just sort of… reacted to his emotions, but the longer he stayed here, the more the plants in the room had grown. It was nearly completely covered, save for one or two stray spots, high up on the ceiling, where the light wouldn’t shine. He’d thought about sharing that information with Ford - he knew Will hadn’t, and felt… kind of proud of the hunter, for being able to hold out on his Grunkle.

He knew he had to talk to them, sooner or later. After all, Grunkle Ford was working just as hard to fix everyone as he was. And he couldn’t stay up here, wallowing forever.

He sat for a few minutes more, before his ears pricked. He looked back at the door, brow furrowing as more footsteps approached, not quite familiar.

…Mabel…?

He expected a knock on the door, an attempt at conversation… but there was only a light shuffling sound, a gentle tap, and receding steps. He waited longer, to see if anything else would happen… but when nothing did, his curiosity started to rise. Slowly, he rose to his feet and walked to the door. Timid, he opened the door and peeked his head out, thankful once again that his antlers had shed a few days ago. He felt another little twinge in his gut.

I bet Will would have loved to see that

He shook the thought out of his head, then stopped as something on the ground caught his eye. He stooped to pick it up, and brought it into his room, shutting the door behind him.

It was a card, clearly handmade by Mabel, if the craftsmanship and sheer volume of glitter had anything to say about it. The image on the front was of the two of them, cervitaur and mermaid, in stylized paper, holding hands. A smile cracked over his lips, and he opened the card. A pop-out heart bounced out from between the folds, clearly enchanted as it sparkled and hummed a quiet, pleasant tune. The heart was decorated with paper-versions of them again, surrounded by the rest of the Shack’s crew - Ford, Soos, Stan, even Wendy… and, of course, a little paper Will holding his other hand, smiling.

Underneath, in cursive glitter glue, read “Don’t feel blue - we’re here for you!”

And under that, in pen - “I know you’re down, bro-bro, but we’ve got your back. Hope you feel better soon!”

His smile widened, just a little, and he cleared a space on his desk so he could prop the card there, before going back to his “studying”.

And he promised himself that, tomorrow, he would face down his fears.

Chapter Text

Dipper kept his promise, and the next day, he cautiously ventured from his room to the kitchen. Mabel was there, but she looked practically comatose in her tank, curled in a small floating lump at the bottom, snuggled with a waterproof pillow. Stan was there too, going over some paperwork. He glanced up when the cervitaur walked in.

“Well, it’s about time we saw you outside the deer cave!” he said, going back to his paperwork. “You’re gonna want something warmer than that, though. The temperature plummeted last night. Mabel’s amulet ran out of juice yesterday and hasn’t had a chance to recharge, and at this point I think she’s pretty much hibernating.” His pen stopped, and he looked up again. “Your antlers are gone, when did that happen?”

Dipper shrugged. “A couple of days ago.”

“Nice. You still have ‘em?”

“Yeah, I kept them upstairs. Figured you’d still want them. Still haven’t figured out why.”

“Eh, you’ll see.” Grunkle Stan winked. “Those two might be the last ones I need!”

Dipper chose to ignore that. Stan had been collecting his antlers for as long as he’d been growing them, and although Dipper’s curiosity had killed him at first, as time went on and other mysteries arose to be solved, he had finally resigned himself to seeing his antlers appear on some Mystery Shack attraction one day.

The question was, when?

Instead, he walked over to Mabel’s tank, peering at his sleeping sister. “Man, she’s really out of it.”

“Yep. She woke up when I came downstairs a while ago, but not long.” Stan looked up from his work again. Dipper could feel those glowing eyes on him as he fixed himself breakfast. “How are you doing, by the way?”

“Me?” Dipper popped some toast in the rusty old toaster. “I’m fine.”

“Uh-huh.”

Dipper wasn’t sure what that tone meant. Stan didn’t sound convinced, but he didn’t know what the gargoyle would be most annoyed with him for - hunting Will, being a wendigo, putting Stan in a situation where he had to fight his nephew to save someone’s life… Honestly, he wished he could just avoid saying anything.

He took a deep breath instead. He told himself he would face this situation, for Mabel. And he would.

“I’m uh… sorry about the whole wendigo thing,” he said a little too quickly, still not looking away from the toaster. “I…” He struggled with his words, trying to verbalize what he meant. He was sorry that he’d messed up, that he’d dragged Stan into it, that he’d disappointed everyone and hurt Will…

He jumped when a heavy hand clapped his shoulder. He hadn’t heard the gargoyle move. “Kid. It’s okay. We all came out of it alive and well, so no harm done, right?” The stone claws squeezed comfortingly. “But, if you wanna talk about it… Well, honestly I’m not the best listener, you know that.” Stan chuckled a little, and Dipper cracked a small smile. Stan’s brand of “listening and advice” usually came with a certain level of swindling, and while entertaining, seldom worked. “Still though, I’m all ears if you need it, okay kid?”

Dipper gave his Grunkle a small smile. “Thanks, Stan, that means a lot. Actually, I-” He jumped as his toast popped up from the toaster, and Stan laughed again. “I did want to ask - how did you find us, that night? And, how did Ford get there so quickly, he wasn’t supposed to be back until, like, now, actually.”

Grunkle Stan scratched his backside with one claw. “Those actually have similar answers. Get your breakfast and sit down, and we’ll talk.”

Dipper nodded. “Where is Ford, by the way?” he asked carefully as he searched for something edible and non-experimental in the fridge to put on his toast (Ford sometimes “forgot” he wasn’t allowed to store specimens in the kitchen, much to everyone’s dismay).

Stan grunted, waving one claw. “Down in the basement. Haven’t seen him for two days.” He flopped back into his chair, and Dipper caught his mumble: “Guess it runs in the family.”

He pretended he didn’t hear that, and sat down a moment later with his toast. Stan settled back in his chair, carefully flexing his wings as he got comfortable. “So, I actually told Ford to come home early.”

Dipper chewed slowly, staring at him. “Um… why?”

“Because I figured he could! You’ve been doing really well ever since Will showed up. I thought maybe with him here, you two would have an easier time getting along.” He shrugged. “And, he’d actually finished his project early, too. Seemed to work out pretty well, to me.”

“Oh.” Had he really been doing that well? He thought back over the fall, that long, arduous season that was usually marked with violence and anger… and realized that, aside from his initial distrust of Will, Stan was right. He was a lot better off with Will.

All the more guilty to have tried to eat him, then.

“He didn’t get back to me right away - you know him, he never checks his phone unless it’s “dire”,” the gargoyle put in the air quotes with his fingers, “but when he did, he said he’d fly back that night. I left Mabel at the Shack for a bit so I could meet him on his way in, and on my way back, my gargoyle senses went off.”

“Your what now?”

Stan crossed his arms over his chest. “Look, I haven’t told you this before, but ever since we changed, I’ve had this sixth sense for when you kids are in trouble, and where you are.” He shrugged. “It’s come in handy over the years - heck knows, you guys get into way more than your fair share of trouble!

Dipper’s ears flattened in embarrassment. “Seriously? Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Kid, you were a teenager. Did you really want to know that your Grunkle Stan had a sixth sense telling him your general location?” He shook his head. “I mean, it’s not hard to figure out what you’re doing, in some places.” Dipper started to go red as he thought about it. “Mostly I ignore it. And I’ve gotten better at it over the years. But, if I sense one of you is in trouble, I’ll come running.”

Dipper resisted the urge to faceplant into his toast and never look his Grunkle in the eye again. It made so much sense, now that he thought about it - whenever something had gone wrong, Grunkle Stan was always the first one on the scene. Sneaking one under his nose was never easy - their scrape with Wendy that Halloween had probably been a close call, if what he was saying was true.

“I mean, obviously I try not to do it every time,” Stan continued. “After all, if I helped you outta every scrape you got into, what would you learn, right?” He chuckled, a little awkwardly, and scratched his chin. “But, yeah, if I sense serious business, I’m there.”

“So, you sensed I was in trouble?”

Grunkle Stan shook his head. “Nah. Well, yes, but… not as much trouble as Will was in.”

Dipper’s ears lifted, interest piqued. “You can sense Will, too?”

“Not at first,” Stan admitted. “It’s usually just the family… and that includes Soos and Wendy, too. But after he’d been here for awhile, I started picking up on him, too. Figured it meant he was really part of the family, now.” He shrugged again. “I don’t look too much into that kinda stuff. That’s you and Sixer’s field, not mine.”

“So, you knew you were gonna find trouble when you found us.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure what we were gonna find. I was getting such a strong sense off of Will, and practically nothing from you, which was weird. But yeah, Ford and I were prepared to deal with trouble.” He sighed. “We didn’t expect what we found. I tackled you when I saw what you were about to do… figured I’d apologize later. Ford has more knowledge with magic and stuff, so I told him to get Will back home alive… Well, you know the rest of what went down between us.” He shifted in his chair, tail scraping across the floorboards, and frowned. “Sorry I took you down like that, but -”

“No, no, I get it.” Dipper rubbed his temple with one hand, sighing. “I get it…

There was a breadth of awkward silence between them, broken briefly when Mabel mumbled something in her sleep, causing a cloud of bubbles to rupture the surface of the still water.

“Thanks for… stopping me,” Dipper finally said. “And, for not hitting me too hard.” He tried to crack a smile. “You throw a pretty mean left hook, after all… not to mention the claws, and, uh…” He tried not to think about how Stan and Wendy must have had a conversation like this, year ago. Had Stan been as nice to her as he was being to him? “Like um, with Wendy… ugh…” He sunk his face into his hands, rubbing his forehead. “Sorry, that’s not what-”

“I’ve always wished you hadn’t had to see that.”

Dipper paused. He peered through his fingers at his Grunkle, but Stan wouldn’t look back at him. “Huh?”

“I wish you hadn’t had to see that,” Stan said again, looking down at the floor, one claw fisted anxiously on the table. “I know I did the right thing, protecting you, but… I went a little overboard. You should never have had to see that.” He stood suddenly. “You want something to drink? I’m making some coffee.”

“Huh? Oh, uh… no thanks.”

Stan grunted, heading to the cabinets. “I told her that, too,” he said, pulling out the ground coffee. “She felt pretty bad about the whole thing as well, so… that kind of made it easier.” He looked up, then glanced over his shoulder at his nephew. “You know, you should really talk to her about this, too. Maybe she’s got some advice for you for talking to Will?”

Dipper nodded, gaze dropping to his half-finished breakfast. He’d kind of lost his appetite earlier, and it had fled completely when Grunkle Stan mentioned talking to Will, making his stomach twist itself in knots.

“Maybe I’ll give her a call today… Will won’t be back until tonight or tomorrow anyways, right?”

“Huh? Why’s that?”

“He said he was going on some sort of hunting trip today. Yesterday, he stopped by my room to tell me. I, uh…” he lowered his gaze again. “I wasn’t ready to talk to him.”

Stan snorted. “Well, I hope you’re ready soon. That kid is so lovesick over you, it’s sad.” Dipper sagged at that. Stan sighed. “Look, you can tell him when he gets back. Which will probably be soon.” He nodded towards the window, and Dipper looked out. His jaw dropped. There had been some snow outside before - it had been snowing on and off for a few days - but now, the world outside was completely whitewashed with the stuff. “It’s been going strong all morning, and there’s no sign of it stopping.”

“I hope Will’s not out in it…” Dipper walked over to the window for a better look, shivering as he got closer, the cold permeating even through the glass. “It’s nasty out there… maybe I should go look for him?”

Stan huffed. “Nah, he’s fine… don’t look at me like that, I’d know if he wasn’t!” He tapped his forehead. “Gargoyle senses, remember?” Dipper sighed, moving to sit back down. “He’ll be okay. Just give him some time to get back. Heck, maybe he went back to his place instead. You could try calling him.”

Dipper looked back towards the window, brow furrowed thoughtfully. “I think… I think I will a little later.” He looked back to Stan. “You’ll tell me if you sense he’s not alright, right?”

Stan grimaced, then sighed. “I know the second I did, you’d go running off into trouble to save him, but… sure. I’ll let you know.”

 

 

It was so fucking cold. God mother fucking damn it. Piss and hellfire, it was so god-damned cold.

And this was coming from someone who’d been nearly killed by a wendigo, who was apparently a harbinger of fatal winters. He’d done a little research in the past two weeks.

…unfortunately, none of that research had been on the weather. And it was really really really fucking cold out.

Will was starting to rethink this whole hunting tradition thing. It worked nicely where he used to live, the weather was milder there.

Then again, maybe this wasn’t a natural winter.

He shivered, adjusting his coat again, before slogging on. His tool of choice was slung over his shoulder, a bow and quiver, something more traditional for the season. He had never actually caught something on these hunts, not with his terrible aim with the bow, but they usually were a lot of fun regardless. Something about getting to the roots of hunting, trekking around the forest in the dead of winter, trying to blend in as part of the forest… it gave him a sort of peace, meditation that he rarely achieved anywhere else.

He certainly needed it, these days. He didn’t know how much longer he could hold out against Dipper’s silent treatment. Two weeks was pretty impressive on its own, but…

If Dipper never let up, or if Dipper broke it off with him… he honestly wasn’t sure what he’d do.

He kept walking, sighing in relief as the wind finally dialed it back a bit. It was still cold without the wind chill, but at least now, it was tolerable. He wandered through the trees, treading as softly as he could manage, and keeping an eye out for any wildlife. The only good thing about the amount of snow falling was the chunks of snow building in the trees. As they piled together into drifts and fell, they added ambient noise that the winter forest normally wouldn’t have, covering his own footfalls.

He felt a brief shiver run up his spine as he walked, maybe from the chill, maybe from the unique atmosphere of the gray and white world he moved through. It kind of reminded him of when he had gone to visit the Coven with Pacifica, nearly three months ago now. It had been so long…

A movement caught his eye ahead, halting his train of thought. Something had flit between the trees ahead of him… something sizable. It hadn’t moved low and steady, like a predator might, so he lowered his body somewhat, moving towards it.

As focused as he was, he didn’t notice the difference in the trees behind him, or the subtle shift of a warmer wind.

 

--

 

Stan was not happy that he’d insisted on going out, but hours had passed, and there was still no sign of Will. He hadn’t come back to the Shack, and he wasn’t picking up his phone. Dipper had been ready to charge out, right then and there, when Stan pointed out that he could be safely at home, and simply asleep.

So Dipper had gone out, jumping snowbanks and fallen trees, rushing to Will’s house.

He shivered under his sweater, scarf, and hat. Even with his magic, pushing a small warm wind with him, the weather was too cold for him to fully combat. He wished he had earmuffs, too - he could only shove so much of them under his hat, and the fuzzy tips peeked out from underneath, chilled through.

The only good thing was that deer legs were built for this kind of travel, and bouncing through the snow was no problem for the young buck. Even the heavier snowfalls were easily cleared in a bound, and getting to Will’s house took no time at all.

Which was when it became apparent that Will wasn’t at home.

Dipper pawed at the ground with one hoof, craning his neck to look in the windows. He couldn’t see any lights, and no one had answered when he’d knocked…

Carefully, he tried the door. It was unlocked. Dipper huffed at Will’s lack of security, before poking his head in. “Will?” he called, pulling his hat partially off so he could listen. “Will, are you home?”

Silence. Not even the sound of movement.

Will wasn’t home.

Which meant…

Dipper turned back to the forest, pulling his hat back on. “He’s still out,” he murmured to himself, starting off into the woods and picking up speed as he went. His magic buzzed blue around him, and he sent it out through the roots of the sleeping trees around him, building some sort of net to search with. “But where would he have gone…?”

As he ran, the warm gust of his magic went with him… but the temperature was dropping, and quickly.

He’d have to find Will.

And fast.

 

 

And with all his focus on that thought, he didn’t see the movement in the woods behind him…

Chapter Text

Dipper kept running, panting through his clenched teeth. His breath came in small gusts of vapor that disappeared quickly. His breath didn’t even feel warm to him anymore, he’d been running so hard searching for Will.

The temperature still seemed to be dropping, and he was searching his memory for how cold it had to be for someone to freeze to death. He knew it wasn’t that cold, and even combating it now with his magic, he could feel his own eyelids stick with frost. The snow made seeing anything impossible, anyways, so the only thing he had to go on was the network of magic he spread as he ran… and even that was becoming harder to rely on.

He was starting to get tired. He hadn’t thought that was possible, not with the way he’d been overusing his magic the last two weeks.

Maybe cold limits my abilities?’ he wondered to himself, swallowing against the shocking sensation of frigid air in his lungs.

He could test that later. Right now, he still needed to find Will.

“Will!” His voice echoed through the leafless corpses of the trees, dampened only by the snow and stray pine. He paused, catching his breath, letting his ears perk up.

No response.

He made a noise, half-cry half-groan. Grunkle Stan had said Will was fine, but Dipper couldn’t see how that was possible. Not in this weather. If he didn’t have his magic, he probably would have frozen an hour ago.

…did Gargoyle senses work if the person was already dead?

Dipper shook his head firmly. “Don’t think like that,” he hissed to himself, taking off again on his search. ‘Maybe… maybe Stan’s senses went off since I left! Maybe he’s already tracked Will down and brought him back?

It was hopeful thinking, but there might be a note of truth to it. Dipper pulled up short again. His chest hurt from the combined running and the awful bite of the snowy air. His legs were beginning to numb, even with his magic. He thought he might actually have ice forming on his ears and tail.

“I won’t be much use to Will anyways,” he muttered. “But if he’s back at the Shack…”

And even if he’s not, I can warm up and head back out again,’ he reasoned, looking around for the best path back.

Crack

He jumped, whirling to face the sound, ears alert. Twenty feet away, there lay a snapped branch that hadn’t been there before.

Whump

He spun again - a snowdrift this time, but the branch it had fallen from swayed side to side ominously…

His ears pricked. The woods had been all but silent a minute ago, but now he could hear the faint sounds of footfalls in the snow.

He craned his neck, looking through the woods. “…Will?” he called again hopefully, barely managing to chatter the word through his teeth. “I-is that… you…”

Dipper stared in horror at the figure ambling out of the darkness towards him, then turned and fled.

Behind him, he could hear three figures moving, hooves hitting the ground near silently in the snowfall. A chill ran down his spine, and he knew it wasn’t in his mind.

And the Wendigos pursued.

 

 

Will was stalking something, and he could honestly say he had never had as much fun at this as he was having right now. He had yet to catch a good glimpse of his prey, whatever it was, and the mystery just egged him on. He hadn’t even seen proper tracks yet - amazing, given all the snow on the ground. Despite its size, it must not have been too heavy. And it was smart, too! It had run trick after trick like a fox chased by hounds, doubling back on its markings, leading him in circles before breaking off the path, walking along fallen logs… but Will knew a good hunt. He knew the markings that showed where prey was, even if there weren’t any footprints to go with it.

Not to mention, the added boost from this place, his own voice spoke up in the back of his mind. And he agreed. It had warmed up a lot since earlier. The wind had finally died almost completely, leaving a peaceful if eerie silence hanging over the woods. If he had put on more layers, he would almost have been warm. As he walked into a clear patch, lights twinkled above him, and he paused his pursuit to gaze at the constellations above.

None of which he recognized.

No, you know that one, the voice in his head said again, sounding almost jovial. You just don’t know you know it yet. But that’s okay, we’ll fix that sooner or later.

…he was pretty sure he was still in the non-magical section of the forest, but now he was starting to wonder if that were actually the case.

He didn’t have long to ponder that, though. At a distance, something rustled through the trees, and he turned sharply, scanning the trees for the source.

Nothing. But there, some broken twigs… the trail continued.

He grinned to himself. “This thing is really smart,” he murmured aloud, moving quietly to the head of the trail and examining the evidence. “That path is wide open, it didn’t need to do this…” He tugged one glove off, and trailed his hand over the surface of the snow, feeling the contrast of the ice and pine needles. “Whatever this thing is… it wants to play this game…”

“And lucky for you, I’d say,” someone said wryly behind him.

He whirled around, nearly falling on his ass as he did. The person chuckled. “No need to be so alarmed, Hunter,” a figure in a ragged leather cloak scolded, eyes alight. She was perched on a fallen log, only a few feet away, but when he turned, she stood. “We’re on the same team tonight, you and I.”

Will blinked in surprise, before narrowing his eyes against the darkness. “Huntress witch?”

“The same.” She walked over, peering down at the trail he’d found. “Hmm. So that’s what you’re hunting this eve.”

“What are you doing out here?” He blinked again, brain catching up to what she said. “Wait, you know what made this trail?”

Huntress Witch sighed wistfully. “I do, as a matter of fact. I’d tell you, but… well, there are rules I’d rather not break.”

Rules are made to be broken, thought Will, and he agreed. “What kind of rules? And, you said something about a team?”

“For the game, William.” She looked over at him, and under all of his layers, he could still feel a chill up his spine at the way her eyes lit up, rings of color peering out from an otherwise shadowy form. Then, he caught the glint of teeth. “Do you know what tonight is?”

“The… twenty-second of December?” he said hesitantly. She clicked her tongue.

“Meaningless. But, your blood knows what tonight is, even if you don’t.” She stood up again, towering to her full height, and he was surprised when he found himself looking up to see her face… or, the shadow under her hood where her face would be. Her chin was tilted down towards him, giving him an excellent view of her eyes, but obscuring the rest of her expression. That is, until she grinned, teeth glinting more from a muzzle than a mouth. “Tonight is the Wild Hunt, William. You know it in your blood.”

Ah. He had heard about that before… and ran one before, too! He’d read about it somewhere when he first started doing research here, way back before he and Dipper had started dating. It had just been a small passage somewhere on some internet forum about fairies, but he recalled the image that had been posted beside it, of a variety of creatures chasing down enormous beasts, crowing and making merry on the chase.

He also seemed to recall a mention of humans being hunted, as well.

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” she remarked idly, as if reading his thoughts. At his surprised look, she snorted. “Please. I may be a witch, but anyone with a proper nose could smell the trepidation on you.” She reached out and clasped his shoulder. “As I said, William Hunt, we are on the same team this evening. Though…” her gaze moved longingly towards the trail he’d been following, “it seems we are playing at different games. Still!” She patted his back, and Will stiffened, certain that he felt the hint of claws under those hunting gloves. “A hunter is a hunter, and tonight, we all hunt together. Whether the same prey, or not.”

“…I thought the Wild Hunt only happened in the Fey Realm…” Will finally managed, a million thoughts running through his head at once.

“It does.” She gave him an odd sort of stare, one ringed glowing eye narrowing. “Did you not notice? The change in the air, the shift in perception from the world of the physical to the world of between?” She gestured to the forest around them, dead and cold and yet… abuzz. Tingling with something Will could feel, just at the edges of his consciousness, like a shadow in his peripheral vision. “You are in the Fey Lands, William Hunt. This land acts as a bridge, between the human’s waking world, and the realm of dreams

Yes … yes yes yes yes! Hahahaha!

Will shook the intrusive thought from his head, though he had to agree - it was exciting.

“Though, I certainly can’t fault you for not noticing, seeing as you possess no magic.” She was leaning down again, now, nearly face to face with him. She was so close, he could smell her breath, could see the strange bulge to her eyes, rings of white and blue and yellow forming the color in her iris, surrounding an eerie red pupil. “Isn’t that right, William…?”

He leaned back. “Um… right?”

She held his gaze for a long minute, scrutinizing him. He had nearly decided to ask what she was looking for, when she finally backed away, fangs glinting in a smile. “Of course.” Her gaze left him, and she tilted her head to one side, ever so slightly. Will imitated the gesture, listening.

Ever so faintly, he could hear the bugle of a hunting horn.

She sighed, sounding at once relieved and annoyed. “That is my call, William.” She turned away. “We are on different hunts, tonight. You have your prey and we… we have ours.” She took a few steps, then paused, looking over one shoulder. “Perhaps… perhaps next year, you may join us, yes?” She didn’t wait for an answer, simply turned away and began walking once more. As she faded into the mist, he heard her voice, faintly, “Hunt ye well, William.”

Hunt ye well, Huntress,” he echoed back, though where he got the inclination to do so, he wasn’t sure. He turned back to his own trail, and did his best to ignore the deep singing that echoed distantly through the trees.

He had his own hunt to attend to.

 

 

They were catching up.

Heck, they could have caught up, by now. They were playing with him. And Dipper didn’t know if that was worse, or better. On one hand, the more time they spent letting him run around, the longer he lived.

On the other hand… he was getting tired. And he wasn’t sure he could keep this up for much longer.

…god, how much running for his life had he done these past few months? Too much. Way too much.

Branches snapped to the left of him, and a flick of his ears told him that something else was flanking him from the right. He huffed, angry now. He was probably dead anyways, and these things had kept him from finding Will.

If he was going to go down, he was gonna go down fighting.

He listened carefully, doing his best to keep his ragged breathing even, until he heard another crunch from the left. With a sharp cry, he rounded, charging at the shadow, who hesitated at his sudden attack. He lowered his head, gritting his teeth as he headbutted the creature with a solid ‘Whump,’ and threw in a kick of his hooves for good measure as he passed by. His head reeled from the impact, but it was better than being caught and eaten.

One down, who knew how many more to go.

The one on his right started to keep its distance - maybe it had noticed his attack on the other flanker, and was playing it safe. But there were more sounds all around him, and it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where he’d find another target.

It ended up being a moot point. He burst into a clearing, one he was well familiar with - it had once been a favored picnic spot of his.

Now, as he looked at the figures slowly emerging from the trees around him, it looked like it would be the spot of his death, too.

Grunkle Stan, now would be a GREAT time for your gargoyle senses to kick in’ he thought nervously to himself, counting his opponents. One, two… five… eight… thirteen…

Yeah, there was no way he’d be able to take them all on. Especially surrounded, as he was. He gathered to himself what little magic he still had left, preparing himself for his last stand.

Will… Mabel, Stan, Soos… I’m so sorry…

One wendigo stepped forward, and Dipper rounded to face him. Around him, the ground glowed faintly, the color dying… but he refused to go into this unprepared.

The wendigo, a tall man with a pallid, freckled complexion and hair the colored of dry blood and soot, stared at him with icy eyes. Then, he sighed, posture relaxing into a slouch, eyes falling shut. To Dipper’s surprise, he reached into his pocket (he was wearing clothes, they all were… Dipper hadn’t noticed while he was running) and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.

No one spoke as he lit one up, putting it to his lips and taking a long drag. He held it for a moment, then slowly blew it back out, staring at the cervitaur through the smoke. Then, in a perfect New Jersey accent, he said:

“Whelp, kiddo… seems like there’s been some kinda mix-up, huh?”

Dipper just stared blankly at him, mouth hanging open, magic dissipating.

“…Huh?

“Cuz, uh… see, we came lookin’ fer one of our own, yeah?” He gestured to the rest of the Wendigos with his free hand, and Dipper glanced around - they had all relaxed, their postures loosening into slouches. Heck, one had even plopped herself down in the snow. “An’ we figure it’s you, right?” He took another long drag of his cigarette, eying Dipper curiously. “But you ain’t like any wendigo I’ve ever seen, kid.” He chuckled. “And I’ve seen a lot o’ Wendigos, trust me. So!” He took a few steps closer, and Dipper just stood there, dumbfounded. “Why don’t you tell us what’s goin’ on here, huh?”

 

 

It was a deer.

Or… at least, it ran like a deer. And, he’d finally found tracks - it had hooves, like a deer.

But, he also knew it was some magical creature. Probably. Maybe. He wasn’t really positive, but from what Huntress Witch was telling him, it was likely. So it wasn’t an actual deer.

Probably.

It’ s close enough to be hunted the same way!

That was true, he thought to himself, following the tracks. He was getting nearer, he could tell - the tracks looked fresher, crisper than the ones he’d first seen. And, just ahead, he had caught movement.

He reached for his bow.

We get this chump, and we could move so much faster on the rest of our plans!

He paused, tilting his head in consideration. Where had that thought come from?

Ugh, this isn ’t the time to play DUMB. It’s ME. YOU.

There was a brief flood of images, but their suddenness hit him like a brick, and he staggered a step or two, hand coming up to grab his head, teeth grit against the imagined pain.

This is a land between REALITY and DREAMS, remember? the voice said. It’s PERFECT. We already have the physical body - now all we need is THE REST.

Right. Bill. The demon in his head who claimed they were one and the same. But, he had never been able to remember his presence when he was awake before, so… “Between reality and dreams, huh?” he murmured. “Is that why I can remember you now?”

Psh, don ’t talk aloud to ourselves. People might start to think you’re NUTS. WHICH TO BE FAIR, WE ARE!

Will glanced around. “There’s no one here,” he whispered.

Right. We’re in a MAGICAL FOREST, and not being able to see anyone means that there couldn’t POSSIBLY BE SOME SORT OF BOGART HIDING IN THE SHADOWS. Bill almost sounded annoyed. We’re pretty stubborn working with that tiny meat-brain, huh?

“Well, sorry for not having the infinite knowledge I’m supposed to have, according to you,” Will muttered resentfully. “Wait… there aren’t actually any bogarts… right?”

Nah. But our prey is! And if we catch her, ooooooh! The things we could accomplish!

“Right, right… so, what are we hunting?”

To his surprise, the demon didn’t have an immediate response. And when he did reply, it was considerably more subdued. Look, I’d love to say, but… ugh, there are RULES to this stupid game, and as much as I’d like to break them into tiny pieces, we’re… actually in a position where we have to play, the demon griped. She’s a lot like me, in some ways… on the wrong side of the alignment spectrum, sure, but she handles dreams in her own way.

“What do you mean by that?” he asked, starting back on the trail again.

I told you, stop talking aloud.

‘You didn’t answer my question,’ he tried to think back.

There was a loud groan in response. Did you know, dealing with yourself is AWFUL? Especially when yourself is currently operating out of the brain of an OVERDEVELOPED PILE OF FLESH AND FAILED EVOLUTION? Will frowned, and was readying a retort, when Bill ‘spoke’ again. It’s all in your mind, kid… and I’M YOUR MIND. We’re on the border of REALITY AND DREAMS. REACH ACROSS AND TAKE THE INFORMATION FOR YOURSELF!

Will paused again, looking up at the sky and thinking. Bill was blissfully silent for that part. He thought back to his previous conversations with Bill, so many of them, that had all faded away to the realm of the forgotten come morning.

But now, he remembered them all. And if that was the case, and what Bill was saying was true…

He looked back to the path again, at the hoof-prints that marked the snow, and tried to remember

images flashed through his mind ’s eye, one after the other, too fast for him to see… but somehow, he understood them all the same…

He blinked, and the visions were gone. In the back of his mind, Bill was laughing.

Now we ’re getting somewhere!

Will ignored him, though not out of malice, but newfound intrigue for the hunt. He looked with fresh eyes at the tracks, then into the forest where they led.

“…the White Hart…”

Chapter Text

“Huh?” Dipper deadpanned, a true paragon of intelligent oration. The wendigo before him just raised an eyebrow, blowing another thin trail of smoke from between his sharp, jagged teeth.

“…okay, kid, why don’t we start with somethin’ easier. What’s yer name?”

“Uh… Dipper.” He heard a snort from one of the other wendigos, and an “awww!” from another that made his ears flick in annoyance. “Dipper Pines. And… you guys?”

“I’m Jeremy.” He pointed at the rest of the wendigos in rapid succession. “Susan, Duvai, Ravi, Logan, Lucas, Frank, Andrea, Ursula, Red Paw, Joey, Leslie, Lau, Cheng, Boss man… and the one you kicked is Virgil,” he finished, pointing at a bigger wendigo, who was rubbing his shoulder ruefully. Dipper gulped.

“Ah… sorry about that.” Virgil grunted, shrugged, and plopped backwards into the snow.

“He won’t hold it against ya, he’s a nice guy.” Jeremy took another long drag of his cig. “Also, we thought you were a wendigo like us, when we first showed up. But, ah… seems like that’s not the case, huh?”

“No…” Dipper’s brow furrowed. “How did you know I was a wendigo to begin with?”

“Birds of a feather flock together, kid. And you know what they say.” He chuckled, spurts of smoke wisping between his teeth. “Misery looooves company. You run this racket long enough, you start to get a feel for where new wendigos pop up. Now, normally,” he pointed his cigarette at Dipper, “normally, this kinda shit happens during like, a famine, or some sort of natural disaster, or some BS like that. So we were a little late to the party. Once we sensed someone had turned, tho, we came running.” He eyed the cervitaur, and Dipper willed himself not to shiver under his scrutiny. “Sometimes, we get here before they can really change. They get started eating, but… sometimes we catch them in time. You’re kinda an odd case, kid. So I’m gonna ask again - mind tellin’ us what, exactly, is goin’ on here?”

Dipper’s mind tried to process what he was hearing as quickly as he could, but either the cold or the shock… or both, was making it pretty difficult. “So… wait, you’re not here to eat me?”

“Nope.”

“And… you stop people from becoming wendigos?”

“Yep.”

“Uh… can I ask why?”

Jeremy sighed, rolling his eyes. “Tell you what, kiddo - How about for every question of yours I answer, you answer one of mine? Keep this exchange even. We stop people from becoming wendigos because, if you hadn’t noticed yourself, being a wendigo fucking sucks. No reason to subject anyone to that, if we can help it.” He coughed suddenly, and spat something black into the snow. “My turn. How’d you become a wendigo?”

“There was a magic spring.” Dipper felt himself relax, just slightly. He had been worried at first, but the longer he talked, the more Jeremy seemed like a down-to-earth guy. “It was supposed to change my species, but we kind of… pissed off the nyad who lived there. She turned me into a wendigo to punish me.”

“Well that’s a new one…” Jeremy mused, more to himself than aloud.

“My turn, right?” Jeremy waved Dipper a ‘go-ahead’ gesture. “If I had been a wendigo when you guys showed up, what would you have done?”

“Invited you to the fold. The world is shitty for a wendigo - we can handle the pain better as a pack.”

“…do you guys hunt as a pack?”

“Nope!” Jeremy replied cheerfully, and for a second, Dipper thought he was answering the question, “I won’t answer that yet, it’s my turn.”

“Oh right. Sorry.”

Jeremy’s wintry gaze became suddenly intent. “How did you change back?”

“The magic wore off. I don’t think the nyad wanted it to be permanent, just… ah…” He scratched one ear sheepishly. “I think she was hoping I’d eat my boyfriend.”

One of the lady wendigos snickered, and another one elbowed her in the ribs. Jeremy looked like he was trying not to smile himself.

“Well, that would have sealed the deal. I’m guessing you didn’t eat him then?” He paused. “Wait- damn, that was a question, wasn’t it.”

“It’s okay, I asked a couple before we started, so…” Dipper was pretty sure the smile Jeremy was giving him was supposed to be friendly… though, in a weird way, it reminded him of Will’s smile, when they’d first met. “I didn’t eat him. My Grunkles stopped me in time.”

Jeremy sighed. “Sounds like you got real lucky, kid,” he said almost ruefully. He took a puff of his cig, then wrinkled his nose, staring at the finished stub with annoyance. He dropped it, snuffing it under one heel before pulling out another one. Dipper resisted the sudden urge to tell him not to litter. “Most people don’t have anyone to stop them… though, most people do it because everyone’s in a bad place, and we’re the only ones willing to do what it takes to survive.”

“Do you regret it?”

Jeremy didn’t say anything for a long time. Dipper glanced around at the other wendigos, curious to see if one would step in instead… but their eyes were all fixed on Jeremy. Seems he wasn’t the only one who was curious. “That’s a loaded question,” Jeremy said finally. “I… don’t regret doin’ what I had to. You don’t need my whole life story - can it, you!” he scolded a couple of wendigos who had “boo”ed that statement. “My past, my business, get it?” He rolled his eyes and looked back at Dipper. “Anyways, I needed to survive, you hear? There was no food, no help, and no escape.” He took a long, pensive drag. “And, there was a perfectly good source of meat, right there.”

“Oh…”

Jeremy didn’t meet Dipper’s eyes, this time, staring off into the distance, just past him. “If I had known what would happen after… heh, maybe I’d still have done it. I’m stubborn. But I like to think I wouldn’t have. Like I said, being a wendigo sucks.” His eyes met Dipper’s again. “Which actually brings me to my next question. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a supernatural running the risk of being a wendigo, so… what are you?”

“That’s… kinda a long story.”

Jeremy shrugged. “We’ve got an eternity, kid. And, uh…” he gestured to the wendigos surrounding Dipper, “I gotta say, we’re pretty interested to hear about it.”

Dipper glanced around. The rest of the pack was staring at him intently, the icy color of their eyes seeming to glow, even in the dim light. The message was clear.

He wasn’t going to be allowed to leave until he told them. And if he took too much longer in this weather, he was liable to freeze to death.

He summoned up some of his magical reserves, warming the air around him a little bit more. “Alright. It started when my sister and I first arrived in Gravity Falls…”

 

 

The snow on the ground was thinning out, making his path easier - but tracking the Hart was as difficult as ever. It left no hoof prints, barely disturbed the growth as it went, and was near silent in its passing.

But William was never one to back down for a challenge.

And neither was Cipher.

To the left! Will glanced over, and sure enough, a handful of broken pine needles lay scattered across the ground. It wouldn’t have been enough to attract his attention on its own, but the brush of dry snow over top of it spoke of recent movement.

He was getting close.

What are we going to ask when we catch it?

He didn’t know yet. Legends that spoke of the White Hart said that it would grant any one wish of the hunter who bested it, and with Bill Cipher’s array of knowledge at his command, he knew it was true. The Hart was capable of granting anything to the victor, short of say… world domination?

Shame.

But it was more complicated than simply asking for a particular wish. The Hart supposedly looked into your mind, your soul, and sought what it was you wanted the most… and granted that.

It’ll be neat to see what She finds! Bill butt in chipperly. What with us not technically having souls, or the majority of your mind being somewhere else!

That gave William some pause. “Wait - so you’re not in my mind?”

Well, I’m in A mind. That’s why I can contact you here, on the edge of dreams. There was a pause. But no. I’m not in YOUR mind.

“Well, whose mind are you in, then?”

What did I say about talking out loud to me? …to your right, she took the stream.

Will sighed. Talking with Bill was like pulling teeth sometimes.

Aww, THANK YOU!

That did get a chuckle out of him. ‘You still haven’t explained how this happened to us, you know,’ he thought back at the demon.

I feel like I’ve done a lot in the explaining game. Besides, maybe I’m waiting for the right time to reveal some DRAMATIC EXPOSITION. He could almost imagine the expression in that enormous eye - dangerously gleeful.

‘You know, now that I’ve figured out how to remember stuff, I could just pull the information from you.’

There was an uncharacteristic moment of silence. …no, you couldn’t. Remember what I said about not being in your brain? It’d be… complicated. He was about to ask what Bill meant by that, when his train of thought was - literally - interrupted. Look, focus on the Hart. She has the means to give us something we need… that is, if you’re up to it.

‘If it’s something we need, why can’t you just ask?’

There was a deep, void-weary sigh. Like I said, I’m you. But, you’re also you. What’s more, you’re the driving force behind us. I’m just residual knowledge. Well… mostly residual knowledge

‘You seem to have a lot of personality for ‘residual knowledge’, Bill.’

Well how much of this did you think we could cram into fourteen hundred grams of gray matter? You know, its honestly less than that, because if we’d tried to use the whole thing, we probably would have bumped out “important information” like breathing and circulatory maintenance and-

‘Hold on.’ Bill instantly silenced himself, and Will looked around. He had followed the stream, like the demon had suggested, and it had paid off - there, on the ground, were the first hoof marks he’d seen this entire hunt.

She must be getting tired.

‘She must be nearby.’

He followed the hoof prints. This kind of work was taxing, and he knew that, having been out so long, he ought to be exhausted. But instead… he felt so alive

Hahaha, I guess there ARE some perks to being in a flesh sack!

The prints started out light and scattered, here and there, but as he followed them, they became more consistent… heavier. Easier to follow.

He knew the signs of prey starting to tire. He pulled his bow off his shoulder, wincing at the twinge of protest that ran through his arm at the motion from his shoulder.

I wonder if we could get her to fix that, he heard Bill muse.

‘That would be nice,’ Will agreed, notching an arrow and pressing on. It would be a shaky shot, at best - at worst, his arm would ruin it entirely. And if he missed, he knew the Hart would take off, and there would be no way to catch her then.

He had one shot.

And he had to make it count.

There was a rustle in the foliage ahead, and he dropped to a crouch, moving as slowly and silently as possible. The sound was close, close enough to hit if he fired towards it… but he wanted a clean shot, lined up in his sight.

He peered through the brush, and lost his breath. In the clearing stood his prey.

The White Hart.

She shone like silver in the open patch of forest, the moon reflecting off her pelt and the velvet of her broad antlers. She was full of contradictions, resting lightly in the snow, but projecting a weight he had never seen in any creature, supernatural or not. Milky eyes cast over the area around her, lined with the thick eyelashes characteristic of doe eyes, but icy white, like braces of a snowflake. Her breathing was slow, calm, as though she had not been running from a hunter for the better part of the night, and serenity flowed out from her like pure water from a holy spring. She seemed the embodiment of peace.

Will set his arrow. She was the prey, and she knew what came next. Drawing the weapon was painful, and his arm shook with the effort, but he managed to get the string almost back to his ear. He bit his cheek, trying to manage the pain and steady his aim, holding tight until the perfect moment…

She lowered her head, almost submissive. He fired.

 

 

Mabel looked out the window for the third time in the last hour. Stan was starting to wish her amulet hadn’t recharged. “Grunkle Stan, they’re still not back!” she whined, pacing anxiously by the windows. Stan sighed.

“I know, sweetie - you’ve told me like, seven times in the last minute.” He delicately shuffled the cards, careful not to rip them with his claws. “But they’re fine, I swear. I’d know if they weren’t. Now come play another hand of poker. I’m gonna win this one.”

“You said Dipper was just going to check Will’s house,” she said accusingly, but she still came back to the table, slouching into one of the chairs. “He should be back by now.”

“Not if Will was still out,” Stan grumbled, dealing them three cards each. “You know how your brother gets.”

“He’s too good for his own good,” Mabel grumbled back, accepting the three (slightly scratched) cards.

“I’m telling you, they’re fine,” Stan insisted. “They’ll probably stumble back in here later tonight, chilly and tired, and hopefully talking to each other again. I swear, if I have to see that kid stare forlornly up the stairs again…”

Mabel chuckled. “I thought you liked a good romantic drama, Stan! What about the Duchess?”

“Okay, no, do not bring the Duchess into this! She deserves someone better than that pompous, up-his-own-tush Lord Pomperton.” Stan crossed his arms, scowling. “But it’s different living it. Will acts like he doesn’t know what to do without Dipper. Which is weird - he’s such a personality otherwise.”

Mabel didn’t respond immediately, staring thoughtfully out the window. But then, she turned back to Stan, smiling. “That’s love for you!” She scanned her cards, and the two on the table. “And… I’m gonna raise the bid by two.”

Stan narrowed his eyes. “…I’ll match.” Mabel had a winning streak of 5-0, and he was going to break it.

 

 

“…so then, I nearly ate him. And the last two weeks have been, uh… dedicated to furthering this nature magic I have.” And not purposefully avoiding his boyfriend, Dipper added to himself.

The wendigos were a surprisingly rapt audience. He’d started telling them the abridged version, of the events of their first summer leading up to the transformation of the town, but as he went on, they piped up with questions, and he found himself elaborating so much that he may as well have told them everything from start to finish.

So he did.

Well… he did leave out bits and pieces here… mostly concerning Will. Even though they said they didn’t eat humans (”Often, that is,” Jeremy had added with a knowing smile, and had refused to clarify), he didn’t want to tempt them with the idea of eating the only human in a 200 mile radius. He also skimmed over some of the parts with Bill, wanting to relive them as little as possible. They seemed understanding.

Most of them were sitting at this point, ears up and attentive as he finished, waiting for more. “Uh, and that’s it. I came out here looking for him, and ran into you guys instead. That’s it.”

Jeremy tilted his head, curious. “Wait, he’s out here?” Dipper’s gut twisted.

“Um… maybe?”

Jeremy looked around, took a few sniffs… then stared at Dipper, one eyebrow raised. “Hate to burst your bubble, kid, but we haven’t smelled a human the whole time we’ve been here. And - correct me if I’m wrong, you know the forest better than we do - we’ve been through a good chunk of it tonight.”

Dipper stared back. “Wait - wait, so he’s not…?”

Jeremy shrugged. “I can’t smell him. Virgil? Red Paw? Either of you?”

The two wendigos shook their heads. Dipper buried his face in his hands. “Well, that’s just great,” he grumbled. “Running around in the freezing cold, and he’s not even out here.”

“Well, at least we got to talk to you. I ain’t gonna complain. But uh… I suppose we’ve held you up long enough. You’re starting to look chilly.”

That was an understatement. Dipper wasn’t sure how much longer his magic would hold the cold at bay, but against the wendigo’s natural chill, probably not long.

“Before we go, though… I admit, we had an ulterior motive, asking you about your story.”

Dipper froze, looking up from his hands suspiciously. Jeremy held his own hands up defensively.

“Nothing bad, kid, don’t get upset. It’s just that, you’re looking for a river that changes the species of things, right?” He gestured to the rest of the pack. “I’m sure you can understand, from experience, why we’d be interested in that.”

Dipper stared at him, taking longer than he was proud to admit to put it together. “Oh. Oooh! To change you into uh… not-wendigos?”

“That’s right. Most of us would love to have a second chance - heck, even if we can’t be human again, just to not be…” He gestured to his emaciated self. “This, you know?” He reached into the pocket of his ragged jacket, and pulled out a slip of paper. “Here - I don’t give this out a lot, but… if you find anything, will you let us know?”

Dipper accepted the business card, looking over it curiously. “…what kind of occupation is ‘wetworks’?” he asked hesitantly.

“Oh. Uh, the kind of job that works well with… eating… people…” Jeremy scratched the back of his head. “Look, ignore that, okay? Wendigo’s gotta make a living.”

…well, it wasn’t the first time someone had asked Dipper to ignore something horribly unethical and morally wrong. Maybe he’d picked up too much from Stan. He slipped it into his own jacket pocket.

“If we find it, I’ll let you know. I don’t know when that’ll be, but…”

“Hey, no sweat. Like I said kid - we have an eternity.”

 

 

The arrow dissolved into shavings of silver light, and a chime rang out over the forest, crystalline and pure. The White Hart looked up, eyes meeting Will’s through the foliage.

…come forward, hunter…

Her voice was as soft as she looked, with the clarity of sleigh-bells. Will obeyed, stepping out of the foliage. She seemed to smile at him.

…i must confess… i never expected to see you on the hunt… Bill Cipher…

“It’s William, for right now.”

She inclined her head. …very well, William… if that is what you prefer… She shook her antlers, another bell-like sound ringing out, and Will realized she was laughing. …it has been a long time… since i have had such a hunt… so little pomp, and so much sincerity… She looked to him again. …i am surprised with you… your time in this form has changed you…

“Well, I won’t argue that…” Will said, feeling a little nervous. She tilted her head to one side, appraising him.

…oh… i see… she murmured in her clear tones. …you are nervous… about going back?

Please tell me we aren’t, Bill groaned over whatever connection he was using to talk to him. Will didn’t have an easy answer for him.

…don’t worry about his annoyance… you are known for being… impatient…

IMPATI- TELL THAT FOUR FOOTED WHITE HAIRED SACK OF- Will did his best to ignore his worse half as the tirade continued. He… didn’t really understand half of what Bill was talking about, anyways. Not of the top of his head, anyhow.

…i cannot assuage your fears… the White Hart continued, …but… i can grant your wish… if it be to prevent that which you fear… Her eyes began to glow, the colors of moonstone and midnight. …your judgment is at hand, William Hunt. What Is It That You Wish?

He… he didn’t know. Bill had told him so many things, over the course of the time they’d spoken together, over just tonight… great things, terrible things, things about himself (and he couldn’t deny, not anymore, that he and Bill were the same person), and through it all was the implication that, eventually, Bill and Will would no longer be two separate entities. Bill had knowledge of the future - he knew it was going to happen, and, by extension, Will knew it was going to happen. But…

This might have been a terribly human thing to think, but he was scared of what would happen to William when Bill rose again.

And… he was scared for Dipper, if that ever happened.

The sound of thunder rolled over the clearing, and he jumped, the still peace suddenly shattered. The White Hart reared suddenly, again something fierce and wild, hooves like diamonds, antlers like blades, and her bell-like laugh suddenly sharp and cutting and free-!

You Have Been Judged, William Hunt! she exclaimed, joyful and terrible in her sudden power. May Your Wish Be One Truly Worth Of The Night’s Hunt! And she whirled suddenly in the clearing, kicking up snow with her hind legs as she bounded off. He stepped back, arm up to protect against the wind that accompanied her departure -

- and fell backwards into the snow.

Well … at least you should remember all of this…

 

 

Dipper never wanted to be cold again.

The second he was human, he was moving to the equator. Being cold was awful, and overrated, and he’d had enough of it to last him a lifetime.

…though, as he stood outside the Shack, he knew Will wasn’t inside. Which meant going out to find him.

And he would do it, too. No matter how cold he was, because…

He didn’t know. Because it was his fault Will was out alone? Because if Will died before they had a chance to talk again, he’d never forgive himself? Maybe… maybe he just missed the hunter.

He sighed, lifting a leg to walk up the stairs. He’d just go inside for a moment, warm up, and then-

WHUMP.

It took every force of will Dipper had to not bolt in the other direction at the sound behind him. Instead, he turned quickly, ready for anything… then blinked at the human-shaped hole in the deep snow. He took a cautious step forward, and peered down.

“…Will?”

The hunter rubbed the back of his head, wincing, then blinked up at Dipper, looking as confused as the cervitaur felt. “Dipper?”

“Uh…” Well, that solved the problem of going to find him. Which meant… now he had to talk. Which was the hard part. But… but he knew he could do it. Starting with: “What… what happened to you?”

Will sat up, looking around at the yard of the Mystery Shack, looking more and more perplexed. “Um… This…” Dipper offered him a hand up, and Will took it, pulling himself to his feet. The cervitaur was pleased to find that Will wasn’t freezing, despite having just been buried in snow, apparently. “I… I think I just got scammed by a magical deer.”

“Oh.” Well, that was not what he was expecting. “Do… you want to go inside and talk… about it?”

Will’s face snapped around, looking at Dipper in surprise, as if seeing him for the first time. “Dipper!” He lunged forward, enveloping the cervitaur in a hug that nearly knocked him over. “You’re talking to me again, and - Holy shit, why are you so cold?”

“Why aren’t you, you’ve been out here longer than I have!”

“Oi!” They both looked up. Mabel was standing in the open door, Grunkle Stan peering over her head. “Both of you, stop freezing your butts off out there and have your heart-to-heart inside!” She waggled her mug enticingly. “We’ve got hot chocolate!”

Will and Dipper exchanged a glance. Will smirked. Dipper smiled. And before the two of them knew what was happening, they both broke out into laughter.

“Sounds good, Mabes,” Dipper said, tugging Will up the porch stairs with one hand. Will made a noise of agreement, following him.

It was less than a week before Christmas, and Dipper thought that things would be okay.

“TEN POINT WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR RACK?!”

after they had a chance to catch up.

Chapter Text

Safe-Safe-Safe.

Safe-Danger-Safe.

Safe-Safe-Safe.

Danger-Danger-Safe.

Danger-Safe-Danger.

Safe-Safe-Danger.

Safe-Safe-Safe.

 

Stanley Pines was more patient than anyone ever gave him credit for. Sure, he had his vices. He was a little greedy, not exactly tactful, and sometimes jumped to conclusions a little earlier than he maybe should have. And he liked his instant gratification, but honestly, who didn’t?

 

Danger-Safe-Safe.

 

Still, though. Stanley Pines considered himself, if not a paragon, then a damned good example of patience. He’d spent years hatching plot after plot to get rich to get back into his father’s good graces again. He’d spent thirty years after that, slowly paying off Ford’s mortgage in his absence, and searching for the key to getting him back. He thought that was pretty patient.

 

Safe-Safe-Danger.

 

And then there was raising two kids for almost ten years. And he loved them dearly, but taking care of kids always took its own kind of patience.

 

Safe-Safe-Safe.

 

So when he said his patience was running out, he meant it.

He had a business to run! And just because it was the off-season, didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot to be done. But now that Dipper had come out of hiding, and he and Will had made up, Dipper had finally gotten around to talking with Ford about the discoveries they’d made in the fall.

And, well…

 

Danger-Danger-Safe.

Danger-Safe-Safe.

Danger-Danger-Danger.

Safe.

 

 

He dropped his pen, leaning back in his chair and letting out an irritated sigh, rubbing his forehead with one claw. His eyes fell closed for just a moment, other senses strengthening briefly… Dipper and Will were safe, and Ford (who’d always given off a weaker signal, for some reason…) was fine too.

Of course, it was probably only a matter of minutes before they found some new dangerous awful thing to throw themselves at, and then his Gargoyle senses would be up at alarm again. Things always seemed to escalate around Ford, to the point where Stanley almost trusted Dipper out on his own more than his brother. Almost, because while Dipper tended to be more cautious than his great uncle, he was still less experienced and more trusting than Ford.

Stanley was glad working with his twin hadn’t beaten any sense of trust out of the kid, but… a little street smarts wouldn’t have hurt, either.

He groaned as his Gargoyle senses sent up another alarm, only to be extinguished a second later. He didn’t know what on earth they were getting into this time, since Ford had promised they were only going out to Will’s house to go through the library (that was a load of crock, they’d hardly spent a minute at Will’s before going into the forest, and he couldn’t believe Ford had the gall to lie to him these days), but you could bet the gargoyle was going to grill them the second they got back.

If his heart wasn’t literally made of stone these days, he would have worried about its condition, with all this stress.

“You feelin’ alright, Grunkle Stan?”

He sighed again, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Fine, sweetie. The Nerd Patrol is at it again, is all.” He dropped his hand, sitting up - and did a double-take at his niece. “Whoa, you’re all dressed up! Where are you going?”

Mabel grinned, doing a quick twirl to display her new sweater (he’d lost count of how many she’d knitted at this point), something particularly modern looking, along with a sheer skirt that fluttered when she spun. “You like it? Pacifica invited me to her parent’s New Year’s party this year! She said she’s been dying to ask me for awhile, but…” Her expression soured somewhat, and she shrugged. “You know her parents. If it doesn’t have two legs and million trillion dollars, they don’t want it there.”

Stan grimaced. “Yeah, they’re pretty stuck up. But New Year’s is still a ways off - we still have Christmas in, what…” he glanced down at the calendar. “Holy crap, is it really tomorrow?!”

“That’s why Paz is taking me out today! She said she wanted to get me a really nice dress for Christmas, so we’d match at the party.” She clenched her fist in front of her, grinning fiercely. “We’re gonna be the best power-couple there.”

“Heh, I don’t doubt that.”

“She’ll be here soon, so I’m gonna go get my stuff.” She darted out of the room. “See you later, Grunkle Stan!”

“See you later, sweetie.” Stan got up and stretched, wincing at the crack of his spine. “Hm, tomorrow’s Christmas, huh?”

 

 

“Alright, Dipper, one more time.”

Will sat on an enormous fallen log, swinging his legs slightly as he watched Dipper and his Grunkle work.

“Seriously? Grunkle Ford, we’ve done this ten times today.”

“And every time, we’ve gotten different results!” Ford replied, scribbling something in his notebook. “It’s fascinating. There’s got to be some kind of pattern, here.”

“If there were a pattern, I’m sure we would have seen it by now.”

“But it can’t all just be random, Dipper! Besides, I thought you enjoyed using your newfound power.” The sphinx paused, peering over at the cervitaur. “Unless you’re getting tired out. Do you think you’ve reached your limit yet?”

“No! It’s just…” Dipper shuffled his hooves, and the equipment attached to him clinked and clattered. Ford had outfitted him with some sort of headgear, and a number of metal pieces with lights and wires that honestly, Will couldn’t make hide or hair of.

He’d ask Bill about it tonight.

“I feel ridiculous with all this gear. Not to mention, it’s heavy.” He carefully stretched his legs, startling when one of the wires sparked.

“Look, it’s the easiest way to measure any potential anomalies.” Ford tucked his notebook under one arm, retrieving a small device from his bag and adjusting the dials. “Alright, whenever you’re ready.”

Dipper sighed, but he closed his eyes, a familiar blue spreading out from where his hooves connected to the earth. The lights blinked, and something on the concoction of measuring tools started  beeping, but that took side-saddle to the view Dipper’s magic overtaking the snow-covered ground, lilies and forget-me-nots sprouting in its wake. Will smiled, leaning forward as the magic enveloped the clearing, including the log he was sitting on. The air was spring-like, and he was almost tempted to take off his scarf. He didn’t, because he knew that the second Dipper stopped, it would be December temperatures again.

“And… ok, you can stop, we’ve got some good readings.”

Dipper opened his eyes again, traces of blue light fading. Will hopped off his log and walked over, plucking a lily from the ground on his way. Careful not to disturb the headgear, he tucked it behind Dipper’s fuzzy ear.

“Cute look for you, Nubs.” He gave the cervitaur’s ear an affectionate scratch, and ignored the dirty look Ford shot him. Dipper blinked the last of his magic away, feeling at the flower behind his ear curiously.

“Oh, thanks, Will.” He gave the hunter a little smile, then turned to his Grunkle. “I hope you got good readings from that, because this stuff is starting to chafe.”

Ford didn’t respond, simply stared at the readout. “Huh? Oh, yes… Dipper, you… you may want to take a look at this.”

 

 

Stan was really pushing it this year - he’d had plenty of time to go looking for Christmas gifts for everyone, and he’d almost gotten them all… except for Ford. He’d put it off when he’d thought about it, but now it was crunch time. The good news was that he’d be able to use his usual gift plan. The bad news was, he didn’t have much time to get it done.

The twins and Soos were pretty easy to buy for, which was nice. And he never got Pacifica anything, which made things easy (the first year she and Mabel had been dating, he’d gotten her a gift. They’d come to an agreement that he wouldn’t in the future). Will hadn’t been hard either - you give that kid something weird, and his face just lit up. Stan had just dug through the basement for a retired attraction, and wrapped that up.

On the other hand, Ford was tricky. Which was why Stan was on the way down to the basement.

 

Safe-Safe-Safe.

 

Whatever the Nerd trio were doing now, it was clearly a lot safer than what they were up to before. Which was good for Stan - less of a headache.

“Let’s see, here…” He reached the first level of the basement, a sort of pseudo study that Ford used. Stan never really spent any time in here. When he’d been repairing the portal, everything he’d needed had been in the bottom level. He’d come in here maybe once to look for the other  two journals, but otherwise he’d left it alone. Since Ford had come back, he’d taken to using it again.

And that made it the perfect place to find a gift idea for his nerdy brother.

He opened a few drawers, flicking through the papers inside. Sketches and blueprints for unknown machines and devices flew by under his claws, but none of them were quite what he was looking for.

He winced as he sensed danger at the edge of his senses for Will… before it dissipated. He grumbled, tail swishing as he tried to ignore the blinking on-and-offs in his gargoyle senses from the three out in the woods. As far as he recalled, they were out in Gnome territory - lots of pitfalls, but nothing deadly. He just had to ignore it.

He opened a drawer and kept looking.

Safe. Safe. Safe.

Safe. Safe. Danger.

Safe. Safe … safe again.

Something caught his eye. It stood out from the blueprints and sketches, shoved hastily between two folders. He pulled it out carefully, smoothing the rumpled paper in his claws and adjusting his glasses.

Safe. Danger. Safe.

Safe. Safe. Safe.

Stan didn’t know if he’d ever seen this one - it didn’t look as old as some of the other documents, the paper crumpled but not brittle.

Safe. Safe. Safe.

But it was what was on the paper that really surprised him. Sketches of a boat littered the page, a design he recalled from so many years ago, and in scratchy lettering, across the bow, read-

Safe. Safe. Sa-

Gone.

Chapter Text

Stan flapped as hard as his stony wings would allow, the thick leather between the bone making a quick, steady thrum on the wind. He didn’t fly often - it was honestly more effort than it was worth, and it wasn’t like becoming a gargoyle suddenly put him back in shape - but right now, his terror overrode any semblance of exhaustion.

“-can’t be gone, people don’t just disappear, they’ve gotta be…” he mumbled reassurances under his breath, his senses scanning the trees for any sign of his brother, grandnephew, or Will. One moment, they’d been on his radar, the next…

Sometimes, signals got weaker - when people were too far away, or when he was focused on something else - but signals never just vanished. Never.

And he didn’t know what that meant, but right now he was expecting the worst.

He found the area he’d last sensed them, and dropped like a stone, landing with a small explosion of snow and dirt. There was no sign of them - no clothing, or footprints, or signs of a struggle…

No bodies, either, but that did little to assuage his fears. There were things in these woods that could eat even Ford in one bite, and less than that for Dipper and Will.

But he should have sensed that! They’d been safe, up until they vanished, so why hadn’t he sensed anything?

“I should’ve gone with them,” he said aloud, spinning to survey the area for a clue, a hint, anything. “I- I shouldn’t have ignored those alerts, I should have checked it out…” There was a lot that he should have done that he hadn’t…

He tried to ignore the unease, the accusation growing in his gut, that he’d felt this way before. Once upon a time, when his brother had called him to Gravity Falls, and he finally thought he’d been forgiven, but instead…

He shook his head, gritting his teeth as he fought back the tears prickling at his eyes. He couldn’t think like that! He’d lost his brother for thirty years, with no way of knowing if he was still alive, and he hadn’t given up.

He’d be damned if he gave up now.

He’d search the area more closely. They had been right here, there had to be something around that would give him a clue. But he had to calm down and actually look for it. He took a few deep breaths to steady himself-

Then, he paused. He took another deep sniff. The air smelled… wrong. Well, not wrong, exactly, but it smelled different. Not like the usual trees of the Falls. And, stranger, there was no scent from his brother, or Dipper, or Will, despite the fact that they had only just been there.

He looked at one of the trees, carefully closing in on it and really looking it over. He was no expert, no tree-ologist (like Ford probably was), but he’d lived here and run tours through the woods for nearly forty years now. In that entire time, he couldn’t recall having seen a tree like this before.

Inspecting the other trees yielded the same results. Somehow, this entire patch of forest had changed from the usual Gravity Falls foliage, to something completely new. The trees were old, or looked old, anyways, but the more he looked, the more he felt certain that this part of the forest had never been in Gravity Falls before.

He took off again, an idea forming in his mind. He shot up through the canopy, then hovered just above it, looking out over the rest of the forest.

The forests of Gravity Falls were mostly pines, of one kind or another. But now, bare treetops radiated out from this spot, stopping maybe a hundred feet out. An entire section of forest had been completely replaced. And as far as Stan could tell, his brother and the kids had been at the epicenter.

“But that could mean anything,” he told himself, checking the edges of the circle. “Maybe they went with the regular part of the forest? They could be totally fine…” It was hard to believe it when he couldn’t sense it, but he did his best to convince himself. “Okay, so… I just need to figure out what happened, undo it, and they’ll be back, right? It’ll be easy,” he muttered.

He prepared to drop back down to the center - after all, that was where it had started, right? - but a smell caught his attention, and he hung on the wind, brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what it was.

It smelled a bit like pine, like how the forest should smell. But it had another part to it, like burning ozone, one he knew he’d smelled before, if he could only remember where…

A blue glow swelled from below the branches, and his eyes widened. Now he remembered - one of Dipper’s failed magic attempts, trying to teleport a can of soda to himself.

The smell of raw magic.

He shot up as the glow grew brighter, spiraling up as quickly as he could to get out of range. He didn’t know what kind of creature had that much magic to burn, but he knew he didn’t want to be in reach of whatever it was doing. He was almost winded when it finally stopped, burning brightly at the edges, matched up almost exactly along the circle of new trees.

And then the world twisted, and the glow disappeared.

 

Safe. Safe. Safe.

 

 

Ford and Will stood, looking more than a little shell-shocked. Dipper stood, too, looking a lot like someone had just smacked him in the face with a frying pan, and he was still recovering. His eyes still flickered with blue light, but it was dying slowly, fading back out into a glazed, dazed expression.

In the distance, they heard a startled crow take off, cawing in annoyance.

Will was the first to break the silence.

“Can I just say,” he started slowly, stepping up next to Dipper and laying a hand on his deer-back, “that out of all the magic I’ve seen since I’ve gotten to Gravity Falls - that has got to be the single, most impressive thing yet. And I don’t think I’m going to see anything top that.” He looked back at Stanford. “How about you, Fordsy?”

Ford didn’t even look irritated by the nickname, for once. Instead, he was busy fiddling with his glasses and staring down at the machine in his hand, looking over its display with open awe. “We - You - That’s… that should be impossible!” He pressed some buttons and scrolled a wheel along the side, eyes widening as he took in more of the readouts. “We completely left this dimension! And then came back! These readouts are completely unimaginable, they show absolutely no signs of the usual radiation that would accompany such a feat, and-”

Will tuned him out as he started rambling (Good choice, Bill informed him. I can give you the spark-notes later!), instead turning to check on Dipper. The cervitaur was still staring into space, jaw hanging slack, eyes distant. He snapped his fingers in front of his face, patting the deer-man’s back.

“Dipper? You still in there?”

Dipper blinked slowly once, then again. “Huh?” He shook his head, ears flopping before they pricked up again. “Are we back?”

“Looks like.” Will threw an arm around Dipper’s shoulders, pulling him in close. “That was some pretty impressive stuff, Dip-dop! Your Grunkle’s all worked up over it, anyways. But how are you feeling?”

“Ummm… good. A little shaky… but good.”

“Hmmm…” Will scratched Dipper idly behind one ear, and the cervitaur leaned into the touch. “Good, huh? No nasty side effects we should be worrying about?”

No kidding, travel like that shouldn’t be available to someone like him. Although

Bill trailed off, and Will knew he’d be hearing all about it that evening. Ever since that hunt, Bill had been a lot more present in his life. It was weird, to have a part of your mind acting as a separate entity, but Bill assured him that it wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d ever done.

He’d then proceeded to detail the weirdest thing he’d ever done.

Will hadn’t slept well that night.

But, he was remembering his dreams, now. And more importantly, he was remembering the information Bill imparted to him, although it was something of a give-and-take. Something about not being able to fit all that information into a human brain, and needing to “delete” some stuff to make room.

Don’t worry! Bill had cheerfully told him, I’ll make sure you don’t remove anything important, like heart control or nervous systems or astrology!

Some of it had been really useful. Bill knew a lot more about what went down in Gravity Falls than any of the Pines family, and it was easy enough to share this kind of information by “stumbling” upon it when they were out. Other stuff was… less useful, but no less important. Most of that concerned Bill’s interactions with the Pines family over the years - the good, the bad, and the awful. Will had the feeling that Bill was still keeping some things from him, but he’d stopped caring after a day or so. Despite the fact that they were separated by some force into two temporary entities, they were still, fundamentally, the same person. If there was anything that Bill wasn’t imparting, there was a good reason for it.

…hopefully.

There was still a lot he hadn’t told Dipper, yet. He planned to get around to it eventually, but… there was just no good way to say “Hey so, you know that demon that deserves the blame for this whole bad situation you’re in that you blame yourself for? Yeah haha, so funny story, that’s me.” No way at all. So, he was putting it off until he could figure something out. He wasn’t about to lose Dipper over this, either. It wasn’t going to happen.

Oh. And speaking of Dipper, apparently he was waiting for him to say something.

“Sorry, Dip, didn’t catch that. What?”

Dipper rolled his eyes. “I was saying I don’t think I have any side effects, but now I’m starting to wonder about you,” he teased, ruffling the hunter’s hair. “You kinda spaced out for a second there.”

“Just thinking about how cool you are!” He looked over at Ford, who was still talking. “Uh, should we be listening to- Wait, what’s that sou-?”

“STANFORD. PINES.”

Ford whirled around in surprise, cut off mid-monologue, as Stanley dropped from the treetops, landing with an enormous thud before storming over to his brother. “Oh, Stanley! What are you-?”

“Can it, Ford. Where the hell did you three go just now?” Will didn’t think he’d ever seen Grunkle Stan this angry. His tail thrashed through the pine needles scattered across the forest floor, and his eyes glowed more brightly than he’d ever seen, even when he was trying to discern truth from someone. “I’ve been trying to tune out your signal all day, and then suddenly, poof! No explanation, no warning, just gone. And with these two, no less!” He jabbed a claw in Will and Dipper’s direction, scowling at his brother. “So what the hell happened?”

“Stanley, you’re not making any sense. What do you mean, “tuning out my signal,” what signal are you picking up on?”

Yours, you dope! It’s…” He gestured to his eyes. “It’s a gargoyle thing, I can sense where people are, and when they’re in danger. And you-”

“What? Since when? Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“Really? And get tied up like some sort of specimen? For goodness sake, look at Dipper! Kid develops weird nature powers, and suddenly you’ve got him hooked up to some crazy mad scientist machine-”

“It’s not mad science, Stanley, it’s legitimate, well-tested equipment designed to isolate and examine-”

“Look!” Stan cut his twin off with a wave of one clawed hand. “I don’t even really care what it does. I just want to know exactly where the three of you went.”

“Hmph. Well, not that you’d be interested in the specifics, Stanley, but we appear to have gone to another dimension - one that runs completely parallel to this one!”

“…so wait, let me get this straight - you spend 30 years in some alternate dimension, and you haven’t learned your lesson about just, maybe, not messing around with that stuff?”

Next to Will, Dipper was starting to fidget nervously. “Not again,” Will heard him mutter lowly.

“Really? Because I happen to remember me spending 30 years in an alternate dimension not being my fault! I may have built the machine, but you-!”

“Guys!” Dipper stepped between them, arms raised in a placating gesture. “Don’t go into this again, okay? It never ends well. Ford, please just let it go. Stan, we’re sorry that we dropped from your radar - if we knew that was something that would happen, we would have let you know ahead of time.” He looked between his two Grunkles, watching their reactions. “Ford, we should probably call it a day anyways - I don’t want to find out the limits to my magic in another dimension, right?”

There was a tense silence between the brothers for a long, long moment, and Will watched the three of them with held breath…

Stan broke first, deflating a little, one hand coming up to rub his forehead. “Ugh, fine. But!” and he glared past Dipper at his twin, “don’t expect another rescue if you get yourself stranded in some god-forsaken other dimension, Ford.”

“I won’t count on it,” Ford replied icily.

Stan growled something under his breath, then turned his gaze to Dipper. “Kid, don’t let him do anything dumb.” Dipper winced, but nodded, careful not to jostle the equipment covering him too much. “Alright. I’ll see you at home.” Stan shot one last glare at Ford, who was deliberately avoiding his gaze, staring off to one side, before he took off, winging it for home.

Dipper and Will watched him go. Ford stubbornly stared off elsewhere.

When the gargoyle was gone from sight, Will gave Dipper a small pat on the shoulder, and a reassuring smile when the cervitaur looked at him. Dipper returned it, then sighed.

“Alright. Let’s wrap up here. Grunkle Ford, could you help get all this equipment off? I don’t want to damage any of it.”

“…” Ford didn’t answer right away, back turned to them, standing motionless save for the swish of his tail for a long moment. Finally, he sighed.

“Sure, Dipper.”

 

 

It took over half an hour to get Dipper out of all the bells and whistles Ford had set up, the process made even longer by Ford trying to explain every facet of the machinery along the way. Will had finally gotten him to shut up when he’d successfully “guessed” (with help from Bill) the functions of several items, leaving Ford in a fuming funk, but blissfully quiet.

It had been a long walk back to the Shack.

Will heaved a sigh of relief when the rickety old building finally appeared through the trees. Walking had warmed him up somewhat, but Dipper wasn’t throwing around his usual level of nature magic, which meant they actually had to face the cold on their way back. The Shack meant hot drinks, a warm blanket… and cuddles. Lots and lots of cuddles. He and Dipper hadn’t talked on the way back, but the looks they’d exchanged had told the hunter all he needed to know. Dipper needed cuddles, and he’d be happy to provide.

So he could have kicked Ford when the sphinx announced that he needed Dipper’s, and only Dipper’s, assistance putting stuff away.

Dipper’s ears drooped for a split second, but he turned to the hunter, smile pasted to his face. “Go on up to my room, Will, I’ll meet you there in just a second.”

“Sure thing, Dip-dop.” He gave the cervitaur one last hair ruffle before heading upstairs, walking into Dipper’s room without hesitation and flopping onto the huge cushion that served as Dipper’s bed. There was a small explosion of deer-hair on impact, and he fought back a few sneezes, chuckling to himself.

His mirth was halted when Bill spoke up again.

Watch out. Sixer ’s up to something…

 

 

“I don’t understand - everything’s all packed up already, why do you need help putting it away?” Dipper hauled one of the equipment bags over to the bench Ford had indicated, sighing in relief when he was finally able to put it down. “Geeze, that stuff is heavy…”

“It really is,” Ford replied, putting the other bag up in a cabinet on the other side of the room. “I’m sorry, Dipper, I didn’t actually need your help getting things away. But, I did want to talk to you for a minute.”

Dipper grimaced, then schooled his expression to something more neutral as he turned around. He’d expected something like this - Stan and Ford had their fights from time to time, and Stan was great at keeping the kids out of it.

Ford… not so much. Dipper wasn’t sure if it was because of some sort of need to feel superior, or because of the parallels his Grunkle saw between himself and the young cervitaur, but every time something like this happened, Ford took him aside to tell him about the importance of their research. But, Dipper had seen how Ford did his research, and past a certain point, he wasn’t interested.

He’d seen what had happened to folks like Schmebulock, after all.

“What is it, Grunkle Ford?”

Ford was still facing away from him, leaning forward with his paws resting on a table, wings folded stiffly behind his back. “I… I wanted to thank you, for intervening today. Stanley and I don’t always see eye to eye on things, and I might not have known about his “gargoyle powers,” but… I should have been more sensitive. He was concerned about our safety, after all.”

Oh, wow, that was a new tact. Dipper’s ears lifted, hopeful. Maybe there was the possibility for real reconciliation between the two after all? Mabel would have a field day, if that were the case. “Really?”

“…yes, really.” He straightened up, wings flexing. “Stanley… well, he doesn’t always think things through, entirely, but… I won’t fault him on this. He usually has this family’s safety in mind when he does anything.”

Dipper frowned. “I think “usually” maybe isn’t giving him enough credit?” he tried, hesitantly.

“Hm… maybe not.” Ford turned around. “But, the reason I mention this is… I want you to know that I’m also trying to look out for this family. I… know my methods aren’t always what you hoped they would be… hell, I know I’m probably not what you expected, when you were studying my journals that first summer. But, one of my top priorities is making sure this family stays safe. Do you understand?”

“Um…” This had taken a completely different turn from what Dipper was expecting. Ford was standing there, waiting for a response. His glasses reflected the light glowing from one of the consoles, obscuring his eyes. The very tip of his tufted tail flicked back and forth in clear agitation. Wherever this was leading… it was not good. “I mean… yes, but… I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Grunkle Ford.”

“I need to tell you something, Dipper. And, I just want you to know that I’m not saying it with the intent to harm. My only intent, ever, is for the good of this family. The good of the world.” He took a step forward, and the glow disappeared from his glasses, revealing his eyes, creased in concern. “Are you ready?”

Dipper felt a shiver run up his spine, and something in the back of his mind screamed that he shouldn’t listen, that this was a bad idea… but instead he said, “Yes.”

Ford nodded, eyes falling closed as he took a deep breath.

“Dipper…

“William is Bill Cipher.”

Chapter Text

Dipper stared at Ford for a long moment.

Then, a smile began to form on his lips, jagged and fragile, like cracked glass. “Heh, heh… that’s, uh… not really funny, Grunkle Ford.”

Ford stared back at him with concern and pity in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Dipper. It’s not supposed to be.”

“Really?” Dipper crossed his arms, glaring at Ford. “Because I’m not sure how else I could take that. What is that even supposed to mean? Will’s human, Bill’s a terrifying nightmare demon from some other dimension! …or something, you haven’t exactly been free with any information on him.”

“What I mean is what I’m saying - I’m sure William is actually Bill Cipher. I don’t know if he’s possessing a human form, or-”

“Wait, hold on - Clarify this for me, are you saying Will is actually Bill Cipher, or he’s being possessed by Bill Cipher? Because those are two very different things.” He paused, thinking. “And honestly, even if you’re saying the latter, I don’t think you’re right. Bill possessed me too, and I remember what that was like.” A shiver ran up his flanks. “Will just… doesn’t act like that. And he hasn’t been acting different or weird lately.” He hesitated again. “Well… weirder.”

“Well, as I was saying I don’t know if he’s possessing a human form, or if, god forbid, he’s somehow managed to get a corporeal form of his own. But the person you know as William Hunt, for as long as I’ve known him, has been Bill.” Dipper noticed him watching carefully for the cervitaur’s reaction. “I know it’s hard to hear, but-”

“Wow, okay, no. Hard to hear doesn’t even cut it!” Dipper started to pace, gesticulating wildly, and Ford wisely stepped back to give him room. “So, you come out of a portal with all this information about Bill, tell absolutely no one about it, and then when he shows up again, you give me the vaguest, most minimal information about him. Then, you don’t talk about him for ten years, and when you finally do it’s to tell me that my boyfriend is the bogeyman from my childhood that ruined my family’s life?!” His voice had risen through his whole rant, and he was practically shouting by the end of it, chest heaving. Faintly, he recognized the signs of an oncoming panic attack, and forced himself to take a steadier breath. Ford watched with a measure of worry.

“Are… you done?” he asked hesitantly after Dipper had calmed his breathing more. Dipper almost growled.

Yes, but only if you’re ready to start telling me how you know this.” He jabbed a finger at the scientist. “And I want exact details. No more avoiding the issue, because right now, it’s very personal. Understand?”

Ford, to his surprise, simply sighed and nodded. “You’re right, that I should have told you about Bill when I first got back,” he admitted, pulling a chair out from one of the desks and dropping into it. “If I had… maybe this whole ‘monster’ thing could have been avoided. Who knows? But the thing about Bill is… the less you know about him, the less of a target you are for him.” He rubbed his brow with one paw. “If I had known you and your sister had already caught his attention, then-”

“Grunkle Ford, don’t.” Ford looked over at him, raising one eyebrow. “Blaming yourself for not telling us anything then… I mean… I still don’t know much more than what you’ve told me so far, but you really couldn’t have known. What matters now is that you’re telling me what you know now, right?”

“Yes, yes, I suppose you’re right,” Ford sighed. “Where to begin…”

“How about, what’s your evidence that Will is Bill?”

Ford winced. “Right to the point, eh Dipper?” When Dipper simply stared pointedly back at him, he shook his head. “Right. Well, for that, it’s easier to start at the beginning…”

 

 

Will waited, staring at the ceiling. To an outside observer, it might have looked as though he were simply counting the boards above him to pass the time.

But Bill had never been an outside observer, and he knew what was going through the young man’s mind.

I ’m telling you, he’s got something up his sleeve. His six-fingered sleeve…

‘Sleeves don’t have fingers, Bill. You’re thinking of gloves.’

Yeah, maybe not here they don’t. Bill fell silent for a few minutes, and Will managed to count almost twenty boards before he was interrupted again. You don’t seem worried about this.

‘I’m not,’ Will replied, keeping his focus on counting the boards. ‘If Ford suspects something… I mean, what is he going to do? It’s not like he has any proof, right?’ Bill was conspicuously quiet. Will’s brow furrowed. ‘He doesn’t, right?’

Well… mmmaybe I shouldn’t have given you all those hints on that equipment? I helped him put some of it together, after all. But, there’s the chance that he chalks it up to pure luck! Still, though… And the demon’s voice turned more serious, he has that look. That look has never meant anything good, even before he stopped working with me!

‘Wait, what?’ Will sat up a little, interested. ‘You never mentioned that. When did you work with Ford?’

Ugh, right, of course you wouldn’t remember that, Bill griped. Well, long story short, after I figured out that working with the old Fez was a dead end - oh, that’s the guy that owned the house you live in. Good choice on that, by the way - I had wondered if that magic would hold. Good to see a hundred years or so haven’t dimmed it at all! Bill chuckled, and Will felt his stomach churn at the implications. Sure, you guys sent her back to dormancy, but man! That binding really packs a punch! Not to mention, the “toy” stuff? HILARIOUS! You couldn’t make that up! Human souls! Crazy!

‘I- wait, dormancy? Hold on.’ Will flopped back again, covering his face with his hands and groaning. ‘Are you saying we didn’t actually get rid of that ghost?’

Nope! Bill replied with his usual macabre cheer. Just set her back a little. Depending on how things go, she could stay dormant for a few hundred years, or maybe just one! But I wouldn’t worry. Once she realizes you’re her PRECIOUS “Mr. Triangle,” she probably won’t give you any trouble!

‘Bill…’

But hey - she ’d be GREAT to sic on door-to-door salesmen! HA! Can you even imagine-

‘Bill…’

- the looks on their faces when they ’re FORCED TO COME TO TERMS WITH THE THOUGHT OF THEIR OWN INEVITABLE-

‘Bill!’

Geeze, what?

Will sighed again, the sound growling out of his throat as he rubbed his tired eye. ‘We’re getting off topic. Also, at some point I’m going to talk to you again about that ghost. But right now - you said you worked with Ford?’

Ah, yes. Sixer was a pretty good student, but he had a pretty GREAT teacher. Best one he could get this side of the multiverse. Haha, who am I kidding, best one he could get ANYWHERE.

‘You, I’m guessing.’

Us. But yeah. So, here ’s how it went down…

 

 

It had taken some prompting during Ford’s story to keep him talking, and more prompting to keep him talking on topic. He had a tendency to ramble if you let him, and Dipper wanted to finish up as soon as possible. He wasn’t sure about this claim Ford had against his boyfriend, but if it wasn’t true (and he was pretty sure it wasn’t), then he wanted to finish up as quickly as possible and get upstairs, where Will was waiting for him.

Even with all that, Ford’s story was… sobering.

“You… you really went through all that?” Dipper finally asked, breaking the silence that had fallen over the two of them. Ford sighed, and this time, Dipper could appreciate the weariness that lay around the sphinx’s eyes.

“I did. Bill convinced me that he was an ally, a like-mind… a friend, someone I could count on,” he admitted. “I… did wrong by several people around that time, but I was so assured that Bill would be there, no matter what happened, so I didn’t care.” He struggled for his next words. “I know you and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, and you know I’m not the most friendly person… but Bill’s betrayal cut pretty deep. And then, on top of that, my last fight with Stan before falling through the portal…” he lapsed into silence, and Dipper felt a wave of empathy for his grunkle. Nothing that had happened to him compared - he’d been lied to before, tricked. He’d trusted the wrong people before, and he’d learned from those experiences. But, those had been small instances, quick tricks and easy to uncover plots. To have someone lie to you for years, to trust them as a friend, like Ford clearly had… and then to have that thrown back in your face as a joke, all to further some horrible plan…

That had to hurt, more than a few forks to the arm.

“So… what exactly was Bill’s plan?” he asked, hesitantly.

“The joining of his dimension to our own. It would have caused global chaos on its own… not to mention, allow him to physically manipulate the world, without use of a host.” Ford shook his head. “Which is why I’m hoping, for everyone’s sake, that William is simply a host for Bill.”

Dipper tried to think back, remember if Will had acted any different as of late. “You said you think it’s been… since you came back?”

Ford nodded. “Maybe sooner, but I wouldn’t know. But, I’m pretty sure it’s been at least that long.”

“I… feel like I would have noticed if he’d started acting different, but then again, no one noticed that I threw myself down the stairs and poured soda in my eyes, so... And, how long can Bill possess a person, anyways? Mabel and I were able to kick him out of my body by exhausting him, and trust me, I’ve - I mean, he’s been exhausted plenty of times.” He shuffled his hooves, avoiding the look Ford was giving him.

Fortunately, Ford ignored the awkward statement. “Bill’s abilities are complicated, at best. He can possess a body for a short period of time, if the host is unwilling. But, if he were to find someone who allowed him to use their body for a long period of time… exhaustion wouldn’t factor in. And Bill would have access at any time.” His tail flicked. “Trust me, I know from… personal experience.”

Dipper didn’t ask him to elaborate on that, but the implications made his breath catch. “So… you think Will is willingly letting Bill use his body? W-why would he-?”

“He may not have known at the time, when he made the deal. He might have something he wants badly enough to let Bill do whatever he wants. Greater men than any of us have fallen for Bill’s tricks, I’m sure.” 

Dipper took a deep breath, trying to keep himself from flying into another panicked fit. “Okay… okay, so… is that the only option?”

Ford shook his head. “There is the possibility - a very slight possibility, mind - that Bill managed to get himself a physical form of his own. But I strongly doubt that’s the case.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, firstly, to achieve something like that would require a huge amount of energy. We would have noticed a spike like that - well, I would have, I’ve got sensors hooked up to measure that kind of thing. Secondly, having a physical form is a large part of Bill’s plan. If he had one, there’s no reason for him to deal with us anymore.” He paused, then frowned suddenly, glancing over the workroom. “Unless we had something he still needed…” he mused, trailing off in thought.

Dipper cupped his hands over his mouth, taking a deep breath through his nose and letting it out slowly. “Alright, so… that’s all bad. What tipped you off to this? How’d you figure it out?” Ford turned his head away, scratching the back of his ear, and an uneasy feeling rose in his gut. “Ford?” he asked again. “What’s your proof on this?”

“That’s a good question, Dipper. You see, as I said, Bill and I worked for quite some time, and when you work with someone that long, you get a sort of sense for what they’re like,” Ford said, a little too quickly. “You get to recognize little habits, bits of personality and common quirks, and-”

“You don’t have any proof at all.”

Ford’s face swiveled back towards Dipper. “That’s not true!”

The cervitaur gave a dry, humorless laugh. “Really? Because from what you’re saying right now, it sounds like your ‘proof’ is you have a feeling in your gut.”

“Dipper, it is more than that! Sure, I don’t have anything concrete, but I worked with Bill for years. I would recognize him anywhere!”

“But you don’t have any proof,” Dipper stressed, looking almost manic with relief. “Ford, you can’t just accuse someone of being Bill because they’re weird or have some of the same personality traits-”

“I am not! This goes beyond a few measly coincidences!” Ford snapped, narrowing his eyes. “I’m telling you, I’m sure that Will is-!”

“How sure, Ford?” Dipper demanded, taking a step towards him. “Exactly how sure are you? Because again, you’re not very convincing.”

They stared each other down, Dipper fighting his deer instinct to cut and run, while Ford sized him up, eyes calculating. It was a long, charged silence.

Finally, Ford spoke.

“You don’t believe me.” There was a note of surprise in his voice, akin to disbelief. “You honestly don’t believe me.”

“You don’t have any proof,” Dipper repeated. “Will and I just made up again, over a stupid mistake I made. I’m not about to make another one like it, just because you’re being paranoid.” Ford opened his mouth to protest, but Dipper kept on. “You have plenty of reasons to be paranoid, Grunkle Ford. And, for what it’s worth… I’m sorry. Maybe, if I had known a few years ago what I knew now, then… well, maybe we’d have been on better terms. But right now? I think you’re being paranoid. Will is… he’s Will. He’s not Bill Cipher. It’s impossible.”

“Are you trying to convince me?” Ford asked evenly, “Or are you trying to convince yourself?”

Dipper grit his teeth. “I’m trying to reassure you! If Will was Bill, either by possession or in a physical form, or whatever! If he was Bill, he’d have had plenty of opportunities to do whatever the hell he wanted. But it’s been half a year, and he’s been one of the best things that has happened to me since I arrived in Gravity Falls.”

“A year is nothing to Bill, Dipper. Hell, ten years is nothing. Playing the long game is something he knows how to do.”

Dipper shook his head. “None of that is proof, Grunkle Ford.” He turned away, heading for the door. “I’m going back upstairs.”

“Dipper, wait!” The cervitaur paused, his hand resting on the handle of the door. “You know, there is a spell that could give you a solid answer, one way or another.” Dipper didn’t respond. “I know you’re familiar with it. You used it your first summer, after all. If you need actual proof… you don’t have to go any further than that.”

“…” Dipper waited, to see if there was anything else. When his Grunkle didn’t add to that, he sighed. “Good night, Grunkle Ford. Hope you sleep well,” he mumbled, walking out and pulling the door shut behind him without looking back. He didn’t want to see the look Ford was giving him.

 

 

‘…we did all that?’

Yup. ‘Course, Sixer got wise to it before the REALLY good stuff could happen, but we still got pretty close! And, now that we’ve got a body of our own, it sort of cuts out the middle man! If we play our cards right, we still come out on top!

Will’s stomach flopped again. Bill had made allusions to their plans several times during their conversation, but he was never explicit. The hunter had tried pulling information for himself from their collective store of knowledge while Bill was talking, but to no avail. Either Bill was blocking him somehow, or -

I ’m not. I can’t, actually. You know that.

‘What?’

I ’m you. I know what you’re thinking. And I’m not blocking you, you and I are just too far away for you to properly transmit information.

‘What, because of you not actually being in my head?’ Will frowned. ‘Wait, then, how are able to talk to me now?’

Good question! I actually set up something like a relay when we were out hunting that white fleabag. Lets me keep in touch at a distance, but isn ’t exactly strong enough to send data just willy-nilly. Oh, and before you get all freaked out about your subconscious acting independently again, let me remind you - WE’RE A COSMIC NIGHTMARE DEMON FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION, forced into separate compartments and partially crammed into sub-par grey matter. Stuff like this happens!

William grumbled to himself. ‘Fine, fair enough,’ he grouched. ‘So, basically, if I want Ford to not be suspicious of me, don’t do anything you just said, and act like I don’t know anything. Aside from the fact that I’ve already done half those things, by virtue of being you, it should be a piece of cake.’

Oh, that reminds me. Don ’t talk to Ford about cake.

‘…uh… why?’

Just don’t. Trust me on this one, it’s too long a story to get into now. Will knew his confusion was probably palatable to the other part of his psyche (and even though he had gotten used to it by this point, it was still weird to think about), but he did his best to quash it.

‘So, what now?’

I dunno! Technically, you’re the driving force here. I’m just your very active intrusive subconscious! There was a pause, and Will got the sensation that Bill’s attention was elsewhere, momentarily. Whelp, looks like Sixer and Pine Tree are done talking, because Deer-butt’s on his way up.

‘How do you know that?’

Bill laughed. Let’s just say, I’ve got some inside information, he said slyly. But seriously, he’s gonna walk in any second now. So you should probably stop talking to yourself.

Will sighed. ‘Fine. But we still have a lot to discuss.’

I ’ll try to look forward to it!

 

 

Dipper felt exhausted by the time he reached the door to his bedroom, but all he could do was stare at the handle. Will was on the other side, probably asleep by now. His talk with Ford had taken a lot longer than he’d expected.

It was just Will, he told himself, eyes on the door handle. Will, who called him dumb nicknames to get a rise out of him. Who helped him outsmart a werewolf. Who’d faced a ghost with him, and shown him so much understanding, even when he got mad or upset.

He wasn’t lying to Ford when he said Will was one of the best things that had happened to him since he’d arrived in Gravity Falls. He wasn’t exactly a lucky person, especially not with love.

Will couldn’t be Bill. That was ridiculous. And he didn’t need a spell to prove it, he told himself.

He put his hand on the handle. He opened the door.

The room was dark, but he could see the figure stir on the bed. “There you are. Thought you weren’t coming, for a moment there,” Will said, sitting up.

“Sorry about that. Ford… well, he had something he wanted to tell me.”

“Must have been important, if it took so long.” Will shuffled over, making room for Dipper on the cushion, and the cervitaur sunk down onto it gratefully. As soon as he was settled, lying on his side, he felt Will curl up behind him, and lifted his head so the hunter could rest his arm beneath it.

“He thought it was.” He hadn’t meant that to sound so… dismissive. He sighed. “He was worried about something, but… it’s really nothing.”

“…do you want to talk about it?”

Dipper shook his head. “Not really. Like I said, it’s nothing.” He turned his head, doing his best to nuzzle Will’s cheek. “I’d rather just cuddle and go to bed, if that’s good with you.”

Will returned the nuzzle, giving him a peck on the cheek as well. “I think I can oblige,” he murmured, settling back. Dipper let out a pleased hum as Will’s other hand came to rest on his hip, gently petting the skin there in a soothing gesture.

Ford was just being paranoid, he thought, sinking into a relaxed sleep. “G’night, Will,” he yawned.

“Good night, Dipper,” Will whispered back. “Sweet dreams.”

Dipper was asleep before he knew it.

Will took much longer, staring at the back of Dipper’s head, asking himself questions that he couldn’t answer. Sleep didn’t come easy, but when it did, he slipped gratefully into its soothing embrace.

Chapter Text

Mabel was never the first one up. Between the cold and her fishy tendencies, she was never able to really rouse herself early in the morning.

This year was different. It required a little bit of planning, but she wanted to make sure that this year, she started a new tradition. So, when her alarm went off at 9, she forced herself to the lip of her tank and threw her amulet on. Feeling a lot more awake, she dried herself off, threw on the most Christmas-y sweater she owned, and grinned.

This would be the best Christmas morning ever.

 

--

 

Will was snug in bed, legs pinned under Dipper's deer half, the two of them covered with an enormous quilt. He wasn't sure what had woken him, but he didn't really care - he would rather go back to sleep, or bask in the warmth his boyfriend was giving off. He wasn't sure if it was part of Dipper's magic, but the boy was like a furnace, something that was especially nice this cool December morning.

He blinked groggily at the clock, gaze unfocused, and took a deep, contented breath. Dipper, still asleep, turned slightly and snuggled closer, tightening the arm around the hunter's waist. It was barely 9:30, hardly an hour to be awake. The Shack was closed for the winter, Dipper and Ford hadn't made any new plans to go out exploring, and even if they had, today was-

Will's eye widened.

Today was Christmas.

Almost instantly, his sleepiness evaporated, leaving behind a burning excitement that warred with his desire to stay under the covers, cuddling his cervitaur.

"We could do both," he mumbled to himself, looking down at Dipper's sleeping face. "It's only nine-thirty, no one else is -"

"Rise and shine, Dip-Dop!" The two boys jolted, Will sitting up a little and Dipper jerking up from sleep, staring around in drowsy alarm. Mabel pounded on their door again. "Wakey Wakey, Will!"

Will groaned, then laughed at poor, confused Dipper's expression. He rubbed the cervitaur's ears. "We're up, Mabel!"

"I'll believe it when I see it!" she shot back. "Breakfast downstairs in half an hour, and then presents!" Will could hear her bound away, which meant she was on foot, not fins. It certainly explained her enthusiasm. "Don't be late~!"

"Wouldn't dream of it," he called back. Dipper blinked slowly at the door, before grunting and flopping back down.

"'s revenge, she's finally got me," he mumbled, almost unintelligibly, into the hunter's side. "Th's is for all those years I woke her up..."

Will chuckled, ruffling his hair again. "Sounds like you had it coming. Sleep well?"

"Mm-hmm... h'bout you?"

"Same." And he meant it, this time. For one night, he'd asked Bill if he could just have some ordinary sleep - no weird prophetic dreams, no nightmares with the flood, just some ordinary, restful sleeping. And he had awoken with that marvelous sense of having slept a good, long while, of having had scraps of good dreams but no remembrance, leaving you feeling positive and prepared for the day.

A little Christmas miracle, just for him.

"Good. Y'r weird when you don't -" Dipper's sentence broke off in a yawn. "Sleep." He rolled away from Will, onto his belly, and slowly started stretching his legs and back. Will took the opportunity to get some feeling back into his own legs. "What time is it, anyways?"

"Nine-thirty."

Dipper groaned again. "Why is she up this early? That's way too early."

"I thought you said you got her up other years?"

"Yeah, at like, eleven," Dipper grunted, getting to his feet and stretching his arms over his head. Will reached out and ran a hand over the cervitaur's abs, grinning when he was rewarded with a tiny squeak. "She usually really sleeps in in the winter. I guess that's a mermaid thing, not a Mabel thing."

"Looks like." Will stood up, only to drape himself over Dipper's back a moment later, hanging there like a sack. He still wasn't sure whether he wanted to be excitable or lazy this morning, but with how cold the room was, he was leaning towards the latter. "Mmm, you're warm..."

"You'd be too, if you had a whole extra body to heat up." Dipper sidestepped a little, causing Will to sag forwards. "Now come on, we've got to get downstairs before she starts adding glitter to breakfast."

"Oh, is that what we're doing?" Will grinned up from where his head was hanging. "I dunno, I'm with her on that. It adds a little zest." Dipper took another sidestep, forcing Will to stand lest he fall off and land flat on his face. "Maybe I've got to distract you until she's finished her breakfast work of art, hmm?"

Dipper rolled his eyes, smiling. "Oh really? And how do you plan to distract me, hmm?"

"Oh, I had a few ideas," Will purred back, waggling his eyebrows. "I was thinking, reading you a nice book? Petting your cute little back? Maybe a massage?"

Dipper snorted. "Aw, that's sweet. And here I thought you were planning to stick your tongue down my throat," he teased. Will shook his head, opening his arms to the side.

"Well, if that's what  you want, then I could oblige." He stepped in, hands on either side of Dipper's head, angling the cervitaur's face down to meet his own. "After all, I-"

"Dipper? William?" The boys jumped at the deep, familiar voice outside their door, and Will caught the look of annoyance that shot through Dipper's eyes before they turned away to look at the door. "It's Ford - Mabel sent me up here to tell you two - and I quote - uh... "Get down here, and no macking out until I get to mack out."" There was a brief pause. "I'm… not sure what she expects, though, since she's managed to cover the entire shack in mistletoe. But anyways... Come on down when you two are dressed. Stan's apparently making StanCakes."

"Okay, thanks Grunkle Ford," Dipper called back. Will heard a note of strain in it, but he knew better than to ask. "We'll be right down."

"Ok. Well... See you down there, then!" The two listened for a moment to Stanford's fading footsteps, and then Dipper listened a moment longer to echos Will couldn't hear with his own human ears, before looking back at the hunter.

"Well." Will wasn't sure how to follow that. "That kind of ruined the mood, hm?"

Dipper rolled his eyes again. "Yeah, I'm sure he's got a PhD in that  too.” He turned to grab a sweater from his closet, and tossed one to Will as well, who threw it on. He admired the red and green sweater, but the gold trim was what really sold it for him. Then Dipper turned back around, and he had to stifle a giggle.

Dipper took one look at his expression and sighed. “…Okay, just get it out of your system.”

William choked back a giggle. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Okay.” Will took a deep breath, eye sparkling with glee. “You… know… Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen!”

“Are you really going to do the whole song?”

“Comet and Cupid, and Donner, and Blitzen!”

“Seriously?”

“But do you recall! The most famous deer-boy of all?” Will sang out as sweetly as he could manage (that is to say, not very sweetly at all), then grinned, tapping the writing on Dipper’s sweater as he sang it. “Dipper the grumpy deer boy!”

“Alright, that’s enough.”

“Had a very cute behind!”

Dipper went red. “Will, please.”

Will opened his mouth to add more, but stopped when he saw the pleading look Dipper was giving him, ears down, eyes wide. “Aww, how could I say no to a face like that? Alright, I’ve had my fun.”

“Thank goodness,” Dipper breathed, relief ghosting over his face.

 

 

The scene when they get down to the kitchen is absolutely picturesque, Dipper thought to himself with a smile. Mabel and Stan are busy by the stove and counter, cooking breakfast together while Mabel tried to coax their Grunkle into singing some Christmas music. Ford, meanwhile, was simply sitting at the table, smiling at their antics. Even his usually twitchy tail seemed relaxed this morning, dangling peacefully behind him instead of flicking around every which way.

“Morning! Merry Christmas!” Will cheered as the two of them walked in, Will taking a seat at the table and Dipper settling in beside him. Stan grunts a “Morning” back, and Ford nods to them with a small smile. If his gaze lingered a little too long, or a little too suspiciously on Will, Dipper ignored it as best he could. After all, unless Ford was willing to start something over his ‘evidence,’ Dipper was just going to do his best to forget about the whole conversation.

Mabel whirled around. “Merry Christmas, you too! Glad to see you didn’t get too caught up with all the mistletoe!”

“Well you said no ‘macking’ till you got to ‘mack,’” Dipper replied, adding the air-quotes, “so we figured we’d wait ‘til Pacifica arrived. That’s what you meant, right?”

Mabel grinned, nodding. “Yup! She’s gonna come spend most of today with us, since her parents are out at some big fancy Christmas party thing.” She wrinkled her nose. “You know, you’d think they’d spend more time with family, but nooo.”

“So when is she gonna get here?” Will asked.

“Soonish, I think. I made sure I had the mistletoe up everywhere, because this year!” She brandished her spatula, eyes narrowed in determination. “This year, I’m going to get a proper mistletoe kiss!”

“Sweetie, the eggs are burning.”

She yelped, whirling back to the stove to take care of the eggs. Will looked over at Dipper, eyebrow raised. “A proper mistletoe kiss?”

Dipper chuckled. “Yeah. Mabel’s a real romantic. When she and Paz started dating, she wanted to make sure that every holiday went as romantically as possible. Like…” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Labor Day, she made her a card, Mabon, she put together a scavenger hunt of compliments and things she was grateful for, plus a mini-feast, but that was more Thanksgiving… then Halloween, she made them matching costumes… but then we got around to Christmas. And for some reason, that just did not happen the way she wanted it to.”

Will hummed with interest. “Sounds like quite a story!” he teased, looking over at Mabel. She glared back over her shoulder, waving the spatula threateningly.

“Not one for today. I’m not jinxing it again!”

Dipper chuckled. “Fine. Long story short, she wanted a perfect mistletoe kiss, but every year, something would go wrong. It’s kind of become a family tradition to see how it goes each year.”

“You say tradition, I say curse,” they heard Mabel grumble from the stove.

“I’m sure you’ll get it this year, Mabes!” her twin cheered back. “I can’t see how you couldn’t, with all the mistletoe you’ve put up.”

“Dipper, don’t say that, you’ll jinx it!”

“Since when have you believed in bad luck?” Will asked. “You’re the optimistic one!”

“Since five years of strange happenings, Will. I’m feeling optimistic about year six, though! This is gonna be it!”

The small talk continued through breakfast, the Pines sharing small stories with William, as well as Pacifica when she arrived shortly after they’d sat down. Dipper knew that she’d heard a lot of these stories before, but the way they told them still had her giggling, and had him laughing outright. Mabel was an especially good storyteller, more active and vibrant than any Christmas he had seen before, finally out of her tank and that pseudo-hibernation funk she went through. Her imitations and gestures had the whole lot of them in stitches.

Will seemed to be enjoying himself, too, and the Stans were getting along in a way he’d never seen them before. He smiled, settling back on his haunches as Mabel started recounting the time when Stan had taken a nap in the shop, and Ford had put a display sign on him for the tourists.

Things were good. Life was good.

 

 

The Pines had a very specific order to things on Christmas - Breakfast, Presents, Games. They’d added Drinks when the twins had turned 21, but that tended to mix in with Games. So, once things finished up in the kitchen, Dipper and Will volunteering to tidy up, since they hadn’t cooked, the six of them reconvened in the living room. Mabel declared herself this year’s Santa, citing years of being unable to do so due to wet hands, and started passing out gifts at an alarming rate.

There were a few gifts from people who weren’t there (Wendy had sent each of them a little something, and there were a few tacky boxes labeled “From Soos”) but for the most part, they were from the people present. There was a lot of laughter, oohs and aahs over the gifts (Will loved the were-gerbil Stan had given him, and Ford had, surprisingly, gone teary-eyed over a do-it-yourself model ship from his twin), and hugs all around. The latter were mostly from Mabel, but Will caught a sneaky, one armed hug from Stanley to his twin.

That’s weird, a familiar voice echoed in the back of his mind. He elected to ignore it, just for today. There’d be more time for Bill later.

As they finished unwrapping presents and fell back into talking, Will felt… a little jealous. Back when his old man had still been alive, they’d talked every now and then… but they never had this kind of connections, or made these kinds of stories with one another. He had often supposed it might have been a side effect of being adopted, although recently, he speculated that it might have been a side effect of being a former demon. But whatever the case may have been, the truth was that he’d never experienced this kind of family bonding before he’d gotten to Gravity Falls.

And… he really liked it.

When he had first arrived in Gravity Falls, it had been a mistake - an accident, some slip of fate that connected one of the local anomalies to where he’d been hunting. His first few days had been a hindrance, spent lost in the woods before Dipper finally found him. And since then…

Well, he considered himself very lucky to have what he had now. He felt like the Pines really accepted him, with the exception of Ford. He was certain, though, that if he watched himself and didn’t do anything suspicious, the older scientist would warm up to him as well. He had a family now, more real than the facade of one that had given him his last name.

He was happy.

 

 

Stanley wasn’t sure how his gift was going to go over. After their little fight yesterday, he wasn’t sure of a lot of things, but he’d become accustomed to that between him and Stanford. And sure, they had rougher patches, but some days… some days they had better patches. Times that gave him hope, that made him remember the Pines twins, back on Glass Shard Beach, and the plans that they made there… plans that never panned out, sure, and maybe some would call him a sentimental old fool for even remembering them, but… Well, sometimes he was a sentimental old fool. And he wanted to let his brother know that, despite everything…

Well, the important thing was that the gift had gone over well. And even if he hadn’t actually cried when he got it, tearing up was a step in the right direction, in Stanley’s book.

So was the shoulder pat Stanford gave him later, when they passed each other in the hallway.

It was always the little things.

 

 

“I warned you,” Pacifica said, pretending to examine her nails, unable to hide the knowing smirk across her lips. “What did I say?”

Will groaned into the tabletop. “Don’t bet against Stan or Mabel,” he replied, voice muffled. There was a chuckle around the table.

“And?”

Will lifted his head a little, giving the gorgon a half-hearted glare. “Don’t make promises I don’t wanna keep,” he grumbled.

“That’s right.” She pat him on the head sympathetically. “It’s okay, they’ll only show the video at the next several Christmases.”

Will just groaned, trying not to think of the Lamby dance that awaited him.

 

 

“Hey, Mabel.”

Mabel stopped pouring hot chocolate, glancing over her shoulder. “Hey Dipdop, what’s up?”

The cervitaur shrugged, walking over to her. She went back to pouring drinks. “Not a lot. Just thinking…”

She knew. “About Mom and Dad?” She didn’t have to look at him to know the expression he was making, ears turned down, eyes lowered. She sighed. “Me too.”

“D’you think… they’re okay?”

She didn’t answer right away, just stared down into the cups of hot chocolate. The steam made her vision foggy, not the tears that certainly didn’t prick at her eyes. “I think… they’d miss us, if they remembered,” she said finally. They talked about this every year, and every year it went a little differently. “But they don’t.”

“…I miss them, sometimes,” Dipper finally admitted, after a lengthy silence between them. She slung one arm around his waist, pulling him into a half-hug.

“Me too, Dipper.” He returned the hug, pulling her in tightly. “But, we have each other. And we have the family we made here.” She moved to pulled back a little, and he reluctantly let her. She grinned up at him, despite the wetness at the corner of her eyes. “And when we get through this, we’ll see them again. Don’t worry.”

Dipper didn’t say anything, but his expression said enough for him. He just pulled her back into a sincere sibling hug. And this time, she didn’t pull away until the others started calling for their hot chocolate in the other room.

 

 

“Stanford.”

Ford didn’t move. He was standing on the back porch, having excused himself for a breath of fresh air a few minutes ago. This time spent with his family was refreshing, but… somewhat overwhelming, even after ten years.

Then again, after thirty years of traversing dangerous dimensions, with no real social contacts like this, he could hardly be blamed. And now, the person responsible was calling his name.

He tilted his head slightly. “Hello, William.”

The suspected demon-in-human-form stepped up next to him, shoulders hunched and teeth gritted against the cold. He wasn’t wearing a coat. “Geeze, I know you have fur, but aren’t you freezing?”

“Fur helps. I’ve only been out here for a minute, anyways.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been out here for only a few seconds, and I know I’ll be back in soon enough…” He trailed off, rubbing furiously at his arms in an attempt to keep warm. Ford stood there, waiting for him to say his piece. “So… I wanna talk to you about Dipper.”

“What about Dipper?”

“How he and I are a thing.” William glanced over at the sphinx, and Ford kept his face impassive. “I get the feeling you don’t like me dating him much…”

“The twins… and Stanley, are the only family I have left,” he answered simply. Even in the cold, there was the faint smell of alcohol emanating from William, making Ford wonder if he’d had to use liquid courage to start this conversation. “It’s understandable that I’d be protective of them.”

Will nodded, looking back out at the yard. “Yeah, I can see that. But… I don’t know, I just think maybe we got off on the wrong foot, somehow.” He shivered against the cold. “Stan and I have talked a lot about this… and Durland and Blubs have mentioned it, too. There are a lot of people outside Gravity Falls who might want to hurt your family. They’ve told me what could happen.” He looked back over at Ford. “I just want you to know - I’m not one of those people. I’m not the bad guy. Dipper’s safety… that’s one of the most important things to me. And maybe you feel you can’t trust me - I’m not sure why, I thought we hit it off at first - but, I just want you to know that I really, honestly do care for Dipper. And I’ll do what it takes to make sure he stays safe.”

Stanford mulled it over. It sounded sincere, but he knew how Bill could sound when he wanted to be persuasive. If only Stanley were out here, he could - no, even if Stanley were out here, he’d want to know why Ford needed his Gargoyle Vision, and if Dipper didn’t believe him, there was no way he could convince Stanley. But maybe there was another way…

Next to him, Will had started shivering more, his teeth chattering a little while he waited for a response. After a long minute, he seemed to give up, turning back towards the door.

Ford turned back towards the house. “Hold on.”

Will stopped in his tracks, looking over his shoulder. “Yeah?”

Ford thought carefully about his request, and his words came slowly. “I… won’t promise that I’ll just start liking you,” he said delicately. “Like I said, those kids are… they’re the world to me. Even if they don’t believe that.” Will opened his mouth to say something, and Ford cut him off quickly. “But. I’m willing to turn a blind eye to some of your… actions, if you swear that you won’t hurt Dipper.” Will’s expression shifted, from excitement to confusion. Ford reached out a six-fingered hand. “Deal?”

Will blinked at it, eyebrows raised, visible eye wide. “Oh. Well…” He seemed at a loss for a moment, as if arguing internally with himself, before coming to a resolution, looking back up and meeting the sphinx’s eye. He took his hand, giving it a firm shake. “Deal.”

 

 

This year, everything was going to go right. Mabel had planned it perfectly. There was mistletoe everywhere, so even if she missed one shot, she’d have plenty of opportunities to get another.

(Bonus of the mistletoe: she now had a plethora of pictures where Will was sneaking little kisses from her brother. The better ones were going in the scrapbook for sure.)

But now, she had to get her own mistletoe miracle. And she was waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

The only problem was, maybe she’d tried to plan things too perfectly. Her amulet’s power was almost up, and she still hadn’t found the perfect mistletoe moment for her and Pacifica. She could theoretically do it as a mermaid, but… she would probably be too drowsy to really manage it.

She was running out of time. And she needed to plot fast.

“I’m starting to turn into Dipper,” she chuckled to herself, chewing on her eraser as she looked over her “game-plan” drawing one more time. Will and Ford were out on the front porch, and Dipper said he and Stan would stay out in the kitchen, which meant that the hallway and the living room would be wide open for perfection. “But, Ford and Will could come back in, and cause a draft… or, if they don’t pay attention, they may walk right in…” A chunk of eraser fell off the pencil, and she pulled a face. “P-tooh!”

“Well, that can’t be tasty.”

Her face went bright red. She hadn’t even heard the gorgon sneaking up behind her. She turned around, spluttering. “O-oh, Pacifica, I was just-!”

A pair of lips met hers, just ghosting over as she turned, then pressing forward when she froze in shock. A hand rested on her cheek, holding her close and encouraging her to kiss back. There were no fangs, so the heiress must have donned her amulet at some point, and when the kiss finally broke, Mabel opened eyes she hadn’t known she’d closed to see deep blue eyes staring back at her.

They held one another’s gaze, breathless, before a small, smug smirk began on Pacifica’s face. “Hey, Mabel?”

“Yeah Paz?”

Her girlfriend pointed up. “Mistletoe.”

 

 

Will hadn’t believed that someone could hold that much liquor. The Pines family had proved him wrong. He didn’t know if it was the extra body mass, or long years of training, or the fact that Stanley’s drink of choice appeared to be 100 proof moonshine, but they could really put it away. He was three sheets to the wind, and Dipper barely seemed buzzed when the family decided to call it a night. Thankfully, Dipper was able to help him up the stairs, and assisted in stripping back down to his boxers for bed. He whined when the cervitaur left him in bed briefly to take off his own sweater, but stopped immediately when he returned. Dipper laughed.

“Y’r adorable,” he murmured, pulling the hunter close. Will tried to snuggle deeper into his chest.

“No, you’re a doe… a door…” he mumbled back, pressing little kisses to skin where ever he could reach. “T-the cutest.”

Dipper hummed, not willing or too tired to get into a drunken argument about this. “Good night, Will… Merry Christmas.”

“G’night, Dip… sweet dreams…”

Chapter Text

“Dipper! Dipper! Dang it, Dip-dop, where are you? I need a hand!”

Dipper chuckled, getting up from in front of the couch. “Coming, Mabel!” he called into the hall, before looking back at Will. “Be right back.”

“Mm-hm.” Will hardly moved from his spot, lounging on the couch. Dipper shook his head, smiling, and went to see what his sister wanted.

The hunter watched him go out of the corner of his eye, sighing once he was out of sight. The TV had some old show playing, reruns of a paranormal show Dipper said he used to watch as a kid. Will wasn’t really paying much attention to it, though. It wasn’t… bad, just pretty underwhelming, compared to what he’d seen in Gravity Falls. But Dipper liked it, and had asked him to watch it with him today, so… here he was.

His mind, on the other hand, was elsewhere, in an almost literal sense. He and Bill had been chatting on and off all day, and if Dipper had noticed that he seemed a little bit zoned out today, the cervitaur had been nice enough not to mention it. He probably chalked it up to post-Christmas lounging. They’d been doing an awful lot of that. It was nice, but… Will wasn’t the kind of person to stay still for long. And he was tired of waiting for stuff to happen to him.

So he was going to make things happen.

‘So, what exactly was the plan, before the Fluventis?’

Boy, we don’t quit, huh? Bill laughed back at him. Look, I know what you’re trying to do, but I’m telling you - it’s a bad idea.

‘Dipper’s going to find out sometime. I want to make sure I know as much as I can before he does.’

Why, so you can comfort him? The demon’s tone was mocking, at best. Look, he isn’t going to like it, either way.

‘Well… I’ll do damage control then.’

Riiiiight. I can see that going over well. HEY BOYFRIEND! I’M THE DEMON THAT HAUNTS YOUR NIGHTMARES, BUT DON’T WORRY! I’VE SPEND MONTHS KNOWING THIS AND NOT TELLING YOU, BECAUSE I WANTED YOU TO FEEL SAFE! Yeah, that’s gonna work great.

‘You know, for a subconscious, you’re kind of an asshole.’ He thought. ‘Actually, no, you’re a total asshole.’

For a subconscious, I’m a lot of things. And one of those things is bored with talking about Dipper! Geeze, OBSESSIVE MUCH?! Though, I guess I can’t really blame you… Bill trailed off into an uncharacteristic silence, piquing Will’s interest.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

Eh, nothing important right now. Hey, you know Blondie ’s been trying to get your attention for like, a minute now, right?

Will startled, coming out of his thoughts and looking over at the doorway. Pacifica was looking over at him, one perfect eyebrow visible over her shades.

“Wow, that bored from this show, huh?” she asked, slithering in to sit on the other end of the couch. “Dipper making you watch it?”

“Yeah. It’s not bad, just a little… underwhelming, I guess.”

She smirked. “Gravity falls has that effect on people.”

He chuckled back. “Yeah, I guess so. Excited for tonight?”

Pacifica’s nose wrinkled, as if she’d smelled something foul. “Well… I’m looking forward to having Mabel with me, at least. Now that she’s got legs, there’s not much my parents can do to keep her out of the party if I want her there.”

“They make you go every year, huh? So, is this the first year you two are going to spend New Years together, then?”

“Well, I’ve snuck out early a few times, but it’s always been after midnight. So… I guess it is.” Her hair peered over at him, though her face stayed focused on the TV. “What about you?”

“Hmm?”

“Are you excited for your first New Years with the Pines?”

He snorted. “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

“Ugh. Classy.”

“Actually, does Multibear shit in the woods? Or does he have like… a bear outhouse?”

She clicked her tongue. “Alright, this conversation has already gone way off course. Let’s talk about something else.”

“Oh?” He looked over at her. “Like what?”

“I need a favor from you.”

He raised his eyebrow. “Is that so? The great Pacifica needs my help?” He shook his head in mock disbelief. “Truly, the wonders of Gravity Falls will never cease!”

“Shut up.” The gorgon elbowed him, but he just laughed. “I’m serious.” She paused, peering over at the doorway. “Where’s Dipper, by the way? Still helping Mabel?”

He shrugged “I guess so. She’s been spending most of the day getting ready. Can’t imagine it’s easy, since she’s saving her amulet for tonight. Now, what’s this about a favor?”

Her hair twisted around itself, tasting the air with flickering tongues. After a moment, she seemed satisfied with whatever information that gave her. “Mabel and I are making Dipper an amulet.”

He blinked. “Really? That’s great news!”

“But Mabel wants it to be a surprise.”

“Well, yeah, I can see why.” He quirked an eyebrow. “That doesn’t explain the favor, though.”

“You’ve been at a coven meeting before, and I know I’ve explained some of how we make the amulets. The thing is, we need his measurements in order to enchant it properly. And since you spend the most time with him, it would probably be easy for you…”

“I dunno… Nubs can be pretty oblivious, but I’m fairly certain he’d notice if I started chasing after him with a ruler.”

She stared at him. “Nubs?”

“Yeah. You know…” Will pantomimed tiny little antlers with his fingers. “Now that he’s lost his fall pair, they’re just little nubs, right?”

“And here I thought you were going to stop with the nicknames…”

“I asked him about them,” Will replied, smug. “And we agreed that if he asked me not to use one, I wouldn’t. As of now, everything I use has been approved by the deer himself.” He stuck out his tongue. “So neh!”

He couldn’t see her pupils behind the shades, but even the snakes in her hair rolled their eyes at that, so it wasn’t hard to figure that hers were doing the same. “Well, whatever. I don’t know why you’re so hung up on nicknames anyways. Look, are you going to help Mabel and I or not?”

There was a clatter from the hallway, and they both jumped, glancing over… but it wasn’t the twins returning, just Stanford, stumbling towards the stairs. From the looks of him, he had hardly slept at all, and he barely glanced over at them as he passed. Will relaxed, flopping back into his seat.

“Of course I’ll help. And, I’ll even do my best to be subtle about it. As for the nicknames… I’ll get the perfect one for him eventually. But there are so many good ones, it’s hard to choose, you know?”

“I’m just surprised you’re so set on nicknaming someone who only goes by his nickname,” Pacifica replied in a deadpan.

Will took a minute to process that, slowly turning his face towards the gorgon. “…what?”

“I’m just saying, ’Dipper’ already suits him pretty well. Kind of silly to keep giving nicknames to someone who has one already, but, I guess you guys do whatever you want to.”

Will sat up. “Are you telling me that Dipper’s name isn’t really Dipper?” he asked, shock and incredulity seeping across his face and into his voice. Pacifica’s eyebrows raised, her lips pursing in a thoughtful frown.

“Are you telling me you thought his name was actually Dipper?”

The two of them stared at each other, Will blinking owlishly and Pacifica looking as though she were trying not to laugh. The hunter finally turned away, springing from the couch and headed towards the door, shouting towards Mabel’s room: “Dipper! Dipper, what’s your name?!”

“What?!”

 

 

Ford was exhausted. Sphinx or not, he was starting to get too old to be pulling these all-nighters, much less three in a row.

He couldn’t fathom how Dipper did it. He couldn’t fathom how Dipper did a lot of things, actually.

He stumbled out of his study, barely managing to press the correct buttons on the elevator to get it moving, and dropped to his haunches, too tired to care about being bipedal. The transport rumbled a little as it rose, the sound and vibrations soothing to his sleep-deprived mind, and his eyes slipped shut for just a second…

Before snapping open again when the elevator gave a little ‘ding!’ Sighing, he stepped out, dragging himself up the half-flight of stairs to the door. He peered through the peephole to make sure no one unsavory was in the gift shop, before opening the fake vending machine and stepping out, shutting it carefully behind him.

There were voices coming from the living room… real ones, not imagined echos from his past. That was likely Dipper - he knew his grandnephew had some kind of marathon running today, and Mabel had been invited by her girlfriend to go to a party… that would be good for her, he knew. She was too much of a personality to be cooped up in a tank for so long. He’d have to remember to thank Pacifica for making her an amulet. The Pines family had never really been on high priority for them.

He’d thank her after a nap. A long, well-earned cat nap.

“…help Mabel and I, or not?”

Speak of the gorgon, there she was… talking with Will, from the sound of the other voice. He wrinkled his nose, but couldn’t muster the energy to be irritated. He still had no ‘real’ proof, as Dipper had so harshly put it, that Will was in fact Bill Cipher. Not that he hadn’t been looking, between picking apart the data he’d collected from the last test of Dipper’s powers. The more he found out about those, however, the more convinced he was that Will knew more than he let on… and, more dangerously, if he found some way to harness Dipper’s powers for his own gain…

Well. The cloud of dimensional rift had evaporated years ago, but that didn’t mean there weren’t other ways of slamming two universes together. And Bill was nothing if not creative…

He was almost up the stairs when Will started shouting something about Dipper’s name, and he flattened his ears. He had agreed to look the other way for some of the demon’s actions, but it was hard to turn a deaf ear when he was so loud.

He finally got to his room and shut the door, thankful that it muffled most of the shouted conversation from downstairs. It took him no time at all to shuck off his researching gear and sink into his bed like a stone. He’d gotten accustomed to a lot of things in the ten years he’d been back, but no matter how long it was, one thing he’d never take for granted again was a warm, safe bed.

Though, he thought to himself, staring at the ceiling, it was less safe now, given who they were sharing a house with.

He needed to show Dipper the results of their latest research soon - it could be the biggest lead they’d had on finding the Fluventis in… well, ever. But if there was even the slightest risk from Wi- from Bill, then… he couldn’t take that chance.

He rolled on his side, curling up, wings stretching out just a little to create something like a canopy around him. He’d take a nice nap, first. A good, long nap, and when he woke up… he’d start planning.

The truth would win out, and Dipper would see. Because, in Gravity Falls?

Trust no one. 

Chapter Text

I have been keeping a close eye on Will since my last conversation with Dipper… or, I’ve tried. I admit, I got a late start of it - the data Dipper’s newfound powers provided me with is incredible, and combing through it has revealed some very promising - and potentially, very dangerous - options for the people of Gravity Falls… and perhaps, the world.

More on that later.

As of right now, I will be chronicling my findings on Will - his history, how he came to the Falls, his relationship with Dipper, and the habits of his that so remind me of my time with Bill. Hopefully, something will lead to concrete evidence of his true identity. I just hope I can find it before it ’s too late.

 

 

Dipper has been asking about the data we recorded, when we traveled to the alternate dimension. I told him it was still being fully analyzed by the machine, and that we wouldn ’t have any new data for at least a few more days. He seemed to believe me, but this puts a time limit on how long I can keep this information from him… and therefore, from Will Bill Will.

As for him, I ’ve been keeping a close eye on him. It hasn’t been too difficult - January is always slow here, and after all the fuss these past few months, everyone seems content to enjoy the slow days. Stanley has been in the storage basement, mostly, working on his tourist trap attractions. Why he feels the need to have so many of them, I’ll never know. If the Fluventis hadn’t hit, I would have likely been stuck cleaning up the mess they make, after Stanley left…

But back to Will. Years ago, Dipper described his interactions with Bill - specifically, the possession he underwent, thanks to Bill ’s trickery and Dipper’s admirable drive for answers. While I had a lot of experiences with Bill and his possessions myself, I must admit that nothing he had done while we worked together had been anywhere near the caliber of violence he displayed to my nephew - not to mention, forcing Dipper out of his body for the duration of his possession. Given what Bill is capable of, perhaps he saw that as a mercy? I would attribute this to the fact that Dipper was already suspicious of Bill, and Bill saw no threat in abusing his power over him. I, however, had been taken in by his lies, and so he avoided indulging in his more demonic tendencies for the sake of keeping up his charade. Reviewing the past cases of demonic possession, I ’ve ruled out the idea that Bill is possessing an unwilling host. Dipper’s account, as well as some… well, some things are better left forgotten, but prior experience shows that an unwilling host would not be able to sustain Bill’s presence for this long. And, if Will were an unwilling host, upon the cessation of possession, I would hope he would reach out to us.

Unless, for some reason … he couldn’t?

Hm

…for Dipper’s sake, I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know how long Bill’s had his clutches on Will, but… if there is a chance that it was only just before my arrival, then I owe it to him to try and save Will from Bill, if unwanted possession is the case.

I will do some tests, and record the results.

 

 

I have determined that Will is NOT an unwilling host. He has taken up pestering Dipper about his name in the entirety of his free time, which has made testing this easier. Simple tricks, such as salt lines, chalk circles, and mind disruptors all failed to get any reaction from him. A destabled possession should have been disrupted, which means that Will is a willing pawn for Bill or Bill has managed

That ’s impossible.

The logical explanation is that Will somehow met Bill prior to arriving in Gravity Falls. I know he claims to come from a wealthy background, so researching his history shouldn ’t be too hard. There ought to be something there that will lead me to some answers.

And for everyone ’s sake, I hope it’s soon.

 

 

I had to dig up my old notes on… “channeling,” as Bill liked to call it. I had often considered burning them, back after I learned what Bill’s true intentions were… now I’m glad I didn’t. Forty years hasn’t done much for my memory, even as a sphinx.

Copying them all over would take too much time. Besides, I only need a relatively small portion of them.

 

The Basics:

- Spirits need permission

- Willing hosts require larger amounts of sustenance, especially if the possession is maintained

- Willing hosts need to rest their bodies at least a few hours each day -> Will seems to need a lot of sleep to function - related?

- During this resting period, willing hosts can ’t host the spirit

If I tried to summon Bill, would that destabilize it? <- Bad Idea

- Over time, willing hosts run the risk of essentially being taken over. I’ve never seen it in action, but Bill mentioned it once he said something he knew did it it was probably HIM If this happened, then Bill’s essentially autonomous, if without power. Not the best case scenario… but not the worst, either.

 

Someone ’s at the door. I’ll finish this later.

 

 

The someone was Will, who has been … surprisingly helpful. Ironic.

He stopped by my study (fortunately, not the one downstairs) to ask if Dipper had told me about the secret library in his house yet. I politely responded that, while mention had been made of it, I had not actually seen it yet. He said he and Dipper were going over to do some reading, and invited me along.

(I suspect Dipper did not want me to come. I don ’t know what motives Will had for inviting me - maybe to broaden the schism between Dipper and myself?)

(Dipper also let Will ride on his back on the way over. He has it bad. Reminds me of Stan with that girl he liked back in)

Anyways. The library.

I ’m surprised I hadn’t found this during my initial period of research in Gravity Falls, but given some of what I’ve found here, I suspect Bill would have tried to keep me away from it. A number of the books try to explain locational anomalies around the Falls - chunks of forest moving, creatures appearing and disappearing in enormous quantities… Its hardly a wonder that Dipper thought these references might lead us to the Fluventis. It’s impressive how much progress he’s made this past fall while I was away. Hopefully, once this Will business is behind us, we can capitalize on that.

And speaking of Bill, there was a surprising amount of information on him, too. Much of it was scattered through the books, similarly to my own journals - the former owner of this house was as deluded as I was. Bill is nothing if not persuasive, when he wants to be. I asked Will if I could borrow several of the books, and he agreed. To be honest, if he hadn ’t I’m sure I would have found a way to smuggle them out anyways.

I still cannot think of a motive behind his actions, though. He knows we worked together, he must know I ’m onto him. But, if he thinks I’m ignorant of the situation, I must allow him to think that. It’s not as if he’ll be getting into my head anytime soon. That’s what the plate is for!

 

 

I never got around to documenting Will ’s history earlier, so here is a summary of what I’ve been able to dig up.

His story about being part of a rich family is true, at least. Whether he was born to that family or not, is a different story. There is no mention of him in the Hunt family history until his “reappearance and recovery.” According to the news, he had been lost in the woods, and upon returning fell into a terrible coma. After about a year, he woke up. That’s the earliest mention of him, and it certainly seems suspect.

Since his waking, he ’s made something of a name for himself in the social circles of the elite - brass, loud, blunt, strange… all words that could easily describe Will.

Perhaps Will got out of his coma through a deal with Bill …?

 

 

For someone who spent a year in a coma, he certainly spends a lot of time napping.

 

 

It has been nearly a week since Dipper first asked me about the data we collected, and I can keep it from him no longer. (He threatened to get Stanley to check if I were lying - given the nature of my current investigations, I really need Dipper to trust me, and I couldn ’t risk that.)

Well, this is as good a time as any to record the findings here.

My initial suspicions were further confirmed - Dipper ’s magic actually transported us, as well as a section of forest, into another dimension. Having traveled to a variety of dimensions, I would likely list this one as parallel. Nothing seemed particularly out of place (though, we didn’t wander away from the area we started in). The air was breathable, sky and atmosphere seemed normal, and I believe there was more forest out from past our chunk of woods. We will have to check if his abilities are limited to a single dimension, or if they allow him to jump through multiple. I suspect, based on our first set of data, that it is the former. Inter dimensional travel via artificial means requires a great deal of work and calculations to ensure safe passage. “Magic” makes this easier, as it works through intuition, not science, but it is often limited. The fact that Dipper was able to safely transport us there and back, without needing any computations and without error, suggests that this dimension and that one are the only places he can go.

This is almost good news. When I first realized that Will was Bill, I didn ’t know his motive. The discovery of Dipper’s powers was… alarming, to say the least. Bill can travel dimensions, but his abilities are limited. I honestly don’t know the full details, but I do know that if he is properly banished, he can’t see this dimension. Only when he’s been summoned does he have any real power.

If he were able to properly move through dimensions … or worse, if he achieved his original aim… well, the consequences would be unspeakable. Needless to say, Will’s sway over Dipper and Dipper’s abilities was alarming. But with the boundaries of Dipper’s power, I don’t know if Bill would be able to utilize it for his goals.

Hopefully, we won ’t have to find out.

 

 

Curious. I think Will may suffer from hydrophobia.

Will nor Dipper seem to have noticed my scrutiny the past few days. January is finally picking up pace, and Stanley has the boys (and Mabel, when she can spare her amulet for it) ( …and myself, when he catches me off guard) working to get the shop in order for the new season. He’s hoping to open as early as the last week in January this year, although how he expects to do this without Mabel around, I’m not sure. She practically runs half the Shack, something that would be less impressive were her boss anybody but Stanley. As it is, her presence makes the Shack a lot more welcoming to tourists, something that Stanley will need come February. But I digress.

As I said, Will, Dipper, and Soos have all been working to clean the shop, and I have begrudgingly volunteered to assist on several occasions, for the purposes of watching Will more closely. Time seems to have soothed Dipper ’s anger, fortunately. That, and the fact that I have not brought up my suspicions since our conversation Christmas eve. While watching him today, I noticed several instances where Will interacted with Mabel. His behavior was odd, and originally, I thought he just disliked getting wet. But his avoidance made me think there was something else at hand.

Over the course of the afternoon, I dropped mentions of water, lakes, oceans, the like, varying the intensity of the imagery. His reactions confirmed my thoughts, though I doubt he or anyone else noticed. He gets quiet when you mention large quantities of water, or swimming, or anything to do with being submerged. Bill would have no reason to be afraid of water, which leads me to believe that Will is the one who is scared of it. Even if it is just the remnants of Will, left over in his body while Bill controls it, it might be useful information.

 

 

Possession continued -

 

- A strong disturbance from the host can disrupt even the most successful possessions. (Like when Bill and I was working and

- A strong enough phobia might disrupt the possession. Even if Will no longer exists, and Bill is the only thing animating that body, if that fear is strong enough, it might work. And if Will does exist, then disrupting the possession might be enough to get him away from Bill and break the deal, whatever it was.

For Dipper ’s sake, I hope Will exists. He’ll be heartbroken if he doesn’t…

 

 

It ’s already halfway through January. Time really flies when you’re cleaning that shop. It was almost fun

Mabel ’s been getting ready for her yearly trip to visit her friend, Mermando. Dipper’s been trying to convince her to stay, like he usually does. He has a better argument this year, I’ll give him that, but even the temporary convenience of an amulet can’t compare to swimming freely in the sea, I suppose.

Tomorrow, we ’re going out to the lake, where she’ll be meeting with the usual envoy from Mermando. Dipper said he would use his magic on the water, and see if he couldn’t warm the lake a little, as a sort of send off.

I have an idea, but I ’m not sure how it will work…

Chapter Text

“How much further is it?” Will asked. Ahead of him, Dipper kicked a branch off of the path, Mabel close behind. The elder Pines twins brought up the rear, Stanley carrying most of Mabel’s baggage, and Stanford, who was keeping an eye on the trio ahead of them.

“It’s not much farther, just through those trees up there,” the cervitaur replied, pointing out a pair of evergreens. “I’m surprised we haven’t already stopped by here - I’ve taken you to pretty much everywhere else in the Falls!”

“Well, I don’t mind… I mean, there’s more interesting stuff to look at in Gravity Falls than some old lake, right?” Of course, Ford thought to himself. That fell in line with his suspicions - Will had other reasons to avoid the lake.

“It’s more than some old lake, Will!” Mabel said, practically bouncing in excitement. “It’s where they hold Family Fishing in the summer, and where the actual Falls are, and! Of personal interest to you!” She looked back over her shoulder, grinning wickedly at the hunter and waggling her eyebrows. “It’s also where Dipper had his first kiss!”

“It wasn’t a kiss!” Dipper protested loudly, ears flattening in annoyance, but it was too late. Will’s interest was piqued.

“First kiss, you say?” He sped up, catching up with Mabel. “With who? Do I have competition?”

Dipper snorted, and Mabel laughed at him. “No, no competition. Alas, Dipper’s twue wuv vanished into the ocean!”

“Seriously? Mabel, that’s-”

“And what’s the name of this “twue wuv”?”

“Will! Don’t encourage her!”

Ford had heard this story several times over the last ten years, of Mabel’s heroic attempts to free the merman trapped in the local pool, with help from Dipper. It was a good tale, and Mabel certainly gave it credit in its retelling. She really had a way with words. And gestures. And imitating silly voices.

But he had heard it before, and so tuned it out as they walked, keeping his focus on the demon in human clothing that was walking next to his grandniblings. Will was laughing, either at Mabel’s story or Dipper’s embarrassment, before he started scratching behind the cervitaur’s ears in apology.

It had to be a ruse… right?

A gust of wind blew by, and he felt his fur poof slightly in response, ears flattening into his hair to stay warm. Dipper was throwing around some casual nature magic (he wasn’t sure what he thought of that - for an ability to appear so suddenly and so strongly? There was something suspect about it… he just didn’t know what), and so the day felt almost spring-like, if you were standing close enough to him.

But he and Stanley were further behind, and it took Ford a moment to realize that his brother had been pacing his steps, slowing down near imperceptibly.

And he, not paying attention, had simply matched his pace.

Dammit.

“So, Ford,” Stan started conversationally, and Ford already knew he wasn’t going to like this conversation. “I can’t help but notice you’ve been giving Will the stink-eye for the past few days.” Of course. Of course Stan would have noticed something like that, exactly when Ford didn’t want him to. “Mind telling me what’s up with that?”

“I’m just concerned, Stan,” he replied carefully, trying to speak the truth… but only the bare minimum of the truth. Stan had never come face-to-face with Bill, not like Ford and the kids had. He didn’t fully understand the danger that the demon posed to, well… everything. It usually required something physically punching him in the face before Stan realized it was an issue.

If Ford tried to explain his theories to Stan, they’d be brushed off as “paranoia.” If he couldn’t convince Dipper, there was no way he was convincing his brother.

“What, that he’s dating Dipper?” Ford gave an internal sigh of relief - Stan had picked a topic of worry, he wouldn’t have to really twist his words. “He checks out, you know. I kept a close eye on him for the first few weeks he was here, just to make sure… why do you think I hired him so quickly?”

Ford looked over to him, eyebrows furrowed, frowning. “I thought you did that because he agreed to minimum wage?”

Stan shrugged, shifting the bags he was carrying so he wouldn’t drop them. “I know people like Will. They get an idea in their heads, and they won’t be deterred. He was going to stay, no matter what I or anyone else said or did, right?” He winked at his brother. “So, keep your friends close, your enemies closer… and anyone who’s going to date my grand-nibblings closest of all.” He nodded at the kids ahead of them - Mabel was nearing the end of her story, and Will was practically falling over Dipper laughing. “It was easy to watch him at the shop - sure, I can’t stop him and Dipper from going off into the woods, and Mabel really encouraged that, but…” He looked back to Ford. “You have someone working for you for a bit, and you start to get a good feel for their character. Especially since he spends nearly all his free time around Dipper at the Shack anyways.” He blinked, and his eyes lit up, the visual sign of his truth sight. “And with these peepers, it’s pretty hard to slip one by me.” The light died away with another blink. “So, I know you’re jealous, but -”

Ford’s step faltered at that. “Excuse me?” he interrupted, catching up again. “What makes you think I’m jealous?”

Stan snorted. “It’s pretty obvious, Sixer,” he said dryly. “You’re used to coming back to the Falls, and spending a few weeks geeking out with Dipper about whatever you’ve found on your trips, and catching up with whatever Dipper found here. Then this year, you come back and have to save some kid you know nothing about, then find that he’s dating your grandnephew, then can’t spend any time with Dipper because he’s too busy moping? All over some guy?” He rolled his eyes. “I know you all started getting along a little better before Christmas, but -”

“Stanley, I’m not jealous of Will!” Ford kept his voice low, nearly a hiss at the implication. How could he be jealous of Will? Sure, maybe he hadn’t had as much time with Dipper this year, but there were other things factoring into that! Like… Dipper refusing to leave his room, after attacking Will as a wendigo. Or, Dipper exploring his new nature magic… with Will… Or…

Oh.

He hated to admit it to himself, but… Stanley might have had a point.

“Uh-huh,” Stan replied flatly. “Sure. But what I’m trying to say is, you don’t have to be. Will’s not going to take Dipper away from us - if anything, he’s been really good for the kid, and Mabel and Soos love him - heck, even Pacifica seems to like him. Harder to tell with her, though.” He sniffed. “Probably a “rich person” thing.”

“Where are you going with this, Stan?” Because Ford suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here, having slight revelations on his own feelings. He hadn’t considered jealousy in his dislike of Will… After all, he was really Bill Cipher anyways, jealousy couldn’t even play a role by comparison in his suspicions.

Unless…

He hadn’t particularly liked Will off the bat… and he hadn’t known he was Cipher until a few weeks ago.

Could he be wrong?

“What I’m trying to say is, give the kid a chance, okay?” Ford looked over at his brother again, but Stan wasn’t looking at him - he was staring ahead on the path, and Ford followed his gaze. The kids were laughing together, now - whatever they were talking about was clearly no longer poking fun at Dipper, and his grand-nephew…

He was smiling. And not those little, proud smiles he tried to hide when Ford complimented him, or the fond, exasperated smiles he shared with his sister, but a genuine, wide smile, directed right at Will.

His gut twisted.

“He’s a good kid, and I think he’s in it for the long haul,” Stan continued. “He’s had plenty of chances to cut and run - heck, if I were in his shoes, I might have.” The gargoyle shook his head. “The kind of danger that comes with all this supernatural junk…” he trailed off. Ford found himself nodding in agreement, despite himself. There was a fair amount of danger in his (and Dipper’s) line of work. To throw yourself into it without knowing much…

Then again, he probably knew a lot more than he let on…

“So, yeah. Cut him some slack, maybe?” Stan tacked on, suddenly awkward. “Maybe see if you can spend some one-on-one time with him, or something?”

“Can’t see how I would do that, with all the time Dipper spends with him,” Ford said, in a tone that was certainly not bitter. Stan sighed in exasperation.

“Look, if you need help with that, I can help. But -”

“We’re here!”

Ford silently thanked whatever benevolent forces currently governing the universe (and there were some, he just didn’t have enough proof yet) for Mabel’s interruption. Ahead of them, the lake loomed large, surrounded on three sides by low cliffs, and of course, the Falls.

The Stans caught up with the kids, who waited at the edge of the forest for them. “I think we’re actually here early,” Stan commented, checking his watch. “For once.”

“Well yeah! Walking here was much easier without the tank!” Mabel ran ahead, towards the water, only to double back as she reached the edge of Dipper’s magical sphere. “Oh, yikes! Forgot how chilly it was…” she grumbled, returning to the group. “Dipper!”

“Yeah, Mabel?”

She swung one arm dramatically towards the lake, giving her brother a little half-bow. “Do your stuff!”

One hoof pawed nervously at the ground, but he stepped forward nonetheless, eyes glowing a little brighter as he concentrated more magic. Ford watched the area around him closely. He had some theories he’d been working on, on how Dipper’s nature magic was connected to his inter-dimensional abilities, but he hadn’t had a chance to put them to the test yet. As he studied the flow of Dipper’s magic, he didn’t see any clear signs that his powers were interacting with other dimensions… but that didn’t mean they weren’t.

He was relieved when the area around them warmed up, though.

“We should be good for awhile,” Dipper said, blinking away the glow in his eyes. “I mean, I’ll need to stay by the water to keep it that way, but-”

Mabel was hardly paying attention - she was already back at the water side, shucking off her shoes and dipping her toes into the water. It apparently met her standards, because she immediately bolted into the water. “Yes! It’s mermaid time!”

“She’s really excited about this, isn’t she?” Will asked, keeping his distance from the water’s edge.

“Well, it’s the one time of the year that she gets to swim in something bigger than a pond…” Dipper replied. “And it’s much better than a tank…”

Will looked over at him quizzically. “I’m sensing some hesitation there. Something wrong?”

Dipper just shook his head. “No, not really. I was kind of hoping she’d stay this year, since, you know… amulet. But, she still wants to see all her mer-folk and sea-folk friends, and the amulet only works some of the time, so it’s probably best she go on her usual vacation.” He sighed. “I’ll just miss her, though.”

“Awww, you two really don’t spend time apart, do you?”

“Nah, those two are inseparable.” Stan and Ford stepped up next to them, watching as Mabel jumped out of the water in an impressive arc, tail flashing in the winter sun. “The first time they did this, they were both nervous wrecks. Dipper convinced himself that Mabel wouldn’t be able to come back, and Mabel was worried that Dipper was going to have a heart attack.”

“I wasn’t that bad,” Dipper grumbled under his breath, crossing his arms. Stan just laughed.

“Hey!” Mabel waved from the water, grabbing their attention again. “Dipper, come on in, the water’s great!

“Just a second!” Dipper called back, before turning to Will, pulling off his backpack, then his shirt. “You coming?”

“Uh…” His answer stalled on his lips for a moment as he took in the show, then blinked back to attention when he realized that Dipper was now looking expectantly at him, his Grunkles looking over his shoulders with amusement and disapproval, accordingly. “Um, no, I’m gonna hang out on the shore, I think. I didn’t really come ready to swim.” He cast his eye over Dipper’s torso again. “Besides, I think I’d rather enjoy the show.”

(He could practically feel Ford’s eyes boring into him, at that.)

Dipper just rolled his eyes. “Suit yourself. There’s not going to be much of a show from here, though.”

“Eh, go swim, Dipper, it’s fine!” Stan walked over, clapping an arm around Will’s shoulders and grinning. “He can help us get the boat ready!”

“Ah, actually, if it’s all the same,” Will managed, keeping his voice steady, “I might just relax on the beach, for a bit?”

“C’mon, it’ll be fun!” Stan waved Dipper off. “You go on, we’ll be fine.”

Dipper didn’t look entirely convinced, and shared a quick look with Will, who was trying his damnedest not to look alarmed, before nodding, and heading into the water with a wave.

The three watched him go for a second, Will marveling over the oddness of watching a cervitaur swim, and then Stan was turning to the two of them, rubbing his claws together and grinning. “Alright, let’s go get the boat ready!”

Will went to protest, but, to his surprise, Ford beat him to it. “Actually, Stan,” he started, shooting a sidewards glance at Will, “why don’t you go on ahead? I need a word with Will.”

Stan paused, looking back at Ford, then Will, then Ford again. The two grunkles stared at one another for a long moment, and Will got the sense that there was something being communicated between the two of them… and then Stan shrugged.

“Alright, I’ll get it started. See you in a few!” And with a leathery flap, he was in the air, winging over towards the very rickety, unstable looking wooden dock at the edge of the beach.

Will did not think it looked sturdy, but to its credit, it held when the gargoyle dropped onto it.

Of course, that meant he was now alone with Ford.

Who had been asking him… rather uncomfortable questions, as of late. William Hunt might not do subtle himself, but that didn’t mean he was incapable of recognizing it. Over the last few weeks, Ford had been striking up alarmingly casual conversations with him. If it hadn’t been for Bill’s input, or the suspicious glances that Ford sent him whenever he thought the hunter wasn’t looking, Will might have thought that the sphinx scientist was actually warming up to him.

More like warming up to strike, Bill supplied, unhelpfully. Will ignored him, and simply put on a grin, turned to Ford, and clapped his hands together. “So! What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

He expected a glare, an intense glower, some fierce stare-down from the sphinx.

He had not expected Ford averting his gaze, staring instead at a patch of ground, just off to the side.

He felt like he recognized that expression. It took him a moment to place it, waiting for Ford to answer, and then he realized - Dipper made the same face whenever he was feeling sheepish.

Wait… oh. Oh. This, this is going to be priceless~! Bill’s voice echoed behind his eye, resounding as he threw in a laugh for good measure. Will’s grin was starting to falter as the silence dragged on. Then, thankfully, Ford sighed.

“Will, I wanted to apologize.”

OH MAN YES.

Will had to force himself not to wince, and managed to only quirk his eyebrows in what he hoped was a questioning look. “Apologize? For what?”

“I haven’t been… well, fair to you, since I’ve gotten back.” Ford finally looked up, meeting the hunter’s eye, and Will was surprised to note a hint of resignation in his gaze. “I know we talked a few weeks ago, on Christmas.”

“I remember.” Will shrugged. “You said you’d ignore some of my stuff, so long as I didn’t hurt Dipper. I haven’t forgotten.” He frowned. “Though, I’m not exactly clear on what you meant, on your end. Is there something in particular I do that bothers you?”

I ’m sure there’s a number of things.

But Ford just shook his head. “No, nothing in particular. But, I’ve been thinking… and, Stan and I had a talk, on our way here. And I realized that I really haven’t been giving you a chance. What’s more, I’ve… sort of been purposefully antagonizing you.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Will replied, trying to sound sincere. The cadence of Ford’s apology struck a sour chord in him, and he couldn’t tell whether he felt it was insincere, or whether he felt bad about the whole thing, because he could hear Bill laughing about how they’d pulled the wool over Sixer’s eyes. “I mean, I don’t know you as well as everyone else, but-”

“And I’m sure I have a reputation that precedes me, in that regard as well,” Ford replied, just a little grimly. “That I’m difficult to get along with. I’ve been through a lot, Will. Seen a lot.” His eyes took on a haunted glaze, his gaze going distant. “I’ve done a lot, too…” he added in a murmur, before shaking himself out of it. “But, what I’ve seen and what I’ve been through shouldn’t taint my judgment of you. Since I’ve come back, you’ve been there supporting Dipper in a way I’ve never seen from anyone outside this family. And… well, Stan said some things, and he might have a point.” He adjusted his glasses, something Bill recalled as one of his nervous ticks. “Basically, what I’m trying to say is, I hope we can start over. I think you were right - maybe we got off on the wrong foot.”

He ’s doubting himself?! He’s actually doubting himself! HA!

“I’ll say. The first time we met, I was bleeding to death. That would put a damper on any introduction!” Will was pleased when that got a chuckle out of the sphinx.

“Well, I wish I could say that was the weirdest introduction I’d ever had, but I’m afraid not,” he admitted. He looked out over the lake, and Will followed his gaze, resting on the twins, splashing around in deeper water, laughing and playing. “…” Ford seemed contemplative. “They really do mean a lot to me. And… you mean a lot to Dipper. So, I’m going to try and put aside my, eh… past issues, and perhaps we could be friends?”

Will ignored the laughter rattling in his skull, and settled on smiling. “I’d like that.”

“Good! Good.” Ford clasped his paws together, rocking a little on his heels, conversation hanging awkwardly between them. “So, Stanley’s probably still working on the boat. I don’t suppose you want to come help…?”

“No, no,” Will replied quickly. “Honestly, I’m probably just going to stay on land - I mean, I’m not really a fan of boating. I’ll just say goodbye to Mabel from here.”

Ford, thankfully, didn’t question this, and just nodded along with his words. “Alright. I’m going to go over and help Stan, then.” He turned, then paused, before looking over one shoulder and lifting a paw. “Uh… good talk.”

And Will watched him take off, concern sinking into his gut.

This would make it so much harder to come clean…

 

 

Stan didn’t look up as Ford approached, but the sphinx could tell by the twitch of his ears that he heard him coming. He landed with a soft “whump!” on the dock, and saw Stan’s grin.

“So, how’d it go?” he asked, keeping his gaze focused on the ropes he was working with. Ford took a spot next to him, untying a separate section.

“It went… better than expected, actually,” Ford admitted. Stan didn’t need to know the full details - he had originally planned to push Will into the water at some point. If he’d gotten the hunter out on the dock, or on the boat, it wouldn’t have been hard to make it look accidental. It was a small boat, and with him, Stan, and Dipper all aboard, accidentally nudging someone overboard wouldn’t have been hard. His thought was that if Will was scared of water, either a. Bill was scared of water, and it would have some effect on them, or b. Will was scared of water, and the emotional reaction caused by fight or flight would be enough to force Bill out.

But in the end, it came down to two things.

The first being that Dipper was still right. He didn’t have any solid proof, and hunches, well… hunches could be paranoia. It could be PTSD haunting him. And to force someone else to face their own trauma, just because he couldn’t deal with his…

Well, that statement spoke for itself.

The second reason was, Stan was not as far off the mark as Ford had originally thought. The longer he mulled it over, the more irritated he became with himself. Maybe he was jealous. Maybe he was overreacting.

And then, there was a third, lesser reason - if Will was, in fact, Bill, this would be a good way to keep him off of his tracks, should something go wrong. He could focus on preparing for a possibility, rather than fearing an inevitability. That might work out better in the long end, since then Bill wouldn’t know that -

“Oi, Sixer!”

Ford startled, looking over at his brother. Stan just raised an eyebrow. “You didn’t hear a word I just said, did you?”

There was never a good answer for that. “Uh, not, I was… lost in thought.”

Stan snorted in irritation. “I was asking if Will said he was gonna join us. He’s just kind of sitting there.”

“Oh.” Ford went back to unknotting the rope, thoughts already wandering elsewhere. “No, he’s good where he is. He’s hydrophobic.”

“What now?”

“Hydrophobic. Fear of water, Stanley, come on.”

“Psh, really? Is that all?” Stan stood up. “I know how to deal with that. One Mabel-cure, coming right up!” And with a flap of wings, he was off.

“Mmm-hmm,” Ford responded, trying to think if there were anything dangerous in his data for Bill to find out… and then his brain caught up to what Stan had said. “Wait, wha-” He looked up, to see Stan flying straight for an unsuspecting Will, who was simply standing on the shore, looking out towards the younger twins. “Wait, Stan, no!!

 

 

It was a beautiful place, Will had to concede it. Even with the bubble of spring around them, there were still patches of snow outside, covering the ground and the trees. The contrast created something of a striking picture, with warmer air providing a clarity that disappeared into colder, foggy air that obscured the sharp lines of the cliff-faces surrounding the lake. The trees, too, faded into the grey sky as they stretched away from Dipper’s influence.

Speaking of Dipper’s influence, he was starting to worry that he’d be driven into the lake, simply to keep warm. As Dipper and Mabel swam further into the lake, the edge of Dipper’s magic scootched closer and closer to Will, tightening the space between the edge of warmth and the beach. He still had some room yet, but he hoped Dipper didn’t plan to go out much further - he would be really cold.

He heard the wings only a split second before he was scooped up, an arm under each armpit, plucking him off the ground like he weighed nothing, and flown out over the water.

“Hey kid!” Stan’s gruff voice battled the wind whistling past his ears, his grin apparent in his tone. “Ready for a swim?”

Despite their elevation, Will’s stomach dropped several stories. “Stan, don’t you dare-!”

“Trust me, kid - you’ll thank me for this later.” They banked, and Will saw Dipper and Mabel in the water ahead of them as Stan dove, evening out just above the surface of the water. “Alright now, three!”

“Stan-Stan-Stan, don’t do this-”

“Two!”

“Stanley Pines if you drop me I swear-!

“One! Bombs away!”

And with that, Will was free-falling, plummeting for what felt like an eternity, frozen in descent, breathlessly waiting what he knew would come next. He was vaguely aware of Mabel and Dipper’s voices calling nearby, but the rush of blood in his ears drowned out any meaning.

And then he hit the water.

 

 

“Heheheh-aghk!” Dipper spluttered, kicking his legs as Mabel splashed him yet again, ears drooping in irritation. “Okay, you’re cheating!” he shouted at the choppy water.

Mabel surfaced again, grinning her sharp grin. “Am not!” she trilled, diving again.

“Are too!” Dipper tread water, watching and waiting. A dark shape started to form to his left, and he prepared to splash-

Only to be hit from behind by another wave.

“Come on! You breathe this stuff!” he finally managed, spluttering. “Not fair!”

“Okay, okay,” Mabel relented, swimming up to him and bobbing in place. “But, for the record, you are the one who tried to start a splash war with a mermaid.”

Dipper laughed. “Alright, fine, that one is on me,” he agreed. An amiable silence fell between them, enjoying the water and the warm, springy air. Dipper sighed. “Are you sure I can’t convince you to stay this year?”

“Nope.” Mabel shook her head, sinking down further into the water, so just her head was showing. “I know you get closer to finding the Fluventis every year, but I can’t just stay here on the off chance that you find it in the next week. Besides!” She grinned encouragingly at him. “If it did, I’m sure you and Ford could put your big ol’ brains together, and figure out a way for me to change back when I got home!”

“Yeah…” Dipper bit his lip, wondering how to word his question. “Have you… thought about that, by the way?”

“About what?”

“Well, the fact that you won’t be able to do,” he gestured to the lake around them, “this, after we find the Fluventis and fix everyone.”

Mabel floated, brow creased in thought. “I… hadn’t really considered it,” she admitted. “There are a lot of things I like about being a mermaid, and visiting Mermando and his wife and kingdom is definitely one of those things, but…” She puffed out her cheeks, blowing out a thin stream of air. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d rather be a human, or a mermaid who can be a human.” She paused again. “I mean, I guess ideally, I’d be a human who can be a mermaid, but-”

 Will’s shrill screech cut her off. “Stan, don’t you dare-!” The twins blinked at each other, then towards the source of the screaming.

“Is Grunkle Stan carrying Will?” Mabel asked, incredulous. Dipper nodded, staring at the kicking form Stan had hooked in his arms. Ford was flying after them at full tilt, though he had to pull up more before he hit the water, and lost some ground.

“Looks like. What are they-?”

Stan was almost right overhead when he shouted “One! Bombs away!” And then Will dropped, screeching like Dipper had never heard before, towards the water.

And then he hit it.

 

 

Water flooded his mouth when he screamed, cutting him off with a choke and a sputter. He forced himself to the surface again, trying to cough the liquid up while gasping for another breath, only to be submerged once more as a choppy wave hit him from behind. He could hardly see, his good eye shut tight against the water, but he knew which way was up, at least, and he struggled and kicked against the water to push himself closer to the surface

He’d been here before, he’d dreamed this before, but now it wasn’t a dream, now it was really happening, and it was worse than his dream, because in his dreams, he’d always been able to swim. His flailing was ineffectual, hopelessly pushing water around him, feeling the pressure increase as he sunk further, panic gripping his blinded senses, tempting him to open his mouth again to scream, but he had little enough air as it was, and the suffocating darkness was pressing in on him, encompassing and complete, and -

And oh god, there was something else here, too. Something bigger than him, something consuming that was seeking him out-!

Something solid pushed up underneath him, and he kicked instinctively at it. It flinched away, and then there were appendages around his torso, and someone was lifting him, the pressure was decreasing, then-

Air! He struggled again, coughing up water as he fought to get more air, to stay on the surface. There were voices, quiet yet alarmed, around him, but he couldn ’t place them at the moment. The arms around him held him still, and he strained against them, hyperventilating as he tried to shake the restraints off -

Then, faster than he knew what had happened, there was land under his feet again. He would have simply fallen, but someone was helping him, supporting him as he moved along the sand. Someone was sobbing, and even though he was out of the water, he could feel liquid pouring down his cheeks, water dripping from his hair and causing his clothes  to stick to him. And then, there was a strange, tugging sensation, and the water soaking into his skin and hair and clothes wicked away, back towards the lake.

‘Mabel…’ he managed to think, before stumbling again. The person - Dipper’ - caught him again, and this time lowered him to the ground, sitting, the hunter leaning heavily on him for support. Slowly, slowly, the blood pounding in his ears started to die down, and he could hear the cervitaur talking in low, soothing tones -

“It’s okay, Will, it’s okay, you’re safe, you’re on land. Take a deep breath, Will.” He slowly became aware of a hand on his back, rubbing soothing circles in time with the words. “Will can you hear me? Take a nice, deep breath, and let it out as slowly as you can.” He took a long, shuddering breath, and only got about half of it back out when it broke into another sob.

“Stan, I was trying to tell you,” Ford was saying, distantly. “Hydrophobia is generally a result of trauma, it’s not easily fixed with exposure! Especially not one as drastic as flooding!”

Stan mumbled something in response, and Will felt the hand on his back still, Dipper’s soothing placations come to a halt. “You knew he would act like this?” There was a tremble to his voice, restraint holding back more volatile emotions.

“I didn’t, I thought -”

“It was an accident,” Ford added, cutting Stan off. Will felt Dipper’s hand start to shake, especially notable because Will could feel it despite his own shaking. “He didn’t know-”

Will didn’t pay attention to whatever else he had to say, just reached out, groping for Dipper’s other hand. The cervitaur must have noticed, because it landed in his, fingers intertwining with his own, and he gripped it tightly, trying to get enough air to say something.

He was suddenly so tired. He just wanted to get out of here

“-and you can’t just drop them in a lake!” Dipper was saying, voice approaching a shout. Will tugged at his hand, and almost immediately, Dipper’s voice lowered, the hand on his back resuming its soothing motions. Will opened his mouth to say something, and only a mangled groan of syllables came out.

“What is it, Will?” Dipper asked, voice insistent, yet patient. Will blinked, suddenly realizing his eye had been clenched tightly shut. Vaguely, he realized his eye patch was still on - small wonders. “Will?”

He took another shaky breath, and tried again. “C-c-can w-we go h-h-home?” he stammered out, closing his eyes again and leaning even more into Dipper. Dipper wrapped him in a one-armed hug, his other hand still ensnared by Will’s fingers.

“Yeah, if that’s what you want,” Dipper murmured to him, before lifting his head away. “Mabel, are you-?”

“Do what you have to do, bro-bro,” he heard Mabel say. “And don’t worry - I’ll be back before you know it, okay?”

“Okay… Stan, do you think - or actually, Ford might be better. Can you get him on my back? I’ll take him home.”

One of the Stans, he couldn’t tell which, didn’t care, lifted him up onto Dipper’s back, where he collapsed forward against the cervitaur’s torso, arms loosely wrapped around him, face buried in his back.

“Alright Will. Just hold on, we’ll be home before you know it.”

Will just nodded.

 

 

It was a bit of a hike, from the lake to Will’s house, and Dipper had hoped that the hunter would recover a little on their walk. He didn’t dare run for fear of knocking his passenger off, but he managed a brisk pace that seemed the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, Will didn’t seem to be inclined to do much of anything, just sat there on his back, barely moving. Occasionally, his breathing would stutter or shake, but after a minute or two (and some reassurance from him), the fits passed.

Dipper had never seen Will like this. He was ordinarily indomitable, completely oblivious to any apparent danger, and brushed off threats to his life and safety on a regular basis. This exhausted, wiped out person on his back was a far cry from Will’s usual, vibrant self, and it scared the cervitaur.

They had just arrived at his house before the hunter even said anything.

“I-I’m s-sorry…”

Dipper paused, turning his head slightly to try and see the hunter’s face. Unfortunately, it was obscured in his back. “Why?” he asked, dumbfounded.

“Y-y-you were… M-Mabel’s l-leaving,” Will replied, voice still shaking. “’nd you ha-had to bring me b-back…”

Oh, so that was what he was worried about. “It’s fine, Will,” he assured him, removing the spare key from its hiding space and letting them in. He carefully directed him to dismount at the bottom of the stairs, but rather than force him to walk, he swept the hunter up bridal style, carrying him up to his room. “Mabel does this every year, and it’s important that you’re safe, okay? Don’t worry about it.”

“Feel bad…” Will mumbled back, curling in towards Dipper’s chest. Dipper just hummed in response.

“I bet you do.” Dipper laid him out on his (fortunately) unmade bed, had a brief struggle to get his other hand back, then tucked the hunter in. “You’re probably exhausted - I read that experiences like that can tire you out, since your body goes into fight or flight… ah, sorry, you probably don’t actually want to hear about this right now.”

Will gave a noncommittal grunt, curling up tightly under the covers - another thing Dipper had never seen him do. “Do you need anything, or…?”

“…don’t leave?”

It was an almost pitiable sound, nearly lost with how quiet it was, but Dipper’s sensitive hearing picked it up. Carefully, he climbed into bed next to Will, who curled up as closely as he could manage, burying his face into Dipper’s chest as if the cervitaur could protect him from the world. Carefully, Dipper ran his fingers through Will’s hair, seeking to calm him, get him to relax.

“Go ahead and rest now, okay Will?” he murmured, pulling one cover up to block the glare of the afternoon sun coming through the window. “You’re safe.”

Will nodded, and already Dipper could feel his boyfriend’s breath evening out, longer and smoother. “Okay…”

For a moment, Dipper thought he had successfully fallen asleep, and he settled back, prepared to nap himself until Will woke up, and they could talk.

But Will piped up one more time.

“G’night… Pine Tree…”

Chapter Text

Well, now you’ve fucked up.

“I just got here,” Will replied, voice muffled by the grassy floor of this dreamscape. “Can you maybe wait five minutes before you start blaming me for… whatever you’re blaming me for?”

I ’ve already waited five minutes. Time passes differently here, not my fault you don’t notice it!

Will just sighed, propping himself up on his elbows. He squinted up at the glowing triangle hanging between the faux-Dipper’s antlers, frowning. “Look, it’s been a long day, and I really don’t have time for your cryptic bullshit. Either be up front for once, or let me just sit here and wallow in self-pity and hatred for a little while.”

We just got Fordsy off our back, and the very first thing you do, before pretty much anything else, is tip Pine Tree off to what’s happening. We were in the clear! We had it!

Will rolled over onto his back, staring up at the canopy of trees. The patterns of their interlocking branches seemed to shift and sway in the dreamscape, and it made him dizzy. “What are you talking about?”

You called him by his Name.

“What, Dipper? I don’t know his real…” Will trailed off as realization settled in. Bill’s eye stared impassively down at him, waiting. He covered his face with one hand. “Shit. I called him Pine Tree.”

You called him Pine Tree.

“So that’s it, then? He just… knows?”

Probably! I don’t know what other conclusion he could come to! Bill’s eye rolled upwards, staring at the false canopy in thought. And now, he’s going to go running back to his great-uncle, and while it will be HILARIOUS to watch Sixer beat himself up over trusting us, it’ll be LESS SO to watch all our plans get set back.

“It doesn’t have to be like that, though…” Will mused, before frowning. “And here you are again, talking about our plans. I don’t suppose you want to maybe, I don’t know… actually tell me what we’re planning?”

Bill made a noise that sounded alarmingly agitated - Will recognized his exasperation. I already told you, I CAN’T.

“Well…” He’d beat around this bush with Bill before, and gotten nowhere. The demon was insistent that it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t say, but the fault of their situation… but maybe he could change that? “What would it take to get you to a point where you could?”

Bill didn’t respond right away, and Will tilted his head back, glancing up at the glowing triangle and trying to ignore the fake-Dipper’s blank, void-displaying eye.

Knowing won’t make telling him a better idea, kid, Bill finally answered. Will’s frown deepened.

“According to you, he already knows,” he snapped. “It’s not like I can make it much worse!” He sat up, turning to face the dream demon, arms crossed. “And, the more you talk about these ‘plans,’ the less and less I think I’ll like them.”

Look kid, Bill started, and Will caught a different tone to his voice - still friendly, almost manic, as per usual, but with something… sinister, lurking under the surface. Even if I could tell you what they were, it wouldn’t matter.

Normally, Bill’s attitude, his creepy turns of phrase, his ominous tone, wouldn’t bother Will. Contrary, he actually found them strangely comforting, and he always figured it was a side effect of being the same person. But the way the demon said this, it sent a chill down his spine, like a sliver of ice. “What do you mean?”

You think knowing them will make it easier to tell Pine Tree about all of this? THINK AGAIN. No matter what you do, he’s going to hate us. Bill’s voice dripped with venom, though the glee hadn’t left. You heard what we did - he’s not going to forgive us for that, and he’s not going to listen to anything else we say! Our best bet is to do some damage control - the longer he likes us, the better off we are! He let out a thoughtful hum, blatantly ignoring the shocked and downcast expression on Will’s face. And you know what? I think I have an idea for that! Drum up a little sympathy with him, see if that doesn’t outweigh the suspicion! His laugh echoed in the trees. Pine Tree is so concerned about not turning into Sixer, he’ll be sure to eat it up!

Will narrowed his eye at the gleeful triangle. “How exactly are you going to do that?”

Heheh, oh, I’M not! Bill giggled. YOU’ve got this one in the bag! Will didn’t think it was possible, but the eye bent even further upwards, pupil just barely visible over the curve of the bottom eyelid as it peered down at him. It was then he noticed that the golden glow was slowly fading from the dreamscape around him. Don’t worry, you’ll thank me for this later, Bill continued as their surroundings began to fade, trees and grass dissolving into gray nothingness. Distantly, Will heard the sounds of water lapping at a shore, and he swore he felt his heart stop at the realization. SWEET DREAMS!

Will was on his feet in an instant, but it was too late - Bill and the fake Dipper had vanished, and the ground beneath him was quickly following suit,crumbling into dust, the sounds of water growing.

Bill had left him to his nightmares, and that was the last realization he had before he found himself, for the second time that day, plummeting into the water.

 

 

Dipper stared down at his boyfriend, a myriad of emotions running rampant through him - the most notable, to his own surprise, being worry (although muted panic and paranoia were close seconds).

“…Will?” he tried quietly, thinking maybe he could coax an explanation from the hunter, something that might mitigate the fear rising in his chest. But Will stayed quiet, sound asleep.

Dipper took a deep, quiet breath through his nose, and struggled to organize his thoughts and feelings… starting with the fear. The concern… he wasn’t quite ready to tackle that one, just yet.

‘Pine Tree’… There was only one person (if you could call him that) who had ever used that name for him, the very being that Ford suspected Will of involvement with. Dipper thought it was paranoia - had thought it was paranoia, but now, with this…

Was it proof, he wondered to himself. Was there any chance, anywhere, that Will had some other reason to call him that? Thinking back, he recalled that he’d started wearing his blue trucker hat again - taking advantage of that brief window when he could before his antlers started to grow in again. But surely, if he’d wanted to use that nickname, he’d have used it then, not now

But even then, he wasn’t in the habit of nicknaming people by their clothing. He preferred more unchangeable aspects. (Pacifica was an exception - he called her “shades” on occasion, but given that she couldn’t not wear them in Gorgon form, they were practically a part of her anyways.) So there wasn’t a good reason behind that nickname, save one, and Dipper wasn’t savoring the idea at all. Contemplating it again, he felt another spike of concern, and was only slightly surprised to realize it was for Will. If the hunter had somehow gotten involved with Bill, then… well, his family history was solid proof of how Bill Cipher screwed over anyone he worked with. And the demon was tricky - even with what Will knew, from what Dipper had told him, would that be enough to protect him from the temptation of making a deal? Dipper himself had known Bill was dangerous - had fought against him in his great-uncle’s mind - and had still been tricked, both by Bill and his own ambition.

And… well, look at where that put him. An enormous butt, a fuzzy pair of ears, and a guilt streak long enough to land an international jet on.

So the question then was, what would Will want so badly, to deal with a demon? And why had Bill shown up now, after so many years of being dormant? Dipper and Ford had spent a lot of time on pins and needles, waiting for Bill to reappear out of the blue… but he never had. Dipper knew it drove Ford almost literally crazy, what with his experiences with the triangular menace. And, while Dipper, young and resilient as he was, fared better, he still woke up from nightmares on occasion, panicking that the Bill in his dreams was the real Bill, and not just some copy supplied from his terrified mind. Over time, Dipper’s fears had lessened, even as Ford’s paranoias grew. The young man had other things to focus on. But, his worry still lingered, always just under the surface of his thoughts.

And now, this.

There… there was still no guarantee, he thought uncomfortably to himself, starting to understand Grunkle Ford’s feelings the other day a lot better than he would have liked. Just because he’d used a weird nickname, didn’t make it proof

But it was still a lot more than what Ford had been going off of, that was for sure. And what if he was over-thinking it… or not over-thinking it enough? Could he take the risk to ignore it? Did he have the bravery to face down Will if he threw accusations and was wrong? Panic seized him for a moment. Whether Will was involved with Cipher or not, Dipper… really, really didn’t want to loose him, and in some ways, that realization was frightening, and he’d have to examine it later, but in light of the current situation… he had a dilemma, and he didn’t have solid proof to lead to an answer.

“You know, there is a spell that could give you a solid answer, one way or another.”

That was what Ford had said, back before Christmas.

“If you need actual proof… you don’t have to go any further than that.”

Yes… yes, that would be a way to check for sure, whether Will was dealing with Bill… (Oh god, even their names were similar, and how had Dipper not seen that awful coincidence?) But Dipper wasn’t going to use it unless he was sure it was absolutely necessary… and this…

Will groaned suddenly beside him, startling the cervitaur from his circular and frankly unpleasant thoughts. He looked down at Will, trailing his fingers through the hunter’s hair a few times, just instinctively. Will had a frown on his sleeping face, eye scrunched shut, brow pulled tight. Another pained sound escaped his throat - he had relaxed in his sleep, but now he tensed again, curling in on himself and whimpering. Dipper stared down at him, concern playing over his features as his ears flicked anxiously. Will didn’t seem the type to have nightmares, or if he was, he never told Dipper about it. The only time Dipper could recall him having any sort of bad dream was right after they’d started dating, the first time he’d been in Dipper’s room. And that had seemed to affect him rather violently, based on how he had tossed and turned…

A state, it seemed, that he was reaching now as he became increasingly agitated in his sleep.

“Will, shh,” he tried, petting his head in soothing strokes, like the hunter had done for him so many times - but it had no effect, or maybe made it worse, as Will struggled away from it, rolling to the other side and mumbling in his sleep. “Will, it’s just a dream, it’s alright… Will?”

Dipper remembered, when he was younger, he used to have violently terrible nightmares, and as he watched Will with growing anxiety, he saw the same symptoms. Will’s breath was coming in short bursts, and the hunter struggled against the bedding, legs becoming entangled in the sheets as he kicked out at them, and suddenly, Dipper had a pretty good idea what the nightmare was about.

Only one thing to do.

“Will,” he said, louder and more insistently this time. “Will, you have to wake up.” Carefully, he put a hand on his shoulder, trying his best to avoid getting smacked away, and shook Will lightly. “Will, wake up. Wake up!”

Will’s eye snapped open, and he took a sharp, hissing breath in as his gaze darted around, confused. When it landed on Dipper, however, he seemed to relax, somewhat. “Dipper…” He closed his eye again and sighed, rubbing at it with the heel of his palm. “I was…”

“You were having a nightmare - a really bad one, from the looks of it,” Dipper supplied when Will didn’t continue. “I had to wake you up.”

Will nodded, taking a few more deep breaths, evening them out. “Thanks,” he said, sounding a little less drained and a little more chagrined. “What time is it…?”

“It’s been… I actually don’t know, exactly. Maybe an hour?”

Will nodded again, but didn’t seem particularly inclined to say anything. With his hand over his face, Dipper couldn’t quite see his expression, but something about him seemed… off.

“Um… was it about the lake, by any chance?” he tried, attempting the beginning of a conversation. It worked. Will sighed again, rubbing at his eye.

“Something like that… I’ve been having them for a long time, it’s not… not a new thing,” he replied, oddly resigned.

“I’ve never seen you have them before. I was a little surprised.”

“Hm.” The human finally moved his hand, but still didn’t look at Dipper. “I… don’t really have them, whenever I’m sleeping with you. I guess today is a special case.” He huffed in irritation. “What with new trauma and all.”

“I’m sorry about that. With Stan… Um, he used to be scared of heights. Then Mabel made him face his fears, and now he’s not scared. And he just sort of… assumes all fears can be dealt with that way?” Dipper shook his head. “It’s not a great excuse, but-”

“No, no, it’s… it’s okay.” Will rolled back closer to him - or tried, and found himself tangled in the sheets. He kicked them off with a little bit of a struggle, and sat up instead. “It’s… kind of embarrassing, more than anything. I mean, who’s scared of water?”

“Everyone’s scared of something.” A thought struck him, and a smile tugged at Dipper’s lips at it. “I mean, it’s kind of refreshing. Means you’re human, right?”

He meant it airily, as a sort of joke, even if there was another layer to it that Will wasn’t privy to… but it hung, stale in the air. It didn’t do much for Dipper’s unease, and seemed to fall flat in reassuring Will. “Sorry, I just meant-”

“Dipper.” The cervitaur fell silent, Will’s quiet word cutting through his potential chatter. “I know you’re trying to make me feel better about it, but… this isn’t really something you can do anything about.”

“Your fear, or this afternoon?”

“Both?” Will sounded like he wasn’t sure that was the right answer, then slowly nodded. “Yeah, both, I guess…” He leaned slightly towards him, as if subconsciously wanting to lean on him, but… afraid to, for some reason. Dipper met him halfway, and when they came into contact, some of the tension seeped out of Will, leaving him sagging against Dipper’s shoulder. “I’ll be okay, I just… need some time.”

“I understand.” Dipper tentatively wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in closer, and Will willingly surrendered to it’s grip. “Do you need anything from me?”

Will was silent for a long time, and when Dipper looked down at him, he was staring contemplatively into the sheets. After a period of silence, he looked up, meeting Dipper’s gaze for the first time since he’d woken up.

“I just… need your understanding,” he said, slowly, like he was still figuring out his words. “There’s some stuff… some things about me, like this, that you still don’t know… and I really want to tell you, but it’s… hard?”

Anxiety churned in Dipper’s gut, but he just swallowed, trying to force it down. Not every secret was Cipher, and not every shadow was Bill. This was just… coincidence. “…alright,” he agreed, voice soft. He was dying to press the issue. It was what he did - he wanted knowledge, he wanted to know, to especially know this human that had captured his heart, and seemed to know all of his secrets, but… but he also had to respect Will, and trust him on this. Will had earned that much. “I’m here when you’re ready to talk about it though, okay?”

Will nodded, leaning in closer, eye falling closed. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

It had been almost five days now, and it had been rough. Dipper half expected Will to bounce back from this with his usual carefree attitude, but that, unfortunately, never happened. They’d slept fitfully the rest of that night (Dipper was awoken several times by Will thrashing in his sleep), and in the morning, neither of them spoke about it. They’d gone over to the Shack, where Stan apologized for his mistake, but Will assured him that he didn’t blame him.

"It's not like you could have known," he told the gargoyle, an attempt at a smile gracing his lips. Dipper saw it fade almost the instant Stan turned away. He was a little worried that Will might hold it against his Grunkle, but he seemed to honestly forgive Stan for the mistake - he just didn’t have the energy to put up a face if he didn’t need to. Dipper wanted to ask if he was okay, what he was thinking about… but he didn't press. Will said he'd talk to him in time, and he would trust him on that.

The longer he thought about it, the more it reminded him of when they'd first met. When Will wanted to know about the Fluventis, and Dipper hadn't been ready, Will had waited. Dipper would give him that same courtesy.

In the meantime, he simply tried to be as supportive as he could. Will seemed to resent any sort of special treatment from the cervitaur, or anyone, really. Attempts to treat him more gently were met with irritated retorts, and a shorter temper than usual, for Will. So, Dipper did his best to move things back to normal... or, rather, whatever passed for Normal in Gravity Falls. It worked, to some degree. Will seemed a lot more relaxed by their regular flow of things, researching, investigating… though there was less snuggling. There was less physical contact in general, and Dipper didn’t know what to make of that.

There was something good about that day, though. When they’d arrived at the Shack, Grunkle Ford had announced that the data from their inter-dimensional trip had finally finished compiling, and that they'd be able to peruse it at their leisure. They'd been looking forward to that, and Dipper tried to instill a sense of excitement about it in Will, with moderate success.

The data itself was pretty fascinating - Dipper's powers had dragged them out of Gravity Falls and into another dimension, and had brought a chunk of forest with it, but the means through which it worked seemed impossible, based on the data. They spent a few hours comparing inter-dimensional shifts of Dipper's magic vs the portal, which Dipper thought was fun, and Will seemed to find interesting. It also meant that Will finally got to see the portal, and the basement workroom, and Dipper was glad to see his eye light up a little at that (and he tried not to think about what Ford had told him, about the original plan for the portal).

The only other good thing about the past few days was Ford's behavior. Dipper didn't know what had happened, but Ford was actually making an effort to be kind to Will, and Dipper was seeing a marked improvement in their interactions. It was slow going - Will wasn't as responsive as he usually was, and when he did respond, it was snippy; and Ford was always a little hesitant in sharing secrets, even with family - but as it was, it was a lot better than it had been. Ford seemed more accepting of Will’s input whenever they were talking theory, and between the three of them, they were making good progress with their research.

Dipper tried not to think about the nickname, whenever he saw Ford and Will talking together about one formula dataset or another. It wouldn't do to dwell on it, anyways.

These good things aside... Dipper found that the bad vastly outweighed the good. He never would have thought that Will being quiet would be a bad thing... quite the contrary, he sometimes thought it would be a marked improvement if Will could keep his mouth shut a little more often. But he didn't realize how much quieter everything was, without Will's chatter filling the empty space. The hunter was a vibrant entity - originally, Dipper had found him jarring and irritating, but now that he was used to him, the absense of his lively personality was striking. He tried to coax Will back to his usual self, but his own attempts to make small talk fell flat. Will always seemed to be lost in thought, or half asleep.

And that was probably the worst part. Will's nightmares hadn't stopped at all. If anything, they seemed to be getting worse. Dipper had hardly slept the night after, kept awake by intermittent flailing, and Will hadn't been much better, having woken up after intermittent flailing. After the second night, Will had suggested they sleep apart, just for awhile. Dipper had told him he didn't mind, said that he'd rather be there to help him sleep (he said Dipper helped, he wanted to help). Will said it was dumb for both of them to be sleep deprived when it was just his problem. Dipper tried to counter by saying he was used to not sleeping as much as Will anyways, but Will was insistent, and Dipper couldn't convince him.

So the third night, they slept apart. And as Dipper lay down on his mattress, arm stretched over a spot where someone else should have been, he couldn't help but feel useless.

Distance hadn't helped. Will didn't show up at the Shack the next morning, and when Dipper and Ford went to go check on him, they found him asleep in his hallway, leaning against one wall. They woke him for an explanation, and he tiredly explained that he had been on his way to the kitchen to get breakfast, and must have fallen asleep on the way there.

All in all, things weren't going well... but at least they were trying. And Dipper was going to do what he could to help Will...

and to not think about what the hunter had said...

 

--

 

Will was absolutely miserable by the fourth day after "The Fuck-up," as he dubbed it in his mind. He needed his sleep, dammit, and Bill was an absolute piece of shit, for someone who was supposed to be part of his benevolent subconscious. Ever since their conversation, Bill had refused to talk to him about anything Will wanted to know. Every time he went to sleep, the triangular bastard showed up, tried to talk to him, then dumped him back into his nightmares when Will insisted on pushing for his plans. And Will was getting pretty fucking sick of it.

Outwardly, he was trying to keep up a more cheerful face, because if Grunkle Stan sent him one more sympathetic, guilty look, he was going to go out of his mind. Dipper, too, was trying not to be overbearing, which he appreciated. But with his lack of sleep, lack of answers, and a constant dialog of "You can't tell him" and "It's a bad idea" and “don’t do iiiiiitttt!!!” running through his mind from Bill's end, it was hard not to be snappy. But goddamn, he was trying his best.

Surprisingly, Ford was the godsend here. Will hadn't looked too deep into his apology at the lake, since he’d been destracted by aforementioned triangular asshole, but the sphinx scientist had apparently been sincere in his desire to start over again on the right foot.

Seeing the portal (for the first time, as a human, and again, as a demon, which was a weird feeling) had been awe inspiring. Comparing the data between the portal and Dipper's magic, a little less so, although Bill took a remarkable amount of interest whenever Will was looking over it. Will had asked him about it one night. He'd fallen out of bed, head first, with the resulting nightmare. He resolved not to look at the data directly so much - that’d show him.

Any spare time he had was spent trying to figure out how to tell Dipper about Bill, and, after a stroke of brilliance, researching Bill from the books of the former owner of the house.

(Which reminded him - he apparently still had a dormant ghost living (un-living?) in his house. He'd have to take care of that before Dipper found out.)

The notes had been helpful, but they hadn't told him much more than what Dipper had - Bill was an incredibly powerful entity that dealt in dreams, nightmares, and knowledge, and operated almost solely in the mind. There was some interesting parts about how he'd affected the physical world, which was more than what he thought the triangle capable of, given what he'd been told. Bill had been cagey about those instances, which only strengthened his suspicions that the demon was keeping something from him.

Kid, I'm in your thoughts. I can hear you. I'm not keeping anything from you.

The winter was gloomy, everyone seemed either down or apprehensive, and Will wasn't making any progress figuring out where to go from here. He was stuck in some sort of awful limbo.

So, he should have expected Gravity Falls to intervene. And on night five, it did.

 

--

 

Will awoke with a vague sense of deja-vu, though he wasn't quite sure what caused it. A glance at the clock, however, told him that it was still far, far to early to be awake, and he rolled over, shoving his face back into his pillow.

'Maybe if I suffocate myself, I'll finally sleep well...' he thought to himself, holding his breath contemplatively for a moment. Then he sighed. 'Wishful thinking, probably.'

Sleep wasn't coming easy, though, and there was something... different, that he couldn't quite put his finger on, about the morning.

The answer hit him when something clattered off his window. He hadn't been woken by a nightmare, for the first time in days.

Which begged the question - what had-?

“Hey! Hey there!” Another clatter of pebbles rattled his window, accompanying a voice that he recalled from a similar situation. “You home?”

Will tried not to grimace, then realized that there was no one around to call him out on it, and grimaced anyways. He rolled out of bed (literally, hitting the floor with a thud) and stumbled over to his window, throwing it open and half-heartedly glaring down at the intruder.

“McGucket, do you ever visit anyone at a time that isn’t the middle of the night?”

The orange glowing hobOracle just waved cheekily back up at him. “I visit people when I have to! It’s part of the whole o-ray-cul shindig!” He dropped his hand, then stooped quickly to pick something up. “See you at the front door!” And then he was scuttling away, around the side of the house. Will growled, more resignation than actual anger. Could he just have one night? No nightmares, no triangles, no… weird, old prophecy men?

“Hey, your front door was unlocked, so I just walked in!” McGucket called from the front hall. Will sighed.

Apparently not.

 

 

 

McGucket’s presense was uncomfortable on its own - Will had never had the chance to warm up to him like the twins obviously had, and, in addition, he had vague memories from Bill about how they’d “convinced” him to give up on the research with Ford, which made for all sorts of awkwardness. But, it had also reminded him of a certain prophecy, and the more he thought about it, the angrier he was.

“So what,” Will asked, after starting a fire in the living room’s fireplace and throwing himself out on the couch. “Are you here to give me another prophecy? Because I can sure tell you what I think of the last one.”

McGucket was sitting… or floating, rather, in one of the armchairs, holding some sort of small briefcase in his “lap.” It was a dingy brown, ratted around the corners, and it was a stark, realistic contrast between it and McGucket’s almost cartoony orange glow. “Nope, no more prophecies,” he said. “But you haven’t finished the first one yet, so I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Really? Because from where I’m sitting, it seems like it’s already gone down. First you’ve got “Living stone awakens terror,” he said, ticking it off on his fingers, “and that’s clearly Stan and my awful “swim.” Then you’ve got the nightmares I’ve been having, and all the awfulness that goes along with that. Guess my fate’s justified, because it doesn’t seem to be getting better all that soon!” He didn’t bring up the “appearance, life and past in error.” He felt like he knew enough about that, but McGucket didn’t need to know.

McGucket didn’t seem bothered by his outburst, just nodded sympathetically. “I know it’s tough, but you’re not in the clear yet! You still have three lines to go!”

Will growled. “Great, so I’m not even done? There’s more?” He threw his hands in the air. “I feel like every time I see you, it’s bad news and worse prophecy, and we’ve met like, twice.”

McGucket scratched his cheek, frowning. “Well, I don’t try to deliver bad news if I don’t have to,” he said slowly. “It’s… tricky. Sometimes, if you see something bad, if you say too much or too little… it makes it worse,” he said apologetically.

“It seems like you’re trying to make it worse, here,” Will snapped, perhaps more accusingly than deserved. “Because that little warning of yours did absolutely nothing, and I’m not seeing the silver lining here!”

There was no response, and Will looked over to see the oracle looking downcast, hands fidgeting. He caught sight of the bandage again, a reminder of what Bill… of what he had done, once upon a time, and remembered who Fiddleford could have been if he hadn’t had the bad luck to be working indirectly with Bill… and the anger went out of him. He gave a deep sigh, leaning forward and resting his head in his hands.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be snappy… or obtuse,” Will admitted. “I haven’t been sleeping well.”

“Well, that’s understandable. I imagine you’d have a lot on your mind, huh Bill?”

Will nodded, rubbing his forehead with one hand - then stiffened as McGucket’s words actually sunk in. He looked up. “What did you call me?”

McGucket stared appraisingly back at him, and Will was unnerved to find himself not under the gaze of a half-crazy, forgetful old coot, but the sharp gaze of a brilliant scientist who was used to being underestimated. “Well, Bill,” he said, voice still pleasant as ever, even if his expression was more guarded, “I’m thinkin’ it’s time we had a chat.”

Chapter Text

Will stared, slack-jawed, at McGucket. McGucket stared right back, holding his gaze with a solemn, pensive expression.

Will took a long, deep breath. “How long have you known about it?” he asked, fighting to keep his  gaze matched to McGucket’s.

“How long have I known about what?”

“About… me.” When McGucket’s expression failed to change, he scowled. “About me being Bill Cipher.”

McGucket nodded slowly. “I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth first,” he explained, “but I’ve known for a long time.”

“Since when?”

“Since before you arrived in Gravity Falls.”

Will stared at him. “And… you didn’t think to tell anyone?”

“It crossed my mind. I almost did,” McGucket admitted with a shrug. “The first time I saw you in the future, I almost ran straight to the Pines to warn them about you.”

Will hesitated. “But… you didn’t?”

“I didn’t.”

“Why?”

McGucket sighed, as if he knew he’d be asked that question, and was going over his rehearsed response one last time. “Before I explain that, you need to know something.” He fixed Will with that unnerving stare again, and Will fought the urge to squirm in his seat. I’m telling you all this, because I believe you’re being sincere. You’ve been kind to the Pines, made friends in town - you didn’t even try to deny it when I called you Bill. This whole time, I’ve been giving you the benefit of the doubt here - but if you’re not sincere, and this whole thing is an act…” His lips turned downwards. “Well, nothin’ I say is gonna help you anyway, but it won’t turn out well for anyone. Understand?”

Will could only continue staring back at him, unblinking for a long minute, before slowly nodding. Like a switch had been flipped, McGucket Grinned, flopping back into his chair. “So! In answer to your question, when I first caught sight of you in my visions, I was gonna warn the Pines, then grab Bertha and head for the hills!”

“…Bertha…?”

“My raccoon wife,” Fiddleford explained, without clearing anything up. “But ya see, prophetic visions don’t work that way.” His expression became clouded, a mix of apprehension and awe, not aimed at the present so much as at a distant thought. “Once it starts, it shows you everything ya’need to see, before it lets you go.” His hands patted idly over the battered briefcase, and he hummed thoughtfully. “If I hadn’t learned my lesson before… well, lets just say, even now, I wish I could forget some of what I’ve seen.”

“…things about me?”

“Naw, not you in particular,” McGucket assured him, and Will gave a soft sigh of relief.

“But, something you saw in the rest of your vision… changed your mind? About needing to warn the Pines, that is?”

“Mm-hm.”

Will waited for him to elaborate, but it seemed McGucket was in a mood to be asked questions, not to simply supply information. “What was it?”

“It was Dipper.” McGucket’s words were short and to the point. “He was happy. So was Mabel, and Soos, and the rest of the Pines…” He turned and stared at Will again. “And you were there. What’s more, you were a part of it.” He looked away again, at the empty fireplace. “Then, there’s the rest of the vision. Not all of it is clear, but… it seemed as if your friendship with them was genuine. And I’ve found that interfering with the visions of the future is a tricky thing - you’re as likely to make things worse as you are better.” He sighed. “Trust me, I know. So, I waited. And I watched. I heard when you arrived in town and kept an ey- er, kept tabs on you,” he amended. Will could hear the first phrase he’d been about to use, echoes of the past, ringing in Bill’s voice in his memory, and understood McGucket’s avoidance of the turn of phrase. “And, when the time came, I gave you the prophecy, as I saw.”

“Oh.” Will wasn’t sure what else to say. McGucket’s explanation was simple, but, the longer he thought about it, the more questions he had; like, had McGucket given him the prophecy only because he knew that was what was he supposed to do? Or, had the oracle actually wanted to warn him? …then again, even with the warning, he’d still been dropped in a lake by Grunkle Stan. Would things have been different if he’d figured it out before then? Could he have figured it out before then? And, more pressingly - “Did you see anything beyond that?”

“A few things,” McGucket admitted. “Mostly, little things that have already passed - and the incident with Stanley, today. From here on out, though…” Will leaned in, breath bated. “The path forward is fuzzy. There are a few clear points, but… not all of them are promising.”

“I’m almost scared to ask what that means.”

“It means that your path will be difficult,” McGucket bluntly replied. “There’s still hardship ahead.”

“But… but it will be okay in the end, right?”

His heart sank when McGucket shook his head. “I can’t see the final outcome. But-” -Will perked up again- “-I know there will be a… a deciding point, which will change how it will end. It’s in the prophecy.”

Will ran over it quickly in his head and groaned. “Rushing waters will decide? That sounds distinctly unpleasant.”

McGucket shrugged. “Like I said, it won’t be easy. But, that’s not the only deciding point - just the biggest one.” He leaned forward, eyes agleam. “You have more choice in your future than you think!”

Will huffed. “Doesn’t feel like it,” he grumbled, thinking over his past few conversations with Bill.

“I know, prophecy tends to put a pretty fatalistic view on things,” McGucket said sympathetically. Will hesitated.

“That’s not… the only reason…” Should he tell McGucket everything? He already knew that he was Bill- human incarnate, but… how much did he actually know? And if he didn’t know… should he tell him?

He looked back up at McGucket, who was waiting patiently for him to continue… and felt a sudden sense of relief. The mad scientist had approached him first about this not to confront him… but to help. He’d answered Will’s questions - well, as best he could, anyways - and had given him his trust, even knowing what he knew, because he hoped in the long run, it would prove true.

If there were ever a person, ever a time to confide his secrets to, to ease his burden… this was it. He took a breath.

“I’m… not entirely Bill Cipher.” Then he paused. “No, wait, I worded that wrong. I’m not all of Bill Cipher.”

McGucket stared blankly at him. “Okay…?” he said slowly. “I’m… not sure what you mean by that. Care to elaborate?”

And for the first time, Will told someone everything. He told McGucket about the voice he’d started hearing around November, the dreams that he couldn’t remember at first, finally meeting Bill on the Solstice, the dream demon’s input and explanations (vague as they were) about their situation, what Will was, just a part of Bill, the smaller, active driving force… and the ominous feeling he got when he talked to the other part of himself. Especially as of late.

When he was finished, they lapsed into silence - Will from the relief of finally having it off his chest, and McGucket from puzzling over what he’d been told.

“So, you’re a small part of Bill - whatever of you would fit in a human mind - in a human body. No magic, no powers, but you do have a connection to the rest of your knowledge through, uh… the other part of Bill? Is that right?”

“Yeah.”

“And… you don’t trust that Bill.”

It wasn’t a question. Will sighed and shook his head. “No. Not really. I did, at first, but…” he trailed off, trying to pinpoint what it had been that tipped him off on the triangle’s potentially treacherous intentions. “After some of the talks I’ve had with him, it… makes me think he’s up to something.” McGucket snorted, telling him exactly what he thought of that statement. “Okay, fair point - but I meant something other than regaining our - my? Powers.” He sighed again, head dropping forward. “And the worst part of all of this is, I want to tell- no, I have to tell Dipper. He deserves to know, but… if I can’t figure out what Bill’s up to, and I tell Dipper, I don’t know how he’ll react.”

“Do you think knowing what will happen will make that much of a difference?”

Will grunted noncommittally. “I don’t know. If I know what Bill’s up to, then at least I can tell Dipper, and Dipper can start working on safe-guards, or something. Maybe he won’t be as mad at me for not saying something sooner, if I’ve got something that I can give him.”

“But, the longer you delay telling him because you’re looking for answers…”

Will sighed again. “Yeah, the longer I wait, the worse it’ll be. And Bill won’t tell me anything useful - he’s been actively awful recently.”

“Hmmm…” Will looked up at McGucket again, who was tapping his fingers idly on the briefcase, eyes narrowed in thought behind his goggles. “That seems strange, for something that’s supposed to be your subconscious.”

“I said the same thing. He made a good point, though - I was a pretty powerful entity, before… whatever happened, happened. Apparently. If only a small part of me could fit into a physical form, it might be that there’s just so much that it looks like an active personality, even though it’s not. Like computer programs that look like they’re thinking.” McGucket made a weird expression at that, but schooled it so quickly Will wasn’t quite sure he’d seen it.

“That’s possible… but that makes it sound like you ain’t exactly Bill at all. You’ve been separated for ten years - that’s given you plenty of time to become your own person… and maybe for the rest of you to develop more agency.”

Will frowned. “I hope not… to the second part, anyway. The first part…” he cast through his memories for his time as Bill, and a few bits and pieces stuck out to him. A shiver ran through his frame. “Yeah, I could live with the first part. But if he’s becoming a second entity… then what can we do about it?”

McGucket hummed again, still tapping his fingers. “Well, you could go and tell Dipper about it - that would be the ‘giving him something’ you were talking about earlier, right? You know that Bill might be dangerous, but you want nothing to do with what he wants… Or…”

The last word hung on the air, with stale and eerie promise. Will didn’t know if he was going to like what was on the other side of that ‘or,’ but they were in too deep now. “Or?”

McGucket tapped his fingers for a little longer, then heaved a sigh. “Well. I had another insight before I came over here, tonight.” He lifted the briefcase a little. “Said I might need this. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case.”

An uneasy feeling started to grow in the pit of Will’s stomach. “What exactly is it?”

McGucket began to fiddle with the latch, keying in some sort of code. “Do you recall anyone mentioning what happens to human folks who see something in town, and don’t stick around?”

That uneasy feeling dropped to levels as bottomless as the pit outside the Mystery Shack. “I… do recall someone mentioning it. You erase their memories, right?”

“That’s right.” The briefcase lock clicked as he keyed in the last number, and he flicked the latch open before lifting the lid. From here, Will couldn’t see what was inside. “It’s a little more complicated than that, but it’s not like we’ve had a lot of chance to test everything.” He pulled something out, and shut the briefcase again. In his hand was a strange, gun-like contraption with an empty bulb at the front, a cathode tube by the barrel, and a small, green panel on the side. “But, in this situation… it just might be a solution to your problem.”

 

 

In another part of Gravity Falls, a sole cervitaur was lying in bed, staring up at the ceiling. He was having trouble getting to sleep, and he was forcing his denial about the reason why. Ever since their talk, he’d been forcing his anxiety down, but at night, when everything got quiet, and he was left with his own thoughts, he had a much harder time quieting his brain.

He’d been up for a few hours now, switching between lying down on his mattress and slowly pacing his room, hoping to tire himself out so he could finally sleep. Instead, he just found himself stopping in front of his desk, staring down at a particular drawer… before turning away again, resuming his pacing and halting the train of thought before it could start.

And yet, it persisted…

He stopped in front of the desk again, and this time, his hand brushed over the drawer in question, before slowly pulling it out. Inside were the things one would usually find in a desk - pencils, pens, sharpeners, a few half-filled notepads… honestly, it was a lot less messy than everything else in his room.

And there was a reason for that.

He reached to the back of the drawer, fingers finding a familiar indent in the wood. With easy muscle memory, he pressed a hidden switch, and with a soft click, the back of the drawer fell forward.

And with it, a book.

He hadn’t had to bring it out in quite some time, but in its secret hiding spot, it hadn’t accumulated much dust. Still, he brushed the cover clean of the little that had accumulated, not really seeing it, but seeing the journal from his memories.

He flipped the book open, to a spell he’d used on his Grunkle, ten years ago, to enter his mind.

Then, he turned, pulled out his phone, and dialed a familiar number.

“Hey, Pacifica?”

Chapter Text

“Dipper, it’s five AM.”

He glanced at the clock, glowing in the corner.

Oh.

Whoops.

“You’d better have a really good-” she cut off, and he heard a yawn pop her jaw. “A really good reason why you’re calling me this early.”

“Umm…” When he’d picked up the phone, he’d made his decision, and his conviction had been solid. Now, listening to a very irritated Pacifica over the phone, his resolve wavered somewhat… not to use the spell, but maybe to rethink his idea of calling Pacifica into it.

“’Ummm’ does not exactly sound like a good reason, Dipper!”

“Sorry, sorry!” he said, realizing he’d left her hanging. “No, no, I do have a good reason. I need your help.”

“Is the Shack on fire again?” There was a pause from the other end of the phone, the sound of rustling. “Did you hear something from Mabel? Is Mabel alright?” she asked, voice sharpening with worry towards the end.

“Mabel’s fine, Paz - or, I assume she is. No news is good news, with her. And no, the Shack isn’t on fire.”

She groaned over the line. “Then why are you calling me at 5 AM? What do you need help with?”

“I, um…” He hesitated, just a moment, before his conviction returned. “I need you to cast a spell for me.”

“…Dipper, are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”

“What sort of spell is this?”

“One that will let me know whether we’re in a lot of trouble or not.” He turned to look at Journal 3 again, fingers tapping the page. “I’m sorry I called you so early - I didn’t realize what time it was. But, if you can come over in the morning, I can explain more-”

“Great,” she interrupted him. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

Will eyed the machine in McGucket’s hand, an uncomfortable sensation creeping up his spine. “What is that?” he asked, though given the context, he had a very good idea of what it might be.

“It’s called the Memory Gun,” McGucket replied, one hand brushing over the glass barrel as he looked down on it with an odd sort of nostalgia. “I made it, shortly after Stanford and I parted ways.” He glanced back up at Will. “I don’t suppose you recall that…?”

“Vaguely…” He wasn’t lying. He knew the memory would be there, if he really went looking for it, and Bill had told him the story of their history with Ford, but McGucket had just been a footnote in it, something hardly worth mentioning aside from being another way he had messed with Sixer.

And honestly, that lack of detail told him more about what happened to McGucket than not.

“Well, probably for the best then. I invented this little doo-hickey after I… saw something that I wanted to forget.” He chuckled, a tinge of sadness to it. “Stanford was always the one into the supernatural, not me. True, it’s fascinating, but… well, mechanics were always more my thing. More predictable.” He sighed. “Anyways, after the first use, it got… a little out of hand. I knew about the weird things in Gravity Falls, but suddenly, I couldn’t handle seein’ ‘em. Everything I saw reminded me of that first thing, and I thought it would be better to forget than to ever think about it again. So I forgot. And forgot. And forgot, until there was hardly anything left…” He trailed off for a moment, and all Will could do was stare at him, trying to figure out where this is going. After a long pause, McGucket seemed to realize he’d stopped talking. “Ah, um… but I guess that’s not really relevant. Point is, this thing erases memories. When tourists come in, see something they’re not supposed to-” He pantomimed shooting with his free hand- “Zap! No more memory of it.”

Will’s mouth felt dry. “How exactly is that supposed to help me out?”

“Because I have a theory that it works on more than just memories, and if I’m right, you may not need to tell Dipper anything at all!”

Will frowned. “I don’t- what do you mean, it may work on more than just memories? Like, it could erase other things?”

McGucket nodded. “It’s something I started thinking about after Dipper and I talked about Mindscape theory. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to lecture you on that, but-”

“No no, please,” Will interrupted. “Remember, I may be Bill, but I’ve got a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I know a little about Dreamscapes, but…”

“Really? Huh. Well, we can talk about it in detail some other time, but what you need to know for now is that you have at least two types of mental landscapes. The first one, the dreamscape, is a general landscape that supports dreams. Usually, a dreamer is alone - either because the dreamscape belongs to them, or because they aren’t cognizant enough to recognize other dreamers in the dreamscape - but it can also be used as a link between the second kind of landscape, the Mindscape. Mindscapes belong to the individual. Everyone’s got one, and every one is different, depending on their experiences, hopes, fears and whatnot. But most of ‘em work in the same way.” He leaned in slightly. “With doors.”

And Will was lost again. “Doors?”

McGucket nodded. “Doors represent links between your mind, and all your thoughts and memories. And, in some cases, they can be used to close off parts of your mind.” He tapped the device again. “Now, again, this is just theory, but Dipper and I suspect that, should a memory be altered, the door representing it should become locked, or difficult to access. Should a memory be destroyed entirely-”

“Fiddleford, stop beating around the bush,” Will said, exhaustion seeping into his voice. “I’m tired of trying to figure out the hidden meaning in everything everyone is saying, and…” he hesitated. McGucket raised an eyebrow at him. Will groaned. “Shit, this is how it feels for everyone dealing with Bill, wasn’t it?”

“Kind of.”

“Well, I don’t need a crash course in what it’s like to deal with that, since I’ve been dealing with it every time I go to sleep.” Despite his tone, he was more desperate than angry. “Can- could you just give it to me straight?”

McGucket had the grace to look a little sheepish. “Yeah, I hadn’t really thought about that. Sorry, you spend so much time having to be cryptic about everything, you forget you can be up-front sometimes! What I’m trying to say is, this device could erase the door, the link between you and Bill, destroying it completely. It would be just you, and Bill… well, we’d still have to figure out what to do with him, but then we’d know he doesn’t have access to a physical form, and dipper would know you were honest about not helping Bill.”

“But wouldn’t I lose all my memories of Bill, too? How does that help?”

“I’ll be honest, that might happen. But, even if it does-” McGucket tapped the glass canister plugged into the back of the gun. “When it takes your memories, it makes a viewable copy of them here I’ve got a machine that we can play’em back on. We wouldn’t lose anything important at all!”

“Unless he saw it coming, and found some way to take my memories to… wherever he is.”

McGucket tilted his head curiously. “Do you think he can?”

Will opened his mouth… then closed it, thinking. Even with how dodgy Bill was in his answers, he still had never given any indication he was capable of manipulating Will’s memories or knowledge beyond what Will wanted… then again, the only person he had to confirm that was himself, and Bill, so… “I’m… not sure. I guess not? Otherwise, we would have seen something before now…” He sunk his head into his hands, an annoyed growl rising in his throat. “This is so frustrating!

“But,” McGucket reminded him after a pause, “this could fix that problem. Even if he moved your memories a bit… you’d still be free of him. You’d be just William Hunt.”

“I’d just be William Hunt…” he echoed, lifting his head to stare warily at the device. McGucket lifted it towards him.

“Either way… this is a choice you need to make.” The oracle’s voice echoed in the room, a testament to the gravity of the choice. “This is your crossroad.”

It was chilly the next morning, so Dipper wasn’t surprised when Pacifica walked into the shop, amulet clasped snugly around her neck. He felt bad for asking her to come in so early, but she hadn’t exactly been willing to listen to him over the phone the night before.

He really had to learn to check the time before making those calls. 5 AM was unacceptable, apparently.

He was surprised when, only an hour later, after he’d explained the situation to her and they were working on a solution, Will walked in. He was much earlier than Dipper had expected - with the way his nightmares were, Dipper had hardly seen him before noon the last few days. That wasn’t the only difference in him, either. That strange, closed off air that had hung around the hunter like a cloak since the incident seemed to have dissipated - his eye was bright, and he seemed in a good mood… but, still tired, if the bags under his eyes were any indication.

“You’re up early,” Dipper said, feigning casual as he subtly pushed his book towards Pacifica. She took it without looking, moving it out of Will’s line of sight. The hunter looked over from the doorway, eyebrow quirking at the two of them before heading over.

“Yeah, actually woke up feeling rested this morning.”

“Hmph. Wish I could understand that feeling,” Pacifica muttered. Dipper’s ears drooped. Will got the feeling he’d missed something, but chose to ignore it, instead grinning over at the heiress.

“Hey Pacifica! It’s been awhile.”

“It has,” she responded, the barest of smiles. “You look…” She paused, looking him over more closely. “You look… exhausted, actually.”

Will shrugged. “Haven’t gotten a lot of sleep lately. But that’s alright, I’m feeling pretty good today!” “So, Dipper… do you have a minute?” He drummed his fingers over the counter top he leaned on, nervous energy palpable. “I need to talk to you about something.”

Dipper did his best to hide his emotions, but he felt his expression slip nonetheless. If Will wanted to talk, then maybe this was unnecessary - but Pacifica beat him to making the decision.

“Sorry Will,” she cut in, “I need him to help me finish up these orders. With Mabel gone, it’s been a trial keeping up the work.”

“Amulet orders?” he asked, interest piqued. He leaned forward to catch a look at the book in front of Pacifica - and jumped when she slammed it shut, pulling it away.

“Sorry Will,” she said, looking rather unsorry. “Confidentiality reigns.” At Will’s pout, she sighed. “But, I’ll be done with Dipper in a few minutes. Just, hang out in the living room till then.”

Will turned to Dipper, waiting to see what he thought about that plan, and shrugged again when the cervitaur nodded. “Alright. I’ll be on the couch!” he said, turning away. Halfway through the door, headed over one shoulder, “Don’t take to long, or I’ll fall asleep!”

“We’ll be counting on it,” Dipper whispered under his breath, Pacifica finishing a simple sleeping spell under hers.

When he’d arrived at the house, he could have sworn he hadn’t been this tired. But maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the promise of a comfy couch… or his desire to procrastinate on what he had to tell Dipper… but when he flopped onto that couch, he was suddenly bone tired.

‘A little nap won’t hurt…’ he thought to himself, stretching and settling in, eye falling closed. ‘Just… a few… minutes…’

-- 

The silence hung heavy over them as they stood, listening. After a long moment, Dipper caught the faint sound of Will snoring from the next room over, and nodded to Pacifica. She frowned back at him.

“So. The thing he wanted to talk about…” she started, glancing between Dipper and the doorway into the living room. “Do you think that’s-?”

Dipper grimaced. “It’s… bad timing. If it’s about this, then…”

“You could always just talk to him. You know, like an actual adult in a relationship.”

“I can’t,” Dipper stressed. “Not about this. Look, if we check this out, and it turns out it’s nothing, then he won’t even know. We’ll wake up, he’ll wake up, and he can tell me what he wanted to tell me. If it’s something…” A chill ghosted over his spine at the thought, and he shivered. “Then, it’s better we do it now. Before he suspects anything.” She raised an eyebrow. “Paz, we might not get another chance.”

She stared him down for a moment (an uncomfortable sensation - Dipper had to keep reminding himself that her eyes were perfectly harmless in this form), before she sighed, picking up Journal 3. “Alright. Thought I’d give you one last chance to back out.” Skirting around him, she made her way to the living room, and Dipper followed close behind. Once they arrived, she reached into her pocket, pulling out her sunglasses and putting them back on. At his quizzical look, she tapped her amulet.

“If this runs out while we’re asleep, I don’t want to accidentally petrify someone when I wake up,” she explained, before flipping Journal 3 open. “So, are you ready?”

Dipper settled down next to the couch, folding his legs under him so he could lean against the armrest, where Will’s head was resting. He took a moment to observe his sleeping boyfriend, one eye covered, one eye closed, as peaceful as he ever looked. It almost made him smile… until he remembered what they were about to do.

He looked to Pacifica, who was staring at him expectantly, and nodded.

She returned it, slowly, then turned to the book. Taking a deep breath, she began to recite: “Fidentus ominum. Magister mentium. Magnesium ad hominem…”

 

Hey.

…HEY.

HEY!!

Will shot upright at the shout… and slouched as he was met with a familiar view.

The golden triangle between not-Dipper’s antlers ‘winked’ charmingly. Didja miss me? His laughter made Will wince as it echoed through the trees. What am I saying, of COURSE you did! He laughed, before his mirthful demeanor evaporated. After all, why else would I still be here, hmmm?

“What are you talking about?”

McGucket’s deal, of course. I gotta say - for once, you made the right decision! And you didn’t even have me there to guide you! A crocodile tear, black and inky, rolled down from his eye, landing on the fake-Dipper’s face with a splat. I’m so proud!

“I didn’t do it for you!”

Doesn ’t matter, kid! What matters is that you saw it for what it was - a trap!

Will frowned. “For you, maybe. For me, it might have been an escape.”

Oh really? Escape from yourself? The eye rolled, almost bulging from the flat surface. Maybe I have to remind you - I AM YOU.

“So you say,” Will shot back. “But you never answer my questions - hell, for the past week, you’ve been avoiding them and just leaving me to my nightmares!

Bill heaved a sigh, despite not having any sort of physical body or lungs, and Will could almost feel the trees around them join in the motion. It’s not like you’ve been making it easy, kid, Bill said chidingly. I mean, if all you’re gonna talk about is stuff I can’t tell you, there’s not much reason for me to stick around!

“See, you keep saying can’t. Can’t tell me this, or that. Can’t answer my questions, or can’t help me find a way to talk to Dipper about this-”

Because it ’s a bad idea-

“-but, you’re my subconscious! If anything, I feel like you should be able to tell me anything I want to know!”

Hahaha, hoo boy. Hate to break it to you, but do you know anything about the subconscious? They’re fickle things. I know more about you than you do, but I can’t just hand it all over to you!

“Why. Not?” Will demanded, glaring at Bill. When he didn’t get an answer, he scowled. “What, no quick response?”

Hmmm? Oh, no Bill trailed off, sounding… distracted. Not to change the topic - well, totally to change the topic, but… did you feel that?

Will’s Mindscape was… not what he expected. It took Dipper a moment to orient himself in the space - similar to his Grunkle’s Mindscape, the whole area had an Escher-like quality to it… but that was where the similarities ended.

“Weird,” Pacifica breathed beside him, and he nodded, remembering his own first time in someone else’s mind.

They’d appeared on a platform of some sort, floating in a blue-purple aether, its soft, warmly lit surface dissolving and reforming at the edges. Before they lay a path of the same ground, and that… that led to a tangle of ramps, stairs, ladders and archways and doors, all encompassed into one enormous ball, scrunched together like yarn into a massive tangle of memories, thoughts, and dreams.

“I’m really hoping we don’t have to navigate ourselves out of there once we find what we’re looking for. Right?” Pacifica asked, turning towards Dipper. Dipper broke his gaze away from the rat’s nest of memories to look back at her - and flinched instinctively when he met her eye. She raised an eyebrow, before her own eyes widened in realization. When they looked down, she had a normal pair of human legs. They both heaved a sigh of relief.

“Glad we didn’t have to see if there’s a mind cure for paralysis,” she muttered. Dipper nodded in agreement.

“This is the Mindscape, so whatever you can think of, is,” he told her. “Since we’re here, curing any accidental paralysis could be as easy as imagining you’re not paralyzed… but I’m glad we don’t have to test that…”

“Anything we imagine, huh?” She glanced at his lower body. “So, are you still a deer by choice, then?”

“Huh?” He looked down at himself, and realized she was right - he still had his cervitaur body. “Well, it’s probably because I’m more used to it. One second, I’m gonna…”

Nothing happened.

After a moment, Pacifica spoke up. “Is it… not working?” she asked, looking somewhat concerned. Dipper’s brow scrunched in confusion.

“I guess not?” An awkward silence hung between the two of them, painfully poignant thanks to the already unnatural silence of the Mindscape around them.

“…Maybe it’s a Will thing,” Pacifica said at last, patting his shoulder comfortingly. “It’s his mind, and he’s never seen you as a human before - maybe that has some effect on what form you can take.”

“Maybe.” Privately, Dipper didn’t think that made much sense - he’d had an enormous hole in his gut in Stan’s mind, and he hoped his Grunkle didn’t imagine him that way. But he accepted the comfort for what it was, and shot Pacifica a smile. “Speaking of Will, we should probably get started.”

She looked none-too-excited about that, but simply nodded, stepping back and gesturing for him to take the lead. “Your boyfriend, you go first.” He trotted past her, slowing to match her pace as she fell in alongside him. “So, remind me again- exactly what are we looking for?”

Dipper looked up at the winding ball of Will’s Mindscape as it loomed over them, trying to scrounge up more confidence than he felt. “We’re looking to make sure there’s no obvious signs of Bill anywhere in Will’s psyche.”

“Dipper, that may take awhile. Look how big this place is!”

“We won’t be searching his whole Mindscape!” he rushed to assure her. “I mean - I don’t want to pry more than we have to. We’re just… checking. Seeing if anything jumps out at us.”

“Uh-huh.” They walked a moment longer, into the shadow cast by some invisible light source over the chaos of Will’s Mindscape. When they reached the battered wooden door that marked the entrance to his mind, she spoke up again. “And, if we do find evidence?”

Dipper took a deep breath, steeling himself. “Then, we deal with it as best we can,” he said firmly, opening the door.

Chapter Text

“Dipper, this place is a goddamned nightmare,” Pacifica said in a total deadpan, closing yet another dead-end door. “Half of these doors lead to nothing, and the other half just leads to…” she peeked through another one, grimacing before closing it quickly. “Creepy, glowing woods,” she muttered, turning away. It took her a moment to relocate Dipper, standing down the long, impossibly winding hallway, trying another door. “Didn’t you say there were supposed to be memories? Dreams? Fears? Something?” She stomped over to him, looking past him into yet another void door, and scowled.

“We should,” Dipper admitted, shutting the door with a sigh. “But, all Mindscapes are different-”

She raised an eyebrow. “So you don’t find this-” and she gestured to the halls of empty doors they’d already checked behind them, “-to be even a little unsettling?” She continued before he could even answer. “Weill’s no dumb-ass… well, maybe a little, but he’s a clever dumb-ass.” Even with her harsh wording, her voice still carried an undercurrent of concern that echoed Dipper’s own. "And I don't know much about Mindscapes, but this place is completely empty."

"I know!" Dipper said, more harshly than he intended. "I just... give me a minute, I'll figure something out..." He paced a little ways up the path, ears flicking to and fro, mumbling to himself. "It shouldn’t look like this… maybe Bill did something to his thoughts? There's that machine Ford, has, that might be able to...

Pacifica crossed her arms. "Or, we could talk to him. You know, like normal adults."

He turned around. "I don't know if that would actually work, Pacifica. I mean..." he quailed slightly under the blank, unimpressed stare she leveled at him, but managed to hold his ground. "Maybe I could talk to him about the Bill thing... I mean, we're not finding anything at this rate. But this," he gestured to the empty doorways, "You're right about this. It shouldn't be empty. That's... that's really alarming."

She studied him for a moment, then sighed. "So you've gone from paranoid and worried-"

"I'm not being Paranoid,Paz-"

"-to just worried for Will," she finished, not even deterred by his interruption. He flattened his ears in irritation. "That's okay, but I don't think poking around his head is going to help, here. We should cut our losses and head out." She shrugged. "And besides - maybe the thing he wanted to talk about is related to this. Who knows? How many heads have you actually been in?"

Dipper dropped his gaze, hoof scuffing at the floor. "One," he admitted after a long moment. "Just Stan's."

"So, maybe this is normal for him? Weird, but... normal. Like him, I guess. Maybe it’s empty because he's more secretive than Stan." At that, he shot her a skeptical look, and she shrugged again, faint embarrassment blushing over her cheeks. "Well, I don't know. What's your best guess?"

"I think somethings wrong," Dipper insisted. "You said so yourself, just now - Will's not stupid, there should be something here!"

"So now we're past the 'worried Will is Bill' thing, or-"

"We haven't found anything either way, Paz." He turned away, looking down the twisting row of doors, trying to see if anything looked different up ahead. "Until we find something one way or the other, we can't know."

"Have you thought about what would be enough evidence for you, Dipper?"

He glanced back at her. "What do you mean?"

"Well, say we don't find anything that points to him being Bill. Would that be enough evidence?"

"That-" he started, but then hesitated. "I... don't know..."

"Okay, what if we found an instance where he claimed not to be Bill? Would that be enough?"

"I... well, maybe..."

"Right now, it looks like you're searching for confirmation, not actually trying to clear him. If we don't even know what we're looking for, how can we know when to stop?"

He lowered his head. She sighed, walking to stand next to him and putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Look, Dipper - I know you're worried. And I know you're scared. But, if we're going to keep poking around, we either need a better plan, or we need a new plan altogether."

"I don't know what to do," he said finally, staring down at the ground. "I mean... it's just too much to be coincidence, but it's not enough to actually be him, for usre..."

"And that's frightening," she continued for him. "I know. But, if he was Bill, he would have had plenty of times to try something, right?"

Dipper thought back, from when he first met the hunter to now. "I suppose so," he said slowly. "He hasn't had many opportunities to enact his "final plan," but he's had plenty of chances to, I dunno... cause mayhem."

"And has he?"

Dipper snorted. "Caused mayhem? Yes."

She slapped his shoulder, but laughed anyway. "Dipper! You know what I meant."

"No, I guess he hasn't."

"So, don't you think you should give him the benefit of the doubt?" She watched him, sighing as he continued to frown, eyebrows creased in deliberation. "Look, Dipper - one of the most important things in a relationship is communication, and trust. And, prior to this incident, you two had that." She stepped in front of him, clasping both of his shoulders in her hand and pulling him forward a little, so they were eye to eye. "For just a moment, don't think about Bill. Just think about Will, okay?" He took a deep breath, and nodded. "Alright. The real question isn't if Will is Bill, alright? Right now, you're worried that whatever it all means, Will is going to hurt you. So the real question is, do you trust Will?"

Dipper took another deep breath, ready to respond-

 

"C'mon, you can trust me on this one!"

 

They both jumped, both at the voice and the sudden slam of a door opening suddenly. They stared down the hallway, where one of the doors they'd checked earlier - one that had been empty of anything - now hung open, faint light visible from here.

They shared a sideways glance.

"Wasn't that-?"

"That was Will."

 

--

 

Will scowled. "Quit trying to change the subject. I want to know what we're up to!"

Bill didn't meet his eye right away, staring somewhere else, at a point just over his head... before his gaze finally dropped to meet his. Eh, I'm sure it was nothing.

Will almost growled with annoyance. "You're still ignoring the question!"

Course I am! Bill laughed, and it grated on Will's nerves, had been increasingly over the course of the last few weeks. Wasn't that the point?

"The point was, to get an actual answer out of you," he snarled. "I want answers, and you're going to start with why you can't just tell them to me!"

The eye rolled. Where's the fun in that?

"This isn't about Fun."

No, no, of course not. It's about making your precious boyfriend feel better.

"You mean our precious boyfriend,” Will snarked right back. “Same person, remember?"

Right, right.

Whatever keeps you quiet

Will cocked his head to one side, listening. "What was that?"

Going deaf, too? Man, we really need to get out of that decaying meatbag and into something more solid. Preferably triangle shaped, Bill hummed, the vibration of it rippling over dream-Dipper's fur. I was saying sure, he's our boyfriend.

for now

Will narrowed his eyes. "You really don't hear that?"

Hear what? The eye narrowed down at him. You're starting to sound like a broken record, kid. What, need a trip to your daily nightmare to clean your ears out?

not that it'll help, but it may be entertaining, anyways...

Bill's voice echoed over itself, sounding more distant than the brazen ring of his usual voice, but no less distinct.

"Hey!"

Hey what? Bill snapped back, starting to sound aggravated.

“I heard that,” he replied, equally aggravated. “Glad my trauma is so amusing to you!”

He expected a quick retort, something along the lines of “pain is hilarious, and so is trauma!” or “it’s not like I’m actually drowning you.” Something that lent itself to their more than sadistic worldview.

He did not expect Bill’s eye to narrow, then widen. Around him, he heard the extra voices again… not coming from the floating triangle between Not-Dipper’s antlers, but from the forest around them.

can he hear this …?

how long …?

when did-

how much did he hear-

Despite the cacophony they caused, he found himself able to pick each one out with ease, listening to them. Bill spoke up as they died down.

I don ’t know what you’re talking about.

can ’t be-

shouldn ’t be-

how could that happen?

could he know—?

“Could I know what, Bill?” Will took a step closer to his demonic half, but it remained still. “You are keeping something from me!”

he ’s getting the information

where ’s he getting it from?

gotta put a stop to this, just in case he-

Well! Bill cut through the chatter, almost covering the voices with his own, though they continued to fret under his exclamation. This has been a great chat, but don’t you have a conversation you need to have? The faux-cervitaur pawed anxiously at the ground. You know, with a certain boyfriend of ours?

keep him distracted

don ’t let him know

W E I R D M A G E D D O N

can ’t lose sight of the goal

F L U V E N T I S

cherry on the cake, if we can just

“I’m not going anywhere unless you tell me what’s going on!” Will shouted, the voices getting louder and louder with each passing second, as more and more piled up over one another. Even now, he could pick out the lines individually as they came along, though they cut off before they could give him anything substantial. Two words, however, rang out with clarity in his mind. “What’s Weirdmageddon?!”

The voices silenced immediately, and he locked stares with the demon triangle, eye for eye - his filled with anger and suspicion, Bill’s looking almost… surprised.

It didn’t last long. Around them, the forest began to darken - something Will had seen before, but he refused to back down then, and he’d be damned if he did now.

The light from Bill shifted, turning from gold to a burnished orange, and Will realized with sudden clarity that Bill was fighting back anger.

…I think it’s time for you to wake up, Bill grated, voice carrying the weight of a command. Will braced himself for the rude awakening, but…

Nothing happened.

The light turned golden again, Bill’s gaze darting here and there, and Will allowed himself to relax, just a hair, listening carefully as Bill’s thoughts started to ring out again:

he didn ’t wake up?

did he resist it? No, he couldn ’t have…

something else is happening

something else is interfering

something else

someth-

s o m e O N E.

Dream Dipper’s massive, gaping eye-socket blinked suddenly, and Will took a startled step back. When the eyelid swept up again, he saw images flashing over it, too fast for any normal human… but, Will wasn’t just a human.

A tangle of memories.

Doors leading to no where, and everywhere.

Two figures, lost…

Will stared in shock, suddenly knowing, understanding what was happening… but not understanding why.

Between the antlers, Bill had regained his composure, and now looked… almost jovial.

It looks like we have a visitor!

 

 

“…when was this?” Pacifica whispered, as if scared she would shatter the scene in front of her. Dipper was fairly certain that it wouldn’t matter, so long as they stayed on this side of the door… but given the relative calm of the scene before him, he was grateful for her tact.

“Back in the fall… before I knew him really well.” They watched the memory, back all those months ago, of Will cleaning the gore from Dipper’s antlers with a branch. The memory Dipper was talking quietly, Will sitting, rapt with attention and sparing the occasional glance from his work to Dipper’s face. Dipper’s heart twisted suddenly.

Had Will always looked at him like that?

“You’re telling him about the Flood.” She shot him a curious look.

“He… asked about it.”

“And you answered right away?”

“No…” Guilt was beginning to settle in his stomach, the sense that he was intruding - it didn’t make much sense, he was even in this memory, so why-

Pacifica hmm’d thoughtfully next to him. “I’m guessing you waited until you trusted him enough to talk to him?”

“Paz, now is really not the time to guilt trip me on this.”

She sniffed. “Just saying.” They listened in a moment longer, but it wasn’t anything they didn’t already know - outside the dreamworld, Pacifica was a gorgon, and Dipper was still a deer boy. She was the one to pull away first, and Dipper reluctantly followed, throwing one last glance back at the hunter. He couldn’t see the cervitaur, of course - he was just a memory - but being reminded of their past…

Well, it wasn’t helping the weight growing in his gut.

Pacifica had moved on by the time he refocused, examining the doors nearby. “What do you think caused that one to open?” she asked, trying another door with no success. “Something we said?”

“Maybe. Maybe phrases unlock memories. I don’t know why we wouldn’t have seen something sooner, though - you’d think with us talking, something would have popped up.”

“What if we have to be in the right place at the right time?” She slammed the door shut, turning back to him. “If certain memories are unlocked by certain phrases, maybe you have to be near the door for it to open.”

He nodded slowly, theories starting to come together. “Or, if they did open, they were too far away for us to notice.” He glanced back the way they came, but Pacifica scowled.

“No. We already checked all of those, I’m not going through every dead end again!”

He rolled his eyes. “Well then, what do you propose, Paz? I’m open to suggestions!”

“How about just talking to your boyfriend?” At his expression, she huffed. “Or, barring that, what about just shouting ‘Bill Cipher’? Maybe if you’re loud enough, you’ll hit every door in the place with a memory of him!” She threw her hands in the air. “Or, maybe he’ll just come running, we’ll know he’s here! Problem solved, right?”

“Paz, what the hell?”

“Don’t ‘what the hell’ me, Dipper!” she snapped back. “Look, I want to help, but unless you can figure out how this memory opened, or figure out some other way to open the rest of them easily, we’re going to be here for-”

“Hey guys!”

They froze at the third voice, before slowly turning towards the source. The open door hung ajar, but instead of the vivid memory, there was just gray landscape. And standing in front of it -

The memory Will waved cheekily at them, apparently ignorant of what he’d walked into. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything!”

Chapter Text

“So… Will’s smile faltered slightly as Pacifica and Dipper stared silently at him. “I’m guessing I… did interrupt something?”

“How are you here?!” Dipper blurted out before his brain could filter the question. “You- we’re-”

“He’s from that memory,” Paz whispered to him, voice low to keep Will from overhearing. Will’s eyebrow quirked. “He’s wearing the same outfit…”

“C’mon, Scales, secrets are no fun.” Will took a step towards them. “As for why I’m here - I saw a light in the woods, after you left. Went to-” He paused suddenly, staring intently at Dipper, eye narrowing. “Wait, somethings… Dipper! What happened to your antlers?”

Dipper’s fingers reached to check instinctively, before he realized what Will meant. “They, uh, shed off.”

Will stared blankly. “You just shed your velvet like, five minutes ago. I was there.” He wiggled his gore-covered fingers for emphasis. “See?”

Dipper took a deep breath, organizing his thoughts. In all his time in Gravity Falls, he’d never heard about Mindscape memories coming to life like this. Sure, you could interact with them within the memories - he knew that from personal experience - but Ford, who was far more practiced in this, had told him that it wasn’t possible for your memories to wander through your Mindscape like this.

At least… not without help.

More evidence that pointed, maybe, to Bill’s interference, but still nothing concrete. He had to get to the bottom of this anomaly. “Will, what’s the last thing you remember?”

“Uh…” Will waved his hand again, bits of velvet flicking off. Pacifica winced. “Us talking in the woods? Again, like, five seconds ago?” He paused, eye flickering to their surroundings. “Then I saw that light and came in here, and saw you two. Speaking of… where are we?” he asked, gesturing in a broad sweep of the twisting corridors around them.

Pacifica flinched backwards as another globule of velvet landed at her feet. “Alright, before anything else - could you please stop flinging that stuff around? Imagine it away, or something.

He gave her an odd look. “Imagine it away? Is that a magic thing?” He gave her a once over. “And when did you get legs?” Another glance around the room, and at them, and he frowned, crossing his arms. “What’s going on, here?”

Dipper looked to Paz, but she glared back at him, tilting her head towards the hunter in a “well, go on!” sort of gesture. “Dipper, it was your idea. You’re the one explaining.”

Dipper felt Will’s gaze drift back to him, and he fidgeted under the hunter’s scrutiny, fore-hoof scuffing the floor. He could practically feel the aura of “I told you so” rolling off of Pacifica, which only served to make him more anxious.

Will tapped one foot against the ground. “Dipper?”

“We’re… sort of in your head?” Dipper tried, choosing his words carefully. “You see- wait, I just told you about the river, right? I mean, from your perspective?”

“Yeah? What about it?”

Dipper’s ears flicked up. This might be easier (and less embarrassing) than he thought it would be. “Well, I told you about the demon that caused the whole thing. Where- or I guess, when Pacifica and I are from, we’re worried that-”

You’re worried.”

Dipper rolled his eyes at her interruption. “Sure, fine, I’m worried that the same demon has somehow gotten a hold of your mind. So, we entered your mind while you were asleep to just, look around. You know, make sure he’s not here.”

Will looked impressed. “You can just do that?”

“It’s a spell,” Pacifica said. “It allows one or more people to walk around the mind of someone while they’re sleeping.”

“Huh.” Will scratched his chin thoughtfully. “That’s… kind of cool, actually.” He took another look around, lingering glances spent on the closed doors. “So, this is my mind, huh?” He frowned. “I kind of thought it would be… I dunno. Cooler? More…” he waved one hand vaguely, and the doorway behind him started to warp. “You know… interesting. Varied.” The doorway bulged, twisted, and turned concave as he went on, Pacifica and Dipper just staring at it with varying degrees of apprehension and fascination. “Something more fitting my personality, you know? Or do all minds look like this?” He looked back to them, eyebrows raising when he noticed they weren’t even looking at him anymore. “Um… guys?”

“Huh?” Dipper shook himself out of his surprise. “Oh, no, most Mindscapes look different, but uh…” He pointed over Will’s shoulder. “Was that more what you were thinking of?”

Will blinked at him, before turning on his heel. The doorway that had been there before was gone - replaced, instead, by another hallway, more lavish and decorated than the ones around them… but darker, unlit and murky the further back it went. Along the walls were heads - mostly animal, although he thought he could maybe see some taxidermied cryptids down the way as well. A faint, almost musty smell wafted through the air towards them, and the ambient sounds of a creaking house, distant and muffled through the walls.

“Yeah!” Dipper and Pacifica stared incredulously at Will, who seemed entirely undaunted by high creepiness factor that radiated from the hallway. “That’s more like it.” He took a few steps forward, just crossing the threshold of the hall. As he did, the decorations, the patterning, the carpets and wallpaper rushed out behind him, spreading along the walls and floors like blood in water, and Dipper and Pacifica jumped as the entire environment changed in only an instant. Will turned again, blinking in surprise at the change. “Oh wow, this place is pretty volatile, huh?”

“Apparently,” Pacifica replied dryly, edging away from a reptilian head on the wall beside her, before looking over at Dipper. “Is this less unusual?”

“I… guess?” Dipper didn’t sound so certain, didn’t feel so certain. He’d never heard of an entire Mindscape changing like this, but… maybe it was more the look of it, less than the actual Mindscape itself. After all, it still had hallways and doors, they just… looked a little different. “It’s still… weird.”

“A little weird ain’t bad,” William hummed, walking over to them briskly. “But we should probably stick together - don’t wanna get separated if something changes again - it’ll be that little ghost girl all over again!” He grabbed Dipper’s hand, interlocking their fingers, and Dipper let him without thinking. Will’s grin faltered, just for a moment, before coming back wider than ever. “So, what exactly are we looking for? Something triangular, I’m guessing? Or did you guys find something before I showed up?”

“We were actually talking about how we couldn’t find anything,” Pacifica replied. “Doors are supposed to have memories or parts of the mind behind them, like the one you came from. Your door was the first actual memory we’d seen, and we’re not even really sure why it showed up.”

“Clearly, it was because you two needed help!” Will shrugged, the motion carrying through his arm to Dipper’s hand. “I can hardly keep my own thoughts straight, most days - its not difficult to believe my mind wouldn’t give you two any trouble. Though, I’m surprised you didn’t just bring me along. Seems like the best way to get around someone’s mind would be to have them there, right?”

Pacifica gave Dipper another pointed look, and Will follow