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Two Minutes to Midnight

Chapter Text

It was strange having a great uncle that was only thirty years old but Dipper and Mabel had experienced stranger things. At least the man's youth made sense considering he had been spirited away to an alternative universe where time had undoubtedly progressed at a slower rate or had been inexistent. The one thing that left them puzzled in regards to that was that it had been four years since Ford's return and he looked the same as he did when he first returned to their world. It was like it had happened yesterday but Mabel and Dipper were sixteen now. The ongoing theory was that travelling to an entirely different dimension had stunted his body's aging. Why? They would likely never know.

Four years had passed since their first chaotic summer in Gravity Falls. The world had come close to ending but had been saved. The evil demonic triangle known as Bill Cipher was defeated and likely dead. And though the Apocalypse had been avoided, Gravity Falls refused to become even the slightest bit normal. Gnomes attempted every month to usurp Mayor Tyler Cutebiker, thieves continued losing their hands, and the mini golf attraction was still the most dangerous place to be after dark. It had been four years and the twins still had their hands full with protecting Gravity Falls one memorable adventure at a time. Little did they know their strangest and consequently most perilous adventure was just underway.

A lot of things had changed over the years. For one thing, Stan and Ford had mostly fixed their relationship. They got along fairly well and Ford had offered to let his brother stay and continue running his scam at the end of their first summer. The only times they ever really got into arguments was when it was a question of the supernatural. Ford would often venture into the woods with the twins to capture or study various magical animals, which Stan severely disapproved of but it wasn't like they could be stopped. No matter how much the old man protested and argued that it was a terrible idea, they went through with it all the same and whatever catastrophe happened while they were out was always dealt with, with minimal injuries. There was really nothing to worry about.

That being said, today, Dipper and Mabel were in the Mystery Shack. They were in the living room, watching TV while Stan worked the shop and Ford buried himself in more research down in the basement – he always spent most of his time in his lab. The sky outside was grey – almost black – and the rain drops pelted the windows so hard Dipper was sure the glass would shatter. The wind roared so violently it shook the house and the pine trees. Why did the people visiting the shop even bother leaving their homes with such a storm brewing outside? Surely they were insane…

And as the thought crossed Dipper's mind, someone knocked at the door. The twins tore their gaze from the show they were watching and glanced in the door's direction upon hearing the feeble sound mostly drowned out by the bad weather. However, they had been hearing similar knocks frequently because of the storm and were quick to dismiss it. Only when the person knocked again with more force did they jump from the couch and run to the door. Who could it be? Who would it be? Wendy would never leave her home in such weather. Neither would Candy and Grenda. Soos might. Was it it Soos?

No.

A young man stood in front of them and what a dashing creature he was. Soaked to the bone, his golden hair stuck to the sides of his face, his dark skin was covered in droplets but, more notably, mud and blood. He wore nothing but a tattered rag dirtied with the same things as his exposed flesh. His legs seemed particularly damaged what with the multiple lacerations knees down, dyeing the mud crimson. It was like he had been running through the woods and the dark bags beneath his amber eyes seemed to indicate he had been living hell for days. Weeks even. He seemed startled or frightened – maybe both. Had he been chased?

"Uuh…" The twins said, lacking the ability to utter proper words.

"Pine Tree, Shooting Star." He said giving each of them a nod. His voice breathed familiarity that wasn't quite as obvious as it should have been considering the nicknames he had employed.

"Who…who are you?" Dipper asked, unable to believe the conclusion he had come to unless the other man confirmed it.

"It's me." He said and he sounded as exhausted as he did desperate, "Bill."

"Bill!?" Mabel cried and her brother was too stunned for words.

"I need your help."

Chapter Text

Bill left a trail of mud and blood to the living room where Mabel sat him down with a fresh, dry blanket and a cup of tea she had originally been brewing for herself. For a moment, the demon-now-human looked like he was about to make a snarky remark or say something detestable. A smile played at his lips but it faded quickly and the look in his eyes betrayed just how tired he was. Dipper felt bad and he knew Mabel did as well. Sure the guy had tried to destroy the entire world just for fun, but the twins weren't cruel enough to find pleasure in the misfortune of an admittedly terrible being.

"We should get Grunkle Stan and Ford." Dipper said to Mabel.

"Sixer…?" Bill asked and Dipper noticed how he perked up at his name, "He's here?"

"This is his house." Dipper said and crossed his arms over his chest.

Bill opened his mouth, a word just on the tip of his tongue, but then he closed it without having uttered even the first sound. It was strange of him. The demon – was he still a demon? – had never really known when to shut up. He didn't have much of a verbal filter either, which made him irritating very fast. Why were things different now? It was obvious the guy had been through something terrible but something about him also seemed really off…

"I'll go get them." Mabel said, patting Dipper's back as she walked by, "You stay with him."

"I'm not in much of a condition to run, Shooting Star." Bill said and Dipper started seeing the fragments of his old personality reappear. "If you didn't notice."

Mabel ignored him and made her way to the basement. Stan was just next door and Ford was the one who would likely have the worst reaction. She would need time to calm him down or get him to be sensible. But was it really so unreasonable to want to kick out the man – the thing that had tried to annihilate the human race? Still, looking at Bill wearing an exceptionally gorgeous human body in the condition he was, Dipper knew he would never be able to bring himself to chase him out.

"You going to keep staring at me like that, kid?" Bill asked with a hint of annoyance.

"Well…yeah." Dipper answered. He then took a step closer and looked the blond over like he was one of the strangest things he had ever seen – and, in a sense, he was. "I don't understand how you look like…that."

"You did this to me." Bill said bitterly, "Four years ago, when you 'defeated' me."

"We thought we killed you." Dipper admitted.

"Yeah, well, you didn't." Bill retorted.

Just then they heard Ford angrily yell from the basement. The only word Dipper managed to hear properly was the initial "WHAT!?" and the rest was just jibber jabber. They stayed quiet and tried listening to the rant Ford had launched himself into, speaking far too fast to distinguish the breaks between words. Mabel was going to have a hell of a time calming him down.

"Be honest with me, kid." Bill said, his tone much different from before. His enervation dripped with his every spoken word. He was really tired. "What are the odds he sends me packing?"

"If Mabel weren't the one dealing with him right now, I'd say incredibly high." Dipper admitted and sat down on the sofa chair.

"So…?" He asked, urging him to continue.

"So they're not as high now." Dipper said unhelpfully, "Don't get your hopes up just because she's Mabel. There are some things even she can't pull off."

Heavy stomps that only could have been Ford's sounded as he climbed out of the basement, Mabel following a step behind. He looked positively pissed off, eyes beaming with rage and his hands clenched in fists. Bill noticed how he was running a high risk of getting punched and tried to stand but he fell back with a slight wince of pain. Dipper noted how he didn't find pain as funny as he used to. Something had big had definitely happened to him.

Just as they got into the living room, the door leading to the Shack's shop opened and Stan came in, taking off his fez with an exhausted sigh. "Boy, I tell you those guys would—" he interrupted himself when he saw the naked man sitting on his sofa and his pissed off brother in the opposing doorway. "What the—"

"Oh good," Mabel sighed with a forced laugh, "I'm so glad you came on your own."

"What—" he tried, but Ford interrupted him as he marched over to Bill.

"You have one minute to explain how the hell you're still alive!" he snapped at him.

"Honestly, Sixer, I'm going to need more than a minute." Bill said and Dipper thought it was the worst time possible for the demon – human? – to get his old personality back.

"Bill—" He warned.

"You listen here, you crazy fu—" Ford snapped, snatching the blanket wrapped around him in an effort to drag him closer. However, the blanket just slipped and exposed most of Bill's torso and thighs which had Mabel yelping and shielding her eyes in a second. The author's eyes then darted down and he was unable to continue with his furious rant when he caught sight of the wounds the demon had been hiding. "You…what?"

More lacerations covered the flesh Bill had managed to keep hidden. These cuts were deeper and bigger, but they were in no way random. Someone or something had carved drawings, runes, and words in a foreign language Dipper had never seen before into him. Some of the wounds still bled. Bill yanked the blanket out of Ford's grip to cover himself before anyone could stare for too long.

"Bill…" Dipper mumbled in horror, "What happened to you…?"

"It's what I've been wanting to tell you." Bill said and he bit his lower lip as he began to tremble. "It's why I need your help."

Ford had clearly calmed down. Dipper even noticed a degree of sympathy in his eyes. It was amazing considering just how furious he had been mere seconds ago.

"Hang on," Stan said, expressing how confused he still was, "Who the hell is this naked man?"

"It's Bill." Mabel said. "Bill Cipher."

"Isn't he dead?" Stan asked, "And a triangle? How did he get into that body?"

"I don't know what you did to me four years ago." Bill said and he looked at Dipper accusingly, "I've been trying to understand it ever since I woke up. All I know is I didn't die and I somehow found myself in this body. I don't even know if it used to be someone else's and I just usurped the meat suit or if I…I don't know. I don't know."

"What have you been doing all this time?" Ford asked.

"I was lost." Bill said, "I literally woke up in the forest and I've been trying to find my way back to civilisation for the past four years."

"How did you survive?" Mabel asked in awe.

"I still have some magic left. Enough to ward off predators, hunt, and cook meat." Bill said and he summoned a small, blue flame in the palm of his hand as a demonstration.

"And those carvings?" Ford asked, "Did you do them yourself? They look like they could be warding runes."

When Ford reached to move the blanket from Bill's torso for a better view, the blond cowered away, sending a deathly glare that took him off guard.

"They're ritual symbols." Bill frowned, "A few weeks ago – maybe more – a Warlock caught me. It was like he'd been tracking me for a while. I didn't notice him, not until it was too late." he paused and shuddered before continuing, "He tortured me, he harvested my blood, and he told me something that really made me hate you, Pine Tree." And Dipper flinched, "He said that 'cured demon's blood' was an impossibly rare ingredient. Do you understand what that means?"

"You're…human?" Dipper deduced in awe.

"Apparently." He said and then looked down at some of his exposed scars, "I know that, at the very least, I'm mortal otherwise I wouldn't be bleeding."

"So we're really not going to have one normal summer, are we?" Stan groaned and leaned against a wall as he slapped an exasperated hand over his face.

"Doesn't look like it." Ford mumbled pensively as he looked Bill over, keeping his hands to himself. "So," he continued, "We have a Warlock on our hands?"

"A powerful one too." Bill added, "They normally suck at hiding their presence."

"Are we going to go hunt it?" Dipper asked.

"No, that's not how you deal with one of those." Ford said, shaking his head grimly.

"How are we going to find it?" Mabel asked, "Are we going to set traps in the forest?"

"That's the thing, Shooting Star." Bill said, "Warlocks don't hide in the forest. They only ever go to collect material or to perform rituals."

"In other words," Dipper concluded, "Whoever this guy is, he's hiding in Gravity Falls."

"And if he's smart, which he probably is," Ford added, "We're going to have a very hard time finding him."

"What does he want?" Stan asked.

"If they're not worshiping their gods, they're looking for power." Ford said, "But I have to admit that cured demon's blood is an ingredient I've never heard of in any society of magic wielders."

"If you're expecting Witches and Warlocks to tell you the truth you're an idiot." Bill said, "Even Elves are liars. They're nothing like the romanticized versions from your movies."

"Do you know what he wanted?" Mabel asked.

Bill's gaze fell. "No."

"Did you see anything that could maybe hint to what he wanted?" Dipper asked, "I mean, if he was worshipping Gods, I reckon he'd have a few idols scattered around."

"He had me blindfolded." Bill said dryly through gritted teeth, "When I managed to get out, I didn't take the time to look. I just made a run for it."

"Damn, that means we're starting this with nothing." Dipper grumbled.

"Hold on there, kid." Stan said quickly, "I don't think we should get involved in this. It sounds way more dangerous than anything else this family's had to face."

"Like Armageddon?" Dipper snorted.

"That's another thing." Stan added, "Why should we help him? He tried to kill us. I say let the Warlock have him."

Bill's eyes widened and Dipper caught the momentary fear in them. He then turned to Ford who ultimately was going to decide what they were going to do. He had sort of become the leader of their supernatural escapades and Dipper wasn't sure if he was brave enough to go against his will if he decided to forsake Bill. The Warlock sounded powerful and the brunet knew he wasn't nearly strong nor intelligent enough to deal with him on his own.

"We can't just leave him!" Mabel argued. "If we do, we're no better than any other evil thing we stopped!"

"That's pushing it a bit, sweetie." Stan disagreed.

"If he's worshipping his Gods," Ford said slowly and Dipper felt himself tense, "Then that means he'll kill Bill and we'll never see him again." Bill also tensed and he held Ford's gaze during the long pause before he concluded with: "But if he's looking for power, he'll become very dangerous and…we can't risk that happening even if it means protecting Bill."

"You sure that's a good idea?" Stan asked.

"Between you and me," He said, "A big part of me still wants to throw him to the Warlock and help him kill him… but the other, rational part knows it could put the lives of the people of Gravity Falls in jeopardy and no amount of personal ire is worth that."

"Love you too, Sixer." Bill snorted.

"I'm only going to tell you this once, Bill." Ford said icily, "One false move and you're out of this house. You'll be respectful, you won't stir any trouble, and if you so much as hurt anyone whether verbally or physically, I swear to God you'll wish you never left that Warlock."

Bill nodded but Dipper could see the way his mouth curved ever so slightly into a smile. He was pleased, amused even, and that was worrying. Regardless, their summer had taken an unexpected turn: Bill, who they previously thought dead, would be living with them until they dealt with the Warlock. Chaos was the only thing that would undoubtedly follow.

Chapter Text

They took Bill to the bathroom on the second floor to clean himself. Due to lack of trust, Ford refused to let him bathe alone and insisted on supervising him along with Dipper. Dipper wasn't very keen on watching the demon sit in a tub of water, but he wasn't about to object to his great uncle's orders. In the end, what Ford demanded made sense. Sure Bill claimed he had been attacked by a Warlock but as far as they were concerned, it could have been a lie. Perhaps the demon was plotting something more sinister? That being said, on the chance he had spoken the truth, ulterior motives could easily still have been in play. Maybe he sought a way or get revenge on the Pines family, or worse, a way to get his powers back.

So Bill stripped himself of the blanket Mabel had given him as Ford ran the bath water, making sure it wasn't scorching hot. Dipper sat on the counter and tried to keep his eyes from wandering but his curiosity got the better of him. The carvings were interesting in a very morbid way. They were clean, precise, and flawless. The skin was cut smoothly without the slightest tremble or signs of hesitation. The Warlock had known what he was doing likely because he had done so multiple times before.

"I know you're in the midst of puberty and whatever," Bill said without looking back at Dipper, "But you really need to show some decency, kid. I get it, I'm gorgeous, now keep it in your pants."

Dipper blushed and frowned. He wasn't about to let himself be embarrassed by Bill; not now and not like that. "I-I was looking at the cuts." He stuttered, "They're very informative."

"I'm sure they are." Bill said sarcastically.

"Bill, shut up." Ford chastised and closed the faucet. "Water's good, now get in."

"Oh, I get all tingly when you boss me around like that, Sixer." Bill purred as he complied with Ford's orders.

The latter just sighed and rolled his eyes as he watched Bill sit in their bath. The water quickly took a brownish colour and Dipper wondered if a shower wouldn't have been the better option. But then the blond winced in pain. At first Dipper thought it might have been because the water was too hot but the likely answer was that his wounds simply stung from the contact. If just that caused him to grimace in pain, how was he supposed to clean himself with the bath rag provided?

"This hurts way more than before." He commented as he reached for the cloth but Ford snatched it up first.

"That's because your adrenaline is fading." He said, "You're going to be in crippling pain soon enough."

"Better clean myself now while I can still move, then." Bill said and extended his hand expectantly for the rag.

Rather than give it to him, Ford knelt by the tub and dipped it in the discoloured water. Then, he carefully started cleaning Bill's arm, mindful of the scarred symbols tattering his skin. The blond was as surprised as Dipper was but neither said anything. They just watched as Ford cleaned the blood and mud from Bill's skin with a gentleness Dipper had never really seen before.

"I'll take care of it." He mumbled quietly.

Dipper almost felt like he was intruding on a very intimate moment. The way Ford acted, as strange as it was, seemed very platonic and normal but the way Bill looked at him suggested something else. His otherwise apprehensive golden eyes were soft and trained on the other's face, unmoving as Ford continued his ministrations. His cheeks had taken a shade of pink and his darkened lips were pinched together, like he wanted to say something but was holding back. Every now and then the blond would wince in pain but never, at any point, did he so much as look away for more than a second. The whole display had Dipper wondering a question he had never bothered to ask his great uncle before: what had exactly been his relationship with Bill? The latter had, of course, tricked him into thinking he was nothing more than a muse, but had nothing more happened between the two? Had they really just been friends and nothing more?

A sudden knock at the door had all three of them jolting in surprise. Bill glanced away, chewing at his lower lip while Ford's shoulders squared and he frowned. "Hey!" Mabel called from the other side, "I've found some clothes I think might fit Bill."

Dipper opened it, took the clothes she had brought and looked them over. There was a large, yellow sweater with a happy face she had knitted ages ago as well as a pair of black sweat pants. "Really? That's it?" he asked.

"Well, yeah." Mabel said, "We can always go buy him some real clothes tomorrow or something."

"I guess that's what we'll be stuck doing." Dipper said.

"So how's it going in there?" She asked, "Grunkle Ford hasn't drowned Bill yet, has he?"

"Nope." Dipper grinned, and he wanted to tell Mabel about how awkward it was mostly because he felt like there were some unresolved past tensions in play. However, the other two were too close for them not to be overheard in whispers and he opted to say nothing.

"Tell me later." Mabel said, having understood the predicament crossing her twin's mind.

"Will do." He said and closed the door.

Some thirty minutes later, Ford was plunging his arm into the horribly dirty water so as to drain it. Bill was cleaned and before he could slip on the clothes Mabel had found for him, his wounds needed to be treated and dressed. Ford grabbed the towel hanging on a rack to his left and dried Bill. Dipper noticed how the latter had a permanent scowl of pain etched on his face. His lips were pinched together, his teeth stabbing into his lower lip also to the point of tearing through the skin. The adrenaline had likely worn off like Ford had said it would, which meant that moving the blond around would suddenly become much more difficult.

The sixteen year old jumped off the counter when he saw his great uncle finish with the towel and toss it aside. He fetched the first aid kit and handed it to the man. He popped the white box open and took out the disinfecting alcohol and a cotton ball. Dipper frowned and gripped the side of the counter – he never enjoyed watching people suffer, be it in movies or in real life.

"This is going to sting a little." Ford warned and soaked the cotton in alcohol.

"Be real with me, Sixer," Bill said, his voice shaky from the agony that was already coursing through his body, "This is going to hurt a lot."

Ford said nothing more and began dabbing the cuts. The demon hissed and whimpered, biting his tongue so as to keep from uttering any more sounds displaying his suffering. His hands were balled tightly in fists and they shook violently until Ford finished a few painfully long minutes later. When he did, a sigh of relief escaped both Bill and Dipper's mouths. Then the older man dressed the wounds carefully with the sanitized bandages in the kit. He moved and held Bill's limbs as though they were the most fragile thing in the world, like if he so much as twitched involuntarily, he would break him.

"Can you stand?" Ford asked when he finished and put what little of what was left of the bandages away.

Bill just shook his head. His eyes were now screwed shut and his breathing was much harsher. Dipper couldn't even begin to imagine the degree of pain he must have been feeling.

Ford sighed heavily and glanced around the room before settling his gaze back on Bill. "I'm going to move you." He said and reached for him, "We're going to help you slip on your pants and bring you to a room where you can sleep."

Bill gave a nod and braced himself. He whimpered and yelped as he was moved, which sparked pain. It was really pathetic to see. Bill, a creature that had once been feared and beheld as something akin to a God, grovelled in pain and was so weak to his crippling agony that he couldn't function on his own. He had once seemed invincible to Dipper – so much so he had still had nightmares about the demon even after they had defeated him four years ago. Now the only word to describe him was pitiful. He had been bested twice and this was the price he paid. Considering the things Bill had done in the past, he undisputedly deserved everything that happened to him. However, it was still something Dipper would never have wished upon him, regardless of how cruel and evil he was. He just wasn't that sort of guy.

Dipper helped Bill into the black sweat pants and gathered the yellow sweater while Ford scooped the demon into his arms. He followed him to the room where the Bill would spend the night and was surprised to see Ford had given him his bed. He laid him on the mattress carefully and the look on his face was indescribable – a mix of indifference and something bordering on sympathy.

"You'll sleep here." He told Bill softly, "If you need anything, don't move. Just yell."

"You got anything for the pain?" Bill asked, forcing out a pained laugh.

"No." Ford said regretfully.

"Yes, actually." Stan said, announcing his presence to the room. He brandished a glass of water and two pills, "Old people medicine. Doctor gave me a prescription and one time they gave me more capsules than I needed until the refill."

"Why do you need that?" Ford frowned.

"Unlike you," Stan said and gave the pills and glass to Bill, "I actually aged the past thirty years." Ford lowered his gaze to the ground. Stan then turned his gaze to the blond, "Give it a couple of minutes and you'll feel like you're floating on a cloud."

They took the empty glass back and left the room. They walked to the living room where Mabel had continued watching her show. They all took a seat around and quietly stared at the TV for a moment. When the commercial break began, Mabel muted the sound.

"So I'm sensing we need to talk about our feelings." She said.

"I don't like keeping him under our roof." Stan admitted frankly.

"We don't have a choice." Dipper said, "If we kick him out, the Warlock will catch him in no time and will kill him to become more powerful."

"But didn't we establish that that might not have been what the guy was up to?" Stan argued, "Wasn't there also a chance that he was just worshipping his God or something?"

"Dipper," Ford said, glancing at his great nephew, "You got a good look at his scars earlier, didn't you?"

He blushed a bit but nodded. "Well…yeah." He said.

"I bet you did." Mabel laughed.

"I-it wasn't like that—!" He defended.

"I know I haven't gotten around to teaching you much about Warlocks, Witches, and witchery," Ford continued, "But what did you notice about all the marks covering Bill's body?"

"Uh…" Dipper started and thought, "They were clean. Smooth. No signs of hesitation. So the guy had practice and knew exactly what he was doing."

"What does that tell us?" Ford pushed.

"That…" Dipper mused, "That we're probably looking at someone experienced – an older man. That being said, prodigies do exist, but the odds favour the former."

"Excellent." Ford approved, "But what I was looking for, and this would have answered Stanley's question," he looked at his brother as he explained: "None of the marks on his body seemed to remotely resemble or hint to a deity. Bill also said he didn't notice any idols as he ran away. He also said he hadn't been paying attention but, regardless of where his focus lied, he would have noticed tall totems lying about. This all indicates that the Warlock we'll be dealing with as our first priority was looking for power."

"Fantastic." Stan grumbled.

"So what's our plan of action?" Dipper asked.

"Bill needs to rest and heal." Ford said, "I'm guessing he'll start feeling better after a week or two – sooner, if we're lucky. During that time, I think it's best for us to stay low. There are ways to fortify this house from supernatural beings so that's one thing we'll work on while our new tenant recuperates. The other thing we'll be doing is learning about Warlocks. This family needs to know what to do and how to deal with them in the eventuality of an unforeseen confrontation."

"One normal summer." Stan muttered, "That's all I wanted."

"And what about Bill's body?" Mabel asked. "I mean, are we just going to let him keep it when it belonged to someone else?"

Ford stiffened and his gaze darkened. "I'll take care of it." He muttered, "I'll find out who it used to belong to."

Chapter Text

The storm that had been initially raging when Bill had first gotten to the Mystery Shack began settling a week later. The sky was still covered by a thick veil of gray clouds and strong winds continued blowing – ripping the occasional tree from the ground. Ford guessed that the poor weather might have been caused by the Warlock. If he was as strong as Bill proclaimed him to be already, it wasn't a far leap to assume he could bend the weather to his will. The thought that he was capable of such a thing made him all the more frightening even if they had warded the Shack with protective magic. What sort of destruction would he have been capable of had he successfully completed the ritual that involved Bill?

During the past several days, Ford had been drilling as much information as he could into his family's head about Warlocks. He discussed their history, their culture, their magic practices, the mythology they followed, and specific celebration dates. It was a lot to learn. The amount of knowledge had been daunting but Ford was a good teacher. He repeated the most important parts of what he taught over and over again, which helped when it came to memorising. Apparently, due to the strong connections Warlocks have with the forces of evil, they suffer from most of the same weaknesses as any other supernatural being. They are especially vulnerable to salt and iron. That being said, Warlocks were still, in essence, human, which meant they could be killed with a bullet to the head or a stab to one of the vital organs. What made them supernatural beings was the corruption brought about by their use of black magic.

Bill, on the other hand, had recuperated faster than anyone had anticipated. He had only borrowed some of Grunkle Stan's pain medicine two more times before he could tolerate the pain. By the middle of the week, he could sit up and move around without tearing open his still healing cuts. With the week now over, he was starting to walk again. The slices over his body were nothing more than thin red lines and could be passed off as animal scratches or many other things. He was good enough to fend for himself, which meant Ford could get his room back and they could all stop acting like his servants. They had even gone through the trouble of fixing a room for the ex-demon, however it was still missing a few important components. And though his wounds faded to scars, Bill's insufferable attitude reappeared.

"I'm going to throttle him." Ford said as he left his room and shut the door a bit too loudly.

"What did I say about housing him?" Stan reminded with an I-told-you-so tone.

"Oh come on, guys!" Mabel insisted, "He's not being all gloomy or high! This is good!"

"I think I liked him better gloomy." Ford said.

"He was a riot when he was high." Stan nodded.

"So what do we do now?" Dipper asked. "Are we going to go investigating?"

"I don't think there's a point." Ford said, "Warlocks are like people. The only abnormal thing about them is their magical practices. It would be like looking for a small needle in a pile of medium size needles."

"Great metaphor." Stan said cynically.

"An accurate one." Ford insisted. "The point is, the only way we're going to find this guy is by acting."

"We're going to provoke him." Dipper concluded.

"Yes."

"How?"

"For starters," Ford began and gestured his room, "We'll need to get Bill some new clothes. Then we'll need to get him an actual bed and dresser."

"Woo!" Mabel cheered, "Shopping! I should call the girls!"

"I don't think that's a good idea." Dipper said.

"No, go ahead." Ford encouraged, "We'll need your friends help spread rumours of Bill around town. You just need to make sure they don't say too much."

"What should I limit it to?" Mabel asked as she texted Candy and Grenda.

"Overall minimal details. Just a vague physical description." Ford said, "One of them should mention seeing healing scars."

"We're going the mysterious route!" Mabel giggled, "They'll love that!"

"Just one?" Dipper asked, peering from her phone.

"I want that part to be a little more subtle." Ford explained, "The goal is to have him hear about the vague description Mabel's friends will have given out. People will have spread the news by adding their own spin to it which means some of the details circulating will be false and others true."

"And he won't know which is which so he'll start looking around for more information." Dipper said, having caught on to his Great Uncle's plan, "He'll add up what's coherent and what isn't. Eventually, he'll come across the detail concerning the cuts and then he'll know for sure they're talking about Bill."

"That's how we'll find our Warlock." Ford confirmed, "We won't take Bill out often, but when we do people will recognize him from the rumours. Hopefully, one of the gossipy people will step forward and try talking to us to say a man has been asking a lot of questions about him."

"But Candy and Grenda will have met him." Mabel said, "They'll know his name so they'll include it in the information they give out."

"This is where we'll have to make fools of your friends." Ford said apologetically, "We'll never call Bill the same thing, alternating between a few names that sound similar."

"Like Frank, Francois, and Francis." Dipper supplied.

"Gotcha." Mabel nodded. She paused for a moment and her phone buzzed. "Okay, they're in."

"Good." Ford said. "Are you going to tag along, Stan?"

"I guess I am." He sighed, "Someone's got to be responsible. Dipper," he said turning to the brunet, "Fetch the drama queen."

"I'm not deaf." Bill said, his voice muffled by the closed door. "You're literally talking about this right in front of my room."

"It's my room." Ford corrected.

"I don't mind it becoming our room, Sixer." Bill purred as he opened the door.

He had pulled on the yellow sweater. The combinations of his clothes made him look very sloppy – something Mabel, Pines family fashionista, severely disapproved of. She made a face and shook her head.

"We're going to need to get to a clothes store ASAP." She said.

They piled into Stan's pathetic excuse for a car – the latter being at the wheel. Dipper, Mabel, and Bill sat cramped in the back. The demon complained and whined the whole journey about how he deserved more room. It was impossibly annoying and had everyone except Mabel gritting their teeth together in irritation. Dipper didn't understand how his sister could tolerate the blond so easily.

As Mabel requested, the first stop was a clothes store. Candy and Grenda waited in front of it, texting furiously until they noticed the car. They squealed and waved at Mabel, hopping in place until they saw Bill. Their demeanours changed instantly. They stiffened in place and their faces went beat red. Dipper forced himself not to roll his eyes whereas Ford and Stan allowed themselves to express their exasperation. They thought Bill was hot. It was written all over their faces.

"Girls!" Mabel shouted and waved, "Come here for a sec! I'll introduce you to…" she then glanced at Bill pondering a fake name, "to…Gavin!"

"I thought we were going with Frank, Francois, and Francis." Stan muttered quietly.

"Not anymore." Dipper snorted.

"Just stick to the plan." Ford insisted, "Use names that start with G. That goes for you too Bill."

"Yeah, yeah." He said, brushing them off.

Candy and Grenda carefully crept closer. They made their way to Mabel but they kept their round eyes glued on Bill's form. Their blushes got darker as they got closer.

"Candy, Grenda," Mabel said excitedly, "Say hello to Graham!"

The two girls seemed jarred by the sudden change in names but barely had time to question it when Bill took a step forward. He gave them his most charming smile, which was so nice it even had Ford, Stan, and Dipper blushing for a moment, and then he offered them his hand to shake, "Hi." He said smoothly, "Call me Grant. Cuz I'll grant your wishes!"

He started laughing when Mabel smacked him on the back of the head for having made such a terrible pun. He winced and glared at her, pouting. Candy and Grenda remained stunned in silence for a brief moment and then they began laughing. It was louder than needed, clearly exaggerated, and Dipper recognized it as their first attempt to establish a good relationship with Bill. Both thought he was dating material. The ex-demon, however, was off put and immediately retracted his hand.

"You are so funny!" Candy guffawed and then became weirdly serious, "I like that in a man."

"God! You're hysterical!" Grenda proclaimed aggressively and punched his arm a bit too hard.

"Right, well," Mabel coughed awkwardly, "We came shopping for Bi—Garrett. He's barely got any clothes so…"

"That is not an issue." Candy said with a slightly creepy smile, "I am sure no one will mind."

"Hubba hubba." Grenda grinned.

"Oh my God, stop." Dipper groaned and pushed past them, "Let's just go."

"Please." Ford sighed and gestured the door, "Girls."

The girls ran ahead, dragging Dipper along with them. He was forced to listen to their hushed whispers about how hot they found Bill as they looked through the men's clothes. Dipper tried not listening to them but he had to admit he had a weakness for gossip and love drama. And for all the excuses he could conjure on why such things interested him purely for intellectual reasons, the truth was Dipper was just a big sap. It was his thing. Where Mabel loved the MMA and WWE, he adored watching Say Yes to the Dress and The Bachelor.

But no one needed to know.

As the girls scoured the racks and found clothes they thought would look nice on Bill, Dipper found himself quickly holding all the things they selected. Candy had a knack for pulling out obscene outfits that surely must have lost their way on their journey to a BDSM store. He always made sure to put those ones away somewhere where no one would find them so as not to be scarred for life. It took him a moment to realize Ford, Stan, and Bill occupied an entirely different corner of the store. The three were chatting up the employees. Both genders were equally infatuated with Bill's appearance.

A part of Dipper was envious and resentful. He wondered why he was the one stuck following the girls in their shenanigans when he would much rather be discussing things with Ford and conjuring theories on the Warlock. By all means, they were shopping for Bill so the latter should be adopting his role and carrying the clothes he would soon try on. As it was, Dipper felt like he was being casted aside.

"Okay!" Mabel finally declared, "I think that's enough for now! Let's call Gabriel over."

"Wasn't his name Gale?" Grenda asked.

"I thought it was Grayson." Candy said.

"Whatever!" Mabel dismissed and cupped her hands around her mouth before yelling: "Hey guys!" all three turned from their conversation to find Mabel among the sets of clothes, "We've got things for…Gerald to try on."

"Giovanni?" Candy mumbled quietly to Grenda.

"No, it definitely wasn't Giovanni." She then paused, "Wait, was it?"

Ford, Stan, and Bill quickly ended their conversation with the small crowd they had gathered near the cash registers and made their way to the changing rooms. Bill grinned widely and waved at the people as Stan dragged him away with a steel grip on his shoulder. He seemed very annoyed with the blond. Rightfully so, probably.

The next half hour was a modelling session in which Bill wore the different outfits the girls had picked out for him in the combinations they had chosen. One thing Mabel had been weary of was to make sure the clothes would hide the cuts still covering the ensemble of Bill's body. If Candy or Grenda had chosen a low cut shirt, she had found a scarf that concealed his exposed neck. If they had chosen a t-shit, she had found a light jacket to match thus covering his arms. Naturally, the girls had found it a bit strange especially considering it was practically the middle of summer and the hot temperatures had recently set a new State record. Mabel had justified it by claiming it was in preparation for the later seasons, when it would get cold outside. The explanation was sufficient enough for the matter to have been promptly dropped.

Had they still been insistent on the topic, however, their motivation would have dropped almost instantly because as soon as their conversation finished, Bill began showing the outfits he had been asked to wear. Candy and Grenda held in their squeals as much as they could – occasionally whispering them when Bill retreated to the changing rooms to slip into something new. And so they watched Bill switch clothes for a good half hour.

Dipper had gotten bored quickly. It was nothing like Say Yes to the Dress thus he found little to no pleasure in the activity. He spent most of the time just observing Candy's and Grenda's reactions. It was funny to see the emotions and feelings they wore so clearly on their faces. He could still hardly believe how enamoured they were with Bill. It was only around the end that he tore his gaze away from the girls and glanced at his great uncles. He was surprised to see Stan wearing a grin on his face. At first, Dipper thought the man might also have been enjoying the way Mabel's friends reacted but then he saw Ford. His arms were folded tightly against his chest and he fiddled nervously with his glasses. His gaze was trained on Bill and Dipper thought he noticed a small blush on his face. However, he concluded it must have been the light bouncing off the red walls.

"Okay!" Mabel said and gathered all the outfits. "We can't take all of them so what's the final verdict?"

"The European style suited him very well." Candy said, "I believe we should keep the ones emanating that air."

"I didn't like the leather on him." Grenda said.

"Me neither. So let's scrap it." Mabel nodded and pushed the ensemble in question to the side. "The hipster clothes looked nice on him."

"Yes, but the cute geek apparels did not bode well for him." Candy concurred.

"Agreed. I think you should also keep the preppy style." Grenda mused.

"Then we'll forget the other ones." Mabel concluded, "I think nine outfits to start is good enough. Not to mention he can mix and match."

"Are we good then?" Stan asked, his tone betraying his exasperation.

"Yes!" The girls sang. They grabbed the clothes and ran ahead to the counter.

"So what were you guys doing over there?" Dipper asked now that they were relatively alone.

"Candy and Grenda can only do so much to spread rumours." Ford explained, "We introduced him to more people to get the news going faster."

"You should have seen them, Pine Tree." Bill laughed, "They were practically drooling!"

"I saw them from afar." Dipper assured.

"They thought Sixer was Fez's kid too. It was hilarious." Bill added.

"Would you stop it with your damn nicknames!?" Stan snapped.

"Nope!" Bill grinned and skipped ahead to the counter.

"That guy…" he grumbled.

They paid for the clothes and left. The employees were quick to beckon their steadfast return. Bill gave them another blush-worthy smile and winked as he left. Dipper watched the people literally swoon. As annoying as it was, it was also amazing to see how much of an effect the blond had on them. He was going to need to ask the demon for tips. He needed to revive his fading love life.

The next stop was the furniture store. They said goodbye to Candy and Grenda and piled into the car with the bags of clothes resting on their laps. They all suffered through more of Bill's complains until they got to destination. Mabel texted her friends and was quick to confirm that they had already begun talking about Bill to their friends. Other girls of their age had claimed seeing Bill around town recently, but they all knew that to be a lie. Nonetheless, it was a good sign and meant they were now about to play the waiting game. Dipper wondered how long Ford intended to wait. He supposed it was something they could discuss later.

They got out of the car once they had found a parking spot in front of the next store they were meant to enter. However, Grunkle Stan had finally had enough of shopping and refused to go in. It wasn't like he had to be there in the first place. All they were going to do was select a bed and dresser for Bill. They would then book a truck to lug the furniture over to the Shack and leave. So rather and wait around amidst a sea of furniture, Stan opted to go out on a walk until they came back. The street on which the store was located was one of the more animated ones of Gravity Falls. There wasn't much to see but there was still a nice enjoyable vibe and Dipper found himself wanting to accompany Stan so he did.

"You're not mad about how we ditched you with the girls earlier, are you?" Stan asked as they made their way down the street.

"No, not really." Dipper admitted, "I guess I could have always gone back to you guys if I wanted to but what would have been the use in that? It's not like I could have contributed."

"Bill was the one doing most of the talking anyways." Stan shrugged, "I hate to say it but the twerp has got game. He knows how to deal with the ladies. And the men."

"Speaking of…" Dipper mumbled, "Did you notice Ford acting…strange?"

"Hm? What do you mean?" Stan asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I mean around Bill." Dipper said, "He seems to act weird. Like not himself."

"Oh." Stan nodded and it seemed like he was debating something in his mind before he continued with: "Well, you know, Bill has that effect on people. One minute you're yourself, the next you're contemplating murder and the best ways to dispose of a body."

"That's not what I meant." Dipper chuckled. "As true as it is."

"Don't worry about Ford, kid." Stan smirked, "He's doing fine."

"I guess." Dipper sighed.

They walked around for a while longer making idle chatter. Dipper had never really been in the given part of town. It was more hip; a place where the young adults of Gravity Falls gathered to go to cafés or study in nice environments. He thought about returning to the place and joining in the mass. Sometimes it was hard to read about the supernatural when so much chaos was happening around the Shack.

Finally, Stan decided they had probably reached the point where they should return. They walked back the path they had initially travelled. They then passed by one of the cafés with an outdoor terrace when someone at one of the tables called out to them – or, specifically, to Stan.

"Stan! Hey Stan!" a man with black hair called and waved.

It took Dipper a moment to recognize him.

"Hey! Tad!" Stan grinned and walked to the fence surrounding the café's terrace. "Didn't see you there. How are you doing?"

"Good, good." Tad said excitedly and shook Stan's hand. "You know, I saw you pass by but I wasn't sure it was you."

Tad had only changed a bit since Dipper had last seen him. He looked the same with his boring dad-haircut and form fitting dress shirt. The only real difference was that his age was beginning to show. Scarce white strands of hair had begun to grow around his temple and small wrinkles had formed next to his eyes. By all means he was still a young man in his mid to late thirties, his age had just started to alter his appearance in the most subtle of ways. For the most part, it was hardly noticeable.

"What are you doing?" Stan asked, "Come to hang out with the hipsters?"

"Would you believe that I'm actually on a date?" He said and grinned from ear to ear.

"Good for you." Stan said and then remembered Dipper, "This is my great nephew by the way, Dipper Pines."

"Ah, yes. Mabel's twin." Tad mused, "Where is she?"

"She's helping Ford buy furniture." Dipper supplied.

"Is that so?"

"Yeah, we've got a temporary guest." Stan huffed, "A real nut job, I tell you."

"Sounds like he's exasperating." Tad commented.

"You don't know the half of it." Stan continued and Dipper was starting to worry he was accidentally going to spill the truth on Bill. The last thing they needed was for real information to start circulating around Gravity Falls to alert the Warlock. It would ruin Ford's plan.

"S-so how's your date going?" Dipper asked.

"Oh, it only just started." Tad explained, his attention successfully reoriented, "But it's great. It was a long time coming, you know."

"Was it?" Dipper asked. He didn't actually care, but he asked for the sake of keeping the previous conversation at bay.

"Yeah, we were doing the whole will they, won't they shebang." Tad laughed, "I finally decided to end it when my good friend Carlos told me I was going to screw things up if I didn't act now."

"That's nice." Stan said and he glanced at his watch, "Listen, Tad, we have to go. We'll catch up later. Tell me how your date goes."

"Will do, Stan'o!" Tad grinned and he waved them away.

Dipper sighed deeply and shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked away. He glanced back once and saw Mayor Cutebiker make his way to Tad's table and take the seat opposite to his. For a moment, he wondered if that was his date or just another random passerby that had decided to stop for a chat. Lord knew Tad had that effect on people. But then he saw them hold hands on top of the table.

"What a normal guy." Stan huffed.

They made it back to the store and found Ford, Bill, and Mabel waiting at the front. They had two long boxes upright next to them as they stood by the car. They contained the planks and screws to build the dresser and the bed frame respectively. Ford later explained that they would be delivering the mattress to the Shack within three business days. With that said, they packed the car as best as they could. Dipper, Mabel, and Bill found themselves utterly crammed in the back and this time Bill neglected to complain. That being said, he did sigh exaggeratedly to express his annoyance until they got back to the Shack. Then they built the furniture and before they knew it the day was done.

Chapter Text

"Well, it's official," Grunkle Stan said as he walked into the house, arms filled with groceries, "The whole town knows about Bill."

Dipper glanced up from his book whereas Mabel muted the TV. Bill groaned, hitting his head back against the latter's leg in protest. There wasn't enough space for all of them on the sofa so the demon had opted to sit at Mabel's feet while they watched an MMA fight. She nudged him back gently and ignored his silent request to turn on the sound.

"You wouldn't believe how many people are chatting about him." Stan commented as he went to the kitchen.

"It's been…what? Three days?" Dipper asked, surprised.

"And everyone's buzzing about the mysterious blond stranger." Ford grumbled. He seemed bitter and Dipper thought that was strange. It had been his idea to spread rumours of Bill's presence around town. Why was it bothering him?

"What do they say about me?" Bill asked.

Ford simply frowned and left, but Stan had come back in time to catch the question and provide an answer. "Word on the street is that you're a drop dead gorgeous and charming man." Stan said, "A lot of women claim to know you and make up insane stories about you."

"Wow. He sounds like a real lady-killer." Mabel commented with a smile.

"Ha! That's hilarious!" Bill snorted and threw his head back as he guffawed. "How many dates do you think I can score?"

"None." Dipper said, "This isn't the time to get reckless, Bill. The Warlock's still looking for you."

"God, what a party pooper." The demon grumbled and pouted, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Did anyone mention anything about the Warlock?" Dipper asked.

"Not from what we heard." Stan confessed. "Granted, we didn't go talking to people directly. We just eavesdropped on conversations here and there."

"So we'll still be waiting." Dipper sighed.

"Seems like it." Stan said and made his way to grab more groceries.

Dipper pushed himself from the sofa as his sister unmuted the TV. He left to go help unpack the car whereas Mabel and Bill continued watching women beat the living shit out of each other, the latter taking his spot. He walked to the car in his bare feet, wincing when he walked the gravel but toughing it out to snatch a few bags. He carried as many bags as he could carry, leaving Ford to grab the few ones that were left and locking the car.

"You seemed upset." Dipper commented to Ford as they walked into the kitchen. He placed the bags on the counter for Stan to unpack. "About what people were saying about Bill, I mean."

"I-I did?" Ford stuttered and he seemed nervous.

"Yeah." Dipper said, "Is something else going on?"

"H-hun?" Ford uttered dumbly, suddenly more nervous.

"Are they saying other things that are worrying you?" Dipper specified and his great uncle calmed down.

"Oh, uh…no." he admitted sheepishly and helped Stan sort the things in the cupboards and refrigerator.

Dipper frowned at the answer. It didn't make sense. Why had the man been upset before if he had had nothing to be upset about? Unless there was something Ford wasn't telling him. It wouldn't have been the first time. However, the brunet hadn't had much of a change to conjure theories on what his great uncle could have been hiding again when Stan stepped in, promptly changing the subject. It annoyed Dipper a little but he let it happen all the same. If Ford didn't want to tell him something, there was no way he could pry it from him.

"So the shop's opening in a few minutes." Stan explained, "I'm going to need a helping hand."

"I was planning on continuing my research." Ford said.

Dipper wondered if he was any closer to finding who Bill's body used to belong to.

"I wasn't expecting you to offer your help." Stan stated.

Dipper rolled his eyes, "It's not like I was going to do anything today." He said, accepting the indirect demand.

"Good." Stan grinned, "I heard from a contact that a few tourists buses were making their way through town again. That means I need you to be on your A game."

Dipper nodded and left the kitchen. He went to his room in the attic to change into more appropriate work clothes. On his way down, he noticed how easily Mabel and Bill chatted on the sofa. He stared at them for a moment in utter awe. Four years ago, Bill had attempted to bring about Armageddon and to destroy them. He had quite possibly been the most terrifying thing Dipper had had to face. Now the demon in question was no longer an actual demon, had lost the power that had once made him so threatening, and mingled idly with someone he had once intended to kill.

Life was strange.

The sixteen year old shook his head and crossed the living room into the shop. He jumped behind the counter and opened the cash register, counting the money already in place. Stan walked in a few moments later with his signature eye patch and cane, ready to host a show for the people dumb enough to wander into such a flagrant tourist trap. He seemed particularly excited about the batch of visitors they were expecting and it told Dipper that they likely knew hardly any English. As frustrating as it was to explain things to someone who couldn't make sense of what you tried telling them, the language barrier made it easier to con them.

The old man glanced at the watch on his wrist and grinned. He pranced to the sign in the window and promptly flipped it. He was about to walk away when something stilled him. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open and Dipper was suddenly very concerned.

"Grunkle Stan?" He called and when the former didn't so much as acknowledge him, he jumped over the counter to find what he was staring at.

A crack of lightning blinded Dipper just as he got to the window. When he was able to see again, he saw thick black clouds twirl above the way they always did when a tornado was about to form. What made the meteorological event so strange was that it had been so nice out seconds before. The sky had been a bright blue, the clouds had been scarce but white and fluffy all the same, and the air had been delightfully warm. The sudden sour turn made absolutely no sense and could only mean one thing.

"The Warlock…" he mumbled.

"Get Ford." Stan said, eyes still glued to the sky.

Dipper nodded and backed away from the awe-inspiring sight slowly. Then he ran through the house, dashing across the living room, and perched himself at the top of the basement stairs. He yelled for his Great Uncle to come back as quickly as he could. The ruckus he had made had drawn Mabel and Bill from their position on the sofa. They hovered by curiously, a hint of worry in Mabel as she waited for an explanation.

"Look." Dipper said, gesturing the window once Ford was up.

They returned to the living room, moving the curtains aside and beheld the storm that had inexplicably and unexpectedly started. Ford and Mabel gasped whereas Bill had suddenly become very quiet. Dipper noticed how he trembled ever so subtly and clenched his hands into fists. He was nervous and he had every right to be. The Warlock knew he was near, he had heard the rumours, and he was looking for Bill again.

"It's the Warlock, isn't it?" Mabel asked, though she already knew the answer. "He's the one changing the weather."

"There's no other explanation." Ford nodded sharply and tore himself away from the terrifying sight, "I had honestly hoped the storm had been nothing more than a coincidence. To think he's already strong enough to bend nature like that…"

Dipper glanced at Bill again. He seemed paler and his lips were pinched together tightly. "Bill…?" he mumbled.

"Don't let him kill me…" Bill said when Ford and Mabel's eyes fell upon him. His voice trembled with evident fear, "Don't let him get me, Sixer."

Ford's mouth fell open and for a moment the only thing he could do was stare at the blond. "I won't." he promised.

"We're going to protect you." Mabel affirmed, "All of us."

Bill said nothing, but Dipper knew he wasn't convinced. He didn't believe they could keep him from someone so dauntingly powerful. Who could blame him?

Chapter Text

The storm created by the Warlock was still going strong a week later. There had been multiple tornado warnings within the area and citizens of Gravity Falls were told to stay indoors and at the ready. The News often spoke of the spontaneous hurricane looming over the entirety of the Oregon state. Every day, the Pines would check to see what meteorologists had to say on the matter, hoping in vain that the storm would eventually move away and allow for decent times to return. A red banner sat at the bottom of every television channel with tips and explanations on what to do in case a tornado found itself heading towards the viewer's home. It was a terrifying situation already but even more so for the Pines who knew the storm wasn't natural and had been provoked by a Warlock.

Bill had been quiet for the first few days and wearily looked out the window. It was like he was expecting the Warlock to step out of the forest and come for him. Mabel often reminded him of the ward they had casted over the house, rendering it invisible and inaccessible to anyone who wasn't human. The blond understood all too well how the magic worked what with being – or rather, having been – a magical creature himself. That being said, he still worried and still spent time staring out the window, waiting for something that felt inevitable.

The tense atmosphere slowly began to fade in the middle of the week, when most of the house hold had finally been convinced that the ward would hold against such a powerful foe. Mabel joked and bothered people into playing board games with her, Bill returned to his typically insufferable ways while Ford fled to his laboratory in the basement, and Stan spent most of his time drinking beer. Dipper, on the other hand, was roped in by his sister more times than not into playing games with her. He wasn't particularly fond of board games in general. He did very much enjoy things like D, D, and D but that was only because they deviated from the usual recipe of those type of games.

"You rolled…a six!" Mabel announced and excitedly took one of the cards from the deck on the left. "You adopt twins! So cute!"

"Mabel, I hate this game." Dipper groaned but still took two small sticks which he jammed into his small plastic car. "I'm also running out of space for the children."

"Oh come on! Everyone loves LIFE!" Mabel insisted with a wide grin. "Now it's my turn!"

She rolled the dice but before it could settle on a number, the board in front of them was suddenly propelled to the other side of the room, the cars and small plastic pieces scattered across the room.

"Bill!" Mabel whined. "That's not nice; we were playing!"

The ex-demon walked into the room with a grin on his face. Dipper had never been gladder that the former was such an ass hole. He had played LIFE with Mabel far too many times that very day and was more than happy to not have to play it anymore.

"I'm bored." The blond declared and sat on the ground next to them.

"Aren't we all?" Dipper huffed and lied on his back.

"You could have just said so and we would have let you join the game." Mabel grumbled as she reached to grab one of the nearby small plastic pieces.

However, before she could, it began to hover. Soon all the pieces were floating in the air, even the board, and they slowly moved towards the three of them, settling themselves in its box carefully and properly.

"Sometimes I forget you can still wield magic." Dipper confessed.

"I don't use it a lot in case I really need it later." Bill said.

"Shouldn't you be saving it then?" The brunet asked, glancing at the man to his left, "The Warlock made that storm just for you, you know."

"Don't remind me." He muttered.

"I don't get how you can still be in the Mystery Shack," Mabel started as she put the cover on the game's box, "if we warded the place against magical creatures."

"Humans can wield magic, dummy." Bill smirked and leaned back on his hands, "It's really simple albeit a bit taxing."

"Can we learn magic?" Mabel asked and Dipper sat up curiously.

"Sure you can." The demon assured nonchalantly, "Any human can learn, it's just easier for some because they have the Gift. The Gift being a natural talent for magic, obviously."

"Whoa!" Mabel exclaimed excitedly, "Teach me!"

"Why not?" Bill shrugged. "Come here."

Mabel moved a bit closer, curiously waiting for what would come next. A small blue flame appeared at the tip of Bill's index, which he then promptly jabbed against her forehead. The flame engulfed her and Dipper was quickly very worried, but his sister showed no signs of pain. She simply seemed mesmerized. The fire then disappeared as quickly as it had first appeared.

"What did you do?" Dipper asked.

"I was looking to see if she had the Gift." Bill said, "She doesn't. Do you want to try?"

Dipper hesitated. He wasn't sure learning magic from a former demon was the best idea. He could almost hear Ford tell them just how stupid they were being by considering it. But before he could make up his mind, Bill jabbed Dipper's forehead and allowed a blue flame to encase him. It was a strange feeling. There was no heat and no pain, rather there was a cool sensation ghosting over his skin in the most gentle of ways. And suddenly, it was all gone.

"You don't have it either." Bill concluded, "Teaching you magic's going to be a bit more difficult."

"Did you ever meet anyone with the Gift?" Mabel asked.

"Yeah, a few." The blond assured, "Your Great Uncle, Sixer, has it."

"What!?" The twins exclaimed, "He does!?"

"Un hun." He confirmed with a proud smile, "Taught him everything he knows too."

"Wait," Dipper insisted, "Great Uncle Ford can use magic?"

"No," Bill corrected, "He can wield it. There's a difference. Anyone can use magic. You used it four years ago on me when you casted the spell that made me human. But wielding it," and a blue flame appeared in the palm of his hand for show, "now that's a whole different beast."

With that information in mind, Dipper didn't care much about what Ford could have to say on them learning magic from Bill. He had done the same over thirty years ago so why shouldn't they? Sure, magic could corrupt its wielder but Ford was doing perfectly fine and his teacher had been an actual demon. Admittedly, a part of Dipper was peeved by how their Great Uncle had, yet again, neglected to inform them on something rather important about his past.

"Does that make Grunkle Ford a Warlock?" Mabel asked. "Or a Sorcerer?"

"No," Bill explained, "To be a Warlock, Witch, Wizard, whatever, you need to follow their culture and religion. Sixer's just your run of the mill magic wielder. He could be stronger if he started worshipping again."

"He worshipped before?" Dipper asked.

"Yeah, you saw his shrine, kid." Bill reminded, "The one he made for me."

"But you weren't a God." Dipper countered.

"That's debatable." The blond grinned, "I had a worshipper, someone who listened to my every word and trembled in awe of my power. He brought and made me offerings. He wrote down everything I said into books, which he maintained and read religiously. If that doesn't make me something like a God, then I don't know what does."

"Point taken." Dipper conceded.

"Sounds like Grunkle Ford was a bit off." Mabel remarked. "You kind of made him sound a bit loopy."

"You want to know the sad truth?" Bill asked and where he would normally have taken pleasure in the misfortune of others, he seemed very humbled and sympathetic as he spoke, "Sixer was lonely. You know his story. Never good with people, sort of a recluse – couldn't score a friend let alone a girlfriend. When his brother went away after screwing up his dreams and aspirations, he had no one to help ease the burden his demanding parents were shoving onto his shoulders. When he went to college, he met McGucket, sure, but calling him his friend is an overstatement. He was more of an acquaintance. So when he found me and saw I was kind and willing to stay with him, he showered me with gifts to make sure I wouldn't leave because he thought it was the only way. By all means, I was his very first friend."

"But you weren't." Dipper said dryly, "You weren't kind and you weren't his friend. You betrayed him."

He expected a laugh, a condescending retort, or anything of the like, but instead Dipper got a very surprised look and a baffled pause. "Yeah. I did." Bill acknowledge and he didn't sound angry or bitter. If anything, he sounded a bit…regretful. "Anyways, enough about that!" He suddenly exclaimed, "I'm here to teach you magic, not talk about the past!"

"Right!" Mabel agreed and sat upright, eager to leave the depressing topic behind. "What first?"

"Well, you need to understand that magic is very spiritually based." Bill started and sat with his legs crossed, "You need to tap into your soul's essence. Once you've done that, I can teach you how to manipulate its energy and create things from nothing. You'll also have to learn not to use too much energy otherwise it could kill you. There are ways to absorb the energy of other life forms, like plants and animals, without having to use yours, but all of that comes later. So first, you meditate. A lot."

Dipper and Mabel exchanged gazes but gave a slow nod. They sat in the lotus position and relaxed their bodies as their eyes fell closed. Bill spoke to them calmingly, instructing them on what to do in order to tap into their soul's essence. He told them to clear their minds, to focus solely on the sound of his voice for now. Then he told them to listen to the sound of their breathing, of the blood coursing through their veins, and the steady beatings of their heart. Neither had ever felt calmer than in that moment. Bill was just in the process of telling them to focus on the sounds their bodies made and forget his voice when he was interrupted.

"What the hell are you doing?" Ford asked as he walked out of the basement.

"He's teaching us magic." Mabel grinned.

Ford didn't seem convinced nor impressed. "Do either of you have the Gift?"

"No." Dipper said slowly.

"Then there's no way for you to learn magic." He said and walked off towards the kitchen.

"That's your opinion!" Bill called after him.

"It's a fact." Ford retorted from the other room, "A fact based on hours of research and proof you mostly provided."

"No!" Bill insisted, "You just misinterpreted what I said!"

"Damn it, Bill!" Ford growled, "We tried teaching McGucket how to wield magic and no matter how much he tried, he couldn't do it!"

"He needed more time!" Bill stated.

"No. He needed the Gift." Ford concluded.

Bill growled and snapped his gaze away from the kitchen's general direction. He pouted and folded his arms against his chest angrily.

"Wow, you two were like a married couple right there." Mabel joked.

"You have no idea." Bill mumbled.

What was that supposed to mean? But Dipper didn't ask. Maybe it meant nothing.

"You can learn magic. It'll just take more time." The ex-demon continued.

"How long were you teaching McGucket?" Dipper asked.

"You know…a while." Bill answered vaguely then he whispered; "Like, two years or something…"

"Two years?" Dipper snorted.

"Well it doesn't take three seconds!" Bill snapped.

"I don't know if I'm ready to commit for over two years." Mabel said and sat normally.

"Same." Dipper said and copied her.

"Fine then." Bill huffed, "Don't learn magic!"

"Wise choice." Ford commented again as he left the kitchen with a can of beer in hand.

"Bill told us you have the Gift." Dipper said, stopping the other man before he could return to his laboratory. "He also told us he taught you everything he knows. Why didn't you tell us?"

"The honest truth is I forgot." Ford admitted, "I know that might sound unbelievable but it's true. Had you asked me thirty years ago to be completely honest with you, that might have been the first thing I would have told you."

"What changed after thirty years?" Dipper asked curiously.

"Well, I got used to it." Ford explained, "Wielding magic is like the equivalent of breathing or blinking for me. If you asked me to tell you everything there was about myself, I wouldn't mention that I breathe to survive or blink every few seconds because it's just so natural that it's forgettable. Besides, I haven't wielded magic in a long time."

Dipper wasn't entirely convinced by the answer but that might have mostly been due to his bias. As a non-magic wielder, such an ability seemed absolutely incredible and awesome. How could someone forget to mention something so amazing? Regardless, Ford returned to his basement once the brunet dropped his gaze and turned back to his sister and the ex-demon.

"Don't know what we're going to do now though." Mabel said and lied back on the ground. She paused and frowned, "I mean we could—"

"No." Dipper cut in. "We're not playing LIFE again."

"It's fun!" Mabel insisted.

"It really isn't." Dipper refuted.

The rest of the day was spent lounging about, hoping the storm would end soon. Dipper eventually gave in and started a new game of LIFE with Mabel while Bill lied on the sofa and watched them quietly. He didn't talk much and whenever Dipper glanced at him, he noticed how he seemed zoned out. The brunet wondered what he was thinking of.

When night came and twins had gone to bed, Dipper lied awake on his bed. He listened to the storm for a moment and then glanced at Mabel who slept just a few feet away. Carefully, he sat up on his bed and began to meditate while applying what Bill had been telling them earlier.

Chapter Text

Another day passed with the storm still raging as strongly as it had first begun. The Mystery Shack's property was littered with fallen trees, unrooted by the powerful winds. It was a miracle none of them had fallen on the house but it would still cost a lot of money to clean. Rather than sit around in the living room, Dipper was in his bedroom. Mabel had gone to bother Bill into playing LIFE with her again and in the quietness of his room, the sixteen year old had decided to meditate. Perhaps Ford was right. Maybe people without the Gift couldn't wield magic. But Bill had seemed so convinced that with the right amount of time and dedication, someone without the Gift could manage. In the end, what was the harm in meditating? If he couldn't wield magic, so be it, at least he found relaxation and inner peace along the way.

Dipper sat on his bed, adopting the lotus position. He cleared his mind, resting his hands calmly in front of him and controlled his breathing. He listened to the sound of air fill his lungs and slowly leave them. He listened to the gentle beating of his heart gradually slowing. He listened to the pulse of his blood pumping through his veins. He felt so serene, so close to himself, so calm. Suddenly, Mabel opened the door abruptly shouting Dipper's name. He had been so surprised that he had instantly fallen off his bed.

"Whoa!" Mabel laughed, "Are you okay?"

"Ow—yeah…" he groaned and picked himself up, "What's up?"

"I'm bored." She said and walked in the room, throwing herself on her bed.

"Weren't you supposed to be playing LIFE with Bill again?" He asked.

"Yeah, but then he got really annoyed and threw the game outside." Mabel explained, "The lightning's crazy today so there's no way I'm going out there to get it."

"Aww. I'm sorry." Dipper said. Though he understood the blonde's annoyance, doing such a thing was going a tad too far.

"Don't be." Mabel said and flashed him a grin, "It was really funny. You should have seen him."

"So you were doing it on purpose!" Bill exclaimed. The twins glanced towards the door and found the ex-demon in question standing akimbo in the door frame. "I knew it!"

"What are you doing?" Dipper asked as he walked in, looking at the walls they had covered with posters and papers over the years.

"I'm bored too." Bill said. "Fez is busy getting drunk and Sixer's slaving away in his lab. Neither are going to entertain me so you two are my only option."

"Well, we were playing a game." Mabel reminded with a cheeky smile.

"Don't." Bill warned in good humour as he sat on her bed, "Or I'll throw you outside too."

"So what are we going to do then?" Mabel asked.

"That Warlock's really annoying." Bill grumbled, "We could actually do stuff if he wasn't so keen on giving us the worse weather possible."

"If the weather was better we would be looking for him." Dipper pointed out.

"Beats being trapped in here." Bill sighed and lied on Mabel's bed, his feet dangling off the side.

"We could play D, D, and D." Dipper suggested.

"No one wants to play your nerd game." Bill stated bluntly.

"No offence." Mabel added with a sympathetic smile.

"Well what the hell are we supposed to do?" The brunet snapped.

"Talk about our feelings." Mabel joked.

"Ha. Good one." Bill snorted and nudged her.

Silence fell upon them. The only sounds to be heard were the rain drops pelting violently against the window, the wind rattling the surrounding trees, and the cracks of thunder. Had the TV been working, they would have gone to watch whatever was on, but the storm had torn down the Mystery Shack's satellite. If a tornado was heading their way, they wouldn't know until it was probably too late.

"I mean, we could talk about our feelings." Mabel said after a long moment.

"What's there to talk about?" Dipper asked and fell back onto his mattress, rolling onto his side to see the other two.

"I don't know…" Mabel muttered, "Do you have a crush on anyone?"

Dipper blushed violently at the question. He avoided talking about things like that with his sister because she always got too nosy for his liking. She would always goad him into letting her be his wingman when he really didn't need one. Afterwards, he would always get too embarrassed about the things Mabel said about him to the girls he liked and would screw things up while panicking.

"N-no!" He stuttered.

Mabel gasped and grinned widely. She saw through his façade and was definitely going to get the answers she wanted one way or another.

"What about Red?" Bill asked, "You were head over heels for her four years ago."

"I'll have you know I moved on!" Dipper stated a bit too snobbishly.

"To who?" Mabel asked excitedly.

"To…to no one." Dipper grumbled, "Geez, stop."

"Do you have a crush on anyone, Shooting Star?" Bill asked as he swung his feet lightly.

"I don't hold myself down to one person." Mabel stated pompously, "All the boys would weep if I did."

"So you're single." The blond concluded.

"Hey! So are you!" Mabel pointed out defensively. "I bet you've never actually dated anybody too."

"I have." Bill asserted nonchalantly, "But it was, like, thirty years ago."

Thirty?

"Ooh! Who was it?" Mabel asked. "Was she pretty?"

"He was pretty handsome." Bill corrected and Dipper was slowly piecing everything together.

That time in the bathroom, when Ford was cleaning his wounds…

When they were out shopping…

"And he still is." Bill said with a nostalgic smile.

"Aww, you're so cute." Mabel giggled and shoved Bill playfully, "Who was he?"

"Stanford Pines." Bill said and pillowed his hands beneath his head.

"What!? No way!" Mabel squealed.

"Yes way." Bill grinned and Dipper noticed he had a small blush on his cheeks.

"How did that even work out?" Mabel asked, "You were a floating triangle with a top hat."

"I can alter my appearance in the dreamscape." Bill explained, "That and there was this body."

"What do you mean that body?" Dipper asked disbelievingly.

"He made this thing for me, like, thirty years ago." Bill clarified and gestured his limbs with a pleased smile, "I thought he destroyed it after the whole betrayal thing but I guess he didn't."

"Wait, wait, wait, wait!" Dipper said rapidly, "Grunkle Ford and you both knew who this body belonged to this whole time?"

"Well, yeah." Bill said, "I didn't say anything because he didn't say anything."

"Why are you changing your mind now?"

"Because I'm angry with him for the other day." Bill disclosed, "You can learn to wield magic, I know you can!"

"Aren't you scared he's going to get angry with you?" Mabel asked. "You know, because you just told us you two used to date and he made a body for you."

"What's the worst he can do?" The blond shrugged, "Throw me out? The Warlock will get me and hundreds of people will die, maybe more. At worse he yells at me for a bit."

"I don't understand why he wouldn't tell us." Dipper muttered. "He said he wouldn't keep any secrets."

"I'm sure he meant that, kid," Bill said sounding oddly sympathetic, "But there are some things that are hard to talk about. As you can imagine, things didn't end well between the two of us and it still bothers him."

"You know…" Mabel mused, "You always sound different when you talk about Grunkle Ford."

Dipper was glad he wasn't the only one to have noticed. Maybe it had something to do with Bill's vessel giving him human emotions? But the body wasn't human – not really; it was something Ford had made using magical ingredients most likely. He would have to ask him about it. Such an accomplishment was amazing and perhaps they could utilise the creation method so as to help amputees.

"What do you mean?" Bill asked.

"It sounds like you still care a lot for him." She specified.

Bill's mouth fell open and a dark blush quickly coloured his cheeks. For a moment he said nothing and gaped at her. However, he then became irritated and frowned, gritting his teeth together though his blush still remained. "I-I do not!" He stuttered, betraying the truth.

"Aww! You're blushing!" Mabel cooed with a laugh.

"Wait, do you still love him?" Dipper asked.

It would make sense what with the way Bill looked at Ford, the passing comments he often made, and, as Mabel had said, the way he talked about him.

Bill's blush darkened and spread to his entire face. He reached over to grab the pillow on Mabel's bed and threw it at Dipper, "No I don't!" he snapped, "I'm a demon! I don't love!"

"You're definitely in denial." Dipper smirked, catching the pillow. It was enjoyable to finally have the power to annoy and irritate Bill. Oh how the tables had turned – and in a most unexpected way, at that.

"I'm not!" Bill yelled louder as though raising his tone would make him sound more convincing.

"You don't need to lie to us, Bill." Mabel encouraged softly, "Not that we would believe you anyways."

"I'm not lying!" The blond continued though his resolved seemed to crumble steadily. "I don't…"

"You're too cute." Mabel grinned and then she gasped, "Oh my god! I have an idea! Let's try getting Grunkle Ford and Bill back together!"

"Uhh…I'm not sure that's a fantastic idea, Mabel." Dipper said, "Their break up was pretty chaotic what with the betrayal and Judgment Day."

"Yeah, I'm sure he wouldn't want to." Bill said and sounded upset, "N-not that I would want to get back together either!"

"Look at him, Dip!" Mabel said, "He's changed. He's also powerless so he's not going to try to end the world again! And Grunkle Ford needs to start dating again. It might be the only way to get him to leave his basement and his research for extended periods of time."

Dipper still wasn't entirely convinced though his sister had brought up some valid points. It was clear Bill wasn't the same person – ex-demon – they had met four years ago during their first summer at Gravity Falls. It was like she had said, he didn't possess the power to be much of a terror or threat to anyone, and he did seem more human – whether it be because of the vessel or not. He was more considerate and gentle, that much was obvious whenever he spoke about Ford. In the end, their Great Uncle was an adult. He was more than old enough to make decisions himself. He would decide whether or not he wanted to get back with his ex and if he decided not to, perhaps Bill could start moving on.

And it wasn't like Dipper nor Mabel had anything to do what with the terrible storm outside.

"Okay." Dipper conceded, "But on a few conditions. First, Bill needs to admit he's still in love with Grunkle Ford."

Bill glared at him.

"Just do it, Bill." Mabel groaned, "We all know it, so just say it."

He did nothing for a moment longer when he finally sighed and turned his glare to the ground. "Fine." He practically hissed, "I guess I kind of still like him a lot…but only a little."

"Good enough." Dipper shrugged, "My last condition is Bill has to make a demon deal swearing he's not going to hurt Grunkle Ford under any circumstances if we help him."

"That's reasonable." Mabel nodded.

"Hate to break it to you, kid," The blond said and gestured himself, "Not a demon anymore. I can't make deals."

"Then swear on your life." Dipper said seriously.

"I swear on my life." Bill said evenly, "I'm not going to hurt him. Not again."

"Good." The sixteen year old sighed with satisfaction. He then turned to his sister, "So Mabel," he said, "You're the expert. How do we start?"

Chapter Text

What was so impressive and terrifying about the storm roaring outside was how much power it took the Warlock to bend nature to his will and continue doing so relentlessly for over a week. Bill had explained that magic wasn't something one could use without limit and without repercussion. Because it was tied to the soul's essence, magic could kill its wielder if he or she insisted on pushing beyond their limits. That being said, one could learn to draw magic from other nearby life forms like plants, animals, or even people. Dipper wondered if the Warlock had gotten to that stage yet; if he was killing people to continue powering the storm raging overhead.

The power was out. It had been that way for a couple of days now. They presumed a tree had fallen on the power lines and severed electricity for not only the Mystery Shack but the entire town of Gravity Falls as well. It irritated Stan who had half a mind to march into the storm, find the Warlock, and punch him square in the face. He had also run out of beer so perhaps withdrawal had something to do with his sour mood.

Dipper sat in the living room which was solely illuminated by the candles they had placed on every piece of furniture. He was with Mabel and Bill just like when the second storm had first begun. The two had taken over the sofa. Bill sat with his legs crossed and back facing Mabel as she played with his strands of blond hair. His hair wasn't particularly long, hardly more so than Dipper's, but the difference was that he didn't actually care what she did to it. Dipper was stingier on that end. So far, his sister had made four small braids which she had then tied in place with neon hair elastics that stood out against the yellow shade of Bill's locks.

"So I guess the Warlock's kind of an idiot." Mabel mused as she began another braid. "I mean, how does he expect to find Bill when he has such a bad storm brewing? Plus he's using all that power…"

"The thing about that," Dipper said from the sofa chair, "Is that the storm also has, as an added effect, kept us from actively looking for him and stopping him. Not that he's necessarily aware we're looking to stop him…"

"Here's an idea," Bill suggested, "Let's not talk about the guy that has tortured me and later intends to kill me."

"Sorry." The twins said simultaneously.

"How about this," Mabel suggested instead, "Let's brainstorm a plan to set up the perfect conditions for Bill's confession to Grunkle Ford."

Bill stiffened and though Mabel couldn't see his face, Dipper could and he saw the deep blush settle in fairly quickly. Honestly, it was kind of adorable to see the vulnerable side of a man – ex-demon – that had once shown no signs of weakness. It made Bill much less menacing. Actually, Dipper had a hard time recalling the fear he had once felt four years ago in regards to him now that he was a blushing mess and so hopelessly in love.

"I think now's a terrible time." Dipper said, "Like this, with the Warlock and everything…"

"If he were to just confess outright, sure." Mabel agreed, "But the whole drama surrounding the Warlock could be advantageous!"

"How?" Bill asked, making a face. He didn't quite understand the brunette's train of thought.

"Think about it!" Mabel insisted and finished her braid, "If Grunkle Ford's still angry but loves you back, he might just send you packing because his anger would win over under neutral circumstances. But if, say after a life threatening situation, you were to confess, he might opt to be more honest with himself in light of what almost could have happened."

"We're not going to throw him to the Warlock just to get Grunkle Ford to reciprocate his feelings." Dipper said.

"It's not what I was suggesting!" She huffed, "I was being super hypothetical."

"Thank God." Bill huffed.

"What are you three talking about?" Ford asked as he climbed the final few steps from the basement.

Dipper, Mabel, and Bill stiffened instantaneously. "N-nothing!" They stuttered.

Ford mad a face and was just about to question them further when someone knocked at the door – or rather, they pounded against it. The weather was still terrible in every possible way and the Mystery Shack was fifteen minutes away from town by car. Who would be stupid enough to come to their door?

"It…it can't be the Warlock…can it?" Dipper asked, glancing at Bill. "The ward…he can't get through the ward, right?"

The blond had lost all colour from his face and stared in the door's direction intensely. Everyone was waiting for the door to be torn down and for the Warlock to storm the place but after a pregnant pause, nothing had happened. Whoever was at the door knocked again and for longer that time.

"Is someone going to answer the door!?" Stan snapped from the second floor.

"Wait here…" Ford ordered.

A yellow flame encased his hand which he kept behind his back as he carefully walked towards the door. And as dangerous as he knew it could be if the Warlock was indeed knocking, Dipper stood and followed his Great Uncle. The most the latter did was flash him a warning glare but that did little to deteriorate Dipper from following him. He stood a few feet back and held his breath when Ford turned the knob and opened the door.

"Dudes! I'm so glad you finally answered!" Soos exclaimed looking very relieved. He waited until Ford took a baffled step aside to let him in – the flame on his hand extinguished. The Latino carried wet grocery bags in his arms which he eagerly placed at his feet. From where he stood, Dipper could see the six pack of beer peeking through the opening. "Where's Mister Pines?"

"What…what are you doing here?" Dipper stuttered as his Great Uncle closed the door.

"Is that Soos?" Mabel asked from the living room.

"Mister Pines called saying he needed a favour." Soos explained, "He ran out of beer and asked for a refill. He also said you guys were running out of food so I went ahead and did the groceries too."

"How did he call you?" Ford asked suspiciously.

"With a cell phone, you dummy." Stan said as he sauntered towards them and scooped up the brown bags. He shuffled through them quickly, likely making sure his precious beer was among the many other items, "Thanks, Soos. I knew I could count on you."

"Damn cell phones. Keep forgetting they exist." Ford muttered to himself as he fished through his pocket and pulled out his wallet, "How much do we owe you?"

"Oh, no, it's okay." Soos insisted, "You don't need to pay me. Mister Pines does a lot for me already so it's really not necessary."

"Are you sure?" Ford asked.

"Yeah, Soos, just take the money." Stan said absently as he walked towards the kitchen to sort the food.

"Soos!" Mabel cheered as she made her way to the entrance excitedly. She threw herself in the big guy's arms, "Oh my god, you scared us!"

"More than this freak storm?" He joked, "It started when I was at Book Club, but I can't tell you too much about what we were doing. First rule of Book Club: don't talk about books."

"Don't you mean don't talk about Book Club?" Mabel asked.

"No, I mean don't talk about books." Soos assured, "Book Club is basically a gossip circle. We gather the girls and Tad and just, you know, gossip. Melody isn't into that sort of thing so she doesn't tag along."

"Then why can't you tell us too much?" She asked.

"Because some of the things we say are, like, really mean."

"Anyways," Dipper said slowly, "That was really bold of you to come to the Mystery Shack in this terrible weather. You really shouldn't have."

"It wasn't that bad." Soos shrugged, "Almost got hit by a tree but no biggie."

"Why don't you come into the living room and stay for a bit?" Ford suggested, "I would say until the storm lets up but I don't think that's going to happen."

"Don't mind if I do." Soos grinned.

He shrugged off his yellow raincoat and hat, hanging them on the nearby coat rack. Then he kicked off his boots and followed the group into the living room. When his eyes fell upon Bill who was still seated on the sofa, he gasped. The ex-demon made a face, perplexed by the odd reaction. Soos was quickly flailing around excitedly, moving his mouth without uttering even a sound. Stan quickly rejoined them in that moment with a beer in hand.

"Soos, buddy," He said, "Use your words."

"It's him!" Soos said, "The blond Don Juan!"

"The blond what now?" Bill asked.

"We were talking about you at Book Club when the storm started!" Soos explained excitedly, "It was the weirdest thing. First, Tad was telling us about his date with Mayor Cutebiker—"

"How did that go, by the way?" Stan quickly cut in.

"Super great." Soos answered, "They planned another date but the bad weather forced them to push it back." He cleared his throat before continuing with his original train of thought, "So yeah, he was just finishing the story when Janine mentioned the blond Don Juan. Then we all started talking about the rumours we had been hearing."

"What exactly did you hear?" Ford asked.

"Well, Janine said she knew him," Soos said, "But Janice knew better and called her out. Then Debra said she heard he was a flirt. Judy said Rebecca told her that Derek told her he had seen him kiss another man so the girls then started to fight because they thought Judy wanted to keep him to herself. When Tad and I broke it up, Lily said she heard he beat a lion mountain with his bare hands because there were scars on his arms or around his neck or something."

"You—what?" Bill asked stiffly.

"Yeah," Soos said with a grin, "Hey, is that real by the way? Because, no offence dude, but you don't seem like you could wrestle a mountain lion."

"Did the storm start right after that?" Ford asked seriously.

"Yes." Soos said and he knew something was up, "What's going on guys?"

"Oh come on," Stan said, "He couldn't have been at the book club! That would mean it's—"

"…Tad…" Mabel finished grimly.

"What? What's up with Tad?" Soos asked, confused.

"A Warlock." She said.

"I mean, the Book Club wasn't the only get-together." Dipper pointed out, playing devil's advocate, "It was a really nice day. Maybe the Warlock was out mingling with other people and overheard it that way."

Ford finally considered what Dipper was saying, but ultimately refuted it. "But what are the odds those two conversations occurred simultaneously? That the cuts on Bill's body were the topic of two different discussions at the same time?"

"His name's Bill? I thought it was Gilbert." Soos said and it took a moment for his realization to kick in, "Wait a minute…Bill like Bill Cipher?"

"Bingo." Bill said.

"I thought you were dead, dude." Soos admitted.

"A lot of people did." The blond nodded, "Still here, though."

"Are you mad we tried to kill you?" Soos asked.

"Honestly, not anymore." He said.

"Can we focus please?" Dipper asked shortly.

"But it can't be Tad," Mabel insisted, "He's the most normal guy in Gravity Falls. And why would he start such a bad storm if it meant pushing back his date with Mayor Cutebiker?"

"Exactly." Stan agreed, "At least the girl's got some sense."

"When you think about it, he doesn't match the hypothesised age we established either." Dipper pointed out, "But then, maybe he's a prodigy…?"

"What exactly is going on here?" Soos asked. "What's this deal with the Warlock, with Tad, and with Bill?"

"A Warlock tried to kill me." Bill supplied, "He carved me up good – hence the mountain lion rumours – but I got away and now he's looking for me. The storm outside is his doing and he's pissed. The ongoing theory is Tad Strange is the Warlock."

"Why do you think it's him?" Soos asked, "Why don't you think it's me or Janine or any of the other girls?"

"Because Warlocks are male." Dipper stated. "The only two possibilities were either you or Tad but you walked into the Mystery Shack – which we warded – so that rules you out."

"Oh, well, I mean," Soos started, "Tad was the only other guy in Book Club there but there were plenty of other dudes too. Most of the girls brought their husbands along that time. Mayor Cutebiker was also there but he hung out with the husbands."

"That means it's not Tad." Stan concluded.

"Not necessarily." Ford reminded, "Soos, we're going to need a list of all the men who were there."

"No problem." He said, "Especially if it means you guys can get this storm to stop."

"You know us," Mabel grinned, "Strange is our game!"

He chuckled at that but paused as he remembered something, "Speaking of strange," he said, "I saw something pretty weird the other day."

"What?" She asked.

"It was at night," Soos said, "I woke up because I thought I heard a noise and I saw a black cloud leave the room. I followed it around a bit and eventually it left through the front door."

"That is weird." Dipper acknowledged, "What was it doing?"

"I don't know." The Latino admitted, "It was just sort of going through all the rooms. My grandmother thinks it might have been a demon. But what's really weird, is that Melody said she saw the same thing when she went over to Carol's for the night."

"Sixer." Bill said stiffly.

"I know." Ford responded dryly.

"What? Do you know what it is?" Dipper asked.

"A sentinel." Ford said, "That might explain why he's kept the storm going for so long. He's looking for Bill in everyone's houses and the best way not to miss him is to force everyone to stay in one place."

"Can it get through the ward?" Mabel asked.

"No." Ford said. "But that might mean the storm's about to stop soon. He's kept it going for over a week, he must be close to having looked through all the houses in Gravity Falls."

"Won't he know he hasn't gone to the Mystery Shack?" Stan asked. "And wouldn't that give away Bill's location?"

"Not with the ward in place." Ford assured, "We're in a place inaccessible to supernatural beings, which means if it tried coming here it would have gotten disoriented by the ward. It probably confused itself into thinking it had already looked and found nothing."

"So what now?" Dipper asked.

"Now we get Soos a piece of paper and a pen." Ford instructed, "Next, we establish a way to out the Warlock without being obvious. We should maintain the element of surprise, especially with him being as strong as he is."

Dipper nodded and went to grab the two things his Great Uncle had listed. However, no sooner had he even turned from the group that a particularly deafening crack of thunder halted him. A lightning bolt then fell from the black sky and it was so bright it momentarily blinded everyone in the house. When they could see again, the sky outside was bright blue and cloudless. The only proof that a storm had been raging moments ago was the water that covered everything but soon it would all evaporate.

"He's done." Mabel mumbled ominously.

Chapter Text

Soos had noted down the names of every men he remembered having been at the Book Club when the storm had broken out. In total, there were ten names – excluding his own – and all that was left was figuring out which of them was the Warlock. The massive storm had stopped which meant they could actually begin investigating. As eager as he should have been, Dipper was honestly afraid. He wasn't sure he wanted to leave the safety of the house what with knowing how powerful the Warlock truly was. The man had actually killed most if not all the plants within the Gravity Falls area and a few of the trees of the surrounding forest.

Now they sat in the living room. Soos had left an hour ago and Stan had gotten rid of his beer. He knew better than to drink when things were about to get serious. He would need all of his head to confront what was coming their way. They sat, for the most part, in silence. Bill and Mabel had perched themselves on the sofa, Dipper sat on the armrest on Mabel's side, Grunkle Stan had taken over the sofa chair, and Ford paced around absently. The struggle at hand was determining how they were going to out the Warlock amongst the ten people Soos had listed without drawing attention to themselves in the process. Ford insisted that the element of surprise needed to be maintain at all costs.

"Let's review what we know," Mabel suggested helpfully, "Warlocks are vulnerable to salt and iron. They can't get through the ward protecting the Mystery Shack, but they're still human at the base of everything. Also, they can't use magic unlimitedly so after all this time of using magic, he's likely going to take a break."

That much was true. Perhaps he hadn't drawn energy from his soul's essence but he had killed a lot of plant life and arguably some small critters no one would have noticed. If he wanted to avoid using his own energy, he would want to wait until new plants grew to replace the dead ones – something that wouldn't be too difficult what with the amount of water that had drenched the State for over a week.

"We can't go around throwing salt at people," Dipper pointed out, "And we can't exactly go ahead and buy salt-covered food for these guys because we don't know them – except for Tad. We can't go shoving an iron rod in their faces either because that's just too obvious."

"We need something subtle…" Ford mumbled to himself.

"How about an event?" Stan suddenly suggested, "We've done it a couple of times before; host an event at the Shack and invite the whole town."

"But we don't want to bring the Warlock to Bill." Mabel reminded.

"The ward on the house will keep him from getting close…" Ford realized, perking at the suggestion, "That's it! That's how we'll do it! The one on the list who doesn't come has to be the Warlock!"

"But how do we make sure everyone comes?" Dipper asked.

"We can make it like a date-night event or something." Mabel said and she subtly glanced at Bill, offering a wink, "If we're organising a dance like we've done a lot of times before, couples can get half off. Then we get Soos to convince the entire Book Club to attend."

"One problem," Dipper pointed out. "Tad will likely show up with Mayor Cutebiker, which means if one of them is the Warlock, neither will attend but we won't know which is which."

"Narrowing it down to two is going to have to suffice." Ford affirmed with a tone indicating he was ready to take action, "Mabel," he began, "Call your friends to make posters for the event, then make a list of everything you'll need so Stan and I can purchase them. Dipper and Bill will be at your disposal, if need be."

"Roger!" Mabel exclaimed, rising a hand to her forehead so as to imitate the military salute.

She texted Candy and Grenda, informing them that they would be planning another Gravity Falls party. They were already excited to help out with the decorations when Mabel added they would get to see Bill if they came. They squealed so loudly over the phone she actually had to move the device from her ear so as to not go deaf. Then the brunette made a quick list of the arts and crafts she would need and handed it to Grunkle Stan. They left in their sad excuse of a vehicle, barrelling out of the Mystery Shack parking lot at very illegal speeds, leaving Dipper, Mabel, and Bill to watch over the house.

"You winked at me." Bill said.

"I did!" Mabel grinned, "I have a plan for Operation Cupid!"

"Is that what we're calling it?" Dipper snorted.

"Yes!" She nodded, "So the dance party setting is the perfect time for everything to happen!"

"Really? Is that a good idea?" Dipper asked, "I mean, we're supposed to be trying to root out the Warlock."

"We can kill two birds with one stone, Dip!" Mabel insisted nonchalantly, "But yeah, I'm picturing a slow dance scene! All the couples will be dancing together with dim lighting and it'll be super cute. Grunkle Ford will be standing alone, probably crossing names from his list, and then you'll come up from behind and take him to dance!"

"And if he says no?" Bill asked.

"Societal convention!" She supplied proudly, "He won't be allowed to say no if you ask loudly enough to draw the attention of people nearby! The couples will all frown upon him if he refuses so social pressure will force him to say yes!"

"You're evil." Dipper stated though he was honestly impressed.

"There's more than cuteness going on with this." His twin said and gestured herself. "With that established, we've got to find the perfect set of clothes!"

"Is that necessary…?" Bill asked but he hardly finished his question before Mabel was beaming with an answer.

"Of course it is!" She exclaimed, "We've got to have you at your most presentable! You need to be drop dead handsome! It'll increase Grunkle Ford's chances of saying yes and social pressure."

Mabel dragged them to the guest room Bill had taken over. It had been the first time Dipper had ever stepped into the room and he was surprised to find it neat and tidy. He imagined Bill was the type of guy who found order in chaos or something of the like. His bed was made perfectly without the slightest wrinkle in the bed covers and his clothes were tidily packed into his dresser. Dipper ran his finger over the furniture and didn't find even the least bit of dust. It was very remarkable.

Mabel got to work. She sat the two boys on the bed and ran to the dresser, looking through the organised garments. She sorted through them rapidly and fashioned three ensembles she wanted Bill to try on so as to evaluate her choice. The ex-demon changed into them quickly enough and was soon spinning in circles, modelling Mabel's choices. Dipper seethed quietly where he sat. He saw absolutely no problem with whatever the man tried on, finding his body type allowed him to look good in anything. Dipper was sure he could make a potato bag look sexy. It was positively unfair.

His sister eventually settled on a semi-formal suit. Bill would wear a black, sleeveless vest and beneath a light yellow dress shirt which brought out his golden eyes. The ensemble would be paired with black dress pants. Dipper hated to admit how handsome he looked.

"Do you think this will do?" Bill asked as he checked himself over in the mirror.

"I'm sure." Mabel grinned. "Now change into casual clothes before the Grunkles get back."

However, the next set of people who knocked at the door weren't Stan and Ford but rather Candy and Grenda. They bounced excitedly and all but rushed past Dipper to ogle at and chat with Bill. The latter seemed rather daunted by the degree of attention he was being paid – he didn't relish in it the same way he did with the employees at the clothes shop a couple of weeks ago. It took Mabel a lot of time to convince them to follow her back to their room where they would clear space to work while waiting for Stan and Ford to come back to the Mystery Shack.

Thirty minutes later, the older men had returned bearing the arts and crafts Mabel had requested. The girls then got to work, leaving the men to their own devices. Dipper retreated to the living room where he sat and did nothing because the TV still wasn't working and that likely wouldn't change for another few days. Bill joined him moments later, at a loss of what to do himself. They mostly sat in awkward silence, making idle chatter here and there, for the rest of the day while the girls organised the party meant to identify the Warlock.

Chapter Text

It hadn't taken much for Soos to convince his entire Book Club to attend the soirée organised by the Mystery Shack. Apparently, the group had eagerly been wanting to participate in a massive town event. It permitted for plenty of gossiping opportunities. Some of the ladies – and Soos – already had a list of people to watch out for who were most likely going to be up to scandalous things. Bill, obviously, had made all of their lists under the pseudonym of The Blond Don Juan. None of them actually knew he would be attending but all of the women were hoping. Tad was indifferent – he already had a boyfriend though he was admittedly curious to finally see the famed Blond Don Juan that had most of the women of Gravity Falls swooning at the mere mention of him.

Now the day of the party was finally upon them and everyone was deathly anxious. None of the people on the list Soos had made had declined the invitation and all said they would be present with their respective partners no matter what. It was the moment of truth, it was the time to learn which of them the Warlock was. In preparation for the event, Ford had nervously checked the ward he set on the Mystery Shack to make sure it was still going strong. He had even shown Dipper how to know whether it had been damaged or not and had taught him how to fix it if it broke. Dipper was just as nervous as his Great Uncle. He was both excited and terrified but he knew whatever would happen, they would deal with it and they would thrive. They always did.

However, Dipper was also nervous for an entirely different reason. As much as it was time to learn the true identity of the Warlock, it was also time to see if Bill could score a second chance with Ford. Mabel had made the ex-demon practice the scenario multiple times using Dipper as a stand-in Ford. It had been awkward, to say the least. Never had he imagined he would feel as tense as he did hours away from the party's start though. He honestly couldn't fathom why. By all means, Dipper should have been incredibly impassive, neutral, or even eager to see Bill fail. He had betrayed Ford and while having been his lover – which, arguably, made things worse. But, alas, it wasn't the case and Dipper felt the way he imagined a father would in light of their child getting ready to propose to their significant other. It was an odd comparison, granted, but he thought it described his feelings accurately enough.

Mabel was more relaxed in regards to that. Perhaps it was because she was very busy making sure the final preparations were all set which left her little to no time to delve into what could go wrong with Bill's situation. She ran right and left, hanging the last of the decorations and making sure the food they had placed on the banquet tables weren't completely disgusting – though Dipper suspected it was her excuse to snack on the job. Mabel had Stan working almost as hard as her, using him as her assistant because he was taller and could reach things she couldn't. Dipper watched as she ushered their Great Uncle onto a ladder to fix a banner she thought was crooked. It was funny but he was too nervous to laugh.

"You're tense." Ford noted as he came up from behind.

"How can I not be?" Dipper asked.

"We're safe." Ford reminded, "The ward is up. No matter how strong he is, he hasn't even managed to make a dent in our barrier even with the storm he kept going for nearly an entire month."

"I know, but there are still so many what ifs and different factors that could come into play." Dipper huffed and passed a hand through his brown locks. He also wanted to mention how nervous he was about Bill asking Ford out to dance but that was best kept to himself for the time being. He didn't know why he hoped for things to turn out well but he did.

"We've got this." Ford stated, "I've also added some of my magic to the ward, increasing its strength. If the Warlock tries to break through, I'll be alerted immediately. In addition, I installed a few more precautions I want to show you."

Dipper nodded and followed his Great Uncle. They stopped at the entrance of the room in which they would be hosting the dance. There was a rubber mat lying in the entrance, presumably to protect the large sound cables and to avoid people accidentally tripping on them. However, Ford raised the mat and revealed a thick salt line.

"If, by some miracle, he manages to get through the ward," Ford explained, "He won't be able to get into the room. You remember what I said about Warlocks?"

"They're vulnerable to salt and iron." Dipper confirmed, "But I didn't think they abided to the same rules as demons and evil spirits. They can't cross salt lines?"

"Their souls have been corrupted to the degree of making them something akin to evil spirits." Ford established. "That being said, unlike demons and evil spirits, they don't react to holy water."

"Noted." Dipper said.

"I also lined the windows of the room with more salt." Ford said as he dropped the mat back into place. "Granted, it wouldn't be very subtle if he tried climbing in through the window."

They left the entrance to make their way to the food lined up on the long tables draped with a white cloth. Ford snatched a biscuit and Dipper copied him; both quickly stuffed the stolen food into their mouths and pretended not to be chewing when Mabel looked over. They simply smiled and waved.

"Next thing," Ford continued, having swallowed the food, "I put a bit of salt in literally everything. Of course, it's not enough to actually taste it, but, for the Warlock, it'll be enough to get a noticeable reaction."

"So you've taken all these precautions to figure out who he is by setting little 'traps' everywhere," Dipper said, looking over at the windows and entrance which were lined with salt, "But what if he just decides to go crazy regardless of the people he's around?"

Ford gestured towards the ceiling. Dipper looked up curiously. Mabel had decorated it with Chinese paper lanterns of different colours and shapes. It looked really nice, but Dipper didn't understand what the man was trying to show him.

"Can you see it?" He asked.

"No." Dipper admitted.

"Good, it means the Warlock won't notice them either." Ford said, satisfied, "I've had Mabel and her friends scribble runes into the paper lanterns. These particular ones inhibit the use of magic within the room. Neither I nor Bill can wield magic here and, by extension, same thing goes for the Warlock. If he wants to get into a fight, he'll have to do it with his bare hands."

"Hun." Dipper sighed and glanced at the lanterns again. He tried to find the runes Ford had spoken of but really couldn't. He supposed it was better that way.

"But," Ford added, breaking the short moment of silence that had occurred between them, "This is probably all going to have been excessive and unnecessary because the chances of the Warlock getting through the ward without alerting us is impossible."

"Good, well, let's hope the ward doesn't break on us." Dipper breathed, "I feel better knowing about the precautions you decided to take, though."

"Good." Ford said, he then offered a more light-hearted smile as he said: "Now go get changed. The party's about to start soon. Also, that redheaded friend of yours should be arriving soon."

Dipper blushed lightly at the mention of Wendy and nodded. No one could ever know he had never really moved on. Especially Mabel.

He marched over to the living quarters area of the establishment, passing by Bill's room along the way. He hadn't intended to stop, opting to go straight to his room and look presentable for Wendy. However, the blond immerged from his room the moment he stepped past it and dragged him in. Dipper hadn't seen her in a year because she had decided to go on an exchange program abroad. He hoped he looked different now – more mature – so as to make their age difference less of an issue.

"Bill—!" Dipper snapped as the ex-demon slammed the door shut and leaned against it nervously.

"I don't think I can do this, Pine Tree." He admitted hastily.

"What do you mean?" Dipper frowned and he noticed the other was trembling a bit.

"I think I'm sick." He said, and it appeared to be more of a legitimate concern rather than a lie to excuse himself from what he had been initially set on doing.

"Why do you think that?" Dipper asked.

"I've got the shakes." He said and raised his hand. It trembled noticeably from where Dipper stood. "And I've got this weird, nauseating feeling in my stomach."

It took him a minute to realise what was going on at which point he huffed out a smile. "That's called anxiety, Bill." He said, "It's a normal human reaction to something that makes you feel nervous."

"I-I'm not nervous!" He stuttered, struggling to appear confident. "But…I am sick." And Dipper rolled his eyes. Now he was just trying to excuse himself from asking Ford out to dance.

"Okay, Bill," Dipper tried, taking a step forward, "Breathe in and breathe out deeply." The ex-demon did as he was told, following the fluid movements of Dipper's hands meant to guide him through the respiratory exercise. "Good," he continued after a moment, "Do you feel calmer now?"

"A little." Bill mumbled.

"Now Mabel's better with this whole motivational speech thing but I'll have to do." He said, "Asking him out is important. If Grunkle Ford says no against all odds, you won't be creating new tensions that hadn't been there before so you won't gain new negative repercussions. If he says no, you also get to move on with your feelings."

"True…" Bill conceded.

"But if Grunkle Ford says yes…" Dipper started and he didn't exactly need to finish what with the look that popped up on Bill's face upon mentioning the possibility. He was smiling with a rosy blush painting his cheeks and staring at the ground with a love-struck expression. It was as strange as it was adorable. To think the man had tried destroying all life on Earth a mere four years ago. "We've practiced this." Dipper added after a moment, "There's no need for you to feel so anxious. You've got this."

"Honestly, Pine Tree," Bill smirked, "Sometimes I don't understand why you're helping me like this."

It was an odd confession, to say the least. Bill was in no way complaining, but what was the point in making such a declaration? It got Dipper thinking. After being stuck in a house with Bill because of a freak storm caused by a Warlock for nearly a month, his opinion of him had changed. He had gotten to know the blond better and, frankly, he found him more relatable now. Maybe it was because his human-like vessel was making him less insane or something of the like, but it didn't change the sixteen year old's opinion.

"At first, I felt bad for you." Dipper admitted, "You know, when you came to us drenched and covered in mud and blood, it was really pathetic. But then you got better, you recovered, and you went back to your insufferable self, though you weren't like you usually were. You're changed. Dare I say it, you're actually a decent guy, Bill."

"Oh no," Bill lamented, "Are we having a sappy moment?"

"I think we are." Dipper grinned.

"Let's make it stop." Bill suggested, "This is too weird."

"Right, well, I need to get dressed anyways." Dipper said.

He left and went to his room, feeling a little less nervous himself. The ward was up and it would keep the Warlock out. Grunkle Ford had taken the precautions of adding more lines of defense against the powerful foe in the event he somehow got through the ward without drawing anyone's attention. In regards to the Bill situation, he was going to be okay. Their little plan would go off without a hitch. Everything was fine. There was nothing to worry about.

Dipper slipped into a dark blue dress shirt and a pair of clean, beige pants. He fixed his hair to look more presentable and debated for a moment on whether he should slip on a tie. He elected not to – the last thing he wanted was to appear far too formal in a sea of people wearing fairly casual yet clean clothes. Standing out in the crowd was the worst of his fears and he thought the tie might do just that. For a moment, Dipper also thought about pulling on his signature pine tree cap, but he knew Mabel would grab it and toss it beyond the salt lines or hide it somewhere. She really hated that hat. She thought it ruined most of the outfits he wore.

He walked back down stairs and just in time for someone to knock at the door. The touch was lighter and, for the first time, hadn't rendered Dipper a anxious wreck. It wasn't the Warlock – it couldn't be. He opened the door worriless and found Wendy. She too was clad in semi-formal clothing of a style Dipper never imagined she would wear. She sported a black blazer which she kept unbuttoned, revealing a white shirt which was tucked into her black skinny jeans. It made her look sharp in a way her flannel could not and brought out the red of her hair. Dipper forced himself not to sigh dreamily.

"Hey, Dipper!" She grinned toothily. "It's been a while!"

"It has." Dipper smiled back, "How was France?"

"Parfait!" She answered and walked into the house, "The Frenchies made fun of my accent but they were worse in English than I was in French."

"Oh…that sucks?" Dipper said unsure if it was the sort of response Wendy was garnering.

"No, it was fun." Wendy assured, "My friendships there were founded on making fun of our flaws. We're super close, so it's all good. Just a bit of good fun and teasing, you know?"

"Yeah." Dipper nodded and then pointed out: "The clothes are new."

"Yeah," She said and grinned wider as she looked herself over, "My friend Gaston helped me pick it out."

Gaston. Dipper forced himself not to feel jealous.

"Hey, where's Mabel?" Wendy asked and glanced around.

"She's organising the final few things for the party." Dipper said as he led the way, "I think she's done now. Thanks for coming."

"I wouldn't miss another Stan Pines scam for the world." She laughed, "This is what this is, isn't it?"

"Partially." Dipper admitted, "I mean, Grunkle Stan has every intention of overcharging anyone he can, but something else's going on. I'll tell you about it later."

"Sounds good." Wendy said, "But, just to make sure, we do get to enjoy the party at some point, right? We're not going to be stuck sitting at the front table, making sure everyone pays the whole night?"

"Yep." Dipper assured. "We're just going to miss, like, the first thirty minutes or so. There shouldn't be too many people even if we did invite the whole town."

"Maybe I should steal some food while there's still some left." Wendy mused as they walked into the party room.

"Wendy!" Mabel shouted from the other end of the room. She was holding the ladder for Stan as he attempted to climb back down.

"Hey, kiddo!" She shouted back with a wave.

She ran over to them as soon as Stan was back on the ground. The latter took the ladder away while Wendy and Mabel chatted about everything and nothing. They were mostly catching up. Mabel was asking her a million questions about France and the boys she had met there. Dipper refused to acknowledge his jealousy as he listened. It was only when they had switched the topic of conversation he realized he had been gritting his teeth the whole time and that his jaw was slightly sore.

Before long, Mabel directed them into setting up the paying table in front of the party room's entrance outside. They carried a folded table and a table cloth to the designated area. Mabel then placed a makeshift register and a sign indicating people to pay there. Dipper and Wendy brought their own chairs and sat down. The sun was just beginning to set and people would start arriving soon. Dipper and Wendy took their seats, easily chatting for a good long while before the first few couples began to arrive.

When the light had almost completely gone from the sky, more people and couples began to arrive. Soon they had a long line of individuals waiting to pay for admission and many more were already inside, dancing to the music, laughing, and eating. Wendy was quickly getting impatient with her task, itching to join the fun inside. Not to mention the temperature was dropping. It was still the summer so it wasn't particularly cold but it wasn't warm either.

"Dudes!" Soos exclaimed when it was finally his turn to pay. He had Melody at his arm and she offered the sweetest of smiles. "How's it going? A lot of people, hun?"

"Tell me about it." Wendy huffed, "Sounds like one heck of a good time in there."

"How was France?" Melody asked.

"Plaisant." Wendy grinned, "I'll tell you two more about it later."

"Sounds good." Soos said and handed over the money to pay the entrance fee. He was about to go when he stopped to ask Dipper one final question, "Have any of the girls from the Book Club shown up?"

"I don't know most of them." Dipper admitted, "I'm pretty sure Janine and Roger are already here though."

"That rules Roger out." Soos said.

He left moments after and Wendy gave Dipper an inquisitive look. "I'll tell you later." He said.

"You Pines." Wendy sighed exasperatedly but smiled, "Never up to anything normal."

"Strange is our game." Dipper shrugged.

"I'm sure Stan's aggravated by that." She laughed.

"You have no idea."

Another hour passed before people stopped showing up. By then Dipper had dealt with so many different people that he couldn't remember who from the list Soos had made had shown up or not. He and Wendy waited ten more minutes to make sure no one else was coming before setting the table away and ditching the makeshift register in the Mystery Shack's safe. They would count the money they made later – or, rather, Stan would.

"Time to party!" Wendy cheered and she grabbed Dipper's hand, dragging him to the celebration Mabel and her friends had organised.

The room was impossibly crowded. People of all ages were dancing on the dance floor and only few people were near the tables, eating food as they chatted with other people. Dipper hadn't expected many people to show up but perhaps the recent storm had encouraged the citizens of Gravity Falls to go out and take advantage of the good weather. They had been dealing with terrible rain for almost a month and surely everyone was itching to properly enjoy the two remaining months of the summer.

Though Dipper was hungry, Wendy dragged him to the dance floor and forced him to dance. He wasn't much of a dancer. Honestly, he moved rather awkwardly and Mabel often made fun of him over it. That being said, love had the power of making people do crazy things. He forgot about his insecurities and abandoned himself to fun. He moved around, dancing to the best of his barely existent abilities, following the beat of the rapid, joyous song currently playing. The next thing he knew, Mabel, Candy, and Grenda had joined them seemingly out of nowhere. He would have been angry had they not brought more fun with them. The group danced and laughed until they were completely exhausted. Wendy had led the way to the punch bar and given each a red cup of juice.

"Oh – we can't drink from that one!" Mabel explained quickly, "There's alcohol in it, so it's only for the adults or people of age."

"I won't tell if you don't." Wendy shrugged and shoved a cup of spiked punch in her hands.

Mabel was understandably nervous about getting in trouble for underage drinking. Dipper was as well but no one was really paying attention to them and one cup wouldn't hurt.

"Cheers!" Wendy said, and the other four raised their glasses before taking a sip.

"Bleh. This tastes strange." Candy commented, staring into her cup, "I kind of like it…"

"I feel so rebellious!" Grenda exclaimed. "I feel like a true teenager!"

"Have you seen Bill?" Mabel asked, leaning over to Dipper so as to be heard over the sound of the music.

Dipper had completely forgotten about the blond. "No, actually." He said, "Have you?"

"No." Mabel frowned.

"Should I go get him?" Dipper asked, "He seemed a bit freaked when I last spoke to him."

"Yeah—"

But Mabel had barely finished uttering the word when a bunch of women began squealing and stampeding over to the door that led directly to the Mystery Shack. The most they could see from where they stood was that the door was open. The twins exchanged perplexed looks but soon enough, Bill was pushing his way through the women and scanning the crowd for them.

"Oh my god." Candy mumbled.

"Whoa, who's the stud?" Wendy grinned.

"It's Gale." Grenda said elatedly.

"No, I think his name is Greg." Candy said.

"Whoever he is, he's hot." Wendy said and Dipper forced himself not to feel jealous. Bill liked Ford anyways. He wasn't his competition.

"Hey, Bill!" Mabel yelled, grabbing the blonde's attention. She waved him over and he offered a rather timid smile.

"His name's Bill?" Grenda asked, "I was sure it was something that started with a G."

The ex-demon walked over and let out an uneasy breath, running a hand through his blond locks. He was wearing the outfit Mabel had chosen for him. It had been a good choice seeing as no one nearby could keep themselves from glancing at him frequently.

"How are you feeling?" Mabel beamed and nudged him with her elbow.

"Like I want to throw up." Bill said.

"It's fine." Dipper encouraged, "You've still got a moment before the first slow song comes up."

"What's up?" Wendy asked, clearly not enjoying being out of the loop.

"Bill's going to ask his crush out to dance." Mabel practically sang and it had the ex-demon blushing.

"Bill…" Wendy mused, "That name's reminding me of something…"

"Don't think about it too much." Dipper recommended, "I'll explain everything to you later."

"Okay…" She drawled suspiciously but didn't pursue the matter.

"Speaking of," Dipper said, "I think I want to go find Grunkle Ford. You know, in regards to the other situation."

"Right. Good plan." Mabel nodded.

Dipper left, handing his cup to Bill who, after learning it was spiked with alcohol, downed it in a second. Ford was at the other end of the room where he had a good view of everyone. The list Soos had made was in his hand and a pen was in the other. He seemed to be crossing out names when Dipper had gotten to him. All of the men were crossed out with the exception of Tad Strange and Mayor Cutebiker.

"So it's either Tad or Mayor Cutebiker, hun?" Dipper said, alerting the other man to his presence.

"It seems so." Ford said grimly and shoved the paper in his pocket, "I don't know how Stan will react. I know he was really good friends with Tad Strange. For his sake, I hope it's Mayor Cutebiker."

"What's our next move?" Dipper asked seriously.

"We figure out which is the Warlock." Ford said, "Then, if we still have the element of surprise, we kill him."

"Kill?" Dipper asked. They'd never really killed a supernatural being before. Even the terribly deadly ones had been spared.

"It's our only option." Ford said, "If he's looking for power, he's up to no good. He might be aiming for world domination or something of the like." He then placed a hand on Dipper's shoulder, "But don't worry. It's something I'll take care of."

"I want to help." Dipper said with conviction.

Ford smiled, "You're very brave, Dipper. I'm proud of you."

Dipper's heart swelled with happiness. He admired his Great Uncle for a long time. Finding out the author of the journals that had been responsible for the most exciting and terrifying summer of his life was a member of his family had been one of the greatest feelings. It meant adventure was in his blood. To now hear that same man he aspired to be one day was proud of him though, well that made Dipper feel ecstatic.

"Tad!" Stan yelled, cutting through the moment Dipper and Ford were having.

The two turned their gazes to the nearby entrance. Tad Strange and Mayor Cutebiker had arrived together albeit late. They held hands, walking over the hidden salt line with ease. Stan chatted them up for a moment, excited to have his friend join the party and prove his innocence. He guided them away, refusing the entry fee the two were ready to pay – something that was rather surprising considering how greedy Stan was by nature.

"What the hell…" Dipper muttered.

Ford waited a moment before running over to the entrance and removing the rubber mat to look at the salt line. Dipper was right behind him and frowned deeply upon seeing the thick line was very much intact and unbroken.

"The Warlock shouldn't have been able to walk in here." Ford said and he sounded seriously confused. He pulled out the list Soos had made and looked over the crossed out names.

"Everyone's here…" Dipper said, glancing at the crowd wearily.

"We'll have to ask Soos if he's sure he didn't forget anyone." Ford said, "If he didn't, then that means your earlier hypothesis was right. Someone else had been having a conversation regarding Bill's scars at the same time as when the Book Club was also speculating."

"And you're sure there was no way he could have gotten in here?" Dipper asked.

"I'm absolutely positive." Ford confirmed. He sighed in frustration. "I knew this couldn't have been so easy…"

Suddenly, the upbeat song that had been playing ended. The colourful lights dancing around the room slowed and moved around lazily as a slow song began. The opening was solely played by a piano with no accompanying instruments and it was rather beautiful. Dipper had never heard anything quite like it. It was the first slow dance of the night. Ford frowned and made a face, displeased by the couples around getting very intimate as they danced slowly.

"I guess this is my cue to leave." Ford said, "I'll be doing research in the basement if you need me."

Dipper wanted to object but when his Great Uncle turned around, he nearly bumped into Bill who had been shoved forward by Mabel. She stood just a step behind, a smile plastered on her face, with Wendy, Candy, and Grenda further away – all three of which bore disappointed expressions. They had figured out Bill wasn't interested in women and so none of them had a chance with him.

"Heya, Sixer." Bill said nervously and offered a clumsy smile.

Ford looked him over unimpressed. "Bill." He said and tried to move, but the blond side stepped in front of him. He quickly became annoyed and practically glared at him, "I don't have time for your games." He nearly snapped.

"I-I just…uhh…" Bill stuttered tensely, scratching the back of his head, "I mean…you…want to dance? With me. Obviously."

"Look, I—" Ford started but he stopped himself when the blonde's question had finally register in his head. His mouth fell open expressing his disbelief, "Wh…what?"

"Go dance with him!" Mabel encouraged, stepping closer to tear the list from Ford's hand.

"Hey—"

"You can do your research tomorrow." Dipper smiled gently. "The Warlock hasn't killed anyone yet and he likely won't any time soon. You can have fun, you know."

Ford wore a baffled expression and for a moment he couldn't say anything. He stared at his niece and nephew in complete incredulity before glancing at Bill and then back to them. "You…you know about…?" he asked without finishing his sentence. And despite the poor lighting, a blush was still visible on his cheeks.

"It doesn't matter." Mabel said, "Just go dance."

The vocalist began to sing when Ford glanced at Bill. The latter smiled softly and offered his hand which Ford reluctantly took and he allowed the ex-demon to lead him amidst the gathering of couples. Mabel jumped excitedly as Dipper sighed a breath of relief. She then dragged her brother to a different position to get a better view of the two. Ford had his hands on Bill's waist and Bill's hands were on the former's shoulders. The two looked very tense around each other. Though Bill had a nervous but honest smile on his face, Ford seemed hesitant and uncomfortable to say the least. The nearby couples kept glancing in their direction. The women mostly stared at Bill with a disappointed expression and turned back to their respective partners who seemed a bit miffed by that.

"Do you think he's going to tell him now?" Mabel asked.

"I don't know." Dipper admitted, "Hang on—"

They were too far to hear exactly what Bill was saying as he began to speak. It annoyed Dipper that he hadn't yet learned how to lip read because it would have been rather useful in their current situation. Nonetheless, they could deduce he was confessing what with the embarrassed look on his face and how he avoided eye contact so blatantly. Ford's bewildered expression also served as a confirmation. Mabel grabbed Dipper's arm nervously as they waited to see how their great uncle would respond. Dipper had never felt more restless in his entire life and neither had Mabel.

Then, as the song broke into its second instrumental part, Bill pulled away, likely muttering something that was probably an apology. The twins sighed in disappointment. However, before the blond could leave, Ford stopped him. He grabbed his arm and pulled him into a kiss that had Mabel squealing and jumping in place excitedly. They were lucky the music was so loud, otherwise her reaction would have undoubtedly ruined the moment. The two kissed for a moment and when they broke apart, Bill expressed his confusion. Ford answered with something that quickly had him grinning like a fool and he then buried his face in his chest.

"Oh my god, we did it!" Mabel exclaimed excitedly.

"Who would have thought?" Dipper smiled, "I'm glad it worked out. I was going to have a heart attack. I was so damn nervous."

"Same." Mabel admitted with a laugh. "I'm so happy for them."

The slow song ended with a final few notes from the piano. A pop song gradually faded in and the couples broke apart to dance a bit more wildly with the exception of Ford and Bill. The two continued to sway lazily in each other's embrace as if the former song had never ended. The sight of them brought a warmness to Dipper's heart – that was until he saw his great uncle's expression. Though a small smile was etched on his face, his gaze was distant and he seemed troubled. The sixteen year old tore himself away from the sight of them and took Mabel's hand, dragging her back to Wendy, Candy, and Grenda.

"Let's leave them be." He said.

At least one good thing had come from this party. Or so he hoped.

Chapter Text

Dipper woke up with a hangover. Wendy had convinced all of them to drink more of the spiked punch and they had all gotten drunk. When Ford wasn't busy being lovey-dovey with Bill, he was yelling at them whereas Stan was encouraging them. He'd actually gotten them to taste different types of alcohol, which had, in hind sight, been a terrible idea. Now Dipper felt sick and just thinking about alcohol had him nearly puking. He trudged from the attic to the second floor and found Mabel in the bathroom, looking as terrible as he did. She was mindlessly glancing in the mirror, not paying particular attention to her reflection as she steadily seem to fall back asleep.

"Mabel." He said, his voice hoarse.

"Hun?" She mumbled and lazily glanced in his direction. "Dipper…"

"What are you doing?" He asked, walking to her side.

It took a minute for Mabel to come up with an answer. When it dawned on her, she turned to the cabinet in front of her and pulled out the Tylenol pills Dipper also sought. He had never been drunk before but he had heard that that particular medication helped with the ordeal. His sister shared the pills with him and they both swallowed them whole. Mabel then poured herself a glass of water and drank all of it before refilling it and passing it to her brother.

"I feel terrible." Mabel groaned.

"Me too." Dipper huffed, "I don't even remember most of what happened."

"Grunkle Ford's going to yell at us." She lamented.

"I hope he doesn't." Dipper said, "I can't stand loud noises right now."

"I'm kinda hungry." Mabel said.

"Ugh, don't mention food." Dipper moaned, feeling very nauseous all of a sudden.

"It makes me sick too but I think it'll help…" Mabel insisted. She took her brother's hand and dragged him from the bathroom, "Come on…"

They plodded to the main floor and to the kitchen where they found their Great Uncles and Bill already sitting at the kitchen table. Bill was sat awkwardly in his chair, like he couldn't get comfortable no matter how hard he tried. He clutched a mug of what appeared to be coffee in his hands which he sipped at every now and again. Stan sat on the opposite side but not directly in front of the ex-demon. A plate of toast laid in front of him, on the page of the newspaper he wasn't reading. Ford, on the other hand, leaned against the counter and drank his coffee. He eyed the twins with an unimpressed glance as they walked into the room. Dipper could feel the chastising about to start.

"How do you feel?" Stan asked, hardly looking away from the newspaper.

"Terrible." Mabel said.

"Good." Ford stated dryly.

"Oh, don't be so harsh on them." Stan said, "They're teenagers. Drinking underage is a thing most kids their age do. We did it. Get over it."

"It's not because we did it that it means it's okay." Ford pointed out.

"Could we not do this?" Dipper asked as he grabbed a box of cereal, "At least, could we not do this right now?"

Ford frowned but shrugged. "I guess your current state ought to teach you both a lesson." He mumbled.

"Did you two at least sleep well?" Stan asked, ignoring his brother's final comment on the matter.

"We honestly don't remember much of the end of the night." Mabel admitted.

"Lucky." Stan sighed, "I wish I could forget the scarring sounds I heard…"

"Stanley!" Ford snapped, a dark blush colouring his cheeks.

"If you could be quieter next time, that would be fantastic." Stan said shamelessly, "And by you, I mean Bill, obviously."

It took a moment for the twins to understand what with their inhibited state. Once they did, they couldn't help the horrified scowls that appeared on their faces. Mabel – being the most imaginative of the two – was half way to clawing her eyes out in a desperate attempt to keep her far too active mind from conjuring images she really rather not see.

"Oh my god!" She cried, "No! Don't tell me this!"

"We really didn't need to know that." Dipper added.

"Well I didn't either but I didn't get the luxury of that choice." Stan stated.

"Stanley, stop." Ford said, slapping his hand over his face in embarrassment.

"You couldn't spare us!?" Mabel whined. "What did we do to deserve this?"

"Consider it a punishment for getting drunk off your asses." Stan said, "Not that I really care but, as an adult, I have to be somewhat responsible."

"And this was your solution!?" Dipper asked though he did so a bit too noisily and he winced at the own loud sound of his voice.

"Just drink responsibly next time." He said.

"Next time?" Ford snorted.

"You know it's going to happen whether you want it to or not."

"I just came for food." Mabel whined and slumped down on the nearest chair. "I didn't want this…" she then glanced at Bill and complained all the more, "I can't even look at you the same way…"

"How come?" Bill asked, "I already told you we were dating, like, thirty years ago and that this body was around. Did you really think we didn't have sex?"

"Ugh! No! Don't say that word!" Mabel begged, "Especially not in reference to Grunkle Ford!"

"Geez you're immature." Bill said, rolling his eyes as he sipped at his steaming coffee.

"So that was how you learned about Bill and I." Ford concluded, "He told you."

"Yeah." Dipper said, "And, you know, about the body too. Why didn't you tell us yourself?"

"Because I didn't think either of you would be too eager to hear about my past love life." Ford said, "And by the looks of it, I was right."

"Love life and sex life aren't the same thing." Mabel said, slamming her head on the table. "The images won't stop—!"

"Did Grunkle Stan know?" Dipper asked. Stan hadn't reacted at all to what they had been saying so it was safe to assume it was because it wasn't news to him.

"Yes." Ford answered. "We had a heart to heart shortly after Bill reappeared."

"I'm against this, for the record." Stan stated, glaring at Bill.

"Don't worry about it." Bill sighed, "The twins made me promise not to hurt him."

"I gather you helped him plan yesterday's stunt." Ford said, unimpressed.

"It was all my idea." Mabel said, "And I regret everything now."

"You kids…" He sighed and shook his head, though a light smile played at his lips.

"But this means you're together now, right?" Dipper asked.

"It's not that simple." Ford said and his smile faded a bit, "Bill and I have a lot to talk about and sort out."

Dipper huffed and left it at that. He fetched two bowls, two spoons, and milk for he and his sister. He brought the things back to the table and poured a bit of cereal into both bowls, pushing one towards Mabel. They ate slowly but regardless how much time Dipper took, he wasn't able to eat anymore after two spoonfuls. He couldn't fight the nauseous feeling that was quickly becoming overwhelming so he decided to stop before he regurgitated what he had so recently consumed.

"I wanted to discuss the next steps in our plan to deal with the Warlock," Ford sighed, "But I guess we'll wait until tomorrow. Today will be a rest day. I'll be doing research."

He swallowed the last of his coffee and left his empty mug by the sink before leaving. Bill quickly jumped out of his seat and trailed after him with a "Hey, Sixer!" Dipper noticed how the blond limped and he forced himself not to think about what that meant. He didn't need to think about how Ford and Bill had had sex the other night.

The rest of the day was spent uneventfully. Mabel and Dipper lazed around the living room for the most part, recuperating from their hangover. The TV had been fixed a few days before, Stan having installed a new satellite dish and everything, but they refused to watch anything. Everything was just too loud. Dipper swore he would never drink excessively ever again.

Chapter Text

Dipper woke up in the middle of the night with a violent startle. Someone was screaming and it took little time for him to figure out it was Bill. Without waiting for Mabel who slept on the bed just next to his, he jumped out from beneath the covers and darted down the stairs. He nearly fell but didn't let that slow him down as he barrelled to Bill's room. He was the first one there and he found the ex-demon sitting on his bed, knees up, back curled, and hands clutching at his blond locks. He seemed utterly terrified and Dipper didn't understand why.

"Bill—!" He tried, approaching his bed and gently placing a hand on his shoulder. "Bill, what's wrong?"

But no matter how many times he asked the question, he received no answer. He just continued screaming and shaking his head violently. Dipper had never seen someone so completely horrified. It was starting to frighten him.

"Stanford!" Bill yelled desperately, "Stanford!"

Dipper took a step back and frowned. The man in question ran into the room seconds later and moved past the brunet, nearly knocking him over, as he gathered Bill in his arms. Bill's demeanour changed quickly. He clutched at Ford's shirt frantically and pressed himself against his body as though he were trying to disappear in it. Dipper caught a glimpse of his face and found it colourless from fear. He trembled so violently, and the sixteen year old stood there for a moment just watching his Great Uncle cradle the blond in his arms in a vain attempt to soothe him. Dipper glanced behind him and found Stan and Mabel standing in the entrance with confused expressions.

"He's in my head!" Bill cried and tears stung at his eyes, "He's in my head! He knows where I am! Stanford, he knows!"

Everyone stiffened at that. Bill could only be talking about the Warlock.

"How is that possible?" Dipper asked. "I thought he couldn't get through the ward."

"I thought he didn't even know where Bill was." Stan said and took a step into the room.

"Bill," Ford said as softly as he could all the while being stern in a way to snap the ex-demon out of his state of pure terror, "Bill, what happened?"

He breathed harshly for a moment, struggling to control his breathing before attempting to speak. "H-he…I-I fell asleep…" He started, his voice low and trembling, "A-and he was there…" his voice cracked and he buried his face in Ford's chest to hide his terrified tears, "He…spoke to me."

"He got in through the dreamscape." Ford frowned, gritting his teeth, "He went around the ward."

"He's going to kill me." Bill breathed, "H-he showed me how he would do it…"

"Hey," Ford said soothingly and held the blond tighter, "It's okay; you're safe inside the ward. He can't get you here."

"He said I would screw up." Bill whimpered and clutched so hard at Ford's shirt his knuckles began to whiten, "He said I would screw up and he would kill me."

"Listen to me," Ford said firmly and he took Bill's face to force him to meet his eye, "I'm not going to let him hurt you. Not again. Do you hear me? I – we're going to protect you."

"You can't…" Bill lamented, defeat evident in his eyes, "We're going to screw up…he's going to get me…"

Ford was evidently dismayed. The blond seemed so convinced they were doomed to fail, which left to wonder what the Warlock had exactly said to strip Bill from any and all hope? It was obvious he wasn't going to sleep for the rest of the night so Ford told them all to leave, saying he would stay with the ex-demon and care for him. They would discuss the situation in the morning, after most of them had actually gotten a good night's rest. Though 'good' may have been hoping for too much.

Stan closed the door behind them as they left. For a moment, the three stood outside and listened to the murmur of Ford's voice as he attempted to comfort the spooked blond. Perhaps they were also trying to find comfort in the lies he told Bill. They were all scared. Sure the Warlock was targeting Bill, but that was only for now. If he managed to get the power he sought, all of their lives would be in danger. It was as Ford had said; if the guy was looking for power it meant he was up to no good.

"Go back to your room." Stan said. "Try to sleep."

Dipper and Mabel exchanged weary glances, but they did as they were told. They climbed back up the stairs to the attic and went to bed. They lied on their mattress, above the covers and stared quietly at the ceiling. Dipper could still hear the screams that had first torn him from sleep. They haunted his mind and inspired fear.

"Do you think we're going to screw up?" Mabel asked, her voice so quiet Dipper almost hadn't noticed it.

He pondered the matter for a moment. It was hard to give an answer. The Warlock was admittedly smart. He had figured out where Bill was hiding and found a way to reach him and torment him. His intellect seemed to match all of theirs combined. It would undoubtedly be a tough fight to win.

"We beat Armageddon." Dipper reminded. "I think we can handle this guy."

But he wasn't convinced.

"Are you scared?" Mabel asked.

"Yeah." Dipper answered frankly, "You?"

"Yeah." She said.

Dipper rolled onto his side, facing his sister and found her mirroring his position. He couldn't see her face in the darkness of their room.

"We'll get through it though." Dipper said. "We always do."

Mabel gave a brief nod and then they fell into silence. It was the middle of the night and though they should have been trying to fall back asleep, both were too afraid to do so. However, as the hours progressed, Dipper found it was getting harder to keep his eyes open and before he knew it, he was dreaming.

For a moment, there was only darkness. The world then materialised around him. He was outside the Mystery Shack and everything was grey. It reminded him a lot of the mindscape. He stared at the edifice in front of which he stood for a moment when he suddenly felt a pair of eyes staring into his back. Dipper turned and found himself face to face with a cloaked figure whose face was blurred. A terrifying smile stretched on the man's face and the next thing he knew, Dipper was tied to a wooden pole.

Mabel and Ford were tied next to him on their own posts but they were knocked out. Blood trickled from Mabel's forehead and Dipper wiggled anxiously, wanting to free himself from the rope that kept him bound to check on his sister. A piercing laugh stopped him. He glanced in front of him and found the cloaked man standing in front of an alter with various apparatus to perform a ritual. Dipper then looked up and saw the full moon.

His heart suddenly began beating wildly as he noticed Bill was chained to two stone pillars a few feet away. The cloaked man recited a spell in a foreign language, lifting a bowl to the moon before placing it back down and grabbing an obsidian dagger. He held the bowl with one hand, the dagger in the other and went to Bill. The latter's body was scarred in the same way it had been when he had first arrived at their door step after escaping the first ritual. His head was slumped between his shoulders but the moment the cloaked figure stopped in front of him, he snapped it up and he wore a panicked expression. Bill screamed bloody murder and Dipper wanted to look away but a force compelled him to keep staring.

The man draped in black raised his obsidian dagger towards the sky and it twinkled in the moonlight. He brought it back down swiftly, slicing Bill's neck and catching the blood that poured from the wound in his bowl. Bill stopped screaming and his eyes lost their life as his head slumped back into its original position. The bowl filled with his blood; quickly overflowing. The cloaked man laughed and it chilled Dipper to the bone. He felt sick. He was scared. So very scared.

Suddenly, Dipper woke up.

The sky was blue and light was pouring through the triangular window of the room he shared with his sister. He could hear the birds singing though their chirping was mostly muffled by his heavy breathing. He was covered with sweat and he felt sick. The images of the nightmare he had so recently had flashed in his mind. It was gruesome – too much for him to handle. He jumped out of his bed and ran to the nearest bathroom, hardly making it in time to throw up. He hadn't realised Mabel had worriedly followed him until he was done retching.

"Dipper…?" She asked, "What's wrong?"

He breathed heavily over the toilet bowl, a line of bile dribbling down his chin. He wiped it away and flushed the toilet. His heart was still pounding and he understood the fear Bill had felt mere hours ago.

"Did you…did you fall asleep?" He asked as he turned on the faucet and washed his hands and rinsed his mouth.

"No." Mabel admitted, dropping her gaze to the ground, "I tried but I couldn't. I noticed you did, though."

Dipper frowned and clenched at the sides of the sink. "He came to see me." Dipper said and Mabel gasped softly. "He showed me what he was going to do…"

"Are you sure it was him?" Mabel asked, "It could have just been a nightmare…"

"This was too…specific." Dipper said, shaking his head, "It all felt too real and beyond my control. I tried looking away, but I couldn't." he then glanced at her, "I think he's going to torment us until we give him what he wants."

Chapter Text

They met in the living room and the twins were the last ones to arrive. Coffee had been made. Their mugs were placed on the coffee table just in front of the sofa on which Ford and Bill sat. The two sat with little to no space between them. They looked terrible. Ford's eyes were red from lack of sleep and he had large, black bags beneath them. Bill still trembled and lacked colour in his face. His stare was mostly vacant and fixed on the black liquid in the cup he held. Stan sat next to the two on the sofa chair. He rocked himself gently, taking large gulps of his coffee so as to stay awake. He seemed like the most exhausted of them all probably due to his old age.

Dipper and Mabel took their mugs and were surprised to see the right amount of sugar and cream had been added to it. There was no need for them to return to the kitchen and sweeten the otherwise bitter beverage, so they sat on the ground because there was nowhere else for them to sit. They drank at least half of their drinks before Ford decided to speak and address the concern weighing on everyone.

"We're safe in this house." Ford repeated, "He can't get to us here because he doesn't have the power to break through the ward. That much was obvious through the way he decided to torment Bill."

Mabel glanced at Dipper. He didn't look back but he understood what his sister was silently asking him. She wanted to know if he was going to tell everyone of the nightmare he had had. Dipper wasn't sure himself. The one noteworthy thing about the nightmare the Warlock had given him was how he remembered everything single detail. When he looked at Mabel, he remembered the way she was slumped over, tied to a wooden pole, and how blood trickled down the side of her head. When he looked at Bill, flashes of the cloaked man slitting his throat with an obsidian dagger played in his mind. His blood looked so black in the moonlight…

It was terrible. He wished he couldn't remember.

"How did he know where Bill was?" Stan asked.

Ford sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as he thought. "It's been an entire day since the party." He remarked, "People likely talked about it. I know a lot of people – mostly women but there were some men as well – couldn't keep their eyes off Bill. The Warlock probably heard of him through that."

"No…" Bill said, shaking his head, and his voice was unnaturally quiet. He took a moment before continuing, "He…he showed me memories of the two of us dancing…of me standing with Pine Tree, Shooting Star, Red, and the rest of them."

"Couldn't he have just taken those from your memory?" Mabel asked.

"He's not a dream demon…" Bill said, raising his empty gaze to her, "He doesn't have access to the memories of others…"

"If he was there…how did he get in?" Dipper asked, looking at Ford who seemed very frustrated.

"I checked the ward countless times last night." He said, "It wasn't broken or even remotely damaged. It was perfectly fine."

"We checked the salt line at the entrance," Dipper remembered, "That was also intact."

"So how did he get in?" Mabel frowned.

Ford opened his mouth, wanting to provide an answer, but nothing came. The honest truth was he didn't know. He shut his mouth, sighing in defeat as he looked away. He felt like a failure, that much was obvious from the expression he bore.

"One thing's for sure," Ford said after a moment, "No matter how he did it the first time, he can't do it again. If he could, Bill wouldn't be with us right now and we would likely be dead."

"What do we do?" Stan asked.

"We've lost the element of surprise." Ford said, "He knows we're looking to defeat him and that we have Bill. We've got to root him out but that's going to be difficult considering what felt like the entire town came to the party. Whatever we do, we've got to make sure we do it perfectly. The Warlock's counting on us to screw up."

Bill flinched at that and Dipper saw fear pool into his eyes. He was likely remembering his encounter with the Warlock the previous night.

"Hey…" Dipper said slowly, "I…I had a nightmare last night, after Bill woke us all up. I don't think it was natural."

"Why do you think that?" Ford asked sceptically.

"Because I remember everything." Dipper said, "No matter how scary a nightmare is or how good a dream is, you can never quite remember everything but I do."

"What did you see?" Stan asked.

Dipper glimpsed nervously at Bill. The last thing he wanted to do was to spook the ex-demon further. "Well…" he began with a shaky breath, "First I was in front of the Mystery Shack. Then a guy in a black cloak appeared and the next thing I knew, I was tied to a wooden stake." Dipper paused when he saw horror fill the blonde's eyes, like he recognized what was being said, "And then…" he continued hesitantly, "I saw you and Mabel tied to poles next to me…you were both knocked out. Mabel was bleeding." She clenched her fists together upon hearing that, "The man was doing things at an alter. There was a stone bowl. The moon was full. Th—"

"Then he took an obsidian knife." Bill continued for him, hands trembling so hard coffee threatened to spill from the mug he was clutching, "I was tied to two columns. He came to me, I screamed, he slit my throat and collected my blood in his bowl." He side glanced at Ford, "The Warlock showed me the same thing."

"Did anyone else fall asleep last night?" Ford asked, looking at Mabel and Stan.

The two shook their heads.

"It's safe to assume the man in both of your dreams was the Warlock." Ford concluded. "Is there anything either of you can provide about his appearance?"

Dipper and Bill exchanged looks. Neither could think of anything to say. He was wearing a black cloak that covered his entire body. But then Dipper remembered how he raised the obsidian knife to the sky. How his sleeve fell.

"He's Caucasian." Dipper said, "His sleeve fell back and I saw his skin."

"That's a good first step." Ford said.

"Okay, it rules out all the Black, Asian, Latino, and Native people from Gravity Falls." Stan conceded, "But the population is still mostly white."

"Baby steps." Ford said. "We do what we can with the limited knowledge we have. Is there anything else you can tell us?"

The answer to that was no. The Warlock had kept his face blurred in Dipper's dream and he was sure the same could be said about Bill's.

"The full moon..." Mabel muttered, "He wants to do the ritual under a full moon. You taught us it was a common practice."

"When's the next full moon?" Stan asked.

Mabel was already on it. She pulled out her phone and accessed the internet. "In less than two weeks from now." She said, "There's another one in August around the end of the month."

"If he plans on you two being there," Ford said, addressing the twins, "Then it's safe to say he's going to try his luck before you're forced to return home for the school year."

"So we know the man's Caucasian," Dipper recapped, "And that he wants to perform the rite on a full moon. How is that going to help us?"

"Do you remember the equipment he had set on the alter?" Ford asked.

"There was a stone bowl…" Dipper remembered.

"We need details." Ford said.

"Enochian words were carved into it." Bill said, "I couldn't read it – not that anyone can – but it was definitely Enochian. The obsidian knife also had words in the same language engraved in it."

"Anything else?"

"I mean, there were herbs and powdered things," Dipper said, "But I don't know what any of them were."

"This is good," Ford said and jumped to his feet with a light bounce in his step, "I think I can identify the Warlock now." Before anyone could ask how, he began to explain, "The tools he has are ancient historical relics. Something he would likely have had to purchase abroad. He would also have had to declare his possessions upon returning to the United States of America and present a permit stating he has the right to keep his things. That means, somewhere in the State's database, is the record of a citizen of Gravity Falls with the right to own antediluvian cult artifacts."

"And you can hack into it?" Dipper asked, feeling his heart skip a beat with excitement.

"Yes I can." Ford confirmed, "It's going to take me a bit of time considering my hacking skills are a bit rusty but I'm sure I can do it. Give me three days."

"But what if he bought the things online?" Mabel asked.

"That's highly doubtful." Ford said, "As a magic wielder, he would want to make sure the objects he intended to use were legitimate. That means looking them over in person and making sure they're utterly flawless."

"And how do you know he didn't just buy them in the United States?" Stan asked.

"It's a possibility, admittedly," Ford conceded, "But not many Warlocks have travelled to the United States. These people typically stem from Northern Europe and continue their controversial life style in secrecy. If he wanted to make sure the tools he needed were authentic, I imagine he would have returned to his people's homeland. Regardless, we can't just attack whoever comes up. We have to make sure they're the Warlock, but first: hacking."

He left almost as soon as he had finished speaking. Bill looked like he wanted to tail after him but ultimately didn't. He slunk back into the sofa and stared at the mug he grasped in his shaking hands.

Chapter Text

Three days had gone by slowly. Ford hardly ever emerged from the basement and when he did it was only for a few seconds to grab food. During that time he would explain his progress and why he couldn't and didn't want to go faster. A lot of it was hacker mumbo jumbo Dipper didn't quite understand very well but he eventually gathered that Ford was being more cautious than usual. He was making sure he wasn't leaving a trail behind to alert the government what with all their previous encounters with it over the past few years. Most hackers got in and out as quickly as possible, he was doing the opposite and it seemed to be working.

And though Ford had been hard at work for three days, the rest of them had not. No one knew what to do while they waited. Dipper and Mabel retreated to the living room and watched the TV but neither paid it much attention. Both were lost in their thoughts and much rather be left alone if they weren't so scared. Bill was always with them. He didn't necessarily sit next to or with them but he was always in the same room, next to a window to gaze out of. Stan, on the other hand, had had half a mind to drink himself into a stupor again but opted against it. Everyone was still afraid to sleep and being drunk would only encourage his body to rest. Not to mention they all feared a surprise attack from the Warlock and in its eventuality; it was best to not be intoxicated.

So they sat around for the most part. They tried to act normal in the face of their dangerous predicament. It helped them pretend none of their lives were actually at risk in the midst of their endeavour. Their three days were thus spent as such.

"Ford says he's still got a couple of hours to go." Stan said as he emerged from the basement, "He's collecting information onto his computer and deviating the government's attention or something. I didn't really get it. The point is he's almost done."

"That's good." Dipper said, trying to remain optimistic.

"What's less good is that we're running out of food." Stan groaned and wearily glanced out the window. Everyone stiffened. Fetching food meant going outside, beyond the protective ward.

"Is it really necessary…?" Mabel asked worriedly.

"I'm afraid it is, sweetie." Stan confirmed regrettably, "We've barely got anything left and what we still have is on the verge of spoiling." After a pregnant pause he continued with, "I'll go. If I'm not back in thirty minutes, get Ford."

"I'll go too." Dipper said and rose from the sofa.

"Dipper no—!" Mabel objected and grabbed her brother's arm to stop him, "It's dangerous!"

"She's right." Stan nodded, "Stay here. I'll be fine."

"You need someone to watch your back." Dipper insisted with a frown, "I know a lot of things concerning the supernatural; Grunkle Ford's been teaching me everything he knows. I even know a few useful spells that could buy us time to get away if the Warlock attacks. We'll be safer in a pair."

Stan sighed heavily, evidently debating the matter in his head. "Alright, fine." He conceded and Mabel seemed dismayed by his decision. "Stick close and listen to whatever I say, got it?"

Dipper nodded. He took a step forward when his sister also jumped from the sofa with a look of conviction in her eyes. "Then I'm going too." She declared.

"You can't." Dipper said and he was, admittedly, partly being a hypocrite. He was worried for his sister and didn't want her to step into danger, but there was also another matter of preoccupation at hand. The brunet glanced at Bill who sat quietly at the other end of the room, glancing out the window as he had for the past three days. The blond had been unnaturally quiet during said time and hadn't regained much of his colour after the Warlock had scared him. He had climbed into a shell – one not even Ford could break but it wasn't like he was trying. The latter was too busy hacking into a government database but Dipper couldn't help but suspect something more was at play. "We can't leave him alone." He insisted quietly.

Mabel frowned, chewing her lower lip in frustration. She still wanted to go but she wasn't insensitive to Bill's situation. The guy was still terrified out of his mind and, like the rest of them, he hadn't slept since the incident. "Okay…" She agreed reluctantly.

She followed them to the front door and watched grimly as they pulled on their shoes. Stan grabbed the car keys he normally kept in a bowl by the entrance and flashed her a reassuring smile before leaving. Dipper followed him, smiling to his sister as well before closing the door behind him. Honestly, he was a bit scared to leave the Mystery Shack's protection but he was also excited. He had spent far too much time in that house and breathing fresh air was as relieving as it was exhilarating. Today was a beautiful day – something Dipper found endlessly ironic considering the gloomy mood raining over the house. Nature – what with the bright blue sky above, the soft singing of the birds, and the warm summer breeze – did little to reflect their situation. And as they barreled down the street at insane speeds, with their windows lowered, Dipper could almost forget a Warlock was onto them and could potentially kill them given the chance. It didn't matter that he was after Bill, he knew they were helping the ex-demon which meant they were all at risk now.

They pulled into the grocery store's parking lot abruptly. Stan shut the car's engine and removed the key, swiftly jumping out of the beaten vehicle without the slightest groan. He might as well have been an old man, it didn't show as Dipper followed him in a jog into the store. The place was mostly vacant. A bored teenager with an acne problem stood disinterestedly at the only opened cash register. He yawned every few seconds and glanced at his watch – eagerly awaiting the end of his shift. In terms of customers, Stan and Dipper were relieved to see they were just middle aged women. Said women shopped leisurely, calmly pulling items from the aisles and dropping them into their baskets. It helped relieve some of their apprehension – there was always the possibility that the guy working the register was the Warlock but his demeanour seemed to suggest otherwise.

"Alright," Stan said, heading to the fruits and vegetables, "We need a lot of these."

"Really?" Dipper asked, admittedly shocked, "You never eat healthy!"

"Kid, I'm going to go insane if I'm stuck eating salt-covered crackers one more time." Stan said frankly.

Dipper fetched a few plastic bags and began piling fruits and vegetables into them. As much as Stan wanted a healthy option, he didn't know what to get and left it to the brunet's discretion. Dipper thus grabbed almost every green vegetable he found – with the exception of bell peppers. Then he took a few carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes. He wasn't much of a fan of fruit, finding satisfaction with a simple apple, and so he catered mostly to Mabel's tastes. He took a plethora of peaches, apples, pears, apricots, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. When what he had chosen was finally dumped into their basket, Dipper reckoned he might have been a bit excessive.

"There's no knowing when it'll be safe to go back out." Stan said, anticipating his nephew's train of thought, "We'll probably be confounded to the Shack for another week."

Dipper nodded and followed the old man as he led the way through the next aisles. They grabbed various meats – mostly steak what with there being a sale, new cereals that wouldn't kill Stan's remaining sanity, pasta and pasta sauce, and other treats that would last them a while. By the time they finished, they had two large baskets nearly overflowing with goods. Dipper was surprised his Great Uncle hadn't yet started to weep in anticipation of the upcoming expenses.

"Oh shoot." Stan cursed as they were getting ready to pay, "We have no milk. Go get some, quick."

"How much?" Dipper asked.

"Three pints." Stan said.

He nodded and ran off. Unfortunately, the milk section was at the other end of the store but it wasn't like the building was particularly big. He got to the section quickly enough and, in his rush, he failed to notice someone had moved behind him. The moment he spun around with the intention to dash back to Stan, Dipper smacked right into the person with such force he fell back on his butt and dropped the milk. The brunet groaned, wincing as he apologized though he interrupted himself half way when he noticed he had collided with a man. He all but had a heart attack when—

"Oh, Tad, sorry." He said dumbly, his heart beat calming to something normal.

"It's alright, it's really my fault." Tad assured with a pleasant and charming laugh. The man extended his hand to help Dipper up. "I shouldn't have been so close. You seemed like you were in a rush. I guess I just didn't want to miss you."

"Yeah, well, sorry." Dipper said sheepishly and gathered the cartons of milk he had dropped, "So what did you want?"

"Stan wouldn't happen to be nearby, would he?" Tad asked and he glanced around hopefully, "I've been wanting to catch up with him to tell him about my date for a while, but I can't seem to get a hold of him."

"Uh, yeah actually…" Dipper admitted slowly though he wasn't sure it was a good idea. He didn't want Stan to get into a big conversation with his friend and give the Warlock the opportunity to attack. "He's in line."

"Good!" Tad grinned and he followed Dipper to the line.

The teenager had already started checking their items and sorted them into bags. He wasn't being particularly fast and that seemed to annoy Stan who stood with a scowl on his face. However, the old man brightened upon seeing Tad approach.

"Tad!" He said and shook the man's hand as Dipper added the milk to their load, "Good to see you, pal!"

"I'll say, I haven't seen you since the party." Tad said, "But even then we didn't have much of a chance to talk."

"Sorry about that, buddy." Stan apologized, "Things have been busy lately. Family things and whatever."

"I understand." Tad said and Dipper noted he seemed a bit disappointed. "I hope you get it all sorted soon. I want to invite you to dinner."

"Sounds great. I'll tell you as soon as I'm free." Stan grinned and slapped his arm playfully. "By the way, how's our Mayor doing?"

Tad blushed and glanced bashfully at his feet. He was being oddly adorable for a man approaching his forties. "He's really great." He said with a shy smile on his face.

"I bet he is!" Stan laughed and Dipper didn't want to think about the implications of what his Great Uncle had said.

"Grunkle Stan." He said instead and gestured the teenager who was now waiting for them to pay.

"Anyways, I'll see you later, Stan." He said and offered them a wave as he left, "Take care."

"You too."

"God, what a great guy." Stan muttered and fished his wallet from his pocket.

They paid the teenager and loaded the bags back into their baskets. Then they hauled the items they bought to the car and drove off. They were back at the Mystery Shack before they knew it and, thankfully, without having come across the slightest bit of trouble. Mabel emerged from the house as soon as the car pulled to a complete stop and she helped them bring the bags inside. Bill stood at the entrance with a deadpan expression and watched them move around quietly. He only spoke when the car was empty and the kitchen table was covered in groceries.

"Sixer said he's done."

Chapter Text

They went into the basement and into the tech room Ford had built. They passed through the area that had once held the portal. The machine was still there but it was broken beyond repair. Dipper noticed there was barely any of it left and that most of the debris had been cleared. It reminded him just how far they had come and of the many evils they had beaten – Bill, of course, being the first to come to mind. But things were different now. If someone had told Dipper that, one day in the future he would be helping one of his greatest foes, he would have laughed in their faces.

Ford sat behind his elaborate computer set up. There were many monitors and Ford worked on almost all of them at the same time, doing various things. Dipper leaned over his Great Uncle's shoulder, hardly drawing his attention, as he noticed the profile of a Gravity Falls woman. He took a step back and found many more profiles appearing on some of the screens that had been vacant mere seconds ago. Five more individuals appeared before Ford finally stopped typing away and spun to face the group.

"Oh good, you're back." He said to Stan and Dipper. "I assume you didn't run into trouble."

"Nope." Dipper said and for a moment he considered mentioning they had met with Tad. It wasn't trouble, the guy had only been looking to catch up with Stan. In the face of what was happening, the brunet opted to mention it later or something. It really wasn't important.

"So what's going on?" Stan asked and peered at the screens, "Who are these people?"

"Meet Alexandra Bonaparte, Josephine Hirsh, Maria Morgan, Robert Chang, Sydney Valentine, and Theodore McGee." He said, looking over his shoulder, 'They're the only people from Gravity Falls registered with permission to possess antediluvian artifacts." He tapped a button on his keyboard and suddenly all the screens bore the face of Alexandra Bonaparte. "This woman," he continued, "Is from France."

"She's also dead." Stan noted.

"Yes." Ford agreed, "She's been deceased for almost ten years. She had no children and lived in relative seclusion. Her possessions were retaken by the State upon her death and whatever she owned is probably in a museum now. It rules her out."

"Shouldn't all women be ruled out?" Dipper asked.

"No because," Ford paused and tapped another button to showcase Josephine Hirsch. "Miss Hirsch is the sister of one of the men on the list Soos made. The document doesn't state what she brought back but it's from Northern Europe and was used for rituals. We'll need to investigate her and her brother but, more importantly, we need to know what it was she brought back."

They nodded and the next person to take over the monitors was Maria Morgan.

"I'm sure you've at least heard of her, Dipper." He said and the boy had.

"She runs an antique store in Gravity Falls." He said and frowned, "But most of her things date back to the eighteen-hundreds at most. She generally only sells things from the Victorian era."

"She also collects oddities." Ford said and pressed another key which displayed several documents with barred out sections and blacked out pictures, "She's been on many trips around the world but mostly to Europe. Almost every time she returned, she brought something else with her. What's more, it's stated she fancies occult relics above all and," he pressed another button to reveal a police file, "an old dagger of hers was stolen."

Dipper flinched and from the corner of his eye he saw Bill stiffen. The police report contained the picture of the obsidian dagger the two had seen in their dream. Memories of the nightmare, of the Warlock slashing Bill's throat, and the black colour of his blood in the moonlight flashed in Dipper's mind. He shut his eyes and willed his mind to think of other things. He rather not remember the horrible images the Warlock had shown him that night.

"That's…that's the dagger…" Bill muttered unevenly.

Ford frowned and flanked at the picture, "Considering how much the item is worth," he said, "the police have attempted to track it down if only because Ms Morgan promised them a supplementary reward. I accessed their findings so we could continue with the investigation ourselves."

They nodded. Mabel looked at Bill and then took his hand, offering him a comforting smile. He didn't return the friendly gesture though he did hold her hand a bit more tightly in his.

"Robert Chang," Ford continued, "collector of the occult as well. He's got multiple items – most of them are from Asia or the Middle East but some of them are from Europe. He's a potential Warlock suspect."

"Oh hey, I heard about that guy." Stan said after a moment, "Yeah, Tad gossips about him a lot. He sounds like a real tool. You know what he does? He invites a bunch of people over for parties to show off his expensive stuff just to rub it in their faces."

"Maybe he invited the Warlock at some point." Mabel said. "If he isn't it, of course."

"He filed no reports of stolen objects." Ford informed.

"I don't think the guy would have noticed." Stan said, "Apparently he's got too many things to keep track of."

"Another thing to investigate." Dipper sighed. Their work load was growing but, as tedious as it was, at least they had something to do and it would eventually lead them to answers.

"Sydney Valentine." Ford continued, "She inherited an ancient artifact from her late husband's side of the family shortly after his death. Seeing as it was already in the family line long before a system keeping track of these historic items was created let alone the United States, the only thing the database had were clippings of articles and letters discussing the item. Recently, a museum approached her with a large sum of money for the object in question, but she refused. Though she's widowed, she has three sons – one of which is married and has children."

"Do they still live in Gravity Falls?" Mabel asked.

"Only the youngest." Ford said and switched to his picture, "He's about Wendy's age – a little older, I think."

Dipper's heart skipped a beat when his crush's name was mentioned.

"Lastly, we have Theodore McGee." Ford finished and switched to the man's picture. "He's in his late forties and is friends with a few of the men we had on our list. Like most of the others, he went to Europe and brought back a little piece of history."

"So we've got a lot to keep track of." Dipper concluded, "There's the investigation concerning the stolen dagger as well as all the people linked to the men and women you just listed."

"We're going to have to start going back outside." Mabel noted grimly, clearly uncomfortable at the prospect.

"I've already got ideas on how to go about it." Ford reassured, "I'll continue with the police's investigation concerning the obsidian dagger while you, Dipper, and Stan look into Hirsch, Valentine, and McGee. I don't want any of you operating alone. It could be dangerous."

"Safety in numbers…" Mabel mumbled.

"What about me?" Bill asked.

"You stay here." Ford said, "We can't risk you leaving the ward's protection, not even for a second."

"You're going to leave me alone?" He frowned in displeasure.

"You'll be fine." Ford assured and tapped a few keys before the screens closed simultaneously, "The ward will protect you."

"I don't want to be alone." The blond said.

"Well it's not like I can stay with you." Ford responded a bit too dryly.

"Can't or won't?" Bill practically glared.

The sudden tension that arose was practically palpable. Dipper felt uncomfortable as much as he felt confused. Though he rather not have known his Great Uncle and Bill had recently had sex, he did so didn't that mean the two were well on their way to start dating again? Sure, Ford had mentioned the two needed to have a serious talk about things, but why would that halt their relationship's progression?

"One of us can take turns staying with him." Mabel suggested after a moment, and she gestured herself, Grunkle Stan, and Dipper. "I mean, it won't make a difference if we're three or two."

"Fine." Ford said dismissively and stood from his chair. "I'll start investigating the dagger immediately. The rest of you should think of starting soon as well."

He left without the slightest glance in the ex-demon's direction. For a moment, they stood there, amidst a technologically impressive set up with dumbfounded and confused expressions on their faces. Bill glared at the door through which Ford had so recently left. Dipper saw sadness begin to seep into his golden orbs before he dropped them to the ground and pinched his lips together.

"What was that all about?" Mabel asked.

Stan sighed deeply and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked at Bill for a brief second before declaring: "I'll go talk to him" and leaving.

The twins listened as he climbed the stairs and waited until Stan reached the top before turning their attention to Bill.

"So what's going on?" Mabel asked.

"I thought you two were good." Dipper added.

"No, not really." Bill huffed and raised his gaze. "Sixer loves making things unnecessarily complicated."

"What do you mean?" Dipper asked.

"He said that…what we did after the party…" he explained slowly and the twins were grateful he spared them the details, "…he said it was a mistake."

"Aww, Bill." Mabel said and went to give him a hug, "Why would he say something like that?"

"I don't know," the ex-demon said, "He said he drank too much and it was a heat of the moment decision; that under different circumstances we wouldn't have, you know."

"But the fact that he still did means he must have felt something for you, right?" Dipper asked.

"That's what I said to him." The blond continued, "And his response was that his feelings are wrong. He just can't get over the things I did four years ago and thirty years before."

In a sense, Ford couldn't be blamed for that. Bill had betrayed him and later had tried to destroy the world. It wasn't something one could easily overlook and yet, Dipper and Mabel had been able to do so. Perhaps it was because they hadn't been hurt as badly as their Great Uncle had – it wasn't like they dated the ex-demon only to be betrayed later. From the first moment they met Bill, they had known he was a demon and hadn't been duped not even for a second. That being said, the two had been quite scared of him four years ago what with the threat he once posed as. But that fear had long since dissipated because, at least on Dipper's end, he had let go of what could have happened. The world could have ended four years ago but it hadn't. They were okay – disregarding their current predicament – and Bill was powerless to continue his reign of terror not to mention he seemed to lack the motivation to do so anyways.

"That sucks." Dipper sighed, "I mean, I get where he's coming from but it still sucks."

"Maybe he just needs more time." Mabel suggested hopefully and rubbed Bill's arm softly and soothingly, "What you said showed he does like you the same way you like him, Grunkle Ford just needs a little more time to digest everything."

"Why do the two of you care?" Bill asked and he seemed perplexed. "I know I asked before but…I don't get it…I don't get why you don't feel the same way as Sixer or even Fez."

Mabel and Dipper exchanged looks.

"I mean…we're friends, aren't we?" Mabel said first and Bill looked at them in disbelief.

"We know." Dipper smirked because he found Bill's astonishment rather amusing, "If someone would have told us we would think of you as our friend in the future, we wouldn't have believed them."

"But…even after everything…?" He asked incredulously.

"I guess the way we see it is like this," Dipper shrugged, "We can either cling to the past…"

"Or we can move on." Mabel smiled. "So we decided to move on."

"Granted I did take a bit more time than she did." Dipper admitted, gesturing his sister.

"People change." Mabel said, "For better or for worse, people change."

"But I'm not people." Bill said.

"You are now." She said, "And you've changed. You've changed a lot."

"You're still of a dick sometimes." Dipper added, "But you have a sort of verbal filter and you don't say as many mean things either. You're not the same as you were four years ago."

Bill huffed and looked away. He wasn't exactly smiling but his lips curved slightly upwards.

"Anyways," Mabel said, "Who do you want to stay with you today?"

"I'll do it." Dipper said before the blond could answer, "You haven't gone outside in a long time."

They looked at Bill and expected him to weigh in. He seemed surprised.

"It's fine with me." He shrugged.

Chapter Text

A week had passed without any significant process. Ford had continued the investigation on the obsidian knife only to hit a wall. So much time had passed between when the dagger had been stolen and when he had picked up the case. Maria Morgan failed to remember important details she might otherwise have divulged had they been involved sooner. It was frustrating and led to Ford running around aimlessly, chasing whims without the slightest foundation in the hopes a lead would pan out soon. He wasn't so lucky. But he did buy a second car. It made him seem more like a serious private investigator than an Uber driver did. Still, after a week, he had nothing to do.

Dipper, Mabel, and Grunkle Stan's side of things was no better. Miss Hirsch, they had found, had brought a talisman back from Europe. When asked to see it, she found no reason to refuse them and Stan's skillful eye determined whoever had sold her the 'artifact' had been an expert con-artist because what she had bought was a fake. The stone was real but the gem at the center was made of plastic. On the bright side, it had ruled her out along with her brother. Neither could be involved in the occult when she had so blindly purchased a fake. It left to wonder why she was registered in the government's database but then, Dipper supposed, they probably had other things do to than to verify whether the supposed artifact Miss Hirsch brought back was real or not.

In the case of Robert Chang, the pompous, prideful man who showcased all of his expensive antiques, things had turned out to be rather unprogressive. The man had allowed Dipper and Mabel to sort through his belongings on the condition that they tidy everything as they looked for whatever they sought. He was nonchalant and uncaring, and the problem with that was his overall disorganisation. He didn't keep track of his artifacts and what little paper work he did have on them, he lost. Though they found various items from Europe that looked to have Enochian carvings and sigils, they couldn't know if he had once had something needed for the Warlock's ritual which had then been stolen. Not even Robert Chang himself could illuminate them on the matter though he was "pretty sure" nothing was missing. With that, the only conclusion they left with was that the rich man was most definitely not the Warlock.

As for Sydney Valentine, Mabel took up the task of getting cozy with her youngest son in the hopes of being shown the ancient artifact in question. Her mission was advancing more slowly than anyone would have liked because she could only make progress when it wasn't her turn to stay with Bill and entertain him or simply keep him company for the day. She did the most she could with the time she had. Though she hadn't gotten close enough to be bold and convince him to show her his family heirloom, Mabel was fairly certain she was quickly approaching that point. Dipper wasn't particularly surprised. His sister had an electric personality.

Lastly, the situation with Theodore McGee was the only one that had yet to be addressed. The three had been so busy with their other cases that they hadn't had the chance to tackle their last suspect. That being said, they were all fairly certain advancements would be made quickly once they got around to investigating him. Much like Tad and Mabel, Theodore was naturally very friendly and kind. He was reputed to befriend people almost instantly and though none of them had really spoken to him before, they were sure it wouldn't be much of an issue.

Regardless, all they had managed to do over the week had been to rule out Miss Hirsch. A full moon was quickly approaching and they were still no closer to solving the mystery of the Warlock's identity. What was worse was that no one had dared to sleep during the course of the week, which made the days longer and more unbearable. The Pines family was surviving on copious quantities of coffee and energy drinks. If they had been trying to identify the Warlock to protect Gravity Falls from his evil intent before, now they were doing so to catch some desperately needed hours of sleep.

"Who's staying with Bill today?" Mabel yawned as she poured herself a cup of black coffee. She used to need to add sugar and cream, finding the liquid too bitter for her tastes, but not anymore.

"I think it's my turn." Dipper mumbled and sipped at his own steaming mug of Joe. "Does anyone think they could pick up the game zombicide? I think I'm going to explode if I have to watch anymore TV or play Call of Duty again."

"We'll take care of it, kid." Stan said and patted his back encouragingly, "We'll also come back for lunch. Anything you want?"

"I can't think of anything right now." Dipper admitted.

"I'll take care of it." Mabel assured, "I'm pretty good with guessing what you want."

"Thanks." He mumbled and his eyelids suddenly felt very heavy.

Dipper almost fell asleep as abruptly as that but the realisation startled him back to consciousness and he downed his coffee in an instant. His heart was racing and adrenaline was pumping through his veins. He hated that he was now scared to fall asleep.

They ate breakfast and Dipper saw his sister and great uncle to the door. He watched them leave before returning to the living room where Bill laid on the sofa playing video games. He held a handheld console above his face as he laid upside down, his feet up against the backrest. The ex-demon had taken a shine to video games the past week. He wasn't much into the classics like Legend of Zelda or Pokemon. He preferred strategy games or shoot 'em ups and, as much as Dipper loathed to say it, he was rather good at them. Better than good, he was amazing.

"Want to multi-player?" Bill asked without looking away.

Dipper glanced at the xbox console that sat in front of the TV. It wasn't his, he was more of a Nintendo boy. It actually belonged to Grunkle Stan who had won the thing randomly for a roll up the rim contest. He had been rather disappointed, wanting the million dollar prize above the game console. For that reason, he lacked many games and the scarce he had didn't interest Dipper so he didn't play with the machine.

"Sure." Dipper shrugged and he made to walk to the TV to turn on the console when a firm hand on his shoulder stopped him. "But no Call of Duty."

"No, you're not." Ford said. He had spent the whole night in the basement likely searching for something he had missed or a clue that would propel his investigation forward. "You're coming with me."

Bill immediately sat upright and frowned. "No, he's supposed to stay with me." He said.

"He'll play games with you some other time." Ford dismissed and pulled Dipper along, "I need help solving the obsidian dagger's disappearance. Two brains are better than one and you're a smart kid, Dipper, if you don't figure this out for me, I'm sure you'll set me on the right path."

The compliment had Dipper's chest welling with joy. He never failed to blush bashfully whenever his hero praised his intellect and spoke as though it were equal to his. Dipper didn't believe for a second that he was as smart as his great uncle but the sentiment was still nice and filled him with pride. That being said, the sixteen year old wasn't sure about leaving Bill behind. It didn't matter that he would get to go on another adventure with Ford, if Bill was in danger then he would forsake it. The potential end of the world was at play. Again.

"Are…are you sure it's safe?" Dipper asked and worriedly glanced back at Bill who seemed dismayed.

"Of course." Ford insisted, "Remember the ward. It's still up and the Warlock hasn't managed to break through it."

"But he found a way to get through before." Bill stated, drawing their attention.

"I already told you," Ford repeated, annoyed, "What he did, he can't do again. If he could, he would have already done it."

"How do you know?" Bill fired back, steadily getting as angry as Ford.

Dipper felt like he was a child whose parents were openly fighting for his custody in front of him. But because Ford and Bill weren't his parents, it just made him feel awkward.

"Because it wouldn't make sense for him to have waited so long." Ford explained impatiently, "He had multiple opportunities to come get you but he didn't."

"How do you know he didn't do it because he chose to wait?" Bill asked, folding his arms over his chest and shooting Ford a challenging look.

"Considering he seemed so desperate to get you before, that wouldn't make sense either." Ford said, "Now you're wasting our time—"

He grabbed Dipper a bit too roughly by the shoulder and started pushing him along when Bill stopped them.

"Wait—!" Bill insisted and took a nervous step towards them. "Don't leave."

Ford sighed deeply and finally chanced a look at the ex-demon. Dipper saw his hard expression fall instantly. It was evident from just looking at Bill that he was scared. How couldn't he be? He was mortal. For the first time in forever he was vulnerable and someone, a Warlock with the intention to kill, knew. Naturally, Bill was too prideful to openly say he was afraid. He brought fear down upon others – he didn't feel it. He was the nightmare, not the snivelling child who cried in a corner and prayed to any God who would listen for mercy.

"You're safe." Ford repeated and though he was firm, there was something tender and soft to his tone.

Bill opened his mouth to speak. Maybe he wanted to retort, to oppose the statement further, or maybe he wanted to say something entirely irrelevant – Dipper didn't know because he kept it shut. His gaze fell to the ground in resignation and he let them leave without any more arguing. And as Dipper followed his great uncle to the car he had recently bought during the previous week, he couldn't help but feel like they were making a huge mistake.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure about this?" Dipper asked one final time before getting into the car.

For a moment, he could see doubt on Ford's face. The man glanced at the Mystery Shack and frowned. He wanted to stay, that much was obvious, but he forced the feeling down. "Yes." He said with resolve and slid into the driver's seat.

Dipper sighed heavily. He looked at the Shack one last time and found Bill standing in one of the windows. He offered him a comforting smile before hopping into the car. Ford turned on the ignition and they drove away. The new car was small and black. It was a second-hand vehicle but it had been maintained so well that one would never have guessed it had belonged to another family before. It was far more comfortable than the heap of junk Grunkle Stan drove around and Dipper was thankful for the comfortable seating. However, he couldn't quite enjoy it as much as he would have liked. Worry weighed on his mind.

"So what's the deal between you and Bill?" Dipper asked as they got onto the road to town, "No offence, but you were kind of an asshole to him the other day."

"The other day…?" Ford asked, drawing out the last word and indirectly requesting clarifications.

"Honestly, every day for a while." Dipper admitted, "You've been impatient, cold, and harsh with him."

"It's complicated, Dipper." Ford sighed softly.

"Do you love him?" Dipper asked bluntly.

Ford jolted and gripped his steering wheel tighter. "It's…complicated."

"It's a yes or no question." Dipper said. And after a moment he added: "You said no more secrets."

"This is different." Ford said.

"Okay, so are you not letting yourself love him?" Dipper asked instead.

"…Yes." Ford admitted, defeated.

"Why?" The brunet frowned.

"Because he hurt me, Dipper. More than you could ever imagine." Ford said and glanced at his nephew, "I shouldn't love him. What I'm feeling for him is irrational."

"People change." Dipper tried.

"Bill is not people." Ford said and the younger man was surprised by the answer. Bill had said the same thing at some other point. The difference was that Ford sounded like he was reciting something that had been drilled into his head. "He looks human and he might act more human, but he's not. Not really, anyways."

As much as he wanted to keep arguing in Bill's defense, Dipper decided to stop. Mabel was right. The man needed more time to digest what he had gone through with Bill before moving on. He found it annoying that the progression was moving about so slowly but there was nothing Dipper could do.

"Regardless," Ford said, effectively changing the subject, "We're driving to Maria Morgan's shop. I want you to look at the security feed of the day of the theft and of later that night."

"What do you know?" Dipper asked just as they rolled into town.

"Ms Morgan gets a lot of random customers." Ford started, "Only a few are regulars and she knows all of them perfectly well. She supplied a list of names but insisted they would never steal anything from her – let alone a dagger that wasn't even on display."

"Did anyone know about the dagger?" He asked.

"Very few people. All of them were close friends." Ford informed, "She made a list and they all checked out."

"What about the theft?" Dipper asked, "Any particular details?"

"It was skillfully done." Ford explained, "The perpetrator knew exactly where he was going and there were no signs of hesitation in his steps. I also concluded that he knew his environment pretty well because no alarms were triggered."

"You would think he would have been able to avoid the cameras in that case." Dipper snorted.

"Ms Morgan had them install the day of." Ford said, "I don't know if that means he screwed up or if he had done it on purpose."

They pulled up in front of the shop in question. It was small, nestled between two much larger buildings though it managed to stand out what with its bright and flashy colours. The wooden structure was modelled after the Victorian era – something Dipper always thought was fitting considering most of Ms Morgan's goods stemmed from that time – and was painted in various arrays of purple, pink, and blue. A large sign with headlights was erected just a meter in front of the set of stairs that led to the entrance, drawing more attention to the shop.

They walked up the creaky steps and pushed the door open. The bell above sounded in a gentle and pleasant jingle which drew the attention of everyone who stood nearby. They spared the pair a brief peek before returning to their own devices. The shop was small and cramped but still managed to display an impressive quantity of Victorian furniture. The smaller trinkets were located off to the left on shelves that touched the ceiling.

Dipper followed Ford through the surprising amount of people inspecting the furniture. He was careful not to bump into anyone and sighed in relief when they got a less crowded area with more room to breathe. Ford led the way up a set of twirling stairs in a space so narrow the man himself could hardly fit properly. His arms touched either walls on both sides which forced him to walk in an awkward, diagonal way until they got into the room it gave out on. The room in question wasn't particularly big but that might have been due to the surveillance equipment and multiple camera monitors.

"This is more high-tech than I was expecting." Dipper confessed.

Ford sat at the desk chair and Dipper pulled a stool just next to him. The six fingered man typed at the keys in front of him, quickly taking over a few monitors and replacing the live footage with pre-recorded images detailing the day and night of the theft they were investigating. Ford played the day first. The footage was programmed to advance at a much faster speed and so would only take a couple of minutes rather than a few hours to conclude. Customers began arriving at eight though Dipper knew the store opened at seven on that specific day of the week. There were never more than four people in average in the small space all at once though it was more frequent to have two people at the same time – excluding the employee working the cash just by the entrance.

Dipper didn't see anyone that stood out. Here and there he recognized people he had befriended. There had been Robbie and Tambry, Melodie, Old man McGucket, Tad and Mayor Cutebiker, and many others. Everyone acted normally. They all sorted through the items on display and some even bought a few things. Dipper was particularly surprised to see Robbie purchase a dresser that seemed like it would have been rather expensive. Then again, his parents were much richer than they let on.

"What do you make of that?" Ford asked.

"There was nothing out of the ordinary." Dipper said. "There were just a bunch of people buying things. Old Man McGucket was sort of strange though. Isn't he poor?"

"He didn't buy anything." Ford pointed out, "McGucket might be a crazy coot now, but he's definitely not the Warlock. It was like I already told you, the man could never learn to wield magic."

"Bill said with enough time it would have been possible." Dipper reminded.

"Bill's claim has no evidence to support it." Ford stated and he pressed the play button for the night recording.

The first few hours were lifeless. They saw Ms Morgan close down shop and lock the doors as she left to return home. Then there was more nothingness until a shadow appeared at the door. Dipper knew it was the Warlock because he bore a black tunic and hid his face with his hood. Rather than use magic, he opted to kneel and make use of his lock picking kit. He fiddled with the lock for a few seconds before the door fell ajar and he pushed it open the rest of the way. The video switched to a new camera, offering an angle that showed the man walk into the store and easily move past the aisles and furniture scattered about. He went to the back of the store and the camera switched again to show him walking down the stairwell that led to the basement floor – the place where Maria Morgan kept her personal collection. It showed him walking into the room, picking a few more locks, and leaving with the obsidian dagger which he didn't to bother hiding. It was strange.

"The dagger's still in his hand when he leaves the store." Dipper noted. "Even if you were under the impression there were no surveillance cameras, wouldn't you have hidden what you stole once you stepped out? It's still a weapon and, dressed like that, he would definitely draw some attention."

"The fact that it's the middle of the night would only make him more suspicious to the random onlooker." Ford mused in agreement.

"When was this taken?" Dipper asked. There was something about that night that bothered him.

"June 4th." Ford answered after pressing a few buttons to reveal the date.

"June 4th…" Dipper repeated meditatively. "Wait…" and suddenly he realized what was bothering him, "Wasn't that a day before Bill stumbled upon the Shack?"

"You're right." Ford said, "This must have been for the ritual…hadn't there been a full moon the night he came to us?"

"I don't remember, there was a storm." Dipper said, "But it's possible."

"From this we can gather the Warlock took his materials at the last second." Ford concluded. "Which doesn't make sense. If gaining so much power was at play, he shouldn't have wanted to risk anything going wrong by delaying the acquisition of essential tools for the ritual until the very last second. Something's not right…"

"Maybe…he just wanted to borrow it?" Dipper suggested and he couldn't believe he had just said something so stupid.

Borrow? Really? Because a Warlock would have been thoughtful enough to return what wasn't rightfully his once he was done murdering someone for a ritual.

"I doubt he's benevolent enough for that." Ford snorted.

"None of this helps us figure out who he is." Dipper said, "I mean, we can't just go around asking people where they were on the night of June 4th. I can hardly remember what I was doing two weeks ago, so how are they supposed to remember what they were doing over a month ago?"

"People wouldn't feel obligated to answer either way." Ford agreed, "At worst, the people start talking and news reaches the Warlock. That being said, it does help with your side of the investigation."

"How?" Dipper asked.

"You can ask your people where they were on June 4th or if they heard any strange sounds." Ford said, "If one of them was absent for whatever reason or if one of them heard something, it likely means they had the Enochian bowl or something else the Warlock needed."

"Smart." Dipper huffed.

"I have twelve PhDs for a reason." Ford smirked.

Suddenly, his smile was gone with a gasp. His pupils shrunk and the colour drained from his face.

"What? What's wrong?" Dipper asked worriedly, reading the panic evident on Ford's face.

"The Warlock's attacking the barrier." He hissed and in a flash, he was barrelling down the tight stair case. "We have to go!" He yelled with Dipper trailing after him, "Now!"

They ran into the car and Dipper had barely gotten in when Ford slammed on the gas pedal. He ignored all the street lights and drove at insane speeds that would make Grunkle Stan feel unsafe. They also almost smashed into a few cars along the way. But Dipper didn't say anything. His heart was beating heavily in his chest. Neither had been expecting the Warlock to be so bold.

"Shit!" Ford hissed and he pressed the gas pedal further but the car couldn't go any faster. "He broke it!"

"Bill can fight back." Dipper said hopefully but he wasn't sure the ex-demon could. Bill's power was limited now, not to mention he was going up against a foe who managed to bend the elements for nearly a whole month.

Rather than answer, Ford remained quiet. They turned off the main road and drove down the dirt path that led to the Shack. Then they beheld a sight neither had been expecting. The wooden structure was engulfed in purple flames which slowly ate at the wood and tore the house down. Dipper left the care with an awe-struck expression.

"Stay back!" Ford snapped and he walked towards the purple fire. "Bill!" he called, "Bill! Answer me!"

But he didn't and Dipper knew it was because the Warlock had gotten him. The two were probably long gone. He gritted his teeth in frustration and couldn't help but kick the car out of sheer anger. They had failed. They had screwed up just like the Warlock had said they would.

Ford walked towards the fire until he was so close Dipper thought the flames would consume him. Then he raised his hands and a yellow glow encased them. He took in a heavy breath and used his magic to put out the fire calmly and rebuild the parts of the Shack that had fallen. Dipper noticed how the green grass died around his great uncle as he accomplished his feat. It was amazing and the teenager might have appreciated it more had Bill not been taken away to be murdered by a deranged Warlock.

"Bill!" The thirty year old man continued yelling once the flames were gone.

"They're gone." Dipper said as he came up behind his uncle. "The Warlock took him."

He couldn't see Ford's face but he assumed he was angry. His entire body trembled for an instant and the yellow flame engulfing his bawled hands grew in ferocity.

"How long until the full moon?" Ford asked, his voice shaking with rage.

"Around twelve hours." Dipper said grimly. "It's tonight."

"We need to find Bill."

Chapter Text

There had only been so much Ford could have done to fix the Shack. The extent of his abilities limited him to fixing the structure and making sure it wouldn't collapse on itself. Dipper reckoned it was sturdier than it had once been. They walked inside the building carefully. What wasn't singed and reduced to ashes had been melted. Regardless, debris covered every surface and Dipper sighed heavily. Everything was destroyed. Everything—

"Oh no…" Dipper muttered and Ford looked back at him, "The journals…There's no way they survived."

"You would have been right had I not charmed them." Ford said as he continued trudging through the house. "It was Bill's idea…I think it was to keep me from destroying them if I ever learned he intended to betray me."

He sounded distant.

"That's one good thing." Dipper muttered, but he didn't actually believe in his words.

The data they had collected on fantastical creatures had been saved, they wouldn't need to restart from nothing, admittedly, that was a win. However, the Warlock had still gotten Bill. He had still managed to break through the ward almost effortlessly and destroy the Mystery Shack – or rather an important portion. The fact that the information they had gathered had been spared meant nothing in the face of all the bad that was coming their way. They had twelve hours to find Bill and the Warlock. If they failed, Bill would die and the world would be in for a new apocalypse or something as equally terrible.

"Did you contact Stan and Mabel?" Ford asked.

"Yeah, they're on their way." Dipper said and he checked his phone for any new texts from his sister.

Nothing.

They walked into what used to be the living room and Dipper accidentally kicked the handheld console Bill must have been playing with when the Warlock attacked. The machine was broken, the plastic melted, and the screen cracked. It had his heart throb painfully. Guilt was washing down on him. Had he not have left with Ford, had he resisted the man's pressure to come view the security footage, maybe Bill wouldn't have been taken.

Dipper supposed he couldn't have known. Ford had been so sure the ward kept them safe. Sure, the Warlock had found a way to get through it once, but the odds he would be able to do so again were too low. Or so they had thought. Then again, he hadn't sneaked his way in that time, rather he broke through the ward when everyone was far away enough that he would have enough time to get Bill and flee. They had never been truly safe. Not really.

"Bill…" Ford muttered and Dipper looked up.

He glanced at his uncle and then to what the man was staring at. He was surprised he hadn't noticed before. Though the wall against which the sofa sat was blackened by the purple flames, blue scratches were still very visible and Dipper recognized the markings as Bill's magic. He had left them a message that read: "I told you so" and there was an equal amount of humour and reproach etched into the words.

"Did he fight back?" Dipper asked.

"I think he did." Ford said, "He might have been weaker than ever but I don't think Bill's the type to abandon himself to his fate. Even if all hope was lost, he would still fight tooth and nail."

"But he still lost." Dipper said and his heart gave another painful throb.

Had he been there, maybe things would have gone differently.

"He's not dead." Ford said with a tone of conviction, "He's not dead, at least, not yet. We have to find him."

"How?" Dipper asked, dismayed, "We don't even know who the Warlock is let alone where he established his secret lair."

"We're going to have to pick up the pace." Ford said like the answer was as simple as spoken words.

They were all exhausted. There was only so much coffee and energy drinks could do to keep the bodies awake. It didn't matter that they overloaded their systems with caffeine every few hours to keep from falling asleep, it was gradually having less effect. Because of that, their minds were fogged and didn't function as well as they should. The only solution Dipper could think of was to sleep and allow themselves to rest thoroughly. But none of them would, not that they had the time.

Sleep didn't feel safe. It also didn't help that the ward had been shattered.

Stan's beat up car pulled into the parking lot noisily. Dipper wandered to the living room window and watched as his great uncle and sister left the vehicle running. They were at the door in no time and gasped upon seeing the destroyed interior. It took them by surprise and how could it not? Dipper hadn't given them much detail in terms of what to expect and the Shack looked perfectly fine from the outside.

"What happened?" Mabel asked as she led the way to the room in which Ford and Dipper stood.

"I don't know how much my insurances will cover." Stan huffed and glanced around regrettably.

"We've got more important problems, Stanley." Ford said grimly as he turned to face them. "Bill was taken."

"How?" Mabel asked.

"I…we…" Dipper started, he didn't know how to tell the story. "It was my fault. I left him alone."

"No, it wasn't. Don't put that weight on your shoulders." Ford said and pressed a comforting hand onto his shoulder, "It was my fault. I was angry. I was stupid. And now he's gone. This is all on me."

"Look, we'll decide who's to blame after." Stan cut in, "Tell us what happened."

So Dipper told them. He told them how he and Ford left for Maria Morgan's shop, how they had just finished watching the security videos when the Warlock attacked. He told them how they raced back home as fast as they could but had still returned too late. He told them how they found the Mystery Shack engulfed in purple flames and how Ford had fixed a lot of the damage inflicted.

"Damn it." Stan groaned.

"So we were never safe." Mabel concluded.

"He couldn't have known." Dipper said, defending Ford.

"No, that's not what I meant." Mabel said, "If we were never safe and the Warlock could have broken through the ward at any time he wanted; why did he wait?"

"He was waiting for us to screw up." Dipper said. "And we did."

"But what difference would it have made?" Mabel asked, "Dipper, Grunkle Stan, and I can't wield magic. He would have had no trouble killing us. The only person left to deal with would have been Grunkle Ford and, no offence, but if he took down Bill he could have taken you down too. He wasn't outmatched but he decided to wait anyways."

"She's right." Stan said, "What was the point?"

Dipper thought for a moment. He thought back on the discussion he had had with Ford when they watched the security footage of Maria Morgan's shop. His uncle had said he didn't think the Warlock was benevolent.

"But what if he was…" Dipper mumbled to himself.

"What?" Mabel asked.

"What if the Warlock was benevolent?" Dipper asked, turning to Ford, "You said you didn't think he was because he's a creature of evil, but what if you were wrong? Warlocks live among people and pretend to be normal."

"Yes, and they hate people." Ford insisted.

"But that's my point." Dipper said, "I hated BABBA but after listening to them for a long time, albeit against my will, I began to like them. Heck, now I love them – and I'm not ashamed to admit it. So what if the same thing happened to him? What if he lived among people for so long he began enjoying it and caring for his community? That would mean he might really have intended to just borrow the tools he stole and, later, give them back."

"Wouldn't that mean the Warlock didn't attack because he cared about us – or at least one of us – enough to not want to have to kill us?" Mabel concluded.

"So the Warlock is someone close to us." Stan nodded, "But who?"

"Not Soos." Mabel said, "He didn't even know Bill was alive and he's not good enough of an actor to pretend. He wears himself on his sleeve."

"Not Robbie." Dipper added, "I'm not even sure he came to the party and Bill said the Warlock showed him a memory from that time."

"And Gideon doesn't live in Gravity Falls anymore." Stan said.

"Tad Strange." Ford said and he narrowed his eyes towards his brother. "It's Tad Strange."

"What? No it's not!" Stan barked in his friend's defense. "Tad's the most normal guy in the world!"

"Most of the friends all of you have are women." Ford pointed out, "Tad Strange is close friends with you, Stan, and he gets along with Mabel fairly well too. He's the only one who would care enough – aside from Soos."

"W-well, how do we know the kids are right?" Stan stuttered, desperate to mount a defense, "They were just spit-balling. You said so yourself, Warlocks hate people and Tad loves them."

"I understand this is hard for you, Stanley," Ford started slowly, "But you have to think about it. At the Book Club, when the storm first started, Tad was there. Tad was also the last one to get to the party."

"He was also at Maria Morgan's shop the day of the theft." Dipper added.

"And didn't you say Tad gossiped a lot about Robert Chang?" Mabel asked, "Because he had a lot of European relics with Enochian stuff. If he did have the bowl, which we can't confirm, then Tad would have known."

"Only because that guy kept inviting him over." Stan stated.

"Exactly." Dipper said, "So he would have known."

"You've got to admit the odds aren't in favour of his innocence." Ford said.

Stan frowned and glared at the ground. "I'm not going to believe it until I see it." He stated. "I'm going to need more proof."

"Like what?" Ford asked.

"Like…like the dagger being in his possession." Stan snapped. "Something completely irrefutable."

"Then let's go to his house, right now." Ford suggested.

"Fine."

Chapter Text

They took separate cars to Tad's house with Stan leading the way. Dipper was with Ford while his sister rode with Stan. She was likely trying to calm him – he was very riled up from his friend being accused. Dipper couldn't imagine how he felt. It was already noon which meant they had twelve hours before midnight, which was likely when the Warlock planned to murder Bill. If they were wrong, if Tad wasn't who they were looking for, it would mean the possible end of the world. They still had no idea what the evil man's goal was but a new apocalypse wasn't beyond reason. What was one to do with so much power if not dominate the entire planet?

They pulled up in front of the most normal house in existence. It matched every other house in the neighbourhood and yet it still managed not to stand out. The structure bore a black tiled roof, a white exterior, and its lush green front lawn was fenced with white pickets. By all means, it was the typical American middle class house. There was absolutely nothing special about it – aside from Mayor Cutebiker standing at the door.

The man was still as small as ever and impossibly adorable. It was strange how a man his age could muster being cuter than a basket of kittens but he did it seamlessly. He watched them quietly and offered them a smile as they left their cars and walked towards him. Dipper was sure Ford was going to ignore him and opt to just knock at the door, but he surprised him.

"Hello, mayor." Ford said curtly, "Have you come to visit Tad?"

"I have." He responded shyly but smiled brightly. "I haven't seen him in three days." His smile faded, "I'm getting a bit worried."

"Oh?" Ford asked and glanced back at Stan. The confession was suspicious. "Did anything seem unusual about him?" Mayor Cutebiker was about to answer when he stopped himself. He must have deduced there was cause for worry and he was suddenly very concerned for his boyfriend. He was likely imagining the worst case scenario. "There's no need to worry," he continued with a lie, "Please answer the question."

The mayor hesitated for a beat longer. "I…he…he seemed distracted." He answered, "He would zone out a lot and he wouldn't even laugh it off."

"Did he have any reason to worry?" Stan asked, glaring at his brother, "Financial trouble or family trouble? Something? Anything?"

Mayor Cutebiker looked at the brothers suspiciously, "What's…going on?"

"Just answer the question." Ford said and Dipper noted he sounded rather impatient.

"No…I mean, everything was fine." The smaller man answered, frustrated and worried, "His job at the community radio was great, he had just gotten some time off, and he doesn't talk to his family."

"Warlocks don't hang around their family." Ford said to Stan.

"What?" The mayor asked.

"Nothing." Ford assured him with the fakest smile Dipper had ever seen.

"You're sure he wasn't having any problems?" Stan asked, clenching his hands into fists. "That he wasn't worried about anything?"

"No, he was perfectly happy." Mayor Cutebiker insisted, "If anything, The Blond Donjuan, or whatever the people call him, was bothering him because he wanted to see him."

Dipper stiffened and looked at his great uncle. He saw how his demeanour shifted drastically. The anger he concealed started to burst and he had gone unnaturally still. Just hearing that Tad had been wanting to see Bill was enough to convince him he was the Warlock. Without a further word, he turned towards the door and kicked it down with a swift blow. The door fell from its hinges and sent a few splinters flying as it hit the ground violently. Ford spared none of them a glance as he marched into the home, with Dipper and Mabel just a step behind.

"Hey!" Mayor Cutebiker yelled angrily, "What's your problem!?"

"Tad has something of mine." Ford said dryly.

"Stanford!" Stan snapped but his brother continued skulking through the house.

"I'm going to call the sheriff's department." The mayor growled.

Stan debated for a moment on whether he should follow his brother or try to convince Mayor Cutebiker to give them a moment. He ended up doing the latter, silently signaling his niece and nephew to keep an eye on Ford and make sure he didn't unnecessarily destroy any of Tad's possessions. Dipper and Mabel gave him a nod to signal they understood his silent command and chased after Ford.

In mere minutes, the man had gone through most of the rooms on the ground floor. He carelessly tore through the drawers of furniture and the shelves of cupboards like a human wasn't living within the house. It was unsettling to see but he may have been right. If Tad was a Warlock, then a monster resided within these four walls. That being said, they had no substantial proof against Tad and treating his belongings so roughly seemed unfair.

"Grunkle Ford," Mabel tried, "Calm down—"

But he ignored her as he threw a couple of plates to the ground. It was then Dipper realised he was taking out his anger more than he was looking for evidence.

"Grunkle Ford…" Mabel tried again, but nothing changed.

"Grunkle Ford!" Dipper yelled, "Stop!"

He threw a bunch of dishes to the ground with a single swing. The sound of ceramic objects breaking was the last of the ruckus he caused then. Ford just breathed heavily, staring at the mess he had made around him.

"What's your problem?" Dipper asked more calmly.

"Why did you do that?" Mabel questioned softly.

"It's my fault." Ford muttered angrily. In the distance, Dipper could hear Stan arguing with Mayor Cutebiker on why he shouldn't call the sheriff's department though he paid it no mind. "If he dies..."

"We'll find him." Mabel said, refusing to let him finish his sentence.

"We're running out of time." Ford stated, "And if Tad isn't the Warlock, we're never going to find him in time. He's going to die."

The tone in which he spoke suggested what Dipper had already suspected. In this situation where Bill's life was truly at play, it had forced Ford to move on from the past. Perhaps a part of himself had once thought he could continue being angry at the ex-demon for as long as he deemed fit because he assumed the latter would be around when he was ready to move on. Now that part understood that that wasn't true and that he might have missed the opportunity to really fix things between them. Ford had probably realised he was being childish in maintaining his grudge for as long as he had and now he was risking to pay a big price for that mistake.

"Breaking things isn't going to help you find proof." Dipper stated.

"I know." Ford sighed and brushed his hands through his locks in an exhausted manner, "I don't…I don't know what came over me…I was…I'm sorry. Really."

"You're the one who taught me to cast aside my emotions when things got real." Dipper told him seriously, "Being overly emotional or panicking isn't going to help the situation. You have to maintain a clear mind to allow for rational thinking."

"You're right." Ford sighed.

"Now," Mabel said musingly, "If I were a Warlock and I wanted to appear normal but keep my worship-y things nearby but out of sight, where would I put them?"

"In my room." Dipper said.

"No," Ford breathed and his tone was calmer, more neutral. He even seemed a bit exhausted. "He has a lover. Mayor Cutebiker would have seen."

Dipper blushed lightly and remembered the brief conversation Tad had had with Grunkle Stan at the supermarket. He grimaced and willed the memory away. He didn't want to think about another couple having sex.

"Then the basement." Mabel said.

"That's a good guess." Ford nodded.

The three left the kitchen and walked across the main floor. They stepped over the mess Ford had made which the latter cleaned with his magic as they progressed through the house. They were looking for a door to the basement but found nothing. It wasn't even accessible from the outside. They stopped in the hall adjacent to the living room, stumped. By then, Stan had convinced Mayor Cutebiker to give them a moment and he rejoined the group with the smaller man standing a few paces away, watching them expectantly.

"What's going on?" He asked.

"Maybe he just doesn't have a basement." Mabel said. "Some houses are like that.

"No, listen," Ford said and he stomped on the ground a few times, "You can hear a hollow echo. There's definitely a basement."

"Tad's house was built with a defect." Mayor Cutebiker informed them with an annoyed tone. "There is a basement but there wasn't supposed to be one so the workers sealed it off."

Ford frowned. "I don't buy that last part." He muttered and turned his gaze to the bookshelf in the living room. He marched towards it and bent down to peer beneath it. "Bingo."

He stood and pushed the bookshelf aside, revealing a hidden door. Judging by Mayor Cutebiker's expression, he hadn't been expecting that.

"Does it open?" Dipper asked.

Ford reached for the knob and jerked it but the door had been locked. He took a step back and kicked it down. The door fell open, barely hanging in place, and displayed a hidden staircase leading to the basement. The thirty year old man went in first. He stood at the top of the stairs and examined the area below, gesturing the others to wait a moment so he could verify it was safe. Dipper was the next to walk down the stairs once his great uncle assured them it was alright. Mabel followed a step behind, clutching the back of his shirt, Grunkle Stan trailed after them, and Mayor Cutebiker closed the walk.

There were no light switches or candles to illuminate their path. The only light they got came from Ford who wielded his magic openly. He didn't seem to care that an outsider was witnessing his secret skill. That being said, Mayor Cutebiker seemed too preoccupied with the hidden basement to pay too much attention to how Ford was illuminating the place. He was likely rattled by this secret his boyfriend had been keeping from him.

The basement wasn't how it should have been. It wasn't empty. In fact, it was the spitting image of what one would imagine a Warlock's lair to look like. The windowless area had sigils and words in a foreign language covering the walls. Wooden shelves were stocked with potions and ingredients for spells – some more nauseating than others. A detailed pentagram was painted on the floor at the center of the room and Dipper noticed dried stains of blood that hadn't been cleaned. He wondered if Bill had been tortured there.

"What…what is this?" Mayor Cutebiker stuttered, horrified.

"A Warlock's domain." Ford said grimly and he felt a little better about having created a mess before.

"We don't know that for sure." Stan objected.

"Stanley—"

"He could be something else." Stan insisted dryly.

"Dipper—" Mabel hissed quietly and tugged at his shirt.

"What?" He asked.

She was pointing at something and his heart stopped when he saw it. There, on a table, sat the stone bowl with the Enochian carvings he had seen in the dream the Warlock had given him. He remembered Bill's slit neck and blood filling the container until it was overflowing and dripping everywhere. Dipper pushed the memory away and he walked towards the table, fingers brushing the carvings before he gripped it tightly.

"Grunkle Ford." He said and drew everyone else's attention to him. He gestured the bowl he was holding. "This…This is the bowl."

Stan's expression fell colourless. He was dismayed. Tad's little secret couldn't be written off as anything else. The object Dipper held was the proof that he was the Warlock. Stan was unable to refute the truth any longer. The teen felt terrible all the same. Stan had been very close friends with Tad. The amount of pain and betrayal he must have felt was terrible. Ford could probably relate.

"But Bill's not here." Ford said and looked around the room, "Unless there's another hidden room—"

"There isn't."

Dipper's blood froze and the hairs on the back of his neck stood. Slowly, he turned to face the man who had spoken and he found Tad standing in front of the stairs. The only entrance and exit to the basement. He was a mess. His otherwise neat hair was ruffled out of place with strands falling into his face. His white dress shirt was stained with fresh blood and he gripped the obsidian knife in his left hand. Mabel whimpered slightly at the sight of him and Dipper took a nervous step back, extending his arm protectively in front of his sister.

"Tad…" Stan said and anger quickly filled his voice, "You bastard—!"

"I'm really sorry you had to see this side of me, Stanley." Tad said regretfully and took a nonchalant step forward.

"I trusted you!" Stan yelled, "You were my friend!"

"Stand back." Ford warned and his hands were suddenly engulfed by his yellow flames.

Tad laughed at the sight of him. "Should I be intimidated?" He asked. "You're no stronger than the demon was. I'd swat you like a fly."

"Then why don't you?" Ford frowned.

He raised his bloody dagger and pointed the tip towards Stan. "I like him. A lot." He said, "Enough to not want to cause him any unnecessary pain, like feeling the loss of his entire family. It would make for a rather depressing dinner party. Not that that dinner has any chance of happening now."

"What's…what's going on!?" Mayor Cutebiker snapped.

"Oh dear," Tad smirked, "I assume this is going to add a strain to our relationship."

"Tad—" he tried and took a step forward.

"Stop!" Ford warned, "Don't get too close!"

"Tad…" He tried again, his eyes watering, "Tell me this isn't real."

Tad seemed strangely taken aback by his boyfriend's reaction. His menacing façade faltered if only for the briefest of seconds. "Unfortunately, it is." he sighed, "But don't worry, you won't remember any of this." He snapped his fingers and Mayor Cutebiker crumbled to the ground, lifeless.

"What…what did you do to him!?" Dipper snapped.

"He's fine. Don't worry." Tad said, rolling his eyes as he strolled closer, "At least, don't worry about him."

"Where's Bill!?" Ford demanded.

"Elsewhere." Tad said, "You'll see him again soon."

"Don't you dare hurt my family!" Stan growled and stepped forward.

"It wasn't my intention but I don't have a choice anymore." Tad said, "But don't worry, you won't remember any of this either."

He snapped his fingers and Stan fell to the ground.

"Grunkle Stan!" Mabel cried and threw herself to his side.

"Is he okay?" Dipper asked worriedly.

Mabel's shaky hands checked for vitals. She nodded. "He's just unconscious."

"I would never hurt Stan." Tad affirmed, "Not voluntarily, anyways. You just pushed my hand. But, like I said, he won't be remembering any of this."

"What are you going to do to us?" Dipper asked and he tried to sound unafraid but his voice trembled with fear all the same.

"I'm not quite sure yet, to be honest." The Warlock said. He lifted his hand and a purple flame consumed it instantly, "But I know you're all troublesome. You need to be contained."

He swung his hand in Ford's direction and the purple fire latched on to him. He shouted but soon he crumpled to the ground and the flames ate at him though it didn't seem to hurt him. Dipper reckoned it must have just put him too sleep, though the thought was hardly comforting because he was now stuck facing the Warlock with his sister. Tad turned his attention to them. He swung his hand in their direction but Mabel pushed them out of the way before the fire could touch them.

Dipper got up quickly and took her hand. He pulled her aside just in time to avoid more of the purple fire. They ran for cover behind the shelves. If they could get Tad to leave his position in front of the stairs, they could probably run up and escape. They just needed to lure him away. But they never got the chance. The Warlock sent a ball of fire towards the shelf which hit it so hard it toppled over. Dipper covered his head with his arms as jars fell onto them but Mabel hadn't been fast enough. A receptacle fell on her head hard enough to break skin and knock her out.

"Mabel!" he shouted and reached for her.

The last thing Dipper saw was Tad standing a few steps off to his left before everything went black.

Chapter Text

When Dipper opened his eyes, everything was dark. For a moment, he thought he might have been blind folded but, as his vision began to clear, he felt a warm breeze ghost over his skin and he knew he was outside. A lot of time had passed, that was for sure. Dipper might even have slept a bit. He felt more rested than he had for the past week or so. He groaned and gave himself a moment to recuperate. He felt drowsy and tired, he wanted to keep sleeping but he knew it was a bad idea. Night had fallen. He was in danger and as soon as he remembered what had happened, adrenaline began pumping through his veins. He was in danger. His family was in danger. The Warlock had gotten them all.

Dipper tried to stand but found he was unable to do so. He couldn't even move his arms to his lap and he found it was because he had been tied to a wooden stake. Suddenly, he remembered the dream the Warlock gave him in flashes. It was so strange looking to his side and finding Mabel as he had seen her then, with blood dripping down the side of her head and slumped forward, unconscious. The only thing keeping her up was the wooden pole she was tied to. Next to her was Ford who was equally unconscious.

His eyes darted to the sky and he found the moon. It was slowly rising to the center of the night sky just like Dipper had been shown in his dream. His gaze fell downwards and he found Bill tied between two pillars. Where in his dream the ex-demon had been relatively unharmed, the blond was covered in bleeding scars now and was naked. It took a moment for Dipper to realise he bore the same cuts he had when he first came to them. The Warlock had been drenched in blood when he surprised them in his basement. He must have just finished carving the sigils and whatnot back into Bill when he returned for the bowl.

"Bill—" He tried but his voice was hoarse and weak. "Bill—!"

The blond didn't respond. As far as Dipper could deduce, he was the only conscious one and the Warlock was nowhere within sight. This was his chance to free himself and save everyone. He tugged at the rope binding his wrists together, hoping he could squeeze his hands out but it was too tight. His next move was to try to get the ropes to slack and loosen by relaxing his bound limbs. He felt his binds untighten but it wasn't enough for him to squeeze himself out. Had he not been as exhausted then, he might have actually managed to force his arms free.

"You're awake." Tad said as he came from behind.

He walked past Dipper. The Warlock wore the clothes the teen remembered seeing in his dream. The obsidian dagger was in his left hand and he twirled it expertly.

"What's happening?" Dipper asked as he tugged at his ropes. He couldn't just give up even if he knew he probably couldn't get out. "Are you going to use us for your ritual or something?"

"No." Tad smiled and it was strange how innocent and soft of a gesture it was, "I need to keep an eye on you so I brought you all here. The last thing I want is for you to escape and ruin everything at the last second. In this scenario, I can watch you and make sure you behave."

"Are you going to kill us after?" Dipper asked and he was, honestly, very afraid of the answer.

"I'll tell you what," Tad sighed, "I really thought about it. The problem is I like Mabel and I don't want to have to kill her unless I have to. So I only really want to kill you and your uncle Stanford. The problem with that is if I let Mabel live and wipe away her memory, the tight bond between twins will eventually get her to remember. Then she'll be sad that you're dead and yadda, yadda, yadda. The same thing goes for a bond between parent and child."

"Parent and child?" Dipper pulled a face. "Do you mean Grunkle Ford and Grunkle Stan?"

"Yes…?" Tad said though he seemed perplexed by Dipper's reaction. "Is Stanford not Stan's son?"

"No, they're brothers." Dipper said. "Twins. It's a long story."

"Hun. It must be." Tad muttered, "Regardless, if I want to keep Stan and Mabel happy, I can't kill either of you."

"So are you going to take our memories away too?" Dipper asked.

"Yes." Tad said and he turned to walk towards the alter, "But not now. I need to use the rest of my magic for this ritual. You'll just have to wait until I become more powerful."

"Wait—!" Dipper called desperately. If he couldn't free himself to save everyone, he could stall until the proper time had passed and Tad missed his chance to perform the ritual. "I-I want answers!" Tad paused curiously and waited, "How did you get past the ward the first time?"

Tad grinned, "Mayor Tyler Cutebiker." He said, "I'd tell you to note this down for future references but you're going to forget anyways; the thing about wards is that they form holes to allow those permitted to enter the protected premises. I held onto Tyler's hand and got in through the same hole that opened for him. Simple."

"And the salt?" Dipper questioned. "We lined the room with salt."

Tad seemed surprised. "Did you?" but then he seemed pleased, "I must be stronger than I thought. Salt barriers are irrelevant to powerful beings, which, I guess, I am. The one thing I wasn't able to fight against were the runes you hid across the room to nullify my powers."

"Would you have attacked Bill had you been able to wield magic?" Dipper probed.

"I would have seriously considered it." Tad admitted, "The problem with doing that would have been the amount of memory erasing I would have had to do. And with so many terrified people running amok, I likely would have missed one of them. And all it takes is one person with his or her memories intact to get all the others to remember. I like this place. I don't want to lose it."

"Then why are you doing this?" Dipper asked, "What's the point in gaining power?"

"How did you know that was what I was doing?" Tad returned curiously.

Dipper motioned his great uncle.

"You're both very smart." Tad complimented and he didn't hide that he was impressed, "You particularly astonish me. You're so young and so promising. I see bits of myself in you. Anyway, when a rare opportunity arises, one must seize it."

"And Bill is a rare opportunity?"

"He's a cured demon." Tad said and glanced at the blond who still hung limply between the two stone pillars. "There were rumours demons could be cured but no one I've ever known has actually stumbled upon one. Great power lies in his blood. He's a redeemed soul."

"Redeemed soul?" Dipper asked.

"Yes. Demons are corrupted spirits." Tad explained and he pointed at Bill with his thumb, "This one was saved and made mortal."

Tad was about to leave again but Dipper quickly stopped him with another question, "Hold on, what's up with all the Enochian stuff?" he asked, "Bill said no one could read it."

"Are you trying to stall me, Dipper Pines?" Tad called out with a playful smile. The teen gulped guiltily and said nothing. "I'll have you know, your plan won't work. I've got a timer," he raised his hand and displayed an electric watch with a countdown tied to his wrist. There were five minutes left, "It'll beep two minutes to midnight and that's when I'll start the ritual. You won't make me miss my deadline by continuously asking me questions."

Dipper mentally cursed to himself. He supposed he couldn't be faulted for trying. "I still want an answer." He insisted and that much was true.

"You're growing bold." Tad commented, "I like that." He twirled the obsidian dagger another time, "Demons are biblical creatures. Enochian is the language of angels. If I want to draw the most power I can from 'Bill's' blood, I need to use something strongly related to what he once was."

"But no one can read Enochian." Dipper said.

"No one aside from me." Tad smiled and winked.

"What…how?" Dipper asked in awe.

"I found myself an angel." Tad said.

"Angels exist?"

"If you can believe in demons, then why is it so difficult to believe in angels?" The Warlock countered.

"Mayor…Cutebiker?" Dipper guessed in disbelief and Tad started laughing.

"No, not at all." He assured, "The angel I found is dead. I tortured the information out of her. Capturing her was difficult but it paid off."

"And this ritual?" Dipper asked, "Is it biblical as well?"

"No, it's a standard Warlock ritual." Tad said and he sounded regretful, "It's the rudimentary thing to do to draw out power from basically anything. There's no special ritual to sap the power from a cured demon. No one thought they really existed until now. They're impossibly rare anyway so no one would have gone through the hassle to develop an actual ritual specific to this extraction of power."

"And what are you going to do if it works?" Dipper asked. "Start a new apocalypse?"

"A new one? Did I miss the first one?" Tad laughed. "You're a curious kid, Dipper. That's very good. I'd encourage you to keep it up but I wouldn't want you meddling in any more of my business. Nonetheless, the other Warlocks have been spit balling a massive take over for a while. Normal humans would become slaves to the supernatural – the superior beings. I might go through with it but there will be some technicalities to deal with first. Boring stuff I'm sure you don't care about."

Dipper was about to speak when he was interrupted by the beeping of Tad's watch. His mouth fell shut and his eyes widened. Two minutes to midnight. Tad was going to start the ritual. Without a further word, Tad left for the alter, twirling the knife in his hand along the way as he recited words in a language he didn't know. Dipper began to panic. He needed to do something, he needed to get Tad to stop his incantation and get Bill and his family to safety.

"Damn it, damn it, damn it—" Dipper hissed to himself.

His eyes darted all over the place. He was looking for something – anything that could help him thwart Tad while he still had the chance. But there was nothing he could do. He watched Tad mix herbs, powders and whatnot together and pour it into the stone bowl that had officially denounced him as the Warlock. As he continued speaking his spell, the markings on the bowl and on the obsidian dagger began to glow purple. Dipper was running out of time.

Suddenly, a groan off to his side drew his attention. Ford was waking up. Perhaps not all hope was lost. Ford was incredibly smart and he could wield magic. He could free himself from his bonds and save them.

"Grunkle Ford—" Dipper whispered loudly and anxiously. "Grunkle Ford, snap out of it! Please!"

His uncle lazily opened his eyes and stretched his neck to peek at him over Mabel's slumped form. "Dipper…?"

"Grunkle Ford, we're running out of time!" He said and he wanted to cry. They would be cutting it so close and he was very afraid they weren't going to be fast enough. "He's doing the spell, he's going to kill Bill!"

"Bill…" Ford mumbled drowsily and he turned to see Bill hanging between two stone pillars. When the image registered, he snapped out of his daze completely. "Bill!" He yelled and the abruptness of his cry had Tad stumbling over his words for an instant. He glared at them but continued his work all the same. "Bill! Wake up!"

The ex-demon didn't even so much as twitch.

"I-I can't get free!" Dipper panicked and he kept tugging on the ropes but they weren't loosening.

"Damn it!" Ford cursed and he jerked at his ropes as well.

They seemed to be as tight or even tighter than Dipper's. The two hopelessly pulled with all their might but their bonds wouldn't let up. Tad was approaching the end of his spell. He raised the stone bowl to the sky just like Dipper remembered he had in his dream. They were so close to the end. Bill was going to die.

"Can't you use your magic!?" Dipper snapped desperately.

"No, he enchanted the ropes!" Ford growled in frustration and continued pulling violently. "Damn it!" He roared, "Bill! You need to wake up!"

And against all odds, the ex-demon's eyes fluttered open. He was as confused and dazed as Ford and Dipper had been when they first awoke but he seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation much faster than them. He sobered up quickly and terror filled his eyes. He understood he was going to die if a miracle didn't take place soon.

"Bill!" Ford cried, "Use your magic!"

"I-I can't!" Bill exclaimed desperately as he also began to tug at the chains keeping him in place. All they did was clang against the stone.

"What do we do!?" Dipper asked frantically. His heart was thumping madly in his chest.

They were down to the final few seconds. Tad was lowering the bowl to the alter and grabbing the obsidian dagger. In that moment, Ford began to crumble. His eyes watered and he fought against his ropes with the ferocity of a wild animal. He screamed and cried, hoping that if his ropes didn't give out then the wooden stake that kept him in place would. But neither did.

"Bill!" He yelled as Tad walked towards him, "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"

Dipper was almost crying. If Ford had changed his tune it was because all hope was lost. Bill was going to die.

"I-I shouldn't have treated you like that!" He continued and tears streamed down his face. Bill stared at him with wide eyes and an anguished expression, "I love you, damn it! I love you so much! I was just mad and I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

And Bill started to cry as well but it changed nothing. Tad spoke a few more words and, with the hand holding onto the stone bowl, he forced Bill to look at him. Ford yelled when the Warlock brought down the dagger and slit Bill's throat. Dipper was petrified in horror. The screams and shouts of his uncle were muffled beneath the thick beating of his own heart. Everything was happening so slowly and yet so fast. A red line appeared at Bill's throat just as the light in his eyes died. Blood began gushing violently – more so than in his dream. Tad must have cut an artery. The crimson liquid sprayed Tad and flooded into the bowl as he laughed maniacally.

Thunder roared and Dipper looked to the sky. There were no clouds. He saw the moon slowly turn blood red. Then his eyes fell onto Tad who was still cackling madly and seemed to be changing. He drank the blood and Dipper's eyes glanced ever so briefly to Bill's lifeless body before returning to the blood soaked Warlock. He was doubled over and his limbs and joints seemed to pop in and out of place until he suddenly sprung upright and began to float. He ascended higher and higher from the ground, encompassed in a purple glow. His sick guffaw echoed louder than before, vibrating through the entirety of Dipper's body and never had the teen been so afraid in all his life.

The wind picked up and was suddenly so powerful the surrounding pine trees bent in awkward positions, nearly snapping into two. Then Tad's body exploded with purple fire that immediately began devouring whatever surface it landed on. Dipper anxiously noted a flame had fallen on his stake and was quickly burning through the wood. He started tugging at his binds urgently. The last thing he wanted was to be burnt alive after witnessing the brutal murder of a friend.

"This is so…invigorating!" Tad exclaimed as his body formed together again. There was a strange, unnatural echo to his voice. His skin had purpled and his eyes were nothing but black pits. "I was expecting a lot of power but nothing compared to this…"

He floated closer to Dipper, Ford, and Mabel and eyed them inquisitively. The teen still kept tugging at his ropes as the fire steadily spread. Tad grinned upon noticing the fire.

"I know I said I would spare you," Tad said, "But this power has…illuminated me. You're all nothing but useless flesh bags…this world should not be dominated by your kind. It's time for the greater beings – the Warlocks to rule. Screw the formalities, the beginning of our age is happening tonight and it's starting in Gravity Falls."

And with that he left with a cackle. His evil laugh stayed with them long after he had disappeared out of sight above the pine trees though Dipper didn't pay it much attention. The fire had spread to his blue vest and was beginning to burn through the material. Ford was too overcome with grief to be of any help and Dipper was sure that he would die. However, the purple flames suddenly spread to the rope keeping him bound in place and ate just enough of the bonds for Dipper to free himself. The ropes snapped and he wasted no time in ripping off his vest before the fire went for his skin. He then fell onto the grass and breathed heavily as he watched his piece of clothing being reduced to ashes.

"Mmm…" Mabel moaned and Dipper's attention snapped to her. She was regaining consciousness.

"Mabel!" He exclaimed and dashed for her.

He tore the ropes from her wrists and she fell forward, barely catching herself in time. Then he freed Ford. The moment the latter's binds were loose enough, he slipped his hands out and ran towards Bill to free him. Dipper wanted to go after him but he had his sister to worry about beforehand. How was he going to tell her about everything that had just happened?

"Dipper…?" she asked feebly.

"Hey, take it easy." He cooed softly and he held her in a trembling embrace.

"What happened…?" She groaned and held her eyes shut for a moment.

"I…he…the Warlock…" Dipper stumbled and he found that was all he could say before breaking into tears.

Mabel looked at him with concern but she quickly understood when she glanced over her brother's shoulder and found Ford holding Bill's lifeless body to his chest. "No…" she muttered, her eyes filling with tears, "No!"

And Dipper held her as she screamed and cried. He didn't know what to tell her to soothe her so he just wept with her and held onto her tightly. They stayed like that for a moment. Mabel digging her nails into Dipper's back as she wailed while Ford sobbed over the corpse of the man he once loved so terribly. The only thing that drew them from their moment of sorrow were the unexpected distant screams that started a few minutes later. They all looked in the direction from which they came and found the sky was illuminated red and purple from fire – fire Tad had probably started in the midst of his power trip.

"Can you stand?" Dipper asked his sister.

He stood and helped her up. When he was convinced she could stand on her own, he made to go to Ford but she stopped him. Dipper sighed deeply but before he could tell Mabel to let him get Ford, she slipped her hand into his for comfort and maybe for support as well. He let out a shaky breath and walked towards his great uncle.

Dipper's steps were heavy as he closed the distance between he and the other man. Ford cradled Bill's corpse in his arms. His face was buried in his golden hair and he cried sobs so terribly sad Dipper almost broke down again from simply hearing them. However, he steeled himself. He placed his free hand on his great uncle's shoulder and avoided looking at Bill's dead face to the best of his ability.

"We have to go." He croaked. "We need to stop Tad. He wants to enslave the world."

"I killed him." Ford wept and clutched at Bill's body, "This is all my fault."

"Grunkle Ford…" Mabel tried and her voice shook from the sorrow she attempted to keep contained. "It's not your fault…but we need to go…"

The screams were getting louder and Ford couldn't ignore them anymore if he tried. He pulled away from Bill and wiped the warm tears from his face. With a shaky breath, he closed the ex-demon's vacant eyes and gently laid him on the ground, folding his arms over his chest. They would come back for him later to give him a proper burial. Now they needed to save Gravity Falls again.

"Let's go."

Chapter Text

They treaded through the forest, jumping over upturned roots and ducking beneath fallen trees as they made their way back to Gravity Falls. It was dark and none of them knew the exact way. They simply followed the shrieks and screams and the red and purple glow from what must have been fire. Dipper held onto his sister's hand for most of their trek through the woods. They only let go some time before exiting the brush. Ford trailed a few steps behind them. Whenever Dipper glanced back he could see the man was utterly lost in his thoughts. Sorrow filled his eyes but it steadily made place for something else – anger. The teen only hoped it wouldn't make his uncle reckless.

The sight that befell them as they returned to Gravity Falls was horrifying. Nearly every house was burning. The fires were red and purple meaning some had been conjured by Tad himself whereas some others had accidentally started on their own – likely caused by panicked citizens. People ran through the streets like chickens without heads and flailed their arms. Dipper noticed some burnt and burning bodies lying on the sidewalks and front lawns. Tad was nowhere within immediate sight but if they ran in the opposite direction of the people of Gravity Falls they would surely find him.

Before attacking Tad, they needed a plan. They also needed to find Stan and perhaps make sure their friends were somewhere safe. Dipper and Mabel looked back at Ford. The man was always the one to lead them and, though he was in no emotional condition to do so, they didn't know what else to do. At the end of the day, they were still kids. They were sixteen bordering on seventeen and Ford was thirty something – debatably almost seventy but that was a matter of perspective. It took a moment for Ford to realise all eyes were on him. He seemed taken aback and troubled by said fact but he steeled himself. Dipper was admittedly impressed.

"We…" Ford started and his voice was hoarse and weak, "We need to find Stan. I'm not losing someone else I care about tonight."

"Do we even know where he is?" Mabel asked.

"He's probably at Tad's." Dipper said. "He had to make a choice: bring us to the ritual sight or move Grunkle Stan and Mayor Cutebiker."

"Even if he isn't there, we can still get my car back." Ford added. "Let's go."

They began running again, weaving past the panicked and terrified civilians running in every which direction. A few of them had jumped into cars and had run them into fire hydrants or telephone poles. The further they ventured into Gravity Falls, the more dead they found. It was terrible. The images would stay with Dipper forever. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the various corpses lying about. A man had hung himself in his bathroom and was swaying gently by the window.

The sight of the person that committed suicide inspired urgency within Dipper. He ran faster, easily passing his great uncle and sister. They couldn't just save Grunkle Stan, they had to save the rest of Gravity Falls before everyone died from one way or another. They needed to be quick. Dipper pumped his legs beneath him, propelling him forward at a speed he never thought he was capable of reaching. A certain pride welled inside of him but it was soon pushed aside. Tad was trying to rule the world. He could pride himself over his physical prowess later.

"Dipper—!" Ford yelled and he barely grabbed his shirt in time to pull him back before a red car zoomed by, inches away from actually hitting Dipper.

His heart thumped heavily in his chest and it took him a moment for him to digest he had literally come so close to dying. The red car in question stopped a few meters away, the driver having slammed the breaks and left skid marks on the road. He then backed his vehicle, weary to not hit the three. He then rolled down a window and stuck his head out.

"Where the hell have you been!?" Stan snapped at them, "Get in!"

They ran towards the hunk of junk and jumped into the back seats. Stan wasted no time in slamming the gas pedal. They narrowly avoided being crushed by a flaming bit of debris Tad had likely tossed away in the midst of exercising his anarchy. Dipper sat back against the uncomfortable seating and let out a heavy sigh. He felt somewhat relaxed knowing that, at the very least, his great uncle was safe.

"What the hell happened!?" Stan asked as he drove, they seemed to be heading for the Mystery Shack.

Ford opened his mouth to give an answer but only a small, choked sound left him. Dipper glanced in his direction and saw tears well in his eyes again. The wound was still too fresh. He wasn't able to give an answer. Dipper wasn't sure he could voice what had happened either.

"Bill…he's…" was all he said and Stan understood.

His gaze became somber and he looked at his brother through the rear-view mirror with both concern and regret. "Damn. Sorry." He said and squeezed the steering wheel in his hands, "We'll get the bastard back."

"So what do we do now?" Mabel asked.

"We go back to the Shack and establish a plan." Ford said, shoving his sorrow aside for the moment.

"Hang on," Dipper insisted, "We can't just leave all these people. They'll die."

"There's nothing we can do for them." Ford said.

"Isn't there a spell strong enough to protect an area against Tad?" Dipper asked desperately, "Something more powerful than a ward? Anything?"

Ford remained quiet as he thought. His eyes fell down to his clenched hands which were resting on his lap. "I…yes. There's something." He said. "But I can only cast it over the Mystery Shack. Gravity Falls is too big."

"How are we going to get the people to come to the Shack?" Mabel asked. "We can't bring them by car."

"Let me out." Dipper said. "I'll tell them."

"Dipper, no!" Mabel cried, "It's too dangerous."

"There's no other way—!"

"Actually, there is." Ford said quietly.

Dipper stared at the man curiously. For a moment, he did nothing. He sat up straight and breathed deeply. Then his eyes fell closed and when they opened again, they were glowing yellow. He stayed as such for a beat. The yellow eventually faded and his eyes were back to normal.

"There."

"What did you do?" Dipper asked.

"I used magic to send a telepathic message to anyone willing to listen." Ford answered, "I told them to come to the Mystery Shack for protection and salvation."

"Isn't there a limit to wielding magic?" Mabel asked worriedly.

"Don't worry." Ford assured, "I'm not anywhere close to it."

They drove back to the Shack in no time, passing crowds of people making their way to the same place. Once they got out of the car, Ford got to work. He walked around the Shack and began chanting a spell. His hands were quickly engulfed with yellow flames and Dipper concluded it likely happened every time he wielded magic because it was a physical manifestation of it. He saw Ford erect a yellow dome around the Shack which soon faded to transparency – like it had never happened nor existed. Dipper noted how the grass around his uncle hadn't died like the last time he had used magic. Once he finished, he approached the man.

"What did you do?"

"I made a new ward." Ford said, "This one is different, it's stronger."

"How come?" Dipper asked.

"I used my life energy to make it." He said and ignored Dipper's worried look, "The magic is purer, harder to break through. I don't know how long it can hold against Tad's new power but this is all I can do."

"The limit…" Dipper started.

"Don't worry about me, Dipper." Ford interrupted softly.

Black helicopters suddenly passed overhead. Dipper recognized them instantly. He had seen them before. The US government had taken more time to respond than he thought they would. They had finally sent that small department from the military entrusted with dealing with the paranormal. He thought that after the fiasco of four years ago they would have kept Gravity Falls under tighter surveillance. Then again, they might have taken more time to prepare for the threat. Regardless, they wouldn't stand a chance against Tad but they would buy them time to come up with a solution. It was comforting all the same.

"I can't help it." Dipper said, "I don't want you to wind up dead too."

Ford smirked and a bitter smile appeared on his face. "I'm already dead."

They waited outside as people flocked to the Shack like Ford had telepathically told them to and helped them inside. It didn't take long before the establishment was swamped.

Chapter Text

The night had changed to morning but the shift had hardly been noticeable. A thick veil of dark clouds that had materialised out of nowhere blocked the sun so efficiently it might as well have still been the night. The only way they knew what time it was, was by looking at the clocks. People flooded the Mystery Shack and the Pines were so busy taking care of the wounded and calming people down that they hadn't had the chance to discuss how they should go about getting rid of Tad. The US military unit would sometimes swing by the Shack to check on the folks and discuss things with Ford before leaving. Whenever Dipper was near a window, he could hear the distant sounds of gun shots and explosions.

Dipper had come across a multitude of familiar faces as he helped people. He found Wendy with her typical group of friends. They were all fine and Wendy had guessed the drama Dipper had never gotten around to telling her about had something to do with what was currently happening. Though he still couldn't delve into details what with being so busy, he had still told her she was right before leaving. Aside from them, Dipper found Pacifica and her family as well as Soos, his grandmother, and Melody. They were all fine and that took a small weight off his shoulders. He didn't know how he would deal if something happened to any of them.

Even Pacifica.

It was at around one past noon that the Pines were finally able to gather somewhere relatively quiet to discuss the Tad situation. They met on the balcony outside. It was the only place where they could get a certain degree of privacy and actually hear themselves over the cacophony of worried and anxious people they were harbouring. Stan sat down on his rocking chair with a heavy sigh. He seemed more exhausted than any of them and that might have had something to do with his old age.

"The unit's not going to be able to hold off Tad forever." Dipper remarked, "He'll notice the town's strangely vacant sooner or later and he'll come looking. We need to do something soon if not now."

"Kid has a point." Stan sighed, "I also want these people gone as soon as possible. They're a hassle to take care of and I'm too old for this."

"Any ideas?" Mabel asked and they all looked at Ford.

He always had ideas. He was the leader of their family. But Ford turned his gaze away.

"He's so strong now…" the man mumbled, "I have no idea how to take him down. He's not a normal Warlock anymore."

"Did he tell any of you anything?" Stan asked, "I wasn't there so maybe he had a slip of the tongue and divulged his weakness while he was giving you his villain speech. Unless that isn't a thing that happens in real life."

"All he did was chant his spell and…" But Ford couldn't finish. His throat tightened and he stopped himself before he started crying.

"That's…not entirely true." Dipper said, "You woke up after me," he reminded when Ford looked at him quizzically, "I spoke with him for a bit."

"What happened?" Mabel asked.

"I asked him a lot of questions." Her twin answered, "He told me how he got through the ward the first time and over the salt lines. He told me why he was doing what he did and why he avoided killing any of us even though he easily could have."

"And?"

"He got in the ward by squeezing into the hole for Mayor Cutebiker," Dipper repeated briefly, "Salt has no effect on particularly strong supernatural beings so that wasn't an issue – the only thing that bothered him during that party were the runes. And—"

"Wait," Ford interrupted, "The runes?"

"Yeah, the ones that render the use of magic impossible." Dipper said, "Anyways, then—"

"I have an idea." Ford interrupted again and Dipper realised the rest of the answers he was ready to provide were currently unimportant in the face of what was happening. "That time, at the party, they were just runes but I wrote down a spell in one of the journals." He explained hastily – he always got like that whenever he was on to something. "It works with a radius but if we get close enough, we can annul the Warlock's powers for a short time."

"What's the catch?" Stan asked.

Dipper hoped there wouldn't be one but he was never so lucky. "The spell is long and depends on pronunciation." Ford said, "If the caster can't pronounce everything perfectly, it won't work."

"Great." Dipper sighed, "How are we supposed to keep Tad within range until the spell is done?"

"I can take care of that." Ford said.

"You wouldn't stand a chance." Stan said quickly.

"It's not a matter of beating him." Ford stated, "It's to buy you the time to say the incantation right and take his powers away even for a few seconds."

"If you're going to be fighting, how are you supposed to say the spell?" Mabel asked.

"Dipper will have to do it." Ford said, looking at him.

"What? Me?" Dipper stuttered in bafflement.

Most of the time he spent with Ford the past four years had consisted of the man teaching him everything there was about the supernatural. The knowledge he acquired ranged from culture and living habits to detailed biology, scientifically explaining why and how some creatures were capable of seemingly magical abilities. Dipper had learned there was no such thing as magic – not really, it was just science. That being said, it was a whole different level of science involving micro-organisms, aspects to cellular composition, and a plethora of other things humans and other common-knowledge animals didn't possess on a biological spectrum. For that simple reason, referring to it as magic was accurate all the same because it offered a distinguishing factor accentuating the potential of the impossible – or rather what should be impossible.

Admittedly, the teen had learned many things. He excelled in the domain and he did plan to take university courses on cryptozoology once he got to that point in life. Nevertheless, Dipper was never good with languages. He always passed his mandatory French classes with the minimum grade regardless of how much extra-curricular effort he had to put in at home. The languages of spells and enchantment, however, were very different from French – far more complicated. Ford might have spent a good portion of the last few years helping him with pronunciation, he was still complete rubbish. He didn't know if he could do what was needed of him, especially if the incantation depended on perfect diction.

"Dipper," Ford said seriously and placed a hand on his shoulder, "I know this is daunting, I know this isn't your strong suit, but this is the only way. I wouldn't ask this of you if I knew you couldn't do it. The spell generally takes five minutes to say but taking more time isn't going to harm its effectiveness. Take the time you need to get it right the first time. I'll be able to handle Tad so don't worry about me."

A part of Dipper wanted to protest but he held his tongue. If he argued, the damage Tad was inflicting on Gravity Falls would only worsen. Not to mention the government force that had been sent to contain the madness could only hold out for so long. There was no time to come up with an alternative plan, so Dipper nodded in affirmation.

"Okay, problem," Stan pointed out after a pause, "What are we supposed to do after we take Tad's powers away? You said it wouldn't last for long."

"Right, and I'll lose my own magic for a moment longer too." Ford said, "That's why we need to act fast and take him out."

"How?" Mabel asked.

"I know he might seem terrifying now, but Tad's still human." Ford explained, "If we take away his magic, he'll lose his only line of defense and offense which gives us a brief opening." Then he turned to Stan, "How's your aim?"

Stan seemed surprised by the question, "A bit rusty." He admitted.

"Think you can hit a moving target?"

"Pretty sure I can manage." Stan said and stood, "I'll fetch my gun."

"You have a gun?" Dipper asked.

"Of course I do." Stan snorted, "It's not registered but, you know, whatever."

"Right, well, I'll keep Tad distracted, Dipper will cast the spell, Mabel and Stan will make sure nothing distracts Dipper, and, when the spell is casted, Stan will kill Tad." Ford reiterated and everyone nodded in understanding. "Let's get everything and go."

They returned to the crowded inside of the Mystery Shack. Ford stood by the door, waiting for Dipper and Mabel to grab the journals while Stan looked for his gun and bullets. The twins climbed to their room in the attic where there was, luckily, no one. Mabel waited for her brother by the entrance while he dug through his bags. Ford had let him keep the journals to study whenever he returned home to California. Dipper had a nasty habit of misplacing them.

"Hey, Dipper…" Mabel said quietly, "This is a really weird summer, hun?"

"Yeah." Dipper agreed and pulled out the first journal from a bag. The two others weren't in same place for some reason. Why would he do that? Why would he place them each in different locations? "I mean, our summers have been weird since we were twelve but…this is different."

"This isn't fun." Mabel said and Dipper turned to her. She clutched the bottom of her shirt so tightly in a trembling grasp that her knuckles whitened. She grimaced, biting her lower lip in an attempt to keep the tears filling her eyes from falling down her cheeks. Dipper stood up straight. "I…I don't know if I want to come back here ever again…"

"Mabel…" he muttered softly and walked to her.

She flinched at the sound of her name and the fat tears she had been holding back were finally rolling down her face. She sobbed openly, lowering her head partly in shame. Dipper rushed to her and took her in his arms.

"Hey, it's okay…" He cooed softly albeit roughly what with the thick lump in his throat. "We're going to be okay…"

"O-our friend was…murdered, Dipper." Mabel sobbed and buried her face in his shoulder, "Another guy I liked, that I saw as a friend, was the murderer. Now we're planning on killing that same guy and I know he deserves it, that he's bad, but… Gravity Falls is burning, people are dying… We…this summer we saw so many awful things…"

"We did…" Dipper conceded and he felt a bit distant. He shuddered as he remembered seeing Tad slit Bill's throat, Bill's lifeless body in Ford's arms, the corpses littering the sidewalks and front lawns, and purple fire destroying everything.

"We're sixteen." Mabel said, "We're just kids…we're just kids…"

"We…" Dipper croaked, he was honestly about to start crying as well, "We can't give up now…" he squeezed his sister tighter before pulling away, "People are counting on us…we need to finish this for them, for us…for Bill."

"I know." Mabel nodded and wiped the tears away with the sleeve of her sweater, "I just…I don't know if I want to stay here for the rest of the summer when this is all over…"

Dipper's heart felt heavy upon hearing the confession. By all means, Mabel had every reason to want to leave and never come back after the hectic time they had had in Gravity Falls this summer. Even Bill's apocalypse hadn't been as deadly as Tad's wrath. And yet Gravity Falls was a place of wonder and adventure. There the impossible was possible. It was a world Dipper wasn't sure he wanted to give up. But then, he wasn't sure he wanted to keep it either. The events regarding Tad, the Warlock, were an eye opener and Dipper wasn't sure he could affirm confidently and truthfully that he would not only stay until the end of the summer but continuously return.

He had witnessed the murder of a friend. He had seen so many dead bodies.

He was changed.

Mabel was changed. They all were.

How could anyone be the same after witnessing what they had?

"I guess we'll have a lot to think about when this is done." Dipper huffed and smiled bitterly.

Mabel said nothing, she didn't even nod. She just watched as her brother turned back to his bags and fished out the remaining journals. Once they had them, they left the attic and returned to Ford. The older man looked through the books quickly, skipping to the approximate section where he remembered scribbling down the spell in question. He found it in journal 2 and instructed Dipper to set the other two aside. They wouldn't be needed. Stan joined them a few short moments later. The unregistered gun he kept within the Shack was a shotgun and he had a box of ammo slung beneath his arm. He gave his brother a firm nod, indicating he was ready to go.

"This is it." Dipper breathed.

Chapter Text

They didn't get too far with the car. From the Mystery Shack to Gravity Falls, one had to pass over a bridge that had been destroyed by the military unit's tanks – one of which was in the ditch they had to cross to get to town. Dipper glanced at the rubble. The metal was mangled and torn in strange places. He had caught a glimpse of one of the men operating the machine lying limply on his side. The Pines thus left Stan's car by the broken bridge and looked around for another point where they could cross. The one directly in front of them was too treacherous and no one was keen on passing so close to a broken, smoking tank littered with bodies. They followed the ditch into the forest where eventually they came upon a point where they could climb in and out with as much ease as they would ever be getting. Once on the other side, they trekked back to the road and followed it into town.

It was strange and frightening to behold. Everything seemed straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Broken cars, smoking and burning, littered the road if they hadn't been smashed against hard surfaces. Corpses were to be found near or within the many car wrecks. More were sprinkled around here and there and those particular ones were typically burnt or currently on fire. It was terrible and the smell they emitted was nauseating. To think all of that death and destruction had occurred because they couldn't protect Bill and that they couldn't stop Tad from getting off on a power trip.

Suddenly, an explosion sounded loudly. They all flinched and braced themselves as they felt the ground quake beneath their feet. It caused a few car alarms to go off. A dark mushroom cloud rose high towards the dark sky above just as the explosion's blast hit them. Dipper nearly fell off his feet. A heavy breath left them and they exchanged weary looks. The gunfire they had been able to hear from the Mystery Shack sounded so distant and they were far closer to the town than they had been before. It was cause for worry but they were on their way. It would all be over soon.

It unfortunately took hours for them to reach the point where the military force had set up a perimeter and was attempting to contain and kill Tad. They had tried to find still functioning cars but they came across nothing. If a vehicle wasn't split in half, it was smoking or had a flat tire, among many other problems so they were forced to walk the whole time. They passed through the chaos and destruction caused by the military unit's confrontation with Tad and everything they saw was etched into their minds permanently. It was horrible. Buildings had been torn down. Debris covered the road. Gaping holes were peppered all over the place. One could trip on severed limbs if they weren't paying attention to where they were going. And the smell... God, the smell…it was the worst part.

When they got to the perimeter, they found Agent Powers. The man was yelling furiously into his phone and they had stumbled upon him just as the line had cut or whoever he was speaking to hung up. He shoved the device angrily into his pocket and glared in the general direction Tad was wreaking havoc before noticing them. Just then, someone yelled "In coming!" and a chunk of road was hurled in their direction. They all scattered in time to avoid the debris.

"Pines!" Agent Powers snapped, glaring at Ford, "This is your doing, isn't it!? Every time something happens in this God forsaken town—"

"Unfortunately, Agent, we don't have time." Ford interrupted as he led the walk over. "Call your men back. We'll take it from here."

"Are you crazy?" Agent Powers snorted, "Wait, no, don't answer that."

"You're in over your head." Ford insisted, "We'll take care of it."

"And what exactly are two kids, an old man, and a thirty year old supposed to do against…against…" he paused, looking for a word to describe what Tad was. It was clear how much limited knowledge the government had in this department, "Against this…thing?"

"More than you." Ford said and pushed past him with resolve.

"I can't let you pass this point!" Agent Powers barked, "The government has quarantined it to deal with the threat—"

"Look, buddy," Stan retorted sharply, "We don't have time for this stupidity. Move aside and call your minions back. Now."

And without another word, they slipped beneath the yellow tape and ventured within the zone that had been set up. Surely Tad was in the center, toying with the government operatives that were unsuccessfully attempting to contain him.

"Hey!" Agent Powers called as they left, "We want him dead! Not alive! He's too dangerous!"

"Don't have to tell me twice." Stan grumbled and it was clear he was still very much miffed by his friend's betrayal.

It didn't take long to reach Tad. They caught glimpses of him floating over buildings and dodging missiles launched by the tank facing him. He was cackling loudly and the sound of his distorted voiced echoed inside their heads. Dipper couldn't wait to get him to stop. Just when they were on the verge of confronting Tad, the agents and soldiers facing the Warlock suddenly began to fall back. They were all pleased to see Agent Powers had done as they had asked.

"Alright," Ford said and turned to face everyone, "Unfortunately, you're all going to have to get pretty close for the spell to work because Tad's too high. The radius is twenty meters, remember that."

Dipper nodded and swallowed thickly as he clutched the journal in his hands. Mabel reached over and gave his arm a comforting squeeze.

"I'm sorry all of this is happening." Ford added with a heavy sigh.

"Don't go taking all the blame for no reason." Stan said and rested the barrel of the shot gun against his own shoulder, "This isn't on you, it's on the ass hole who caused all of this."

"This will all be over soon." Ford said and forced a smile. "Let's go."

"Aww! Where did everyone go?" Tad asked just as they walked into the opening to face him. A sick smile spread on his face and he cocked his head playfully, "Oh! What a nice surprise! I was wondering when you would show up."

Ford frowned and bawled his hands into fists which were then engulfed in yellow flames. "This is it Tad." He yelled, "It's over!"

Tad burst into laughter, "You can't be serious! Am I supposed to be threatened?" he grinned and moved closer to the ground, "You're weak. You're out of practice. I know you are, I can feel it. But…" he paused and regarded Ford curiously, "You're angry. Is it because I slaughtered your little boyfriend? The demon?"

Ford clenched his fists and he might have charged Tad then and there had Stan not stopped him. "He's trying to get under your skin." His brother warned.

"It's working." Ford growled between clenched teeth.

"He was a pleasure to kill, I've got to say!" Tad guffawed again, "The look in his eyes, I swear…you know he called for you when I cut him up again? He didn't beg for me to stop like last time, he just cried 'Stanford! Stanford!' over and over again…"

"Grunkle Ford…" Mabel mumbled with concern.

Ford was beginning to lose his composure.

"It was nice to hear. He had such a beautiful voice." Tad sighed with a fond smile, "The sounds he made…I'm sure you were privy to some of them as well, hm?"

"Shut up!" Ford snapped.

"You know, I offered to spare you." The Warlock reminded and his eyes fell upon Stan and Mabel, "I liked them a lot. Liked. I thought I loved Tyler too. This power…it's helped me realise just how…pathetic you humans truly are. I planned to have the four of you as my personal slaves when I successfully annexed the world. Now I think I just want to kill you. So how about this, bend the knee now and live as my slaves or die."

"Eat shit!" Mabel snapped and all of them were rather surprised such a harsh thing could leave her lips.

That being said, they all agreed with her. Tad could go to hell.

"Very well." Tad huffed, "You've made your choice."

Tad used his magic and raised a chunk of ground up above his head before throwing it towards the Pines. Ford raised a magical barrier to protect them. The debris crashed against it before bouncing off and onto the ground. He lowered the barrier instantly before propelling himself forward. Ford then swung his arms down and magic shot from his hands so hard it sent him flying towards Tad who seemed rather surprised by the man's efficiency. Dipper wasted no time in finding the pages in the journal he had to read out loud to perform the spell. Stan and Mabel stood next to him. The former was loading his shot gun, getting ready to kill Tad the moment his window was given, while Mabel watched anxiously as her other great uncle held his own against an all-powerful Warlock.

Tad had stopped laughing once he found Ford was a bigger handful then he had expected. The man might have been out of practice but, for Dipper who only caught brief glances of the fight whenever he peeked from the journal, it hardly seemed like it. Ford was easily able to dodge most of the magic hurled his way or harness the energy well enough to fling it back towards Tad. This in no way meant he had the upper hand. Tad was the one in offense whereas Ford did a fairly good job of defending himself and making sure none of the attacks would accidentally hit his family who stood by far too close for his comfort. But they had no other choice.

"I'm glad you saw him die!" Tad snarled as he lifted more earth and threw it at Ford. "You screamed in the most delectable of ways! I still get shivers thinking about it!"

"Shut up!" Ford snapped and ducked.

"What? Do you think you're actually going to get your revenge?" Tad laughed and tossed his purple fire. "I told you before and I'll tell you again, you're just a fly to me! You're weaker than he was!"

Ford used his magic to shield himself. The fire dissipated once it hit the protection bubble he had conjured. He propelled himself upwards by flinging his magic downwards for a boost again and launched a brief offensive attack by flinging his own fire back at Tad. He decided not to humour his taunting with replies, but that had been a mistake. Had he graced him with heated retorts, Tad would have been too distracted to pay attention to much else. The Warlock easily deflected the magic and frowned, glancing down towards Stan, Mabel, and Dipper. He then noticed how Dipper was mumbling to himself as he read slowly from the journal he was holding.

His momentary distraction allowed for Ford to throw more magic his way. He raised debris from a crumbling building and hurled it at Tad who blocked it easily simply by raising his hand. His frown contorted into an angry grimace when he then realised what Dipper was trying to do. He barred his teeth and growled.

"How dare you!?" He snapped. "You insolent humans!"

The Warlock raised both of his hands towards the sky. The clouds immediately began moving into a whirl and thunder sounded with bolts of lightning flashing dangerous close. Ford moved back, readying himself for the man's next attack when he belatedly realised Tad was lifting a portion of ground far bigger than what he had ever attempted before. He was straining and gritting his teeth together, muttering to himself so as to channel more energy for the strength necessary to complete his action. Ford tried stopping him but the moment he moved the slightest bit, Tad sent him flying aside with a brief flick of his chin.

"Grunkle Ford!" Mabel cried as he was thrown so hard against a building he crashed through it.

"Damn it!" Stan hissed and glared back at Tad.

Finally, the latter managed to raise the earth he had gathered with his magic high above his head. The bit of rubble he was about to throw was far too big for them to run anywhere to safety. Their eyes widened and Dipper stopped the incantation. There was no way even Ford would be capable of stopping that. Without waiting a moment longer, Tad threw the earth towards them, laughing maniacally as he took in their horrified expression.

"No!" Mabel cried and she threw herself in front of Stan and Dipper and held her hands out.

Then something amazing happened. A field of energy rather similar to a spell Ford had used sprouted from her finger tips and encased all three of them in a cocoon of safety. When the debris collided with it, it crumbled to smaller bits and shattered whatever Mabel had just done. She fell to her knees breathing heavily and staring at her hands in awe. She had saved them.

"What!?" Tad snapped, "What did you do!?"

Before anyone could say anything, a chunk of debris collided with the Warlock's face. It sent him tumbling to the ground with a bleeding nose and gash on his lip. He glared and found Ford standing at the edge of the hole he had made upon crashing through the building. He was far more banged up than Tad was but the latter still didn't appreciate how he had gotten the best of him in a moment of distraction.

"Oh my God…" Dipper muttered, "You wielded magic…but how?"

"I may or may not have been meditating ever since Bill gave us that small lesson." Mabel confessed.

"Bill was right…" Dipper said in awe, "Those without the Gift can learn to wield magic…"

"We'll talk about that later," Stan said, "Right now, you need to finish the spell!"

"Okay—" Dipper said and took a deep breath before starting from where he had left off. He didn't actually know whether he had to start the spell over or not but he opted to just go with it. Hopefully, it didn't matter that the flow of words had been interrupted.

"You annoyance!" Tad roared and threw his purple fire back at Ford.

The latter made a shield for himself but it had broken unexpectedly fast with a kick. He was taken aback for a moment too long which was perfect for Tad to nail a few blows. He threw more debris towards Ford, hitting him nearly every time. Then he used his magic to drag him from the building and throw him to the ground. He was quickly being beat into a bloody mess, which had Mabel covering her eyes and begging Dipper to go faster.

"Damn it, Ford—!" Stan yelled. He aimed his gun towards Tad and shot.

The Warlock barely managed to stop the bullets in time. His eyes fell upon Stan, expressing his hurt. "Stanley…" he muttered.

"Don't Stanley me!" He snapped as he loaded more bullets into the barrel, "You literally just said you were going to kill me and my family!"

"I did, didn't I?" He chuckled and his frown turned into a devilish grin.

Tad's attention fell back onto Ford who tried to pick himself up from the ground. There was a gash to the side of his head and his skin was steadily bruising from the blows he had taken from being thrown through a brick wall and having rocks hurled at him. His mouth was filled with blood and he just managed to spit out some of it when Tad raised his hand towards him and clenched it into a fist. Ford suddenly went rigid. His eyes widened and he doubled over in intense pain. His bones were spontaneously beginning to break and the cries of utter anguish that left him were blood curling and dreadful.

"Shit!" Stan cursed and glanced back at Dipper worriedly, "He's going to kill him!"

"Dipper, hurry!" Mabel begged.

And Dipper tried but he was too worried he would mispronounce a word and have to start over. He was just about done but he didn't think he would manage to finish before Tad killed Ford. The latter's screams grew louder and Stan shot again in the hopes of distracting the Warlock but it didn't work. He stopped the bullets à la Neo without even looking.

"Dipper!" Mabel cried.

"You're pathetic." Tad hissed and walked closer to Ford. He wanted a better look at his face just before he finally killed him. "I'd tell you you're about to see that lover of yours again but, realistically, you won't."

Ford's eyes widened and just as Tad was about to finish him off with a flick of the wrist, he was hit by a burst of blue fire. The force of the impact sent him tumbling back and he accidentally released his magical hold on Ford who could finally breathe normally and relax a bit regardless of his broken bones and searing pain. All of their eyes glanced in direction of the one who had thrown the fire. Their mouths fell open in awe and Mabel gasped, covering her mouth with her hands.

There he stood, bloodied and cut up like they had last seen him but with fury burning in his eyes. An angry grin was plastered on his face and blue fired encased him entirely. "Don't touch my Sixer." Bill warned and took a step closer. The scars on his body suddenly started healing and soon they were all gone as though his body had never been mutilated.

"Bill—" Ford groaned and tried to move but it hurt too much.

"Stand down, Sixer." Bill said and he regarded him with soft eyes, "I got this."

"Bill…" Mabel said, "How are you alive?"

"We thought you died." Stan supplied.

"I did." Bill confirmed, "But now I'm back and I'm at full power too. Who knew all I had to do was die to become a demon again?"

"You're a…what?" Dipper gaped.

"A demon. Again." Bill repeated. "Look, I'll talk about it later, first we have to deal with this clown."

"Ha! You think a demon intimidates me now?" Tad asked though he seemed significantly less confident than he once had been before Bill's unexpected return. "Do you not see how powerful I am?"

"Bla, bla, bla." Bill groaned and rolled his eyes. "Let's fight."

Bill launched himself at Tad. He spun and jumped from location to location smoothly, throwing balls of blue fire as he did so. He moved smoothly and calculatedly but not in a way where Tad – or anyone else watching for that matter – could predict where he would move to next. He had forced the Warlock into a defensive position until he figured out a pattern. Dipper guessed there wasn't one. Bill was probably just moving from place to place on whims. It took him a moment to tear himself away from the fight and resume the spell.

He was almost done. If Bill could keep distracting Tad, this would all be over soon.

Tad quickly found himself frustrated with the demon. He was also aware of what Dipper was attempting and needed to find a way to stop him. The idea hit him when Bill jumped in front of Ford and then to another place. Ford was separated from the rest of the group by a significant distance. Bill wouldn't be able to protect both Ford and Stan, Mabel, and Dipper. He would need to make a decision and Tad was fairly certain which he would go for. He raised his hands and summoned more power. The nearby trees began dying instantly as he sapped their life force to form two balls of pure, destructive energy in both of his hands. He then threw one towards Ford and the other towards Stan, Mabel, and Dipper.

"Ha! How's that!" He laughed confidently.

"Bill—!" Ford yelled and he gestured his family, likely telling the demon to protect the others.

But Bill didn't. He couldn't. He ran for Ford and got there just in time to ward off the ball of energy. Tad grinned victoriously but he had begun celebrating his victory too quickly because Mabel raised her hands again and managed to make a new shield in the nick of time to protect Stan, Dipper, and herself. However, the shield broke on impact and pushed her back a few steps.

"Oh my God!" Bill exclaimed excitedly and turned to Ford, "Did you see that, Sixer!? I told you! I told you the Gift was unnecessary to wield magic!"

Mabel was considerably weakened by her latest use of magic. She gave a lazy smile and fell to her knees. As worried as Dipper was, he forced himself to utter the last phrase perfectly rather than jump to his sister's side and make sure she was okay. The wind began picking up as he practically yelled the last sentence. In a fit of desperation, Tad had begun pelting Dipper with bursts of magic but Bill had left Ford's side to ward them off. The Warlock had raised his hand to send another burst of purple fire their way when Dipper suddenly finished the incantation. The fire in the palm of his hand died and he began falling towards the ground. Stan hurriedly aimed his gun and took the shot.

A strong crack resounded and it was louder than any boom of thunder. Everything went still and for a moment they were stuck in the telling moment. It seemed like forever before Tad fell to the ground lifelessly with a gaping hole in the center of his chest. The thick veil of clouds dissipated almost instantly revealing the night sky and the purple fire eating at the Gravity Falls buildings slowly disappeared. Finally, it was over.

They won.

Chapter Text

Bill strolled to Ford. He was collapsed on the ground and moving even the slightest bit brought him pain. The demon stared at him regretfully. He kneeled at his side and gently placed a hand on his head. Dipper could see the broken bones fix themselves beneath Ford's skin and it was as mesmerising as it was, frankly, disgusting. Dipper turned his attention to his sister when she tried standing on her own but struggled. He was quick to rush to her side and slip her arm around his neck to offer support. Exhaustion was evident in her eyes. None of them had slept in a long time but that would finally change.

"There you go…" Bill said as he helped Ford get onto his feet.

If anything, Dipper was expecting his great uncle to pull the demon into the tightest of embraces if not kiss him, but he did neither. Ford shoved Bill away wearily and stumbled back towards his family wearing a look of apprehension. The harsh action surprised all of them and left the blond with a confused expression bordering on hurt.

"Grunkle Ford…" Dipper started.

"He's a demon." Ford said with a shaking voice, "You heard him, he's at full power again. You know what that means—"

Dipper wanted to defend Bill but Ford's train of thought suddenly made sense. The only thing that had been stopping Bill from restarting his apocalypse in the time he had spent with them had been because he lacked power to do so. Now he was back to his original state as a being of pure energy and possessed a human-like body. What would guarantee them that Bill wasn't about to finish what he had started?

"I get you're worried," Bill said and he smiled a strangely soft smile, like he wasn't angry or upset at having been pushed away, "but there's a little deal that's prohibiting me from doing what I had once wanted to do. Isn't that right, Pine Tree?"

Everyone glanced at him curiously. "Oh…the promise…" Mabel muttered tiredly.

"What is he talking about?" Ford asked.

"I made a deal with him." Dipper said, "I didn't think it was legitimate because he was mortal at the time…basically, he's not allowed to hurt you."

"In return for helping with my courting efforts," Bill specified and strolled closer, "I swore never to hurt you in any way, shape, or form. Finishing my apocalypse obviously falls within that category so it's beyond my boundaries."

"And what happens after I die?" Ford frowned, "Is that your loop hole? After I die you get to finish what you started."

"It would have been, if you weren't technically immortal." Bill stated and he explained upon relishing their confused expressions, "Dimension hopping has a side effect of stunting the body's aging process. Did you not notice you haven't aged the slightest bit in the past four years?"

"What do you mean 'technically immortal'?" Dipper asked.

"Sixer here is never going to die of old age because he can't age." Bill explained, "He can die from an illness but that's nothing that can't be fixed with a little magic. The only way he can die is if he were killed."

"And it can't be by you because of our deal." Dipper nodded.

"Bingo." Bill grinned, "Not that I would want to. Ever." and he turned to look at Ford, "Because I love you too."

Ford took in a sharp breath and went stiff. At this point Dipper didn't understand why his uncle wasn't pulling the demon into a strong embrace. Hadn't he learned his lesson about needlessly holding onto the past and spoiling the present?

"You…" Ford started quietly, "You promise?"

Bill smiled gently and nodded, "As long as you promise to stay with me forever." He said.

And finally, Ford pulled the demon into his arms. He held him tightly and buried his face in his hair while Bill pressed his forehead into the other's shoulder. It was sweet and Dipper was glad the drama regarding his uncle and Bill's feelings had finally been resolved. This would be good for Ford.

Once the two finally pulled away, Bill strolled closer with his eyes on Mabel. A proud smile spread on his face and he ruffled her hair playfully. "Good job, Shooting Star!" He beamed in reference to her magic wielding, "I knew you could do it!"

Mabel blushed bashfully and turned her gaze to the ground. "We're glad you're back, Bill."

"Hey, Bill?" Stan asked.

"Yeah?"

"Why are you naked?"

Bill gestured Tad with his chin, "It was more convenient for his dumb ritual." He said and continued with a miffed tone. "He didn't even just take my clothes off, you know? He just cut them. They're totally ruined."

"So are you going to explain to us how you're back?" Dipper asked.

"Sure." He shrugged, "It's really simple, actually. I died, I went to Hell, I was tortured for two hundred years, and I came back."

"You died, like, yesterday." Dipper stated with a confused expression.

"Time works differently in Hell." Bill supplied.

"And how exactly are you a demon again?" Dipper asked.

"Kid, demons are tortured souls." He explained, "They're the ones that were tortured to the point of losing their humanity. I was tortured for two hundred years, I lost my humanity, and I regained my power as a demon."

"That's…terrible." Mabel said.

"Yeah," Bill sighed and glanced at Ford, smiling lightly, "the only thing that kept me going was the thought of seeing you again…"

Ford took his hand in his and held it firmly. He had officially moved past all the thoughts that had kept him back. He wasn't angry with Bill anymore, he might not have forgiven him but he had moved past what had once been and what could have been.

"We should go tell that government group we dealt with Tad." Stan sighed, "This whole place is a mess…it's going to take years to rebuild."

"And so many people died." Dipper added, "What are the odds everyone just decides to move away and abandon this place?"

"Fairly high, I suspect." Ford agreed.

"Not so fast!" Bill exclaimed and winked, "You've got an all-powerful demon at your disposal!"

"What? Can you really fix all of this?" Dipper asked in disbelief.

"First of all, how dare you doubt me," The demon said, clearly offended, "Secondly, yes, I can. It'll barely make a dent in my magic reservoir too."

Bill raised his hand and with a snap of his fingers, everything was back to normal. The nearby buildings were whole and no one would have guessed a power tripping Warlock had nearly destroyed everything. The burnt and burning bodies that had been lying everywhere were no longer disfigured by the fire. The people that had died woke up, holding their heads and wearing confused expressions. Tad's body had also disappeared but Dipper didn't care where it had gone. Everything was completely fixed and Bill seemed rather proud of himself.

"Voilà!" he affirmed, "None of them remember anything either. I think it's better that way. I like that this world is mostly ours alone."

"And people won't want to move out for fear of their lives." Stan said, then he paused before adding, "I'm not sure that's a good thing."

"Eh, too late now." Bill shrugged.

"Let's get back to the Mystery Shack." Ford suggested, "We'll spare the people of Gravity Falls the sight of Bill naked and send the refugees home."

They walked to Ford's car; the one that had stayed by Tad's house. It was faster than walking all the way to Stan's vehicle which had been left by the bridge. They piled into the automobile with Bill sitting at the front by Ford's side and it was better that way because the twins really didn't want to be stuck sitting next to the naked man. The drive back to the Shack revealed that Gravity Falls had officially gone back to normal. People were wandering around with bewilderment etched on their faces but they were all alive and well and that was all that mattered. The military unit that had been sent was more so confused than everyone else. Agent Powers scratched his head as he tried to remember why they had come to Gravity Falls with a small army. He would surely shrug it off and leave shortly but the Pines didn't stick around to see.

The people they kept at the Shack had ventured outside. They all looked like they wanted to go home but hesitated to for some reason. When they left the car, Dipper learned none of them understood why they were at the Mystery Shack when it was practically midnight nor how they had gotten there to begin with. Bill's magic had reached them as well regardless of the barrier Ford had set in place to keep everyone safe. Nevertheless, Stan wasted no time in shooing everyone away. Only when everyone left did Bill finally leave the car but rather than walk into the building, he stood outside and watched them patiently.

"What are you doing?" Stan asked, "Aren't you cold?"

"I would like to go inside." Bill said, "But I can't."

They stared at him quizzically until they remembered the new ward. "Oh, sorry." Ford said. He raised his hand which combusted briefly thus deactivating the protective magic.

"You're stronger than Tad," Dipper remarked, "Why didn't you just break through?"

"Because that would have been rude." Bill said, turning his nose up as he walked past Dipper.

Dipper rolled his eyes and followed him in. The demon's first stop was to go to his room and put on a pair of clothes. He pranced out shortly wearing black pants and a yellow sweater. They then all went to the living room to talk. Everything was still ruined from when Tad had set everything ablaze. A lot of work would have to go into fixing the place up. Renovations had been in order for a while now, Stan had just been too cheap to actually do them. He always pushed it back but now it was slightly impossible. Bill grinned when he saw his message on the wall.

"I told you." He sang and smiled at Ford.

"I know, I'm sorry." Ford said.

"Ugh, don't start acting like a beaten puppy." Bill whined, "You made a mistake, I died, whatever."

"Not whatever," Ford said, "I didn't think you were to come back…I…I…"

"And I forgive you." Bill said, "Stop clinging to the past otherwise we'll have a repeat of what just happened."

"I kind of doubt that." Stan mumbled and he wanted to sit on the sofa chair but he knew it would crumbled to ashes if he did.

Bill seemed to understand his predicament. He rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers again. The Shack was suddenly as it was before Tad had gone and destroyed everything. "You're welcome." He snarked.

"You know how I said I didn't support this," Stan said and gestured between Ford and Bill as he sat down, "Well, I take it back. The demon's useful."

"Thanks for your blessing." Ford said sarcastically.

"So what now?" Dipper asked.

"That's a good question." Ford conceded.

"I know." Mabel said tiredly, "Let's go to sleep for a whole year."

"Already on it." Stan said and he got comfortable before closing his eyes.

"I suppose we can discuss what comes next some other time." Ford agreed and he took Bill's hand to lead him away.

"Don't have noisy sex again." Stan warned as they left.

"Stanley!" Ford chastised, flustered.

Dipper rolled his eyes and helped Mabel back to their room in the attic. He suddenly felt very tired and exhausted now that he knew he was safe and he knew he could rest. Neither twin bothered to change into their pyjamas. Their current clothes were comfortable enough. Mabel crawled onto her bed and Dipper trudged to his own.

"Hey, Mabel?" Dipper asked tiredly.

"Yeah?" She mumbled.

"Do you still want to leave Gravity Falls?"

But she had already fallen asleep. Dipper dozed off not long after.

Chapter Text

"God, Pine Tree, you really suck at this." Bill huffed standing in akimbo. He dropped his head and shook it disappointedly.

"Maybe you're just a bad teacher!" Dipper barked.

"Maybe you just suck." Bill teased with a shit-eating grin.

"This is hard." Dipper mumbled and shoved his hands in his pockets as he pouted.

"Your sister would disagree." Bill countered.

Dipper looked off to the side and found Mabel flying. It was extraordinary. She propelled herself in the air by shooting magic out of her hands and towards the ground. Honestly, she kind of looked like Iron Man and that made Dipper all the more envious. Bill had been teaching them magic ever since the whole shebang with the Warlock had ended – or rather, he was teaching Mabel and trying to teach Dipper. No one really understood why Mabel had been able to unlock her magical potential with a little over a month's worth of meditation. The ongoing theory was that she was put in a dire situation which forced her to push past the theoretical barrier holding her back. However, Dipper had also been meditating for as long as his sister and had been subjected to the same stress and danger; why wasn't he able to wield magic?

"Stop being jealous." Bill chastised and smacked Dipper on the head.

"Ow!" Dipper protested and glared at the blond.

"Boo hoo." Bill fired back and stuck out his tongue, "Sit down and meditate. You're not ready yet."

He sighed angrily but did as he was told. Dipper took a seat on the grass and sat in the lotus position. He straightened his back and began resting his mind. He began listing all the tips Bill had previously given them the first time he had guided them into meditation. He cleared his mind, took deep breaths, focused on the subtle sounds one would never pay attention to were they not in a state of utter concentration, and he slowly tuned those little noises out in favour of listening to the gentle beating of his heart and the blood rushing through his veins.

The summer was almost done. Mabel had decided she wanted to stay and come back during their next break. The potential she had unlocked when facing the Warlock had inspired that change in decision. Before, she had been terrified because she had felt weak in the face of such a powerful creature able to bend the elements to his will. Tad brought down a new level of fear and destruction and Mabel wasn't able to feel safe in Gravity Falls due to the fact that she had once been a mundane, magic-less human. But all that had changed. She could wield magic now and, by extent, it meant she could one day hold her own against a Warlock. She was no longer powerless. She could grow and become stronger. One day, she would be able to protect everyone and everything she loved.

Dipper was relatively on the same boat. He hadn't unlocked his magical potential yet, but in due time he would – or so he hoped. Every moment he spent clearing his mind and tapping into his spirituality was a step closer to being able to conjure his mystical fire, sore through the sky, and do a plethora of other amazing things. If he remained hard at work and listened to Bill's teachings, he would be well on his way to learn what his sister was currently attempting to master.

"Dipper, look out!" Mabel cried.

Dipper barely opened his eyes in time to react and roll out of the way. A burst of teal fire had nearly smacked into him but instead left a black, steaming mark on the patch of grass he had been sitting on. Mabel gave an apologetic smile whereas Bill laughed so hard he was cradling his stomach.

"Sorry, Dip!" Mabel said and just then her magic wavered and she lost her balance.

Dipper's eyes widened as his sister began falling from a significantly high point but Bill was quick to react. He snatched her by the back of her shirt and gently lowered her to the ground.

"Whoa, thanks." Mabel said. "That was kind of scary."

"You're lucky he's so nice with you." Ford said as he stepped out onto the balcony. He brought a tray of coffee mugs with little snacks for them. "He used to let me hurt myself. Something about it speeding up the learning process."

Dipper jumped from his seat on the grass and made his way to his great uncle. He grabbed his mug of coffee and handed Mabel hers before digging into the snack. He was actually famished. Who knew meditating could work up such an appetite?

Rather than grab his own drink, Bill floated over the balcony railing and stopped by Ford with a wide smile on his face. Then he pointed at his lips, "I want a kiss." He declared.

"What? Why?" Ford asked, flustered. The man always got that way whenever Bill demanded any small degree of public display of affection. He was mostly uncomfortable when such a thing was demanded from him when Mabel and Dipper were around.

"Because I'm being nice and I deserve a reward!" Bill stated.

"God, you're such a child…" Ford grumbled and he quickly pressed their lips together but only for the briefest of moments before pulling away.

Bill frowned, evidently unsatisfied, but he knew he wasn't going to be getting anything better. At least, not within immediate public view.

Now that the demon officially lived at the Mystery Shack residence, Ford spent considerably less time in his basement. His research took a back seat to spending time with his boyfriend and his family. Dipper also noted how the man seemed much happier. He had never seemed miserable before, but always distant and lost in his own head. All of that had changed now that Bill had returned from the dead and was prohibited from restarting his Apocalypse by a deal he had made with Dipper. That being said, the twins were fairly certain the demon still wouldn't have felt inclined to destroy the world again had he not been stuck in a contract. Perhaps he wouldn't admit it to them or even to himself, but Bill did a poor job when it came to hiding just how much he loved Ford. His affection was evident in everything he did – like the way he looked at him when he thought no one could see him, the way he smiled, and the way he simply stood by him.

The other benefit that came with Bill living in Gravity Falls was that Stan finally made more hands to help him take care of the shop. Soos's availability had shrank significantly whereas Wendy was on the verge of starting university on the other side of the country. From then on she would only be available to work at the Shack during the summer. Dipper and Mabel could also only help during the summer time, but with Bill, Stan had reliable help all year around.

"Hey! Cipher!" Stan snapped as he poked his head from the shop's door just a few meters away from where the balcony was, "What are you doing!? Get back to work!"

"I'm on my break!" Bill whined.

"You've been on your break for two hours!" Stan stated, "This is coming out of your pay!"

"You're not even paying me!" Bill complained and regretfully floated towards the shop's door with his head hanging between his shoulders in disappointment. "We'll play again some other time, Shooting Star." He said to her dejectedly, then he added to Dipper: "You still suck, by the way."

Dipper scowled at him and turned away pointedly, ignoring the demon's mocking laugh as he went to resume his work shift. "What a dick." He grumbled then looked at Ford, "No offense."

"None taken." Ford laughed gently, "He is what he is."

"You still love him though." Mabel grinned.

"That I do." Ford conceded and took the remaining mug, "There must be something wrong with me."

They chuckled and finished their coffee and snacks. They had been through Hell this summer. They had witnessed terrible things but no one aside from them would ever know and that was alright. In the end, everything resolved itself and they were okay. In Dipper's mind, they would never have a normal summer ever, but whatever trials they were stuck to overcome next, they could handle. They nipped two Apocalypses in the butt, they could deal with a third one or anything else that was thrown their way.

Chapter Text

There was a ringing in Dipper's ear and his head was buzzing. He struggled to keep his eyes open and even more so to push himself from the ground. The most he managed to do was prop himself up on his forearms and lift his head. The Mystery Shack was destroyed. It was just a burning ruin of what it once was. Bits of flaming debris littered the lawn that surrounded the establishment. Tears welled in Dipper's eyes and he forced himself to look away. It wasn't the time to cry – not yet. He had to find his family. He had to make sure they were alive.

"Grunkle Stan…" Dipper muttered to himself with a painful groan.

His great uncle had fallen on hard times. He'd been very weak since they forced him to stop drinking and attend AA meetings for his alcoholism. Stan was also much older than everyone else. His bones broke with the slightest movement it seemed, and he bruised easily. Age was beginning to weigh him down and Dipper had noticed how quickly he got breathless nowadays. He hoped he was okay.

"God have mercy, please be okay…"

His body surged with pain. Dipper had likely broken a few bones. His head felt light and he would be on the verge of passing out if he didn't do anything. He dug his fingers into the dirt beneath him before balling his hands into fists. He had to find Grunkle Stan and the others. Just as the teenager's mind began wandering to his great uncle Ford, screaming alerted him. He tried looking back but his body was stiff and sore and the slight movement he had managed crippled him with pain.

Who was screaming?

It…it kind of sounds like…Bill… Dipper thought and his blood froze as he realised what that could mean for Ford.

Dipper tried to get up. He had to see what was panicking the demon. He had to make sure nothing bad had happened to Ford. However, as soon as he tried to push himself up, he fell onto his face. His arms were too weak to push onto his feet and Dipper wasn't even sure his legs could support him. His heart continued racing in his chest. The ringing in his ear persisted to a deafening degree and he couldn't make out what Bill was saying. It couldn't mean anything good. He hoped the demon was just exaggerating. He hoped that once Dipper found the strength to get to him, he would find that Bill had just freaked out over nothing.

But he knew better so he couldn't hope.

"Damn it…" He hissed to himself and tried pushing himself up again. "Come on, Dipper…get up, get up, get—"

Dipper managed to push himself further from the ground. He almost managed to get to his feet when a dizzy spell hit him and he fell back onto the ground. His body was utterly exhausted and once he recuperated from his unexpected dizziness, he knew he wouldn't be able to get up again. But he couldn't let that weigh him down. Dipper had to find Grunkle Stan, he needed to make sure Ford was okay, he had to reassure Bill that whatever was panicking him wasn't as bad as he thought.

He had to find Mabel.

He had to stop Mabel.

"Gotta find…Mabel…"

Dark spots began clouding his vision and as much as he fought to stay conscious he was losing his battle.

"No, no, no…" Dipper hissed to himself and tried to stand once more, "Gotta…get to the others…come on Dipper…come on—"

But he fell and he could hardly see anything anymore once he hit the ground again. He couldn't help the wave of exhaustion that washed over him. He was too weak to fight it – too weak to stand. His head fell heavily against the grass and the ringing in his ear intensified. God, Dipper felt terrible – like someone had thrown him into a meat grinder or something. His head – now that was the worse of the pain. He felt like his left ear had been torn clean off. For all he knew, it could easily have happened. Everything was just so chaotic…so wrong.

"Damn it…" Dipper cursed to himself before losing consciousness.

To think all of this had started a little over a month ago when a string of murders drew the Pines family's attention. Had Dipper known things would have turned out the way they did, he would have looked the other way and beckoned the others to ignore the mystery that had once begged to be solved. He would give anything to go back and fix things before they all went to shit.

Mabel…