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“Ford. What are you doing.” Bill heard Stanley say from behind them both, and Bill stiffened slightly, because he hadn’t heard Stanley come up behind them. Bill also frowned, because now he knew that he wasn’t going to get to do what he’d really been looking forward to doing to Stanford, not now. Not now that Stanley was here. Because Stanley wasn’t an idiot; Stanley wasn’t going to let Bill let Stanford take him off downstairs, because Stanley knew that Bill would have a grand old time with that, in GETTING EVEN! --Because KARMA WAS A THING, HAHA!

Then Bill thinned his lips in irritation at Ford’s own wordless response to Stanley’s presence. Because unlike earlier, when Bill had felt the gun Ford was pointing at him drop and his hold on him loosen slightly once Pine Tree and Shooting Star had shown up -- likely because Stanford knew that Shooting Star would likely tell Bill to ‘STOP!’ again if Bill decided to hurt Stanford in her presence... Now Bill felt Stanford’s hold on him tighten up again on Stanley’s arrival. Idiot.

And Bill felt he had a right to be irritated at this. Because after everything Bill had done for and to him, apparently the most Bill finally got out of this Stanford now was a healthy dose of fear, without a modicum of respect. --Fearing him was a start, but not anything like what Bill deserved. Yet Stanley got both fear and respect, and for what? --IDIOT!

Bill had given Stanford the option of civilized conversation over tea in the kitchen, but did Stanford choose to do the smart thing and go along with that? Oh, NO NO NO -- instead Stanford had decided to disrespect him yet again with all this manhandling -- just like earlier that day -- trying to follow-through on whatever moronic idea he must’ve come up with this time that apparently involved dragging him off downstairs for some reason.

--And, really, Bill was only putting up with this because he was SO looking forward to teaching this Stanford a LESSON HE’D NEVER FORGET. Because Bill knew full well how far out the barrier around the Shack extended, and GUESS WHAT? It did not cover any of the basement spaces, or even more than the top half of the elevator shaft! Before Stanley’s interruption here and now, Bill had been fully planning on LETTING this idiot Stanford hoist himself by his own petard -- casting a spell or two on Stanford just as soon as the idiot had taken him even partway down the elevator -- and really, the ONLY thing in question here was something he hadn’t quite finished deciding on just yet, which was: what SPECIFICALLY did he want to do to this idiot Stanford once he’d dragged him down that far?

Bill didn’t exactly expect much out of this Stanford as it was, but no respect AT ALL? Really? REALLY? ...Really, WHAT was Stanford THINKING, that Bill wouldn’t do something to Stanford just because he was holding one measly little electricity-shooting gun on him? Stanford had already said that he wasn’t going to kill him, and Bill had already demonstrated exactly how much he did not care about any damage Stanford inflicted on him in the meantime, so long as he got in his own solid hit or several in return. So what could Stanford possibly be thinking? That he was SCARED of being shot? That he was afraid of STANFORD?? --HA! HARDLY!!

That said, Bill knew his body wasn’t currently in a really great state, so wanting to potentially avoid more damage to his body should be something of a priority, but that was a far cry from being afraid of taking on more damage. Besides, Bill knew full well how to handle this Stanford, to avoid just that. Bill had seen how this Stanford had reacted to other individuals he disliked many-a-time before, in dimension after dimension -- gun pulled and not, sleep-deprived and otherwise. He knew full well how to handle this Stanford when he was acting like this. A bit of quietness here, a lack of reaction there, and this Stanford would assume that he was subdued and stupidly lower his guard. And then… well! If Bill really felt like breaking him, then he could just--

Except the agreement was…

…and well, he was required to try and keep Shooting Star and Pine Tree alive and unhurt as part of it, wasn’t he? If Bill tried for the gun, or otherwise let this whole thing turn into a shootout, then one of the two of them might get hit by a stray shot or worse, and then… well.

In the interests of trying to keep to the agreement, it was ‘best’ not to let it go that far.

Bill let out a huffy sigh, because was there anything more BORING than using his knowledge for “good”? And having to put off acting as mad as he felt, about Stanford and all his disrespect and manhandling of his body, for any length of time, was annoying in the extreme -- though he supposed he could wreak some petty chaos on them all later to make up for it, and make them all sorely regret letting Stanford run wild like this.

...Oh, well. It wasn’t like he didn’t know how to handle a Stanford in a gun-ny mood. Wasn’t even that difficult, really. Just required a little self-control, is all. ...Even if the ache in his head made him want to bite someone until he tasted blood instead.

...Stanford really must be a mess. He wasn’t trying to toss a self-righteous sounding answer back over his shoulder at Stanley. He wasn’t even trying to stammer something guilty-sounding out. That was a bad sign. And if Stanley pushed him again in the meantime, it’d just ratchet up the tension on this Stanford even further, leading that much more quickly to that previously-mentioned probably-upcoming shootout.

--Well, time to get a word in before Stanford managed to completely twist himself back up into a pretzel on a hair-trigger again!

Honestly, what was Stanley thinking, asking a stupid open-ended completely rhetorical question like that, anyway? As if it wasn’t obvious what ‘Ford was doing’!

“--He’s being a sleep-deprived idiot, is what he’s doing,” Bill drawled out to all and sundry Pines in his vicinity with an edge to his tone, completely unimpressed with the entire situation on the whole. Really, he was on his very last and shortest wavelength, here -- or whatever the stupid human-ish equivalent of heavily- and forcibly-damped waveforms of energy were.

“Yeah,” said Stanley. “He does that sometimes.”

…Seriously? Seriously. That was Stanley's response to Ford’s latest bout of idiocy, here?

Last. And. Shortest. Wavelength.

Bill was well beyond his usual point of letting go and letting things spike. So help him, if not for this stupid mutual nonaggression agreement he had going with Stanley--

A rush of movement happened, and Bill was left blinking stupidly as he dizzily came to a staggering standstill again. Then Bill went wide-eyed as he realized what had just happened.

--Bill had heard a footstep, as if Stanley had taken a step forward towards them from behind them.

--And in response to this, Stanford had whirled in place to face Stanley and dragged Bill along with him.

Bill was now standing facing Stanley, but with his back still to Stanford. Now, though, he was being held right up against Stanford’s chest by a restraining arm across his chest, under his left arm and hand pressing up against the front of his right shoulder. Bill could feel the barrel of Stanford’s gun pressed up against the side of his head, just below his right ear. And Stanford’s head was just behind Bill’s own, from the feel of the short puffs of hot air wafting past the top of his right ear.

So, from this positioning…

Bill felt his mouth drop open slightly, then he clenched his jaw and felt the pounding in his head get that much worse, because Stanford--

Bill pulled in a breath, slow, measured, and steady.

“Don’t,” said Stanford, and for a moment, Bill wasn’t certain who he was talking to.

But then Ford took a step backwards, dragging Bill along with him, and then--

...No. NO. No, Stanford could not possibly be doing what Bill thought he was doing. That was stupid. --No-one could possibly be that stupid, no matter how sleep-deprived this Stanford clearly was just then. Even a Stanford, any other Stanford, would know better than to think of Bill as--

But when Stanley said “Ford,” and took another step forward -- and Stanford took another step backwards, dragging Bill along with him again, keeping the gun tucked up against Bill’s head still -- Bill gritted his teeth and his eyes narrowed, because he realized that, no, he hadn’t been wrong, not even a little.

Stanford Pines was using him as a meat shield and hostage against Stanley Pines.

Bill looked on as Stanley slowly raised his hands to eye level, palms-outwards and facing them both, and was this actually happening?

“Ford,” he heard Stanley say in calming, even tones. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Seriously.” Bill said flatly, left eye twitching. “SERIOUSLY.”

“--Shut up!” Stanford spat out at him tersely, and THAT. WAS. IT. Bill was DONE with this--

“Great Uncle Ford--” Pine Tree began, and “Grunkle Ford--” Shooting Star said nervously.

--and forget this whole second-third-fourth-fifth string interconnected NONSENSE with the agreement that Stanley wanted him to just go along with, and forget that Shooting Star’s oh-so-’fragile’ mental well-being meant that hurting or killing Stanford in front of her might be a ‘problem’ -- as if Bill actually cared! -- because this, THIS was THE LAST--

“STANFORD,” Bill began in a low snarl, dripping with pure spite, as he slowly turned his head to the right to face him as best he could while being manhandled like this. “If I had pants on,” instead of wearing just the boxer shorts and t-shirt he’d fallen asleep and then subsequently woke up in -- because apparently effect came after cause on the regular in this dimension -- then he would have the switchblade Stanley had taken away from him, sharpened, and then given back to him again on his person, because it would be in the back left pocket of his pants, and “SO HELP ME, I would be STABBING YOU IN THE EYE SO HARD RIGHT N--"

Stanford slammed the long edge of the barrel of the gun sideways into his throat.

Bill’s roar was cut off abruptly in a short “--n’gLk!” of sound and he nearly lost his footing before he began to gasp for breath and grasp at Stanford’s restraining arm, his own chest, reaching upwards--

It took Bill a few breathless moments to confirm, but he could get air into his lungs, and he could force air out of them again, still. It hurt -- there was a blazing PAIN radiating outwards from the front of his throat that was rivaling what was in his head and mind just then -- actually hurt to do it, but he could do it if he forced himself to, if he tried hard enough. So that stupid suffocation thing that was apparently A THING with humans with a collapsed throat or lungs wasn’t a thing with HIM yet.

...But when Bill tried to force air out of his mouth -- working his airways, working the muscles in his stupid human-ish throat to try and produce the vibrations that these idiots called language with words for communication -- all that came out was a bare wispy high-pitched wheezing, a completely-unintelligible garble of sound.

It left Bill wrapping his hands around his throat in disbelief, mouth opening and closing in shock.

--Because he couldn’t TALK.

What was he supposed to do if he COULDN’T--!?

He heard Stanford let out a single hysterical-sounding strangled laugh.

Then another short cut-off laugh.

And then Bill found himself pitching forward, knees hitting the wood plank floor, and he barely kept himself from faceplanting into the floor, nearly ended up on all fours before he caught himself on only one arm, because Stanford had hit him in the throat and then let go of him, shoving him forward like he was DONE WITH HIM NOW.

---

Ohhhh, this was not good. This was so not good.

Dipper shivered in place where he stood as he watched Bill fall, because Great-Uncle Ford was acting weird, and not in a good way. He’d been acting like he thought Grunkle Stan was going to hurt him or something, and then he’d freaked out again. He hadn’t hit Bill in the head this time, but he had hurt him pretty badly, in maybe the absolute worst way possible.

And even Great-Uncle Ford seemed to realize it, because as shocked and wide-eyed as Bill seemed to be over The Author having done that to him -- having taken away his voice -- Great-Uncle Ford seemed to be a bit freaked out in a different kind of, more, ‘what have I done?’ shocky way.

At least Great-Uncle Ford had let go of Bill and taken a step back away from him, after that. Though it was probably bad that it looked more like Great-Uncle Ford had only done that to try and physically distance himself from what he’d just done, and not because he’d actually meant to.

That didn’t exactly make anything about this better, though.

--It wasn’t like Dipper didn’t understand why Great-Uncle Ford had done it, of course. Great-Uncle Ford had wanted to shut Bill up, after what had happened out on the porch, because he couldn’t deal with Bill talking to them about other-side-of-the-portal adventures that… had started sounding a lot less like one long exciting adventure and more like a really terrible scary horror movie when Bill had started talking about it -- except it hadn’t been a movie, their Great-Uncle had had to live through it.

And from what little that they’d gotten their Great-Uncle to tell them, after Bill had tried his best to hurt him with some of the worst of it…

...On not a lot of reflection, both Dipper and Mabel had realized exactly why their Great-Uncle had never talked a whole lot about what things were like on the other side of the portal. Why despite their begging tales from him so consistently when they could, those ‘portal stories’ had been so few and far between. It was clear even from what little they knew now that Great-Uncle Ford had probably only barely survived most of what he’d gone through over there, and that a lot of it had been horrible.

Great-Uncle Ford had gone through a lot of horrible things on the other side of the portal, and… Great-Uncle Ford felt that he’d done horrible things too, to survive himself. Things that he didn’t want to think about, and never wanted to talk about, because he was afraid to talk about them with anyone else.

He was afraid of losing them. He was afraid that if he told them about some of the things that he’d done to survive, that they’d hate him for some reason.

Even Mabel’s “That’s silly, Grunkle Ford!” with a wave of a sweater-covered hand wasn’t enough to make Great-Uncle Ford believe them. ...Actually, it had only seemed to make things that much worse. And telling him “We could never hate you!” had only made Great-Uncle Ford cringe inwards and pull away from them further. He’d refused to meet their eyes. And he’d almost refused to talk about any of it at all.

It was bad. Really bad. It was so bad that even Mabel had picked up on it as being something that they couldn’t just hug out. And when they’d exchanged looks on it, after they’d finally gotten Great-Uncle Ford to let them both curl up next to him on the floor of the basement lab, almost half-hiding beneath one of the desk-counters down there… They’d both realized together that what was going on with Great-Uncle Ford just then was way worse than even trying to convince Grunkle Stan that he was their hero had been. And that had taken a lot of convincing. ...Heck, they still had to work at it, to remind him, sometimes.

It kind of hurt a little, that Great-Uncle Ford thought that they’d just… abandon him like that, when he was hurting, though. Like he thought that was not just okay, but what he thought they should do. It was really messed up. --It was like Great-Uncle Ford thought that not telling them about the things that were hurting him would somehow make everything be alright. Like he thought that they could all just pretend that he wasn’t hurt and hurting inside, so long as nobody ever said anything about it. As if that would somehow make everything okay?! --It wouldn’t!

...And even if it would (--and it wouldn’t!), Great-Uncle Ford not talking about it himself still wouldn’t be enough to have nobody talking about it, because apparently Bill knew all about those things, too. Bill knew all those things that Great-Uncle Ford was so afraid that they would hate him for, if he and Mabel and Grunkle Stan knew about them, whatever they were. So their Great-Uncle Ford felt like he needed Bill not to talk about those things, too, to ‘make everything be okay’. And Dipper had to admit, literally shutting Bill up would keep Bill from talking about them. …Technically.

So Dipper understood why Great-Uncle Ford couldn’t stand the thought of Bill talking about anything that had happened to him on the other side of the portal. And he understood why Great-Uncle Ford had done what he’d done to Bill, because of that, especially after telling Bill to shut up, and Bill doing the opposite of that anyway.

But at the same time, Dipper didn’t understand why Great-Uncle Ford had done it, at all.

Because, okay, sure, punching Bill in the throat with a gun might make it hard for him to talk, but it wasn’t like Bill didn’t know how to write. He’d written all over Great-Uncle Ford’s journals before. And if Great-Uncle Ford wanted to stop Bill from writing it all down instead, everything that he knew that Great-Uncle Ford didn’t want them to know, they’d probably have to do something like break Bill’s arms and maybe his fingers, too, to keep him from writing. ...And even if Great-Uncle Ford ended up breaking every bone in Bill’s body, the insane demon would probably still find a way to be able to communicate, like clacking his teeth together in Morse Code or something.

Setting aside just how horrible that would be, and whether or not Bill deserved it (kind of a no-brainer, because hey, this was Bill Cipher they were talking about -- you know, the dream demon who took over people’s bodies just for fun, and thought that pain was hilarious most of the time)? Trying to shut Bill up by hitting him enough times was a bad idea. The worst. It just… wasn’t going to work.

All hurting Bill ever seemed to do was make him more mad, whether it was laserbeams, synthesized music, spraypaint in his eye, or anything else. And trying to deal with Bill when he was done with talking with them was even worse. When Bill was talking, he was a lot less dangerous to deal with -- when Bill was talking, he wasn’t really paying attention to what he was doing, he was distractible, and once he got distracted enough, he stopped doing things to focus more on the talking. It was when Bill stopped talking so much that things got really bad with him. Dipper and Mabel knew that from pretty much every fight they’d ever had with him. So Great-Uncle Ford had to know that, too!

...Right?

Well, he had to, didn’t he? Grunkle Stan sure did -- he used it against Bill daily, if not practically every other hour -- and neither of the Mystery Twins had had to say anything to him about it. It was kind of obvious. And Great-Uncle Ford had fought against Bill for thirty whole years! He’d gotten in arguments with Bill all the time in the Mindscape, until he’d gotten the metal plate put in his head to keep Bill out for the most part. So he had to know how to deal with him, or he wouldn’t have been able to… well...

Dipper was overthinking things. That was it. Just because some things had sounded kind of off when he and Mabel had compared notes with Great-Uncle Ford on things down in the basement, after what had happened out on the porch that afternoon, didn’t mean that...

Dipper shook himself. It was probably just that Bill had threatened to stab him just then, and Great-Uncle Stanford had believed him and decided to hit back first. He probably shouldn’t have hit Bill in the throat, but… if Bill had just kept quiet and not threatened him, Dipper doubted that Great-Uncle Ford would’ve hit him.

Not that Bill would ever do that. Dipper had a feeling that telling Bill to shut up was like telling water to stop being wet. And liable to end with you drowning in a tsunami of words, instead.

Maybe that was half the problem, though. Great-Uncle Ford had to know that Bill not talking was way more dangerous than Bill talking, but because of what had happened out on the porch… Great-Uncle Ford probably thought that letting Bill talk wasn’t an option he could go with anymore. So… that meant Great-Uncle Ford probably thought that his options were worse and more-worse. That would explain a lot.

But that was kind of easy to fix, really. Sure, if Great-Uncle Ford asked Bill not to talk about certain things, Bill would definitely laugh in Great-Uncle Ford’s face and do just that -- because Bill was definitely super-mad at him right now -- and Bill probably wouldn’t listen to him or Mabel right now, either. But they didn’t have to do that; they could do it a different way.

All they really had to do was tell Grunkle Stan that they didn’t want Bill talking about other-side-of-the-portal things with anybody, and Grunkle Stan would take care of the rest. Because he could. Because anytime Bill had started getting antsy and all badly-weird at mealtimes or when they were in the living room together or pretty much ever since he’d come back from the dead, Grunkle Stan would say something dumb-sounding that would distract Bill completely from whatever he was saying or doing or trying to do, that would have Bill snapping back at him about that instead, and then Grunkle Stan would say something else even more dumb-sounding, and then the two of them would start bickering back-and-forth about that, and then... Dipper didn’t really know how Grunkle Stan did it, but it was kind of like magic. Con-man magic. --They just needed to let Grunkle Stan know that that’s what they needed, that’s all.

Dipper wrapped his arms around himself as he glanced down at Bill on the floor. Mabel was down on her knees in front of him, kind of scooting forward a little bit at a time, approaching Bill with her head ducked down. She was doing it slowly, kind of the same way she did when she saw a ‘cute’ animal that she wanted to pet that she actually recognized was skittish. It made Dipper pull down on his hat brim and let out a tired ‘I am so done with this’ sigh, because “...really, Mabel?”

“Bill, are you okay?” he heard Mabel say. "Can you breathe?”

Oh. Oh, no. That--

Grunkle Stan, who had moved between Bill and Great-Uncle Ford after Great-Uncle Ford had dropped him, half-turned in place and said, “...Kid??” actually sounding a little worried.

Dipper saw in the light of the vending machine, the expression on Bill’s face as Bill lifted his head. It was a very angry snarl.

Bill lifted a leg, getting himself from a kneel up to a half-crouch, and started to push himself up off of one knee... and immediately got shoved back down by a hand on one shoulder. --By Grunkle Stan, who said, “Yeah, okay, you’re fine, sit down.”

Dipper let out a breath, and watched as Bill tried to push himself up again, looking really pissed off, and just got shoved right back down again -- Bill hadn’t even really waited for Grunkle Stan to finish moving his hand away before trying again. “Kid, I said--”

Dipper saw Bill tense his legs and shove again, and this time, Grunkle Stan wrapped his fingers around Bill’s shoulder, and instead of Bill moving up at all, Grunkle Stan made a jerking motion with his arm? And Bill’s feet seemed to slide out from under him, he didn’t go anywhere and his hands and butt hit the floor instead.

And while Bill was sitting there, legs all akimbo and chest heaving in shallow pants of breath, Grunkle Stan rumbled out with authority, “Bill, stay down.” And Dipper stared as Grunkle Stan straightened up, a deep grumpy frown visible on his face in the half-light of the vending machine, and added, “Tap out. We talked about this. Human stuff. Different than demon stuff. Remember?

Dipper winced because Bill twisted his head to the left and glared dark daggers up at Grunkle Stan as he talked. And Bill seemed to give Grunkle Stan another snarling sort-of look, or maybe a sneer when Grunkle Stan said ‘human stuff’.

But then Bill looked away. And Bill clenched his teeth. And Bill didn’t try to get up again.

Dipper stared.

“Good?” said Grunkle Stan. “Good. Great. Glad we had this talk.”

Bill made another snarling face at nobody in general.

“You know,” Dipper heard Great-Uncle Ford echo out like a ghost.

“Huh? Know what?” Grunkle Stan said, turning to face Great-Uncle Ford.

So did Dipper, and he had to suppress a shiver at how shocky and pale Great-Uncle Ford looked just then.

“You know he’s Bill Cipher,” Great-Uncle Ford said in wavering tones, and…

“Grunkle Ford, of course Grunkle Stan knows! We told you that downstairs,” Mabel told him, but Dipper could tell that her smile was a bit uneasy, probably as uneasy as he felt. Because hadn’t Great-Uncle Ford believed them?

He’d brought up the thing about Grunkle Stan wanting proof, sure, but… that wasn’t the same thing. Right?

“You know he’s Bill Cipher,” Great-Uncle Ford repeated, his tone becoming more edged.

“Are you being serious right now, Ford?” Grunkle Stan said.

...No, wait. What had Great-Uncle Ford actually said?

After Dipper and Mabel had told him, he’d sighed and said...

'Dipper, Mabel, whether Stanley believes it himself or not, Stanley is... stubborn. He said he isn’t going to even consider trying the circle until I have solid evidence to show him that the... ‘kid’ upstairs is wholly Bill Cipher and no other, and I believe him. He isn’t going to admit to anything unless I can offer him definitive proof, such as he asked for.’

...oh. Oh, no. Great-Uncle Ford had never actually said...

Dipper felt a spike of frustrated anger. He couldn’t help it. Great-Uncle Ford was supposed to be on his side, to listen to him! --And Mabel. If he hadn’t believed them, then why hadn’t he just told them he didn’t?

“I swear, the pair of you are just--” Grunkle Stan grumbled out.

“--How long have you known?!?” Great-Uncle Ford shot out, sounding almost offended.

“Ford, what--” Grunkle Stan sounded confused and off-balance.

HOW LONG?!” Great-Uncle Ford screamed out at Grunkle Stan, shaking in place, clutching his gun two-handed at his side, and he did not look okay.

Dipper felt himself inching closer to his sister as he watched Grunkle Stan go from confused disbelief to outright anger, just by watching the set of his shoulders and how his foot stance changed.

The shadow he cast over the room from the dim light of the vending machine behind him looked enormous.

“I’m not an idiot, Ford!” Dipper heard their Grunkle Stan yell out at their other great-uncle, and in his tone, Dipper heard the echo of ‘Kid, I’ve always known. I’m not an idiot, Dipper!’ “--I’ve known since the kid first opened his mouth out on the porch! That first afternoon!”

Dipper reached out blindly, and grabbed Mabel’s hand. He was worried, because Great-Uncle Ford looked like he’d had the floor ripped out from under him, and Bill--

When Dipper glanced over at Bill, he couldn’t see much. Bill mostly had his back to the vending machine now, sitting on the floor, head tilted up towards Grunkle Stan. Bill… kind of looked like he had a headache going on, actually. But… Bill’s eyes were wide open. And then Bill slowly closed them.

His head tilted back slightly.

And his shoulders began to relax.

Dipper kind of blinked at this, because the way Bill had been going on about things before, on and off every other day, about getting Grunkle Stan to admit it, he’d expected some sort of triumphant crowing out of the dream demon or something, not--

“...Why?” Great-Uncle Ford said, sounding almost lost.

“Why what, Ford?” Grunkle Stan ground out angrily. “Why didn’t I tell you? I didn’t think I needed to! It’s pretty flipping obvious. --Hell, even the kid thinks more of me than you do,” Grunkle Stan grumbled out, still sounding angry. “Only thing he’s ever been on my case about is not ‘admitting it’ out loud. --You really thought I didn’t know??

“You were acting like you didn’t!” Great-Uncle Ford protested. “Consistently!”

“What, I’m not allowed to mess with the kid a little?” Grunkle Stan said, and Dipper facepalmed at hearing this. Wasn’t really surprised, though. “But unless you and Dipper have been making more deals with other demons that needed breaking that I don’t know about, pretty sure that ship has sailed now.”

“I-- you--” Great-Uncle Ford seemed to shake himself. “You’re still calling him a kid!” he protested. “You can’t possibly believe--” He cut himself off. “How does that make any sense!”

“So help me, the two of you--” Grunkle Stan threw up his hands in the air. “Do I really need to spell this out?” he demanded, then pointed back at Bill. “Bill. Cipher. Used to be some kinda energy-triangle-thing, whatever, who cares.” He dropped his hand. “He broke outta that Nightmare Realm place that used to be his old dimension,” Stan said next, and Dipper thought, ‘What??

“--And then he messed with the kids, and I wasn’t putting up with that, so we killed him. You and me,” Grunkle Stan added, taking a step forward, towards Great-Uncle Ford, and their great-uncle took a step backwards. “You remember that, right Ford? I know I sure do. So does Bill. --He died, Ford,” Grunkle Stan told his twin brother, taking another step towards him. “And now he’s a seventeen-year-old human kid. Get it?” Grunkle Stan said, almost nose-to-nose with his brother, who was leaning backwards away from him.

“I--”

“How many times do I gotta say this to both you and the kid before the two of you get it?” Grunkle Stan said, cutting Great-Uncle Ford off. “Does he look like a triangle to you, Ford?”

“N-No! But--”

“No ‘but’s, Ford! The kid wasn’t unkillable or unhurtable when he was a triangle, and he sure as hell isn’t now! And the two of you both need to stop acting like he is! It ain’t helping!”

“Isn’t,” Great-Uncle Ford said almost reflexively.

FORD!!

Great-Uncle Ford flinched.

So did Mabel at Dipper’s side, through their linked hands.

“Can’t believe you--” Grunkle Stan grumbled, raising a hand to his head. It looked like he was rubbing at his eyes or something.

Dipper squeezed Mabel’s hand, thinking that maybe that might be the end of it, but Mabel didn’t -- not with the way the return squeeze of her hand felt.

And then Dipper saw it, too -- the way Great-Uncle Ford raised his head and the way he squared his shoulders again.

“If… you know that he’s Bill Cipher,” Great-Uncle Ford began, in a slow, measured tone of voice, “Then you should have no reason not to stand in the circle with the rest of us.”

Dipper felt a spike of anxiety listening to him. He wasn’t sure why exactly, but with the way Mabel was squeezing his hand even harder now, she was feeling it, too.

“Sure I do,” said Grunkle Stan staunchly. “I’ve still got all the same reasons as before.”

Bill’s head slowly came down, and around. And… he was staring at something. And, glancing at his sister, so was Mabel.

Dipper realized suddenly that Mabel and Bill were both staring at the same thing. Dipper couldn’t see it, whatever it was. Dipper could sort of see around Grunkle Stan’s back to see Great-Uncle Ford’s left-hand side, but he didn’t see anything there. But Bill and Mabel were both at his left, and staring past Grunkle Stan’s arm at Great-Uncle Ford’s right side. What was going on?

“No, you don’t,” Great-Uncle Ford said quietly, with an intensity that was borderline scary.

“Yes, I do,” said Grunkle Stan. “None of us know whether or not that body he’s in right now is actually his, yet. Not for sure. For all any of us know, this afternoon you stuck those explosive things around the wrists of some poor kid who was gonna end up with either dislocated shoulders for the rest of his life, or no hands, once Bill was outta his body later. Unless you’ve finally tracked down those cultists and figured out--” Grunkle Stan stopped talking for a moment, then started up again, “--Ford, are you seriously kidding me right now? What the hell have you been doing for the past week and a half?!

“I’ve been trying to find a way to stop Bill from--” Great-Uncle Ford began, his voice rough with strain.

“--Don’t you start that with me,” Grunkle Stan cut in, voice heavy with anger. “I told you I’d take care of the kid! You handle the cultists, I handle the kid!”

“Bill is the higher priority--” Great-Uncle Ford began doggedly, voice raised.

No, he isn’t!!” Grunkle Stan yelled at him. “I’m handling things with the kid! Everybody else trusts me to handle it, why don’t you?!

Because you aren’t!!” Great-Uncle Ford yelled back at him, voice cracking with distress.

The HELL I’m not!” Grunkle Stan roared back, and Mabel turned and grabbed Dipper, burying her face in his shoulder and hugging him tightly. Dipper hugged her back.

You aren’t!” Great-Uncle Ford yelled half-hysterically. “You aren’t handling it! You aren’t even watching him properly! You’re just letting him do whatever he wants!!

“Name me one time, Ford!” Grunkle Stan challenged him threateningly. “Name me one time!!”

“I’ll name you as many as you want!” Great-Uncle Ford yelled back. “He attacked the kids out in the yard today!”

“Because he thought they were attacking him first, and all of them are fine,” Grunkle Stan stressed. “Or they were until you shoved yourself into the middle of everything and decided to beat the kid up for the high crimes of walking away from a fight, and then defending himself in the woods from a monster, so great job there Ford, undermining me like that.”

“You weren’t watching them!”

“I had Wendy watching them,” Grunkle Stan said. “And I went out after him as soon as I could. You’re the one who chased him farther out into the woods in the first place, and I just bet that you first ran into him not that far from the tree line,” Grunkle Stan said caustically. “And you wanna know why? It’s because I’d talked it over with him a couple days ago, and the kid knows it’s a bad idea to go wandering off into the forest alone, with all the stuff that's out there, and all those cultists that are probably still around.”

“I very much doubt that Bill Cipher is afraid of a few cultists,” Great-Uncle Ford said coldly. “And you aren’t watching him. You let him go out into the rest of the house tonight doing who-knows-what in the middle of the night alone, with no supervision whatsoever!” he ended in shaky tones.

“You really want to get into this?” Grunkle Stan said. “Fine. --The kid had a bad dream, Ford. I woke up when the kid started tossing and turning in bed in the first place. I was already awake when the kid woke up, had been for awhile. I waited to see if he’d fall asleep on his own again, and when he got up, I let him know that I was awake and that I wanted to know what was what. He told me that he wanted some tea -- which I’m pretty sure he was gonna do until you grabbed him wherever you found him between the bedroom and the kitchen -- and he made up a dumb excuse to keep from coming back to bed right away once he had his tea -- because I know how long it takes to boil water, Ford, and I’m pretty sure he wanted to stare at the rain through the windows for a couple minutes after getting his tea, since he ain’t used to seeing weather.”

“He doesn’t dream!” Great-Uncle Ford insisted. “And the niblings--”

“--weren’t in the kitchen, or anywhere downstairs, or I would’ve heard ‘em,” Grunkle Stan said firmly. “Stairs are creaky as anything, would’ve heard it if anybody tried going up or down ‘em. Kid’s’re loud, Ford,” he said, “And the walls aren’t that thick. Heck, even with my hearing aid out, I could just put a hand on the wall or my feet on the floor and probably tell you where they all are, long as they’re up and about.” Dipper heard Grunkle Stan sigh. “I figured they were either way down in the lab with you -- bad idea, but whatever -- or maybe you took ‘em somewhere else like McGucket’s place for the night.”

Dipper frowned to himself as he held onto Mabel, because why was being downstairs a bad idea? ...Well, at least Great-Uncle Ford was starting to calm down?

And Grunkle Stan had even been thinking things through, too. Which was kind of surprising? But also not. --Don’t get him wrong, Dipper had never exactly felt completely unsafe or anything, with Grunkle Stan always around somewhere keeping an eye on things with Bill, especially after the whole tackling-tickling thing that had happened on the second day. But it was one thing to see Grunkle Stan pretty much always in the room with Bill at the same time, and hustling Bill off to their bedroom when things got heated, to stay in there with him most of the time when Bill wasn’t out… which was a lot more than he and Mabel were all that happy with, because a big part of spending the summer up in Gravity Falls again, at the Shack, was supposed to be spending their summertime with their ‘two favorite Grunkles!!’ as Mabel put it. But, yeah… kind of another to hear how Grunkle Stan had actually really thought everything through.

Actually, maybe that was the weird bit. Grunkle Stan didn’t usually go explaining himself to anyone. He just did stuff, and shrugged people off with half-answers whenever you wanted an explanation, if you ever thought of actually asking him for one.

“--Look, anything else you want to get on my case about, while we’re at it, Ford?” Grunkle Stan grumbled out tiredly. “‘Cause I dunno about you, but I’m freaking exhausted. We should all get some more sleep, yeah? I could sure use it. ...Pick this up again in the morning, if you really want to,” Grunkle Stan added, while trying to stifle a yawn.

Dipper yawned, because it was contagious, and then Mabel pulled away from him a bit and did it next.

And so did Bill, who looked completely surprised right after he did it, and then like he was truly offended in some way, which almost left Dipper snickering -- and wow, okay, he really did need sleep.

Dipper was so caught up with trying not to laugh at Bill’s expression that he almost missed it when Great-Uncle Ford said quietly, “You’ve been helping Bill.”

“Uh, yeah Ford,” Dipper heard Grunkle Stan say, almost sounding confused that it had even come up just then. “I said I was gonna do that from day one.”

And Dipper saw Bill go motionless.

“What…” Dipper breathed out, and then he felt Mabel clutch at him all of a sudden as Bill made a quiet ‘tch’ing sound.

“You’ve been making excuses…” Ford said just as quietly, with that scary intensity from before. “...just been making excuses for him, you…”

“...Ford?” Grunkle Stan said, sounding suddenly unsure.

“--you’re on his SIDE.” And Dipper felt his hair practically stand on end.

Several things happened at once.

Grunkle Stan made a startled sort of “Wh--” sound.

Mabel screamed out, “GRUNKLE STAN!!”

And Bill… moved up and over in front of Dipper and Mabel as he did something with his hands.

Dipper didn’t know how exactly Bill did it, but the noise Bill made with his hands was something like three sets of sounds, sharp and LOUD, that cut through everything for about a second and a half, two seconds at most.

The next thing that happened after that was… Dipper heard a loud clatter off to his far left, and saw Great-Uncle Ford stepping backwards, to the right, while facing where the clattering noise came from.

And the look on Great-Uncle Ford’s face was horrifying. It was completely blank at first, and then within moments he went from looking blank to vaguely confused, like he didn’t know where he was.

And then Dipper saw Great-Uncle Ford look down at his hands, which… looked open and empty as far as he could tell in the dim light being cast by the vending machine behind him.

And he saw Great-Uncle Ford’s eyes widen.

Bill made another set of sounds with his hands, a single quick burst, and Dipper saw Great-Uncle Ford freeze and waver in place a moment.

Grunkle Stan tackled Great-Uncle Ford.

It was worse than Great-Uncle Ford punching Grunkle Stan and the fight after that, that had happened when Great-Uncle Ford had first come through the portal.

Because this time, Grunkle Stan connected, and Great-Uncle Ford went down in a heap, screaming something that Dipper didn’t understand at the top of his lungs. Something that sounded like, maybe, “Aah-en-ee-you rAH!”?

Great-Uncle Ford was fighting, and shrieking things out incoherently as he did, but it looked more like struggling to get away than fighting, because Grunkle Stan was getting pulled across the floor along the way, as he tried to yell at his twin to stop, to calm down, that he ‘wasn’t gonna hurt him’, to just stop--

Dipper turned back towards Mabel and flinched away as he realized Bill was right there, in front of them, and he didn’t quite catch what Bill tried to rasp out at his sister… and neither did Mabel.

“What?” she said, uncertainly, and Bill gave her an annoyed look and a sort of thready sigh, then held up a hand in front of her face, putting up one finger, then pausing, then a second finger, then pausing again, then a third.

Dipper was just confused, but Mabel seemed to get it.

She started counting off, “One...” then counted more loudly as Bill rose to his feet and made a hurried upward gesture with one hand at her, “TWO. THREE. FOUR--!”

“What are you--” Dipper began, staring after Bill suspiciously, who walked over to the wall next to the vending machine and--

--flipped the lightswitch on.

Dipper blinked in the bright lights, and rubbed at his eyes. He heard more than saw Great-Uncle Ford (or was it Grunkle Stan?) give a full-body flinch hard enough to make a slamming noise against the floor with their feet.

Dipper saw Bill sway slightly on his feet by the wall, then start to turn away…

...like he was going to head towards where that clatter from earlier had come from.

“--No, you stay there,” Dipper said shakily, all but tripping over his own feet in his rush to get there first, because if it was what he thought it was--

“SIX. SEVEN. EIGHT--” Mabel continued counting off.

When he heard Mabel get to “TEN!” and past it to “ELEVEN!!” Dipper almost felt like crying himself, when he heard Grunkle Stan’s wordless noise of surprise, and Great-Uncle Ford stop fighting suddenly to collapse against the floorboards -- he heard the metal plate ‘CLANG!’ against them -- and heard Great-Uncle Ford make a wheezing noise halfway between a laugh and a shaky sob.

Mabel was up to “FIFTEEN!” before he heard her stop, and it was shortly after that that he found Great-Uncle Ford’s electric gun where he’d thrown it.

The gun that Great-Uncle Ford had been holding in his hands when Mabel had screamed.

...The gun that Great-Uncle Ford had thrown away from him like it was on fire when Bill had messed with his head, doing whatever he’d done with those sounds he’d made with his hands.

Bill had messed with his Great-Uncle. Again.

Dipper turned around -- gun at the ready -- and… didn’t see Bill anywhere in the room.

He did see Mabel over by Great-Uncle Ford and Grunkle Stan, where they were by the gift shop’s cashier’s counter. Grunkle Stan was still half-holding him down, and Great-Uncle Ford was shaking in place, laid out across the floor.

Dipper stomped back over to where Bill had been standing, and when he rounded the last shelf of merchandise, he saw Bill sitting there quietly on the floor, below the lightswitch, one arm absently dangling off of one raised knee, leaning his head lightly back against the wall, his eyes closed.

If Bill had been smiling, or even so much as smirking, Dipper probably would’ve shot him with the gun he was holding, right on the spot.

Bill wasn’t smiling, though. He looked more like he had the mother-of-all-headaches going on, and seemed at least as tired as Dipper felt -- which on a scale of one to ten was tired beyond all reason.

He also had visible bruises that Dipper hadn’t been able to see before in the low light. Wraparound lines on his left upper arm, five fingers and a thumb. Bruising and a few cuts at his mouth. Hints of bruises across his stomach, where his boxers and t-shirt didn’t quite overlap. Odd blackening blooms of glancing impacts across his forearms… and at the sides of his head.

Dipper honestly didn’t know how Bill could move around like nothing hurt. Because it had to hurt, right? He wasn’t sitting there poking them, crowing about how good it felt, because pain was hilarious...

From when Bill had… tricked him, he and Mabel knew Bill didn’t like fatigue, or mosquito bites, or tickles, but he’d seemed to laugh off and enjoy bruises from all sorts of things and carbonation in the eyes and getting stabbed with forks. He’d told both Mabel and Grunkle Stan now not to touch him, so maybe Bill didn’t like being touched. Mabel had declared this sad, because she thought it meant that Bill wouldn’t like hugs, either. Oh, ‘poor poor Bill’. Dipper snorted.

Dipper didn’t feel sorry for Bill. He felt like Bill deserved a little pain that he didn’t like, after everything he’d put them all through, during Weirdmageddon and everything else before that. And as for what had happened out on the porch… it had been really messed up, and maybe Great-Uncle Ford had gone a little too far, but… maybe he hadn’t, either. Bill was horrible, and he deserved everything that he got. Didn’t he?

It all just spun around his mind in circles: Mabel and Grunkle Stan on one side, and Great-Uncle Ford and… him, on the other? Dipper wasn’t sure which side he was on, or even if he wanted to be on either of those sides, though. Because on the one side, there were Grunkle Stan and Mabel, both trying to treat Bill like he wasn’t Bill Cipher… or, at least, trying to treat Bill like they’d never met him, like he’d never done anything bad to them. And that… just felt wrong to Dipper. He didn’t know how Mabel did it. --Grunkle Stan, maybe, but his sister? Bill had stuck her in that awful bubble! How could she just get over that, act like it was nothing? ...And had Grunkle Stan really gotten over it? He’d killed Bill in the first place for ‘messing with his family’. And with the way he’d been treating Bill… okay, ‘impartial’ was never a word Dipper would use in the same sentence as ‘Grunkle Stan’, but Grunkle Stan didn’t always take his and Mabel’s side in things when it came to Bill, either.

On second thought, Dipper wasn’t sure whose side Grunkle Stan was on. ...No wonder Great-Uncle Ford had gotten confused.

On the other other-side, though, there was Great-Uncle Ford. The Author of the Journals. A really cool scientist, and researcher of anomalies, and an interdimensional traveler who’d fought Bill for decades before Dipper had even been born! Great-Uncle Ford thought Bill should answer for his crimes -- all of them, every last one -- enslaving worlds, corrupting entire intergalactic governments, collapsing dimensions into the Nightmare Realm, and… it was too much. Dipper just couldn’t wrap his head around it. And that was just the big stuff, just a few things that Great-Uncle Ford had talked about that he knew about. --But Bill had been alive for one trillion years! How much stuff had Bill done that nobody even knew about anymore, because it had happened such a long time ago?

Dipper was all for Bill getting punished for his crimes, but… what the heck was a good punishment for somebody who collapsed an entire dimension full of people? Great-Uncle Ford had said before that killing Bill was really the only way to handle things, and that kid of made sense -- you couldn’t just un-collapse a dimension and bring all those dead people back to life, right? There was nothing anybody could do to make up for something like that. All anybody could do to try and make things better after something like that? Was to try and keep things from getting any more worse.

And the only way to do that was to stop Bill from doing anything like that ever again. Great-Uncle Ford was sure that they could do that by killing Bill for good.

Grunkle Stan, on the other hand, seemed to think that the best way to do that was to try and explain to Bill how each of those awful-horrible things he wanted to do really wasn’t a good idea, and to get Bill to then agree with him not to do it -- which was nuts. ...And apparently the other option was to just annoy and distract Bill for long enough, without getting him too mad in the process, that Bill forgot about whatever-it-was for awhile -- which might actually work a little better. Or not. Dipper really wasn’t sure that Grunkle Stan was right about any of that, if that was even what he was really trying to do. But that sure seemed to be what he was trying to do with the whole agreement-thing, anyway. It was what he’d done to get Bill to not try and create magic Weirdness Bubbles on the second day. Or take down the Mystical Barrier around the Shack on the third day. Or turn the goat into a chupacabra on the fourth day. Or call up a zombie-and-vampire parade on the fifth day out of sheer boredom, just because he could. Or--

Well, let’s just say that at this point, Dipper had a long list of awful-horrible things Bill wanted to do in this dimension, diligently recorded in his journal daily.

...Okay, maybe Dipper had been a little disappointed about Grunkle Stan nixing the goat-chupacabra one, if he was being honest with himself. And he’d definitely had a hard time convincing his sister that the vampire thing just wasn’t worth it, because she’d really been egging Bill on. --But that really only proved his point! Grunkle Stan’s distraction-thing had really been the only thing to stop Bill in his tracks, every single time. The agreement he’d been working on with Bill hadn’t come up at all any of those times! Not until today, and that hadn’t had anything to do with stopping Bill from magicking up some huge potentially town-destroying weirdness, just with having Bill not attack him or Mabel or Soos or Wendy directly. So how was that supposed to work? It wasn’t like Grunkle Stan could live forever, spending all of his time distracting Bill...

Anyway, Grunkle Stan was right about one thing, that Great-Uncle Ford just wasn’t. They’d already killed Bill once, and now Bill was back. What would stop him from coming back again, if they killed him again? How would they even know that they’d killed him the “right” way, if they did it? And was the Zodiac Circle really the “right” way to do it? If it was, then why hadn’t Bill possessed somebody at some point and gotten rid of all those prophecies in those caves a long time ago that explained what else that summoning circle could be used for and meant?

...Heck, why hadn’t Bill tried to restart Weirdmageddon yet? Again? As far as Dipper knew, Bill hadn’t tried to, anyway, and it was the one big glaring thing that kept driving Dipper up the wall, when it came to all things Bill Cipher. Because Bill had never even brought up the idea of pulling a new Weirdmageddon anytime when he’d been out where Dipper and Mabel had been able to talk to and overhear him. And that just didn’t make sense -- from what Dipper knew about Bill, Weirdmageddon was his whole thing. But if that wasn’t actually it, then Dipper didn’t understand Bill at all, and from what Bill had been yelling at them gleefully out on the porch earlier, about “winning” and being here now… if Weirdmageddon wasn’t what Bill wanted to do once he’d torn his way into their dimension -- or not the only thing that Bill wanted to do -- then… what did Bill want?

...Or was causing another Weirdmageddon even something that Bill had control over doing or not-doing anymore? Had Grunkle Stan said something to Bill about it, as part of the agreement thing Grunkle Stan was working on setting up with him, that kept him from doing it somehow?

And what did the symbol that was on both Bill’s back and Grunkle Stan’s shoulder have to do with the agreement they had going? Did it mean anything? --It had to, right? Bill wouldn’t have gotten so mad at Great-Uncle Ford about it if it hadn’t meant something important… and why else would Bill be listening to Grunkle Stan so much, all of the time, if Grunkle Stan didn’t have some sort of hold over him?

As usual, Dipper had way more questions than answers. Worse, right now Dipper didn’t feel like he had anyone he could trust to go to, in order to have his questions answered truthfully, because he wasn't so sure that Grunkle Stan would tell him the truth if he asked him about it -- Grunkle Stan had lied to him and his sister about some really important stuff before. Like knowing about magic. And about his twin brother, the journals, and the portal.

And the only other person who knew about any of the rest of this stuff? Was Bill Cipher himself.

Dipper slowly sat down with his back to one of the shelves full of cheap Mystery Shack bobbleheads and snowglobes, and frowned critically at Bill. Bill was… actually being pretty quiet right now. --Not just because of the hit having messed up his voice, either. He wasn’t moving hardly at all, almost statue-like except for his breathing.

It kind of reminded Dipper of what Bill had looked like right before he’d tricked Dipper into becoming his puppet. --Bill had been meditating mid-air, with his eye closed.

The dream demon hadn’t stayed that way for long, but… how long had Bill been meditating for? Had it all been an act? Or had he really been waiting right there in the Mindscape, for however long, until Dipper had reached that point of desperation where he’d felt like he’d had to listen to Bill?

The thing that had been surprising to hear from Great-Uncle Ford downstairs, earlier, had been that Bill hadn’t always acted so manic with him, all cackling laughter and creepy always-screaming heads. Dipper had thought that what had happened when Bill had acted so sober and cruelly logical and convincing, in order to manipulate Dipper into agreeing to make a deal with him, had been a one-time short-span thing. He’d thought that he should’ve known better, after how he’d seen Bill act inside Grunkle Stan’s mind, when he’d been working for Gideon, of all people. He’d thought that he’d been completely stupid to get fooled that way by Bill.

Dipper had never thought that Bill might be able to keep something like that up long-term. But… from what Great-Uncle Ford had told him and Mabel both, for the first two-and-a-half years that Great-Uncle Ford had known and worked with Bill, that had been the norm. Great-Uncle Ford had thought Bill was sane. And that was part of why it had been such a big betrayal for Great-Uncle Ford: in his great-uncle’s eyes, Bill had apparently gone from being this seemingly sane, rational, and helpful adult friend to being a completely insane cackling maniac bent on world domination with childlike glee, one who clearly didn’t care about Great-Uncle Ford at all.

And then Bill had spent the next thirty years acting like a maniac, so obviously that was what he really was, right?

...Except Great-Uncle Ford had given a few really weird examples of crimes that, well, weren’t really crimes, even though they were? --More like cautionary tales of the kinds of things Bill could and would do. Things that made Dipper really worry about the agreement Grunkle Stan was trying to set up with Bill that was supposed to keep Bill from attacking any of them.

One of those cautionary tales was a time, a long time ago, that Bill had apparently helped to exterminate nearly every Time Lord in existence. (Apparently, Time Baby was the last of the Time Lords, and they’d kind of missed him accidentally at the time.) It was horrible, because Bill had helped exterminate nearly an entire race of people. But, it was also horrible in a very different way, because apparently what he and Mabel had seen of their Earth’s messed-up dystopian future under the rule of a tyrannical Time Baby was only the tip of the iceberg, when it came to what a fully-grown-up Time Lord would normally do to a timeline. Bill hadn’t just exterminated nearly an entire race for grins, he’d teamed up with an entire galactic consortium -- several, really -- one that spanned across multiple dimensions, in order to help them quarantine those Time Lord dimensions away from everywhere and everywhen else, and then kill those Time Lords before they expanded their influence any further. Because “expanding their influence” had apparently meant the killing of a lot of intelligent beings up and down the timeline of whatever dimension a Time Lord was in, at a whim, without any real reason and with nothing to stop them at all, really.

Bill had been one of many powerful beings who had been asked for help, as part of this ‘emergency task force’. --And Bill had helped. Those Time Lords had apparently been a very real problem for everyone living in the infinite dimensions spanning all of reality -- Bill included. So he’d apparently put considerable resources of his own into the effort -- information especially. Bill had helped wage and win a war that spanned dimension after dimension, and raged across millenia.

And when all was said and done, and they’d pretty much killed every last one of those Time Lords, and everyone had more or less decided they were done, and disbanded that multi-dimensional task force…

Instead of helping any of those other contributing members and societies pick up the pieces and rebuild, Bill had taken advantage of the situation, and used his own still-considerable resources to utterly crush the struggling remains of those societies that had bent and nearly broken under the strain of maintaining that millenia-long war for survival. He’d shattered what was left and scattered the ashes and apparently laughed all the while.

According to Great-Uncle Ford, the ‘moral of the story’ was this: Bill only ever worked in his own best self-interest. And even if it lined up with yours briefly, there was nothing stopping him from deciding to stab you in the back later -- and then doing just that -- with an insane laugh and a happily-smiling eye on his front-face.

The thing that really had Dipper thinking, though, was another question completely: had Bill really acted like his usual manic self for all those millenia, and had everyone else just put up with it as the cost of getting his help with something they’d desperately needed? Or had he actually acted somewhat sane for several thousand years at a time, before turning around and stabbing all those people in the back later?

Was Bill ever sane at any point? Was he sane in millenia-long cycles? And if not… could a deal with him be used to make him sane?

That last one was more than a little iffy, Dipper had to admit. But, if there was one thing that both he and Mabel had realized, after talking to Great-Uncle Ford about Bill and Bill’s behavior, it was that Bill had actually acted very differently with Great-Uncle Ford when their deal had been on than he had ever acted with the rest of them. (--They’d both tried very hard to warn Great-Uncle Ford about exactly that, once they’d realized it. Because now that Great-Uncle Ford’s deal was off… they didn’t want him getting blindsided all over again. Because if he was… this time, he’d probably end up dead. And Dipper and Mabel were not about to let that happen to him!) When the deal had been in place, Bill had acted differently. Great-Uncle Ford’s deal with Bill had done something, and calling it off… had done something else.

But whatever had happened with Great-Uncle Ford’s deal with Bill and how Bill had been acting because of it, the even more important thing was that Bill hadn’t been the one who’d wanted to break it. And that sounded kind of significant, from what Dipper had been putting together with Great-Uncle Ford. Because apparently Bill usually broke deals with people all the time. So what had stopped him from wanting to break his deal with Great-Uncle Ford?

And if they could figure that out, Dipper wondered, could they find a way to help Grunkle Stan use that to make Bill keep the ‘mutual nonaggression agreement’ that he was making with him? Or anything else?

...Well, Dipper knew he wouldn’t get anywhere without writing his latest set of observations and thoughts down, like any true paranormal researcher of cryptids would. And just because his own journal was downstairs in the basement lab right now, didn’t mean Dipper wasn’t prepared to capture and record his ideas at any point, whenever and wherever he had them.

Dipper narrowed his eyes as he looked over at Bill, who was still sitting where he had been before, eyes still closed. Dipper then glanced away and over at his two great-uncles and his sister, who all seemed to be okay now, for the most part. Great-Uncle Ford at least seemed a little better, with the way he was hugging Mabel in his lap.

Dipper knew it probably wasn’t a good idea to go over there, though. Not right now. Not yet. Not while he still had Great-Uncle Ford’s gun on him. It probably wasn’t a good idea to bring that back within his great-uncle’s reach while he still wasn’t feeling well.

And somebody should keep an eye on Bill, to stop him if he tried anything like he’d just done to Great-Uncle Ford on him again.

So Dipper set Great-Uncle Ford’s gun down in his lap, pulled out a small notepad and pen, bent his head over it, and began to write.

He kept half-an-eye on Bill as he did.

---