For as long as he could remember, admittedly not much given the wide gaps that rendered his memories beyond a certain point scattered beyond comprehension at best, Bill had absolutely despised winter.
From a hunting standpoint, the thick layer of snow that lay the woods to rest save for the endless stands of evergreens and harsh decrease in temperature could be both a blessing and curse in turns. The contrast between the darker pelts of both large and small game that allowed them to blend in with their surroundings so well in the warmer months and the snow they trod upon made tracking down fresh meat a great deal easier, as well as the tracks left by paws and hooves. On the other hand, a fair amount of the animals in question, ranging from suspicious whitetails to cautious foxes, either hibernated or were well aware of their disadvantage. This left them tense and constantly on their guard.
Not that hunting whitetail deer was even an option anymore.
Generally seasonal shifts and adverse weather conditions didn’t particularly bother him, simply being viewed as an inconvenience when they actually served as one, but winter…winter was different. Earlier in the year signs of life - the sound of birds conversing with each other, chattering of small animals, burbling of the stream and other aspects of nature going about their business - surrounded the lodge, making him feel far less alone and isolated from the rest of the world. Winter brought all of that to a halt; it was cold, bleak, and unnervingly silent. He’d spent the last winter in a state of partial paranoia and prone to fits of vexation a lot more often.
This winter was going to be very different.
Under ordinary circumstances, he’d wake up in a bad mood, unwillingly dragging himself out from beneath the warm layers of fur he slept under. This was followed by stumbling over to the bathroom to glare at himself in the mirror for a bleary, unfocused moment before splashing water on his face in a haphazard manner and beginning the process of getting ready to face whatever the day had to offer. This was usually limited to a small, stunted variety of things to shoot in the head and another dull day of existence that he hadn’t recognized as dull prior to the fuzzy, four-legged addition to his life that he’d found in the woods and absconded with sans an ounce of guilt. Finders, keepers.
This time he didn’t necessarily awaken in a good mood, but it was considerably less aggravated than it had been several months ago, and it was definitely less of a struggle to crawl out of bed. Upon looking in the bathroom mirror he noticed that he wasn’t particularly glaring at his reflection more so than glowering over the temporary exposure to the cold, and getting dressed wasn’t approached with as much reluctance as usual. It was easier to be more enthusiastic about what the day had to offer now that there was something more than a day of almost nothing waiting downstairs, be that merely breakfast or a pile of old books hauled down from the attic or whatever the kid was up to that morning.
As he descended the staircase, yawning, the sound of his housemate bustling about in the kitchen reached his ears, as well as the aroma of something sweet - probably pancakes. The kid was getting pretty good at cooking, or at least better than he was anyway (not that the bar was that high to begin with). As usual, he was humming some vibrant tune from a likely cheesy pop song to himself, and Bill paused on the bottom stair to watch him for a bit. The fawn’s tiny hooves clicked against the floorboards rhythmically as he danced around the table with mismatched dishes in his arms; his tail flickered back and forth happily, and when he turned in the hunter’s direction he wore an adorable expression of contentment. It was then that the hunter realized that he was smiling at the scene before him.
Shit. It was happening again.
The fawn paused, finally noticing Bill staring at him. He squeaked in surprise, losing his balance and toppling over as if he’d forgotten how to use his legs. Again. This too was adorable, and it was extremely difficult to maintain a characteristic expression of annoyance tinged with apathy instead of smiling again. He shook his head as he stomped over to the table, taking in the sight of misshapen yet tempting looking pancakes on a platter at the center. “Kid, you are way too cheerful in the morning.”
Dipper picked himself up, brushing off his shirt and rubbing his arm in embarrassment. “Can you pretend you didn't see that?”
“Nope!” Bill settled into his chair, immediately reaching for a fork and spearing a pancake with it rather violently. “Also you do this every morning. I’ve walked in on your little routine a million times now.”
The fawn flushed. “It’s not a routine!”
“Whatever you say.” Table manners were for other people. Bill flopped a couple of pancakes onto his plate and drenched them with syrup, taking a bite. Despite being nowhere near circular they were sweet, light, and fluffy, completely devoid of the burnt patches that had been present when Dipper first began his culinary efforts. Paired with the maple syrup they were absolutely delicious. “Not bad,” he grumbled through a mouthful, biting back the actual praise poised on his tongue.
The fawn seated on his haunches across from him looked up from his own plate, beaming. “Thanks.”
The hunter grunted in response, averting his gaze and making a point of staring at everything but the fawn. It was steadily getting harder and harder to ignore the sneaking suspicion that he’d royally fucked up and managed to get attached to the kid, especially since it was no longer a suspicion and more of a fact that he pointedly refused to acknowledge.
Whereas he’d normally launch into an excited discussion of whatever he’d found in the attic or the basement or in the woods around the house, Dipper fell silent, picking at his food and fidgeting. Bill knew exactly what was coming next, but he feigned ignorance, continuing to eat as if nothing of any importance was on the horizon.
“So…” Dipper began, keeping his eyes trained on the tabletop. “I found a pretty nice tree out there.”
“There are a lot of trees out there,” Bill replied, casually. “We’re in the woods.”
“I meant a pine tree. You know, like…” Dipper trailed off, unsure as to how to continue.
“Most of those trees are pine trees, Pine Tree.”
Dipper gave up the pretense with a heavy sigh, slumping forward onto the table. “A Christmas tree?”
Bill rolled his eyes, dropping his fork on his empty plate with a sigh of his own. “Not this shit again, kid.”
The trouble had begun towards the end of the previous week, sometime around the 12th of December according to the calendar in the kitchen that he didn’t remember actually purchasing. The fawn was unusually restless, and it wasn’t until he paid closer attention to the date highlighted towards the end of the month that he figured out why. Holidays were pretty much a non-event for the hunter; there was no one to celebrate them with, and while he retained some knowledge regarding them they held no particular significance for him. They existed, and that was all.
Thus far they’d passed several holidays indicated by a variety of symbols on the calendar without verbal acknowledgement, though he knew that ordinarily the fawn would be celebrating them with his family and was most certainly aware of the date. On those days Dipper feigned indifference, but he was a terrible liar and thus it was obvious that the situation bothered him. Bill wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it, although seeing the fawn so unhappy always put a serious damper on his day resulting in him doing whatever he could to lift his spirits somewhat. There was an equally obvious solution, but that led to a hole he wasn’t willing to fall even further into.
However, unlike the other holidays earlier that year, Dipper seemed intent on not letting this one slip by. Somehow he’d located a box of dusty silver tinsel and a handful of ornaments in the attic and brought it downstairs to the main room, leaving it in plain sight. He dropped vague hints regarding trees or doing a bit of decorating here and there, which Bill steadily ignored.
Even now he beat around the bush instead of directly asking the hunter about actually doing something to observe the upcoming holiday. “Look, I know you’ve got this whole animal carcass aesthetic going on and I’m surprisingly okay with that, but I think this place could be…cheerier.” Dipper paused, attempting to gauge his reaction before soldiering on. “It doesn’t have to be much. We don’t have to literallydeck the halls. Plus it’s a waste to just leave all that stuff up there.”
“It’s just not my thing.”
“Why?” Dipper persisted.
“That is so not a real answer.”
“Because I don’t care!” Bill exploded. “I’ve never cared before and there’s no reason to start now. I’m a borderline to full-blown sociopath that lives out in the middle of the woods by himself. What’s the point?”
Dipper’s ears slicked back briefly, but by now he’d grown used to the hunter’s outbursts. “But I’m here now, so that negates at least a third of that, right?”
Damn it. "Don’t let it go to your head.“
"Still…” Dipper continued, refusing to let the subject go. “I think you’d be…”
“Less of an asshole?” The hunter sneered. “Good luck with that.”
“That was not the term I was going to use, but maybe you’d behappier?” The fawn ventured as his ears pricked back up once more. “Even if you aren’t big on holidays, which you probably aren’t due to social isolation…”
Bill pressed his palm to his forehead, exasperated. “Look, kid. I’ll celebrate when there’s something worth celebrating, alright?”
The answer was clearly unsatisfactory, but Dipper was smart enough to know when he was beginning to work his nerves. His face fell. “I guess,” he muttered, regarding his unfinished breakfast as if it were responsible somehow.
“Then drop it.”
The fawn glanced up at him, then lifted his fork above his plate and let it go, allowing the utensil to clatter against the surface of the table.
Love really wasn’t something Bill was used to.
It was one thing to care about objects that were meant to be possessed with no will of their own, and if he was honest with himself he’d initially thought of the fawn in the same capacity - a possession, a plaything, something to torment for his own mildly sadistic amusement. He could very vividly recall chucking the kid in a cage in the basement at night, either ignoring the sound of him crying or yelling at him to shut up from atop the stairs. At one point the threat to drown him in the lake had held more weight than it did now, and there was a scar or two along his flank, visible dark spots beneath the layer of warm brown fur that he knew he was responsible for. Now the sight of them twisted his stomach into a knot with guilt every single time he caught sight of them. There had been a time when the fawn was little more than an object, instead of a living, breathing person whose wellbeing he cared about.
Then he’d made the mistake of taking pity on him during that late spring thunderstorm, and it had been downhill ever since.
Transitioning from thinking of Dipper as more than just a thing had taken awhile, and it was a confusing, frustrating time for both of them. The fawn was understandably terrified of him, to the point where he’d once progressed into a full-on panic attack just from the hunter being near him - which was equally nerve-wracking for Bill as he had no idea how to calm down a crying cervitaur and nearly ended up panicking himself.
In turn he was lost as to how to care for someone. How did one go about comforting someone that was upset? Shouting at the kid to get his shit together had not been an effective way of accomplishing that goal, and only made it worse. It required being gentle, but he didn’t know a damn thing about being gentle, resulting in a lot of trial and error. Caring for the fawn was a continual learning experience.
He gradually learned how to cook, or make an attempt at doing so, because Dipper couldn’t exactly survive on a diet that was mostly meat and clearly wasn’t eating enough.
He learned how to speak quietly with a minimal amount of expletives, and how to push aside the irritation in his tone while struggling to be soothing when something spooked the kid or he had a nightmare - both of which happened rather frequently at the beginning.
He learned to refrain from immediately yelling at the fawn whenever he made a mistake, broke something, or talked back, as well as letting the latter offense go on a fairly regular basis.
He learned to bandage wounds without causing additional pain, deal with colds, and how to tackle fevers.
He learned that whitetail deer really liked the assorted berries that grew in the woods around the house, and how to be patient with a hyperactive fawn babbling continuously about all the relics of a past he couldn’t remember scattered around the house.
He learned the kid’s habitual mannerisms - that his tail waggled when he was joyful over something, that he tended to stamp his right forehoof when he was angry, and that occasionally he actually squealed when excited. He learned about his desire to explore the world around him, and jumbled bits and pieces about the life he’d been plucked out of (not that Bill intended on acting on that knowledge; finders, keepers). He learned that the fawn was driven by boundless curiosity and intrigued by mystery, what he feared and what inspired him.
Overall, he learned what it was like to give a shit about another person - not an object, not a thing, but a person that hovered somewhere between pet and housemate, that now wore a simple braided leather necklace instead of a collar and was allowed out into the yard on his own.
Under those circumstances, who wouldn’t become develop some kind of attachment to the source of all of the changes in their life - which he now recognized had been pretty damn dull without Dipper in it?
The fawn was an unfortunate soft spot in the wall shielding his emotions and fueling the detachment that he held regarding other living things, and the knowledge of this and the vulnerability inherent within it scared the hell out of him. It was difficult to pretend that it wasn’t happening, and with every day that passed and every twinge of happiness that warmed whatever passed for his heart it grew harder to deny that he was happy and this stupid kid was the cause of it.
The day drifted on towards nightfall with a few more less than subtle hints on Dipper’s part and utter indifference on Bill’s. Initially his generally unfriendly persona had resulted in Dipper being apprehensive around him, but it was no longer effective no matter how hard he tried to chase him off or drive a wedge in their relationship. He was no longer capable of being outright cruel to the fawn, not that the few occasions where he’d lost his temper did much; usually those just lead to Dipper trying to cheer him up somehow provided he didn’t run off and leave the hunter so guilty over his actions that he went out of his way to apologize for them. In the end the most he could muster was a level of mild irritability that didn’t really deter Dipper from trying to talk to him, showing up with assorted objects he’d found lying and around asking about them, or inquiring about various phenomena the hunter had encountered in the woods so he could make a note of them in the journal he carried around - which he was now huddled up on the couch poring over.
This late in the year it was bitterly cold at night, so Bill had taken to stoking the fire to a near inferno to heat the main room enough for Dipper to sleep in, even with the pile of blankets he nestled in on the couch. It was actually warmer downstairs than in his room, and more than once he’d fallen asleep on the couch with the fawn curled up beside him snoring and thus been unable to bring himself to wake him up so he could head off to his own bed.
“Don’t you ever wonder?” The fawn lifted his head, staring up at him intently. Trying to maintain his distance had been a complete and utter failure; the best Bill could do was try to resist petting his ears as he usually did. “About who you used to be.”
The room was now filled with things Dipper had found upstairs in the attic or in the basement, ranging from an array of strange tomes and paperwork to trinkets that Bill didn’t recognize. Some of them were pretty mundane, but others were a bit more interesting, painting faint scraps of who he might have been - a weathered guitar, a few photos of people he couldn’t recall, a set of knitting needles and a half-finished scarf. “There’s so much stuff in this place. Aren’t you even slightly curious?”
Bill wasn’t quite sure how to respond to the question. He settled on a shrug and a noncommittal “Eh.”
“Not even a little?” Dipper prodded, closing his book and sitting up.
This wasn’t entirely true. The void beyond the past year or so was unpleasant to even think about, much less attempt to navigate. Thinking about what parts of himself might be missing was in turns both unnerving and irritating - it meant he was incomplete, and as far as he knew there wasn’t a way to recover them (at least one he could handle on his own).
“No point in dwelling on it now,” he replied dismissively. “If I haven’t remembered anything by now it’s probably not coming back. Anyway, this isn’t too bad. Whoever he was, he was probably a huge jerk anyway.”
“So basically nothing’s really changed,” the fawn quipped, grinning.
“Shut up and read your damn book, kid.”
Dipper flopped back against the cushion, hugging his journal and falling silent for a moment. “He might not have been that bad.”
“What makes you say that?” Bill cringed inwardly at the statement; so much for scaring him off. Damn kid probably didn’t even view him as a threat anymore.
“He’s still a part of you, and you’re not too bad, either. Deductive reasoning,” the fawn added, thoughtfully, before inching closer and resting his head against his leg.
The lighting in the main room was dim, reduced to a handful of lamps and firelight, but there was enough for the hunter to pick out one of the two scars along his flank, close enough for him to reach out and touch. He’d done that, so many months ago that it seemed like a dream. It was one of the first things he could recall feeling guilt over, that sickening sensation in his gut alongside the realization that this was wrong somehow.
And still the little cervitaur lay beside him, no longer tense as he had once been, relaxed enough to doze off with his tail flickering languidly.
Physical pain was one thing; he was well acquainted with that for a variety of reasons. Emotional pain was something new. It hurt somewhere he couldn’t identify nor alleviate easily. It made him want to shove the fawn off and storm off upstairs to stew in his own frustration, toss him back in the basement or lock him into the attic, anything to escape the this fondness for another person that had him questioning his actions and feeling regret that wasn’t material-based.
Instead he reached for one of the blankets at hand and draped it over the slumbering fawn, hand drifting of its own accord to pet his ears gently enough to avoid waking him.