It was so cold.
For the most part, it felt as though that was his entire existence. That the past didn’t matter, the future wasn’t relevant, summer – a bitter laugh bubbled in his throat, heart-burn like and raw – summer was a long-lost memory. The small figure, round-faced and messy-haired, trekked on through the snow. His arms were crossed almost painfully tight against his chest, though he was only semi-aware of how sodden his skin was. His clothes definitely felt heavier, now that he thought about it. Half-thought, really.
His eyelids fluttered. The oversized jacket draped over his head just barely kept the cold out. The whistling put Dipper on edge. But it couldn’t be a person, could it, the whistling. It was the wind, mangled by the season, not some mocking onlooker somewhere in this drift that was almost as tall as he was...
Ah, Darn it!
He’d tripped, and fluffy snow crashed into his face, up his nose. He gagged, dragging air into his lungs in one sharp gulp. Ow, ow. He didn’t need that.
He wrenched himself up, ignoring the sting in his face.
Something slipped from his person, and cluttered softly onto the snow. Dipper frowned hazily down at what appeared to be an innocent tape measure, one he loathed with all his fibres. He scooped it up, shivering vehemently, and trudged on.
How far back had he been thrown? How far forward? He had no idea, but whenever it was, the snow didn’t help. He was still in Gravity falls, that much was certain, but the snow just conveniently covered everything up, anything that would give him a clue. He tried to grit his teeth in frustration, but sneezed instead.
He couldn’t take much more of this. Had the cold not been making his head numb, he’d have been far more worried.
Anyway, this was all his fault.
Half-formed memories danced mercilessly through his head. Yes, Dipper. You made your sister run away from you. She’d heard everything, every horrible thing you’d admitted, that had been bothering your dumb, paranoid self because that’s what you were, dumb and always taking things the wrong way.
He closed his eyes. He was swaying rather alarmingly, his body appearing gofer-like under the gaudy fur coat he’d swiped. Stan would’ve put him right up there on the display again. He’d take that, over what had happened before the tape-measure fiasco to have happened.
He opened his eyes.
His thoughts dissolved.
The shack. His heat swelled, a sob rising in his throat. But no, his relief was dashed cruelly a second later. It wasn’t the shack, his Grunkle’s shack. But it was the same one, but when? There was no sign, no decorations, just wood. Plain and eerily quiet amidst the snow.
Dipper found himself walking before he knew it, peering up at the triangular window. Part of him hoped, wished painfully, that Mabel would appear there. He mentally kicked himself. Of course she wouldn’t be. Heck, there was no car, the windows were all boarded up. It looked...abandoned?
His stomach dropped at that implication, and he gave a gulp. Why would it be abandoned? Where was Stan, Soos? Was this the future? A new building, in the past, wouldn’t be boarded up.
He drew nearer the front door. After giving the handle a rattle, he found that it was locked. He rubbed his chin. A locked abandoned place?
He trudged around to the window-side of the house again, peering up. He could make that, couldn’t he? Mabel had climbed down from there once, he could manage it, right? His tongue poking out the corner of his mouth, the boy seized the beam holding up the porch-roof and began shimmying up.
He slipped multiple times before winding his scarf around it, not in the way a certain movie character did when training in the army. Not at all.
His neck prickled in protest, the hairs rising at the cold, but he ignored it. Just get in, he told himself, the cold will go away, just a little bit longer and you can stop, you can rest, you just need to get inside.
Dipper shoved his elbow over the side of the wooden overhang, heaving himself up. He shimmied along, past were the sign would’ve been, and then to the window. He tugged on the small, almost non-existent handle a few times, muttering under his breath –
Get inside, just -
It opened. He stared, perplexed for a moment, then tumbled inside. The fur coat cushioned his fall. Dipper raised his head and squinted. The attic was empty, bar a few sheet-draped furniture and a dust bed in the corner. Where his bed would’ve been.
The lump in his throat reformed in an instant when he saw there was no twin bed on the other side. The ache in his bones sank back into being now that the wind had lessened. His head felt so heavy, and he shrugged off the coat and his own hat, letting the icy garments topple to the floor. He sniffed, rubbed his eyes, and found with each growing second that the newfound warmth (closer to warmth, anyway, than outside) was making him sleepier by the second.
He glanced at the bed, unused. No one would know he was crashing in an abandoned place. It was just a little nap, he needed it. Just a little snooze.
He staggered over to the bed, flopping down onto his back. He dragged the blankets over himself, tucking his arms by his sides. His fleece was hung on the bed knob.
The creak of the mattress sent a comforting familiarity through him, and his eyelids sank down instantly. He was asleep before he knew it.
It had been two weeks since the less-than kindly revelation about his ‘muse’. The kitchen was cluttered, messy, every surface looked woebegone. Empty jars lay sprawled where coffee pots would’ve been; papers and maps and all assortment of blueprints were scattered about the dining table.
Ford pace back and forth, his hand rising to rub at his chin but halting halfway, as if he couldn’t bring himself to touch his own head after the – ahem, - recent procedure he’d had to perform. The side of his head felt cold and off, the skin still raw and tingling. He stopped short, tugging at the hems of his jacket instead, trying to settle the quiver in his hands.
He couldn’t hide the journals while this weather was being so –disagreeable. His plan for the first had been to bury it, he already had a spot in mind, but he wouldn’t be able to tell left from right in the gale blowing outside.
He sat down, tapping a food with simultaneously drumming his hand on the table. His face twitched into a frown. He couldn’t possibly hide one in the house, and he couldn’t dismantle the portal until he hid the journals –
He let out a curt, pinched sigh.
Bill’s continuous prods and whispers, aiming to drive him to the brink of madness, had lessened in the past few days, and in a way that was almost worse than the apparitions themselves. Ford was only semi-aware of the dry soreness of his eyes and the ache of fatigue in his back by now; he’d spent the last night waiting for the sounds but hearing nothing.
The waiting was worse, far worse. He stood up and resumed his pacing, trying to vent out the pent-up frustration and anxiety.
Then, above, a floorboard creaked. Ford stiffened, hands clenching behind his back. His face blanched.
That wasn’t the wind. That sounded like the pressure of a foot on the floor above. Slowly, his body quiet and stiff like a rabbit ready to spring, as if a sudden move would bring about some horrible attack, he reached out and grasped the crossbow lying by the table leg.
Totting an arrow into the contraption, he made his way towards the stairs. Glaring at the traitorously creaky wood, he made his way up via side-step, his coat shifting quietly. Was that a draft? His grip on the weapon grew near painful.
The attic staircase lay nearby, the door closed. Grinding his teeth, Ford approached, opening the door with growing apprehension. The stairway was darkened; the attic door closed and undisturbed.
He opened it by a crack, and saw nothing immediately. But he heard the wind whistling against the window, saw something unfamiliar bundled up on the floor below it. His eyes widened.
The door opened soundlessly. Ford stepped into the attic, lifting the crossbow up to eye-level. Some kind of...fur skin lay on the floorboards, along with a half-soaked hat of some kind. His heart hammered despite the objects being so odd yet harmless-looking.
Then, his eyes landed on the bed in the corner and his breath hitched.
A lump lay under the blankets, rising and falling steadily. In fact, it was breathing. Ford’s eyes broadened to the point they stung. What kind of creature had been sent to wait up here, perhaps until dark, saving its strength until...
It was asleep. If he was swift, if he was quick, he could end the threat while it slumbered. Jaw set, Ford inhaled sharply and stepped forward, taking aim right at the bundle.
He stopped short at what he saw.
There was a boy in the bed, the blankets up to his chin, his head sunk into the pillow. Ford blinked several times, but the image didn’t change. The child’s soft breathing filled the room, his brow twitching in his sleep, baggy eyelids closed. Deep asleep.
What struck him, though, was the thick brown hair, the familiar shape of the face. They boy, in short, looked like he had as a child, eerily so.
...Was a trick? An apparition? Ford drew closer, bending slightly to get a better look. Was Bill playing an innocent soul to get him off guard –
Ford suddenly felt like he’d swallowed an ice cube. This boy – this thing, whatever it was – it looked like he had when he was little, Like St...
He found himself lifting the crossbow again, loathing searing in his chest, cold and low. Bill must have thought himself funny, sending this apparition. He shouldn’t have mentioned Stan at all, or his childhood, not...
But this boy didn’t have glasses, his cheeks and nose weren’t as pudgy. He was paler. The resemblance was there but no, it wasn’t on-point.
The boy shifted and Ford stepped back, feeling conflicted. Doubt stayed his hand. If it was a trick, or a shapeshfiter of some kind, why would it make the boy look like his family, but then make such blatant mistakes?
The child made a small, uneasy noise in his sleep, eyelids crumbling. Ford stepped further away, sinking down into a sheet-covered chair nearby, the crossbow leaning against his thigh.
He would wait, until it woke up. He’d known by its dialog if it was a trick or not, by its eyes if it was Bill. Frowning faintly, Ford propped his arm up on his knee, not taking his eyes off the trespasser.
Half an hour.
Ford jerked upright, blinking furiously. Darn. Had he drifted off? Panic swelled inside of him and he glanced at the bed. The boy was still there, completely out for the count. Ford allowed his heart-rate to regulate the best it could.
The child – if he was one – turned his head, face twisting again in discomfort. Ford nipped the bud of pity inside himself. Sympathy for a trickster would get him killed. The child turned over, lips twisting, and again Ford had to refrain from any kind of sympathy.
Ford was slightly alarmed, and wondered for a moment if the boy had awakened – but no, he hadn’t. If he was genuine, then some nightmare had taken a hold of his mind.
A flash of horror hit Ford then, at that idea. Dreaming. If Bill was present in this child’s mind, he could end up dealing with his own worst nightmare any second now. He almost leaped up to shake the child awake, when another half-formed sentence left him.
“Come back...Gr...Uncle Stan, I dunno where she went. P-please...please?” The boy’s voice became dejected, desperate, before fading altogether. He’d gone still, and when he didn’t jump up and attack, Ford decided that perhaps Bill hadn’t been the cause.
But Ford barely registered it, sinking back into his seat, horror and unease and confusion rushing through his body.
This – this couldn’t be a coincidence, there couldn’t be.
Through his frenzied thoughts, he saw the boy’s eyes flutter open.
Dipper’s mind faded back into consciousness as a slow and steady rate. He registered two things; that he was warm, and still very, very tired. He would like nothing more than to drift off to sleep again, without a care in the world. He fumbled with the edge of the comforter, pulling it closer over his shoulder, pressing his nose into the pillow. A draft was coming in through the window. Dipper’s face scrunched up.
“Mabel, close the window properly.” He mumbled, half asleep.
There was no answer. Reluctantly, he cracked open an eye.
His sister’s bed wasn’t there.
Panic exploded silently within him, as the memories sunk in with a heavy thud. Mabel wasn’t there, Stan wasn’t there, it was just him, all alone. He sniffed, trying to ignore it for now, push it aside so he could focus on getting a plan, listing things out – when he saw someone sitting in a chair nearby.
Horror crashed over him like a wave, but instead of screaming he found he couldn’t move. The blanket suddenly felt like a trap, pinning him down by the shoulders; the pillow a head-vice. He gaped, blinking violently so his vision would sharpen.
Great Uncle Ford. But then again, not him. Dipper took in the sight with a sense of wonder and slight unease, seeing the man so young and...ragged. His great-uncle had always had messy hair, but this man’s eyes were baggy, he looked older than, ironically, his older self. He hadn’t shaved, his dark brown hair was a tangle, and the look on his face made Dipper want to shrink back. It was a sharp, cold, and utterly suspicious glare boring into his forehead.
Dipper’s hand lifted to cover his birthmark by pure habit. He opened his mouth.
The younger Ford pointed a crossbow at him. Dipper lifted his hand in some futile attempt to defy it, leaning back against the pillow. He was cornered, and his uncle looked on the bridge of madness – did he think he was an entity, a monster? Probably. Dipper tried to choke out a sentence, that he meant no harm, but nothing came.
“Who are you and how did you get in here?” The man snapped suddenly, and Dipper leant back further into the pillow, his hand still pressed against his forehead,
“No one! I just – I thought it was abandoned, I thought, I didn’t know-“ Ford stepped closer, eyeing him down the bridge of the weapon, and Dipper struggled to get his legs out of the comforter. They’d all tangled up.
“Don’t move.” Ford said, his voice sharp. Dipper complied, staring at him with a quickly paling face. It was all he could do to keep himself from hyperventilating. “Answer my question. Who are you?”
Should he answer that?
Stanford’s eyes narrowed. Dipper felt the tip of the crossbow on his forehead, cold and so jarring that he felt himself go still. It took him five seconds to manage a noise, and it was nothing but a small squeak.
“Don’t play games with me. I’ll know.” Ford’s face looked horribly tense, like the skin was pulled too tight. The effect was nightmarish and uncanny. “What are you?”
“D-Dipper. I’m Dipper. I’m – um.” Saying ‘human’ would probably give away that he knew what Ford was talking about – not a good idea.
“How did you get in here?”
“I climbed. Up into the window.” Dipper pointed shakily – and slowly – towards the triangular glass in question. Any sudden movements, he decided, would be his last. “I promise, I thought no one was here!”
There was a crossbow pointing at his head. It could go right through. He could die, right here, and it would be Great-Uncle Ford that did it. The realisation made Dipper feel sick.
Don’t kill me, don’t kill me. Please let him believe me.
He said it out loud before he could stop himself, his body trembling violently. “D-don’t kill me. Please.”
Ford stared at him for a long time. Dipper didn’t break eye contact, hoping the man could see his completely un-possessed pupils in the foggy light. Neither of them moved for a long time, and Dipper found himself wondering – what had happened to his uncle, to put him in this state? Sure he was paranoid, but he’d never picture Ford pointing a weapon at someone like this.
Slowly, Ford lowered the crossbow and stepped away, (Dipper breathed out,) and ran a hand down the side of his head. “Maybe you’re telling the truth, boy.” He said, the sternness in his voice unfaltering, “But that doesn’t explain why you’re all the way out here in the middle of winter.”
Dipper stared down at his free hand; the other still plastered against his birthmark. “I was – travelling.”
“Travelling.” Ford echoed, his flat tone clearly indicating that he didn’t find this a satisfactory answer. Dipper shrugged. He didn’t look up; but he saw Ford’s feet move back to the chair and the crossbow being set down by its side. He resisted the urge to breathe out.
Ford didn’t sit down himself. He paced a few steps across the room, in a fashion that made Dipper feel like he was being circled. The man’s eyes flickered to his forehead. “What are you hiding?”
“Hmm.” Dipper drew his hand away. Evading questions would put the guy on edge, but even in a room with someone who had an extra finger, he felt horribly vulnerable letting his forehead go uncovered.
Ford’s tense posture slackened just a little as he stepped closer, a spark of interest in his eye – and perhaps a ghost of smile. “The Big Dipper.” He noted, a hand on his chin, “I suppose that speaks for itself.”
Dipper stared at his hands, fiddling with the end of a nail. “Uh-uh.”
“It’s...all right.” Ford began, awkwardly but oddly sincere, one hand lifting. He wiggled his fingers, all six, and Dipper found himself smiling against his will. “I’m aware of the feeling.”
Thankfully, Ford seemed to be leaning towards believing that he wasn’t an apparition sent to steal his eyes or some other form of monster, and sat down opposite Dipper in the dusty chair. “...Did you run away from home? If so, I suppose you’d be regretting it by now.”
He had no idea.