One Small Good Deed
a Mystic Pines short story
November, the Present
He stood outside the Mystery Shack, several hundred feet away from the front door (well, the door the family used).
It was late, the snow was blowing around him and it was freezing.
He didn't care. If he froze in the spot, he didn't think he'd feel it.
The shaking his body was doing had nothing to do with the chill.
He didn't like this feeling. This fear. It brought back a flurry of repressed memories of the last time he'd been mortal, the last time he'd felt fear like this. Only then, it was fear of a torturous, lingering death at the hands of his captors.
A death that was delivered just as horribly as it had been promised.
Now, that death seemed almost better than what faced him in that run-down old building in front of him.
The Barrier was still there. He could feel it. He wondered what would happen to him if he tried to cross it. Would it repel him, like the last time he tried to get past it? Would it kill him?
Would it do nothing?
He was afraid of the Barrier almost as much as what lay inside it.
Drawing in a deep breath, he took a step towards the edge of the ward that kept the Pines family safe.
A shimmer of icy snow blew around him, ruffling his hair, sneaking chilled fingers inside his clothing, to play insidiously over his human skin.
He shuddered but continued.
The Barrier flared once, runes and symbols playing across it as though it were considering rejecting him. It flared and as he stepped into it, it faded.
He was free.
Relief mixed with a deep, sorrowing realization flooded through him.
The Barrier had been created to keep Bill Cipher, the demon, away from the Pines.
But William Sifras, the human?
He was no threat.
Swallowing hard, he made his way through the snow, up the steps to the door.
A light was on outside, which meant that maybe, the occupants were willing to accept visitors.
Slowly, he raised a cold hand to knock at the door.
"Dipper! Someone's at the door!" a husky female voice shouted.
"Yeah, just a sec, I'm almost done with this level!" A young female voice called back.
He shuddered. He knew that voice almost as well as he knew the voice of his mother. Madge Pines. The girl he'd once tormented just because she was the spitting image of her great-aunt.
He didn't want to see either of them right now.
He turned to leave. He'd do this later. When they weren't home.
"Nah, don't worry DipDop, I got it!" This voice was bright, cheery, male.
The door banged open and a tall, curly haired young man stood there, grinning, brown eyes bright. He wore a bright purple hand-knitted sweater and blue jeans.
Bill was taken aback. He hadn't seen Martin Pines in almost eight years. The kid shot up like a young sapling and was nearly as lanky, slender and just as bubbly as he remembered.
He turned red.
Maybe the kid wouldn't recognize him.
"Excuse me, y-young man," Bill said, trying to keep the natural sharp lilt out of his voice, "I-I'm here to see Dr. Pines..."
Martin tilted his head in the same almost canine way all of the Pines family had. His eyes narrowed.
He recognizes me! Bill thought in a sudden rush of terror.
"Yeah," Marty said, his voice softer, even. "She's here. Who should I say is calling?"
Bill swallowed hard.
"Liam," he said, "Liam Nayd."
"Sure," Martin said and stepped back. "Come in and wait, it's super cold outside tonight!"
Marty was considering him the entire time, though his demeanor hadn't changed. He smiled and closed the door behind Bill.
The more Marty looked at him, the more nervous Bill got.
"She know you?" he said after a moment.
"We met the other night," Bill said quietly. "She, uh, left her jacket. I wanted to return it to her."
"Yeah." Martin nodded. He paused a moment, then put a hand on Bill's shoulder. "Maybe you wanna wait in the sitting room. I don't think Dip and my Grauntie Sally are ready to meet... you."
Bill's eyes shot to Martin's.
He did know!
If he did, why was he being so nice to him?
"Yes, if you think it's best," he heard himself saying, fighting down the crack that threatened to pitch his voice up. He swallowed hard.
"I do, Liam."
The boy led Bill to a smaller room that had once been a parlor, when Flora had owned the place. When Sally ran it, it was a storage room and had been the scene of a wax massacre the kids were responsible for.
Bill sat down stiffly in a chair, removed his hat and folded his hands in his lap.
He kept Flora's precious jacket in a bundle inside his cloak. He drew in a deep breath.
Marty lingered by the doorway a moment.
"Why are you here?" he asked finally, his cheerful voice lowered slightly. It sounded sad.
"I wanted to return-"
"No," he said, "you know how things will go with... them, if you meet them now. I don't know how you got past the Barrier, but if it let you in, then I know you're harmless. But why? That's what I don't understand. Why are you inviting this?"
"I haven't got a choice, Marty," Bill said quietly. "I have to make amends. Even if your family doesn't accept my apology, I understand that. I have to try. This is my last chance. I'm... presenting myself to you, for whatever you all choose to do, be it revenge or-"
"I'm a Pines, I don't take revenge," Martin said and closed the door. "If you're here, I figure you got past Tenny without him killin' you. And if you have her coat, I figure you and Flora have talked. Why she didn't tell her sister about you, I don't know. Dip is gonna try to kill you. I'm pretty sure. She's still pissed. Sally will kill you."
"I'm willing to listen."
Martin was always more insightful than anyone gave him credit for. He was emotional, bright and peppy but he was also a very strong empath.
"Listen? To me?"
"Yeah. Look at you, Bill. You're old. You're tired. You're terrified of me. A twenty-year-old kid. Anyone seein' you can see you're weak and you're afraid. I can't imagine what it's gotta be like for you. Bein' weak."
Bill frowned. "I'm not weak-"
"Yeah, you are. You're human. No way you could have got where you are right now without bein' human. So that means you're paying the price already. You didn't even get to come back as a cute young guy. Looks like you're about the same age as Flora. Which means part of your task has gotta be to make things right with her. And if you fail? What?"
"Yeah, and what exactly is that in space demon jargon?"
"Death. Permanent death. No more reincarnations, no coming back. Dissolution is the complete eradication of what's left of my soul."
"You have one?"
Martin actually looked embarrassed. "Sorry, just slipped out." He walked over and straddled a chair across from Bill.
"Yeah, I still have something. A scrap, I guess. Enough that the Axolotl thought I was worth saving."
"Axolotl. Like that little pink Mexican lizardy thing?"
"It's an amphibian and yeah. I don't know why it chooses to take that form, but yeah."
"What's an amphibian doing running your afterlife?"
"It's The True Neutral. It maintains the balance of existence."
"Yeah, like the Tao. Okay, I get that." Marty thought a moment. "So your job is to fix whatever it is you broke."
"And that involves talking to Aunt Flora?"
"And me. And Sally and Dip?"
"Uh huh, I think so."
"Huh. And basically take whatever we decide to do about you, or to you. Up to and including kicking you off the planet again?"
"I... yeah, probably."
"So you can die."
"Like any human."
"Good." He walked to the door. "I'll go get her."
He sat there, waiting, for about fifteen minutes.
It seemed like hours.
The door finally opened and Flora came in, closed it quietly behind her and stood, back against the door, looking at him.
She was dressed in a delicate berry colored sweater and jeans. It was a nice look for her. He hadn't seen her dressed like that in well, ever. Her hair was unbound and tumbled softly over her shoulders.
She was beautiful.
He swallowed hard.
"Hello, Florimel," he said quietly. "I came to return your-"
"My coat," she said, "thank you."
He stood up and produced the folded jacket from inside his cloak. He took a step, hesitantly, towards her, proffering the coat like a peace offering.
She took it and set it on a table.
"I-I'll go," Bill said. "I just wanted to-"
"No," she said, "you don't have to."
"I should," he said, trying to keep the shaking out of his voice. "I didn't want to- I mean, I-I wanted... but then I realized I shouldn't be-"
"I won't hurt you. I can't do that. I can't hurt people. You haven't done anything to warrant harming you. You're here, in this house, when you shouldn't be-"
"I know, I'm sorry-" The words came so easily now.
"No, what I mean is that if you were a threat, you couldn't be here. My protection ward would have stopped you. When the others realize that, they will understand the same as Martin and I do. You really are human." She paused a moment, then took a step towards him. "There's no other way. It was designed to stop you. You, Bill. Yes, it stops other supernatural threats but it was intended for you and you alone. If you passed through the wards, there's nothing you can do to hurt us any longer."
"Except speak to you," Bill said darkly. "And say things that will hurt. And I don't want to do that."
"Well yes, there is that, I suppose."
"Florimel, I should go. I-I don't want to be here if your niece and your sister don't know I am."
"You're afraid of them?"
"Yes," he said hesitantly. "Very."
"You don't want to confront them? To hear their words? To let them tell you what you need to hear?"
"Sally will kill me. If Madge doesn't first."
"Hm," Flora said. "Well, Sally just might. She certainly is capable of it. Madge, well... she might want to, but I don't think she would." She pursed her lips a moment. "Honestly, the only person I would worry about actually ending your life would be-"
"Tiernan," they both said together.
Despite himself, he laughed a little. Flora did too.
Her smile, even for that brief second, was breathtaking.
"He won't though, because Alistair wouldn't be able to keep him out of jail," Flora added with another flash of that smile.
He offered her a weak and he hoped, friendly smile back.
"I... I don't want to detain you any longer," he said. "I... I will come back to face them... just not tonight... I-I'm not ready."
"Bill," she said quietly, "you'll never be ready. But perhaps, I- we, Martin and I, well perhaps we can make it easier for everyone. If you'll let us."
"Flora," he said, then quickly corrected himself, "Florimel, I am sorry. So much. F-for... everything. I..." He gulped hard. He couldn't leave, not with her standing in front of the door and god knows who might be on the other side of it. He was beginning to feel trapped.
"We can talk about it later," she said. "But yes, you need to go."
She stepped aside, opened the door and after a moment, allowed him to pass through it. Outside, Marty was waiting to show him to the entrance.
"Good night, Liam," Martin said as he opened the door for Bill.
He glanced back, at Flora, who waited in the hallway beyond. He used that one, fleeting moment to memorize her. If he never did see her again, he wanted to remember her like she was at that minute in time. Strong, confident, beautiful.
And not his.
"Good night, Martin," he said, his voice thick. "Thank you. Both."
He passed back into the freezing night.