One More For The Road

a Mystic Pines short story


November 7, 2020, Gravity Falls


The bar had been O'Grady's, back in the 1980s. It was owned by a grouchy old Irish immigrant named Morgan O'Grady, who'd come over on the boat when he was an infant. Nobody knew how old Morgan was but he seemed to be ageless. He ran the place until the late 1990s, when one day, the local doctor came in and found old Morgan, slumped in his favorite chair by the fireplace. He was happiest in that old leather chair and that's where he left the world to finally join his wife, his lost babies and his God.

After O'Grady, the little bar changed hands for about ten years until another Irish family bought it, at the suggestion of the old town doctor, Dr. O'Rinn, who had moved on to teach Physics at the High School.

Now, it was called O'Doells and the family who owned it had placed a portrait of the beloved grumpy Morgan O'Grady above the fireplace next to where his chair had been. The chair in question now graced the study of the doctor who'd become the closest thing Morgan had to a son. (And to the doctor, Morgan was the best and closest thing he'd ever had to a real father.)

The evening of that November Saturday was snowy, chilly with a sharp breeze that sliced through your coat and down to your skin.

Dr. Tiernan O'Rinn blew in that night with his best friend, the newly returned town adventuress, one half of the Elder Mystery Twins and 'Mysterious Science Lady', Dr. Florimel Pines, following close behind.

"It's too cold for man nor beast!" Tiernan bellowed, grinning. Though silver was shot through his thick ruby hair, his bright face was flushed and cheerful and he was still the same attractive, robust Irishman he'd been over thirty years ago. "Ach, Riley! A Guinness for me an' a coffee! Flora will have th' same, I'm sure!"

"Aye!" Florimel cried, laughing. She'd been gone five years, since the fateful Summer of 2012, traveling around the world with her twin sister, the other half of their dynamic duo, the now retired town heroine and adventuress extraordinare, 'Ms. Mystery'.

Along with Tenny and his husband Alistair; the bright, heroic, beloved Younger 'Mystery Twins, Dipper and Marty; Soos Ramierz, the New Mr Mystery and beloved 'Handyman of the Apocolypse'; Wendy Cordoroy, the town's incredibly brave and courageous Lumberjack Girl and the once infamous but now dearly treasured, town genius inventor, Dr. Fiddleford McGucket; they were all colorful characters the little mountain town now held near and dear to their hearts.

Riley, a white-haired, gentle, whiskered gentleman, the son of the very O'Doell who owned the pub, smiled and made the drinks with a soft chuckle. "Are the lovely Ms. Mystery an' that handsome distinguished Barrister of yers gonna join us this eve?"

Tiernan, 'Tenny' to his friends (which in this town, was pretty much everyone) just laughed again. "Not tonight, my friend. It's jus' me an' Flora. But we plan t' close th' place down after that fury of a storm out there!"

Riley quite was sweet on Sally Pines, Florimel's sister, 'Ms. Mystery'. He always had been. Tiernan wondered if Sally ever had accepted the gentleman's repeated requests for 'a lovely evening out'. He'd hoped she would. Riley was a good man, a gentle and strong man and if Tenny'd been a bit older and not very, very, very taken, he would definitely have accepted such a charming offer.

Flora shucked her tan trenchcoat, the same old coat she'd had since Tenny had first met her in 1979, on a chair and settled in at the bar. She ran a six-fingered hand through her thick waves of curly warm brown and silver streaked hair, dislodging the beaded tie she always kept wrapped around her ponytail.

Even at sixty-eight, the woman was beautiful. One wouldn't have known she was 'pushing seventy', as Sally liked to say. She was always a handsome lady, clearly unaware of her prettiness and thirty years lost within the seething craziness of worlds between dimensions had done nothing to change that. The only thing it had changed was her ease with people. She smiled and laughed and was so much more relaxed than she'd ever been when he'd known her in the past.

It made her truly beautiful.

Tenny knew. He saw the looks even the young men threw her now as she walked down the street. Confidence could do that for a person. He just wished she might find someone she deemed worthy of her love. She'd been hurt. Badly. Not once, but several times. And many of them by the same man.

Tiernan sighed softly.

Flora was dedicated to one love. Someone he, personally, hated with a passion. And Tiernan didn't hate many people. He could count the people he hated on one hand. Simon, his horrible, certifiably evil twin brother. Conchobhar, 'Connor', his cruel, controlling father. And Bill. Bill Cipher. The man who broke Flora's heart.

"Alistair has a case in Charleston this week," Tiernan said as he joined Flora at the bar. "He's defending a man he's certain has been wrongly convicted of murder."
Riley's eyes widened. He was a fan of those television shows that explained how murders were solved with forensic evidence and technology. He enjoyed talking to Alistair about the cases he'd seen on the most recent episode of his and Alistair's favorite: Forensic Files.

"Really?" he said, fascinated. "What? Who? How? When?"

Flora chuckled. "Oh, this will go on all night. I'm going to call Sally. Just a moment." She pulled out her 'computer phone' and focussed intently on dialing the thing. Modern technology was still a source of frustration for her. She still didn't know why people needed to carry a phone around all the time but she'd been willing to at least take one of her sister's old cell phones after a lot of convincing by her grand-niece and grand-nephew. And by her only other best friend, the brilliant inventor Fiddleford McGucket, who quickly 'tricked out' the phone to make using it even less of an annoyance for the woman.

A few more customers came in and Riley held a hand up to Tenny, to go help them out.

"SALLY?"

"Flora, you don't need to yell at it, sweetie," Tenny said, but she clearly didn't hear him. He sighed.

"YES! WE'RE AT-what? NO, I'M NOT YELLING."

"Yes, sweetheart, you are-"

"OH? Oh... god, I'm sorry... I'M SORRY SALLY!"

"FLORIMEL PINES!" Tenny yelled, which got her attention. "Don't yell. She can hear you fine."

Flora pinkened, giggled and waved it off. "Sorry!" She turned back to her phone. "YES-uh, I mean, yes. God this is hard!"

Tenny laughed.

More people came in and Riley shouted into the back, "Erin! Hon, we need ya!"

Riley's daughter came rushing out and smiled brightly. "Okay! Hey folks! Whatta need?" The girl quickly sashayed into the crowd of new arrivals and took orders, her bright auburn curls bouncing.

"We're at O'Gra-er, sorry, O'Doell's. Yes, he's here... and he's asking after you... what?" Flora giggled again. "Well, I'll tell him..." She covered the phone with her entire hand (an easy feat) and called to Riley, "Sally says: 'kiss kiss'!"

Riley grinned. "Tell 'er t' come on over! Drinks are on me, if she says she'll go out w' me!"

"Yes. He wants to see you... if you go out with him, free drinks- Hello? Hello?" She looked at Tenny. "It's broken again."

Tenny laughed. "Sounds like she's on her way."

Riley laughed as well. "Heh, eventually I knew she'd cave. She's too cute t' stay unattached. Been tryin' f' years."

It was a game between them. Sally was a clever lady. She'd play Riley until she was ready and Riley knew it. But the pure pleasure the two of them had playing the game was quite a bit of fun to watch.

"So, while I'm waitin'," Riley said, "details. Was it bloody? Th' murder? Did 'e do it?"

"Of course he didn't," Tiernan said, "Alistair wouldn't have taken th' case if th' guy was guilty. He's got a... sixth sense about these things. Alistair knows if th' guy did th' crime. It's why he always wins his cases."

Sure, he did. Alistair was a former demon. He did in fact know the truth of each client he handled. And he never took a case he couldn't win. He only defended the truly innocent. He only ever prosecuted the criminals who were guilty. He was determined to make sure the bad guys got what was coming to them. It was almost a compulsion with him.

Tiernan knew more of course. Tiernan knew it was a contingency of the gift of mortality Alistair had been given. He had to rectify his own crimes by helping those who could no longer help themselves and stop those who were truly evil.

A 'demon lawyer'.

He even had a reputation in the field as 'Alistair The Demon', even though those who gave him the nickname had no idea how accurate they were.

"Why are so many people here tonight?" Flora was asking Erin.

"Probably to see the new guy," Erin said as she passed by. "We have a singer come in on Saturday and Sunday nights. He plays the piano and sings. He's great!"

"New guy?" Tiernan said, casting a glance at Riley.

"Yep, piano singer. Lounge act from Chicago, I think. Erin hired him a few weeks ago."

Flora shot a concerned, confused look at Tenny. "A few weeks?"

"Yep, shortly after you guys were talkin' that one night about the mysterious 'figure in th' woods'," Riley said with a wiggle of his fingers. "Thought it was some Halloweenie thin', since you guys are always about the 'mysterious' an' 'scary' stuff." He chuckled. "Ol' Fiddleford came back an' told me all about it. How you guys went lookin' in th' woods an' just discovered some old 'shiner's still."

Flora gulped down a laugh and coughed a bit. "Oh, that. Yeah. I think Fidds' claimed it for himself."

"Wouldn't be surprised," Riley said, passing her another cup of black coffee. "I'd buy it if Fidds made it. Ol' feller's got a blessin' wit' th' ol' Tennessee 'shine."

"Not surprisin' as he's from Tennessee," Tenny said.

"Well then, if it's not a 'shiner's apparition," Flora said, "who's this piano guy?"

"Said his name was Liam, Liam Nayd."

Tenny frowned. "Doesn't quite sound Irish," he said. "Nayd?"

"Yeah, 'e might be European. His voice was pretty American soundin' though."

"You met him?" Tenny said.

"Nah, 'eard 'im though. Tha's all I needed. If Erin thinks 'e's good, then it's fine w' me."

Riley was scribbling in a notepad. "So, wha's th' guy's name? Tha' Alistair's defendin'?"

"Uh, Jorgen Bergson," Tiernan said distractedly, looking at Flora. The word, 'nayd', fretted at his memory. In Irish, a similar sounding word meant 'zero'. It was just... odd. He wished Alistair were here to bounce this off of.

"Dutch?" Riley said, scribbling the name into his notepad. "Or Norwegian?"

"Dutch, I think," Tiernan said.

The customers had their drinks and were ordering appetizers, which meant Erin's brother, 'TK', was beginning to cook. The delicious smells of cooking meat and savory cheese began to fill the pub. Tiernan swallowed hard. "Hey Erin, can we get a plate of potato skins? Beginnin' t' get hungry."

Erin grinned and laughed. She headed back into the kitchen with a pad full of orders.

"Why do they do that?" Flora said.

"Wha'? Why do they do wha?"

"'Potato skins'? What's that about? Why do they just give you the skins?"

"They take the fluff an' mix it in w' the bacon an' cheese an' all tha'," Tiernan said, smiling at his friend's innocent confusion. "An' if y' want, we can get some pub fries too."

"Chips?"

"Crisps. Yeah."

"Okay." She sighed. She was still mulling over the results of their disappointing expedition that Riley had brought up. Fiddleford didn't consider it disappointing of course but Flora did. He knew she was wondering about the apparition that Freya and Shiloh and some of his other students saw in the woods. He knew she didn't believe it was just that moonshine still. She believed there'd been someone, something out there that the kids saw. His students weren't in the habit of hunting down abandoned abolitionist constructions. Even teenagers. Not his teens anyway.

He thought she was still hoping. And it broke his heart.

Alistair told him not to go. Not to keep feeding Flora's dreams like that. But Tenny couldn't help it. He did love mysteries and when Flora said she wanted to hunt in the woods for something weird and fascinating, well, he was a sucker for her. Maybe he was an idiot, like Alistair lovingly said but he loved Florimel nearly as much as he did his husband.

If he'd been straight, he knew he'd have snagged the girl as soon as he could have. Perhaps if he had been, she wouldn't have- ach!

No. He couldn't do that to himself. After all these years, there was still a small part of him that wondered. He'd have married her, yes, no question. But he knew as well as she did, he wasn't sexually attracted to her. He never would be. He wasn't straight and it would have only been a way for him to try to protect her.

It wouldn't have worked. He would have been miserable, he would have kept it from her and she would have known the entire time. It would have hurt her just as much as her relationship with Bill had. They both would have been miserable, trying to create something out of a friendship that wasn't ever supposed to be more than that. She would have been miserable knowing he should have been with a boy that would make him happy and he would have been miserable knowing that she could have been with a man that would have made her happy. Protecting your best, dearest, beloved friend from pain could only go so far.

Pain. It hurt him to see how much pain still existed in the free, open woman that Florimel had become. Her heart was still broken. Her soul still longed for the man, the being, that stole it and still kept it in his grip of fire and ice.

Even though that being was supposedly dead.

Nobody really believed that.

Not Alistair, who'd been his lover, his best friend, his mentor, his slave.

Not Dipper, who'd been his pawn, his puppet, his toy.

Not even Sally, who'd sacrificed herself to be his ultimate destruction.

And not Flora, who'd been his one, true and only love. Even Tiernan knew that. With as horrible as Bill had been to her, with as much as they hated each other, they still loved each other, just as hard. And eternally.

Even the love of two best friends couldn't compete with that. Lord knows, he and Fidds had tried. Maybe especially Fiddleford.

With his wife gone now and his son finally becoming close again, Fiddleford McGucket had tried to reignite the simmering love that had always been between Florimel and himself but she'd been resistant. She'd embraced her old friend wholeheartedly after the disaster of 2012 but she'd still held any attempt at romance at arm's length. Fiddleford, being the sweet, observant old Southern gentleman he was, stayed at a distance but Tenny knew he would have loved to approach the woman as a beau when she was ready.

Florimel, as the expression went, was 'pining' for her lost love.

It broke everyone's heart: Tenny's, Sally's, Fidds' and even Alistair's, though the ex-demon would never admit it. Just as he'd never admit he was warming up to the woman.

"Oh, he's here," Erin said as the pub's door opened and a man swathed in a long, flowing dark colored, slightly glittering velvet jacket dusted with snow entered the warmth of the place. "Good, we always do great business when Liam plays." She smiled and set a steaming dish full of potatoes and cheese and 'fixin's' in front of the two of them.

"I'm so hungry," Flora said, turning to the plate. "Smells amazing, sweetie!"

That was good, since she was distracted enough for Tiernan to assess the man who hurried to the piano and divested himself of his cloak.

He was wearing a black velvet hat-not a tophat, not really? Shoved down atop a head of salt and pepper curls, a sapphire blue jacket that wouldn't have been out of place in 1965 that probably was velvet, elegantly embroidered with thin, glimmering golden threads that Tenny actually found rather attractive-whoever it was, he had impeccable taste- over a black shirt, black silk bowtie and crisp black dress pants.

Tenny couldn't see much more as the newcomer swiftly ensconced himself behind the shiny black grand piano the O'Doells' had set up in the corner of the pub. A large brandy snifter was set on the top of the piano, where patrons could drop tips. The pianist dug in his jacket, produced a five-dollar bill and dropped it in the glass; just to 'seed the pot', so to speak.

He brushed the remaining snow off his shoulders and hair, looked up and quite accidentally caught Tiernan's penetrating gaze. Bright blue eyes widened and quickly snapped down to the keyboard in front of him.

No!

Tenny's breath seemed to catch and hold the longer he gazed-no, glared at the man behind the piano.

Florimel, thank God, was still distracted with the potato skins and the ringing of her computer phone. She hadn't noticed the piano-man beyond his arrival.

Tiernan slipped off his barstool and slowly began to approach the piano.

The gentleman behind the piano seemed to withdraw into himself the closer the former town doctor got.

Weird.

"Heya," Tenny said, voice even and stern. "Yer new t' town, aren't ya?"

The man behind the piano glanced up. "Yeah," he said. "Got a request?" He kept his own voice low with an obvious effort.

"Yeah, actually I do," Tenny said, "Can you play: We'll Meet Again?"

The man stiffened. "No, not tonight."

"Hmph," Tenny said in a low tone. "Y' know who's here t'night. Right?"

"Yeah," the man's voice seemed to crack, just slightly. "I got a job. I can't do this right now. Dr. O'Rinn, if you want to kill me, do it after my set, okay?"

"I'll take you up on tha', Nayd."

The gentleman behind the piano looked up, locked eyes with Tenny and nodded.

"Just tell me somethin'," the man said.

"What?"

"How is Alistair?"

"Fine." Tiernan said stiffly. "Happy. With me. Happier than he's ever been with anyone else."

"I figured." Nayd's voice was quiet, almost sad. "Good to know. He always did like you better."
"You don't even want to know how she's been?" Tenny snapped, despite himself.

"I-I don't want to ask."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm afraid of the answer, to be honest!" He looked up at Tenny and he knew for certain that this man, this older, silver-haired, blue-eyed gentleman at the piano was, indeed, the one man who Florimel was most afraid to see and yet the same man she most wanted to see...

Bill Cipher.

"Yeah, I'll bet!" Tiernan snarled, sliding up closer to the man, close enough that nobody would mistake their conversation for anything other than a casual interchange. He kept his tone low, controlled, even though he wanted to strangle the man in front of him. For one thing, he knew he'd never get away with it, even if Bill could die like normal, mortal humans. He'd seen far too many episodes of Forensic Files. Even Alistair wouldn't be able to get him off.

"You're walkin' on thin ice, you evil space demon. However you were able to get here, to survive what the girls did to keep you away from their family for good... you hurt any of the Pines, I'll kill you and make it stick. You understand me?"

Only Bill heard him.

Only Bill was near enough to catch the venom in Tiernan's voice.

"We have a life here. We have children we want to protect. You tried once to destroy all that. The fact that you're back, that you're here means f' some reason, th' Universe thinks we need another test. This time, apparently, we need to make sure yer gone f' good." He leaned closer to Bill, until his nose was inches from the other man's. "Bill Cipher, I'll let you know: I hate tests. I may be a doctor but I'm not a pushover. Not like you once thought I was. You touch my family again... I'll make sure yer gone, f' fuckin' god-damned good this time."

Bill, for that was who he really was, stared back at him, eyes wide and touched with fear. Healthy fear. He knew who Tiernan was. He knew that now, Tiernan was in full possession of his Fae power. He knew that everything Tiernan said was backed with the power of his Fae ancestry and that the fully spiritually mature retired doctor turned Physics professor was indeed a significant threat.

As the once near-god of Gravity Falls, as the creature who almost had the entire dimension in his thin, Flatlander fingers, he knew what a Fae fully in possession of his ancestral power could do. He'd encountered the Tuatha de Dannann in the distant past and he knew. He'd even plotted to destroy Tenny back in the 1980s when he'd first targeted Florimel Pines.

It was a disaster.

His best friend, Alistair, whom he'd ordered to kill Tiernan, had done the exact opposite and fallen hopelessly in love with his target. It wasn't the first time Alistair had fallen for his target but the first time had been with Bill himself. It had nearly cost Alistair his career as a Hunter Demon.

Alistair was really a soft touch when it came to it. Tenny knew all of this. Alistair had come clean awfully quickly in the beginning, when they'd been so very deeply in love and had spilled everything to each other one wonderful, drunken evening in front of the fireplace after a night of amazing, fiery passion.

Tenny knew everything.

Bill knew this.

Passion was nothing new to Bill. He'd had the same kind of deep, sensual relationship with Flora.

Flora, who was still sitting at the bar, talking to Erin and Riley and trying to figure out her phone.

Love welled up in Tenny's heart as he glanced her way. Love and a fierce protectiveness that only made the fury in his body burn hotter. A fury that drove him to protect her from the very source of her misery and longing who was sitting behind the piano, even now, noodling an old standard for a customer who'd requested it.

He had a lovely voice.

Even Tenny had to admit that.

He was singing purposefully soft at the moment, clearly trying not to attract the attention of the lovely woman who was giggling, looking at her phone and trying to talk to her sister at the same time as she was talking to the handsome bartender who was trying to flirt with his beloved 'Ms. Mystery' through her over the phone.

"You're not gonna let up, are you?" Tenny grumbled softly to Bill.

"You have to ask?" he shot back as he finished his song. "I love her."

It wasn't a question, nor was it even a possessive statement. It was simply a quiet declaration.

"Do you? Really?"

"Yes," he said softly. "If she doesn't love me, I don't blame her. But it doesn't change the fact that I love her." He sighed. "I always will. Until the end of time."

"Why are you here, Bill?" he growled, sitting back down at a barstool next to the piano.

"Tip."

"What?"

"You wanna talk to me, O'Rinn?" Bill growled back, "Tip me."

"It's Kendrick now, but fine."

"You took his name?"

"Yeah, what about it?" Tenny snapped. "It's a good Scottish name. Me ma didn't mind." He shoved one dollar in the brandy snifter.

"Oh? Is she still around?" Bill's eyes narrowed and he smirked thinly.

"Yeah, an' she still doesn't like you."

"Fine," Bill said stiffly. "Her loss."

"She doesn't think so. She thinks we should'a taken y' out more reliably than jus' erasin' Sally's memory. If she'd been here... you wouldn't be. I assure y'."

Bill winced. There'd never been any love lost between Tenny's Old Irish Witch Fae mother and him.

Tenny shot him a nearly evil, satisfied smirk. He had darkness within him. He'd come to terms with that years ago, yet it always sent a shot of heat through him whenever he had the reason to express it. Bill's wince and shudder only served to make him grin darkly back. It was about time Bill Cipher saw him as a legitimate threat.


Bill wanted Tiernan gone.

He continued to play the songs that were requested, singing softly and emotionally, to keep the patrons happy.

This was his life now, he needed this job to pay the bills, a state that he still found surreal, that he still found weird and crazy. He didn't need the Fae that Alistair threw his immortality away for to be sitting here, subtly threatening him.

O'Doell's wasn't the only gig he had, it was just his weekend nights. He'd hesitated to even approach the old Irish pub he knew Florimel loved in the past, but he'd been...

Desperate.

Yeah. That was the word.

Desperate.

He was living in a cheap motel on the outskirts of town, barely able to feed this strange human body and in hock for more than a couple of weeks rent at this point. He'd had to do something and selling his body for money was out of the question.

For one thing, he refused to lower himself to that point.

For another, most marks didn't want to sleep with an older man.

Which, apparently now, he was.

So he had to figure something else out. He was good at the piano, so he figured, maybe somewhere in this strange world, he might be able to find somewhere his talent could make him money.

Lounge singer.

He'd been accused of being a thing like that when he'd been here in the 1980s, so he figured it might be beneficial to actually try something like it. It turned out that he really loved singing and playing the piano for drunken bar patrons. It was fun. He got tips, got paid enough to make his rent, feed himself and get enough free booze to make it even more fun... the only problem was the powerful longing for someone he couldn't reach.

Florimel Pines.

So, he went to the stupid Irish pub he knew she loved way back.

It had a new name but it was the same place.

He'd arranged to play there on the weekends, in the hope that at least he might get a chance to see her. Never talk to her, he couldn't hope that much. But see her.

And when he did see her...

His heart broke.

She was still just as lovely as the first time he'd seen her. Still just as lovely as the last time he'd seen her, angry, incandescent with her fury, powerful and strong.

Everything he realized he wanted in a companion. Sure, that fury was directed at him, with good reason but even then, as demented with power as he was, he loved her.

He loved her fire, her passion, her righteous anger.

In those last minutes, glaring in abject fear at an infuriated Sarah Anne Pines, as she reared back to deliver the punch that would shatter his world and send him, reeling, into the custody of the Axolotl, Bill Cipher longed for his flower-girl. She was his last thought before death took him.

His last desire.

His last and only love.

His salvation.

If only he could...

"Yer avoidin' th' question, Cipher," Tiernan growled in his ear.

Bill snapped back to the uncomfortable present. "What?"

"What's yer intentions towards Florimel, Cipher?"

"What do you mean, Kendrick?"

Tiernan, he'd never call the man 'Tenny', was sipping his lager and looking at him, hard.

"You want to get to her, don't you?"

"I want to talk to her, yes," Bill said, launching into a beautiful instrumental rendition of Sammy Davis Junior's, 'I've Gotta Be Me', a favorite of his. "But in my own time. I-I can't force it. She won't listen if I do."

"You feckin' tortured her in yer Fearamid for days, Cipher!" Tiernan snarled. "Of course she's mad at you! You threatened t' kill her family! Children, Cipher! Fuckin' kids!"

His hiss was nearly audible to the other people around them. To cover, Tiernan took a long drink of his Guinness.

Tiernan had kids now. Well, kid. One, a daughter he'd adopted during the time Flora had been... away. In the Multiverse. Because of him.

Bill continued to play, crooning the lyrics to the song softly, trying to focus on the song and not on the infuriated Irishman only feet away from him.

"I gotta be me, I gotta be me, The dream that I see makes me what I am..."

"Y' know I hate you," Tiernan growled. "You played me for a fool, an' I don't like tha'. Th' fact tha' I don't murder you where y' sit is only a testament to th' fact tha' I know I'd get caught an' even Alistair couldn't get me off."

"Heh, takes a lot for a man like you to admit that, Tiernan," Bill said under his breath. "Cause I thought that Alistair was yer one and only love-"

"Shut yer mouth, Cipher," Tiernan snarled. "You, of all people, don't get to make jokes about my relationship with Alistair. You ruined his life as well as Flora's. You're an ass an' you don't deserve anythin' other than tha'."

Bill grumbled and slumped, just slightly.

"Look, O'Rinn," he said with an effort. "I just want to talk to her. I won't hurt her. That's the last thing I want to do."

"Funny, but I don't believe you."

"I know."

He finished the song, pushed back from the piano, bowed slightly to the disappointed patrons and excused himself.

"I need some air," he hissed at Tiernan, shoved past the redhead and made toward the employee entrance, where he figured the doctor wouldn't follow.

Once outside, he reached inside his jacket for a solid pack of cigarettes and his lighter.

It was cold. Icy. Dark and sharply chilled. Perfect to help diffuse the rising anger boiling inside his now all-too-human body.

He lit a cigarette and leaned against the pub's brick wall, taking a long drag off the horrible thing. He hated smoking, really but the nicotine helped when the booze didn't. He knew it was bad for him, that it probably would end up killing him in some awful, painful way but he didn't care. He had no real prospects. His supposed 'redemption' was going like shit, so why should he care if he smoked and drank himself to death.

Permanent death this time.

It was far too long coming.

He was ready. Finally.

He'd screwed up his redemption. So, fuck it.

This is your last chance. Don't screw it up.

Well, the Axolotl wasn't all powerful, was it? It only gave him the opportunity to fix his mistakes. It was a last, only, single chance. He'd tried. Tiernan was blocking him and for once, Bill Cipher didn't feel like trying to fight him.

Not anymore.

He was tired.

So very, very tired.

For once in his very long life, he couldn't see himself alone. He only wanted her and he knew she didn't want him back. What was the point of trying?

He sighed deeply.

"I fucked it up," he said softly, knowing the Axolotl could hear him. "She doesn't want me- I-I can't... I don't want to be here anymore without her. I-I don't know what to do anymore." He blew out smoke. "I-I'm... broken. You were right. I was wrong. I don't want to be without her."

You didn't try.

"I did-"

No, you didn't. You let Tiernan stop you. You didn't talk to her. You didn't give her the opportunity to reject or accept you on her terms. Tiernan is a strong, powerful man. But he is not Florimel Pines. If you truly love her, the way you tell me you do, then you must talk to her. Only then will I allow you to choose your ultimate destiny. If she rejects you, that is her choice. But you must give her that opportunity. Else you are still just as weak and pathetic as you believe yourself to be.

Bill Cipher, if she rejects you and you truly believe what you say, I will take you back and perhaps you will find peace in Dissolution. That will be your only choice, should you surrender yourself to me at this point. However, I do not believe that is what you truly wish.

He blew out smoke and grumbled to himself.

Death now was the coward's way out.

And no matter what Bill Cipher had done or been, he'd never been a coward.

Ever.


It's a quarter to three

The set was winding down. It was late. There were very few people in the pub now, except Bill, some hardcore patrons, Riley and Tiernan and Florimel.

By now, he knew she was aware of him.

Yet, she refused to leave.

Sally had come and gone, after apparently some trouble with the snow and her car. She and Riley had spent most of the evening talking and flirting. Luckily for him, she hadn't noticed he was there.

Tiernan refused to budge from his spot at the piano most of the evening, a solid Irish wall between the Pines twins and Bill. Only when Alistair called on the phone, did the Irishman turn away from his self-imposed policing of the piano and its occupant.

It was then that Flora looked over at him, caught his gaze and her brown eyes went wide. She didn't believe it at first, that was obvious. She went crimson and looked away, to the large glass of lager she'd hardly touched over the evening, though she'd gone through several cups of coffee.

That fact made Bill smile softly. She loved her coffee. Always had. Even now, apparently.

He tried to offer her a gentle smile but he wasn't overly good at being subtle and he figured it came off more wolfish than friendly.

After that, she refused to look his way the rest of the evening.

He took another smoke break, killing half the pack that time.

When he came back, Sally was gone, Erin and her brother, TK were bussing the tables and Riley was pouring another Guinness for Tiernan.

Nobody else suspected anything.

"You tell him I'm here?" Bill grumbled at Tiernan when the other man put his phone back inside his jacket pocket.

"No. He doesn't need to know."

"You can't sit here forever, protecting her. She doesn't need your protection in any case."

"If I have to, I will."

Bill launched into another instrumental and focused on the keyboard. "I'm gonna talk to her. I don't have a choice. You can't run interference forever, Tiernan. It's not your job anyway. You don't believe it and I don't really care anyway if you do or not but I'm not here for you. This is my last chance and I have to take it. If she rejects me, it's gotta be her choice. And if she does, I'll go. You won't have to worry about me ever again."

"Yeah? And why should I believe you? You're a consummate liar."

"I am, I admit that. But I was given a chance by a greater Being simply because I didn't want to die. You don't want to die, do you? Nobody wants to die, O'Rinn. Are you saying that, given a chance, you wouldn't go back to fix your mistakes?"

Tiernan knew better than to think Bill was threatening him. He just took a drink and looked at Bill.

"You did that out of self preservation. Nothing more, nor less."

"That's what I thought at the time, yes." He reached over and took a drink from a small glass of whisky he had sitting atop the piano. "I have since learned much more about the Multiverse and my place in it. I was given a chance by a Being greater than any you mortal creatures can conceive of. A True Neutral. Its' only job is to preserve the balance. And to It, I am a tear in the greater fabric of the Multiverse that needed to be repaired. Should I fail, I'm gone."

"The Axolotl. Yes, I know of this Being."

Bill stopped. He stared at Tiernan.

The bar fell silent as the music suddenly ceased.

Everyone was looking at them now.

Well, everyone left in the room; Flora, Riley and Tenny. Erin and TK were cleaning up in the back.

"Everything okay there, Liam?" Riley asked lightly, unaware of the heaviness between the others.

"Sure!" Bill said with a forced chuckle. "Just gettin' tired, I think!"

Florimel winced. Hard. "Um, Riley? I think Sally wanted you to call her before you closed tonight," she said quickly and smoothly. "I bet she's waiting by the phone."

Riley laughed softly. "Yeah? Maybe I'll go do that then." He pulled his cash drawer from the register, grabbed a cup of coffee and cheerfully made his way into the back, where his office was.

Now, it was just the three of them.


There's no one in the place

Florimel Pines stared at the man behind the piano.

"Tenny," she said stiffly, "Go home."

"I'm not leavin' ya-"

"Go home."

Tiernan stared at her, aghast. "I'm not-"

"I don't want to yell," she said firmly. "I want to talk to... Liam. Alone. You're just in the way. You've been trying to protect me all night and I don't need it. I'm not helpless."

"O'Rinn-" the man behind the piano began.

"YOU. Shut up!" She snarled at him. "You'll get a chance to say your piece. When he leaves."

Tiernan's lips pressed into a thin, hard line. He gritted his teeth and stood up. "Florimel-"

"I love you, Tenny. But you can't protect me forever. I can handle myself. Especially with him."

She got up and approached the two of them, trying hard to still the shaking in her body. She was braver now, braver than she'd ever been. But confronting the gentleman behind the piano was the hardest thing she'd done to this date. And she'd confronted him in full, demonic power, in his Sanctum eight years ago. This, in many ways, was even harder.

He looked very much like he had when he'd first arrived, in human-form, in Gravity Falls in 1982. Older, which surprised her, his raven hair now sprinkled with a liberal dusting of silver. He'd aged well, he was still as handsome as ever, his eyes were still bright, electric blue and he was still robust and sturdy, perhaps a little more substantial than he'd been when he'd worn the body of a younger man.

But he looked tired. Worn. He wore the body of a man who'd had a hard life.

Grumbling substantial curses in Irish, which he knew she understood, Tiernan got to his feet, frowning hard at her. He threw 'Liam' a glare that would have decimated the man on the spot, grabbed his coat and made his way towards the door of the pub.

"Hurt her and you'll have me to deal with," he hissed at the other man. "Remember that."

And in a flurry of ice and snow, Tiernan quit the pub.

"Your guardian still seems to know how to intimidate a man," 'Liam' said in a low voice, dripping with venom. "Maybe moreso now than ever."

"He's not my guardian. I can take care of myself, Bill."

"I know that," he said, beginning to play a soft Sinatra song. "I know you can."

"Why are you here?"

"I don't have a choice."

"What does that mean?"

"I have been given one last chance. To right my wrongs. To prevent Dissolution."

"Seems excessive," she said coldly. "Humans don't get chances like that."

"If you believe in reincarnation, you do. Humans get all the chances. More than any others. Even if you don't believe in reincarnation, it doesn't matter, because that's how things work. It's a cycle. All existence works that way." He grumbled under his breath.

"One For My Baby? Really?" She frowned.

"I like this song. I can relate."

"Surprised you didn't play We'll Meet Again," she snapped.

"I don't play that song when you're here," he said.

"But you do play it."

"When asked. Yes."

She was quiet a while, watching him. He was... different. More subdued than she'd ever known him to be. It was almost as though he were...

Depressed.

Deeply depressed.

In anyone else, it would have been concerning.

"Bill."

"Yeah?"

"You're really here to make things right? Wh-why?"

"I fucked up. I know that. I wanted to try and fix things... fix the Multiverse. Make it right. My way. Turns out, my way was not the best for anyone. Including me."

"Damn straight it wasn't," she snapped. But she sat down on the barstool Tiernan had abandoned. "Fine. If you insist on trying to rectify things and just know, I still don't quite believe that, you have a hard road to travel. I wanted to kill you for so long. Not because I'm an evil person, not because I enjoy killing things but because I didn't know any other way to stop you. I hated you...for so long. That doesn't mean I don't still love you. I always will and that's my sin, I guess. There was something I saw in you that was worthy of it. And, I think, you loved me too. Even if you didn't realize that."

"I did," he said quietly. "I still do. I always will. But I'm not here to get you back... in any way. I'm just here to try and figure out what I'm supposed to do to fix things the way the Axolotl needs me to. And I guess if that means letting you take your revenge, then that's what it has to be. I'm not gonna try and pretend everything's over and done with and I'm 'good' now. 'Cause I don't know what that means. Bein' 'good'. I just know that the one thing I wanted to say to you was this:"

His hands stilled on the keyboard.

"I love you, Florimel Pines. And... I'm sorry."

Of all the things Bill Cipher ever said or did, all the horrors he'd created and all the passions he'd ever ignited in her; this time, this one time...

She believed him.

She stood up.

"Good night, William Sifras," she said softly.

He nodded, fingers returning to the keys.

"So make it one for my baby; And one more for the road..."

The door closed behind her.