This is literally the dumbest idea he’s ever had.
“Pine Tree, we’ve known each other for a while, and I gotta say; the is literally the dumbest idea you’ve ever had.”
Dipper scowls, pulling his hat lower over his eyes, hoping his blushing isn’t obvious in the dim light of the Mindscape. “I didn’t ask for your opinion,” he snaps. “I asked if you could do it.”
Bill rears back, one hand flattening against his bow tie in affected horror. “I can devour stars and unravel realities. I can end empires and leave men clawing in existential desperation at the meaty holes where their eyes used to be. I can tell you secrets that would dissolve your mind and I can do all that without so much as creasing my suit. And you’d dare ask me whether I can do your petty errand? Please. I should leave right now. Leave, and take your liver with me as payment for wasting my time.” Bill folds his arms, eye looking upward as he feigns offence.
It’s almost certainly all for show. It’s been three years since he first encountered Bill Cipher, and if Dipper’s learnt one thing in that time, it’s that Bill is neither as powerful nor as important as he pretends to be. Still dangerous, still a demon. But still mostly a self-aggrandising show-off. Mostly.
“Look,” Dipper says. “Just tell me what you want in return.” This is a terrible, awful, horrible, no good idea. But it’s Dipper’s idea and he’s already started it. No use stopping now.
“Pine Tree, consider it your lucky day. Because what I want and what I need to fulfill my end of your ridiculous little deal are, in this one instance, the same.”
Dipper wonders how a thing without a mouth is so adept at portraying the appearance of a smug grin. He wonders how long he can endure the twisting feeling in his belly before he throws up.
“I… How?” he says. “I know what you want, but… I’m not kidnapping anyone!”
Bill laughs, a dry, humorless bark. “Pity. But don’t twist yourself in knots. You won’t have to. All you’ll need to do is pay a little visit to Stanford’s lab, then we’re golden. You’ll be able to do it in your sleep—allegorically, not literally in this instance—no fuss, no muss. Over before you know it. One little trip to the lab, then one more little trip to the forest. Then we’re golden. As an added bonus, you’ll even learn something in the process. So, deal?” And then he’s suddenly very close, burning blue hand right under Dipper’s nose.
Dipper looks at the hand and he looks at Bill’s eye and he thinks, I’m going to regret this.
And then he shakes.
Getting into great uncle Ford’s lab without great uncle Ford noticing is pretty much impossible, so Dipper doesn’t bother. He has his shopping list, dictated by Bill between a half hour rant about the criminal incompetence of one Stanford Pines, because Bill hates Ford and Ford hates Bill, and also the world turns and water continues to be wet.
Ford is Doing Something when Dipper heads into the basement-slash-lab, because Ford is always Doing Something. On another day, Dipper would be interested. Another day, not today.
“Hi great uncle Ford just grabbing some stuff I’ll bring it right back when I’m done okay?” he calls.
“Mm,” says Ford, hunched over his bench, weird lights crackling in the air around his head.
This seems to be all the acknowledgment Dipper’s going to get, which is fine by him. He runs through the stuff he needs; the jars of unidentifiable and unpronounceable things, the consecrated knife, the special chalk, the book of incantations. It’s Ford’s lab so everything is organized and labeled, albeit in the chaotic ciphers and patterns that make sense only to Ford. Ford and Dipper, that is, because Dipper’s spent years studying Ford’s work, and if nothing else he can figure out the man’s filing system.
He’s halfway out the door when he hears:
“Wait a minute!”
Dipper freezes, one foot off the ground, teetering pile of occult sundries heavy in his arms. The shadow that falls over him is Ford, backlit and not as tall as he used to be, or used to seem, when Dipper was twelve. But still tall enough to loom.
“Hm,” says Ford, rubbing his chin. “Athame, dried hellebore, eleven-dimensional crystals…” He scowls, and Dipper struggles not to hop from foot to foot. “Dipper! Some of these items are highly dangerous!”
“Uh…” says Dipper.
“Here!” And then Ford is reaching off to the side, grabbing a pair of warded gloves and plastic safety goggles from atop a nearby cabinet. “Take these! Always remember what I taught you. Say it with me now: safety first.”
“Safety first,” Dipper dutifully repeats.
“Good boy.” Ford gives an awkward smile, then ruffles Dipper’s hair in a way Dipper feels he’s long since outgrown. “You have fun now.” Dipper adds the gloves and goggles to his pile and darts from the room.
The forest hides a multitude of sins. Which is conveniently what Dipper needs right now. He’s dodged Grunkle Stan’s “Hey, kid, did you restock the—?” and his sister’s “Will you be back in time for the—?” (answer: “no” and “yes” respectively), and found an old tree stump in a glade that he’s pretty sure will work for what he needs to do.
What he needs to do involves a chalk circle, a burnt offering, a power focus, an incantation, and—because of course it does—blood. Dipper draws the circle and starts the fire and lays out the relevant stones. It occurs to him to wonder how normal kids go about summoning demons to do their bidding. Normal kids who don’t have access to crazy great uncles and a basement full of weird.
This occurs to Dipper, but he doesn’t dwell. At least, not on that part. Mostly, he’s too busy mentally correcting his use of the term “summoning”. Ford’s favorite saying might be safety first, but his second favorite is sloppy language leads to sloppy outcomes.
Words, as great uncle Ford is fond of saying, mean things. And in this instance, the thing that Dipper means isn’t summoning. Summoning Bill isn’t this involved. Summoning Bill is something Dipper can do in his sleep, literally, and also often when he’s awake, by accident, just by encountering a problem he thinks Bill could fix.
So. This isn’t summoning. This is manifesting, something Dipper’s never done before, for Bill or anyone else. Something he’d never really thought could be done, or really thought much about, before Bill mentioned it as being both a perquisite for solving Dipper’s problem and his payment for doing so.
When Dipper's done copying the circle and laying out the crystals, he kneels in front of the arrangement, knife in hand. He’s wearing Ford’s goggles but only one of the gloves, the one he’s holding the knife with. The blade of said knife is very sharp and very shiny, the flesh of Dipper’s palm very soft and pink. He hates it when magic calls for blood. At least, human blood. His human blood.
Bill had been very insistent the blood be human. “No substitutions!” he’d snapped. “Your blood only. Or your sister’s. Up to you.”
No way is Dipper going to ask his sister for help with this. So. His blood it is.
He takes a deep breath, the another, then slashes the knife across his palm. It takes a moment for the pain to set it, and by that stage Dipper’s already reciting the chant. His Latin is still terrible. Bill claims it makes his ears bleed. When Dipper had pointed out the obvious flaw in this, Bill’s answer had just been to snap, “Not that you’ve ever seen.”
It occurs to Dipper he might just very well be about to find out how truthful Bill was being.
His blood’s barely dripping into the offering bowl when he starts to hear Bill’s howling laughter. Faint at first, then growing louder in a Doppler-effect, as if Bill was far away and now isn’t. When the would goes gray around him, Dipper isn’t even surprised. Nor does he falter in his chanting when Bill folds in above the circle, brick-by-golden-brick.
So far, so usual. Dipper’s seen it all a hundred times before.
He hasn’t seen what comes next. When he finishes the chant, and Bill… implodes. Folds in on himself, down to a single dark point. One implosion, then one explosion; light and sound and color.
Dipper yelps, throws himself against the dirt, gets a nose full of chalk that sends him coughing. When he opens his eyes again, the world has returned to normal. Normal colors, normal lights, as normal as it ever gets here in Gravity Falls, as if he’s just been thrown straight out of the Mindscape.
Dipper is about to open his mouth, to ask if the ritual worked, when behind him he hears madly ringing laughter. Familiar in its general shape and outline, even if the texture on the inside doesn’t quite fit the voice he remembers.
“It worked! Hah! A-hah-hah-aah it feels good to be out of there!”
Dipper blinks, looks up.
There’s a boy sitting in the middle of the manifesting circle.
The boy is too busy laughing to answer, looking at his hands like he’s never seen them before. It’s that, more than anything, that gives it away.
“Oh,” says Dipper. “Oh, no. No no no no no. This isn’t right. This isn’t right at all!”
Dipper leaps to his feet, starts pacing back and forth across the clearing. He should’ve know, should’ve known better, should’ve realized things would go wrong. Of course they went wrong, it’s Bill he’s dealing with. Bill loves to screw with him, trip him up, make him regret his life choices. And Dipper, stupid Dipper, who’d thought maybe—just maybe—this time would be different. He’d explained what he’d wanted, and Bill had teased him but had listened, Dipper really thought he’d listened, and that the deal he’d made was fair, and Bill’s been so agreeable lately and stupid, stupid Dipper had thought that maybe, just maybe, that meant—
“Hey. Hey, Pine Tree. I’m no expert but are you supposed to be making that noise when you breathe?”
Dipper’s breath is coming fast and hard, the gulping hiccoughs he knows, in the dim and distant rational part of his brain, mean he’s having a panic attack. Knowing, as his psychologist says, is the first step, but it’s only the first step, and Dipper knows he needs to get to the second, to rip his mind out of its rut, to focus on his breath and relax his jaw but all his brain will think of is this is wrong I screwed up I screwed up and now Bill is free and he’s here and oh this wasn’t how it was supposed to go and what did I do wrong I tried so—
“Hey. Maybe you need to sit down.”
Then hands are on Dipper’s arms—Bill’s hands! Human hands! his mind screams—guiding him to sit down on the forest floor. It’s cold and damp and Dipper’s going to get a wet ass from it, a big wet patch on his jeans like he’s pissed himself and they’re supposed to go to the mall later, and the mall was going to be Dipper’s big chance, the launch of his big plan and—
“Breathe, Pine Tree. Breathe. In, one, two, three, out, one, two, three…”
Bill’s voice is still a whining, nasal buzz. But it’s different, coming from a human mouth. Less distortion, less reverb. Dipper closes his eyes, tries to do what the voice is telling him. Tries to focus on his breath and the counting and the solid feel of warm hands, grasped against his upper arms.
“Si-since wh-when do you kn-know how to de-deal with— with—” is what he manages, when he thinks he can.
“I’ve been in your head,” Bill says, as if this is the most normal and logical thing in the world. “I know many things about you.”
“N-not he-helping,” Dipper says which, stupidly, is a lie. Because his breathing is slowing and his mind is calming. Everything is still a mess but he can fix it, it’s not all over. He just needs to open his eyes.
He does, and the first thing he sees is Bill. Bill, who’s apparently now a boy about Dipper’s age, with smooth brown skin and a mess of loose curls in void black and sun-bleached blonde. He has two eyes, which Dipper finds startlingly odd, though the fact that one is a rich golden brown and the other is Bunsen flame blue with a pinprick pupil at least fits Bill’s assumed aesthetic.
Other things that fit are the skinny black jeans and an oversized sweater in such a bright yellow it may as well be a creation from Mabel. At least it doesn’t have an eye on the front.
Because Dipper is now and forever will be a loser, when he can speak again, the first words out of his mouth turn out to be:
“You’re a boy!”
Bill’s head tilts to the side, like he’s looking at Dipper through his golden eye, not his blue eye. It occurs to Dipper Bill might actually be partially blind. Or at least unused to the physical reality of binocular vision.
“Am I?” Bill asks. He looks down at himself, patting his hands down his chest and— and in other places that send Dipper’s gaze shooting to the treetops, quickly followed by a blush. “Yes, I suppose so,” Bill says, after completing his pat-down. He sounds completely unperturbed by the notion.
“You— I can’t— This won’t work if you’re a boy!” Dipper stammers. He’s still on his ass in the damp dirt, Bill crouched over him, leaning close like he has no concept of personal space, which he quite possibly doesn’t.
“B-because!” Dipper has no idea whether Bill is being dense because he likes to watch Dipper squirm, or whether he’s actually honestly not sure what the problem is. “Because I need to—” he tries. Then: “And Pacifica is—” Then: “and it just won’t work if you’re—” A gesture at Bill. “She’ll think I’m—” He mimes something with his hands. He’s not sure what he’s miming and, judging from his expression, neither is Bill.
“I told you, Pine Tree,” Bill says. “You asked if I could be a girl and I said, ‘Sure, whatever that is’”—Dipper is 100% certain Bill knows exactly what that is, and is now just being an asshole—“and said you’d need your sister’s blood to do it.”
“You said mine would work just as well!”
“And it did! Ta-da!” Bill rocks back on his heels, gesturing to himself and grinning like he needs to get value out of a mouth that might get taken away at any moment. When Dipper fails to return the sentiment, the expression drops into a scowl. “Don’t tell me,” he says. “I said ‘just as well’ and you heard ‘just the same’.”
“Oh, man.” Dipper drops his head into his hands. “Oh, man.” Sloppy language leading to sloppy outcomes, indeed. “Okay. I can fix this. It’s not the end of the world.” He looks up. Bill is still there, still male, and still regarding Dipper with a look of petulant scorn because, okay. Maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say to Bill, of all people—or entities, or personified concepts, or whatever it is that Bill is—but still.
Dipper stands, starts pacing, mind turning over every todo and every dot point he’s mentally listed out for the next few days. “Okay,” he says. “Okay, this will still work. I can still make it work. I just have to—” He rounds on Bill, studies Bill’s high cheekbones and soft hair. “Yeah. Yeah, this will still work. At least you look kinda… pretty? I guess.”
Bill looks down at himself. “How can you tell?” he asks. “No angles, no vertices… Two eyes? And this horrible thing?” He pulls the lips back from his teeth to demonstrate, then shudders.
Dipper doesn’t know if Bill is being serious and, honestly, doesn’t care. “I can tell,” he snaps. “You’re pretty. So we can just… just pretend you’re a girl. You can do that, right?” Then, more forceful. “I mean, do that! As part of our deal!”
Bill shrugs. “It isn’t,” he says. “But whatever.” And then he snaps his fingers, and is engulfed by cold blue fire.
The sight makes Dipper nearly scream, has him lunging back against the closest tree, his spine hitting wood hard enough to hurt. “You— you can do magic!” He’s not proud of how much his voice squeaks when he says it. “How can you do magic?”
“You didn’t specify I couldn’t,” Bill says, studying his new outfit. Because that’s what the fire’s done, replaced Bill’s jeans with leggings and a skirt and a bunch of jewelery in gold and black and blue. “Does this work?”
“Um…” says Dipper.
It’s not that he doesn’t know about girls’ clothes, because he doesn’t. It’s because Bill looks…
“Fine,” Dipper squeaks. “It’s fine!”
He is so, so screwed.